Emergency measures have been put into effect to deal with the outbreak of a new, contagious, potentially lethal respiratory illness. To manage the crisis, the Federal Reserve just voted to lower its interest rate by half a percent. It's not going to cure or immunize anybody or protect anybody from infection, but it should cushion any consequences to financial markets, and it could keep Wall Street from crashing.

Business people are already experiencing disruptions to economic activity caused by widespread illness and voluntary quarantines among the uninfected. There's less travel, less regular attendance at work and school, less socializing, less recreation, less everything. NPR describes the resulting ten percent contraction in share prices as "devastating," and so we probably shouldn't be surprised to see markets in panic mode. Never mind that stock indexes are still 150% of what than they were five years ago.

Rich people don't tolerate interruptions when it comes to the appreciation of assets. When they mob the Federal Reserve, vault doors swing open. You and I can't borrow, but people with money can, and they use the leverage to increase their holdings. When their money-mill fails to function properly, as can happen when there's a worldwide epidemic, they demand aid, and we always comply. It's not the death toll of the epidemic that's supposed to worry us so much as the effect on the value of rich people's portfolios.

We can suspect that the "donor class," as they like to call themselves, is actually worried about a much bigger problem than the modest losses they've suffered so far. Our government, our people, our businesses, our institutions are currently burdened with debts of unprecedented, astronomical proportions. Some scholars suggest that the U. S. economy is as fragile as a house of cards, and this epidemic could bring about a collapse. Our leaders tell us there's nothing to worry about, but history is punctuated with collapses, and the panic now gradually overspreading Wall Street tends to confirm the lessons of the past.

Federal public health authorities, unlike the Federal Reserve, seem to be quiescent, even as they concede that many of us are going to get sick, and some of us are going to die. If this is a public health emergency for the USA, you wouldn't know it to listen to our leaders. Some people are going to perish, yes, but there's nothing we can do about that. Free universal health care might have been helpful, but we don't have that, and so we'll just have to make the best of our indisposition. Thoughts and prayers will go out to the grieving masses in abundance, even as the rich are rescued from the dire commercial consequences of mass infection.

Good thing, too, because, if they're harmed, they're just going to take it out on us.