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Fri Mar 27, 2020, 09:44 AM

Interesting Interview W. Medieval Historian: Crises Reveal What's Already Broken, Not New Threats


What kind of breaks, systemic failures, and supercharged trends are you seeing with our response to COVID-19? Your point about systems breaking that were already stretched thin reminded me of these reports that somewhere between 90 and 98 percent of our nationís ICU beds are being used all the time.

Thatís exactly the kind of thing Iím talking about. When you have a society that has optimized for some ideal of efficiency or shareholder value, as opposed to redundancy or resiliency, this is the kind of result that you get. From my point of view, that amounts to a break. Something like repeatedly cutting ICU capacity in order to deliver more shareholder profits, that looks like a broken system to me, or at least one in which the incentives are not necessarily aligned with public welfare.

Put on a slightly different scale, if you have an economy thatís set up such that having to reduce consumer spending in order to preserve public health places such a massive strain on it, thereís probably something underlying thatís unhealthy about that system as a whole. If your system of political economy is not healthy enough to withstand a shock like that or respond to that, somethingís wrong. If we end up with 20 or 25 percent unemployment, if we end up with large numbers of people who canít eat, who are going to be paying thousands and thousand of dollars from medical bills if and when they get sick Ö those are systemic crises that grew out of problems that existed before the coronavirus.

Sticking with this theme of ďcrises donít break societies, they reveal whatís already broken,Ē how does that pertain to other world-changing historical events?


Thereís a climate element, too. Part of the reason for this long economic efflorescence was that it was a period of really good, warm, stable weather. Itís less important for farmers that the weather be good than that it be predictable, because what you need to know is when to sow your crops and when to harvest them. But over the late [1200s] and into the [1300s], the weather gets much worse. Itís much less predictable ó itís wetter, colder. And that reaches a particularly bad point in whatís known as the ďGreat Famine,Ē which spikes between about 1315 and 1322. A lot of people died: Hundreds of thousands or millions of people starved to death across Western Europe. So thatís a sign that there is something systemically wrong. And that continued up through the Black Death.



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Reply Interesting Interview W. Medieval Historian: Crises Reveal What's Already Broken, Not New Threats (Original post)
hatrack Mar 27 OP
Canoe52 Mar 27 #1

Response to hatrack (Original post)

Fri Mar 27, 2020, 11:36 AM

1. Fascinating read, thanks for sharing!

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