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Reblogged:"Flattening the Curve" Will Flatline the Economy

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Traditional and social media have teamed up -- with big assists from equal parts un-integrated and myopic pragmatism and the ethics of altruism -- to incite panic among the populace and widespread support for "flattening the curve." The basic (spoken) idea is that America lacks the hospital capacity to handle a sudden emergence of severe cases of COVID-19. This is almost certainly true, and I support individuals voluntarily doing what they can to slow the spread of the virus.

What I object to is the government forcing people to do this.

The basic (unspoken) idea behind the government making us "hunker down" is that each of us is on the hook because individuals in the at-risk populations are unable or unwilling to take the kinds of precautions that everyone, high-risk or not, is increasingly and improperly being forced to by government officials. That they should do this is another unspoken -- and dangerously wrong -- assumption.

These smuggled-in ideas are given the mantle of scientific respectability by an easily-understood graph, such as we find here.

As in so many other discussions today, we are all apparently to take the underlying assumptions for granted and focus on this one very narrow aspect of the problem this mild pandemic presents -- and ignore all other (highly relevant!) facts that might call the wisdom of what this slogan is being used to justify into question. (As with the well-established "greenhouse effect," the truth of a scientific fact is being used to distract people from realizing that they are being called upon to commit a sacrifice or submit to tyranny.)

So, great. We might have enough hospital beds to handle an artificially-slowed (and prolonged) epidemic. But we are already paying dearly for this, and things will only get worse unless we change course quickly.

Both Brian Phillips of the Texas Institute for Property Rights and Heather Mac Donald of The New Criterion write eloquently on that score.

Phillips notes the following, when discussing the forced cancellation of a major annual event in Houston:

Government travel restrictions caused crowding like this in airports over the weekend -- even as government took options away from us to act on our own risk assessments. (Image by Smith Mehta, via Unsplash, license.)
Those most at risk gain nothing by denying others the freedom to choose to attend and enjoy the livestock show and rodeo. If those most at risk choose to do so, that is their choice. And if those who are at little risk choose to go, that is also their choice. But [Mayor] Turner has denied everyone the freedom to choose for themselves. He has made a choice for everyone.

The sad irony is that, in the name of saving lives, Turner's actions will destroy many lives. Countless individuals and businesses are going to suffer horribly with the cancellation of the livestock show and rodeo. These victims will be hard to identify, and they will get little, if any, attention from the media and government officials. But that doesn't make their suffering any less real or any less destructive. [bold added]
Mac Donald makes a similar observation, nationwide:
An example: there were 34,200 deaths in the United States during the 2018 -- 19 influenza season, estimates the CDC. We did not shut down public events and institutions to try to slow the spread of the flu. Yet we have already destroyed $5 trillion in stock market wealth over the last few weeks in the growing coronavirus panic, reports The New York Times, wiping out retirement savings for many.

The number of cases in most afflicted countries is paltry. As of today, 127 countries had reported some cases, but forty-eight of those countries had fewer than ten cases, according to Worldometer. At this point, more people have recovered from the virus than are still sick. But the damage to people's livelihoods through the resulting economic contraction is real and widespread. Its health consequences will be more severe than those of the coronavirus, as Steve Malanga shows in City Journal. The people who can least afford to lose jobs will be the hardest hit by the assault on tourism. Small entrepreneurs, whether in manufacturing or the service sector, will struggle to stay afloat. Such unjustified, unpredicted economic havoc undermines government legitimacy. [link in original, bold added]
Both Phillips and Mac Donald wrote before the weekend. Consider that since then, there have been a nationwide wave of indefinite school closures and a flurry of local officials out-doing each other with fascistic forced business closures -- such as those for bars and restaurants in Ohio and New York City, for example.

I left my most recent post worried about a sharp recession. I am afraid that is a best-case outcome, and will leave aside further speculation for now.

-- CAV

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