The false choice of dollars v. lives

  • 2 April 2020
  • NormanL

Among the more difficult debates underway is whether we should keep the nation's economic life on hold to protect lives...or get back to work now, the costs in lives be damned. As Ramesh Ponnuru writes, the extremes on both sides of this debate are wrong:

From the heat of the debate, you might think this question — lives or dollars? — was actually before us. It isn’t. For the time being, at least, there isn’t much of a trade-off. If everyone went to work now, the virus would spread faster and more of us would die or suffer severe and long-lasting bodily damage. (Among the stricken would be people in the prime of life, by the way.) That wouldn’t be good for the S&P 500. Under these circumstances, a lot of us wouldn’t go into work, or ask our colleagues to do it, even if government allowed us.

What makes the debate even more foolish is that nobody actually acts as though they believe that health and other goods can be ranked in some global fashion. Cuomo does not actually believe that any cost is worth paying to save just one life. No health system is or could be designed with that principle in mind, and no government sets speed limits that way. The Catholic Church, well-known for its teaching about the sanctity of life, does not hold that all means to prolong life must be pursued in all situations.

Patrick may be a blowhard, but the idea that he wants to see old people die to satisfy his zeal for higher corporate profits is a straw man. When people refer to “the Dow” in this context, it’s not about actual stocks, but shorthand for real human goods like the ability to provide for our families and do useful work.

The worst of the epidemic is stil ahead of us. Many more will die, and it's likely more restrictions are on the way rathe rather than less. Are some right to be frustrated with those restrictions? Of course - -jst as others have every right to urge even more tightening.

But we aren't at the dollars or lives point yet. We hopefully will have found a vaccine long before then, so we can all get back ot work.