Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Member Blog: David Zilberman

There is a lot to be grateful for, even this year

David Zilberman, professor, agriculture and resource economics
November 25, 2020

In this year of the election, pandemic, and general mayhem, we still have a lot to be grateful for.

First, Americans voted to avoid the lure of a false Messiah (a charismatic and egocentric exploiter of grievances and purveyor of false hopes) – and chose democracy and sanity.

Second, Joe Biden as president-elect. He was the electable alternative that prevented a further civil and political decline. I don’t believe that any other Democratic candidate would have won. More than that, I salute him for being proudly in the middle – willing to negotiate with foes and reach compromises, underemphasizing identity politics, and highlighting that we are all Americans—and humans—who need one another and should strive for a better world.

I worried that our political climate will further polarize until we perceive that we have to choose between two extremes, like Europe between the world wars. I hope that the election of Biden will contain this trend.

Third, scientists for taking advantage of new biotechnology to produce a vaccine within a year—a fantastic speed of discovery. And doctors and other medical professionals for putting themselves at risk to treat COVID patients. Within a few months, medical professionals had improved COVID treatments, cutting fatality rates by half, and alleviating suffering and pain. They displayed an immense capacity for ‘learning by doing’ and defied early predictions despite many policy missteps. We expected 2.2 million fatalities and a 25% reduction in GNP; the damages are much smaller. We emphasize our failures, but we also need to recognize our achievements.

Fourth, essential workers, who continue to provide food and medicine, fuel, security, and clothing, despite personal risk and low pay. I admire how smoothly our food and other retail supply chains adapted to drastic changes during the pandemic- and recognize the high price that many workers paid as they lost their jobs. I also realize that markets do not always reflect essential values and that we need to improve the protection and rewards of these essential contributors.

Fifth, science in general for allowing me to reach 73 years and feel like I never passed fifty (or maybe sixty), helping my senior colleague be creative and alive. We sometimes underappreciate the increase in life expectancy around the world over the past 100 years (average life expectancy is close to 70- it was below 40 in 1900).

Sixth, Zoom, Teams, and other video conferencing software for enabling us to connect and have personal and business interactions from a distance. I sometimes hate zooming, but it would be worse without it. This new technology allows us the comfort of working from home and will stay with us long after COVID has passed.

Seventh, my family (actually they are first) for providing the warmth, support, and small pleasures that make me treasure life. Leorah and the dogs, some friends, and family on zoom have made social distancing tolerable and even enjoyable.

Eighth, the University of California, Berkeley and in particular The Rausser College of Natural Resources, and my ARE department for providing me resources and knowledge, access to new opportunities that made my career adventuresome and rewarding. I have been fortunate to land in an academic situation that has matched my desire to mix rigor and relevance, theory, and practice, and allow me to grow as a person and a professional.

Ninth, my colleagues, collaborators, supporters, and partners in research projects, and special initiatives (ELP, MDP, ICABR) who augmented my skills, provided inspiration and friendship and made arduous tasks actually fun.

Tenth, electronic art and entertainment. In the low moments, when I feel a prisoner in my own house, being able to read a book or a magazine, watch a movie or a television series gives me freedom and allows my imagination to soar. I always enjoy the NBA playoffs, but this year was special. It provided a glimpse into a world without a pandemic and in its own way a sense of normalcy and hope.

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