May 31, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

“If you are under 65, in reasonably good health and do not have a Vitamin D deficiency, you only have a tiny chance of dying from COVID-19. And if you are younger than 34, your chances of dying from the virus are so small as to almost be statistically undetectable.”

Those are the words of my good friend Richard Rahn in his latest column for the Washington Times.

Rahn very skillfully explodes the alarmism that has surrounded the spread of the new coronavirus. As of now, it’s quite simply not much of a threat unless you’re 85 or older, live “in a nursing home, [and] have serious health problems including a Vitamin D deficiency.” Rahn thankfully notes that only “a tiny portion of the population is in such a condition.”

So while Rahn’s statistical breakdown of C-19 reads as great news, the view here is that there are dangers that come with turning debates about freedom into statistical battles. Rahn would likely agree.

To use an obvious example, Memphis is a city in zero tax rate, lightly regulated Tennessee. San Francisco is a city in heavily taxed, heavily regulated California. Yet a drive down Poplar in Memphis would reveal to the driver visually what’s true empirically: Memphis’s economy is a small fraction of San Francisco’s. Based on that, should Memphis and Tennessee adopt California’s high-tax and high regulation way of doing things? After all, over half of the world’s venture capital flows to the Golden State.

The Tennessee/California contrast is hopefully a reminder that freedom is its own virtue. The reality, as California’s immense entrepreneurial wealth attests, is that talented people can still thrive to varying degrees despite all sorts of tax, regulatory and spending barriers. The goal should be less intrusive government regardless of outcome.

Applied to the virus, Rahn is plainly of the view that the lockdowns cruelly foisted on the electorate by local, state and national politicians have brought incalculable damage to the U.S. economy. No argument there. The lockdowns were and are a tragedy.

That they’ve been so disastrous speaks – at least partially – to why it’s so dangerous to make the Covid argument a statistical one. To see why, consider what many well-meaning people will do with Rahn’s excellent piece that yet again exposes the virus’s microscopic lethality: they’ll pass it around while concluding that it’s time for the lockdowns to end. It all makes sense at first glance. But only at first glance. Please read on.

On second glance, it’s easy to see just how dangerous such an approach is. That’s the case simply because Covid-19 won’t be the last virus to work its way around the world. Rest assured that when the next one rears its ugly (or largely benign) head, alarmist scientists, doctors, and self-styled experts will quickly have scared-of-their-own-shadow politicians lusting to “do something” to protect us from illness, and perhaps death.

Which is why those properly horrified by the lockdowns should re-focus the argument on freedom. Think about it.

If not about freedom, what happens if the expert conclusion about a future virus is that it’s most lethal for those under 34? Implicit in all the statistical back-and-forth is that lockdowns might be justified then. Right? Young people are America’s future and all that. Wrong.

Assuming a virus comes about that is said to favor old over young, then it’s safe to say that the young will not need a law. Precisely because they’re eager to live longer and healthier lives, they’ll likely shelter-in-place on their own. What is it about avoiding getting sick or dying that requires force from politicians?

At the same time, there will be some young people for whom the threat of death means nothing. Of the view that they’re bulletproof in terms of health, some in the 34 and under range will continue living, working and traveling as though the virus is an irrelevancy. If so, great.

It’s great because the assumptions and models created about most anything tend to not age very well. Lest readers forget, in the 1980s it was broadly thought that AIDS was an easily spreadable disease by contact. People avoided the afflicted like the plague. They no longer do because we now know that what the experts once thought to be true isn’t.

With the coronavirus and future viruses, the same applies. Assuming one materializes that once again seems to hit 34 and under the hardest, the ideal is that some youthful types throw caution to the wind. Without their defiance, we can’t really know the truth about why the virus spreads, and who is most endangered by it. Free people produce information. 

It’s all a reminder that lockdowns aren’t just inexcusable because they destroy jobs, businesses and the human spirit. What takes away freedom is also anti-life. Lockdowns blind us as to what is best for us, and what will keep us safest when our safety is most imperiled.

In short, if we make the C-19 argument solely about numbers, we hand the very politicians who created so much economic misery the power to do so again. Let’s not do that. But let’s most crucially not allow lockdowns again because what crushes freedom also crushes the knowledge necessary to elongate life.

Reprinted from RealClearMarkets

John Tamny


John Tamny, research fellow of AIER, is editor of RealClearMarkets.

His book on current ideological trends is: They Are Both Wrong (AIER, 2019)

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