Mike Rowe brings a dose of common sense to coronavirus panic

Mike Rowe has won legions of fans because he is the ultimate pragmatic man.  He came to fame showing us the "dirty jobs" that keep America functioning.  His current crusade is to deflect some energy, money, and prestige from academic degrees and channel it into trade certifications.  He makes the case that we have a deficit of people capable of keeping the country running at a mechanical level and that more English majors will not solve the problem.

In a long and fascinating Facebook post, Rowe turns his pragmatic outlook to the coronavirus.  He is not a skeptic and has the humility to recognize that he doesn't fully understand the whole situation.  Still, he understands how systems work, and he's worried that the panic that's breaking the American system is worse than the coronavirus itself.

Before getting to Rowe's wisdom, here are a few things to think about.  First, Rowe is not alone in having an incomplete understanding of the situation.  Indeed, it would be hard to find anyone who fully understands what's going on.  There are too many data for any one person to absorb.  Moreover, just as "to a hammer, everything is a nail," the experts to whom we turn tend to view things through the narrow filter of their expertise.  This means that they, too, cannot fully understand the situation.

Second, America's current 1% mortality rate falls on people who already have the Grim Reaper's hand reaching for their shoulders (that is, the elderly and those with underlying health problems).  They died too soon because of the disease, but they were always vulnerable.  As we get an idea about the number of people who are minimally symptomatic or entirely asymptomatic, increasing the denominator, the mortality rate will become less terrifying. 

Third, Italy, Iran, and Spain are basket cases, with mortality rates of 7–8 percent among those diagnosed.  There are some commonalities among the three hardest hit countries. All of them have had close business contact with mainland China through the Silk Road project or other Chinese initiatives, with hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens shuttling through.  All of them were in denial about the coronavirus.  All of them have socialized medicine.  All of them have more traditional family structures, which may mean young people living with, and infecting, older people.

After that, the commonalities start breaking down: Italy has large numbers of older people, while Spain and Iran do not.  Iran and Italy have terrible pollution.  Spain does not.  Italians and Spanish are heavy smokers; Iranians are more moderate.

Other countries have commonalities with Italy, Spain, and Iran, yet they are not affected in the same way.  Again, although we're beginning to understand the coronavirus's make-up, we are still failing to understand the way the disease moves through populations.

It would be interesting to see if those who have died in America have a genetic tie to Italians, Spaniards, or Iranians.  Just as those who have type A blood are more vulnerable to coronavirus, perhaps people with specific genes are, too.

Fourth, the Black Death in the mid-1300s killed 30–50% of the world's population.  Modern medicine makes it unlikely that this will happen in the here and now.

All of this gets us back to Mike Rowe.  He points out that, despite the lack of knowledge we have, Americans — especially Americans in government — are making instant, big decisions with consequences that may be disastrous and far-reaching.  He writes, too, that people cannot perpetually maintain a state of panic.  Even if we wanted to keep people locked in their houses for a year, wiping out entirely the American economy, Americans wouldn't put up with that.

From this, Rowe concludes that Safety First is not a sound principle.  It's a panic principle that shuts down functionality.  Safety is important, but if it becomes the primary doctrine driving a nation, the world stops, which is itself dangerous.  In other words, Rowe counsels mixing pragmatism with panic, lest we make things in America so bad that we cannot recover from them:

Mike Rowe has won legions of fans because he is the ultimate pragmatic man.  He came to fame showing us the "dirty jobs" that keep America functioning.  His current crusade is to deflect some energy, money, and prestige from academic degrees and channel it into trade certifications.  He makes the case that we have a deficit of people capable of keeping the country running at a mechanical level and that more English majors will not solve the problem.

In a long and fascinating Facebook post, Rowe turns his pragmatic outlook to the coronavirus.  He is not a skeptic and has the humility to recognize that he doesn't fully understand the whole situation.  Still, he understands how systems work, and he's worried that the panic that's breaking the American system is worse than the coronavirus itself.

Before getting to Rowe's wisdom, here are a few things to think about.  First, Rowe is not alone in having an incomplete understanding of the situation.  Indeed, it would be hard to find anyone who fully understands what's going on.  There are too many data for any one person to absorb.  Moreover, just as "to a hammer, everything is a nail," the experts to whom we turn tend to view things through the narrow filter of their expertise.  This means that they, too, cannot fully understand the situation.

Second, America's current 1% mortality rate falls on people who already have the Grim Reaper's hand reaching for their shoulders (that is, the elderly and those with underlying health problems).  They died too soon because of the disease, but they were always vulnerable.  As we get an idea about the number of people who are minimally symptomatic or entirely asymptomatic, increasing the denominator, the mortality rate will become less terrifying. 

Third, Italy, Iran, and Spain are basket cases, with mortality rates of 7–8 percent among those diagnosed.  There are some commonalities among the three hardest hit countries. All of them have had close business contact with mainland China through the Silk Road project or other Chinese initiatives, with hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens shuttling through.  All of them were in denial about the coronavirus.  All of them have socialized medicine.  All of them have more traditional family structures, which may mean young people living with, and infecting, older people.

After that, the commonalities start breaking down: Italy has large numbers of older people, while Spain and Iran do not.  Iran and Italy have terrible pollution.  Spain does not.  Italians and Spanish are heavy smokers; Iranians are more moderate.

Other countries have commonalities with Italy, Spain, and Iran, yet they are not affected in the same way.  Again, although we're beginning to understand the coronavirus's make-up, we are still failing to understand the way the disease moves through populations.

It would be interesting to see if those who have died in America have a genetic tie to Italians, Spaniards, or Iranians.  Just as those who have type A blood are more vulnerable to coronavirus, perhaps people with specific genes are, too.

Fourth, the Black Death in the mid-1300s killed 30–50% of the world's population.  Modern medicine makes it unlikely that this will happen in the here and now.

All of this gets us back to Mike Rowe.  He points out that, despite the lack of knowledge we have, Americans — especially Americans in government — are making instant, big decisions with consequences that may be disastrous and far-reaching.  He writes, too, that people cannot perpetually maintain a state of panic.  Even if we wanted to keep people locked in their houses for a year, wiping out entirely the American economy, Americans wouldn't put up with that.

From this, Rowe concludes that Safety First is not a sound principle.  It's a panic principle that shuts down functionality.  Safety is important, but if it becomes the primary doctrine driving a nation, the world stops, which is itself dangerous.  In other words, Rowe counsels mixing pragmatism with panic, lest we make things in America so bad that we cannot recover from them: