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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 19 New Delhi, April 25, 2020

Corona Virus, the economy and immunity

Saturday 25 April 2020, by Kobad Ghandy

In these days of technology, mass hysteria spreads like wildfire, throughout the world, particularly when it is promoted by the rulers and/or religion. Ganapati drinking milk was one example; the skylab falling was another. There were many more such phobia like even the Y2K crisis. In Jharkhand jail a tribal told me that even in their backward villages people stared cutting all their goats and having feasts daily as they thought the world was coming to an end by Dec 31 2000.

It is an old technique for rulers and religious heads to play on people’s fears and feelings of guilt. When these are maximised, the people become most vulnerable. Everyone does it including communists, or even the Chanakyas in our daily lives. We are all manipulating one another through emotional and other blackmail playing on their fears and guilt complexes.

If we look at our fears, we have hundreds of them, like fear of rejection, failure, sickness, etc., and, ofcourse, the most potent of all --- the fear of death ……… which the Corona virus is all about. It is a fact, that it is highly contagious as the virus settles on objects and can live up to three hours outside the human body. So, it can spread like wildfire. But the death rate is not much more than the ordinary influenza ….. that too mostly of elderly people who already have other health complications -------- the estimates vary from 3% to 0.5% of the cases. But media and govt portrayal always use the prefix “deadly” for the virus, adding to the panic. So, there is fear all around ---- fear of death, fear of loss (of loved one), fear of the unknown???? And in this fear all other losses ---- employment, business, savings, inconveniences, maybe even growing starvation deaths, etc ------ which may, in the future, actually impact our ability to survive, gets drowned.

In fact, the wold economy has already been in a serious mess. As Manas Chakravarty recently said: Last week, it wasn’t just equities that sold off---bonds, commodities and even gold prices fell in a panic dash for cash. Cash was the only safe haven. And not just any cash, but preferably US dollars, the value of which has soared on safe- haven demand. ….In the US, the Eurozone and other developed economies have been slashing interest rates to zero, going in for quantitative easing and unleashing an alphabet soup of asset-buying, becoming the buyer of last resort. Also, governments now stand ready to throw trillions of dollars as well as the kitchen sink as lifelines to businesses and consumers.(This not to be seen in India though)

But the fact remains that the only mode of dealing with the spread of the virus is to curtail social interaction by shutting down large chunks of the economy. And if that is the case, when entire countries such as Spain and Italy are being locked down, and when California, the world’s fifth largest economy is shut down, the hit to the global economy is going to be massive”.

Fortune States : Most GDP predictions for the second quarter have ranged from horrible (-8%) to catastrophic (-15%). Goldman Sachs just blew those estimates out of the water.
The bank today issued a research note with its projection for GDP loss in the second quarter of 2020: down 24%, the result of a "sudden stop for the U.S. economy."

The scale of the lockdowns by governments throughout the world gives no possibility of the economy to revive, on the contrary, it has become the pretext to put as the cause for the economic crisis which was building up anyhow (Corona or not) over the last six months worldwide. For the 1929 crash the capitalist system was clearly to blame. For the oncoming crisis it has been conveniently diverted from a systemic problem to a virus problem.

Anyhow the world today is facing two major problems; one does not know which of the two will turn more deadly. That is, the problem of the Corona virus and the problem of the economy. The first could spread and engulf the world leading to large number of deaths and millions being debilitated. The second could result in major levels of hunger starvation and disease all over the world. Regarding the first one can at least think of fighting it by enhancing our immunity; regarding the latter we have no control.

Psychology of Immunity

Science has accepted the placebo effect, which demonstrates that the mind has the power to heal the body when people hold a belief that a particular drug or procedure will effect a cure, even if the remedy is actually a sugar pill with no known pharmaceutical value. Medical students learn that one third of all illnesses heal via the magic of the placebo effect. The psychosomatic effect is now well accepted in countering or enhancing disease. For viruses (unlike bacteria), like the Corona, where there are no drugs, our strong immune system is central to fight it back.

The new field of science called psychoneuroimmunology, which, in common words, means the science (—ology)of how the mind (psycho—) controls the brain (—neuro—), which in turn controls the immune system (—immun—). It is now well accepted that stress hormones (cortisol) weaken our immunity and make us susceptible to all viruses, bacteria, etc. On the other hand, a positive approach and the happiness hormone (endorphins, dopamine and serotonin) act in just the opposite way. So, to be stricken by panic and fear of a virus makes our immune mechanism so much weaker in fighting it back.

It is now well accepted that with a serious illness if there is extreme fear the chances of recovery are less than if one faces the ailment with confidence. With a virus (like Corona) which is not treatable by drugs but only by ones immunity system, the importance of not weakening it should get priority. Whatever the methods that are adopted, they should be rational, effective, and fear/panic-mongering should be effectively countered by rational assessment of the disease and its countermeasures. Confidence needs to be generated so that the Indian people, already with poor immunity due to poverty, should at least not fall prey to panic which will further enhance possibilities of catching the virus.

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