A large chunk of politics is making trade offs between bad and worse, and that reality has been evident when it comes to combating the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. Policymakers are walking a national balancing act – weighing the tradeoff between the extent to which the economy is allowed to function and the speed at which the virus spreads.
Because the media is hysterical, President Trump was recently under fire for acknowledging that basic fact when he said that “we cannot allow the cure to be worse than the problem itself.” Both statements can be (and are) true: that lockdowns are effective in stopping the spread of viruses, but if they go on long enough, we’ll reach a point where the economic costs exceed the cost of the virus.
Trust in the media has only plummeted as coronavirus has dominated their coverage, while President Trump’s approval is soaring to new highs. And not surprisingly, the voters share Trump’s fear.
According to Rasmussen Reports: Voters question how long the United States can remain locked down because of the coronavirus, and most share President Trump’s worry that the government may go too far in its efforts to defeat the disease.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that only 36% of Likely U.S. Voters think the United States can afford to remain largely shutdown for an indefinite period of time to limit the spread of the coronavirus. A plurality (46%) believes America can’t afford an indefinite shutdown, while 18% are not sure.
While there is no question that there will reach a point where the economic consequences of lockdowns will exceed the costs of the coronavirus itself, that will not happen unless we fail to reverse lockdowns after the coronavirus curve peaks. A IGM Chicago poll of the nation’s top economists asked if they agreed with the statement “Abandoning severe lockdowns at a time when the likelihood of a resurgence in infections remains high will lead to greater total economic damage than sustaining the lockdowns to eliminate the resurgence risk” – and 0% disagreed.
Studies of the 1918 Spanish Flu appear to confirm their belief – that short-term economic pain now will produce better economic results over the long run as opposed to allowing the virus to run its course (which itself would also inflict massive economic damage by sickening and killing off a significant chunk of the work force). As Reason’s Brian Doherty reports:
The authors [of a new study] look at “non-pharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs) during last century’s Spanish Flu pandemics and note “NPIs implemented in 1918 resemble many of the policies used to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including school, theater, and church closures, public gathering and funeral bans, quarantine of suspected cases, and restricted business hours.”
After considering these interventions, they find “areas that were more severely affected by the 1918 Flu Pandemic see a sharp and persistent decline in real economic activity.” But don’t blame the NPIs, since “early and extensive NPIs have no adverse effect on local economic outcomes. On the contrary, cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively experience a relative increase in real economic activity after the pandemic.”
Comparing cities by the speed and aggressiveness of NPIs…early and forceful NPIs do not worsen the economic downturn. On the contrary, cities that intervened earlier and more aggressively experience a relative increase in manufacturing employment, manufacturing output, and bank assets in 1919, after the end of the pandemic. The effects are economically sizable. Reacting 10 days earlier to the arrival of the pandemic in a given city increases manufacturing employment by around 5% in the post period. Likewise, implementing NPIs for an additional 50 days increases manufacturing employment by 6.5% after the pandemic.
For reference, current models from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation project the U.S. coronavirus curve peaking on April 16th. Let’s hope we can get back to life as usual soon.