Home Columns The cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease

The cure shouldn’t be worse than the disease

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COVID-2019 has turned life upside down. However, careful analysis of the world over the-last 100 years shows significant turmoil leading to a massive economic damage at regular intervals up to late 1950s. By and large last 60 years have been a period of unprecedented peace, harmony and economic development.

Over 2000 years ago, in Greece, there was a lawyer named Protagoras. A young student, Euthalos, requested to apprentice under him, but was unable to pay the fees. The student struck a deal saying, “I will pay your fee the day I win my first case in the court”. Teacher agreed. When the training was complete and a few years had elapsed without the student paying up, the teacher decided to sue the student in the court of law.

The teacher thought to himself: ‘If I win the case, as per the law, the student will have to pay me, as the case is about non-payment of dues. And if lose the case, the student will still have to pay me, because he would have won his first case. Either way I will get paid’.

The student’s view was, ‘If I win the case, I won’t have to pay the teacher, as the case is about my non-payment of fees. And if I lose the case, I don’t have to pay him since I wouldn’t have won my first case yet. Either way I will not pay the teacher.’

This is known as Protagoras Paradox, whichever ways you look both have equally convincing arguments, one can go either way in supporting the teacher or the student and would not be wrong.

Those in medical practice often come across such situations, either in making a diagnostic or therapeutic decision. One physician can recommend a course of treatment based on scientific evidence and another can recommend a diametrically opposite course again based on medical evidence. Right or wrong, but some merit would exist on both sides. Often the physician himself is having an internal struggle to make a decision about the most appropriate course of action.

Most of the world today is facing a peculiar dilemma. Do we continue lockdown for a very long time and wipe out our economies or let few people suffer and keep the economy going. The Protagoras paradox succinctly captures the dilemma of current ruling class.

Donald Trump tweeted, ‘hope the cure is not worse than the disease’. There is some merit in this tweet. In our global attempt to flatten the COVID curve, one hopes that we do not flatten the global economy curve. The question is: what’s the best way forward. One group recommends ‘total lockdown’ to break the transmission chain, based on evidence from China, they managed to control the spread of the virus by ruthless lock down and 3 months later they are showing that disease is controlled in Wuhan. On the other hand, the other school of thought is graded isolation & protection of elderly and very young and those with co-morbidities, let it spread amongst the young and healthy, after all the disease ultimately will be controlled when we achieve ‘herd immunity’. The medical community is divided in these two groups. To enforce complete lockdown or Graded isolation?

To complicate the issue the epidemiologists have joined the bandwagon with cacophony of statistical analysis. From rosy to doomsday predictions. If we don’t do a complete lockdown then a million people will die in one year. No say some more like 90 million will die in one year. Whose data analysis is correct? Some suggest do nothing, nature will take over in a few months and all will be well, they quote historical data to justify their recommendations. On whose inputs should we base our disaster management strategy?

Then come the economists with their doomsday predictions. If this continues till end May our medical resources will be overwhelmed, agriculture will suffer, food shortages will occur, production will come to a standstill. There will be an economic crisis of the proportions that world has not seen ever. So, break this lockdown and let’s get back to work as usual.

What will the Governments do? Calculated guess is that they will listen to general sentiments, medical experts, epidemiologists & economists. At present ‘Lockdown” finds favour with them. Boris Johnson in UK had to abandon the recommendations of the medical community about graded response, because the people’s perception became that Government is not doing enough to protect citizens. Gradually people will get tired of lockdown and demand- let life go on. Then with equally convincing arguments the governments will say the time has now come to lift the blockade, we have controlled the contagion, and we have won. Unfortunately, the costs in either case will be huge, both lives and money.

COVID-2019 an unprecedented pandemic which has turned our life upside down. However, careful analysis of the world over the-last 100 years clearly shows significant turmoil leading to a massive economic damage at regular intervals up to late 1950s. The present generation hasn’t fortunately seen many of those world changing turmoils. By and large last 60 years have been a period of unprecedented peace, harmony and economic development.

In 1914, the First World War started and the same ended in 1918 with 22 million perishing. Spanish Flu epidemic started in 1918 and ended in 1920 which affected almost 50 million people. Great Depression started in 1929 led to a 25% plus unemployment rate and a 27% drop in global GDP. This ended in 1933.

World War II started in 1939 and ended in 1945 resulting in 75 million deaths. The Korean War and Vietnam War in 1950s led to around 10 million deaths.

Now in 2020, thousands have died getting affected by COVID-2019 and we are in a state of panic. However, when you put things in perspective and look at the history of the World over the last 120 years, the scenario becomes quite enlightening.

A storm is blowing over the world. We all are caught in it together. Let’s help one another and we will get through it. This too shall pass.

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Sudip Bandyopadhyay is currently the Group Chairman of Inditrade (JRG) Group of Companies. He sits on the Boards of a number of listed and unlisted companies. His area of expertise includes equity, commodity and currency markets, wealth management, mutual fund, insurance, investment banking, remittance, forex and distribution of financial products. During Sudip’s 16 years stint with ITC as Head of Treasury and Strategic Investments, he managed investments in excess of $1.5 billion. He was responsible for the acquisition of strategic stakes in EIH, VST and several other companies, by ITC. Post ITC, he was the Managing Director of Reliance Securities (Reliance Money) and also on the Board of several Reliance ADA Group companies. He was instrumental in leading Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group’s foray, amongst others, into Equity and Commodity Broking, Commodity Exchanges, Gold Coin Retailing, and Money Transfer. Afterwards Sudip was the Managing Director and CEO of Destimoney, promoted by New Silk Route, with over $1.4 billion under management. Sudip has significant presence in business media through his regular interaction on leading business channels, business newspapers and magazines.Author can be reached at sudip@inditrade.com