What’s at Stake: Flatten the Curve to Respect Carrying Capacity

  • Financial Capital: At the same moment that traditional measures of financial capital are curving downward precipitously, as stock markets tumble across the globe, so too are we in greatest need of financial capital to support our wellbeing. Financial carrying capacities apply to the healthcare system (a “floor” of financial support necessary to keep the system afloat amidst the intense demand), the social infrastructure system (“shelter-in-place” orders prevent millions of citizens from working, risking falling beneath the financial floor of subsistence), business systems (which are similarly reeling from downed supply chains, market demand, and work disruptions), and market systems (stock markets are regularly hitting the carrying capacity of price crashes, triggering automated market shutdowns). Governments are allocating financial capital to buoy the carrying capacities in these various systems, primarily by “printing money” through deficit spending while praying that such debt accumulation does not cross its own carrying capacity. As our colleague James Quilligan of Economic Democracy Advocates asks, “how long until you grasp the real connection between our monetary debt and our ecological debt?”
  • Natural capital: Professor Jem Bendell, who conceived the Deep Adaptation concept, draws a direct link between the Covid-19 crisis and the climate crisis. It is remarkable that at a moment when the lungs of the world are burning at ecocide levels, humans are met with a lung disease. And this abuse of natural capital has its origins in the abuses of the neoliberal model of financial capital growth. The decrease of availability of capacity of humans to counter pandemics and epidemics now and in the future has a direct correlation with natural capital overuse. We are now entering the final downward spiral of losing resilience being able to survive this and other crises in the future. We overshot thresholds in many ways and have allocated this overuse into market designs that now allow viruses to spread in high speed. Economic system design disconnected from natural capital availability are deadly and need to be corrected as soon as possible.
  • Manufactured Capital: The need of the health care system for technology, machines, testing, and supplies for personnel up to the maximum of capacity in hospitals defines the threshold of manufactured capital. Overshooting healthcare system carrying capacity leads to their collapse at the moment of highest need. Ironically, many hospitals abandoned their slack capacity of additional beds and supplies, following the logic of “just-in-time” supply chain maintenance pioneered by Toyota in the 1980s. Allocation of the available manufactured capital, human capital, and social capital to areas with the highest amount of infections is now a daily challenge for governments and suppliers of the health care system.
  • Human Capital: The knowledge, skills, experience, and expertise of individual healthcare professionals represent vital human capital, which is reaching the threshold of its carrying capacity for deployment to handle the mushrooming Covid-19 cases. Health care system budgets everywhere are in decline (and costs are increasing), so we already face a lack of trained health care sector employees.
  • Social Capital: A society thrives through collaboration and interaction. The Corona crisis is reducing physical interaction, and increases the possibility of violence. Already now the amount of violence in lockdown areas has tripled and separation of elderly people leads to social isolation. This has considerable mental and psychosomatic consequences in a population. Regular interaction with loved ones and friends, collaboration between businesses in trusted ways, and intercultural exchange define a threshold of ‘balanced interbeing’. Allocation normally happens automatically by befriending, joint experiences and moments of success with each other. That possibility is missing in a time of lockdown.
  • Financial Capital: Citizens rich and poor are pouring donations into charities and making direct contributions to support those adversely impacted by the crisis
  • Natural Capital: The slowing down of the world economy allows nature to take a deep breath. Air quality increases while carbon emissions and resource overuse decrease.
  • Social Capital: Physical distancing, sheltering in place, and self-quarantining all require social capital — collective understanding of the wisdom of these measures — in order to #FlattenTheCurve. This understanding of our common fate can translate across other crises, creating an ethic of wiser stewardship of our Commons.
  • Human Capital: great numbers of volunteers are jumping in to support areas in urgent need. Medicine students and retired health care professionals are offering help to fill the carrying capacity constraints of the healthcare system.
  • Manufactured Capital: In order to increase health care capacity, hotel chains, educational institutions, and governments are offering space for Covid-19 overflow as well as other uses, such as birth clinics and physiotherapy. Countries are helping each other out with urgently needed supplies.

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