tv WSJ at Large With Gerry Baker FOX Business April 17, 2020 11:00pm-11:30pm EDT
a.m. eastern monday through friday with "mornings with maria." right here on fox business, set the tone. that'll do it for us. thank you so much for joining me a great rest of the weekend, and i'll see you again next time. ♪ ♪ gerry: hello and welcome to the "wall street journal at large." well, we received some good news and some bad news this week in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak. the good news is that medical experts are saying we may be near a peak. white house adviser dr. anthony fauci expressed cautious optimism that the disease is slowing and that we're starting to see a leveling off of cases. the bad news, of course, is that thousands of americans are still getting sick and dying from covid-19, and the economy -- which has been virtually shut down for more than a month to try to stop the spread -- is
taking a real beating. for the fourth week in a row, first-time jobless claims were in the multimillions taking the total number to 22 million. retail sales plunged 8.7% in march, the worst ever in history of data. and the federal reserve reported economic activity has fallen sharply during the crisis. mindful of the damage to the economy, president trump announced on thursday guidelines to begin reopening the country soon, leaving the actual decision making to state governors. meanwhile, the country is being subjected to what is essentially a rather pointless daily battle between the media and mr. trump plaided out during his coronavirus briefings. reporters seem to think that their main job is to apportion blame, and they spend endless hours accusing president trump of failing to do enough to address the virus. and, of course, president trump being president trump, he accuses them of fake news, and he hurls himself back at them. a good example came monday in this exchange with paula reid of cbs. >> the argument is you bought
yourself time, you didn't use it to prepare hospitals or ramp up testing -- >> you're so, you're so disgraceful. it's so disgraceful -- >> what did your administration do in february -- >> a lot. a lot. a lot. >> what? gerry: i'm not sure what purpose this all serves. clearly, mistakes have been made, there always are mistakes, many mistakes in the early stages of a government response to a crisis. we saw that from some of our greatest leaders in times such as the civil war and, indeed, world war ii. but there is a lot we don't really yet know about this crisis and how it's unfolding, how lethal it is, how long we're going to be fighting it. and it's a little premature to make judgments about who's to blame until we much more eviden. in the meantime, there is real, proper work to be done. dreaging the spread of the virus and dealing with the enormous economic fallout. no one benefitses from this
daily cock fight. we need to learn from past experience. to do that, we can look at the history of these kinds of events which we've had many of. the worst pandemic ever was the 1918 spanish flu which broke out during world war i. now, that outbreak lasted almost three years, and half a billion people got sick. that was about one-third of everyone loving on the planet at the time. tens of millions of people died including almost are 700,000 here in america. so what are the lessons that we might learn from previous epidemics, and particularly how people responded to that one? what could we do better to prepare for the next pandemic? to get those answers, i want to welcome historian john barry, author of what is widely considered to be one of the most important books ever written about the 1918 spanish flu entitled "the deadly influenza." john barry joins me live via skype from new orleans. professor barry, thanks for joining us. >> of course.
thanks for invite aring me. gerry: let's start, if we could, if you could remind us about the scale of the 1918-1920 so-called spanish flu, just about how extraordinary, just how extensive, how lethal, how damaging it was to humanity. >> well, i think two numbers will pretty much encapsulate that. number one is the death toll, estimated 50-100 million people. if you adjust for population, that would equal 220-440 million people today. roughly two-thirds of them died in an extraordinarily short period of about 14, 15 weeks from september to december 1918. the second is that the peak age for death was 28. unlike coronavirus. roughly two-thirds of the dead were aged 14-35, so the target
demographic was quite different. gerry: you mentioned that peak of a few weeks which occurred in the fall of 1918, and i think in terms of relevance and of concern to this particular crisis, that was actually the second wave, wasn't it which turned out to be much more lethal than the initial wave which happened right around the same time of year this one is happening. >> well, that's correct. the first wave was very spotty, did not distribute itself widely around the world at all. for example, los angeles didn't have a single influential death in the spring. new york did have a pronounced pandemic. western europe did get a more widespread outbreak in the spring, but much of the world escaped almost entirely. travel, of course, then was quite a bit different. the virus did turn much more virulent, however, there were
plenty in the spring that had that capability. right now there is no evidence anywhere in the world of the slightest hint that this virus will do anything like that. so i'm not at all concern of that particular part of the problem. gerry: so you think, actually, that's unlikely, that we don't face the risk of a second wave, especially a more lethal second wave in the fall. >> well, the virus is going to be around, but it's not going to turn more lethal. the key really is not so much seasonality, but susceptibility. you know, cold and influenza viruses are more common in winter because they survive longer outside the body in cold than they do in higher temperatures and higher humidity. also people on the tend to be inside more, so it spreads more
easily in winter. but in this cause the susceptibility, whether it's 80%, 95%, we don't know the exact number but certainly the overwhelming majority of people are not yet been exposed, this is an easily-spread virus, so i don't expect seasonality to be as important as it is in a normal influenza or cold season. i think, you know, for example, even in 1919 australia was the last part of the world to be hit by that second wave because they had a very rigid quarantine. it was finally leaked in january which is dead winter -- excuse me, dead summer for australia. it spread widely there. right now in singapore, tropical, the virus coming back. so i think susceptibility to population is more important than the seasonality. gerry: what were the economic
consequences of the spanish flu as it was called at the time? we've shut down our economy here along with many, many countries, effectively shut down large parts of the economy. what happened in -- it was the end of the first world war for the first year, what happened economically between 1918 and 1920? >> well, of course, none of the finish most of the cities in the united states banned public gatherings, you with, from church services to saloons and theaters, but they did not take the more extreme measures that we're actually doing now. and i think the social distancing that is going on is going to be and has already demonstrated that it's much more effective than what was done in 1918 because it is more extreme. by the same token, one of the big differences between influenza and the coronavirus is the incubation period.
influenza's 1-4 days, most people get sick in 2 days. covid-19 is 2-14 days, most people get sick 5-6 days. -- in 5-6 days. that sprech stretches everything out and makes management much more difficult. you know, the total time frame was 14 or 15 weeks in the fall for influenza, but in any given community it would be 6-10 weeks and then it was essentially gone. there was a third wave that came later, but for all intents and purposes, disappeared from that community. they could get back to normal in quite a short period of time -- gerry: professor, we -- forgive me for interrupting, we've got to take a quick break. coming up, i want to talk more, obviously, about what happened 100 years ago, but also, critically, about what we learned and didn't learn from that flu outbreak. stay with us. ♪ ♪
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♪ ♪ gerry: i'm with john barry, author of "the great influenza." mr. barry, or thank you again. professor, as you look at what we're going through now and with your depth of knowledge of what happened 1918-1920, what do do you see in terms of our response to this? what are we getting -- let's start, if we may, what are we getting right in terms of how we are responding that perhaps enables us to avoid some of the worst outcomes of a hundred years ago? >> well, clearly the social distancing measures we're getting right. here and many other, most other places in the world although not everywhere. of mexico, brazil are outlie iers -- outliers on a negative side. but the social distancing clearly is having an impact. gerry: how did the, how did the flu in 1918, how did it end? it went up til 1920.
how did we finally get beyond that? >> well, again, it did last until 1920, but remember the overwhelming majority of deaths were in that incredibly compressed time period. you know, number one, i would say people's immune systems were better able to respond to it when they saw it again and again. that's number one. and number two, the virus itself, the influenza virus, decays very, very rapidly. and it seemed to tend toward mildness, not the lethality that that second wave had. coronavirus, while all of them also mutates, covid-19 mutates a lot more slowly than influenza, which is a good thing. otherwise we had greater difficulty developing vaccines.
gerry: what about this idea you really have to let these things essentially burn themselves out, until a significant number of the population have had it, that protects the remaining population, and there really isn't a way until a vaccine comes online, what finish how could that work? do we just have to wait until, essentially, enough people have had this disease and developed immunity that we can then move on? >> well, as you possibly know, sweden is essentially taking that approach, trying to protect the elderly and those with underlying conditions, but other than that they're largely decided to let the virus run free. much of the world is looking at that. in this virus to get herd immunity, you would need the vast majority of the population to have been infected, well over 50. and that percent, obviously,
presents some very serious problems in terms of death toll. gerry: that's the figure that overwhelms our medical capacity to deal with it. >> correct. among other things, yeah. but even if the medical system was able to handle the numbers, you would still have very many deaths. i don't think we're ready to pay that price. gerry: just quickly, in your book you talk a lot about the importance of communication and one of the reasons i think obviously one of the failures of governments back in 1918, 1920 was a failure to communicate and to doing it honestly with their people, was it that important then and how important is it now? >> well, i think it was crucial then. i think, you know, or we were at war and pretty close to outright lies about the disease initially which led to almost a breakdown, certainly, a fraying of society and many cities and the few places where the local leaders
did tell the truth, those cities -- like san francisco which had very high excess mortality, but it functioned. other cities began to fall apart. you'd see people starving to death. gerry: professor, we've got to take one more quick break, if we may, and then we'll discuss more of the lessons we should be learning from the great flu of 1918. stay with us. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ when you think of a bank, you think of people in a place. but when you have the chase mobile app, your bank can be virtually any place. so, when you get a check... you can deposit it from here. and you can see your transactions and check your balance from here. you can save for an emergency from here. or pay bills from here. so when someone asks you, "where's your bank?" you can tell them: here's my bank. or here's my bank. or, here's my bank.
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of course, in many ways the thing that strikes you is how common they are in occurrence they are, and the odd thing that what surprises you that we should be surprised by them. and yet when they come along, as they have done this time, we don't seem to have been prepared, we seem to have been surprised by it. do you think that's fair? >> well, question and no. finish -- yes and no. there's a certain community of virologists and preparedness people who were not at all surprised. they've been, california santa-like, screaming how old by for decades -- loudly for decades. so the experts aren't surprised. it's difficult to get governments or for that matter hospitals in the priest sector to make -- in the private sector to make the investment to prepare. because then you're talking about money that seem to be inefficiently used. same thing for supply chains,
just in time inventories is very efficient but creates all sorts of problems when there's an interruption. they don't like slack. gerry: do you think that, as you look at the way in which we responded to this, i mean, first of all, beginning china, you know, it started in china, there's some dispute about whether it started in a wet market or maybe even possibly in a lab, china was, it seems, was very slow in both responding directly and certainly communicating the scale of the threat to the rest of the world. do you agree with that? >> i would. the one thing china did do that was extremely helpful was get the genome out there pretty early. that's hugely important. but on many other things, i would agree that china was not acting as responsibly as they should have. we thought they had learned their lesson from sars. a lot of improvements came after
that but, unfortunately, i don't think they performed very well in this. gerry: and what do you think needs to change? obviously not just in china, but with the rest of the world, the way in which governments prepare. again, we have had so many warnings of these things. as you said, epidemiologists are warning about it all the time. what do we need to do to insure that we don't suffer in the way that we are, both in human and economic terms, as much as we're suffering right now? >> well, there are a lot of viruses out there in the wild. all of them -- not all of them, but many of them could potentially jump species from animals to people p. so the research community needs to be better funded, the whole preparedness community needs to be better funded. emerging viruses, particularly viruses but there are other pathogens as well, are a threat. i think after in that will happen. after this, that will happen. this is not something people will forget or pass over in the
way sars, which seemed like a threat but turned out to be containable, mers is not spread widely at all, so it's easy not to take them seriously. this everyone is taking seriously. gerry: and we've certainly learned to take it seriously. again, the book is called "the great influenza," and my great thanks to john warily. thank you very much, in-- john barry. up next, why time is really of the essence now in getting the country back to normal. stay with us. ♪ ♪
♪ ♪ gerri: while clearly hopeful signs are emerging in the fight against the coronavirus epidemic, the economic damage from the shutdown continues to get much worse. this week the international monetary fund said that the u.s. economy is likely to shrink by 5.9% this year. that'll be among the worst annual declines this country's faced since the great depression with unemployment likely to rise as high as 20%. but many economists believe that when the crisis is over, the economy will recover most of that lost ground and quite quickly. financial markets also reflect that optimism. the dow jones industrial average has made up more than half the loss it incurred on hopes of an early so-called v-shaped recovery. but this outlook is actually highly uncertain and, i think,
maybe much too optimistic. the longer the lockdown goes on, the greater the long-term economic damage it will do. businesses will be more reluctant to hire. workers will lose key skills. consumer confidence will be weakened further, and debt levels will place a much larger burden on governments and companies. that is why it's so critical that we are able to return to some semblance of normality soon. those workers who can safely return should be back at work without delay. a staged reopening of the economy must be implemented quickly. it's too soon, obviously, to declare victory e over this epidemic, but if we don't find a smart way to restart our economic engine soon, the ultimate damage will be even greater than a what we now fear it will be. well, that's it for us this week. be sure to follow me on twitter, facebook and instagram, and i'll be back next week when my guest will be michael lev visits who helped lead president george w. bush's efforts to prepare for
pandemics like the one we're facing now. that's it "the wall street journal at large." that's it for this us, have a great weekend. >> barron's round table sponsored by: ♪ ♪ jack: welcome to barron's round table, i'm jack otter. we begin with what we think are the three most important things investors should be thinking about right now. stocks took a big hit in response to the coronavirus, but the s&p 500 and big tech are showing surprising resilience. health care companies at the center of the pandemic, which stocks to watch and the impact of the crisis on automakers. how the entire auto ecosystem might function in our new reality. we spoke to ford ceo jim