We Take a Stand

Catch-22 and the COVID -19 pandemic

7 min read

By Atty. Junie Go-Soco I Published: July 28, 2020

What is a catch-22?

The term was coined by American author Joseph Heller, who used it in his best-selling 1961 comic, satirical, surreal, and apocalyptic novel entitled Catch-22.

The term Catch-22 appears several times in the story to explain a contradiction or an inescapable paradox caused by the term itself.

It was adopted into general English to refer to an untenable situation or a problem in which the question itself denies the solution.


Significant Work           

Catch-22 is considered one of the funniest books ever written.

This masterpiece is about a bomber squadron in the Second World War’s Italian theater featuring a gallery of strange characters seething with comic energy.

In this novel, a bomber pilot wants to get out of flying missions by saying that he is insane, but cannot do so because asking not to fly more missions would be a sign that he is sane.

Many literary critics consider the novel as one of the most significant in the twentieth century.

It describes the life of antihero Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier.

He hates the war and tries to avoid having to fly planes.


Fit To Fly

In the novel, the military rule states that people who are mentally impaired need not fly, and all they have to do was ask to be relieved of the duty.

The catch, or Catch-22, is that anyone who asks is acting in the interest of their safety.

In the face of such dangerous missions, this reasonable request was enough to prove the person was sane and, therefore, fit to fly.

The original Catch-22 was a regulatory and bureaucratic loophole.


The Situation

The expression Catch-22 has now entered the English language, referring to an unpleasant situation from which you cannot escape because you need to do one thing before doing a second.

Still, it would help if you did the second thing before doing the first.

This situation is called a Catch-22 situation.

The paradox was that no sane pilot would be crazy enough to want to continue flying dangerous missions.

The only way a pilot would be grounded is if he were genuinely insane, but if he asked to be grounded, he was then considered sane and would not be grounded.

So “Catch-22” was the perfect example of an illogical rule, which made everyone unhappy.


One Or The Other

What are some examples of Catch-22s?

To cite a few:  “How can I get any experience until I get a job that gives me experience?” is a Catch-22 question.

Another example is a situation in which someone needs something that can only be had by not requiring it (e.g., the only way to qualify for a loan is to prove to the bank that you don’t need a mortgage).

Also, another is a belief that one could not start his own business until he got money, and he couldn’t get the money until he starts his own business.


To Work or Not To Work

We can relate this Catch-22 situation to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the Catch-22 here?

It goes like this: We need to revive the economy, to do that, people have to get back to work. To go back to work, we need funds to finance efforts that will enable people to stay healthy.

But we do not have sufficient funds so a considerable number of people can’t stay healthy and thus the economy cannot be revived in the way and speed that the government and the people want it.



Consider these trends, which reveal the Catch-22 paradox.

On the economic side, the unemployment rate rose to 17.7 percent, accounting for 7.3 million unemployed Filipinos in the labor force in April 2020. This rate is a record high in the unemployment rate, reflecting the effects of COVID-19 economic shutdown on the Philippine labor market.

The 17.7 percent rate was higher than the 5.1 percent unemployment rate recorded in April 2019.

All regions experienced double-digit (or at least 10 percent) unemployment rates.

Also, many employees worked less than 40 hours per week. The average number of hours worked per week also fell to 35.0 in April 2020, a drop from 41.8 hours per week in April 2019.


Public Health, A Priority        

The country will most probably lose between three percent and four percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) this year.

In the first quarter of 2020, its GDP shrank by two-tenths of one percent for the first time in 20 years.

However, given the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, it is most likely that the succeeding economic quarters will show further declines.

The national government is implementing a conservative stand on the reopening of the economy.

It seeks to avoid an overwhelming surge in the number of cases that might engulf the health care system of the country.

Thus, the priority is to protect public health amid the pandemic while slowly opening the economy by allowing more businesses to open and increasing their capacities.


Revenue, Expenditures           

Due to a standstill of economic activities and taxpayer relief efforts because of the lockdowns, the government’s projected revenue collection is much lower compared to previous years.

The Department of Finance has anticipated that revenue collections will be 17 percent of GDP – lower than the collection in 2019. At the same time, disbursements will do the opposite. It will be 10 percent higher than the expenditures in 2019.

Thus, the government projects the budget deficit for 2020 to be around 8.1 percent of GDP or P1.56 trillion (US$31.5 billion).

To pay for these borrowings, the government will have to engage in substantial loans that implies more taxes in future years.

The pandemic severely affected domestic consumption, which is the primary engine of the Philippine economy.

Sectors such as tourism, services, trade, retail, real estate, and manufacturing are hard hit.


Unemployment, Health

Around 7.3 million Filipinos have temporarily or permanently lost their jobs due to business closures because of the pandemic.

The Department of Labor and Employment estimates that around 10 million workers may lose their jobs this year because of the pandemic.

Thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers have been temporarily or permanently retrenched in their host countries and are returning to the Philippines.

On the health side, experts consider it as dire and more severe than it was a few weeks back. When the economy started its revival, the health problem got worse.

The number of COVID-19 cases may surge to at least 85,000 by the end of July.

UP OCTA Research noted that this is a 15,000 to 25,000 increase from the initial projection.

The projection changed when the reproduction rate of the virus increased in the past two weeks from 1.28 back in June; the reproduction rate jumped to 1.75.


Are We There Yet? 

Are we in a Catch-22?

The close relationship between the health aspect and the economic aspect of the pandemic’s impact shows that, indeed, there is a delicate balancing act equivalent to a paradoxical situation.

Thus, we are in a Catch-22 situation. For example, the purpose of a lockdown is to stop people from going to work. The government adopts this action because the virus spreads when people move around. It also spreads when people go to work and in their workplace.

But the government also wants the supply chains restored, farming activities to proceed, factories opened, and money and food distributed for which people have to get out to work.


A Staged Approach

How do we get out of this Catch-22?

The way out of the paradox is by adopting the stance that we can remedy most of our catches if we are willing to work through them.

Handle the paradox by the horn.

A staged approach is an option to get out of this Catch-22.  For example, in the private sector, the staged approach addresses a Catch-22 faced by any company.

Google used this strategy. It initially launched as a vendor of web search services, operating Google.com and licensing its search engine to Yahoo and other portals.

In the beginning, Google.com carried no advertising; its sole source of revenue was licensing fees. But after amassing end users, Google added advertisements and became extraordinarily profitable.

By serving searchers on one side and advertisers on the other, it brought new functionality to existing services as a means of transitioning to a two-sided platform.


Solutions to Catch 22

As mentioned earlier, there is a familiar Catch-22 people run into when looking for their first job.

You have no experience, but you need the expertise to get your first job to get experience. What are you supposed to do?

Some universities offer students the option to take time out of their degree course to gain experience while still studying.

Further, some experts even feel that to beat the Catch-22 situation, one has to stop heeding the rules. And make your path that changes the status quo.

The lesson: there are solutions to Catch-22 situations.

Today’s column concludes with this excellent paradox quote from Plato: I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

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