Wait, You Mean That the Economic Damage From COVID Lockdowns DOES Matter?
As I mentioned last week on twitter, I have retreated from that platform for a variety of reasons and will focus again on long-form blogging of the style this site has been pursuing for 16 years.
For the last several months, I have been a lockdown skeptic, at least for the healthy population under 55 or 60 years old. I will confess my early tendency toward skepticism was driven as much by the behavior of lockdown hawks as any data or knowledge on my part. Whenever I hear appeals to authority, use of non-transparent computer model results as facts, politicization of scientific positions, and restrictions on dissent in any scientific issue, I immediately get skeptical of the orthodox position. As I have watched things unfold, I am increasingly convinced that this virus is (like most new viruses in history) going to run its course until large sections of the population have gained immunity. Lockdowns, while they may have salutary effects in preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed, just seem to be delaying the inevitable — when we come out of hiding, reservoirs of the disease are still there and infections mount again. “Flatten the curve” made sense to me, but that seems as far in the past of political rationals as does the Tiger King mania.
But to some extent my opinion on lockdowns does not matter. The one thing I AM sure of is that, whether lockdowns are effective or not, it is perfectly reasonable to balance the costs of such interventions against their benefits. But I remember clearly when this commitment to making thoughtful tradeoffs marked one as practically Hitler. Many of our intelligentsia, particularly on the Left, argued that it was immoral even to consider effects on the economy of COVID interventions. I always thought this was ironic, because the worst economic effects were sure to hit lower income folks first — they had jobs you had to, you know, show up for and they had less savings to weather the storm. Paraphrasing one of my commenters, “Stay at home, work remotely by computer, and keep up with your family on Zoom” has to be one of the most white privilege government orders ever, but there was the Left self-righteously advising exactly this, with pundit after pundit who had portable jobs writing on a computer criticizing any hair dresser who wanted to actually be able to ply their trade as well.
So I was floored when I saw these charts on Kevin Drum’s site as part of a criticism of the Republican reluctance to extend rich unemployment benefits:
You know what my reaction to these charts is? No sh*t, Sherlock. Many of us warned of EXACTLY this when the lockdowns began. And folks on the Left treated our warning as not just irrelevant but evil. They would say, “How can you be so callous as to suggest jobs are more important that lives?”
But wait, now the economic impact of the lockdowns IS a problem? I refuse to defend the Republican morons in Congress or the White House, but I can say that many of them warned of exactly this problem with the lockdowns while the Democrats were full steam ahead on economic shutdown. I could accept Drum’s post as self-criticism of the sort like “Wow, I really underestimated this when I was advocating for lockdowns” but now, he uses this as a platform to blame other people for the problem.
Libertarians have often highlighted how the government tends to create problems by their actions and then gains more power by saying that it needs to fix the problem its own actions created. I can’t imagine we will ever have a better example of this effect — here is Drum advocating that the government simply must send more money to help people who were willing, even eager, to work but were not allowed to do so by the government. COVID has been a socialist dream, converting payment for productive work to payment for breathing.
And let’s discuss the exact program he is advocating. He wants an extension of the Federal unemployment supplement of $600 a week which takes most state benefits to $1000 to $1200 a week. Realize that is $50,000 to $60,000 a year we are paying people to not work (one only qualifies for these benefits if one does not work — take a job and they are gone). Look at the former income levels in his chart — who is going back to work with this kind of government payment? We are training people that they should be paid this much for not working and encouraging them not to seek actual employment — this is a terrible message (and one reason a UBI makes far more sense if we are going to transfer this much money). I think this is contributing somewhat to the position of the teachers’ unions. The public game now is to get paid and not work.
We have 13+% unemployment and our company has to struggle to hire anyone in these conditions. I posted this on twitter as a comment on a Paul Krugman post, and his followers dutifully lined up to tell me that it was because I did not pay a fair wage. People are making $25-$30 an hour on unemployment. I thought $15 was our idea of “fair” — are we really going to set $30 as our minimum wage? Will anyone be employed?
Postscript: I have one other rant related to employment and COVID. Every blue check mark and Hollywood star bends over backwards on every occasion to thank health care workers during the pandemic. Good, I agree, health care work is particularly fraught right now. But you know who else worked through the pandemic? I will give you a hint: I bet you never had problems filling your car with gas, that you always had gas and electricity at home, and that (with a few brief exceptions) you always had plenty of food choices. There are a lot of folks out there who showed a lot of commitment during COVID on whom we rely, and a lot of them are in industries (oil, manufacturing, farming) the elite of the Left tends to look down its nose at as backwards and inferior.
Postscript #2: I am well aware that Drum has had significant medical issues that make him likely particularly vulnerable to this virus. I am thrilled that he has a career he can pursue without endangering himself via public contact. Our family made certain choices we might not have to protect my 85 year old mother in law. But I am exhausted with people applying their own personal preferences and risk trade-offs to others who may be in very different situations.