Table of Contents:



I. Storm Gathering

1. 1918

2. Master of Metamorphosis

3. H5N1

4. Playing Chicken

5. Worse Than 1918?

6. When, Not If

II. When Animal Viruses Attack

1. The Third Age

2. Man Made

3. Livestock Revolution

4. Tracing the Flight Path

5. One Flu Over the Chicken's Nest

6. Coming Home to Roost

7. Guarding the Henhouse

III. Pandemic Preparedness

1. Cooping Up Bird Flu

2. Race Against Time

3. Tamiflu

IV. Surviving the Pandemic

1. Don't Wing It

2. Our Health in Our Hands

3. Be Prepared

V. Preventing Future Pandemics

1. Tinderbox

2. Reining in the Pale Horse


References 1-3,199

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According to public opinion polling, the people most concerned about the coming pandemic are those with salaries higher than $100,000. Further analysis suggested that this was not due to higher education levels, but that “[p]eople with higher incomes…have more to lose….”2780 Investment banking firms like Citigroup, though, see a sterling silver lining, the opportunity to profoundly profit from the pandemic.

We are asked to think real estate deals. “Soaring death rates would puncture the housing bubble and create vast housing oversupply,” predicts one banking firm. “To the extent that a disproportionate share of 20- to 40-year-olds would die, housing markets would weaken in response to excess supply…. Property values would fall, and some would be had later at bargain-basement prices.”2781

Foreign exchange speculators will be making a killing. “Negative news,” a senior foreign exchange dealer explained, “is a chance to make a profit.”2782 While stock in life insurance companies is not considered a good bet, An Investor’s Guide to Avian Flu reads, “Certainly there would be winners, such as funeral homes and other ‘death-related’ businesses….”2783 Citigroup Investment Research recommends selling off stock in shopping malls, air travel, and luxury goods, but picking up shares of cleaning-product makers like Clorox, home entertainment, and telecommunications. The defense sector is also heralded as a long-term winner.2784

If history truly is a good teacher, we should expect opportunistic advertising. In 1918, Colgate toothpaste swore that “good teeth” meant “good health.”2785 We should expect price gouging. In 1918, undertakers tripled coffin prices.2786 The Mercatus Center, a corporate-funded2787 think tank at George Mason University, is in favor of all price-gouging prevention laws being repealed in preparation for the pandemic.

Many states have laws prohibiting price gouging during national emergencies. During a blackout, for instance, it is against the law to suddenly spike the price of flashlights in certain states. The Mercatus Center argues that price gouging is an effective way to prevent shortages. The Center apparently imagines some sort of trickle-down benefit of effectively restricting critical supplies to the wealthy. “We should not obsess,” the Center’s general director writes in its official report Avian Flu: What Should Be Done, “over whether ‘the rich’ or ‘the poor’ are obtaining a greater share of treatment or prevention.”2788

All will not be roses for the wealthy who survive. “[M]any of the comforts of our daily life,” one expert explains, “lettuce in winter, light bulbs, new sneakers, are grown for us or made for us by people who live in developing countries. If their workforces are decimated, we will feel the knock on effects.”2789

Describing the “implications for all this” as “really fascinating,” one of Canada’s foremost economists predicts that “[c]learly at the end of the crisis there would be many bargains to be had….”2790 But people will need to be in a financial position to exploit the situation. Banking conglomerate BMO Nesbitt Burns published a report instructing the six-figure income set on how to best play their cards. Those who can hoard cash will “ultimately benefit by buying real estate, farms, businesses, and stocks at extraordinary prices.” BMO Nesbitt Burns admits that this may sound “rather callous,” but rationalizes that this is the way it has always been done. In the lead-up to the Great Depression, goes its explanation, those with liquid assets were able to “scoop up the property of those who were heavily indebted.”2791 The pandemic may be good for business.

The 1918 pandemic was followed by the roaring ’20s when, we are reminded, among the lucky survivors “there were hordes of newly-rich people…and many of the Old Rich had become fabulously rich.” With the right pandemic portfolio, investment firms advise, survivors of the pandemic would not need to rely on luck “to take advantage of the wide array of cheap assets….”2792

Post-pandemic wages may rise thanks to the “accompanying negative shock to population and the labor force.” The same boon evidently followed the Black Plague, with some historians arguing that rents dropped and wages rose. A financial analysis of 1918 claimed that the pandemic had a “large and robust positive effect” on per-capita income growth, calculating exactly how much positive economic growth could be attributed to each additional death.2793 During the 2005 Council on Foreign Relations Conference on the Global Threat of Pandemic Influenza session titled, “What Would the World Look Like After a Pandemic?,” bioterrorism expert Yanzhong Huang, the director of Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University, remarked, “I want to point out that this negative shock to the population growth is not necessarily a negative thing….”2794

There is some financial advice in these pandemic investment reports applicable to the general public. Commonsense appeals not to worsen one’s personal debt seem like sound advice.3795 Other recommendations appear less valid. The president of Global Trends Investments recommends fallback to precious metals and hard currency,2796 but with so many deaths expected, large-scale estate liquidations of jewelry might undercut the gold market.2797 A lesson from Katrina is that local economies might revert to systems of barter.2798 Money, one expert from the British Institute for Animal Health asserts, “would be meaningless.”2799 Should the worst-case scenario come to pass, the president of investment research firm WBB Securities declared (perhaps only half jokingly) that “the best bets may be canned goods and shotgun shells.”2800