January 30, 2021 Reading Time: 4 minutes

AIER’s researchers and contributors do not see any evidence that lockdowns help the situation and its mission compels it to speak out. The same could be said of South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, the subject of a recent video, an attempt at character assassination, produced by The New York Times.

During my decade of residence in South Dakota, I met Kristi only once, very briefly, at an antislavery conference she sponsored in Sioux Falls while serving her home state in the US House of Representatives. I am not a member of her political party and refer to her by first name only because that is what South Dakotans do. We silly gooses still conceive of ourselves as citizens rather than subjects and our leaders as employees rather than as absolute rulers. South Dakotans take their leaders’ employee handbook, the constitutions of the United States and the state, very seriously and most believe, as does the Supreme Court of Wisconsin and other high courts, that lockdowns are clearly unconstitutional. In other words, Kristi never really had a choice in the matter.

The video, like most of the NYT’s coverage of Covid, is highly misleading. I could bore readers to tears with a claim-by-claim rebuttal but it would soon devolve into a plea to read the AIER’s Covid-related books and articles. Consider, for example, the video’s admonition that “this would have been a good time to also recommend wearing a mask for a virus we know spreads through the air.” 

Yes, the virus spreads through the air but it remains unclear that masks, as used by real people in real life, slow the spread. So the video essentially mocks Kristi for understanding the extant data and science, and her own neighbors and constituents, in a more sophisticated way than the NYT itself does. It is like The 1619 Project all over again. Perhaps the NYT should stick to the news and leave history and political economy to historians and political economists? And make no mistake, while the virus itself is a medical issue, lockdowns are a type of economic policy that both theory and experience debunk.

The video also ignores crucial context. On 20 March 2020, the NYT published an article that predicted that if Kristi implemented only “some control measures” (which is what she actually did), by 1 August of that same year the number of people infected in South Dakota’s two most populous counties (Minnehaha and Pennington) would top 200,000, implying 2,000 plus deaths “from” Covid if the infection fatality rate turned out to be 1 percent. 

Six months on (28 Jan. 2021) and 1,739 have died “with” Covid (but only 1,468 “from” Covid) across the entire state. Moreover, 824 of the dearly departed were in long-term care facilities rendered inefficient by CONs (certificates of need) and other unnecessary regulations long attacked by health care policy experts like Sean Masaki Flynn and John C. Goodman.

Significantly, despite the inefficient policies imposed upon it by the federal government, the state’s hospitals never overflowed and coyotes never roamed the streets of Sioux Falls munching on covidic human corpses. So shouldn’t the NYT be lauding Kristi? After all, study after study has shown that Covid death rates and policy responses are uncorrelated because the real drivers are policy-insensitive variables like latitude, age and overall health, and pre-pandemic mortality. I truly wish that the world was as simplistic as the journalists at the NYT make it out to be, but it ain’t.

Rather than “rebranding her failures as ‘freedom,’” Kristi actually adroitly avoided the high economic and human costs of lockdowns without demonstrably hurting anyone. One needs to be an incredibly intransigent statist to believe that governors determine viral transmission patterns but if one does hold that position, as the NYT does, why not excoriate the governors of states with higher death rates than South Dakota too?

I understand that the NYT cannot attack Andrew Cuomo’s disastrous Covid record (though minor kudos on this expose of his nursing home death coverup) because he is the governor of the state where it does most of its business and asserts the power, a power endorsed by the NYT itself, to declare the newspaper inessential, or even murderous a la The Guardian, and shut it down. 

But why would the NYT go out of its way to attack Kristi, who even it admits remains popular in South Dakota? Possibilities abound but I see no reason to reject the hypothesis that the woke newsroom staffers who seized editorial control of the paper after the Cotton op-ed affair see Kristi and the entire state as a threat to their agenda, not just on Covid, but across the board.

Consider, for example, gun control. South Dakota effectively has none, not even for handguns, which anyone can carry, concealed or openly, without a permit of any kind. Contrast that with New Jersey and Massachusetts, which have strict controls on pistols and even long guns. According to a RAND study, South Dakota ranks ninth highest in the nation in per capita gun ownership yet 45th in per capita firearm homicides. The two aforementioned eastern states, by contrast, rank second to last and dead last in gun ownership, yet have gun homicide rates far higher than South Dakota’s.

Another inconvenient truth is that South Dakota pays its public school teachers less than almost every other state in the Union yet its students score better on national standardized tests than the students of most other states. 

Moreover, it overcomes numerous challenges by fostering economic freedom and encouraging innovation, even integrating “how to start a business” into its core K-12 curriculum. I suspect the Woke has long wanted to eject South Dakota from the Union for exposing the fallacies in their worldview and now its governor appears poised to run for POTUS in 2024 on the strength of her record of rationality. Look for more attempts at character assassination to come.

[AIER’s Jack Nicastro contributed research links for this article.]

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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