The Long-Term Costs of a Quarantined America
Article from For Liberty by Norm Leahy.
The list of states ordering business to shut down and schools to close gets longer each day. But the question of whether such closures makes a difference (flattens the curve) or inflict even great harm is an open question.
It’s one Reason’s Nick Gillespie tackles head-on in a thoughtful essay on whether we will come to regret our mass quarantine response to the virus:
It won’t be popular to call attention to the possibility that such actions might be an overreaction. But it’s a serious point, even if that sentiment has no hopes of carrying the day. The federal government botched the early response to coronavirus, so why should we expect it to get its act together now? Whenever we are finally clear of this pandemic, we will need to study our response to understand what we did right and what we did wrong. With a virtually complete halt of the American economy about to begin, we should enter this phase with full awareness that it wasn’t the only choice available to us.
Contradicting the herd is usually unpopular. But it’s also essential. As the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote, social distancing, better hygiene, and other small but highly effective strategies have undoubtedly made a difference. But what about widespread quarantines?
The politicians in Washington are telling Americans, as they always do, that they are riding to the rescue by writing checks to individuals and offering loans to business. But there is no amount of money that can make up for losses of the magnitude we are facing if this extends for several more weeks. After the first $1 trillion this month, will we have to spend another $1 trillion in April, and another in June?
By the time Treasury’s small-business lending program runs through the bureaucratic hoops—complete with ordering owners that they can’t lay off anyone as a price for getting the loan—millions of businesses will be bankrupt and tens of millions will be jobless.
Another unpopular opinion – but one that reflects very real, long-term concerns and consequences:
…no society can safeguard public health for long at the cost of its overall economic health. Even America’s resources to fight a viral plague aren’t limitless—and they will become more limited by the day as individuals lose jobs, businesses close, and American prosperity gives way to poverty. America urgently needs a pandemic strategy that is more economically and socially sustainable than the current national lockdown.
It sounds cold-blooded and callous. But the numbers don’t lie: the might American economy cannot fight an indefinite war of attrition against COVID-19 and emerge unscathed.
We need to be thinking about the next phase of this fight – the one that provides intensive help and care to those at greatest risk while allowing the rest of the population to begin the long process of restarting the nation.