Why Swine Flu Matters

Swine flu, oh sorry H1N1 influenza, hasn’t proven to be particularly deadly just yet, but it’s certainly captured the imagination and fears of the public. Joe Biden is even telling his family members not to fly in plains or ride in subway — White House clarifications notwithstanding. Facemasks are among the most popular items for sale on Amazon.

But though there’s plenty to fret about these days, many economic and geopolitical, swine flu is a unique calamity. We live in a world where we think most of our problems are in our mind and can be solved with talk. We’re constantly told that the key to growing the economy is to reestablish confidence. Confidence. Just get people confident again, and suddenly all those toxic asset problems will vanish and the laid off will return to work. It’s the macro equivalent of thinking that improving child self esteem will fix the education system.

Other issues we think can be fixed with talk or at least reason. If we could only reason with Iran or North Korean leaders, then maybe those countries nationalistic dreams would just, you know, go away.

But swine flu can’t be reasoned away. There’s no amount of self-confidence or self esteem that will make it not spread. It can’t be talked down. And as long as more and more people get it, it won’t just get lost in the news-cycle (Frequently our problems seem to go away, simply because the media just moves on and that’s that).

Finally, we’ve got something indisputably tangible to worry about.

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