“How many additional Coronavirus deaths are tolerable in order to revive our economy?”
The question, asked this way, is not actually a question as much as an attempt to silence, to win an argument but without the intellectual elbow grease of actually winning the argument. Nobody can really successfully justify a quantifiable higher death count for financial gain; the very premise of the question negates the possibility of a defensible numeric answer, much less a discussion.
Yet, in so many other areas of our lives we absolutely tolerate an elevated level of preventable death in exchange for autonomy and quality of life. We drive cars, own guns, take prescription drugs, eat high carb foods, have sex, use kitchen knives, ride bicycles on busy streets, sleep too little, stay in the sun too long, send kids to the playground, and lead far too stressful lives. Living kills millions every single year. These millions of lives are ended prematurely through behavior-induced epidemics.
So why is nobody asking, “How many lives are you willing to sacrifice — you selfish brute — just so you can get in your car and drive?”
We don’t make behavioral choices with this mythical “acceptable body count” as a starting point, in the disingenuous way narrative-driven journalists and politicos suggest. Instead we assume individual risk knowing that death is an unfortunate and hopefully unlikely potential. That’s the problem with this bogus conundrum being thrown about at anyone who suggests obliterating the world’s most robust economy — which we are in the process of doing right now — is an acceptable and sustainable solution for our country or any free people.
As people face the stark reality of unemployment and underemployment, and can’t afford to provide their own food, housing, or transportation — the results are more devastating than simply going without for a while. A study published in Lancet Psychiatry, examining the impacts of the 2008 recession shows that unemployment alone was responsible for 45,000 annual suicides. Government orders deeming some businesses and organizations “non-essential” fail to recognize that the paychecks earned by those in this category are absolutely essential to those earning them, and to the the mouths that are fed by them. The house payment of a hairdresser is no less important than that of a nurse or police officer.
I’m thankful I don’t have to make the difficult decisions our nation’s governors do. Even if I disagree with their decision, I believe most of them are doing their best. Balancing the value of life, with freedom and quality of life, seems like a pretty heart-wrenching task. I hope these lockdowns are over soon, because at some point soon they will transition from pandemic mitigation to societal degradation.
It would be easy to turn the tables and ask, “How many businesses and jobs and livelihoods are you willing to destroy to minimize the risk of Coronavirus? How many hard-earned retirement plans are you willing to obliterate? How many additional suicides are you willing to tolerate from increased unemployment?” Yet, these questions are equally unfair, because nobody I know actually “accepts” increased levels of either death, or the deliberate inducement of poverty. We’re all just trying to find a risk vs. reward balance. The discussion is so much better absent the sanctimony.
Furthermore, suggesting a different strategy that is less intrusive on the liberty and economic well-being of the vast majority of folks is anything but selfish — an accusation I’ve heard more times than I care to count. Many smart and experienced epidemiologists are advocating vigilant quarantines of the elderly and health compromised, while largely allowing healthy young and middle aged populations to live their lives while practicing prudent social distancing and good hygiene — achieving herd immunity more quickly.
The truth, if we’re willing to accept it, is that nobody actually knows the one right way through this while we try to balance the many areas of our existence we all hold dear. But starting a conversation with a false choice that suggests greed is more important than life, is no way to start a conversation.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. Read more of his work and contact him at www.neallarson.com.