People are often afraid to go out on an entrepreneurial limb – but now’s a better time than ever to build a business. Recessions and unstable periods often present the best opportunities to start new companies. During the 2008 financial crisis, for example, startups like Uber, AirBnB and many others were founded partly as a response to changing market dynamics.
In a little-known challenge to the economic fallout of the pandemic, millions of people have turned the crisis into an opportunity for progress. That is especially true in the United States. According to the Census Bureau, new businesses are springing up at the fastest rate in more than a decade. So far in 2020, the bureau has received more than 3.2 million applications for employer identification numbers. The comparable figure for the same period last year was 2.7 million.
Faced with furloughs or layoffs, many people are fashioning their own form of work. They see the pandemic as a now-or-never time to pursue a dream. (See related story, here.) Choose your cliché to explain this burst of entrepreneurship: Necessity is the mother of invention. Sweet are the uses of adversity. If life gives you lemons...
Some people can obtain loans, but many start with their own savings, driven by the passion of a good idea to invest in a new service or product. They tap into unexplored creativity, flexibility, and adaptability. “The most important lesson of COVID-19 is learning to adapt,” Myriam Simpierre, who opened a neighborhood grocery in New York City, told MarketWatch. “Distribution channels go awry. Prices change. A pandemic happens. Anything can happen. You have to be adaptable.”
Another entrepreneur who opened a hair salon makes sure she regularly sweeps the sidewalk out front and provides a bowl of water for passing canines, giving her an opportunity to “talk to everybody” passing by. In turn, she says, the neighborhood has embraced her business.
While many existing businesses have been forced to shut down, optimistic newcomers push ahead, in part out of a joy in being their own boss. The pandemic has produced a supercharged version of “creative destruction,” the theory that a good economy thrives when older businesses lose their way and innovative ones spot an opening. That churn is also putting the lie to the idea that only big corporations will survive the pandemic.
One reason many of these new businesses are enjoying early success is that customers crave in-person buying experiences after long periods of social isolation. That’s especially true when customers can meet new people, such as in a cafe. Other entrepreneurs spot new trends – such as a strong demand for bicycles – that they can supply.
A personal trainer in Madison, Wisconsin, who lost his job, started a mobile bicycle repair business, investing about $1,000 in equipment. Now he’s booked fixing bikes at people’s homes all day long, earning more than he did in his previous job.
“It feels like I built a rocket and lit it – and now I’m just holding on to the tail,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
Starting a new venture can be scary. But it can also be liberating. People find they must draw on their innate qualities, such as a humility to serve or the courage to test a new idea. Those are the fuel behind any new venture and are just one of the salves during the pandemic.
This article first appeared at Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com)
Why we chose this article:It takes courage to speak out against conventional wisdom, especially when it is enforced by the unlimited coercive power of the State. In the case of the fake coronavirus pandemic scare, that coercive power is being exercised worldwide in some kind of concerted effort. But if we try to think our way to the real truth, is there really any pandemic? Gary D. Barnett has the courage to ask – and answer – the question.
When truth, honesty, and facts are considered, there can be only one valid reality, but that is not how ‘reality’ is understood or accepted by the common man. Given the dire situation we face today with this fictitious pandemic, the concept of reality as viewed by the masses is simply perception. That perception therefore can change with every passing moment, so it is not reality at all except in the sense of what is falsely believed as truth in any given time frame. In other words, each individual sees reality as what he thinks or believes in the flash of the present, and this belief is mostly based on what suits his own interest. So each person therefore, perceives his own reality, which means he has little knowledge of reality at all.
There has been an enormous amount of truthful information available concerning this fake virus scare, and many extremely qualified investigative journalists have continually exposed the lies coming from the mainstream media. The exposure of the lies of the controlling self-claimed ‘elites’ and the entirety of the political class have been made available, but are either ignored or hidden by those seeking to advance very nefarious agendas. Little if any of this honest information gets to the average American public, as reliance on mainstream news is still evident among the proletariat class. This is a travesty, as this same mainstream is the enabling arm of the propaganda state. There is so much information available, but so much of it is conflicting that it leaves the public-schooled masses in such a stupor that they look for the easy way out that aligns them with the largest crowd of non-thinkers.
Because of this, it is useful to concentrate on some factual basics that can be understood by a large portion of people in this country. I am speaking about total death rates and mortality; two terms that leave little room for argument or speculation. Putting aside for just a moment the bogus deaths claimed to be strictly due to a virus that has never been identified, the world’s actual death numbers tell a different story.
For purposes here, all considered will be for this current year of 2020. As of this moment, according to the World Life Expectancy tables, total deaths have reached over 44 million out of a total population of 7.734 billion people. If this number is extrapolated out for this year, total deaths worldwide will be approximately 58.7 million. Average deaths per year worldwide currently average close to 60 million deaths per year, so this year is certainly not abnormal, and in fact seems to be slightly less than normal. How can this be, given that we are told we are in the middle of one of the most deadly pandemic periods in history, so deadly that the world has been shut down?
Total deaths ‘claimed’ due to the so-called Covid-19 have reached according to these tables, about 1.009 million so far, which includes all Covid-19 deaths worldwide counted since last year. This does not take into consideration that the CDC has stated that only 6% of all Covid deaths in the U.S. (and therefore most likely the world) are from Covid alone. Using the current number of cases claimed of approximately 34 million worldwide, and current deaths claimed of 1.009 million, this equates to a death rate of 0.0297. If only deaths due to Covid without multiple co-morbidities are considered, that death rate falls to 0.0018. Either way, there is no pandemic!
To expand on this assertion, consider deaths due to other factors that apparently do not qualify as any pandemic? Once again, using the highest and certainly inaccurate number of a million claimed deaths due to Covid-19 alone, cardiovascular deaths this same year are 12.854 million, or almost 13 times more than Covid. Cancer is 5.7 times higher, respiratory 3 times higher, perinatal 2.3 times higher, diorrhoeal 1.6 times higher, digestive 1.5 times higher, and TB 1.1 times higher. To accentuate the ludicrous nature of this hoax by using the actual CDC U.S. death rate of Covid patients at 6% of what is recorded, the only morbidities less deadly than Covid are Dengue, a mosquito borne disease, and natural forces. So why is this being called a Pandemic?
Even automobile accidents will account for about the same number of deaths as are claimed as Covid deaths this year, (automobile deaths happen every year) but I have not seen the world governments outlawing the use of all motor vehicles on the planet. If any logic among the world’s population still exists, please consider the stupidity of this virus false flag event meant for the singular purpose of a global reset allowing for the control of the entire planet by the few.
The assaults on the freedom of global populations, and the propaganda campaign perpetrated by the controlling forces and their enforcers in government have been very successful considering the state’s agenda. The enormous amount of tyranny that has befallen the world’s residents in just the past few months is staggering, but this has been only the beginning of the terror, as in order for the state to achieve total power and control, much more death and destruction is planned.
The next major step in this attempt to conquer all of us, and in the process, relegate the bulk of society to that of a slave underclass to be used as fodder for the claimed elites, is a vaccine strategy that will seek to deliver its poison to 7 billion people. This attempt at massive population control will first be tried by gaining voluntary acceptance by the people at large all across the world. This will require much more fear mongering, and the state stands ready to frighten the people enough to gain mass compliance. If that does not work as planned, mandatory injection will be forthcoming, as the delivery of toxic poisons and viruses, possible sterility additives, monitoring and tracking technological agents, gene-altering nanoparticles, and any number of other dangerous mind-altering elements, will be sought and enforcement ramped up to extreme levels. That is one reason that the current administration here in this country has called out the military to distribute vaccines.
I believe the critical point of this horrendous coup meant to subdue society is upon us, and that this upcoming election will be the turning point that will signal a finality of any chance for revolt against this tyranny if apathy and indifference continue to consume the people. Stand up now and fight against the monsters that are planning our demise, or our fate will be sealed in totalitarian madness.
“And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”
~ Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn , “The Gulag Archipelago,” written 1958 to1968—Published 1973 by Editions du Seuil
A curious but fortunate characteristic of virus epidemics is their limited life spans. No one knows why, but guesses include herd immunity and mutations of the virus.
The following graph from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics shows the time profile of the COVID-19 weekly death counts from February onward. (For an interactive version of the graph, go here.)
In the U.S., the virus got underway in March. For the week ending March 14, the total number of deaths nationwide was 52. During the following month, the number of deaths increased rapidly, peaking in the week ending April 18 at a count of 17,026.
From that time onward, the death count declined rapidly to a weekly number of 3,684 in late June. A second “wave” began in July. The peak of that second wave was 6,794 deaths during the week ending July 25. After that, a steeper decline commenced and accelerated.
The peak death count for Americans under age 25 was 28 (for the week ending April 11) and has been under that number since. Only a single death occurred in that age group during the latest reported week, and there were no deaths recorded in the 25–34 age group.
Virus epidemics behave differently from virtually all other diseases. If you graphed timelines of the number of cancer deaths, fatal heart attacks, and fatal strokes, those timelines would be virtually flat.
Virus epidemics, however, have relatively short time profiles, like what we’re seeing with COVID-19. There’s nothing unusual about the fact that the coronavirus death count is dying a natural death. That should have been anticipated, and it should now be widely publicized. Why are we pretending not to know this good news? These facts are easy to find. We ought to be celebrating as we did when WWII ended.
This COVID-19 death profile is extremely significant yet is almost totally ignored by the media. Their focus is on cases, not deaths. The number of cases has not decreased as rapidly as the number of deaths. Only a small percentage of cases now end in death, and the death count is vastly more important than the case count. The case count may linger, but that problem is becoming increasingly manageable.
The latest reported weekly death count (August 29) was 370. That’s out of a population of 330 million people. In a single week, between August 8 and August 15, the number of deaths dropped 85 percent (from 3,169 to 455). The COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. is now barely more than one per million and dropping like a rock. Coronavirus deaths are currently half the number of weekly vehicle fatalities. We’re now seeing the pandemic in our rearview mirror.
Ron Ross, Ph.D. is a former professor of economics and author of The Unbeatable Market. He can be reached at email@example.com.
We’ve lived through the most bizarre experience of human folly in my lifetime, and perhaps in generations. Among the strangest aspects of this has been the near universal failure on the part of regular people, and even the appointed “experts” (the ones the government employs, in any case), to have internalized anything about the basics of viruses that my mother understands, thanks to her mother before who had a solid education in the subject after World War II.
Thus, for example, are all governments ready to impose new lockdowns should the infection data turn in the other direction. Under what theory, precisely, is this supposed to help matters? How does reimposing stay-home orders or mandating gym closures mysteriously manage to intimidate a virus into going away? “Run away and hide” seems to have replaced anything like a sophisticated understanding of viruses and immunities.
On March 18th FedEx founder & CEO Fred Smith was interviewed by Fox’s Bret Baier about the new coronavirus. Smith’s entrepreneurial brilliance makes him an insightful interview at any time, but the one referenced on the 18th was particularly important.
That’s the case because FedEx has 907 employees based in Wuhan. Wuhan is an increasingly prominent city when it comes to production, and as FedEx moves production and packages around the world, it was only logical that Smith’s company would have a big presence there.
What Smith relayed to Baier was very eye opening, which is why it’s surprising the interview didn’t achieve more play than it did. Smith indicated to Baier that all 907 of his employees in Wuhan had been tested for the virus, and four were initially diagnosed as having contracted it. Smith went on to report that two of the four positive diagnoses were later revealed as false, but the main thing was that those who contracted the virus were fully recovered.
From there it’s worth considering the Smith interview on March 18th relative to when the virus first became news in the United States. It was in early January that readers started to read about it, which means it likely had been working its way through Wuhan and other Chinese cities for quite some time.
The point of this introduction is that FedEx’s complex in Wuhan is hardly some kind of micro warehouse employing very few. One imagines that at 907 employees it’s fairly large relative to other employers in Wuhan, not to mention that Smith’s employees were actively handling packages presumably touched by residents of the city that’s known as the epicenter of the virus’s breakout. Translated, Smith and FedEx’s experience with the virus as of March 18th was much more than anecdotal. That his employees were largely spared its spread, and that none had died, reads as a reasonable market signal going back over two months (and realistically much longer than that) that the lethality of Covid-19 was thankfully less than substantial.
Thinking about China more broadly, much noise has been made by left and right about how China’s death rates from the virus require an asterisk next to them, that Beijing’s Communist Party leadership can’t be trusted, that the economic figures are fudged, etc. For the purposes of this piece, let’s agree that all that’s assumed is true.
If so, it doesn’t alter the reality that assuming massive amounts of deaths in Wuhan and elsewhere from the coronavirus, this truth would have quickly reached the media. In a world in which information travels at the tap of a smartphone, there’s no way to hide what’s happening. Or for that matter, what happened. Along these lines, it’s no doubt true that Chinese history books are scrubbed of information about the bloody, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. At the same time, it’s also well known in China that anyone with passable computer skills can pull up the truth about what happened on the internet with ease.
In short, if the coronavirus had been a major killer in a country with hospitals that don’t hold a candle to U.S. hospitals, and in a country where smoking is at least visibly quite a bit more common, we would have known about it months ago. Smith’s nearly 2 ½ month old interview, along with the speed at which news travels, tells us there was fairly reliable information going back quite a while that this wasn’t the Bubonic Plague.
It’s something to think about in consideration of the economic impact of the lockdowns. Patricia Cohen reported in yesterday’s New York Times that “More than 40 million people – the equivalent of one out of every four workers – have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus pandemic grabbed hold in mid-March.” In Cohen’s case, let’s first excuse her reportorial habit of blaming the virus for the onset of all this job loss, while also correcting it. What happened is that by mid-March, much of the U.S. was locked down or on the way to being locked down. With streets and businesses empty, and with other businesses increasingly shut down by decree, unemployment soared.
This is important simply because we knew by mid-March that the virus wasn’t very lethal. Sorry, but we did. Just as the old Soviet Union couldn’t keep the Chernobyl nuclear incident off of the front pages of U.S. newspapers at a time when communications technology was more than primitive by comparison, there’s no way that the Chinese could have hidden mass death in Wuhan or elsewhere if in fact mass death had been the result of the virus’s spread.
Which means that it was also well known by mid-March that some who contracted the virus experienced a lot of discomfort, some very little, and some seemingly not at all. But the main thing is that if it had been a major killer, the previous truth would have been a known quantity.
All of which brings up a question: who among us would trade job loss for the possibility of delaying exposure to a virus? As Holman Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal has long made plain, flattening the curve at best means rescheduling virus exposure as opposed to avoiding it altogether.
As someone who has been laid off before, and who has also been demoted, the embarrassment and agony that comes with job loss would make feeling sick to awful for one or several weeks the ultimate bargain. Worse is that job loss and/or demotion stay with those let go and publicly shrunken long after both scenarios happen. For one, there’s the terror related to how bills will be paid, rent will be made, and whether a move will be a necessity. For two, while it’s so often the case that job loss is a consequence of forces beyond one’s control (think dopey politicians prone to hysterics), it’s frequently true amid layoffs that not everyone is let go. No matter the circumstances of job loss, they attack the self-worth of those made redundant. And then there’s the terror of getting back on the job market, all the while wondering how to explain your unemployment.
All of the above ignores how much it pains those who must deliver the news about firings. Media members who should know better paint CEOs and executives as heartless on the matter, but readers can rest assured they’ll never find anyone who enjoys delivering news this crushing. Job loss is awful for everyone,
Which brings us back to mid-March when the lockdowns began and when layoffs took off at a rate no American has realistically ever seen. Politicians will claim they had no choice, that the virus was an unknown, that “China” wasn’t forthcoming with the truth about it such that stateside politicians had to fly a little bit blind.
Let’s please not them get away with such nonsense. The very technology that enables rapid fire communication among readers, the very technology that has enabled long lost and geographically distant friends to reconnect (think Zoom parties) amid these lockdowns is the same technology that would have alerted us to a killer, as opposed to that which generally makes us ill.
Politicians panicked. Plain and simple. And in doing so their panic led to exponentially more unemployment and long-term agony than would have been the case had they simply told us adults to be careful. In short, let’s not let the political class hide behind a lack of knowledge and “China.” They need to pay at the ballot box.
John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, and Vice President at FreedomWorks.
Many call for ‘pausing’ the economy during the pandemic, and then, presumably, ‘press play’ again when it’s safe to do so. But this fundamentally misunderstands what an economy is.
The market economy is better understood as an economic organism than a machine or mechanical system. An economy does not come with levers and controls, it has no brakes and no gas pedal, and it certainly cannot be stopped to then be restarted. The economy is, simply put, our collective organizing of scarce (meaning we would be better off with more) resources toward satisfying people’s wants through the production of goods and services. This ‘organism’ consists of the constant improvements and adjustments of autonomous producers who are interdependent in the web of creation directed by the generation of valuable outcomes.
While many prefer to belittle this advanced web of human activity and effort by calling it “‘only’ the economy,” presumably contrasted by “other values,” they only reveal their ignorance. The economy is not about ‘stuff’, but about contributing, to the best of our joint ability, to people’s well- being. Much of this is through production of things and gadgets, but what the critics fail to realize is that those are valued only for the experiences and comforts they bring. ‘Stuff’ is produced when people think other people are best benefitted by such things. But where this is not so, those engaging in such production lose everything they bet on it. The consumer, by which is meant any person looking to increase their wellbeing, is sovereign: any and all production efforts can in an instant and even at a whim be rejected by consumers and thereby the undertaker be put out of business.
The target of ‘the economy’ is the satisfaction of consumers, and the ‘aiming’ for it is done by entrepreneurs putting their own belongings and livelihoods on the line. Should they fail, meaning not only that they do not provide consumers with satisfaction but also that someone else did so to a greater extent, the effort and investment is lost. Should they succeed, they profit if they have been able to keep costs below the price consumers were willing to pay. The consumer always benefits; the entrepreneur gets part of the proceeds if successful. Within the mass of attempts by those who are imaginative regarding how to satisfy consumers and sure enough to try it out despite the risk of loss, labor is remunerated for its expected contribution.
We, as providers of labor, can command higher wages if we become more productive in entrepreneurs’ uncertain production undertakings. The more we specialize, the greater our output per hour invested. The more tools (capital) we have, the greater our output. Most of our economy today is involved in producing productivity: generating and disseminating knowledge and skills, creating and refining tools and machines. These investments increase future output and, therefore, increase consumers’ wellbeing–and increase wages.
This is the division of labor, a core means by which an economy increases its efficiency and output. But it would be helpless were it not for prices, generated as entrepreneurs bid for resources to use in production with expected prices for outputs in mind. Prices represent entrepreneurs’ collective best guesses of how much their efforts will be worth to consumers, and labor captures its contribution in wages as entrepreneurs compete to add their time and effort to production. In general, the more productive an economy, the higher the wages; and the more productive a person, the higher their wages. But wages are agreed on and paid before profits (or losses) are realized. Employees do not bear the risk but are paid as providers of input to production.
The consumer (typically an employee using their earned wages) still gets to determine the fate of the entrepreneur’s undertaking. It is through the decision to buy or not that we approve (or not) of what entrepreneurs have done. While entrepreneurs ‘direct’ the economy by establishing production, many of these productions will fail and falter. Because consumers did not think it was good enough. This is how the economy continuously adjusts and recreates itself: entrepreneurs attempting production, thereby attracting scarce means (resources, tools, workers’ effort), and consumers giving the final ???? / ????.
What we today see as ‘the economy’, in which we earn and spend our wages, is our present level of accomplishment
in this process of discovery and creation which consistently progresses to greater levels of productivity and, thus, prosperity and wellbeing. We are literally enjoying the outcome of hundreds, if not many thousands, of years of evolution, in which millions of people have attempted to figure out how to best serve consumers using the little means made available to them through previous discoveries and successes. The prosperity we presently enjoy is at a level previous generations could not even imagine. Yet, they created it and we are only building on their legacy. Importantly, this amazing process has only recently taken form and accelerated, yet has already lifted billions out of abject poverty. It is far from done yet, and just like was the case for generations before us we cannot even fathom what life in the future will be like.
The only limit to what this process can accomplish is human imagination. And what imaginations will be rewarded is decided by consumers in the choices they make. Wherever consumers are expected to have urgent wants that remain unsatisfied, this is where we will see entrepreneurs focus their efforts. When and if consumers prefer improvements to healthcare, this is where this process will take us–with more investments, more innovation, more attempts, and more jobs.
While many would simply dismiss what I’ve stated as utopian or even ideology, this is another indication of their fundamental ignorance. We know a great deal of how this process works–and how it is affected by attempts to forcefully improve it. Obviously, this process is by no means perfect. But it is, as I noted in my 2016 book The Seen, the Unseen, and the Unrealized, an unbeatable process. And it cannot remain in one place. Just like an organism, it must change and evolve. Consumers’ variable and changing situations demand it. There are only two ways this process can go: progress or demise. To ‘pause’ this process is akin to killing it. And with it, we will be killing not only production of stuff, but also our wellbeing, prosperity, and ability to support and improve people’s lives.
Suddenly everyone is an #epidemiology expert, which understandably frustrates ‘real’ experts.
But it is good that people read/share information and form opinions. The problem is the widely shared fantasy about what empirical science does and how it works. Science is not a one-shot game where you design one impeccable study to deliver the knowledge we need, and then a “settled” science based on The Truth™. There is no such thing as an impeccable, truth-generating study. There are always things to critique and that can be done better.
This means two things: that we should not take any one study as gospel, and we should not dismiss every study for having weaknesses. Scientists work in the very opposite way, and slowly build a widely agreed-upon body of theory by incrementally refining methods and adding to the evidence. Even the so-called scientific method itself suggests that we cannot ever get to known and verified truth. We can only approach it by continuously progress, learn, and undermine or falsify prior claims. So it is a serious error to dismiss any findings outright because of imperfections in the study.
When scientists take apart a study, they are doing their jobs: by finding flaws, weaknesses, and expressing doubt about results, they are vetting the research and indicating the need and direction for follow-up research. This is very different from the common claim by ‘new experts’ in social media that a study is “false” because scientists have found that it has weaknesses or flaws. Virtually every study is “false” in this regard. It doesn’t mean that the truth has been uncovered, and it certainly doesn’t mean that one can assume that the opposite is true.
Empirical science is more akin to a discovery process than an uncovering of certainly true pieces of knowledge. All knowledge is interpreted through a lens, which in science is established theory, but it happens that the lens is discarded. This is what Thomas Kuhn referred to as scientific revolutions, which happen as evidence contrary to the commonly used lens amasses and raises doubts about its reliability, causing a ‘crisis’ and a new paradigm.
This does not mean that everything that took place before this shift is without value. The prior findings were not discarded, and physics did not start from scratch with the publication of Newton’s theory. The same with Einstein’s theory of relativity. But prior findings are seen in a new light and their significance might shift as the evidence is reinterpreted using the new lens, creating (usually) new understanding. In science, this is par for the course.
Scientists are and should be skeptical, critical, and even unconvinced. They should disagree. It is how our accumulated knowledge grows and is refined. Unfortunately, society has adopted a form of unreflective and normative scientism in which science is assumed to immediately have all the answers. This is, I think, the reason why it is so common in political debates to use as argument that “scientific studies show that…” It is a meaningless statement, but plays on our unreasonable view of science as the generation of immediate and eternal truth.
If we instead recognize science as a discovery process, it should be obvious that there likely are scientific studies in support of most views. But even if I can cite 1,000 studies in support of my opinion, it means little if they were all conducted using unsupported, unreasonable, or since then rejected assumptions (such as geocentrism). Scientific findings are never adopted because there is one study. Yet, prior findings can, at least in principle, be undermined and challenged by a single study finding contradictory evidence. But such falsification of theory, which is how science progresses, requires that the new study is done well and uses state of the art methods and data.
That’s why scientists immediately jump on and mercilessly critique, if not attempt to shoot down, a new study with results that are surprising or even challenging to what they believe to know. If it withstands the critique, it must be taken seriously. If it does not, it is not automatically rejected but may have provided important clues for how to design future studies, refine methods, etc. But what matters is that the study is overall rather well done and, then, that its weaknesses are uncovered.
This is why scientists go through years of training. The point is not (only) to learn the field’s terminology and memorize theories, but to learn the trade: how to do good research and spot weaknesses. Any good scientist can offer a list of weaknesses in any study, which to a layman likely sounds like an outright rejection of the findings. But that’s a highly simplified interpretation that is easily an error. Many groundbreaking works were ferociously resisted by the scientific community before the ideas were adopted (examples like Semmelweis and Chandrasekhar come to mind). This is not necessarily a flaw. Science “should” resist novelty by demanding convincing evidence before adopting new explanations. (But it should not resist for reasons other than logic and evidence.)
In the current pandemic, studies are still scarce and scientists are working to figure out how to properly measure trends in this changing landscape–and make effective recommendations to policymakers. Studies will only get better as we get a better understanding of the virus, more (and more reliable) data, better interpretations, etc. But this cannot be accomplished if new findings are quickly dismissed outright and scientists shunned for not producing evidence in line with people’s (or policymakers’) preferred imagined reality. Science takes time and must take time. It progresses through scrutiny, skepticism, and critique. But informed such, not mob-like attacks on scientists with the “wrong” results.
As the United States continues its “pause,” shuttering businesses and public spaces in order to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, residents are compelled to shelter inside their homes. Meantime, those who live on the streets remain outside. San Francisco is well known for its persistent homeless population, made up heavily of drug addicts, the mentally ill, or both. For now, individuals congregate in tents and encampments and drug suppliers continue to deal.
Before Covid-19 struck, San Francisco officials took no meaningful action to address the squalid conditions under which so many homeless people live. They threw money at the problem, but the problem grew. Homeless activists and some city leaders have argued that living on the street is a right, but today it presents a serious public-health dilemma: how will officials get homeless people to comply with social-distancing requirements, and what should they do with those who’ve contracted the virus?
The city is working to set up the Moscone Center as a shelter, a sensible idea. An even better one would be to revive the recently closed California Pacific Medical Center hospital campus and erect MASH-style medical units. These would allow for closely monitored and efficient care. In fact, the city could use this as an opportunity to provide intensive integrated treatment, including substance-abuse services.
Instead, Mayor London Breed and the Human Services Agency came up with the plan to route over 3,000 people currently living in shelters and navigation centers into hotels. The city is planning to put thousands of physically and psychologically sick people into private hotel rooms, in some of the most luxurious hotels in San Francisco—the InterContinental, Mark Hopkins, and The Palace. Occupants would receive three meals per day, hygiene products, and access to nurses.
At first glance, the plan appears sensible. The shutdown has devastated the hospitality industry, and hotels stand empty. Filling rooms with guests of any kind is attractive for hotel owners, especially since tax dollars will foot nearly all of the bill.
On closer examination, however, serious problems emerge. According to Matt Haney, a city supervisor actively promoting the proposal, occupants would be quarantined to their assigned rooms and be required to follow strict rules. But many of these future luxury hotel guests are hardcore drug addicts. How will the city manage their drug needs in the midst of a pandemic?
Haney concedes that intravenous drug use presents a major challenge to the city’s plan. It’s likely, for instance, that many guests will overdose in their rooms. Others may detox, alone and in agony. Providing addicts with access to maintenance medication such as Suboxone or methadone is a good idea, Haney says, yet these treatments require precise administration. No one has figured out the logistics of providing drug treatment to thousands of addicted residents who may not be interested in receiving it.
Additionally, if the hotels are quarantined, and drug dealers aren’t allowed in, what will prevent the contagious residents from leaving to score the substances they seek? As cravings intensify, violence may erupt that can put hotel staff and other occupants at risk. Armed security guards patrolling the halls and buildings might be required to keep the right people in and the wrong people out. Could the police be expected to maintain order and prevent antisocial drug addicts from leaving their rooms? Apparently the city will offer some type of case management, but there’s already a dearth of needed homeless services, including high-quality psychiatric care. Treating this service-resistant population is challenging under the best circumstances. “It’s not going to be a perfect system,” says Haney.
There’s also no exit plan. A four-month contract for the room occupants is being considered, but where all these people will go afterward is undetermined. California law stipulates that a person lodging in a hotel room for longer than 30 days is considered a tenant. Therefore, thousands of homeless people who have stayed in the posh hotels would become legal permanent residents, with protections against eviction.
Even Haney acknowledges the problem. “The city should make it clear that they would not be considered tenants,” he says. “It needs to be temporary. Once the emergency is over, they should leave.” Yet sending people back onto the streets will surely be met with resistance from homeless-rights activists, some government officials, and the homeless themselves. Who would want to pack up and move from The Palace, after all?
Few of the city’s decision-makers are looking at the long-term effects of placing sick, drug-addicted homeless people into hotel rooms. Once again, San Francisco is ignoring the law of unintended consequences.
Erica Sandberg is a widely published consumer-finance reporter based in San Francisco. As a community advocate, she focuses on homelessness and crime and safety issues.
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