We Can’t Keep the Economy Closed Forever
Published in The Washington Post
on June 11, 2020
Cases and hospitalizations for the novel coronavirus are on the rise in many states, leading some to question whether the nation is reopening too quickly or haphazardly. They’re wrong.
The novel coronavirus created a global panic in February and March for three simple reasons: It was spreading rapidly, we knew little about it and there was no vaccine or known effective pharmaceutical treatment. Had governments around the world not acted, millions more people in the United States would have contracted the disease. An unknown number of Americans — surely in the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps as many as a million — would have died. Preventing that horrific toll and the social damage it would have caused was well worth the economic cost the lockdowns caused.
We now know much more about covid-19 and its frightening cost to people’s livelihoods. The coronavirus appears to be less fatal than originally thought, with the risk of death highly correlated with factors of age and prior health. The cost was also much higher than many had thought. Although the true number of unemployed people is a matter of debate, the data show that as many as 27.5 percent of Americans lost their job or had their hours scaled back as a result of the shutdowns. That’s more than 30 million Americans, at a minimum, who were hit hard economically.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.