Tag Archives: herd immunity

Political Herd Immunity

You’ve likely heard the term ‘herd immunity’ mentioned in connection with the COVID-19 crisis. The Mayo Clinic defines herd immunity this way:

Herd immunity occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. As a result, the whole community becomes protected — not just those who are immune.

Often, a percentage of the population must be capable of getting a disease in order for it to spread. This is called a threshold proportion. If the proportion of the population that is immune to the disease is greater than this threshold, the spread of the disease will decline. This is known as the herd immunity threshold.

What percentage of a community needs to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity? It varies from disease to disease. The more contagious a disease is, the greater the proportion of the population that needs to be immune to the disease to stop its spread

Experience with COVID is too limited for a reliable estimate, but experts appear to coalesce around a figure of 70 percent infection rate of the entire population. To achieve that level would require infection and recovery of well over 200 million people in the U.S. alone. Don’t even think about it. The other path is, of course, a vaccine. No assurances there either.

So, meanwhile, the country is in total meltdown. Tens of millions of people are unemployed with no near-term prospects of getting back to work. Unemployment compensation benefits have run out, and payments from the federal government are consumed. Holds on evictions are running out as well. The Greatest Great Depression looms.

What, then, is the federal plan to help the American people? There isn’t one. The Democrat-controlled House passed a relief package back in May, but the Republican-controlled Senate sat on it. Negotiations now appear to be stalled. The President’s Chief of Staff says he is not optimistic a deal will be struck.

The President’s solution is to make threats he lacks power to carry out (such as Executive Orders that would change the tax code) and to declare that the virus will simply “go away” like “things go away.” In short, and as usual, the President has no idea what to do. The national salvation appears to be dependent upon magic, literally.

And, it appears that America’s other leadership, the captains of industry, the people who raise capital, hire workers and who keep telling us they are the backbone of the American way of life, are intimidated by the President’s fine crystalline ego that threatens to shatter at the slightest touch. Some American businesspeople have, of course, lined up to attend his “press briefings,” with the sole purpose of praising Trump’s leadership, fawning and stroking him as he needs them to do for his re-election. Other business groups make lists of proposals of why they need bailouts, each industry competing with the others for attention and a higher spot on whatever dispensations eventually emerge from the government, if any.

And that, THAT, is the problem. As we move ever closer to unrecoverable economic disaster, ALL industry leaders of consequence should band together, in a new form of herd immunity, and tell the President and the Senate leadership what is needed to save the country, and possibly the entire world, from imminent catastrophe beyond anything that has ever been seen. Every industry of consequence has one or more associations that represent its interests. WHY don’t those associations band together, agree on a program and DEMAND that it be passed and passed immediately? Take some of their vast wealth and go big, go public, go social media, in a massive way with a collective demand for immediate action.

By acting collectively, they will gain “political herd immunity” from the President’s retaliatory instincts that could lead him to lash out at any group coming to him on its own. Their collective voice would be much harder to resist and the traditional Republican approach of divide-and-conquer wouldn’t work. This would require a lot of discipline among the groups, so they don’t break ranks and get picked off one-by-one with inducements for their industry alone. Hopefully, these people will realize that the only hope for a good outcome rests on unity to the end. This approach would also require that many in the herd replace their ideological preferences with a realistic appraisal of what is about to happen in the absence of coherent federal action.

I am not naïve about the problems this solution faces. Having worked in Washington and its political penumbra for decades, I understand how hard getting agreement on anything of substance can be even within one industry, let alone across many. I also get the aversion to taking political risks. However, the stakes now are higher than they have ever been in our lifetimes and beyond. The current political process is not working. Something better must be tried. Catering to the whims of a personality like Trump is not getting the job done. Instead of trying to get coherent policy  from a White House whose key advisors are afraid of the President’s ire more than anything else, it’s time to stop fawning and demand action. Tell, don’t ask. Before it’s too late.