With Common Sense: Dan Carlin on Ebola

So I’m a really big fan of Dan Carlin’s podcast “Common Sense.” He provides intellectual and critical assessments of current events, which I find very intriguing and informative. He discusses topics that I often know nothing about, but presents information in a real way in which I don’t feel lost or manipulated.

I was a bit late on listening to this one, episode 283. I am not sure how to provide a direct link, but for now, here’s the website, which you can scroll down to find the player for Summoning the Demon. I normally have the episodes downloaded to my phone using iTunes. I urge you to have a listen, as I absolutely love his proposal for Ebola relief worker recruitment.

In the meantime, I’ll summarize what he says. And as a note, Carlin speaks from the perspective of an American citizen, yet I still use “we” when I write, as I feel that I can generalize about the responsibilities and actions of both Canadians and Americans in the same way in the response to the epidemic.

As a lead up to his argument, he offers a similar sentiment recently expressed by New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo:

“Let’s put these people on the payroll and pay them like military reservists.”

Carlin suggests that it’s not just the time abroad that people are concerned about. It’s also the 21-day incubation period. And fair enough, there’s a lot of hype, and a lot of fear building around this idea. It just adds to the panic surrounding Ebola. So, he says, we need to treat it as an over-the-top safety precaution, and add a healthy financial incentive to convince people to sign up, including this period of incubation.

“We just have to pay them enough… Everybody’s got a price point.”

Carlin says there are two reasons for this: “One, you’re trying to get those people to put up with nicely and quietly with their quarantine period, and at the same time you’re trying to add a motivational tool.”

He compares the way we’re handing the Ebola crisis to the way that we would handle terrorism. He discusses how the US government is concerned over Ebola relief spending; that it might reach US $1 billion. But, he points out that “if this were terrorism, they would have 30 billion dollars there the next day, and we’re sweating a billion?” Thus, he suggests that we start treating these threats the same.

“If you’re trying to set a standard that encourages more people to go out and do this kind of thing, why won’t you just pay the people the way that we would be doling out cash if this were Haliburton* solving the problem for us.”

*Haliburton is the private company in the US “responsible for creating the entire infrastructure of a US military operations overseas” (Naomi Klein, Shock Doctrine, 2007). 

Carlin reminds us of different industries (financial, automotive, etc.) in the US that have received government bailouts in the past, and suggests that we approach the issue of Ebola in the same way. He calls is the “Ebola Middle-Class Stimulus Act of 2014.”

His proposal goes like this: take a middle-class healthcare worker, and offer them an incentive to work overseas with the Ebola epidemic. Give them a completion bonus and something like $10,000/day during the incubation period. This will “give them an inheritance… a new house.” And that’s surely a motivational prospect, especially when he reminds us that we’re not looking for specialized critical care nurses, just regular healthcare workers. Ones that can run IVs and feed patients.

Carlin then goes into some arguments that I suspect of being a little unfounded. He suggests that US taxdollars would be well spent, as sort of an “Anti-Ebola Insurance”. He offers that investments in infrastructure building in the regions currently affected by Ebola would serve the world, by containing the spread in the future. My problem with this, however, lies in the assumption that this region will be affected again, or will be the only region in the future, as this was the first instance of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa in history. He claims that it occurs “nearly every year”, which in itself is false (especially when we remove laboratory/chimpanzee-based cases from consideration), and completely neglects that it’s only ever been found previously more than 3000km away. So I contest the idea that any amount of funding for infrastructure building will be able to eradicate the disease, but I do however, completely agree with his ideas on incentivising the relief effort.

So have a listen, as his presentation is much more convincing than mine!

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