December 23, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you live in a lockdown state, you might not remember what normal life feels like. I’m pretty sure I had forgotten. That’s horribly dangerous for the human spirit. Human beings are not supposed to live in lock down. We are supposed to be free. 

Spending three days in Georgia served as a glorious reminder of the good life. Restaurants and bars are packed, people are out shopping and spending time together, handshakes and hugs are everywhere. The movies are open. Office buildings are filled up again. You can even go to a holiday concert at the symphony hall. The holidays are not cancelled. 

Some schools are still shut and large events are struggling to restart. Masking is not legally mandated but still perfunctorily practiced out of perceived courtesy. So yes, there is some evidence of the suffering visited upon the rest of the country. Still, there is enough normalcy here to generate hope for the future. 

Most notable is the absence of the penitent despair one observes in any public place in the lockdowned Northeast, where people are still dressing in grim rags with face shields, barking at each other to mask up, or sheltering at home in fear of something they cannot see. Sadness is everywhere on display in such places. 

In Georgia you see actual happiness: smiles on faces, quick steps, and light conversations about something other than the virus. The look and feel of the place, with bustling commercial districts and holiday joy everywhere, absolutely startled me. Just being around this scene for a few days lifted my own spirits immeasurably. 

Recall that Georgia was the first lockdown state to reopen, by executive order from Governor Brian Kemp. This was in the last week of April. President Trump, after having previously urged a quick reopening, backed off. “I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump said

Still the Republican governor moved forward. The shelter-in-place order was rescinded on April 30th and business was systematically restarted over the coming weeks. Mayors had some discretion of course and some were faster than others to reopen. But in general, Georgia was done with lockdowns. 

Major media was apoplectic: “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice,” screamed The Atlantic, predicting that the whole state would become a big morgue. 

Seven months later, there is no disaster. In deaths per capita, Georgia is below the national average. Excess deaths actually fell in the two months following their reopening, rising again in August, and now matching average deaths from 2014-2019. The demographics of death follow what we’ve seen around the world. Three quarters of the deaths are people 65 or older. Only 3% are under 40 years of age. One third occurred in nursing homes. The average age of death is 74. Of the 7 pediatric deaths, 5 had serious comorbidities. 

In other words, all quite typical of this virus. Neither the lockdown nor the opening had an impact in either direction, which offers a serious rebuke to all the states that imagined their quarantines, closings, and curfews could somehow intimidate a virus. It’s also a refutation of the media’s hysterical predictions. 

Meanwhile, the economy is humming. The unemployment rate of 5.7% is well below the national average. That’s an increase in November but that is due to a record number of people re-entering the workforce. Georgia’s labor force is right now at a record high of 5.17 million. All those companies that relocated to Atlanta over the last 10 years can feel affirmed that they made the right choice. 

In every way, Georgia defied all the predictions of disaster. It never happened. A painful article from Vox in June tried to make sense of why there was no calamity. It speculated about data manipulation, the coming waves of death in the fall, how mobility is still limiting the spread, how mask wearing is helping and so on. The article explored every angle to give the lockdowners their talking points but it refused to recognize what is increasingly obvious: policies do not change the trajectory of a virus. 

During my visit to Georgia, I felt indescribable joy just sitting at a bar like a normal person. I asked the bartender what it was like for her to be working rather than locked down, and she proceeded to give an eloquent soliloquy about the value of work. She explained that she had not previously understood how important it was to be valuable to others in a work setting. She loves her customers and it brings joy to her heart to serve them. All those months of lockdown – her bar was more cautious in opening than most – had nearly driven her to despair. 

My conversation with her was similar to so many others in two cities in Georgia. People are grateful to be living in a state where freedom matters, where you can earn a living, where you can make choices about the level of risk you want, where government more or less respects the people’s rights and intelligence. And if you doubt that this is the right path, the evidence is right there for anyone willing to look. 

The “public health officials” and media barkers all warned that Georgia was a suicide mission when it opened in April. Now we see the opposite, a state filled with life and optimism. The governor not only defied the media and the lockdown intellectuals but even the president of the United States. Georgia now stands as a beautiful exhibit of what happens when government declines to torture people in the name of virus control. 

Does reading this article make you wish your state was more like Georgia? Take it up with your governor. 

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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