Covid-19 and Murderous Social Values

How many people would you kill for your pension plan?

A New Zealand commentary piece last week featured the shockingly bald statements of Swedish social engineers regarding the value of citizens’ lives in the face of the Covid-19 virus. If the latest numbers are accurate, then even with enough beds and ventilators available (so far), here are some of the cold, hard statistics we’ve all been pining for:

As of April 6, 2020, Sweden, with a population 27% of Canada’s, had a Covid-19 death rate 148% that of Canada. (Sweden: 477, Canada: 323.)

They’ve been up-front about why.

Culling the herd saves money.

The quotes from government representatives are ideologically revealing when read carefully: It’s more important that the state remain funded by the economic engine than that individuals of retirement age or with treatable medical conditions remain alive. At the time of the NZ article, they called this choosing between lives and lives, not lives and money.

Kerstin Hessius, who runs a government pension fund, has been arguing that money vs lives is a false choice. “Rising unemployment hits pensions directly,” she says. “What’s more, the tax base disappears – then we have to start cutting welfare.” And Swedes should be proud that “we have not extinguished the entire society, as many other countries have done”.

Coronavirus: To Swedes, it’s the rest of the world engaging in a reckless experiment, stuff.co.nz, Apr 3, 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.

In choosing some lives and not others, the Swedish state chose to cull those who burden the welfare state’s old age and medical systems, as shown by the rate of infections in seniors’ facilities and the comorbidity information. It gambled in favour of the working class’s ability to keep tax dollars flowing.

That’s a very contented apocalypse you have there.

According to the NZ article, Swedes were around 75% in favour of this. Seeing this calculus in action — the kind of ideology dystopian novelists have warned about and cross-examined for nearly 100 years — makes me grateful to have next-door neighbours, culturally speaking, who see the value of the individual and decry the alleged right of technocrats and bureaucrats to select which lives are worthwhile.

When ‘Murica is nothing else, it’s still that.

In late March, writing for the Ottawa Citizen, Andrew Cohen echoed Hessius’ arrogance. “Unlike in America,” he wrote, “there is consensus in Canada…. Canadians accept big government, which is how we built the social welfare state… We defer to authority.”

Do we, though?

In truth, not even our most consistently structured leftists precisely “defer” to the federal government. They’re called the Province of Quebec, and, like Mel Gibson in a kilt, they je me souviens. They also managed to produce Canada’s first arrest for flagrant violation of quarantine under a confirmed diagnosis. Nique vos meres en tout!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we in the west have never gotten over being vassal territories to Upper and Lower Canada, plus we’re peeved about oil exports and merrily Marxist nationalization schemes right now.

But back to the socially distant idealism from our nation’s capital. Cohen closed with an exercise in self-defeating irony:

 If we ultimately do better in all this – it’s too early to know or crow – it’s not because we are morally superior. It is because we are smaller, organized, well-led, more united, more measured, more of a community.

It’s a question of character.

Cohen: Why Canada’s response to COVID-19 is so different from that of the U.S., Ottawa Citizen, Mar. 24, 2020; accessed April 6, 2020.

We’re not morally superior, we just have… character. Really, though?

Not the hero we wanted, but the hero we needed.

A couple of weeks later, turns out it’s more a question of a large American corporation flexing its substantial multinational muscles to ensure the Canadian supply of PPE isn’t cut off by a Twitter-happy talking citrus with a strange sense of what constitutes “corrupt corporations.” (Chill, chill. We also have a talking citrus who’s trying to stop pricing gouging. I didn’t think they grew this far north, but apparently they do when fertilized with cocaine.)

True to that legendary American sense of individualism, which much of the world is currently schadenfreuding, 3M refused to defer to authority. Authority then forced a negotiation to ensure fair pricing, just as articles were appearing in the Canadian press about the insane costs suddenly being levelled by importers.

And Canadians all breathed a smaller, organized, united, measured, community sigh of relief. That’s our true character.

Humans come individually packaged.

Yes, individualism can have harmful outworkings. It does cause deaths when it’s twisted into selfishness. But there is a healthy balance between the individual and the community. Private corporations and public funding, the rich and the poor, philanthropy and state welfare, aren’t either/or propositions. None of these come with a de facto setting of murderous social values.

That’s us. The individuals. The ones who spit on fruit in grocery stores, and the ones who are fruit — whether citrusy or compassionately poisonous — in positions of power. We are the ones who are in a position to ignore or embrace the inherent value of human life on a community or individual scale.

God bless my American friends. You are needed and wanted — and not just for your economic contributions.

It’s a question of character.

May we in both the US and Canada seek to preserve life for all of us, and may our different perspectives enrich us as neighbours.