COVID-19 has exposed gaping holes in our preparedness, as well as how little progress we have made on problems that have plagued us here in Hawaii for decades.

Moreover, it shows how seriously misplaced our priorities have been. We would be more prepared for this pandemic if we had put people before profit, or at least struck a healthier balance between the two.

In an island economy that is dependent on the outside world, we are wholly dependent on imports whether they be of food, materials, finished goods, people (tourists) or money (capital).

Despite efforts to diversify the economy spanning several decades, progress has been slow, and, if anything, we are going backwards as the state becomes overwhelmed by the negative impacts of over-tourism.

Instead of cultivating thriving local industries, our leaders have allowed wealth to be sucked out of the local economy by offshore corporations while outside investors sweep in to grab land and tourists over-stress our infrastructure and hospitality.


Honolulu Harbor Matson Shipping Matsonia. preparedness.
A Matson shipping vessel docks in Honolulu Harbor, the state’s largest commercial port, in 2018.  Hawaii’s geographic location puts it in a more vulnerable position than ever before, as the coronavirus has shown us. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Similarly, we have known for decades that our dependence on imported food makes us vulnerable, yet despite grandiose goals little has been accomplished to create a local agricultural sector that can feed us.

Our dependence on the outside world is just a small part of our current predicament, however. We have allowed our healthcare system to degenerate into a profit-driven money monster.

Running Out Of Hospital Beds

While some have made out like gangsters as a result of this money-focus, ultimately, we are all going to suffer. The coronavirus is the perfect storm because it doesn’t distinguish between the rich or the poor, the powerful or the disempowered.

Those who have clung to an ideology of self-centeredness and laissez-faire economics are, for the most part, just as vulnerable as the rest of us. Roughly 25% of workers have no paid sick leave and in lower-wage industries the percentage is significantly higher.

Sick people are going to go to work even if they infect everyone else. Once the rate of infection increases, we will quickly run out of bed space.

Thanks to the relentless pressure to contain costs by closing wards and reducing the number of hospital beds, the U.S. now lags most of the developed world in overall hospital bed capacity (although in fairness, the U.S. appears to lead in intensive care and critical care bed capacity).

The state of Hawaii is ninth from the bottom in the U.S. with only 1.9 staffed hospital beds per 1,000 people. All the hospital beds, staff and equipment we could need will mean nothing, however, if a large portion of the population that is infected and sick does not seek treatment because they have no insurance coverage or would have to pay a whopping deductible or co-pay.

Our misplaced priorities will soon play out in the economy as well. Imagine what will happen to the families of the 6,000 workers who may lose their jobs in Hawaii?

Without support they may become homeless and they may never recover financially. That represents a permanent cost to society not to mention a tragedy for the individuals and families themselves.

Caring about one’s fellow human beings is a good self-preservation strategy.

Your spending is my income and in the U.S. consumer spending accounts for 70% of gross domestic product.

Consumer spending drives growth. Moreover, those in the bottom half of wealth distribution have a far higher marginal propensity to consume compared with those in the top half. Putting more money in their pockets drives growth more than a tax cut for the rich does.

As it turns out, caring about one’s fellow human beings is a good self-preservation strategy, while adhering dogmatically to an ideology of “every man for himself” carries great risks.

Perhaps this is the greatest lesson that we can learn from this pandemic: in the end, we are all in this together.

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