The shutdown of the American economy should end as soon as possible. We have reached the point where fear and panic have precluded logic and facts. The damage from our overreaction to the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to prove greater than the death toll from the disease itself. The virus is not containable, and our attempt to achieve the unachievable grows more costly every day.
Covid-19 is not proving as deadly as first imagined. Last March 16, a group of researchers at Imperial College in London predicted 510,000 deaths in the UK and 2.2 million in the US. Within ten days, these early estimates were revised downward by more than an order of magnitude. As I write, the best estimate of ultimate deaths from Covid-19 in the US is about 60,000, the same as the 61,000 people who died from influenza during the winter of 2017-2018. Yet we continue to suffer from a shutdown whose imposition was justified by a fallacious model prediction.
The spread of the coronavirus is both inevitable and necessary. It is necessary because, in the absence of a vaccine, the only way to counteract the disease is to build immunity in the population. A person who contracts the infection and recovers is immune. They can no longer become ill or spread the disease. Infection and recovery is the most effective vaccination possible.
Last March 3, the World Health Organization estimated the mortality rate from Covid-19 to be 3.4 percent. We now know that this early estimate was much too high because testing was limited to individuals exhibiting severe symptoms. Subsequently, more extensive testing has found that half the infected population is entirely asymptomatic, and that the corresponding mortality rate is in the neighborhood of 0.1 percent. Thus 99.9 percent of the people who get the disease further the goal of building immunity in the population. Although this is an inconvenience for those who are affected, these infections accomplish an ultimate good.
The whole idea behind shutdowns and quarantines is not to reduce cumulative mortality, but to “flatten the curve” so that our health care facilities are not overwhelmed. Individuals who need intensive care may be saved by this strategy but the net mortality reduction is likely to be small. Shutdowns and quarantines will prolong the course of the pandemic. When social distancing ends, as it must eventually, the disease will simply resume its inevitable course through the population. Flattening the curve does not reduce the area under the curve.
Where did we get the idea that some businesses and occupations are “non-essential?”
In a market economy, every job is essential. And every job is certainly essential to the person who depends on it for their livelihood. In the midst of a pandemic it’s sensible to ban mass gatherings of hundreds and thousands of people. But local governments are now imposing restrictions that make little sense. Parks and golf courses have been closed. The imposition of evening curfews is baffling. Every government official with totalitarian instincts now has the moral justification to impose arbitrary and senseless curtailments on freedom of movement and association.
Ironically, in the midst of a supposed epidemic, hospitals all over the nation are closing down for a lack of patients. Why? Because government officials ordered them to cancel all elective medical procedures so they could be prepared to receive a crush of Covid-19 patients that never arrived. In the last four weeks, we’ve lost 22 million jobs. In our panic over the Covid-19 pandemic, we seem to have forgotten that a robust economy supports health care, education, fire and police protection, and the construction and maintenance of critical infrastructure that maintains human civilization. The toll from the artificial induction of poverty may ultimately exceed lives lost to the disease.
In 2011, researchers at Columbia University found that poverty contributes to 133,000 premature deaths annually in the US. Our stop-gap solution, massive government spending, is no panacea. Prosperity comes from production, not spending, borrowing, and taxing. If we don’t reverse course in a matter of days, we’re on our way to national suicide.