23. The Final COVID Question: Ethics or Economics?

August 4, 2020 Minding Corona No Comments

Putting ethics and economics against each other indicates that in this question, I see economics as non-ethical, and ethics as non-economical.

As if that would be possible

Non-ethical would be the hallmark of a sociopath; non-economical that of either an utterly naïve person or a Buddhist at the brink of parinirvana.

In normal society, there is always an intermingling. Putting ethics and economics purely against each other is stuff for a thought experiment. Such can teach us something without necessarily being possible, except as a thought. Nevertheless, it can clarify choices.

Health or money?

This is the more frequently asked question, but to me, in many cases, ‘health’ is used implicitly to point to, eventually, the wellbeing and even life of vulnerable people who, most frequently, are not allowed to choose in this. Implicitly, it’s the strong-and-healthy who decide. For instance, older people just undergo.

On top of this, implicit is also, in many cases, that the rich choose for the poor. Opting for the money is choosing against those without it. So, in this choice, frequently and implicitly, money is not put in the balance with health, but with no-money. Even more clearly put: the powerful versus the non-powerful.

Hm. Making it explicit doesn’t make it easier to swallow, does it? One can still discuss the meanings of terms, but at least, it’s more open to avoid implicit assumptions if possible.

So, I prefer the question: ethics or economics?

Ethics may be seen very broadly. It’s about the vulnerable in homes for the elderly. It’s also about immensely lonely adolescents, maltreated wives and husbands, individuals who cannot afford a million USD in hospitalization costs in NYC, refugees in Bangladesh, and starving kids in Africa.

It’s about all this, and how we deal with all this. The most unethical stance would be to not care for any of them, not even to want to think about them, to run away to some moral desert, sticking one’s head in the sand of which there’s enough.

At least, we can suffer for those who suffer. From that suffering – the former one – we can take a better look upon what to do. Maybe, with little effort, one can do much? Not asking this question doesn’t lead to a valid answer.

There is no judgment in the answer if it’s an answer to the valid question. Each person can try to get to a personal reply, which should be respected. Maybe, someone doesn’t go on vacation and gives (part of) his holiday money to a rationally good cause instead. Yeowch. Is that necessarily bad for the economy? Maybe, another person cares for the children first and saves the money. Maybe, someone thinks “It’s now or never” and spends lavishly. Anything is better than not posing the question itself, in-depth, profoundly. The superficial question is, of course, not a question but a bunch of meaningless syllables.

The question will become very important, indeed.

It has already been pertinent in this pandemic. It will increasingly become so with each next wave. We may as well get used to it. This virus is here to stay. In the third and probably also the fourth world, the additional misery from it will linger on for years.

As in wartime, some get richer; most get poorer. It becomes increasingly harder not to make the first choice. And to a substantial degree, it is a choice, not just a coincidence.

The kids! The kids! And the grandchildren! Yes, indeed. It’s part of being human to have to make such choices. So, what is the most ethical choice? You see, that’s why an easy judgment is inappropriate. There is no guilt in making any choice. There is, in my view, much responsibility in going deep inside to find the answer to a question that stays relevant for a lifetime.

Did I make the right choice(s) in these times of COVID? If I wouldn’t bother about it, I didn’t. If it wouldn’t keep me awake at night sometimes even after years, I didn’t.

The question is also immensely interesting.

This is mainly because it invites one to grow as a person. In this sense, COVID can be an excellent teacher. I explicitly and with much emphasis say ‘can.’ One has to be open to this teacher. One has to earn the teaching. This teacher doesn’t teach for nothing.

“And what’s in it for me,” one may ask, “in this ‘growing’ that you talk about?” “Well,” I may respond, “the answer to this specific question will be the result of your growing.”

And I add, I repeat, that it’s immensely interesting.

Argentina

Remember from a previous text: “You can recover from a drop in the GDP, but you can’t recover from death.” This is a choice for ethics, whatever comes after it (and the Argentinians too are not at the end of it). Maybe it’s a proper idea to go to Buenos Aires after all this, peso-less but dancing the tango day and night with an unstained soul.

Ah, tango, the dance that teaches to be present in the present. One can linger in solitude and yet be as close as possible to another person in body and mind (and soul). In times of COVID and social distancing, also frequently in body and mind (and soul), being in the present in togetherness – even with the kid in Bangladesh – is what makes us worthy human beings. Maybe, in this setting, we are allowed to stay on this planet for a while longer?

Ethics or economics?

The question becomes really interesting when looking for answers that form a synthesis of ethics and economics — doing well by doing good. It enables one to do even better by doing better. Sounds attractive.

Indeed, but it presupposes much hard work, creativity, asking and answering real questions from really deep, not being content before one has turned oneself inside out. Never giving up. Choosing, in business – whether profit or non-profit – for sustainability, humility, solidarity, and tenacity. No fear of being contrarian.

Thus, a choice for economics for the sake of ethics.

This is not naïve. This is real.

It’s also a set of immensely difficult choices nowadays. If we feel it this way, then we are a good species. If the COVID pandemic could help us in this, then it’s a worthwhile, excruciatingly awful accident.

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