COVID-19: Trade-Offs Must NEVER Be Taboo

The lack of sophistication of journalists' analysis of the pandemic continues to disappoint...

At this point, most journalists and politicians seem to fundamentally misunderstand the “flatten the curve” concept, which has devolved into a meme.

“Flatten the curve” measures (such as social distancing) are NOT meant to lower the total number of people who become infected. The same number of people will ultimately become infected. These measures are meant to slow the rate of new infections so that the healthcare system does not become overwhelmed. Lives are saved by ensuring access to care, not by less total infections…

Despite this misunderstanding (and many others), these same players are beginning to realize that they’ve been wrong and that they continue to be wrong. They’re realizing that economic trade-offs are actually valid considerations when formulating and appraising public policy options.

Journalists continue to parrot the "trust the experts" warcry.
Way more people have likely been infected than “the experts” originally thought.

An April 20 study conducted by Los Angeles County and the University of Southern California suggest that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) original 3.4% raw mortality estimate was inflated by several orders of magnitude. 320,000 adults were surveyed on April 10 and based on those results, the study predicted that 4.1% of the county’s residents had been exposed to the virus, which is far more than originally thought.

This study echoed a March study conducted by Stanford University. The Stanford study examined 3,300 residents of Santa Clara county, California and estimated that between 2.5% and 4.2% of the residents had been exposed to the virus.

It should be noted that, due to time constraints, neither study was peer-reviewed and the Stanford study’s design was criticized, so these findings cannot be deemed conclusive. 

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti
While at first glance, this may seem like horrible news, it’s far from that.

If vastly more people have been exposed to the virus than previously believed, it means that the virus is much less deadly than previously anticipated. While the decreased lethality of the virus is a silver lining that can be gleaned from these studies, the flip-side of these findings is that some of the “lock-down” measures, which have gutted the economy and led to unprecedented levels of unemployment (more than 20 million Americans), may have been unnecessarily draconian. 

More than one-tenth of America’s workforce has become unemployed and some economists predict future unemployment rates that exceed 30% if public policy doesn’t change. This is a staggering drop from the half-century low unemployment rate (3.5%) that America was enjoying before the virus struck.

However, this does NOT mean that public health best practices like hand washing, social distancing and other measures are unwarranted. While 4% is a much higher infection rate than previously estimated, that number also means that many more people still haven’t been exposed to the virus. While decreased lethality may mean some public policy measures were/are draconian, it does not nullify the need to still “flatten the curve.” Furthermore, it means that instead of imposing moronic one-size-fits-all quarantine mandates, we should focus on the most vulnerable populations and build up herd immunity in those not at risk.

There are more ways to die than COVID-19…

These preliminary studies suggest that we may have reached a tipping point with COVID-19 policy – where more lives will be lost from the economic consequences of the virus than from the virus itself.

There are three (main) culprits:

1) Statistical Illiteracy of media/politicians

2) Ideological biases that discourage the consideration of economic trade-offs when formulating public policy

3) Hysteria, caused by the profit-driven media and the well-intentioned virtue-signaling of those that parrot media narratives

Good people have fallen into a trap laid by the media: they believe that the raw mortality rate of COVID-19 is the only relevant variable that we should use for public policy decisions.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research and the medical journal The Lancet, for every 1% increase in the unemployment rate, there will be a 3.3% increase in drug overdose deaths and a .99% increase in suicide deaths. According to the journal Social Science & Medicine, an unemployed person’s death rate is 63% higher than an employed person. These figures are based on multivariate regressions on historical data, not unreliable models that don’t go past August.

The most fatalistic epidemiological models predict about 60,500 COVID-19 deaths by August. A 32% unemployment rate translates to 77,000 American deaths from suicide and alcoholism ALONE. 

Catastrophic unemployment almost always leads to increased crime rates too. A recent Norwegian study that examined 1,000,000 unemployed citizens over a 15-year timespan found that workers fired during mass layoffs commit more crimes than those terminated under normal circumstances. This is hardly shocking. The study estimated that crime rates for a mass-unemployed person will increase by about 20% during the first year of unemployment and that unemployed people commit about 60% more property crime (burglary, theft, vandalism) than their employed counterparts. While the estimates for violent crime (drugs, murder, etc.) rates were much lower, they were far from statistically and economically insignificant. 

The UN warns that 130 million people might die due to the economic consequences of COVID-19 policy. Due to food insecurity, Biblical famines are likely to come.

People that graduate school during recessions are far more likely to lead a life of crime than those who enter a booming economy. Simplistic public health “experts” who make policy based on only 1-2 variables need to understand how profound and long-lasting their policy recommendations will be. People who refuse to consider economic trade-offs (or shame those that do) aren’t just reckless and immoral, they’re dangerous.

 

The Lancet is NOT a conservative publication.
Bold prediction: the public policy response to COVID-19 will be remembered as the domestic equivalent of the War in Iraq. Both policies were based on bad data and were prefaced by unprecedented tragedy.
Both will be remembered as impulsive mistakes where “the experts” failed to examine all of the necessary variables.

2 Comments

  1. “The lack of sophistication of journalists…” Who? You? You list Rumsfeld as a cause for the Iraq War? He didn’t vote for it, unlike Clinton, Kerry, Biden, Edward’s, Schumer, Burr, Kennedy, etc. who did. Read the US Constitution. SecDef doesn’t vote for war, Senators voted for that war. It’s an Article II Power, not Article I.
    FYI Rumsfeld in Afghanistan lost 189 troops in 60 months. Obama lost thousands

    1. Kevin Lamontagne you’re missing the point – Donald Rumsfeld is negatively remembered for being an architect of the War in Iraq. It’s an observation of public opinion, not a comment on the validity of his policies.

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