Tuesday 12 May 2020

Mike Weinberger: Flattening the Coronavirus Curve vs. Flattening Our Economy

The original shutdown orders were supposed to be necessary to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus. In other words, they were designed to spread the acute cases out over time so we didn’t overburden our medical system all at once.
There was some logic to this thinking, even if it was based on wildly inaccurate predictions of hundreds of thousands of deaths.
For example, if a community has 1,000 intensive care beds, it made sense to try to prevent a scenario where you have 2,000 intensive care patients.

That many patients needing care all at once would not only create a shortage of beds, it might also force medical staffs to work double and possibly even triple shifts. We wanted to avoid that.
Moreover, there was the possibility that if we overworked our medical professionals and exposed them to so many infected patients, our doctors and nurses could get infected themselves. Then what would we do?
For all these reasons you could argue that flattening the curve made sense. But now we have accomplished this. The number of acute cases is not rising like it was a month or two ago.
It is time, therefore, to reopen the economy.
This is especially so since we now know who is most at risk. It isn’t the average American or the average worker. Rather, it is older Americans and individuals who are medically compromised.
Younger, healthy citizens face much lower risks. They constitute a small percentage of the virus’ fatalities. So it makes sense to allow younger, healthy people to return to work while we encourage the elderly and medically vulnerable to take extra precautions.

Indeed, we must do this, and we must do it quickly. If we don’t, our economic system will collapse. It is simply not possible to tell people not to work — and also to expect our economy to produce all the goods and services we want and need.
Printing paper money or issuing government checks is not a solution to this problem. Paper money is not food.
Nor is paper money electricity, clothing, shoes, housing or anything else Americans want. These things can only be made by people who work. Housing, drinkable water and electrical power do not magically appear just because you have a government check.
And yet, one of today’s great ironies is that the same leftists who demand these things as “human rights” have absolutely no understanding that they can only be made affordably, and in large quantities, by participants in a free market economy.
In other words, government checks do not produce housing units, but free markets can.
So now that we have flattened the curve, we must not flatten our economy. That would not only create food shortages, a spike in mental illness and delayed cancer screening, to name a few consequences, but it could also give rise to street violence.
People are not used to spending day after day with nothing to do. It’s abnormal. Combine that abnormality with deserted urban streets and you have a recipe for chaos. Indeed, urban shopkeepers seem to understand that, which is why so many have boarded up their glass storefronts.
A wise man once said civilization is a thin veneer. A functioning economy and bustling urban streets filled with ordinary citizens helps keep that veneer in place. Let’s not peel it off. It’s dangerous.

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