The world’s number one problem today is that the world’s population is too large for its resource base. Some people have called this situation overshoot. The world economy is ripe for a major change, such as the current pandemic, to bring the situation into balance. The change doesn’t necessarily come from the coronavirus itself. Instead, it is likely to come from the whole chain reaction that has been started by the coronavirus and the response of governments around the world to the coronavirus.
Let me explain more about what is happening.
 The world economy is reaching Limits to Growth, as described in the book with a similar title.
Many people are concerned today with the low price of oil. Others are concerned about slowing or stopping COVID-19. Is there any way forward?
I gave a few hints regarding what is ahead in my last post, Economies won’t be able to recover after shutdowns. We live in a world with a self-organizing economy, made up of components such as businesses, customers, governments and interest rates. Our basic problem is a finite world problem. World population has outgrown its resource base.
Some sort of economy might work with the current resource base, but not the present economy. The COVID-19 crisis and the lockdowns used to try to contain the crisis push the economy farther along the route toward collapse. In this post, I suggest the possibility that some core parts of the world economy might temporarily be saved if they can be made to operate fairly independently of each other.
Let’s look at some parts of the problem:
 The world economy works like a pump. Continue reading
We have learned historically that if we can isolate sick people, we can often keep a communicable disease from spreading. Unfortunately, the situation with the new coronavirus causing COVID-19 is different: We can’t reliability determine which people are spreading the disease. Furthermore, the disease seems to transmit in many different ways simultaneously.
Politicians and health organizations like to show that they are “doing something.” Because of the strange nature of COVID-19, however, doing something is mostly a time-shifting exercise: With quarantines and other containment efforts, there will be fewer cases now, but this will be mostly or entirely offset by more cases later. Whether time-shifting reduces deaths and eases hospital care depends upon whether medical advances are sufficiently great during the time gained to improve outcomes.
We tend to lose sight of the fact that an economy cannot simply be shut down for a period and then start up again at close to its former level of production. China seems to have seriously overdone its use of quarantines. It seems likely that its economy can never fully recover. The permanent loss of a significant part of China’s productive output seems likely to send the world economy into a tailspin, regardless of what other economies do.
Before undertaking containment efforts of any kind, decision-makers need to look carefully at several issues:
- Laying off workers, even for a short time, severely adversely affects the economy.
- The expected length of delay in cases made possible by quarantines is likely to be very short, sometimes lasting not much longer than the quarantines themselves.
- We seem to need a very rapid improvement in our ability to treat COVID-19 cases for containment efforts to make sense, if we cannot stamp out the disease completely.
Because of these issues, it is very easy to overdo quarantines and other containment efforts.
In the sections below, I explain some parts of this problem.
We read a lot in the news about the new Wuhan coronavirus and the illness it causes (COVID-19), but some important points often get left out.
 COVID-19 is incredibly contagious.
COVID-19 transmits extremely easily from person to person. Interpersonal contact doesn’t need to be very long; a taxi driver can get the virus from a passenger, for example. The virus may be transmissible even before an infected person develops symptoms. It may also be transmissible for a few days after a person seems to be over the virus; it is possible to get positive virus tests, even after symptoms disappear. Some people may have the disease, but never show symptoms.
 The virus likely remains active on inanimate surfaces such as paper, plastic, or metal for many days.
There haven’t been tests on the COVID-19 virus per se, but studies on similar viruses suggest that human pathogens may remain infectious for up to eight days. Some viruses that only infect animals can survive for more than 28 days. China is reported to be destroying paper currency from the hardest hit area, because people do not want to accept money which may have viruses on it. Clearly, surfaces in airplanes, trains and buses may also harbor viruses, long after a passenger with the virus has left, unless they have been thoroughly wiped down with disinfectant. Continue reading