The debate over the lockdowns is pretty well-worn by now, but those in favor of the draconian restrictions aren’t helping their case with statements like these.
“You want to go to work? Go take a job as an essential worker,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday. “Do it tomorrow. You can get a job as an essential worker. Now you can go to work.”
In Cuomo’s telling, wanting to work and pay for things is “selfish.” Surely there’s a more subtle—dare I say, empathetic—way of communicating with the underclass?
Cuomo’s outburst was his moment of truth. Take away the oozing media spin, and it’s evident he thinks New Yorkers are idiots. Perhaps the view is different from the governor’s mansion, but he’s not alone. From the patronizing barking of Cuomo to the snide uptalk of social distancing hall monitors like the editors of the New York Times, the tone of the ruling class has become insufferable of late. It’s clear they see Americans as errant schoolchildren, in need of careful tutelage.
But for upwards of 26 million Americans out of work, a lockdown is more than an “inconvenience.” It’s a catastrophe.
Draconian Policies, Sensible Questions
Treating science like a political ideology inspired a fever of self-righteousness, and those who are skeptical of the draconian lockdowns that unleashed this catastrophe have been labeled enemies of the public good—as selfish, thoughtless monsters who want other people to die, just for wanting answers to basic questions.
How long will this continue? Are these draconian measures really necessary, and are they worth the extraordinary costs to the economy, mental health, and civil liberties?
These are sensible questions. Americans have every right to ask them and expect answers.
Many people, understandably, are frustrated and angry, not just with destructive consequences but with the arbitrary and cruel ways in which their lives have been handled. No matter how much public officials like to insist they’re just “following the science,” they are under no obligation to cater their decisions narrowly to whatever health experts recommend. Their obligation is to their citizens and their overall welfare.
And while it is true that fighting the virus is a public good, the burdens of serving that good have not been shared equally by all social classes. Good leaders would appreciate that fact and make modest decisions based on a consideration of the costs involved.
But the approach being taken by America’s leaders is indelicate, not to mention unfair. It has been animated by a dangerously intellectualized form of governance, in which no policy that lacks the sanction of health experts can be considered sane or respectable.
Ironically, the results of this approach have proven to be irrational and reckless, indeed the opposite of what they are supposed to be. There is nothing cautious or smart about shutting down a country based on limited information and the imprecise predictions of computer models. Neither is it cautious or smart to insist on a country remaining shuttered indefinitely until certain moon-shot targets have been reached.
At some point, putting such medical scientists in charge of a country leads to policies so ridiculous and stupid that only an academic could find them sensible. Whether predicated on science or not, the idea of locking down a country for 18 months is unsustainable and obviously absurd. As a matter of policy, it’s incomprehensible.
Shifting Goalposts, Mistaken Models
While imputed to be scientific, it is clear that the lockdowns have taken on an arbitrary character, one that goes beyond the obvious examples of authoritarian overreach. Science is being treated like a source of revelation, rather than a tool, resulting in mindless stupefaction.
The timeline has already shifted: while initially the plan was “flatten the curve,” a goal that is now largely being reached, leaders now treat the lockdowns as a bulwark against the unknown, a barrier that must not be lifted under any circumstance, not at least until certain improbable goals have been reached—whether it’s the development of a vaccine, which could take well over a year, or developing sophisticated systems of biometric surveillance.
What is the rational, scientific basis for these goals? The sacrifices that leaders are asking Americans to make rest on a set of suppositions about the virus that are far from certain. Of course, that’s just the nature of being in the fog of war, but there is a mismatch between how little is actually known about the virus, and the Faustian hubris of policy leaders designing the strategy to fight it. Statisticians and modelers don’t claim to be gods, and yet an unwavering conviction in their ability to predict the future has shaped national policy, with disastrous results.
Public officials are going by the experts, they say—but what if the experts got it wrong? Preliminary indications from antibody tests are sobering: a recent survey in New York found that as many as 13 percent of the state’s residents, or 2.7 million people, could already have been infected, a dramatically different estimate than the roughly 250,000 known positives. One in five New York City residents already could have had the virus, and antibody testing in Los Angeles County points to 55 times as many positives as previously known.
The first known coronavirus death, at least as of April 22, occurred in California on February 6, weeks earlier than experts previously believed.
What if the virus has been spreading longer than public health officials thought, infecting many more people, and killing proportionately few? It would come as quite a surprise. Early predictions in March from the Imperial College London projected 1.2 million U.S. deaths in the best case, spooking laymen and influencing policymakers. Although the death toll is still dreadfully high, estimates from various models have been revised downwards with time, not that their powers are needed to tell the obvious: the worst appears to be passing. In the epicenter of New York, Governor Cuomo is sending ventilators to other states.
Some models, like the influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model, have been criticized by other epidemiologists as unreliable. Really, it’s beside the point: all models are flawed and letting any computer dictate policy will have its pitfalls.
How does this data-driven “quarantine” end? Although a vaccine increasingly is seen as the only way to end lockdowns safely, some experts doubt that one is even possible. What is the contingency plan then? And will the destruction of lockdowns have been worth it?
Is the ruling class prepared for the possibility that the virus may not run the course that experts predicted? And if that comes to pass, will they acknowledge that and shift course, or shower even more contempt on the skeptics?