Fri, 12 Mar 2004

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

They say that it appears that SARS has a 4% fatality rate. Doesn't sound too bad, you say? That's only four people out of a hundred. Do the math, though. A billion Indians. That's four crore corpses. 250 million Americans. That's ten million dead people. Or to put it more personally, it's one dead family per block.

The 1917 influenza pandemic. The Black Death. Now SARS. While some good people may imagine that they wish for there to be fewer people on the world, none want it to happen this way. I suspect that, once this has passed, said people may change their mind. Besides all the obvious costs of a pandemic: medical treatment and lost work, you have the deaths.

Dead people cost society incredible amounts of wealth. Imagine each person creating a million dollars worth of value in their lifetime. Not hard to imagine. Now imagine that value gone. Let's say that SARS really does kill ten million Americans. Let's assume that it kills people evenly across the board. It won't, but assuming it does gets us closer to reality rather than farther. Now make Americans poorer by five trillion dollars.

Five trillion dollars. Doesn't sound like much? It's a half a years worth of production by the entire US economy. Wiped out. Gone. Imagine if you had to work for six months accepting no pay.

Are you all imagined-out yet? Now think about what Europe was like after the Black Death. It killed 33% of all people in Europe. Their economy didn't just suffer, it collapsed. Too many holes in the economy. Too many butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers gone the grave.

Now we get into total imagination fatigue. You know, of course, about the aboriginals of North America, commonly called Indians even though they had no clue how to play cricket. We killed some of them in the Indian wars. Those numbers pale in comparison to the ones we killed with our germs. The Indians had no natural resistance. By one estimate I've seen 95% of Indians were killed. Others say 90% or 80%. Everybody agrees that at least two-thirds of Indians were killed.

I am done with you. You cannot imagine anything worse. That's good, because SARS isn't going to be that bad. It's just going to be bad.

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