By Cecil Hoge
It has been a busy few months. So many things to ponder. The Pandemic is still out and about, but seemingly more on the outs. The winter surge is fading and the summer surge has not yet come. Medical experts and politicians of both parties cheer the supposed end, saying the light is shining at the end of the tunnel and America is reopening. Meanwhile, new variants may lurk in the background.
Prices for all goods and services are raging and everyone on a budget who buys necessities and niceties is in a clamor over that. No worries for billionaires, multi-millionaires, reality stars, news anchors, tech entrepreneurs, trendy podcasters, social media influencers and brand ambassadors!
But for rest of us, inflation is a real concern. Yes, salaries are up, but it is a merry chase between prices and wages and somehow prices have the edge.
In the world outside of the U.S., Czar Vlad is rattling sabers and telling the Ukraine that it is our highway or obliteration. Slow Joe, our present President, says I’ve read your mail Vlad, it’s a war of choice and sanctions or you make nice nice and we might hold your hand.
Up in Canada, truckers are agitated over masks and vaccines while down here TV commentators and republicans cheer them on. I wonder if those same folks would be so enthusiastic if it was their garbage truckers not picking up their refuse.
Emperor Xi in the Middle Kingdom is trying to swat down Omicron in old Hong Kong…good luck with that. Meanwhile, the Olympics limp towards a conclusion.
There is a lot of information, misinformation and disinformation to sort through these days. Things come at us at a bewildering speed on a daily basis and it is not easy to sort out what is what. Hopefully, most of us possess come some common sense and we can discern the wheat from the chaff. Hopefully, most of us view events from different perspectives and consider different viewpoints and then make up our minds. Hopefully, we have some sense of past history to least understand the present in context of the past.
There are a lot of views about vaccines, boosters, masks, disinfectants, politics, soap, cures, inflation, stagflation and the economy. I will not try to muddy those waters here. Each person must decide for themselves how to approach the problems we face. And as we all know, many people have many different views.
A few things are certain: In 2019, a new disease started in China and spread around the world and began to infect a lot of people. This disease eventually appeared and infected people in every country in the world. In the U.S. over 900,000 deaths have been attributed to what was first called the Coronavirus. Over time, this disease also became known variously the Wuhan Virus, Covid 19, Alpha, Delta, Omicron, the China Virus and many other knicknames.
In time, it became a Pandemic affecting all parts of this world.
In this country, it is probably best known as The Pandemic. Of course, for those who have read history, this was not The Pandemic, it was only one of many Pandemics that have afflicted Mankind since history has been recorded.
The history of this new Pandemic’s arrival, spread and the different reactions to solve it are now pretty well known. First it spread in China, then it appeared in Europe. Shortly thereafter, it came to the United States, Canada, South America. It went on to spread to all of Asia, India and Africa. Within a year, The Pandemic had spread to every country in the world.
To date, almost 6,000,000 deaths worldwide have been attributed to The Pandemic.
Various solutions have been tried to decrease or eliminate The Pandemic. Many solutions have been proposed…washing hands vigorously, maintaining social distances between people, wearing masks, closing down restaurants, bars, hotels, stadiums, theaters, convention centers and other businesses. None of these measures have been sufficient to stop the spread of the Coronavirus…aka Wuhan Virus, Covid 19, The Pandemic.
Pharmaceutical companies entered into a great race to introduce vaccines which were first were thought to prevent the spread of the disease, but later came to be thought to prevent serious hospitalization and death from the disease. These vaccines were developed very quickly and started to be widely deployed about a year and half after the beginning the first virus infections.
Time and experience and the emergence of new variants of the original disease changed the perceptions of what the true benefits of the vaccines were. Nevertheless, those that had some faith in medical statistics and published medical studies could believe that at the very least the vaccines provided protection to most people against severe disease, hospitalizations and death.
This brings us to moment we now are. There now have been 5 separate variants emerging from the original Coronavirus. The latest variant, Omicron, has proven to be the most infectious. Fortunately, it has also proven to be somewhat milder. Even more fortunately, the Omicron surge now seems to be ebbing in England, Europe and the United States. Presently, experts are predicting the Omicron variant will fade with the winter chill.
What is not known is whether this variant or new variants will emerge to further pester humans. Time will tell, as they say.
At the moment if one is keeping score of the Coronavirus so far, I would give the bugs a solid 7. And if one sticks to the idea of keeping score, I would give the drugs a limpid 3, with the proviso that it is still unknown what the long term effects of having multiple injections of vaccines will be. Many may question the 3 number, whether limpid or not, choosing some other number between zero and 10.
Let’s put that judgment aside…the above scores that I have assigned to bugs and drugs are only temporary and arbitrary scores since it is not clear whether the game is coming to an end or about to go on for several more innings.
All of us have noticed that whatever the score you assign to the bugs of The Pandemic and to the drugs developed to defeat them, The Pandemic has altered the lives of many people. Again, if I were to score the effects of the Pandemic, I would give that a rousing 25. Again, that is an arbitrary score, but I think the effects of The Pandemic on people has been pretty big.
Not only did The Pandemic create affect our lives, it also altered the state of the economy. It should be admitted that when The Pandemic first arrived the American economy was on the mend and close to fully cured from previous ills of The Great Recession. Some would say the economy just before The Pandemic arrived on the scene was the best it ever has been, others would say, not quite, it was recovering from the terrible real estate and stock market collapse of 2008 & 2009 quite well, but maybe it was not completely recovered. Wherever you stand on that issue, it was very clear that the arrival of The Pandemic set us backward.
And from The Pandemic came many effects, actions and reactions. The government decided, rightly or wrongly, in beginning of The Pandemic to shut down offices, businesses, stadiums, theaters, restaurants, bars, convention centers, flights going in and out of the country.
This shutdown of businesses had the immediate effect of putting millions of people out of work. The government acted quickly to soften that blow. And those actions, sending sums of money directly to people and companies, did help many people and many businesses get by during the frightening and financially difficult times of The Pandemic.
The input of billions of dollars directly was very helpful in getting back on the road to recovery, but it was done by the simple method of the government printing money that did not exist. It was also true that the government of the United States printed money a few years earlier to get out of the earlier worldwide collapse of stock markets and financial institutions. So, it should be remembered that the government has propped up the the economy with printed money for almost 15 years.
That created quite large deficits for the government and had an inflationary effect on the economy because we debased the value of our currency to print our way out of The Great Recession and The Pandemic. It should be said that debasing the currency was probably a necessary evil in order to work our way out of these two great calamities.
With the printing of money we did not have came the inevitable and logical result: inflation.
This was further complicated by The Pandemic and some of the problems The Pandemic caused. That fact that shops and malls and restaurants were closed caused people to seek new and different purchasing solutions. Online shopping doubled in the first months of The Pandemic and what people spent money on also changed. So, instead of going to Disneyland or a movie or a restaurant, people ordered Take Out. Much of the Take Out ended up being sent in, as people had meals delivered directly to their apartments or homes. People were afraid to congregate in bars and restaurants and that was made easier by the fact that many bars and restaurants were closed.
People sought other avenues of entertainment. In home exercise equipment, streaming movies and drinking at home rose in popularity while the attendance of music festivals, trade shows, bars, restaurants and sports stadiums declined or collapsed. Air travel almost ceased and people sought activities that could done with social distancing involved. This created a new boom and appreciation home exercise, fishing, kayaking, jogging, walking, eating and drinking. So some activities were decimated while others boomed.
At the same time tens of millions of people rethought their jobs. Some got laid off, some found new occupations, some just stayed home.
All of these changes created new and odd declines and surges in demand, creating sudden shortages of toilet paper, household soaps, masks, sporting goods, groceries, cardboard, paper, warehouse workers, delivery trucks and people to work in technology companies.
And thus the economy experienced sharp declines and rises in odd and strange ways, creating huge demand for new workers, new goods and parts to make those goods. Companies were forced to pay higher wages to get people to man their businesses and that was good. At same time, because costs were rising in factories around the world and in this country, factories everywhere raised their prices and that was bad.
So inflation went from being benign at one or two percent to being a Tiger at seven and half percent. Wages rose along with prices, but it was a heady race and surely prices had the upper hand. So, I give inflation a score of 12 and wages a score of 9. Maybe that is right, maybe that is wrong.
As if that was not enough, enter Vlad the Bad! Czar Vlad had his own agenda and it just can not wait. Czar Vlad was in need of few more satellite countries and Ukraine looked mighty good to him.
Sleepy Joe, as he is known to some, our President, as he is known to others, has been trying to discourage Vlad the Bad, saying I know your game. We got satellites in the sky, we can see what you are doing…you are making a war of choice. If that is so, it’s sanctions for you. So, Sleepy Joe has been very indiscreet and rude in pointing out that Czar Putin may invade Ukraine, but he will have to pay some kind of price.
The price to be paid by Russia has been determined to be ”sanctions”, but as they say, the devil is in the details. Europe and England say they are fully on board, but Germany a little concerned about heat since most of that comes from Vlad the Bad in the form of natural gas. The thought has occurred to Germany that Vlad the Bad might be really bad and shut off the gas. So, a hot war in the Ukraine could result in cold homes in Germany.
So there we are and fine pickle it is!