Covid19: Risk to Life and Health Economics

We have been talking of restoring and reclaiming the status of the Paradise on Earth in the Kashmir region. We have also been discussing the implications of the recent measures of the Lieutenant Governor for administrative reforms for enhancing delivery on the performance and introduce effective accountability.

While these are being pursued, the realities of COVID19 are also here demanding the necessary urgency in responding to the crisis. In the context of International Political Economy, Kenneth Kaunda used to say that when two elephants fight, it is the grass who suffers; it is again the grass that suffers when they make love. In the case of COVID19 it is the grass everywhere who are under attack. In this context I remember what the Economists keep on mentioning – Risk. For the definition, let us leave it to the Economists – I should not dare to enter into the debate among Economists. But let us recall an event: “This has got to be the worst day of my life,” observed William Clay Ford Jr., Ford Motor Company Chairman, as he contemplated the February 1999 natural gas explosion in boiler number six that had just levelled part of the River Rouge powerhouse in Detroit, Michigan. The disaster killed 6 people and seriously injured 14, and cut off power to the 1,100 acre facility.” In the case of COVID19, it is a case where the risk to the life of Ford Jr is also involved. Like in the case of any risk, the reality is that we have to adopt strategies to take care of exposures and the consequences thereon. I must hasten to add that litigation is not an option to address the consequences for any lapse has the price of life to be paid; the unavoidable economic cost is the cost of life while appropriate pre-exposure care can sustain life. Still other character of this pandemic is that the persons affected can be of any class, any region, any profession (doctors and paramedics could be affected more adversely), any age, any religion, employed or unemployed and any sex. Still further, the response to address the potential exposures and consequences of any exposures do not make a distinction between individual and state, market and state, and individual and public. All the appropriate strategies are to be adopted by all – individuals and society, public and state, and rich and poor. Thus, the behavioural adjustments are demanded from all – state, market, individuals and society.

In the beginning of 2019, we had one of the most appreciated books of the year –The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World written by Paul Morland. In this book, Morland writes: “The great improvements in material conditions, in nutrition, in housing, in health, in education, which have swept across most of the globe since the start of the nineteenth century, have clearly been economic but they have also been demographic, which is to say they have concerned not just the way people produce and consume but also the numbers of people born, their rate of survival into adulthood, the number of children they in turn have, the age at which they die and the likelihood of their moving region, country or continent.” Now from about the end of the same year we have been fighting against COVID19 wherein social distancing is a key strategy.

The functioning, for centuries and at a faster rate Post-World War II, by both the state and the people on the principles of the First Industrial Revolution where Nature Could be Exploited and the facilitations given by the Digital Revolution have made the people behave like in the William Godwin world. Godwin wrote in 1797 in the very first Essay of his Enquirer: Reflections On Education, Manners, And Literature thus: “The true object of education, like that of every other moral process, is the generation of happiness. Happiness to the individual in the first place. If individuals were universally happy, the species would be happy. Man is a social being. In society the interests of individuals are inter-twisted with each other, and cannot be separated. Men should be taught to assist each other. The first object should be to train a man to be happy; the second to train him to be useful, that is, to be virtuous. There is a further reason for this. Virtue is essential to individual happiness. There is no transport equal to that of the performance of virtue. All other happiness, which is not connected with self-approbation and sympathy, is unsatisfactory and frigid. To make a man virtuous we must make him wise. All virtue is a compromise between opposite motives and inducements. The man of genuine virtue, is a man of vigorous comprehension and long views. He who would be imminently useful, must be eminently instructed. He must be endowed with a fugacious judgment and ardent zeal. The argument in favour of wisdom or a cultivated intellect, like the argument in favour of virtue, when closely considered, shows itself to be twofold. Wisdom is not only directly a means to virtue; it is also directly a means to happiness. The man of enlightened understanding and persevering ardour, has many sources of enjoyment which the ignorant man cannot reach; and it may at least be suspected that these sources are more exquisite, more solid, more durable and more constantly accessible, than any which the wise man and the ignorant man possess in common. “Thus it appears that there are three leading objects of a just education, happiness, virtue, wisdom, including under the term wisdom both extent of information and energy of pursuit.” The tragedy is that the happiness component got the upper hand over the virtuous one.

We are perforce made today to recall what Thomas Robert Malthus, a person so strongly influenced by Godwin, said in 1798 in his an essay on the Principle of Population: “the great and unlooked for discoveries that have taken place of late years in natural philosophy, the increasing diffusion of general knowledge from the extension of the art of printing, the ardent and unshackled spirit of inquiry that prevails throughout the lettered and even unlettered world, the new and extraordinary lights that have been thrown on political subjects which dazzle and astonish the understanding, and particularly that tremendous phenomenon in the political horizon, the french revolution, which, like a blazing comet, seems destined either to inspire with fresh life and vigour, or to scorch up and destroy the shrinking inhabitants of the earth, have all concurred to lead many able men into the opinion that we were touching on a period big with the most important changes, changes that would in some measure be decisive of the future fate of mankind.” It was with this understanding that Malthus reiterated the then contemporaneous preoccupation of public mind: “It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto un-conceived improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.” This is exactly the kind of question we are face to face today more than two centuries later.

COVID19 possesses some critical dimensions for the continuance or otherwise of human life on this planet and the development we have conceived with the trajectory characteristics so far. Four Critical Dimensions may be emphasised: (a) Behavioural Component: The people cannot continue any longer with the production, consumption and sharing patterns as they are accustomed to today. (b) Governance Component: Shared prosperity should now be the key principle replacing the adoption of stand-alone policies.  (c) Demographic Component: The usual way of diving the population for political gains can no longer be foundation for sustaining lives and livelihoods. (d) Development Component: The development foundation should now be necessarily based on sustainability principles replacing the predominantly zero-sum methodology so far.

Fighting and winning over the COVID19 have to be achieved at the earliest possible time and with the resources we have at our command. From the difficulties we have faced so far, the Economics lesson is that we should be able to sustain health while avoiding wastage of the resources devoted to the Health Sector. Adopt and Practise Health Economics henceforth within a framework of an inclusive policy. The Economists can tell us more on these.

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