To grasp the urgency of lifting the ubiquitous economic shutdowns, visit New York City’s Central Park, ideally in the morning. At 5:45 am, it is occupied by maybe 100 runners and cyclists, spread over 843 acres. A large portion of these early-bird exercisers wear masks. Are they trying to protect anyone they might encounter from their own unsuspected coronavirus infection? Perhaps. But if you yourself run towards an oncoming runner on a vector that will keep you at least three yards away when you pass each other, he is likely to lunge sideways in terror if your face is not covered. The masked cyclists, who speed around the park’s inner road, apparently think that there are enough virus particles suspended in the billions of square feet of fresh air circulating across the park to enter their mucous membranes and to sicken them.
These are delusional beliefs, yet they demonstrate the degree of paranoia that has infected the population. Every day the lockdown continues, its implicit message that we are all going to die if we engage in normal life is reinforced. Polls show an increasing number of Americans opting to continue the economic quarantine indefinitely lest they be ‘unsafe’. The longer that belief is reinforced, the less likely it will be that consumers will patronize reopened restaurants or board airplanes in sufficient numbers to bring the economy back to life.
It is worth briefly reviewing the facts about outdoor viral transmission in order to assess the rationality of New York’s park users. The chance of getting infected across a wide open, windswept space is virtually nil, even if the imaginary carrier were not moving quickly past his potential victim. When it comes to viral infections, dose matters. Proximity to the carrier, prolonged exposure, and being in an enclosed space are the biggest risk factors. Even the New York Times, one of the most aggressive purveyors of virus hysteria, could not avoid acknowledging this commonsensical truth about outdoor transmission. The director of Australia’s International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health told the paper: ‘Outdoors is safe, and there is certainly no cloud of virus-laden droplets hanging around.’ Infectious droplets would be quickly diluted in outdoor air, director Lidia Morawska said, so their concentrations would quickly become insignificant. Bottom line: ‘It is safe to go for a walk and jog and not to worry about the virus in the air.’
Two days later, the Times, back on its crusade to terrorize the citizenry, ran a full page of infographics under the headline: ‘Social Distancing: Why 6 Feet?’ A series of drawings showed the progression of pestilence emitted from a cougher across the six feet separating him from his unsuspecting victim. Eventually that victim is almost invisible under the cloud of death that has descended upon him. You had to read the fine print to learn that this simulation was being run in a hypothetical room of 600 square feet. The Times was not satisfied with its ominous portrayal of the indoor cough miasma, however. The bottom of the infographics page contained a reminder that ‘It’s Not Just Coughing.’ Another cloud of disease was shown issuing from a flu carrier who is merely talking. What makes such conversation infectious? You had to consult the fine print again: The carrier needs to talk for five minutes in a crowded, poorly ventilated space.
Scientific analyses of how viruses travel usually assume indoor settings. A recent study from China confirmed that the risk of coronavirus infection occurs overwhelmingly indoors. The researchers identified only one outdoor outbreak of infection among over a thousand cases studied. Most transmissions occurred at home.
Japan, with an elderly and highly urban population of 126.5 million, eschewed a nationwide economic lockdown and emphasized instead the need to avoid the three Cs: confined spaces, crowded places, and close contact. It has had only 360 deaths as of April 26.
The Central Park paranoiacs, however, see threat everywhere. A burly middle-aged man occasionally sits on a bench overlooking ball fields in the northern end of the park. Upset that an unmasked jogger had run behind him, the man constructed a beaver dam of branches, torn from the surrounding trees, that extended behind the bench, so that no one could get within 10 feet of his back. Elsewhere in the park, a young jogger was running in the middle of the paved road, rather than in the left-hand runner’s lane. She precipitately darted left without looking behind her first. I was approaching on a bike and was knocked down, resulting in a not inconsiderable head injury. The girl had been running in the middle of the road to avoid getting infected by her fellow joggers, she explained unrepentantly after the collision, and had thought she had seen some invasion of her viral-free zone coming from her right. In fact, there had been nothing around her that could have possibly exposed her to infection.
The suburban counterpart to these urban neurotics is the unaccompanied driver wearing his mask in his car.
The public health establishment is fighting desperately to maintain this degree of hysteria in the populace, in order to prolong its newfound power over almost every aspect of American life. Death will erupt if the lockdowns are lifted, the experts warn every few minutes on the cable news networks, to the angry approbation of the anchors. ‘It’s going to backfire,’ Dr Anthony Fauci warned on April 20. Even as evidence keeps mounting that the virus is magnitudes less deadly than was advertised, the public health professionals are hardening their economy-killing prescriptions, rather than loosening them. David Kessler, a former head of the FDA, claims that Americans will need to eliminate two-thirds of their social contacts for a year or more until a vaccine is developed. The federal government should commandeer private factories to produce the millions of test kits that will be required on a daily basis before anyone can be ‘fully free’, he says.
A professor of pediatrics warns that restrictions must not be loosened ‘anytime soon’, because the models that show a decline in cases after a peak are untrustworthy. Of course, the invariably inaccurate upward slopes of those same models have been endlessly invoked to justify the shutdown.
A Harvard epidemiologist predicts the necessity of social distancing through at least 2022. Employers should not let their employees leave the office for lunch until a vaccine is developed, advises another former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, and a former CDC deputy director. Restaurateurs may not appreciate this recommendation.
Allegedly disinterested scientists circulate arcane findings that have little bearing on actual risk but possess great potential to increase anxiety. An infectious aerosols scientist from the University of Maryland told the New York Times for the paper’s social distancing infographic: ‘It’s not like, “oh it’s six feet, [the viral particles are] all fallen and there’s nothing.” It’s more like it’s a continuum.’ Translation: don’t dare to think that you are safe from others at distances over six feet. In fact, the Times notes gleefully, with another scary diagram, MIT researchers have observed particles from a cough traveling 16 feet and those from a sneeze travelling as far as 26 feet. But the dosage at such distances would be incapable of infecting anyone.
The experts’ alarums over a post-lockdown surge in infections may not be necessary, however. A majority of Americans already believe that danger is ubiquitous, and are prepared to sacrifice millions more livelihoods to feel ‘safe’. Seventy-three percent of respondents in a recent WSJ-NBC poll were worried that they or someone in their immediate family would become infected — a proposition that would translate to over 300 million infected Americans. Though recent data from New York and California reveal that the virus’s prevalence in the population has been much greater than previously known (and the death rate much lower than our experts have asserted), it is unlikely that 300 million Americans will become infected. Fifty-eight percent of poll respondents were more worried about relaxing the stay-at-home restrictions than about the economic damage that prolonged restrictions would inflict. Only 32 percent of respondents were more worried about a failure to lift the quarantine restrictions in a timely manner.
Newspaper reader comment sections and the Twitter sphere rain down righteous anger upon anyone who suggests the most minimal reinstatement of normal life. Even blue state politicians are not immune from backlash. New York mayor Bill De Blasio came under fire for announcing that the city’s traditional Fourth of July fireworks celebration would go forward. ‘We’ll find a way to put on a show that will show how much we love our country,’ he said uncharacteristically. A representative Twitter commenter shot back: ‘is this genuinely what you think people are worried about right now???’
We are in a race between the ideology of safetyism and the facts. The future depends on which side prevails. The data is clear. The coronavirus danger is narrowly targeted at a very specific portion of the national population: the elderly infirm, especially those located in New York City and its surrounding suburbs. It possesses minimal risk to everyone else. New York State accounted for 42 percent of the national death toll on April 24, with 77 percent of those New York State deaths occurring in New York City.
The average death rate from coronavirus in New York City is 128 per 100,000. In New York State, it is 71 per 100,000. To put those numbers in perspective, the national death rate for all causes was 723.6 per 100,000 in 2018; for heart disease it was 163.6 per 100,000. New York’s coronavirus death rates bear no resemblance to the country at large, despite New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent pronouncement that ‘an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere’. California’s coronavirus death rate is four deaths per 100,000; Pennsylvania’s, 13 deaths per 100,000; Utah’s, one death per 100,000; Washington State’s, nine deaths per 100,000; Wisconsin’s, four deaths per 100,000; Georgia’s, which we are supposed to believe is about to unleash a mortal plague upon the country, eight deaths per 100,000; Texas’s, two deaths per 100,000; and Florida’s, four deaths per 100,000, despite its elderly population. An MSNBC pundit gleefully predicted several weeks ago that Missouri would succumb because it had not halted its economy soon enough. Its virus death rate stands at four deaths per 100,000.
For further perspective on those state rates, the death rate of flu and pneumonia in 2018 was 14.4 per 100,000, for kidney disease it was 13 per 100,000, and for diabetes it was 21.4 per 100,000. In other words, most of the country has suffered a toll from coronavirus that is markedly lower than the annual deaths from the flu and a host of other ailments.
New York City’s average coronavirus death rate conceals vast differences in risk, as is true everywhere. The rate for people 75 and older is 950 per 100,000. That is seven times higher than the city-wide average, itself greatly influenced by that highest rate. For those 17 and younger the coronavirus death rate is zero. This age-based disparity is typical. The average age of confirmed coronavirus decedents in Massachusetts was 82, as of April 23.
Individuals with no preexisting conditions are at almost no risk. As of April 23, 99 percent of all coronavirus deaths in New York City had preexisting conditions, where the presence or absence of such conditions was known. In Massachusetts, 98 percent of all coronavirus deaths had underlying conditions, as of April 23.
Nursing homes are ground zero for the disease since their populations are exclusively the elderly infirm. Twenty-three percent of all coronavirus deaths nationwide were in nursing homes, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. In Minnesota, 73 percent of total deaths were linked to long-term care facilities. In Massachusetts, 55 percent of all deaths were in such facilities.
To cancel most of the country’s economy for a problem, however tragic, that is highly localized was a devastating policy blunder that must be immediately corrected. The lockdowns are taking a scythe to everything that makes human existence both possible and meaningful. Lives are being lost to the overreaction. Heart attack and stroke victims shrink from calling 911 lest they burden hospitals now dedicated exclusively to COVID-19 cases. Cancer victims have had their stem cell transplants put on hold; heart surgeries are being postponed indefinitely. The cancellation of ‘nonessential’ procedures has prevented the diagnosis of life-threatening diseases, writes a former chief of neuroradiology at the Stanford University Medical Center. Tumors and potentially deadly brain aneurysms are going undetected. Drug abuse deaths from economic despair and isolation may already be rising, as data out of Ohio suggests. The United Nations predicts tens of millions more lives globally stunted by extreme poverty and hundreds of thousands of childhood deaths.
US unemployment is at depression levels. Small businessmen who risked their savings and credit in the hope of creating a successful enterprise have had their efforts destroyed. Up to a third of local businesses may never reopen. The damage to supply chains grows deeper by the day. Farmers are plowing under cabbages and strawberries, pouring out milk, and destroying eggs because they have lost their markets. It is almost impossible to plan future production with demand so irrationally depressed. Retail sales registered their biggest monthly drop on record in March. Department stores and local newspapers may become relics.
Many cultural institutions — small theaters, regional orchestras, and opera companies — will never rise again. Demand for progressive causes such as public transit and dense, multi-unit housing will evaporate the longer that fear is stoked. Yet the safetyism rhetoric is unabating. ‘The vast majority of people want to feel safe,’ a doctor told MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle on April 23. ‘Hopefully people will turn to public health authorities and scientists for [safety] strategies.’ Those same authorities dole out positive reinforcement to keep the populace compliant. ‘Americans have done such a wonderful job’ of social distancing, Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force director, encouragingly announced, ‘so we don’t want to jeopardize their efforts with a hasty reopening’, she added.
To be sure, a revolt is brewing against the idea that perfect safety is the precondition for social and economic life. Even residents of blue states are chafing under their mandates, provoking sniffy rebukes from their public health masters. But enough people have embraced fear to destroy the necessary demand side of an economic recovery. The lockdowns signal that it is not safe to shop, travel, or socialize — a message that in most places is false. The bans must be lifted, while protective efforts are targeted intensely at the vulnerable elderly. As a harbinger of liberation, any true public health expert would tell those Central Park joggers and those solo drivers in their cars to tear off their masks and breathe free.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute
In a world where the Left has declared everything from abortion to social media to be a human right, it is disheartening, to say the least, that so many who think of themselves as “progressive” have embraced wholesale violations of real human rights: namely, the rights to seek employment, to freely assemble, and to exercise one’s religion.
The ban on searching for employment is the most damaging in its immediate effects, and the war against this right looks something like this: in the name of preventing the spread of disease, civil governments have taken to issuing decrees—in many cases without any sort of legal process that allows for appeal or public debate—shutting down businesses and prohibiting the free exercise of one’s right to seek employment.
Why Looking for Work Is a Basic Human Right
In other words, individuals have been prohibited from entering into peaceful voluntary agreements with others to sell their labor in exchange for wages. For those who earn a living through independent contracting or selling goods and services, the effect is the same: commerce with others is forbidden, with the result being impoverishment and a loss of one’s income.
In the American context, this is violation of several rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, most especially the property rights outlined in the Fifth Amendment. To be cut off from one’s own labor and one’s own right to enter into contracts is fundamentally a destruction of the basic right to control one’s own property. But, of course, these rights are not specifically American. All human beings have these rights, whether recognized by government officials or not. A farm worker in Tanzania has these rights just as much as an insurance agent in Baltimore. To ignore these rights is no less backward than ignoring rights to free speech or the right to not be enslaved. Any governmental attempt to seize property in this way requires—morally speaking—due process.
The Inequality of Shutdowns
Those in favor of lockdowns and impoverishing millions insist that there is no other way. Unless we outlaw employment for millions, we are told, the death toll will be unacceptable. Of course, when pressed for what death toll is “acceptable,” no answer is given. Is it six hundred thousand (the number who die from cancer in the US each year)? Sixty thousand (the number who typically die in the US from flu and pneumonia each year)? Some lesser number? One? This figure remains a great mystery. We are only told that human rights are null and void until the “experts” decide otherwise.
Politicians still, begrudgingly, allow some people to exercise their right to work for a living. These people are the ones in so-called essential lines of work. Which types of work are essential? Well, that’s up to the arbitrary whims of the state governors who now rule by decree (and collect six-figure paychecks while cosigning others to unemployment). In some places, hardware stores are “essential.” In other places, they are not. In some places, diagnostic procedures to find brain tumors are deemed “elective” and therefore verboten. In other places they’re allowed.
Should private citizens violate these many prohibitions and limitations, the result is anything but voluntary: the state uses force (or the threat of force) to impose fines, jail time, and to revoke business licenses.
The result, of course, is mass unemployment and the loss of access to a wide variety of goods and services, including housing, transportation, education, insurance, and even basic necessities like food. The newly and forcibly unemployed are expected to be content to sit at home, go on welfare, prepare for bankruptcy, and watch their children go hungry.
Meanwhile, those who complain about the regime’s callous and immoral disregard of human rights are denounced by the ruling (and very well-paid) technocrats.
Some especially out-of-touch pro-shutdown “COVID Warriors” rationalize it all by insisting that these prohibitions on earning a living are, as Dr. Anthony Fauci claims, mere inconveniences. It’s easy to see why someone like Fauci might think this way. His government salary is $400,000 dollars (not including whatever lucrative contract work he has on the side), and there is little risk he’ll be missing any mortgage payments any time soon.
Similarly, lots of white-collar “creative class” types who can work from home delight in lecturing other people about “staying home” and “flattening the curve” while working-class people who work in fields that require human interaction are just out of luck. Some simply can’t afford to give up their incomes and wait around for small, inadequate government checks that may take weeks to arrive. At some point in the near future those checks will stop coming, an even in places where the state plans to ramp up welfare spending, the fact is a community must produce wealth before wealth can be distributed. An economy that is in decline will simply be redistributing a smaller and smaller pool of resources.
Not surprisingly, some business owners and contractors will try to open their businesses anyway. And some workers will still try to provide services in the marketplace—which is now a black market thanks to government decree. In these cases, the police—i.e., more government employees with safe jobs and hefty paychecks—intervene and arrest business owners, just to make sure the destitute aren’t allowed to bring in a few bucks.
Those who support this systematic use of violence and harassment of peaceful citizens insist they have the moral high ground, and the crusaders for public health contend that they are are the only ones who care about human life while those execrable working-class barbers, hygienists, and front desk receptionists care only about filthy lucre.
The Costs of Unemployment and Isolation
In the real world, however, cutting people off from earning a living comes with many costs indeed. There is a growing mountain of data showing that unemployment leads to more deaths via drug abuse, suicide, and stroke. Other side effects are even more grim, such as the increase in domestic violence and child abuse recorded during these “stay at home” orders. Forcing people into isolation comes with real psychological effects that shorten lives.
But ignoring this reality is to be expected of those who have adopted the tunnel vision of the busybody and the public moralist. In the minds of the COVID Warriors, all that matters is the lives of the people the COVID Warriors have deemed important. Everyone else’s life and well-being is of lesser importance. If there’s more suicide and more child abuse, that’s too bad, but it was all “worth it.”
It should not surprise us that this war on human rights—led largely by smug intellectuals, billionaires, and politicians—has come wrapped in the mantle of moral supremacy. But such is the usual m.o. of those who view human rights as an inconvenient impediment to one’s agenda. The Soviets insisted that they represented “the workers” and a revolution in favor of a more just world. The slave drivers of the Old South equated slavery with civilization itself. The absolutist monarchs of Renaissance Europe told themselves they were defenders of culture and God and national “honor.” Then, as now, moral crusaders justified the destruction of dissidents, traitors, and anyone else who refused to repeat some variation of the slogan: “we’re all in this together.”
The virus will teach us many things, but one lesson has already been relearned by the American people: there are two, quite different, types of wisdom.
One, and the most renowned, is a specialization in education that results in titled degrees and presumed authority. That ensuing prestige, in turn, dictates the decisions of most politicians, the media, and public officials—who for the most part share the values and confidence of the credentialed elite.
The other wisdom is not, as commonly caricatured, know-nothingism. Indeed, Americans have always believed in self-improvement and the advantages of higher education, a trust that explained broad public 19th-century support for mandatory elementary and secondary schooling and, during the postwar era, the G.I. Bill.
But the other wisdom also puts a much higher premium on pragmatism and experience, values instilled by fighting nature daily and mixing it up with those who must master the physical world.
The result is the sort of humility that arises when daily drivers test their skills and cunning in a semi-truck barreling along the freeway to make a delivery deadline with a cylinder misfiring up on the high pass, while plagued by worries whether there will be enough deliveries this month to pay the mortgage.
An appreciation of practical knowledge accrues from watching central-heating mechanics come out in the evening to troubleshoot the unit on the roof, battling the roof grade, the ice, and the dark while pitting their own acquired knowledge in a war with the latest computerized wiring board of the new heating exchange unit that proves far more unreliable than the 20-year-old model it replaced.
Humility is key to learning, but it is found more easily from a wealth of diverse existential experiences on the margins. It is less a dividend of the struggle for great success versus greater success still, but one of survival versus utter failure.
So far in this crisis, our elite have let us down in a manner the muscularly wise have never done.
Botched Models, Bad Advice
Take any contentious issue—travel bans, the advantages of masks, the Chinese compromising of WHO, the entire industry of grievance politics infecting criticism of China’s despicable behavior, delayed testing by the Centers for Disease Control and FDA, modeling, the efficacy of antimalarial drugs—and our elite seem unable to admit they were wrong, and wrong with a great deal of costly arrogance.
It is no exaggeration to say that most models that the best and brightest offered the public, from the imported Imperial College in London to those from the University of Washington and many more besides, were not just inaccurate, but quite mistaken in two tragic ways: First, they were accepted as gospel by governments and thus their flawed assumptions became the basis for policies that in many cases may prove counterproductive. Second, the modelers themselves either did not promptly correct their warped inputs, or were not completely forthcoming about their data and methodologies, or blamed their flawed assumptions on others or circumstances beyond imagination, or claimed that their mistakes were in fact salutary—if not sorta, kinda planned—in galvanizing a presumably infantile public to accept draconian measures that it otherwise would not.
I know a plumber and an electrician, both skilled in the pragmatic engineering of pipes and wires, who would not dare to think they could offer a model of plumbing or electrical prediction if they had no idea of the real size of the denominator and were likewise unsure that the numerator was widely accepted as accurate and clearly defined.
If I called my car mechanic and explained that I had a bad knock in my engine in the middle of night in the middle of nowhere, he likely would tell me ways to risk driving home, even if possibly hurting the engine, given the lose-lose proposition of spending the night in an unsafe area—in a way our media class seemed to have little clue that hydroxychloroquine for those who cannot breathe need not be certified as 100 percent efficacious in their effort to inhale one more day.
On March 12, Governor DeWine of Ohio, flanked by his state health director, told the 11 million residents of Ohio that based on models he knew that 100,000 “had” active cases of the disease. That was a caseload that his experts further warned would double every six days. In other words, at the then roughly 2 percent lethality rate of the known actively infected—his medical team all but frightened the state with the certainty that in 24 days there could be 1.6 million infected Ohioans and an assumed 40,000 dead.
In fact, about a week ago, on April 6, there were fewer than 5,000 known cases and less than 200 Ohioans who had succumbed to COVID-19. Even with far more unknown cases than known and the efficacy of slowing viral transmission via mass sheltering, the data was not just flawed but perhaps even preposterous. State officials could have offered some official explanations for their misinformation other than the subtext that such fright was medicinal in persuading a public to do something they supposed the public did not know was good for it to do.
When California Governor Gavin Newsom warned that 25.5 million Californians “will” get the virus in the eight weeks following March 18, albeit without his shelter-in-place orders, he was also essentially stating that, at a then 2.6 percent lethality rate for Californians known to have the active virus, about 1 million would die. As I write, 24 days out from his prediction and nearing the half-way point to Doomsday, about 23,000 Californians have tested positive, and either are fighting the disease or have recovered. Since late January, about 650 of 40 million Californians have died from the disease, in a state where well over 700 people die from some cause every day.
If 10 times that number of known positive tests are now actively infected, we legitimately could assume at least 222,000 residents are now active or past carriers. Those who advised Newsom to shut down the world’s sixth-largest economy, including universities like Cal Tech, UC Berkeley, and Stanford, Silicon Valley, and the commerce and livelihoods of 40 million residents, apparently did not factor into their models some possible collective immunity among thousands of Californians who, for months, were on the front lines of arriving flights from China.
Nor did modelers seem to factor in the ability of people to social distance even before the shutdown was ordered, or the fact that a virus that does not kill 95.5 percent of those who are infected, but not frontline health workers or over 60 years old, may be deemed by the public manageable in a way that does not require having multigenerational small businesses ruined, or careers destroyed, or retirement savings accounts wrecked, or key appointments with doctors postponed or canceled.
Repeating Past Mistakes
Practical wisdom might warn that one also does not erode the Constitution because of a mysterious virus, in the sense one does not arrest ministers preaching in parking lots, or those walking hand in hand alongside the road.
Given past misadventures in times of crisis from Woodrow Wilson’s wartime de facto suspension of the First Amendment to FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans, one should not advocate instituting a national register of the infected and recovered, as some sort of super citizenry and then entrust such knowledge to what we know of the civil liberty sensitivities of Silicon Valley—all because a Bill Gates or Anthony Fauci believe their expertise leads them to think it may be a good idea.
Sometime in the late 19th century, the wide-scale growth of graduate education, professional schooling, and the formal granting of a M.D., Ph.D., or J.D. were necessary antidotes to quackery and the dangers of autodidactic expertise masquerading as the product of the scientific method. But in the last two centuries, that notion of argument from authority has metamorphosed into a religion, a faith-based discipline.
No one at Harvard Medical School or the World Health Organization can guarantee exact science in the sense of something completely right and absolutely wrong, any more than stomach ulcers were supposedly only due to stress and aspirin in the 1960s, and then also to H. Pylori and Advil in the 21st century and then also to a mixture of all that and also something no doubt undiscovered today.
The former gold standard of cobalt radiation (“the cobalt bomb”) to treat cancer may soon seem a little barbaric, in the manner that our present chemotherapy regimens likely will appear medieval to doctors a half entry from now. Science is evolutionary. On occasion, yesterday’s certainty is today’s skepticism and tomorrow’s ridiculousness.
In other words, common sense, indeed humility as well, as a corrective to scientific arrogance was often lost in this crisis. One day the Imperial College in London was lauded as Einsteinian, the next it appeared Vegas-like.
Warped Arguments Wrapped in Authority
The result of scientific arrogance, without practical audit, presents as something like the surreal online “world meter” data on the hourly progress of the virus. Such sites offer superficially impressively precise, but ultimately flawed, information on COVID-19 cases, mortality, and lethality and infection—without label warnings that neither the number of actual active or past infectious cases, nor the percentage of those who die from, rather than with, can yet be accurate. Much less are we informed by such electronic meters of the absolute unreliability of statistics from China and other authoritarian countries.
Our modelers constantly downsize their bleak prognostications as “data changes” as if one should ever publish such Armageddon scenarios when they had insufficient information. More worrisome, are post facto claims that such mistakes might have been salutary.
Perhaps a mechanic could rejoin that he warned the driver never to venture 5 miles beyond his home given tiny fissures in the driver’s cylinder block, and when his diagnosis is revealed to be erroneous and quite costly to his client, offered, “Well, at least I saved him gas money, wear and tear on the car, and a possible traffic death.”
Degrees no longer necessarily reflect merit, at least as it once was calibrated by a university’s or a public agency’s own standards. Over 20 years ago, one could read any scholarly journal in the social sciences or humanities—and today even their scientific counterparts—and learn how social justice, identity politics, and political activism had warped science and data-driven analyses. The erosion infected everything from studies of global warming to illegal immigration to the role of the “Other” in ancient societies. It was as if letters behind one’s name allowed authors to massage data and argumentation for the higher purposes of egalitarianism and contemporary social justice.
Every young scholar is now faced with the dilemma of writing the truth as the evidence compels him to do, or venturing into weaponized speculation that is far more likely to win him peer approbation and career enhancement, even as it insidiously bankrupts his discipline.
Elite wisdom, which in its allegiance to the scientific method eventually is likely to find an antidote and vaccination against the virus, still fails us in so many other ways in which it should not, in part also because its high priests rarely face the consequences of their own ideological and scientific pronouncements.
Whatever the end result of this crisis, few at the WHO, CDC or the state health directors are going to lose their jobs in a way the small restaurateurs and Uber drivers most certainly will.
When the corporate lawyer, under 65 and not a health-care worker, rails that the know-nothings wish to endanger him by restarting the economy, despite a 5-in-1,000 chance of dying if infected, his argument is not based on existential need, nor is it part of the lose-lose landscape of his supposed social inferiors who are willing to risk a small chance of severe infection to prevent a very likely chance of going broke and ruining an entire family.
That is, elites who make policy do not necessarily immediately need to plug back into a normal economy to survive. An Ezekiel Emanuel—brother of Rahm (of “never let a crisis go to waste” infamy), advisor to Joe Biden, and of greater infamy for his prior callous pronouncements that those over 75 (e.g., like Joe Biden) more or less are society’s unproductive and enfeebled sponges—claims that we might need to be shut down America for up to another 18 months (but then why not two or three years?).
The subtext of Emanuel’s warning is that even after 72 weeks of such exhausting punditry from a university billet, he will emerge more or less financially secure, maybe our national health czar in a new administration, and without much worry that millions of others will not—or in fact will die or sicken trying to remain solvent.
The expression “flatten the curve” has become part of everyday conversation in this time of coronavirus pandemic panic. It means to defer some of the inevitable illness and death inevitably caused by the virus until later in its natural cycle. The purpose is to supposedly reduce pressure on the healthcare system, although it does not seem to working out that way.
Who talks like that? Who uses terms like “flatten the curve” in conversation? Geeks. Mathematicians. Dispassionate technicians who don’t care about people. Theorists. Those with no empathy, and no sympathy.
There is no thought of people. Those cases on the curve are somebody’s Mom, or brother, or nephew or niece. They are nervous feelings of wondering whether symptoms warrant a call to the doctor. They are the discomfort and pain of coughs and fevers and shortness of breath.
Do the “flatten the curve” geeks think about these human feelings? Apparently not. All wrapped up in their data and their charts and their models, they forget the human angle. A curve is theoretical. Getting the theory right is what matters to them.
Now, as it emerges they are generating the wrong response to the wrong data, they are even more exposed in their inhumanity. Hospitals are emptying, not filling, because non-coronavirus related elective surgeries – around which people planned their lives and made provision with their families and jobs – are postponed awaiting the yet-to-arrive crush of COVID-19 cases. Non-medical staff are being furloughed. No matter. The curve is being flattened.
These mathematical technicians are the product of teaching STEM in schools and universities, and not developing character, or accountability or a sense of personal responsibilities. They’re the consequence of parents and students abandoning the humanities and non-STEM subjects because they became dominated by the cultural Marxism of the extreme left. We abandon civilized thinking in order to flatten the curve.
Lockdown is the term for the economic destruction and the shattering of society that is ordered upon us by the politicians who are attracted to the opportunity of translating the “flatten the curve” language into the political action of ordering people to stop working, stop socializing and stop sending their kids to school.
Who talks like that? Authoritarians. Totalitarians. People consumed with power and control. People who seek to overwhelm the citizenry with more regulation, more rules, more restraint until they finally submit.
We can no longer excoriate them as failed planners, because they have now demonstrated they can shut down the entire economy. They can no longer be characterized as fearful and incompetent administrators because – look! – they are exercising the ultimate powers of coercion and control. They’ve ascended to the peak of power.
There is no thought for the human feelings of business owners whose life’s work has been undermined, and whose ambitions have been thwarted. There is no consideration that business is a work of love and devotion, the privilege of serving others for the reward of economic and personal achievement. There is no thought of community and co-operation. Just lock them all down.
After precipitating the highest unemployment rates the US has seen since 1933, the political class implemented the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”). Who talks like that? Who makes PR-tuned acronyms out of destruction? Bureaucrats. The soul-less. Those with misplaced priorities.
The people who concern themselves with cute and catchy acronyms for their massive wealth transfers are those with the desire to rule irrespective of elections or individual rights.
The medical bureaucrats seem delighted to have turned our entire nation – and indeed the world – into a clinical experiment. The biggest of big data! They are the scientists who want to decide who lives and who dies and who is permitted to receive treatment and who is denied it in the cause of science. They decide who lives in confidence and who lives in fear. When they talk of COVID-19’s incidence and penetration into the population, they don’t use that word to identify a number of people, but a data set. They want us to be points in a model, not people with families and hopes and ambitions and desires and freedom.
How did we get divided into people with feelings versus people with bureaucratic and political power?
he New York Times on Tuesday reported: “The numbers the health officials showed President Trump were overwhelming. With the peak of the coronavirus pandemic still weeks away, he was told, hundreds of thousands of Americans could face death if the country reopened too soon.”
These numbers, many millions of infections, hundreds of thousands of deaths, were ones that “health officials” had been spreading through a sensation-hungry media for some time. Together with a poll question that framed the choice just so, they had already helped produce another set of numbers: “Voters overwhelmingly preferred to keep containment measures in place over sending people back to work prematurely.”
This, the Times crowed victoriously, had stampeded President Trump to abandon his goal of restoring normal life by Easter.
Trouble is, though, these numbers come from just some doctors—they reflect neither reality nor broad medical opinion. They are synthetic products that hide the (often ignorant) assumptions that they reflect, substitute for reason, foster panic, and ruin the country.
The following shows how “soft” and hence divorced from reality these numbers are, what it would take to produce “hard” numbers—i.e. ones reflective of reality—and the manner consistent with self-government in which such matters should be debated and decided.
All admit that the numbers that are scaring the sense out of the country are mathematical projections. All projections are based on assumptions about the ever-changing numbers of “confirmed cases” of COVID-19, as well as of deaths resulting therefrom. But few—and here it seems we must include many “health officials”—consider that the latter numbers are themselves “soft” and tell us next to nothing about how much, how little, or what kind of dangers the virus poses to us.
Certainly, they give no guidance about what restrictions any of us should apply to ourselves, never mind what the government should do to the country.
How’s that? Because the number of “confirmed cases”—meaning cases that have come to the attention of the medical profession—tells us nothing about the number of people infected. Nor does that number tell us what happens to the gamut of those infected. Nor is the number of deaths “hard,” because it does not distinguish between those who die of the virus and those who die merely with it (that is, they might have died even without it).
To make intelligent decisions about countermeasures, we would need have hard data about all these matters. Yet, for two months, doctors such as Anthony Fauci have messed up millions of lives and commandeered trillions of dollars while scaring the hell out of people and watching curves based on projections based on meaningless numbers. Watching the several curves resulting from the testing that is now ongoing and that is projected to continue as the country suffers will provide only more guesses, that will feed more models and more disputes.
The most important fact about COVID-19, its true mortality rate, is the number who die of the virus divided by the number infected by it. No algorithms. Simple arithmetic.
In short, Fauci, et al., are showing themselves to be typical of our bureaucracy: over-credentialed, entrusted with too much power, and dangerously incompetent.
Learning the true figures about precisely what danger the virus poses to whom must begin by taking into account one thing we know for sure about COVID-19: that many, if not most, of those infected by this unusually contagious virus show few or no symptoms. This suggests eventual near-universal contagion.
But we don’t know how many of these asymptomatic people there are. Hence, meaningful epidemiological testing must include a random representative sample of the population, regardless of whether they are presumed to be infected or not. The numbers resulting from monitoring what happens to the health of individuals in this sample over a few weeks would tell exactly what percentage of people in each category and subcategory suffer what consequences from whatever contact with the virus they happen to have.
As it happens, a sizable chunk of such data is about to come into existence. The virus is rampant among the 5,000 or so personnel aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. Everyone aboard is being tested. By the time that is done, as the ship sits off Guam, and it returns to the United States, we will have a good idea about the rate of infection and some factual notion of what happens to those infected—at least among the sailors’ demographic group.
The question of lethality is not resolved by mere counting of individuals who test positive and die. We have some data showing that COVID-19-positive people who suffer from certain diseases are likelier to succumb than others who suffer from other diseases or who are otherwise healthy.
Sorting out causes of death is properly a medical judgment. The doctors who are scaring the hell out of the country in general might better spend their time using their medical skills to sort out the virus’s specific consequences—and recommending what currently available drugs may keep the sick from dying.
President Trump, as well as the governors of some states, have been stampeded out of their common sense into shutting down the country until further notice. The bureaucratic-media complex has done this on the supposed basis of medical authority. But the doctors have not been speaking as doctors on the basis of knowledge of the human body while offering cures or even palliatives. No. Their judgments are based on speculation about the meaning of mathematical models.
They are not acting like good doctors but rather like bad politicians.
Fauci showed how thoroughly he and his cohorts have subordinated common sense to bureaucratic authority. Having strenuously campaigned to deny the usefulness of hydroxychloroquine, having been confronted by the fact that physicians on the front lines of the battle against the virus are using it themselves, and having been asked whether he—were he to come down with illness from the virus—would use it, he weakly conceded that he would but only as part of an approved study. He cared less about describing what the drug can do and can not do than about affirming his agency’s and the FDA’s prerogatives.
Backed by the media, Fauci and company have contended that actions by anybody, ordinary citizens, elected officials, or physicians that do not follow proper bureaucratic procedures are illegitimate. Who the hell do they think they are? We belong to ourselves. Not to them.
Decisions affecting each and all of us rightly belong to ourselves directly and indirectly through elected representatives. Congress and the legislatures should be making decisions on the basis of open debate and recorded roll call votes.
Surely, President Trump’s low point came when he supported bypassing roll call votes in the passage of a $2.2 trillion bill as part of his and other executive officials’ decisions to shut down the country. Making decisions on the basis of meaningless curves and bureaucratic authority rather than through open debate about hard facts followed by roll call votes is not just undemocratic. It’s stupid.
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