Criticizing the Shutdown is Putting Money Over Lives. Really?

By April 2, 2020 Commentary

As you might imagine when venturing out on a controversial subject like mitigation measures for coronavirus spread, you get a lot of comments.  Most are fine, but of course there are a number along the lines of you don’t care about people’s lives or you think money is more important than people.  I can only assume most of those people aren’t actually reading the posts and/or have some significant difficulty in basic reasoning.  But I think that is a widespread attitude that is impeding the ability of politicians to make decisions that consider the effects of mitigation measures on everyone.  Fortunately, according to recent polls, a majority of Americans belief that the shutdowns may be worse for the country that the coronavirus epidemic itself.  Perhaps that will create enough pressure to lead to a re-examination of the advisability of these measures.  But people should stop thoughtlessly tossing out this bromide phrase.

The fundamental problem is that the lives lost, or projected to be lost, to coronavirus disease number seems very immediate and is constantly highlighted by the media and some politicians.  The damage being done to the economy and to people’s lives through job loss and other events is more diffuse and less visible, although that is changing as the shutdowns drag on.  As has been repeatedly pointed out, the issue in regard to what mitigation measures are appropriate is the balancing of the potential benefits and harms across the entire population.  If it is lives being balanced against anything, it is against other lives.

And whatever number of deaths you think are being delayed or prevented by the mitigation measures (and as should be apparent now, they are mostly being delayed, not prevented), put some numbers of lives lost or affected to these items on the other side of the scale:  lost jobs  __________ (I can fill this one in for you so far, at least 15 million to 20 million); suicides  _______ (don’t put zero, they are already occurring); child abuse and domestic abuse  _________  (don’t put zero here, either, there are widespread reports of increases in both); alcohol and drug abuse disease and deaths  ________ (no zeroes allowed here either); mental illness ________ (really, you are going to put zero in here, like there is no stress, depression, despair or anxiety for people); divorce  _______ (no zeroes again, filings are heading up); death and disease exacerbation from lack of health care access or stress  _______ (sorry it’s not zero here either).  And so on–homelessness, food insecurity, etc.  Now look at all those numbers and tell me the lives they represent don’t deserve any consideration.

By the way the populations affected by these harms are disproportionately low-income and minorities; people who are relatively powerless and voiceless.  What we need in addition to coronavirus infection rate and death rate trackers is a tracker for coronavirus mitigation measure harms.

I strongly suspect that a number of people who make this nonsense statement either are 1) retired and have social security, another pension plan, and/or significant retirement savings, and Medicare; 2) people with very secure jobs or 3) people with substantial savings and/or wealth.  These groups aren’t as worried about the effects of an economic shutdown and losing a job.  If you are making these statements and are in one of these groups; why are you so callous and indifferent to the vast majority of the population that isn’t in one of those categories?  Why do you not care about their lives?  Are the tens of millions of lives being so direly affected by extreme mitigation measures somehow worth so much less than the lives of the relative few who are at risk of dying?  You might want to display a little more empathy and exercise a little more intellectual consistency.

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