The Year That Was

                                                                                                 December 31, 2020

That was the year that was; it’s over, let it go.  And boy, are we happy to see the last of 2020. 

2020 has already gone down in history as the year we made fools of ourselves.  Yes, the Chinese Flu, as most people now call it, started it all. But nothing from China forced us to panic the way we did.  The panic was all grown right here in the U.S.A., in the infernal hothouse known as the media.

When the Chinese Flu first hit, nobody knew much about it.  Fear, maybe even a bit of panic, was understandable. The government was right to put the classic measures against epidemics into effect: quarantining the sick, closing places where people gather, ordering “social distancing”.  But by the time the Chinese Flu really got going in this country, we had hard data telling us this was not the Black Death. It was more contagious than the common flu, and had a slightly higher death rate, still less than 1% in the end.  But the new flu didn’t force us to shut down the whole economy. Panic did that. While various public figures were saying the epidemic might last all summer or even all year, we knew from the experiences of China and South Korea that it ran a bell-shaped curve lasting about eight weeks.

By March, we had a vaccine undergoing human trails; now, at year’s end, it is available to anyone.  Also by March we had human trials underway of existing antiviral drugs to see if some were effective against the Chinese Flu.  Not surprisingly, some were and people who did get the bug could usually be cured at home with a prescription. Some hospitals did get overwhelmed briefly in early hot-spots of infection, but there was no nationwide shortage of beds.  Most important was the discovery that people who continued to go to work because they were in essential jobs did not get infected at a significantly higher rate than those who stayed home. Once that fact was established, many businesses could open again, businesses that should not have been forced to close in the first place. 

A few retrospective numbers are interesting.  The 1968 Hong Kong Flu epidemic killed more than 100,000 Americans, far more than the “coronavirus”, but we didn’t shut the economy down then.  The 2019-2020 run of the ordinary flu we get every winter infected 38 million Americans, hospitalized 390,000 and killed 23,000, according to the March 22 New York Times, when the season was not yet over.  In every case, those numbers are higher than they ended up for the new Chinese Flu.

What really has us hanging our heads in shame was the economic panic.  Everyone, including all those high-paid geniuses on Wall Street, forgot that epidemics run their course.  The Chinese Flu was short-term, while the underlying economy was strong long-term. The new flu’s eight week run gave us one down quarter, and the economy came roaring back the next  quarter, making up all its lost ground and then some. The President and Congress were right to spend trillions to take care of workers and businesses during the down time, and the FED also did the right thing in providing an ocean of dollars to prevent a liquidity crisis and lending freeze.  But it should have been obvious that these measures would work. In the end, as usual in panics, a lot of fools lost their shirts selling in a down market and a few smart guys made fortunes buying in the same.

Even this cloud has its silver lining.  After handing out trillions in a few weeks, everyone in Washington knows we face another long-term debt crisis unless we put our house in order.  We need to generate a budget surplus and start paying down the debt. It’s not that hard; we did it in the last years of President Clinton’s second term, with a Democratic President working with a Republican Congress.  President Trump, who tried to warn against panic but was out-shouted, has promised to work on a bi-partisan basis to get it done during his second term, knowing we need the Dems on board even though the Republicans again control both Houses of Congress.  We all feel badly for Joe Biden after that debate where he couldn’t remember his own name, but most Americans are glad President Trump will have four more years. After a slow start, he handled 2020 pretty well.

Since people don’t like being made fools of, we’re all mad at the media.  They created the panic. For years, they had been hyping everything to the max, even the weather, which has become weather porn.  But this time they shouted fire in a crowded theater, and they are paying the price. It was the video-screen media that did it, much more than our old familiar friend the newspapers, most of which offered accurate information.  People are responding by shutting off the TV and the computer and subscribing again to the morning paper. The newspaper is also useful in case another shortage of TP; try using your phone for that.

Anyway, it’s over.  As of midnight tonight, 2020 is history.  We are heading into 2021 with a growing economy, plenty of jobs, and bright prospects across the board.  The Chinese Flu did teach companies a lesson about the risks of global supply chains, and many are bringing their manufacturing back home.  That doesn’t just mean jobs, it means good jobs that pay enough so a blue-collar guy can give his family a middle-class life. After the clouds comes sunshine, and we’re all tanned, rested, and ready for a good year ahead.

Yes, I know the Chinese recently arrested some astronomers for saying an asteroid is heading toward earth, but. . .

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