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Tragedies of Our Time: Pandemic, Planning, and Racial Politics

TRAGEDIES OF OUR TIME: PANDEMIC, PLANNING, AND RACIAL POLITICS

An old adage says that tragedies often come in threes. Certainly, the first half of 2020 has seen a version of this. First, the coronavirus that has infected millions of people and killed hundreds of thousands. Second, the response by most governments to the virus by commanding near universal business lockdowns and stay-at-homes that have wrecked economic havoc on the world economy. And, third, the horrific killing of George Floyd, an unarmed and handcuffed black man in Minneapolis by a policeman, that has served as the catalyst for demonstrations against police abuse and charges of racism all around the world.

They are tragedies that, for the most part, have been man-made. Yes, the coronavirus has been a “force of nature,” though the verdict is still out on the actual origin of the virus and how it first entered the general population in Wuhan, China and then began to spread from one continent to another. But what has become fairly clear is the “human factor” in analyzing and forecasting its likely impact on the world population, which, in turn, highly influenced government responses to it.

Human “Error” in the Coronavirus Projections

British Professor Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College in London, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), offered modeling projections about the likely spread and effect of the virus on the world population that greatly influenced the British and many other governments’ decisions to order business shutdowns and stay-at-home “social distancing” lockdowns. Partly because of this advice, much of the world’s social and economic life came to a halt.

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Increased Violence Reflects an Energy Problem

Increased Violence Reflects an Energy Problem

Why are we seeing so much violence recently? One explanation is that people are sympathizing with those in the Minneapolis area who are upset at the death of George Floyd. They believe that a white cop used excessive force in subduing Floyd, leading to his death.

I believe that there is a much deeper story involved. As I wrote in my recent post, Understanding Our Pandemic – Economy Predicamentthe problem we are facing is too many people relative to resources, particularly energy resources. This leads to a condition sometimes referred to as “overshoot and collapse.” The economy grows for a while, may stabilize for a time, and then heads in a downward direction, essentially because energy consumption per capita falls too low.

Strangely enough, this energy crisis looks like a crisis of affordability. The young and the poor, especially, cannot afford to buy goods and services that they need, such as a home in which to raise their children and a vehicle to drive. Trying to do so leaves them with excessive debt. If the affordability problem changes for the worse, the young and the poor are likely to protest. In fact, these protests may become violent. 

The pandemic tends to make the affordability problem worse for minorities and young people because they are disproportionately affected by job losses associated with lockdowns. In many cases, the poor catch COVID-19 more frequently because they live and/or work in crowded conditions where the disease spreads easily. In the US, blacks seem to be especially hard hit, both by COVID-19 and through the loss of jobs. These issues, plus the availability of guns, makes the situation particularly explosive in the US.

Let me explain these issues further.

[1] Energy is required for all aspects of the economy.

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