With much of the country shutting down and coronavirus cases continuing to rise, a philosophical question is being asked by economists, politicians, and health experts:
Should a balance be struck between doing everything possible to halt the virus versus keeping some semblance of an economic engine to keep people employed?
On one extreme, we could let COVID-19 run its course through the population, with some estimates saying that 40 million people worldwide would die. There are now about 7.8 billion people in the world. Forty million is about .005% of the population. That doesn’t seem like that many deaths—unless you or your loved ones are included, or you happen to be compassionate and value every life. But chances are you won’t be included, although the likelihood goes up if you are elderly, poor, or already in compromised health.
In addition, the virus would probably run through the population in a matter of months, certainly is less than a year. Hospitals, of course, would be overrun. Healthcare workers would be crushed. Healthcare would be rationed (as it is today, just like every other service). Remember the hysteria over Obamacare “death panels?” This lie was fabricated by none other than Sarah Palin and perpetuated by right-wing media. Now, some of those same voices echoing the alarm of health care rationing are now willing to sacrifice a few or a few million people in order to jump-start the economy again.
But overall, only .005% of the world’s population would die.
Compare that to the plague which scourged Europe between 1347 and 1351 and is estimated to have killed 30 to 50 percent of Europe’s population. The elderly and those in poor health were more likely to die from Black Death, just as with COVID-19.
Sharon N. DeWitte, an anthropologist at the University of South Carolina, conducted a research study and concluded that there were benefits to the plague in terms of the surviving population being stronger. She suggests that Black Death survivors and their descendants were healthier and longer-living, which indicates that the plague served as a natural selection phenomenon that culled many of the weak and frail from the population. Tip your hat to Darwin.
You see opinions popping up that letting COVI-19 run its course might actually cause fewer deaths than an economic shutdown would, due to depression, suicide, starvation and other factors that a crushed economy would cause. Maybe, but there’s no way of knowing. I do know that my retirement portfolio is in the toilet, and that changes my outlook, but not to the extent that I want to boost the economy at the expense of controlling the virus. That’s not my moral compass.
If it were up to our Dear Leader Trump, we’d prioritize the economy over combatting the virus. Therefore, we should, we must, do just the opposite. I’m following the advice of my governor, Andrew Cuomo. I’m doing my part by staying home.