As tens of thousands of Americans are presently diagnosed with coronavirus (and perhaps tens of thousands more have it but don’t have access to testing to know for sure), millions are practicing social distancing in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
The idea behind social distancing, besides preventing spread, is also to alleviate the higher burdens that hospitals would undoubtedly take on if COVID-19 infected a large swath of the U.S. population all at once.
For some, these sacrifices are well worth it, to protect all Americans, particularly those with compromised immune systems who are more at risk for the disease. But as hundreds have already died in the U.S. — and with models showing many more are expected to contract the disease — a columnist by the name of Jonathan Ashback at the conservative site The Federalist believes we should question whether social distancing is worth it, especially because it could hurt the economy.
Ashback — who frequently uses the incorrect and questionably racist term “Wuhan Virus” when discussing coronavirus in his column — cites the fact that we don’t hunker down for the flu each year, even though tens of thousands die from it each year. Yet doctors and medical professionals, including members of Trump’s own coronavirus task force, have warned against making such comparisons, in part because this version of coronavirus is new, and such comparisons may cause many to wrongly believe they’re safe from the effects of COVID-19.
Ashback says that a real conversation about the effects of social distancing — whether it’s beneficial or harmful economically — is worth having. “Honestly facing reality is not callous, and refusing even to consider whether the present response constitutes an even greater evil than the one it intends to mitigate would be cowardly,” he writes.
Perhaps the overwhelming majority would happily endure indefinite isolation and sacrifices of freedom to prevent a fairly bad pandemic from getting somewhat worse. But I doubt it.https://t.co/mVjzSvnWgS
— The Federalist (@FDRLST) March 23, 2020
He goes on to say that Americans are making a “massive sacrifice of life” through social distancing.
“True, nearly all are not literally dying, but they are giving up a good deal of what makes life worth living,” Ashback writes without irony.
Ashback believes the impending recession could cause more harm than the virus itself. “Balancing lives against money sounds harsh, but everyone does so — and must do so — whether he is conscious of the fact or not,” he says in the column. Poverty itself could end up killing more individuals.
It should go without saying that such considerations are rarely discussed in the pages of The Federalist, which has frequently advocated against programs to address poverty in the past.
Ashback’s missive misses the big picture: it’s not an if-or choice. The number of deaths and the standstill of industries due to workers getting infected would itself create economic hardships, and likely a recession, on its own.
I don’t make that guess lightly: we already saw it happen. The steep dropoffs in the stock market, after all, started well-before the U.S. recommendations for social distancing began.
We have seen increasing calls from the Right to get people back to work, no matter the cost. The most insane one so far was published in none other than The Federalist, which ran a cost/benefit analysis for "a few hundred thousand people" dyinghttps://t.co/r8sJ3WoQSU
— Jared Holt (@jaredlholt) March 23, 2020
From February 12 to February 28, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by 14 percent, and kept dropping in the days that followed. Social distancing was just being considered an option by March 10, when large music festivals and other events were being canceled but states themselves hadn’t issued “stay at home” orders.
To hear Ashbach put it, the country has one of two options: save the economy, or save people’s lives. He appears to rank both options as equally important.
But an economy is only as good as the consumers and workers who support it. If tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of people get infected or died from coronavirus because we decide we’re not “into” social distancing, that will still result in a fragile economy going down the tubes.