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Will We Rekindle America in Time to Save It?
We are approaching a do or die point for America. California was the first of the 50 states to shutter its economy on March 19, 2020. Every other state has since followed. The damage has been debilitating particular to small businesses that comprise almost half of the US economy. Close to 48 percent of all US workers will soon have to face the prospect they may not have a job to return to.
This in turn triggers the even bigger problem that this same 48 percent of America is broke. They have already spent their savings and CARES Act relief funds. They are deferring credit card, auto loan and mortgage payments that will soon come due in balloon payments they will not have the money to pay.
Far worse, it is not just small business economics that is threatening America as summer approaches. Ignore the durable goods, energy and finance sectors for the time being. Those are capital structuring problems that big governments can create artificial solutions for. We know how to kick those cans down the road.
I am far more concerned about the food chain. America’s capacity to sustain life is under threat as the delicate chain of field to table gets disrupted by field harvesters, animal processing, and food packing plants are squeezed. Each American eats just under 2,000 pounds of food per year. That means we need to put 895,890 tons of food on the table every day. Break that domestic supply chain and the mortality rate of COVID-19 will look like nothing.
Here is a worrisome for instance, the US eats an estimated 9 billion chickens per year. That works out to a daily consumption of 2,465,753 million chickens per day. Because of idled meat processing and distribution plants, US chicken farmers are having to destroy around 1 million chickens per day. That is half of that food supply interrupted by COVID-19.
It will not be the only part of our food supply similarly impacted if shelter in place government policies rule the roost. The bottom line is that, unless things change, Americans are going to start to starve to death when the reserve stocks of food run down, and the supply chain dries up.
It is a totally preventable disaster. The question is do we have the guts to stop chasing safe spaces and start focusing on our survival.
A Lesson from the Chinese
Not being content to ever rely on the media for things I should directly read myself, I took the time to read the WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 Report on Wuhan. While the report admits the people, who contributed to it remained befuddled how the virus originated, that was not the most important thing I got out of the report. I suggest you read it objectively.
The most important and instructive thing in this report is that the Chinese clearly recognized it was urgent and vital that the economy be restarted as quickly as possible in order to prevent a medical tragedy from turning into a human calamity.
The Chinese pursued aggressive contact tracing and selective protection of vulnerable segments of society as part of a calculated risk strategy to get the factories and food supply up and running again before an economic pause blew the bottom out of their ability to sustain their people.
The same problem now besets the United States of America⏤the do or die of it comes at the end of April. Unlike the Chinese, we do not have a pre-existing government apparatus with the intrusive ability to trace the movement and association of people to the individual person across our nation. The Chinese have a Communist Party that has been honing that craft since Chairman Mao Zedong won the Chinese Civil War and established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.
Today, the CCP has big data, cell phone tracking, and social scoring algorithms that they can use to efficiently pinpoint COVID-19 outbreak clusters and movements of suspected carriers.
That was not what it was designed for. The CCP’s population management system was part of Xi Xinping’s “Long View” economic growth strategy to evolve the county into the dominant trade partner in a bilateral trade relationship with the United States as the 21st Century moved on.
It was a come as you are party. The Chinese adapted what they had to their COVID-19 crisis. They aggressively used the CCP’s technologies to fight the virus faster than the disease can propagate. The proof of that, whether you like it or not, is that their new case rate has fallen to a trickle in a country of 1.3 billion, four times as many people as live in the US. After struggling with it for 90 days from their outbreak, it is working.
We should be paying attention to it because 45 days into our 90-day response curve, we are at exactly at the same halfway point in the process to either beat this thing or it beats us.
Come as You Are America
Now it is our turn to take stock of what we must create⏤the same aggressive contact tracing and selective isolation while taking controlled risks to re-open our economy.
The US does not have a CCP with 70 years of carefully curated infrastructure. And no, sorry to tell the Progressive Left, it is impossible to create the CCP in a week.
America is a culture where diversity and individuality are superior to the collective dictate of the state. Where government makes the rules in China, private enterprise and cultural norms make the rules in America. We have no choice, regardless of one’s politics, but to find a solution that innovates and amplifies on the strengths of America’s cultural anthropology to create the same technical and economic tools that the Chinese assembles for their re-opening push.
And do not get your hopes up for a US central government managed solution either. We do not have an in-place government apparatus set up to fully automate the contact tracing of 327 million people. And I do not recommend the government be put in charge of building one. As someone familiar with how such contracting process works, we do not have the time nor can we afford the development inefficiency risks. One need only look at the most recent efforts turned debacles setting up new voting systems for the primary elections that took place prior to COVID-19 to figure out what kind of a SNAFU that would turn into, despite what I’m sure will be the government’s best efforts. Sometimes, the most difficult thing for public officials aiming to please or bluster is to just admit that, for their resources, it is just a bridge too far right now.
And so once again, that leaves private America. This countries reservoir of strength has always been the vast number of businesses, groups and individuals in our country that can take the initiative to innovate and respond to exactly these kinds of challenges.
Contact tracing can easily be a public-private partnership with private systems accelerating the creation of infrastructure that learns, adapts and optimizes in real-time. In organization and technical design terms, American boisterous participation combined with overlaying sets of online and offline social networking really is one of the most efficient self-annealing information processing networks on this planet. We are better than we think at this. We just need to remember that nobody from on high is going to solve this better than us. We are the superheroes; let us just “get ‘er done”.
The same thing goes for selective protection solutions. I mean let us apply some common sense here. How many more must die until we admit to ourselves that concentrating the most vulnerable in places like nursing homes is just creating target rich reservoirs for this virus. Asymmetric warfare strategy says you need to disperse that target to decrease the viability of the reservoir so that the virus burns out. You do not stick all your ICBM’s in holes dug six feet apart. Would it really hurt to ask if maybe grandpa or grandma come and visits for 90 days? We could even set up government stipends to help families do that until the infection rate drops into the miniscule range; that would be a good use of a Phase whatever CARES Act follow-on. I am just thinking out of the box here. M’kay?
While we have people dispersed to turn feet in between vulnerable people into miles between them, let’s look at technologies that could make human concentration danger spaces such as nursing homes, hospitals, airports, schools, sporting arenas, movie theaters, shops and other public spaces less virus friendly. There are technologies that are available to do so and there is potential for adaptations of some of those technologies to make them safer for humans to coexist with them while making it nearly impossible for airborne and surface pathogens to survive. We should be creating incentives to bring such things to market. Instructing government agencies to fast track them through the testing and approval process. We should have a goal that every public space will have some sort of anti-virus feature it can make use of by 2021, and by the beginning of the fall cold-flu season if possible. We can to this. We Americans just need to remember we are the arsenal the makes the wars we fight winnable.
Time to Kick Ass
And then we need to take the calculated risks that every society needs to do in order to restore our quality of life. So, you must pick somewhere to start. My suggestion is to start with this.
Let’s beat that 895,890 tons of food on the table per day we need to supply our people. Let us beat it by a lot. Enough to help other countries keep their people alive. Even China. Make it America’s priority number one to get our agriculture, food processing and food distribution system, including groceries and restaurants, back to the best of the best in the world.
I think if we won the food war it would be one of the greatest victories, we would remember from COVID-19. Even greater than the rebalancing of the world’s supply chain for critical things so that there will never be single point of dependency risk for medicines, rare earth elements or any other durable or non-durable good ever again, which we must do too. It would be a legacy to this planet that America could be proud of for years. Who knows? May be even for centuries.
Do not think about what this country can do for you in this time of need, think about what you can for this country. Now is the time for every business and individual to figure out how we can be part of an American grassroots solution to the contact tracing, selective protection and aggressive re-opening of the United States. We will need our government officials to trust that we are where these solutions will come; that the American people are the rifles behind every blade of grass that will defeat COVID-19.
Dennis Santiago is an author and commentator on national policy and global stability issues. His subject matter expertise was developed during the Cold War as a strategic warfare systems analyst, missile defense architect, and arms control analyst. He is the author of the US Imperfect Defense Theory of Strategic Missile Defense. Dennis has worked on conventional warfare, nuclear warfare, and asymmetric warfare. His expertise includes combat aircraft, ordnance, electronic warfare, command and control, campaign design, and game theory.