Domineering Death

| April 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

Let’s back up to the year 1957. Asian Flu is breaking out around the world. First in Singapore, then Hong Kong, and in June it found its way to the United States. A 0.3% mortality rate took the lives of (CDC estimated) 116,000 people in the U.S., with 1.1 million lives in total worldwide. This was in the context of no social distancing measures implemented by the government.

As of this writing, just under 13,000 people have died in the U.S. from COVID-19. Compare 13,000 COVID-19 deaths with 116,000 Asian Flu deaths. Again, we want to remind ourselves of a couple of points to help us ponder these matters in our search for truth.

  1. We are in the midst of COVID-19, and the death tolls will rise rapidly in the coming weeks. About 2,000/day are currently dying, although that rate is expected to start dropping soon.
  2. The population of the U.S. is quite a bit higher now than 1957, so the same death rate would equal more total deaths now.

Conquering fear of death

Catholic writer R. R. Reno recently posed an interesting question: Is death really supposed to be the only thing that matters? We are constantly bombarded with death rates and death numbers, and urged to bring them down at all costs. But, Reno asks, “Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life.” For the unbeliever, those questions may seem out of place, especially in the face of a pandemic that is taking thousands of lives.

I want to tie the previous paragraph into our current culture and compare it with the 1957 Asian Flu virus that killed 116,000 people in the U.S. in about a year’s time. I have to ask myself the following question, considering that I had never heard of the 1957 Asian Flu before today: Why did my parents and grandparents, who passed through that time, never mention it to me (that I can remember)?

I think the answer is that previous generations simply took life and death in stride more than we do. Death was more common, and no one got overly shook up if a few more people than normal died in a certain year. The fear of death did not move them as easily as it does today. My parents and grandparents apparently didn’t think that the 1957 flu epidemic was anything important enough to even tell their children and grandchildren. Nor, it appears, did most historians. In today’s spiritual climate, Reno comments that death has dominion upon our society through means of fear, and fear of death is domineering people to think more quickly in irrational patterns.

Yes, we want to avoid unnecessary deaths, and we want to love our neighbors enough to avoid bringing death upon them if we can help it. But let’s remember this: Life is also about justice, beauty, and honor. It is also about dying with dignity, giving care to dying people even if it means possibly taking death upon ourselves in the process, and maintaining the fullest expression of human comfort in trying times.

What does all of this mean in practical terms? I will use the case of my wife’s grandmother, in her 90s. She has said that she wants people to visit her during this virus pandemic, because to her it is more important to maintain close relationships with her family than to avoid dying from COVID-19. She has chosen to not let the fear of death domineer her decision-making process; she is valuing relationships over fear of death. Meanwhile, not everyone is at this point of thinking, and we need to respect those who are not. We should not flaunt our lack of fear of death.

Is not that the way our Master trod? Did He not come among us mortals, taking flesh and blood, and in so doing voluntarily taking a death sentence upon himself? Fear of death did not domineer Jesus’ decision-making process!

The big picture

In my first COVID-19 report for Plain News, I gave some numbers of the estimated daily deaths by other causes. For example, I wrote, “Every day … 129 people will die from suicide in the U.S. Many others will try and fail.” Let’s go over some of this again, but comparing numbers from the first of this year, and for the world, not just for the U.S. All of the data below is taken from www.worldometers.info, and reflects the date when this was written. Also be aware that some of these are estimates, not confirmed cases, based upon previous data.

Since January 1, 2020, there have been (worldwide):

  • 89,960 deaths by COVID-19
  • 132,425 deaths by flu
  • 229,323 deaths by unsafe drinking water
  • 267,106 deaths by malaria
  • 292,014 deaths by suicide
  • 367,594 deaths by traffic accidents
  • 457,776 deaths by HIV/AIDS
  • 681,082 deaths by alcohol
  • 1,361,308 deaths by smoking
  • 1,625,000 deaths from hunger
  • 11,006,735 deaths by abortion
  • 16,017,149 deaths from all causes (except abortion)

De-sensationalizing the above numbers

We have to remember that the COVID-19 daily death numbers are climbing. The totals will likely pass the flu at some point. They may pass the unsafe drinking water and suicide death. But they may not. Whether they do or not, we have a serious new disease among us that we need to consider.

The economic fallout

No one doubts that COVID-19 will have a huge economic impact upon the entire world. Ten million people in the U.S. alone have already filed for unemployment. But we need to de-sensationalize that number by realizing that most of these will likely get their jobs back soon, if social distancing measures are not imposed for too long.

One notable side effect of a bad economy is the rise in depression and suicide. One research paper claims that in the recession that followed the 2008 economic meltdown, suicide numbers in the U.S. and Europe saw an increase of 10,000 (above the average) over the following two years. One figure tossed out is that for every percent of rise in unemployment, 1,000 more people will commit suicide. If the projected 20% unemployment rate is reached, that means 20,000 extra people may take their own lives in desperation (I am not sure if that is for the U.S., or U.S. and Europe together).

Let me de-sensationalize the above paragraph to say that these studies and figures are not broad and settled. They do, though, give us a sense that most likely there will be some negative side effects from the social distancing measures being implemented.

The bright side

Some good things are happening with COVID-19! First of all, air pollution is down. Satellite images over Wuhan, China, during their lockdown showed a dramatic lowering of air pollution. Air pollution in New Delhi, India—usually among the worst in the world—has actually dropped to “satisfactory” levels, dropping by 71%! In one preliminary study, a 25% reduction in air pollution in Wuhan suggests that 9,000 people were saved from a premature death in that city. Compare that to the ~4,000 COVID-19 deaths.

And, in California, traffic deaths have dropped in half since the state went into lockdown. Think how much fuel has been saved, as well. What can we do, what should we do, in light of these facts when this pandemic passes on?

Where is it headed?

The following graph is from one of the major model makers in the U.S. Remember that models are like hurricane trackers and projections: They may be wrong. This model does not track the IFR (Infection fatality rate, or what percentage of people infected die), but only the number of deaths. Following the chart, which is for the entire U.S., I will give some state-by-state numbers.

CC-by-NC-ND by Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation

As of this writing on April 9, we are nearing the projected peak of deaths per day. But remember that this model assumes a continued lockdown and does not project into the second wave. Also note that the bed shortages are mostly within New York and New Jersey, with no projected bed shortages for most of the other states. The following list will give the state, projected peak date, and projected total death number. For the U.S. all put together, the projected peak is April 11, with a projected 60,415 deaths at August 4, 2020. (See link/attached document.)

I do not know your reaction when seeing these numbers, but I will confess my reaction: Why such drastic shutdowns over such low numbers in some states? For example, why shut down the economy of state of Pennsylvania where I live, for 1,000 extra deaths? I could be moved to an almost “righteous indignation” about this.

Except …

These low numbers reflect the positive effects of the stay at home orders! What would the above numbers look like if business had continued as normal? No one knows but God, but I think we can safely assume that they would be very much higher. (And we do not know how much God may have intervened somewhere, because of the prayers of the saints!) With this in mind, I can now act, not react.

Stimulus checks

A Plain News subscriber sent in a stimulating question: “Where is the government going to get the money to pay for the stimulus checks they are going to send out to everyone because of COVID-19?”

This question is especially relevant to Plain people, because many have applied and received Social Security exemption, proclaiming to have a conscience against government support or handouts. So, are the $1,200/person ($500 for dependent children under 18) payouts a government handout?

The technical answer is (debatably) no. The $1,200 checks are written into the law as an income tax credit that is applied to everyone’s 2020 tax year (which are to be paid in 2021). However, the government is simply paying the credit up front, then cancelling the payback that would be due next year. So, in plain English, the government is giving everyone a $1,200 tax credit for the 2020 tax year, then sending the money out about 9 months ahead of time, without charging any interest. (The stimulus money will not count as income at the federal level, but some states may tax it depending on their tax laws.)

How will the government then pay for this $2 trillion economic stimulus? Easy … sell bonds, which translates into borrow it. Immediately the cry arises, “But the government is way too deep in debt already!”

Bear with me as I try to explain how I have had my view on that subject changed in the last year or two. The U.S. government is not exactly in debt as badly as some proclaim. Let’s look at the figures.

The U.S. has a debt of (all figures rounded, and sources sometimes give differing figures) of $22 trillion. But did you know that the U.S. has $175 trillion in assets? Most of that is in mineral reserves (think, oil and natural gas) located on federally owned lands. Those lands are about 640 million acres, or one fourth of the lands in the nation. How much is that land worth? Some of it (think, Arctic tundra) may not be worth much, but others (think, some National Parks) would be worth thousands per acre. Then there are the buildings, military equipment, vehicles and other infrastructure (think hydroelectric plants, millions of miles of roads, and railways).

When we consider that about $6 trillion of the federal debt is money loaned from one federal agency to another (internal debt that cancels out how much is owed in total), the debt is actually about $17 trillion (not counting the latest $2 trillion stimulus). That means that the government is borrowing about 10% of the value of its assets.

The next aspect is that right now the government can borrow money at 0.25%, almost interest-free. As long as the economy grows faster than the interest rate, the government can actually earn money by borrowing. So, if the economy grows at 2%, and they borrow money at .25%, they are effectively earning money on the borrowed amount.

Let’s put the situation into terms we can grasp more easily (the amounts given reflect approximate percentages of the U.S. government). Say that I own—fully paid for—a house worth $175,000. I make $20,000 per year income. Would I be going deeply in debt to borrow $17,000? I don’t know of an (worldly) economist that would tell me that. If I would borrow another $2,000 at .25% interest, which would then be used to make my income grow by $400, would that be bad management? My interest would be a mere $5/year. So, by borrowing the money, I would be gaining $395/year.

This is a simplified version of how the government is thinking. From a purely economic perspective, the government is not thinking terribly wrong about borrowing money at the moment. President Trump is saying that now is the time to borrow another $2 trillion (in addition to the already borrowed $2 trillion stimulus) and fix infrastructure such as highways.

Payback

The next question is, how will the government ever pay back the current $19 trillion in debt? The answer is that most politicians probably never intend to do so. And, as long as people are willing to buy U.S. federal bonds at extremely low interest rates, economically speaking it is not a bad idea. The U.S. can borrow at low rates because people trust the U.S. For example, if South Africa wants to sell bonds, they have to pay a 9% interest rate. Turkey needs to pay 15%. So why do people buy U.S. bonds that earn them less than 1% (for a 10-year bond) when Turkey will pay 15%? Simple: The U.S. has a good record of paying people back. If you invest in Turkey to get a 15% payback, you may not get any back because their government is not considered that stable! People from other countries are buying U.S. bonds; they are essentially loaning their money to the U.S.

The only way the government can really get money to pay off its debt is by taxes. And, with the stimulus checks, they will immediately start to get some tax money back. If I spend my $1,200 stimulus tax credit on a car, then the car dealer has to pay taxes on his profits. Let’s say after taxes he has $1,100 left, which he then uses to buy a boat. The boat dealer will have to pay taxes on his $1,100. After taxes, he has $1,000 left to spend. And on and on. Eventually the government will get most of the stimulus money back through taxes, depending on how fast people spend it.

I am not promoting going into debt by sharing this perspective. Proverbs speaks plainly about debt as something to avoid (if possible). The Bible also teaches us that there is more to life than economic prosperity. In fact, the deceitfulness of economic prosperity is plainly spoken of by Jesus. So, while borrowing to gain more money makes good economic sense, it may make bad spiritual sense.

What shall we say?

At Plain News, we have refrained from giving out our personal opinions too much on how COVID-19 should best be managed by our government leaders. We encourage respect and honor and submitting to decrees, if they do not violate kingdom principles. We are not biblically required to personally believe that the government is making the best decisions, but we are called to submit to and honor the government. That means, in practical terms, to refrain from bad-mouthing civil authorities even if they make what we think is a bad decision.

Let’s not give in to fear of death, nor let us ignore that a new disease is killing thousands among us, and let’s not doubt that social distancing has cut down on death numbers. Although this may be the last special article that I write on COVID-19, another Plain News writer is preparing an article that examines ways in which we can be a blessing in the midst of this crisis. That is the most important aspect of this whole matter!

~Mike Atnip

Category: Public

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