The Coronavirus and its Social Consequences, by Heiner Rindermann - The Unz Review
days, for weeks, the media have been dominated by the spread of the corona
virus. Almost every hour new numbers on infections and deceased are published.
There are also reports of political reactions and the economic consequences.
What was previously considered impossible is now decided: there are travel
restrictions, borders are locked, people are no longer allowed to be in the
streets, factories are shut down. The police control playgrounds so that no
children play there. Swimming pools are closed, shops are closed. Restaurants
are not allowed to enter. Football games and concerts are canceled. Churches
and museums, theaters and cinemas, zoos and parks remain orphaned. My
university closes. Young scientists who should be hired have to go to social
assistance because the department for human resources can no longer process the
files. E-mails from desperate post-docs come from abroad, which had prospects
for academic jobs and are now falling into poverty.
prices collapse, companies anticipate profit declines and losses, sovereign
debt levels increase in unprecedented rates, unemployment rises sharply. If
companies, clubs, shops or hairdressers are not allowed to open and therefore
do not generate any income, they can no longer pay their staff, they have to
put them on short-time work and dismiss them later. Large companies, such as
Vapiano and Maredo, two previously very successful large restaurant chains in
Germany, and countless small self-employed people go bankrupt.
first thing to be aware of is that these are not the consequences of the
“Corona-crisis”, but the consequences of political decisions dealing
with it. If people become unemployed, it is not because of the virus and
illness, but because of the political restrictions that are becoming more
severe day by day.
people would become more cautious without the many restrictions imposed, but
the changes would be much less radical. When I was on the playground with the
youngest child on a Saturday some days ago, the playground was filled with
playing children and youngsters riding their boards in the skate park as
always. I tried to keep track of what the parents and teenagers were talking
about. I didn’t hear anything about Corona.
politicians are driven by the extensive media coverage. This is very similar to
the case of Fukushima in 2011, when “tens of thousands of dead” were wrongly
attributed by the leading German media to the Fukushima nuclear disaster
instead of to the tsunami. The politicians have to demonstrate their ability to
act publicly; otherwise, the media would attribute every further death to them.
Politicians try to avoid this and communicate their decisiveness.
the political decisions have many serious consequences, affecting the majority
of people in the long term and affecting society as a whole. Let’s take school
closure as an example: An almost overwhelming number of studies has shown that
schooling promotes intelligence and knowledge, around 3.40 IQ points per year. Lag
of teaching, on the other hand, leads to a reduction in intelligence, which has
been demonstrated using the example of summer vacation. You
can count on about 0.08 to 0.12 IQ points per week of missed lessons. These
losses are greater among children from poorly educated families who are less
able to learn self-directed and who are less supported by parents. The gaps
between good and weak students increase with the missed lessons from day to
day. In the long run, this leads to less innovation, economic growth and
prosperity and to more social tensions, crime and poverty.
In consequence, fewer funds will be available in the health
care and nursing.
corona pandemic is not comparable to previous epidemics. In the Middle Ages,
around a third of the population died of the plague. Because more land but
fewer workers were available in the aftermath, income and prosperity increased. 50
million people died of the Spanish flu in 1918/1919, the
mortality rate was between 2 and 4 percent. Not
only did older people die from it, like the 56-year-old sociologist Max Weber,
but especially younger people between 20 and 40 years old. Both diseases
increased the so-called mortality displacement or excess mortality,
which led to the death of more people and people who would otherwise not have
died in this period and age.
situation is completely different with the COVID-19 disease caused by the
corona virus. According to preliminary knowledge, half to three quarters of
all infected people show no symptoms at all, as was found in a
complete test of the village of Vò Euganeo in Italy. So
far, none or nearly none of the children have been seen to die, among young
healthy adults up to the age of 50 the mortality rate is 0.3%, perhaps even
significantly lower, due to incomplete records of previous illnesses. In Italy,
only one person below 50 has died so far. Mortality
increases from the age of 50 up to 10% among those aged 80 to 90. The
average age of those who died in the Corona pandemic in Italy is around 80
years. However, age itself is not so important here, but age is associated with
a higher load of previous diseases such as diabetes, heart
failure, pulmonary diseases and hypertension, which weaken the immune system.
is also not easy to determine what actually killed these people. Humans always
live with viruses and bacteria, in and around them. The immune system is tuned
to them and we even need this daily “battle” because otherwise allergies could
arise. Therefore, intensive hygiene and intensive hand washing are not useful
in everyday life, except in hospitals. The death of older people with a weak
immune system is less due to the flu, corona or pneumonia themselves, but to
the weak immune system, which allowed pathogens to damage their bodies. Most
probably, these people would die in the foreseeable future, either from one or
the other pathogen that has always been there.
a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, on which 700 people were infected, the
mortality rate was 1%, even though the age of cruise passengers is quite high.
Applied to western societies and their age structure, according to the
statistician Ioannidis, this results in a mortality rate of 0.2%. Thereafter,
the mortality from the corona virus has to be higher than in previously known
variants of the flu in recent decades, but not extremely higher. For this
winter of 2019/20, around 23,000 to 59,000 flu deaths were expected in the
United States, the mortality rate is around 0.1%.
testing, the corona epidemic would probably not be seen as something so unusual
compared to the common flu outbreaks until now. In general, almost one million
people in Germany die every year, roughly the same number of deaths caused by
the Second World War each year in Germany. COVID-19
would not have been noticed in the Middle Ages because the median age of the
population was much lower and the number of old people with previous illnesses
was much smaller. The success of modern medicine has made it possible for a
disease like COVID-19 to become significant.
since the 1990s, the mortality rate in medicine has no longer been the relevant
criterion for assessing the seriousness of an illness for a population, but
the loss of years of healthy life (DALY or
disability-adjusted life years). If,
like the authors of a well-known study published in the Lancet,
a comparison is made here with cardiovascular diseases, pneumonia, stroke, spinal
disorders and traffic accidents that also affect younger people, the negative
impact of COVID-19 on the life of the most would have been even more put into
perspective. However, these other diseases have all been known for a long time,
and the media, politicians and society have been accustomed to them
psychologically. Corona, on the other hand, is new and triggers nervous
reactions, supported by a political-media bombardment. Apparently, for the
first time in their lives, Corona also makes many people realize that they are
mortal. Political and social expectations demand to do something, and those who
follow this call the most are receiving media support, at least at this time.
distorted perception of the danger from a newly emerging infectious disease
threatens to pave the way to a health dictatorship in
which almost everything that stands for freedom, joie-de-vivre and pleasure is
prohibited. Health and a long life in general are only one value among many
other relevant ones and a fulfilled life is not represented by its
length. In addition, we also allow people a lot of unreasonableness, simply
because they want and everyone knows best what is good for themselves. Nobody –
at least so far – came up with the idea of banning smoking, alcohol, obesity,
skiing and cycling, driving a car or consuming Nutella and Big Mac, even one
could extend the life of many, if all of this were prohibited and controlled by
addition, families and societies always live forward.
Classically, a woman marries a man to raise children together, not to help him
take care of their in-laws. The parents exist for the children, not the other
way around. The children give their parents a meaning in life, not vice versa.
A society never came up with the idea of closing schools and thereby
jeopardizing the future of young people (and also of older people) to protect
their old people. How one can be inclined to think of stopping education and
science to extend the life of 90-year-olds by a few months? All of them deserve
our help and respect, but by targeted quarantine, not by paralyzing everyone.
all, you cannot stop the vital youth. The longer all the
prohibitions of amusement and being together last, the more they will be
undermined. It then becomes like the time of prohibition, when alcohol
consumption migrated underground. Above all, subcultures of young people, of
gays, migrants, and all youth in general will not let to take their lifestyle
away. Thus, there are secret parties in the backrooms, an exciting cat and
mouse game with the police, a little Boccaccio and Decamerone and
unlike in the times of the plague, the game is almost without danger for the
youth. The prohibitions and the pressures of persecution will only serve to
intensify the experience. As to ride a roller coaster. We also have a tradition
in the West of the “rebellious wild young man,” from Robin Hood to Gabriele
D’Annunzio, Jean-Jacques Rousseau to James Dean, Friedrich Schiller to Andreas
Baader, Daniel Cohn-Bendit to Martin Sellner, from left to right and again
back. Clandestino and Manu Chao. They were never intimidated by something like
this. Resistance is aestheticized. This will be artistically processed for
generations to come.
what do you do in practice? Corona kills people. The
problem already exists and cannot be ignored. In rare exceptional cases, young
people also become seriously ill and have to be artificially respirated. Most
of the elderly survive, but some need intensive medical treatment. The previous
political measures are inconceivable as permanent. If there is no medicine,
herd immunity or vaccination, how do you want to maintain an open society in
the future? Just one example: the interventions proposed by the London
epidemiologists around Neil Ferguson would run for one to two years. And
then? The US nor Europe nor Japan are Andaman Islands. Would East Asian
countries that have successfully pursued a quarantine policy, cordoning off
their countries in the long run? It is impossible in modern times to stop the
spread of a virus without vaccination, only a temporary slowdown would be an
of running global society into the ground, one has to protect and quarantine
the risk groups. Not closing schools and
factories, restaurants and football stadiums, and if, only for a very short
period of time. Prepare hospitals and the healthcare system for an increase in
diseases as quickly as possible would be a sensible course of action. The virus
will then spread rapidly in the society of the youth and midlifers and set herd
immunity at an infection rate of 60 to 70%. This
protects the risk groups relatively well from damage. Since the pathogen is
highly infectious, everything could be overcome within a few weeks. For Italy
and England, for example, a study by epidemiologists at Oxford University
already predicts an infection rate of more than 50%.
there is no solution without risks. Even if vaccinated, not
everyone will be protected. The virus will surely mutate. We have to adapt to
the fact that it is in the world and that people die from it. In the past we
were forced to deal with the flu. We will also succeed with Corona. In winter
2012/13, between 21,000 and 29,000 people died of flu in Germany – around
25,000 of a total of just under a million deaths in Germany each year.
The corona pandemic will increase these numbers, but it will
not lead to disaster. The damage to society caused by current policies in the
short to long term must be reduced. Politics will surely change soon. The quick
decision-makers who have been advancing so far want to be at the forefront
again and present themselves as saviors of business and society.
Prof. Dr. Heiner Rindermann is
professor of psychology at the Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany. He
works on the subjects human capital and society, education and cultural
comparison. His latest book „Cognitive capitalism: Human capital and the
wellbeing of nations“ has been published in 2018 by Cambridge University Press.
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