Confidence Crunch

My brother’s hospital ran out of masks this week because patients kept breaking into storage cabinets and stealing them. So now doctors have to supply their own masks, respirators, and other protective gear.

There have been other reports of hospitals getting burglarized for masks. Why would anyone steal from a hospital? Is this what it looks like when you give up on having a functional society?

We take a lot of cooperative behavior for granted. Left to our own devices, humans have the cognitive capacity to form cooperative relationships with about 150 others. Dunbar’s number.

Stuff like religion and government enable social scalability so people can collaborate outside of their immediate acquaintances. It’s easier to trust strangers if you believe that some greater force exists to exact justice. The force doesn’t have to be real – Roman banks stored silver in weakly-guarded temples – but the belief has to be universal for societal trust to exist.

We can cooperate with strangers as long as we trust the government to maintain order. When times are good, we play nice and what goes around comes around. In times of crisis, trust runs scarce and government entities step in as the confidence-bearer of last resort.

But now we see that the federal government is powerless to do anything but print money. When the only tool you have is debt monetization, every problem looks like a credit crunch. When people lose faith in the government, they show it by turning on each other.

6 thoughts on “Confidence Crunch

  1. As an aside, let me point out that the bread aisle, toilet paper aisle, and milk section are empty at empty at my local store. But the medicine section is fully stocked!?! They can’t give it away.

  2. Nobody seems to have noticed the parallel between the current situation and the near extinction of the natives of the western hemisphere shortly after the arrival of the Europeans, with their serious diseases for which the locals had no immunity.

  3. It’s not true about the medicine; I had a bad cold a couple weeks ago and had trouble getting cold medicine. Thankfully I had stocked up beforehand but I used more of my stockpile than I thought I would.

    I also did some work last week where it occured to me partway through that I probably needed a dust mask, and then remembered there’s a panic going on. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find the Bane Special Edition.

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