A lot of smart people are growing more concerned that we are overreacting to coronavirus in a way that could create dramatically more harm, including health effects, than the virus itself.
So let’s look at the possible overreaction impact along with a method for stepping out of it. Please accept as a given, that there is a lot we don’t know. But there is more and more we do. And a much better way to go forward.
First, the virus is very contagious, and spreads more easily and rapidly than the flu. Or so it seems. But it seems to be less deadly than the flu for young people and for the entire group under 50, about the same as the flu; while for 50-60 it is somewhat more dangerous than the flu and for 70 and above it is much more dangerous than the flu.
But we have shut down everything. Everyone. Some states have issued “shelter in place” orders (we can’t just say “stay home”?) and most others are encouraging everyone to stay home. Everyone. (I won’t even go into the First Amendment implications of the government ordering people not to gather together — right of assembly.)
This is done to keep younger people from infecting older people. But since this requires all of the older people to be quarantining anyway, do we need to include all the younger people, too?
This shutdown will generate its own health care issues, such as depression in a country where there is almost an epidemic of depression among young people, almost assuredly increased smoking, drinking and drug use. The longer we stay closed, the worse these get — directly on the health care system.
So there are some immediate health implications in the shutdown, but that barely scratches the surface of the real impact.
The economic repercussions of shutting down the country for 4-8 weeks is devastating, perhaps beyond our imagination. The chart below shows the spike in unemployment claims just from 17 states. Note how it reaches the peak recession-level claims at their peak. In. One. Week. JP Morgan is predicting that GDP in the second quarter will contract by 14%. They had it at 5% a few days earlier. This is a collapse level decline.
A recession is guaranteed at this point, but the risk is of throwing us into a full-scale Depression. The last one of those was 90 years ago and was crippling for most of a generation. Today, it would be worse because we are far more inter-reliant.
A Depression would risk crippling not just the economy, but the health care system in the long-term — the very system we are trying to keep from being overwhelmed. All those ventilators, masks, medicines and so on require companies to make them. That’s no problem right now because the demand is high.
But there are thousands and thousands of medical device needs, plus all the personnel. Do you know how that is all paid for? Hundreds of thousands of companies making a profit and paying their employees. Thriving companies and their employees send trillions of dollars in taxes to governments. If they are not thriving, or existing at much smaller levels, then a lot of that money goes away. There just isn’t money for health care.
But at the same time, people in a Depression would forgo regular doctor visits and use medical care only in an emergency, which we know is both less healthy, causes shorter lifespans, and costs more money. These health care costs physically and monetarily would not be caused by the virus, but by the reaction to it.
Have these trade-offs been weighed? Are they now?
If we go into a Depression, it’s guaranteed that the “cure” was worse than the disease. It will not have been worth it — based on what we know now. The long-term consequences of an 8-week economic nap are staggering.
But we don’t need to do it.
Right now, we should be making plans for stepping out of this national shutdown by allowing everyone under 60 to return to work as normal. Not life as normal, but work as normal.
Heather MacDonald wrote in the Spectator for us to “Consider the costs.” “We should focus our efforts on our known vulnerable populations — the elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them. The elderly should be protected from unknown contacts. Nursing homes must be immaculately maintained. But until there is clear evidence that canceling commerce is essential to preventing mass casualties, the stampede of shutdown oneupmanship should end.”
Post stay at home orders (or preferrably strong suggestions) for everyone over 60 and create financial help for that group. We can target that much, much smaller group with help that will cost our children considerably less than throwing a thousand dollars we don’t have at every American every few weeks. Because it is not necessary.
Everyone else, get back to work, wash your hands, practice social distancing, be extremely cautious with at-risk groups — as in, stay away from them like you carry the plague, because you might for them — but otherwise keep calm and carefully carry on.
This is a modified South Korean model. We crank out ventilators like crazy (although we already have more per person than most countries, including Europeans) and necessary crisis equipment and even adapt buildings while lightening-tracking treatments.
About 80 percent of workers would be back on the job, cranking on the economy. We will have a recession, that’s baked in at this point, but probably a short one. We’d pull back out pretty quickly. And we would continue on with a sound economy for moving past the virus.
Dr. David Katz, founding director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, said this targeted approach is best. “There may be more targeted ways to beat the pandemic.” This is the point: “The rush to impose sweeping restrictions on public and commercial life across the entire economy should be more carefully evaluated.”
We can’t wreck our economy for perhaps as long as a generation. The costs are just too high.
Rod Thomson is an author, past Salem radio host, ABC TV commentator, former journalist and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act.