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Max Fraad Wolff

Max Fraad Wolff

Posted April 28, 2009 | 03:42 PM (EST)

Swine Influenzas


It seems almost too perfect to have swine flu be the pandemic fear of the hour. We have, after all, been dealing with economic swine flu for the better part of two years now. Debt and speculation ruled the global roost from 2002-2007. The speculative fever that gripped the world moved like a virus. Almost all were infected, and nearly all suffer some symptoms now. Our modern, high speed, borderless economy transmitted speculative fever amongst an unending chorus of media hype. A certain piggish -- if understandable -- desire for fast and large returns gripped billions. Swine Flu develops as an affliction usually confined to pigs jumps to human populations. That sounds a little too similar to the worst excesses of the financial crisis. A feverish daze blinded many regulators and presumed voices of reason. As this goes to press the World Health Organization (WHO) is placing states and publics on the highest alert level in recent memory. A/H1N1 flu is feared to be racing around the globe from its origins in North America. Again, a certain similarity is hard to ignore. However, like the financial crisis, this is global and could emerge from any corner of the globe.

Sure, this is an analogy of convenience. However, the parallels seem both real and interesting. The co-mingling of various strains of the virus seems to have morphed into a seriously dangerous, polymorphous blight. The hap hazard tapestry of loans, credits, counter parties and shared risks in the global financial system acted similarly across the last few years. We are all linked together through trade, finance, germs and travels. The many and massive holes in our health care and epidemiological nets have allowed the nasty little germ to travel with us. The virus is able to employ our rapid travel and social needs to spread and fester. Likewise, the greed and global hunt for fast profits played on social needs. The debt and speculation virus struck first among the most vulnerable, sub-prime borrowers. The slow response and hope to quarantine losses to weak borrowers allowed the problems to spread without intervention. The low attention to Swine Flu when it was only reported in Mexico seems eerily similar.

We must now work together, using the central authority of the state, to combat the virus through public education, pronouncement and action. The virus, like the global downturn, touches us all and only together can we solve the problem. The size, nature and speed of government reaction will determine how bad this gets. Fortunately, we have national and international agencies that are jumping into action to coordinate and alert us. Unfortunately, we have nearly 50 million people left out of our health care system. The virus, like the economic crisis, exposes the collective risk arising from irresponsible treatment of the least among us.

Poor Mexico, reeling from the economic pandemic, is now mistreated to the viral version. Just like in the economic swine flu case, we see the best and worst of people and governments in the response. Perhaps the clearest lesson in both cases is the importance of rational, considered and cooperative action.