It has been five months since the American people were told they would be under house arrest for three weeks to “flatten the curve.” Under the guise of protecting us from Covid-19, America’s politicians completed one of the greatest nonviolent power grabs in US history, pushing the lockdowns well beyond the initial three-week prediction, thereby taking control of 330 million lives.
To justify this, they shifted the goal posts from flattening the curve, to halting transmission of the coronavirus entirely. Some even talked about maintaining lockdowns, at least in part, until a vaccine is developed. That could take years.
How did it come to pass that a nation of 330 million was effectively imprisoned, with virtually every sector of the economy shut down either in part or in total? The answer to this question is as clear as it was wrong: In the early days of Covid-19, politicians and experts lined up to tell us that, if we did nothing, up to 2.2 million Americans would die over the balance of 2020.
As of late August, there have been fewer than 170,000 Covid-19 deaths in the United States. If the 2.2 million projection was accurate, then the US lockdown saved in the neighborhood of 2 million lives. But at what cost?
In early March, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the economic output of the United States economy over the period 2020 through 2025 would total $120 trillion. Just four months later and because of the Covid lockdown, the CBO reduced its projection by almost $10 trillion. That $10 trillion difference is income Americans would have earned had the lockdown not happened, but now won’t.
Economists outside the CBO have estimated this loss at almost $14 trillion. For perspective, the median US household earns $63,000. A $10 trillion loss is equivalent to wiping out the incomes of 30 million US households each year for more than five years.
Our desire to keep people safe, no matter the cost, has already resulted in 10 million Americans being unemployed. By the time things have returned to normal, the total price tag, just in terms of lost incomes and adjusted for inflation, will have exceeded the costs of all the wars the US has ever fought, from the American Revolution to Afghanistan – combined.And the costs are staggering. As of August, estimates from Chambers of Commerce indicate that around one-third of the 240,000 small businesses in New York City have permanently closed. If that ratio holds for small businesses elsewhere, we could see around 10 million small businesses close permanently across the country. Major retail bankruptcies in the US have been every bit as disconcerting.
All in, the effort to save two million lives from Covid-19 will end up costing us somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million per life saved. People generally assume the lockdown was worth this massive cost, but there are a couple of things to consider before drawing that conclusion. First, for the same cost, could we have saved even more lives than we did by doing other things? Second, how plausible was the prediction of two million dead in the first place?
If saving lives simply, rather than saving lives from Covid-19 were our goal, we could have likely saved more than two million lives and at a lower cost. How so? For every $14,000 spent on smoke and heat detectors in homes, a life is saved. For every $260,000 spent on widening shoulders on rural roads, a life is saved. For every $5 million spent putting seat belts on school buses, a life is saved. [ … ]
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