One Governor’s Wrong-headed Statements

By April 16, 2020 Commentary

I have listened to the last few daily briefings given by Minnesota’s Governor.  Most Governors are doing these briefings and I am sure say things similar to what we hear in Minnesota.  As you might expect, there are some misleading statements and fallacious arguments that are made.  Here are a couple of my favorites.  Our Governor says “What we are doing is working”, referring to the shutdown order.  His plan may be working, but as a result of it, 450,000 Minnesotans aren’t, and they may beg to disagree with his characterization.  This statement is reflective of the one-sided consideration of the epidemic; this obsession with a relatively small number of deaths compared to the damage being done to tens of millions of people, if not the psyche of the entire population.  How may jobs lost would be too many–one million, two million, every job in Minnesota?

He says we can’t move to a more targeted set of mitigation measures because we aren’t ready, largely because of inability to test.  This is a complete red herring.  The use of targeted measures to isolate the primary at risk population, the infirm and institutionalized elderly, which account for almost every single one of Minnesota’s deaths, is not in any manner dependent on more widespread testing.  There is ample material to allow the testing of people who work with the elderly as a priority.  If your goal is to let working people go back to work as quickly as possible, you need to accept that there will be some spread of illness, but it is going to result to asymptomatic or mild illness for the vast, vast majority of these people.  Meanwhile, you can continue to isolate the at-risk populations.  And we have to get people back to work now, we simply can’t in any way let the economy continue to languish as it is now.  We don’t need widespread testing availability to engage this targeted strategy.

Next, in one moment we hear that we aren’t making the virus go away, we are just trying to defer infections and severe illness and ultimately deaths, until we have more health resources available.  Then in the next moment, he says what we are doing is saving lives.  These are inconsistent and actually the first statements are right.  But even those don’t justify the current complete shutdown.  The virus isn’t going away, and we will eventually, sooner or later, have infections and illness and deaths.  Under his models, Minnesota has adequate resources to deal with the serious cases under either the complete or more targeted lockdown.  So why are we doing the complete shutdown, which is orders of magnitude more economically destructive.  We are not “saving” any more lives, in fact we are ruining a lot more under the current approach.

Then we get the usual setting up a false choice between what the current order does and an extreme alternative, instead of the actual balanced alternative being proposed.  When asked about moderating the shutdown, he claims that we cannot “let us all get it”, as opponents of the current strategy suggest.  No one is saying that.  That is not the choice. The choice is between a comprehensive lockdown and a more targeted one.  The choice is between an order that destroys the economy and a more targeted one that allows the economy to function at close to normal.  The choice is between the same number of illnesses and deaths in either strategy.  Looks like a pretty straightforward decision to me.

And of course, we get the “we are all in this together” b.s.  No, we aren’t.  A large number of us lost our jobs and almost all of us, except maybe those who are government employees, are suffering some financial and non-financial hardship.  I would suggest our Governor and all governors suspend their pay and their agency heads’ pay until unemployment returns to its pre-epidemic levels, so they can show some solidarity with all the people whose jobs they eliminated with their lockdown.

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