Abstractions, distractions, subtraction

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The difference between arithmetic and mathematics is roughly the difference between beef stew and boeuf bourguignon. The former satisfies an appetite; the latter feeds the soul. Most journalists I know are happy with stew because we do simple well — meat and potatoes, nouns and verbs, subtraction and addition.

But mention mathematics, “the abstract science of numbers, quantity and space,” and many of us break out in hives. Politics and elections have a similar relationship. Politics is often described in abstract terms: “The art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best,” is how German statesman Otto von Bismarck explained it.

Elections, on the other hand, are straight-up arithmetic; the candidate with the most votes wins.

So what will Americans face this week, after national elections — straight up arithmetic or political mathematics?

Pandemic

Regardless of who won anything the day before, on Nov. 4 every American faced:

The same deadly COVID-19 pandemic they did on Nov. 3;

The same need for trillions more in government spending to address the pandemic’s unmet and growing economic fallout;

The same brutal reality that if medical experts continue to be right in their math and many national and state officials continue to do little to mitigate the coronavirus’s spread, another 250,000 of us will die from COVID-19 by Jan. 31.

Those are just the plain, immutable facts.

More victims

Here’s another fact: rural America will experience a disproportionate share of this continuing, and worsening, disaster for reasons that are now largely unfixable, including too few hospital beds per capita, even fewer ICU units per capita and too many local leaders who choose political expediency and medical quackery over proven science and elementary arithmetic.

Again, if you think this is opinion, you miss the point: if we stay on today’s crooked, rocky path as the coronavirus continues on its straight, flat freeway, the virus will double today’s victims in one-half the time. And, please, don’t think it won’t happen; it’s happening even as you read this.

On Oct. 28, new cases nationwide were rising by 75,000 per day, a 40% increase over the previous 14-day moving average. Similarly, U.S. daily deaths were nearing 1,000, a 13% increase over the 14-day average. Hospitalizations were up a staggering 46% in just 30 days (all source material listed at farmandfoodfile.com).

In effect, the coronavirus has again become a rolling snowball picking up speed and size as it roars downhill through community after community, rural or urban, rich or poor, red or blue.

Economics

As to its economics, again, arithmetic shows the virus’s staggering cost.

In 2019, U.S. Gross Domestic Product was $21.5 trillion, or about $400 billion a week. The pandemic will cut 2020 GDP by an estimated $2 trillion, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank. So, already the U.S. is down at least $2 trillion in GDP. Now, add in the $4 trillion allocated by Congress to meet the nation’s needs during the first five months of the pandemic.

Together, we’re on the hook for $6 trillion in pandemic costs without having one nickel’s worth of success in slowing or stopping it.

Shutdown

For comparison’s sake, consider the cost of least trying to contain the pandemic by shutting down the nation for a month, like May, when it was already evident that the coronavirus could grow into today’s raging bull if we didn’t corral it. Four weeks of lost GDP at $400 billion a week would have cost $1.6 trillion, or about one-fourth of today’s long-gone $6 trillion.

That’s not to say a shutdown would have eliminated the coronavirus. It’s a solid bet, though, that even a modest attempt at one last spring would have cut the virus’s spread this summer and limited its deadly return this winter. But we don’t do modest anymore.

Too bad, because when it comes to the coronavirus — whether you examine it through abstraction, distraction or subtraction — we have so much to be modest about.

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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