There are more than just medical issues to consider in the corona debate:
Sadly, I have already had my fair share of those who somehow think I do not care about human life because I dare to ask questions about corona alarmism. Too many folks have either said or insinuated that I am a hard-hearted bastard because I try to point out a few hard facts about the corona crisis and our response to it.
A point I have made all along is the need to ensure that our response is not worse than the virus. Major lengthy lockdowns can prove to be just as fatal to hundreds of thousands of people as the virus itself. So it is foolish and reckless for these folks to claim that I am putting profit ahead of people, or the economy ahead of human lives.
That is absolute nonsense. All lives matter, whether they are lost due to economic ruin or a virus. And I was just alerted to someone else who has strongly made this case. It seems that Australian economics professor Gigi Foster appeared on Q&A last night critiquing our lockdown. She said:
I reject the idea it’s lives versus the economy. It’s lives versus lives. The economy is about lives. It’s about protection of lives and human welfare and livelihood. You can make an apples to apples comparison although people find it difficult to do so. What frustrates me is when people talk about the economic costs of the lockdown they often don’t think in detail in terms of counting lives, as we do with the epidemiological models. Has anyone thought about how would you get a measure of the traded lives when we lock an economy down? What are we sacrificing in terms of lives?
Economists have tried to do that and we try to do that in currencies like the value of a statistical life … and those quantities enable you to think about lives on one side versus lives on the other. If you do that kind of calculus you realise very quickly that even with a very, very extreme epidemic, in Australia, we are still potentially better off not having an economic lockdown in the first place because of the incredible effects that you see not just in a short-run way but in many years to come. https://www.news.com.au/entertainment/tv/current-affairs/coronavirus-australia-economist-gigi-foster-shares-blunt-lockdown-view-on-qa/news-story/e8fafd0e4c268c45cbb5133b767f0863
But of course so many of these legitimate concerns do not enter into the minds of so many alarmists. Indeed, sound reasoning and logic is often missing in this debate. As with so many important issues in life, fear and feelings tend to trump facts and evidence in the corona discussions.
So we need to keep trying to get back to rationality and logic, not emotive overreactions. The big picture needs to be considered here, not just one small aspect of it. I have had many folks who want to discuss only the medical side of things (as important as that is) but who seem oblivious to other crucial aspects of this debate, including the social, political and economic.
And as I have argued before, various matters need to be weighed up here. Life is never risk-free, and it is always about considering the options and about trade-offs. For example, some folks love donuts, but risk developing heart disease as a result. Some folks love smoking, but might develop lung cancer as a result. Some folks love race car driving, but risk losing their lives in a crash as a result.
Most human activity involves some risks, and there are always costs and benefits to be assessed in many courses of action – both for individuals and the state. But I discuss this in more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/04/18/corona-and-the-elimination-of-risk/
Let me deal with this matter a bit further. According to the CDC: ‘Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.’
And here is another set of figures: ‘More than 38,000 people die every year in crashes on U.S. roadways. The U.S. traffic fatality rate is 12.4 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. An additional 4.4 million are injured seriously enough to require medical attention. Road crashes are the leading cause of death in the U.S. for people aged 1-54.’
Yet how often have we heard those who fully support the draconian lockdown measures of so many governments around the world make the following claim: ‘These strict measures are totally worth it if they save just one human life.’ Hmm, OK, so at least they ought to be consistent here.
As I keep repeating, the actual number of corona deaths in Australia thus far is 71. In Australia in 2019, ‘1,146 people were killed in road related deaths, over 3 people a day.’ And as to Australian smoking-related deaths, ‘Tobacco use contributed to an estimated 21,000 deaths, or more than 1 in 8 fatalities, in Australia during 2015’.
So the question is, to be consistent, will these same folks demand a complete lockdown in the use of cigarettes and automobiles? After all, if it saves just one life, it will be worth it. And if not, why not? Selective moralising always strikes me as a bit suspect.
But I have raised these points before. So let me appeal to another expert here. American prolife champion Scott Klusendorf has recently penned an excellent piece on all this that is a must read. I encourage you to do so. It is a lengthy and well-argued article, and here are some quotes from it:
Are pro-life advocates who question a prolonged economic lockdown trading lives for profits, thus undermining their core principles? When I raised these questions in an online exchange, a respected pro-life colleague replied, “Doctors know medicine better than we do, better than economists do. Life above profits!”
Is it really that simple? One thing is clear: Almost without notice, somebody moved the goalposts. A month ago, we were told a temporary shutdown of the economy was required to “flatten the curve” and slow transmission of the virus. If we didn’t, millions of sick Americans would overwhelm our hospitals and break the system. That made sense to many Americans. However, when models predicting that dire result were proven wrong, the ground rules changed. Now, instead of a brief shutdown aimed at slowing transmission, we’re told that we are morally obligated to extend economic lockdowns indefinitely until we beat the virus itself and no one is in danger.
Shutting down an entire nation for a prolonged period of time and destroying its economy can have a catastrophic impact on the common good, resulting in deaths from civil unrest, delayed non-COVID-19 medical procedures, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide — to name a few. That probability should also be brought as close to zero as possible.
“Life above profits” fails to account for this complexity in the precautionary principle and thus presents a false choice. Pro-life advocates concerned about the economy are not callously choosing money over people. They’re asking how we can save lives and preserve the common good given the pandemic we’ve been dealt. Is an indefinite shutdown of an entire society the best way to do that? Doctors don’t hold a trump card on that question. And yet that is precisely the danger we face. Medical professionals who would never allow experimental cures until they are fully tested are quite willing to step outside their field of expertise and demand untested and draconian economic policies that harm vulnerable Americans and impoverish the nation. Profits lift millions out of poverty and give us the resources to fight disease in the first place. Indeed, our economy is delicate and interconnected in ways not subject to central planners who unilaterally dictate what is and is not “essential.” As philosopher Lydia McGrew points out, “A ban on the sale of garden mulch affects (ultimately) a hospital’s ability to provide pay to a doctor treating Covid19 patients.” A failure to recognize this interconnectedness is a danger to human life….
While we must never intentionally kill innocent human beings, in practice we allow for tradeoffs where the risk of death is foreseen but not intended. These tradeoffs are unavoidable in the pursuit of other intrinsic goods. For example, electricity saves lives and powers our appliances, but each year 400 people die from electrocution and thousands more are injured. Worldwide, car wrecks kill 1.5 million people a year, many of them in poor countries. That’s 3,700 deaths each day! We could save hundreds of thousands of lives if we enforced a 25-mph speed limit, but we don’t. Is that because we’re playing a game of “Lifeboat” where we arbitrarily decide who lives and dies based on economic worth? No, we recognize that speedy and efficient transportation leads to a higher standard of living for everyone. We accept these tradeoffs all the time.
“Pro-life” means we will never sanction the intentional killing of innocent human beings. It does not mean that the preservation of life is the only intrinsic good we should pursue. If it were, our decisions would be much simpler: just do what contributes to length of life and eschew anything that doesn’t. But that may not lead to the best, or even a good, outcome. https://www.equip.org/article/covid-19-do-pro-life-principles-require-a-sustained-shut-down-of-the-economy-who-decides/
Again, other authorities could be appealed to here. For example, American economist Alexis Akira Toda has just penned an informative piece entitled, “Early draconian social distancing may be suboptimal for fighting the COVID-19 epidemic.” It begins:
The COVID-19 epidemic will not end until populations acquire herd immunity either because a vaccine is developed or a sufficiently large share of the population has been infected and recovered. This column argues that the draconian mitigation measures currently taken by many governments may be suboptimal because they prevent the building of herd immunity while incurring significant economic costs. A more targeted approach, such as that of Sweden or ‘optimally delayed mitigation’, may be preferable. https://voxeu.org/article/early-draconian-social-distancing-may-be-suboptimal-fighting-covid-19-epidemic
So we need to bring all vital considerations to bear on this matter, not just medical ones. Economic, social, legal and political considerations also must be taken into account. And to do so is NOT an indication of a refusal to care about human life.