Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Deadly Perfection

Jerry Stratton, April 15, 2020

Costco line in Brooklyn

Is it safer to wait in this line an hour before shopping in a sparsely-populated store, or get through more quickly in a store with all of these people inside? (cropped from image by Rhododentrites, CC BY-SA 4.0)

One of the most amazing things to me about this panic is how polite it is on the ground, outside of the media. Even when they’re panicking, Americans are exceptional.

On my flight five weeks ago, just before the rash of shutdowns, I noted how quiet the cabin was, and by quiet I meant free of coughing and sniffles. People voluntarily avoided flying if they even had the appearance of being sick. Even the hoarding, which is a rational response to media-induced uncertainty, has not been a riot.

Trump asked an important question during his March 23 press briefing last Monday. The press room was nearly empty, because the press room has enforced social distancing. The president asked his science advisor, is this the way it will always be in the future, or will we be able to fill this room up again? The advisor did what scientists often do, which was to avoid the question. Scientists don’t answer with absolutes; if they did, they wouldn’t be scientists. But it’s an important question. That same pattern of a crowded room fills our lives. Without it we can’t have movie theaters, we can’t have affordable air travel. We certainly can’t have bars or dance clubs or concerts. And then the question has to be asked, what are we losing if we lose affordable air travel, if we lose the ability to go out and enjoy ourselves? Reducing air travel will certainly kill people; reducing the ability to blow off steam will almost certainly kill people. And both will make our lives far worse.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said something similar.

I don’t pretend to be speaking for everyone seventy plus… But I think there are lots of grandparents who would agree with me that I want my grandchildren to live in the America I did… I want them to have a shot at the American dream. But right now this virus… is killing our country in another way… So I say let’s give this a few more days or weeks… but after that let’s go back to work and go back to living. Those who want to shelter in place can still do so. But we can’t live with this uncertainty.

I turn seventy next week… so I’m automatically in the high-risk pool. As Lieutenant Governor I work 12 or 15 hours a day, mostly from home now, but I travel when I need to. I’m living smart, listening to the President, the CDC guidelines, like all people should. But I’m not living in fear of COVID-19. What I’m living in fear of is what’s happening to this country. No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in.

That doesn’t make me noble or brave or anything like that. I just think that there are lots of grandparents out there in this country like me—I have six grandchildren—that what we all care about and what we love more than anything are those children. And I want to live smart, and see through this but I don’t want the whole country to be sacrificed and that’s what I see… My heart is lifted tonight by what I heard the President say. Because we can do more than one thing at a time. We can do two things.

So my message is let’s get back to work, let’s get back to living. Let’s be smart about it and those of us who are seventy-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country. Don’t do that. Don’t ruin this great American dream.

As a Texan I support what he actually said, and not CNN’s made up headline. We are killing people with our response to this virus. We are destroying people’s lives, their livelihoods, tearing apart what they’ve taken a lifetime to build, and destroying our ability to save lives. I have seen no acknowledgement among the media that when we destroy our small businesses we kill people. Every business is in business because it provides an essential service to someone. And if it isn’t essential for you, it is for someone who does something you do consider essential.

Every vehicle that is not made is a vehicle that could have transported essential supplies, people, and services to those in need. Every phone that isn’t sold could have helped someone find the solace they need to survive, or have directed the delivery of necessary supplies.

Every replacement part that is not made could have kept a vehicle or a radio or a phone or a light plane or a household appliance in working order. A phone that could have called an ambulance, a vehicle that could have brought a dying person to the hospital without having to wait for an ambulance. Or a part for a refrigerator keeping your food safe.

Every food that is not grown or manufactured or that rots in a warehouse because it can’t be distributed reduces our ability to feed ourselves. Every restaurant that is forced by government order to shut down wastes the time of some health care worker or law enforcement officer or someone else who could otherwise have spent that time providing essential services, or providing service to those who provide essential services. Every car dealership closed down means undrivable cars that can’t be replaced that could have saved a life in a sudden emergency. Every passenger flight that doesn’t fly reduces our ability to quickly move perishable medical supplies where they need to go when they’re needed.

Every business closed down means something that can’t be replaced.

Every dental office closed, every doctor’s appointment canceled, every surgery postponed, increases the risk that someone will die of an undiagnosed or untreated illness. Severe illnesses go undetected, and minor issues are allowed to grow into deadly ones.

Everything that someone makes they make for a reason, and the loss of that product or service will be felt, often disastrously, down the line. Someone finds it essential, and if it isn’t you, it is someone who provides you with a service, or someone who provides them with a service.

Think about what happens when you shut a car rental place down. A relative of mine who used to work for Enterprise says that about 60% of their customers were in the 65+ age range, so it seems like a great candidate for a forced shutdown. But the reason that the virus is hitting 65+ more than others is that 65+ are more vulnerable. Reducing their mobility increases their vulnerability. What were the 65+ customers using their rentals for? Shutting down rental agencies reduces or removes their ability to get to important resources, services, and health care quickly and without having to expose themselves to catching COVID-19.

I lived for about five years in San Diego without a car. I managed this by renting once or twice a year when I needed a vehicle and couldn’t find someone to either borrow a vehicle from or who could drive me. Sometimes this was for unnecessary things. But sometimes it was for doctor’s appointments outside of mass transit range. And think about requiring vulnerable people—or anyone—to use mass transit or even rideshare during a virus outbreak. In the name of reducing exposure, we’re requiring the vulnerable to increase exposure.

We must not forget that every choice we make is a tradeoff. Every resource that we do not create is a resource that could have played some role in saving lives, inspiring people to save lives, or supporting people who save lives.

How much more at risk are people now, because of forced shutdowns? It may be that more deaths and destroyed lives from shutting down manufacturing and services is a worthy trade in exchange for fewer deaths from coronavirus. But I have seen little discussion about those trade offs, and like Lieutenant Governor Patrick, I’ve seen that any attempt at a discussion is met with ridicule and a questioning of motives.

In some cases I have to wonder if we’re even saving lives with our panicked response. Because we’re requiring businesses to keep the number of customers low, people are waiting in line for an hour and more to go into a grocery store and buy the food they need. But this means that people are waiting in six-foot-distanced crowds for long periods of time instead of going inside, getting their groceries, and leaving.

The point of increased social distancing is to reduce the chance of getting the virus over the normal period of time spent doing something. Increasing the amount of time spent doing something negates the benefit of social distancing and may even make it worse.

Some people keep trying to frame this as economic considerations vs. life and death but economic considerations are life and death. Whenever the left wants to devalue someone’s life, they call it economics. Economics is nothing more than the transferal of goods and services. It is how we get necessary products and services to whoever needs them, how we get medical supplies to the sick and to the people who care for the sick. Saying that “economic considerations” shouldn’t override “health considerations” is saying that health considerations shouldn’t override health considerations. It is ignoring what those economic considerations are: they are people’s jobs, people’s life work, the way that every individual decides what their essential supplies and essential services are, the way that we allocate essential supplies to exactly where they’re needed.

And one of the very important lessons from COVID-19 is that government agencies have no idea what it means to be essential. Much of our vulnerability to this disease came from having shut down essential production years ago, sending it overseas. There are two lessons here: one is that we need to get rid of the regulatory burden that pushes jobs and job expertise overseas. But we also need to seriously think about whether the response to a crisis partially caused by shutting down workers should be more shut downs. Did the response to this crisis make us more vulnerable to the next one? Or will we choose to learn from it and build more targeted, less destructive responses tomorrow and in the future?

If we use the worst case for all of our planning we will never do anything. We will never step into a car. We will never eat fruit or vegetables from a supermarket or a restaurant. We will never take aspirin or get vaccinations. We will never take a bath or go swimming in the ocean. But we do, because these things make lives better far more than they make them worse. The risk is worth it for the improvement to our lives.

Perfection is an impossible standard, and when governments try to mandate perfection they kill people. We can shut down the country and keep some people from catching the disease. But then we reduce the ability of far more people to get to help, or for supplies to get where they need to be. And for replacement supplies to get made. And for the people who make supplies to get to work.

Our response to COVID-19 is killing people. People are dying now because of the shutdown, and more will die in the future because of what didn’t happen during these two months or more. Whether the deaths from our response are worth the reduced deaths from disease is worth discussing and should not be met with ridicule. Our response so far has been the equivalent of finding a tumor in a person’s lungs and removing all of their organs “just to be sure”. We’re not just isolating the vulnerable. We’re shutting down services that the vulnerable rely on today, and we’re halting progress that saves lives tomorrow.

In response to The new barbarism: A return to feudalism: The progressive left seems to have no concept of what civilization is, and of what undergirds civilization.

  1. <- Natural socialism