As a data professional with a data governance and data analytics background in multibillion dollar industries, I understand that the messy task of aggregating data from numerous and disparate sources ensures a cloudy data pool, at best.
The adage “Garbage in, garbage out” holds true, and anywhere we have human touch points, we have the potential for errors in our data. This is true for all data types, whether medical, automotive, financial, or otherwise.
The WHO and the CDC are still trying to learn about and understand this disease even as they peer through an imperfect data lens. Notably, an Oxford-based group has stopped using the WHO data for coronavirus altogether, stating that they “found many errors in the data published by the WHO.” Many news reports are relying solely on CDC and WHO data. We have to be careful about what we infer from, and how we react to, imperfect data sets, while also being proactive and cautious with the data we have thus far.
In some cases, making decisions—especially in large-scale, one-size-fits-all fashion—on bad data can be worse than delaying a decision momentarily until better data is obtained. This is never the narrative you will hear from big government, but the free market is learning this quickly in the age of big data. It is also important to note that computer models are only as good as the data they ingest. So, if the data is questionable, as the Oxford group claims, then the model is also questionable. Bad data can lead to bad, even unbelievable decisions. A conservative example is hospitals giving the wrong medication to a patient—yes, this happens. But more extreme examples include entire wars being started (e.g., bad information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).
Death: Coronavirus and the Economy
Unfortunately, some decisions are being made based on fear spread on the wings of headline news. People are hoarding staple goods out of fear that they will not be able to get them later. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as a run on these goods leads to their scarcity!
Sadly, many immediately discredit those who bring up the economy in discussions around coronavirus. Their internal filter leads them to claim that these people have no regard for life and only care about money. This limited view supposes that life is only threatened by viruses and that the economy has no relationship to the preservation of life.
Contrary to this misunderstanding, the economy saves lives at a high rate. A thriving economy is one that supports millions of hungry, hurting, diseased, and struggling people around the globe, including in the United States. As the economy crashes, many millions could be left suffering and dying. The number could easily dwarf those killed by the novel coronavirus.
Americans are very giving people. According to Charity Navigator, Americans give over $410 billion every year to charities. But consider how you react to a pay cut or a job loss. Do your charitable donations remain the same? Where would your donations come from if you had no income? What if millions of giving Americans experienced pay cuts or job losses? According to one poll, 18 percent of adults have lost jobs or had hours cut since the coronavirus started. In fact last week alone, 3.28 million unemployment claims were filed, the highest in history.
Of the $410 billion Americans donate to charity each year $50 billion of go to human services (of which food relief is a part) and about $127 billion go to religious organizations, many of which also provide food relief. Sharethemeal.org states that it costs fifty cents to feed a single hungry child for one full day. At a conservative estimate, if only $10 billion of that $177 billion goes to feeding starving children, we are sustaining the lives of nearly 13.7 million children every year around the world and in the US.
If that $10 billion became $9 billion, 1.37 million children could lose meals. How many of those would die? Who will replace those donations when the entire globe is experiencing economic recession? Again, these are very conservative numbers.
What about the other billions of dollars that go to treat Malaria—a disease that kills over 1 million people every year? A child dies of malaria every thirty seconds; three thousand children every day! How many more will die as dollars decrease due to a contracting economy?
This does not take into account that many of these Americans who lose jobs will then struggle to pay for life essentials and healthcare for themselves. And we have not even considered the impact to charitable donations and life from the rest of the world! Which has the greater death toll? The virus or donated food supply shortages and other economic contractions?
A Better Solution
We have to be clear about what we are afraid of and what we need to avoid. We need to address the real threat. Are we wanting to stop the spread of the virus per se, or are we wanting to prevent it from killing people? When we are clear about the goal, our tactics can be more informed, targeted, and effective.
According to the WHO and the CDC, those at risk continue to be the elderly (particularly those with preexisting health issues) and those with compromised immune systems.
Quarantining, social distancing, sheltering in place of entire nations and cities may help flatten the curve and by default help prevent thousands of virus-related deaths. At the same time, it will tank an economy that gives life to hundreds of millions of others. That is one solution to the problem.
A better solution may be to have at-risk communities self-quarantine. This would help protect the most vulnerable while also preserving the lives of millions who depend on a healthy and charitable economy for sustenance and medical care. Those who are low risk can continue to keep the economy running and supporting life, while also offering to shop for and serve these at-risk friends, family, and neighbors in any way we can, taking special precautions and following proven and sensible sanitation principles when we interact with them or their property.
Some of these people may be breadwinners and unable to support their family while self-quarantining. Most companies, of their own free will and without government dictates, have been offering full pay to those affected. Many offer to support those who need to self-quarantine. We all can direct some of our charity to those who are unable to work while under self-quarantine. Many charitable organizations will have already made these adjustments. This is how private individuals and organizations, who are close to people, respond. This is a much more plausible and balanced approach than having all breadwinners in the entire country be at home, where millions of them cannot work through telecommute.
This solution makes sense, will help protect the vulnerable, and will allow most of the economy to continue functioning as normally as possible. Millions of lives could be saved in this way, beyond the many thousands that will be saved by the self-quarantine of at-risk communities.
Please know that I am not discounting the fact that there is a deadly virus being spread and that we should be careful and cautious. I am simply offering some additional thoughts and asking for calm, thoughtful, and careful actions. And we must consider the impact to all life—seen and unseen—from the actions we take.
Finally, we must ask ourselves if we believe in humanity. And I mean humanity—people, not government. Do we believe in each other? Do we believe that humans are capable of thinking, caring, and decision-making? I hope we are, because we trust them every day to do millions of things, from taking care of our money and health to fixing our computers and cars. And if we do not trust them, do we believe that it is either lawful or moral to force them to comply with our view of things? Does the interest of safety and health change that?
The next glaring question is, do we think government (also made up of humans) is capable of perfectly executing safety and security through force? What does their track record suggest? Consider examples such as the Iraq War, Watergate, Social Security, veterans’ hospitals, the US Postal Service. We could go on. Try to point to one truly efficient system or agency in the government.
Human mortality introduces the potential for error, sickness, and even death. No one wants any of these, and it is possible to curb much of these things, especially when we act together in a sensible way. But we can never eliminate death and guarantee security and life for all. That guarantee requires more control than government could ever claim. Only in theory does massive government power over our movement and liberty provide a better guarantee of life and security. In reality, authoritarian states have killed millions more than they have saved, whether by edict, war, or plain old bad decisions.
I think that great care should be taken to not spread this illness, but shutdowns and government quarantines of entire cities and nations are not a good solution. And blowing the national debt up with another $2 trillion bailout is not a real solution, either. May we all be guided during this troubling period in order to preserve the greatest amount of both life and liberty. And may we always remember that life and liberty are not mutually exclusive.
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