E The Cost Of Our Coronavirus Insanity

The author and his family in Ethiopia, 2019

My mother was a philosopher whose life work could be boiled down to one sentence: prioritizing only one good inevitably leads to great evil. 

While my mother passed away before the arrival of the Wuhan Respiratory Syndrome, it is not hard to imagine how she’d react to today’s reality.

Earlier this year a locust swarm spread from Yemen to a massive part of East Africa. An area larger than Syria was stripped of its crops. This swarm was engendered by wet weather and wars that prevented the spraying of pesticides. The Wuhan Respiratory Syndrome had nothing to do with it. Now, the locusts have multiplied. The new wave is 20 times larger than the first. The UN is warning that it could consume 2 million square miles of pastureland – about half the size of Western Europe.

130 million East Africans face starvation.

Unlike the first swarm, these deaths were entirely preventable. East African nations were asking for $70 million in emergency assistance to stop this swarm. They needed helicopters and pesticide. In the end, they got neither. Because of the COVID-19 shutdowns, the supply chain needed to support their battle just wasn’t there.

130 million East Africans face starvation. Our laser focus on saving several hundred thousand Western lives has led directly to this.

There are other predictable side-effects. Much of the third world depends, directly or indirectly, on wealthy nations’ consumption of raw materials. In West Africa 4 million people and their families live on less than $3 a day. They are cocoa farmers. The trade in their product has vanished. They aren’t watching Netflix (NFLX) and hoping the crisis will pass. While we lack reporting, it is not difficult to imagine that they are facing mass starvation. Their children are dying as you read this.

Unlike the normal African catastrophe, these deaths aren’t caused by their some regional war, or systemic governance issues. These deaths are being caused by our lockdowns.

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Danny Straus 3 days ago Member's comment

Saw this article and thought of you Joseph Cox. hadn't even known this was an issue before I read your post:


Joseph Cox 3 days ago Author's comment


Joseph Cox 1 month ago Author's comment

More from the WSJ on the costs of our reaction. This just makes me want to cry...


Weed Investor 1 month ago Member's comment

Are the locusts seasonal? Will they be going away soon?

Joseph Cox 1 month ago Author's comment

They typically die out in July when the moisture levels drop. I think we have another one or two generations to go.

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

I wrote a more generalized article about the the costs of shutdowns on a structural economic level. The locusts are really a particular example of the wider problem I explored in the other piece... talkmarkets.com/.../some-of-my-best-friends-are-economists

Gary Anderson 2 months ago Contributor's comment

Actually you made a case for increasing efforts against the Coronavirus as the African nations did not do against the locusts. Yet you made the west be guilty of fighting the virus instead? What makes you think that the locusts would have been dealt with if we didn't have the Covid-19?

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

Supply chain breakdowns prevented the locusts from being sprayed. Our response to the Wuhan Respiratory Syndrome is responsible for supply chain breakdowns.

The corollary is this: If the Chinese had actually dealt with the virus in its infancy (in Wuhan) instead of arresting doctors and those who reported the problem then the virus would have been killed before it spread. That time has long since passed. In most countries the virus exists in the community and while we can slow the spread we will not prevent it altogether. Even if the US, for example, were to eradicate it, it would continue to come from Central and South America. We are far past the 'spray the locusts where they reproduce' stage of Coronavirus.

Gary Anderson 2 months ago Contributor's comment

So didn't Trump's trade war also hurt supply chains? As for slowing the virus, we won't know until society is partially opened. If people try to protect themselves fewer people will be subject to the virus.

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

Trump's trade war may well have raised prices and thrown some industries into some confusion, but people could still get everything.

Michelle Bell 2 months ago Member's comment

Why will the virus never leave the the third world country and then bring it back to the US. I would think that if the virus ravishes those countries, every one will be infected and they will either die or recover and then become immune. Problem solved.

Angry Old Lady 2 months ago Member's comment

"Third world" is now considered to be derogatory. Better to be PC and say "developing country."

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

Except maybe they aren't developing? Perhaps, like Haiti, they are just stuck. Do we thus need a new more accurate term? Or do I risk entering Trump territory?

Ayelet Wolf 2 months ago Member's comment

What can we do to help? Are any non-profits raising money to benefit those in need?

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

Money isn't the problem. A broken supply chain is.

Ayelet Wolf 2 months ago Member's comment

While nothing to do specifically with Africa, I've read about lots of governments and organizations sponsoring chartered flights to help with various COVID-19 related issues. Perhaps something like this could be done.

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

Goes back to the laser focus on Corona - and everything that gets lost.

Texan Hunter 2 months ago Member's comment

Not to sound like an ass, but how can they be starving? Locusts are considered a delicacy in Africa and eaten with relish. I've seen the locust swarm pictures and they are every where! People can literally scoop them up in their hands and chow down like manna from heaven. I realize that may be gross to many here in the suburbs, but not in Africa.

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

And without refrigeration I imagine even locusts go bad. Plus, you can't plant them and grow new locusts the next year. Locusts are a short-term food, not a permanent one. Oh, and they fly away. You probably can't collect a year's worth to make up for lost crops.

Dick Kaplan 2 months ago Member's comment

Locusts are indeed edible. But they also destroy all the local crops. People can not survive on locusts alone.

Stock Fan 2 months ago Member's comment

You make a good point. Any other time there would be all sorts of aid being sent to Africa, celebrity benefit concerts, and more.

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

It was $70M and some equipment and supplies. This was not a major aid effort, this was small-time as these things go. It will be bigger soon, but we've made our own problems so large that we lack the ability to help nearly as much as we should.

Backyard Hiker 2 months ago Member's comment

I feel sorry for those in Africa, and I admit, I had no idea this was happening. That being said, people are dying right here in the US. Is it so wrong to take care of our own first? America always helps other countries. What other countries are helping us now? When has Africa ever helped anyone?

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

It isn't our obligation to solve their problems. 6 million were killed in the Congo civil war in the 1990s. I wouldn't have suggested intervention. But here, we are creating the problems. They couldn't get the supplies because *our* supply chains were down.

Our single-minded focus is killing them - and it will kill us too.

Susan Miller 2 months ago Member's comment

Thank you for sharing this inconvenient truth. As bad as the situation is here, it is often too easy for us to forget that many others are far worse off than we are.

Joseph Cox 2 months ago Author's comment

Our happiness shouldn't rely on other people's misery. And in this case I don't think they are necessarily connected. People in these countries don't have to be miserable. I was in Ethiopia last year. The country was doing very well. People seemed as happy as they do anyplace else. The economy was booming. Yes, there was very real hardship but often we see these things in a relativistic way. Are things better or worse for us than they were.

Sadly, this year, things are far far worse.