Next weekend, I am planning to meet up with an old friend in Las Vegas. I have a direct flight booked with Virgin Atlantic, a reservation at the best restaurant in town and, most importantly, two tickets to Crazy Horse Paris at the MGM Grand. But in the past few days I’ve been having second thoughts. The problem is, my friend lives in Mexico City.
Just how concerned should I be about catching swine flu? According to my colleague James Delingpole, not remotely. He wrote a piece earlier this week in which he assessed the risk as vanishing-to-zero: ‘I’m not going to die of swine flu, you’re not going to die of swine flu, none of your friends is going to die of swine flu, none of your Mexican pen pals is going to die of swine flu.’ His view is that the British and American governments are deliberately whipping up their populations into a paranoid frenzy in the hope of restoring their battered authority. Far better we should think about this pandemic — and what our leaders can do to protect us — than dwell on our bleak economic prospects. He concluded with a quote from H.L. Mencken: ‘The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.’
No doubt there is some truth in this, but the swine flu outbreak has had the opposite effect on me, forcing me to face up to some of the trickier dilemmas posed by the credit crunch. Should I modify my behaviour in order to avoid catching swine flu? To my mind, this is no different from deciding whether I should start stockpiling food in case the economy collapses.