Defending the Shutdown

Someone on Facebook just made this argument:

You do not sacrifice the livelihoods of millions (billions) to save a minuscule few from the possibility of getting a virus. If we did, we’d be shut down permanently.

My response was truncated because who wants to read a lengthy political discussion, especially on Facebook? Here is the non-truncated version of my response to the post:

1. Why not? Why aren’t lives (even a minuscule number of them) more valuable than economic livelihoods? Seems like an easy choice: more people out of work versus the lives of people. I am waiting for the poster to respond with some nonsense about the quality of the lives being lost, for example, old people diminishes the cost of the deaths. That is, however, a rabbit hole so offensive that it needs to waste no time imagining a response.

2. The notion of a minuscule number of deaths is specious. Millions would have/might yet die if the pandemic went/goes unchecked. Already the US has passed 10,000 deaths and we are still before the projected worst of it. That’s just COVID-19 deaths. There are also many who will die because of crushed hospital capacity. 

3. The coming recession is inevitable. As a pandemic sweeps through the population and crushes hospital capacity we are going to see less and less people engaging in economic activity. There will be a recession even without the government’s order to create one. The difference would be, however, a slower dip into the recession. Any of the reasons why a recession is bad, of which there are many (suicide, poverty related deaths, etc…) will also happen in a world lacking social distancing. The recession impact is not unique to a quarantine.

4. There is evidence that emerging from a recession is made easier by a shutdown. People are not as sick and when things open up then the workforce is healthier and more capable of returning to work. This readiness affects not only physical ability but also a willingness to return to work. A worker will be more apt to return to work if she thinks she is unlikely to contract the virus or if the hospitals have an ability to treat her for an unplanned emergency such as an automobile accident.

Here is an article out of MIT’s Sloan School of Management that nicely reviews the data supporting the above claim.

5. Is the shutdown really that bad? Know that I ask that question as one of the ones hit hardest by the shutdown. I’ve lost 100% of my income.

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