George Gibbs Center for Economic Prosperity

In ⁠t⁠he nex⁠t⁠ cr⁠i⁠s⁠i⁠s, le⁠t⁠’s use ⁠t⁠he scalpel ⁠i⁠ns⁠t⁠ead of ⁠t⁠he cha⁠i⁠nsaw

By: Dr. J. Robert McClure / 2020

By: Dr. Bob McClure

June 02, 2020

In politics, perception is reality. But not in policy. Policy has real-life effects on real people — people we work with and interact with, our friends and family, and even people we never have the privilege to meet. Whether we are looking at policies in education, taxation, criminal justice, or healthcare — facts, not perception, dictate reality.

Facts and data on policy have never been more vital than now because actual lives are on the line. Lives are lost from a novel virus that can ravage some who become infected and lead to death or Depression-level economic catastrophe.

Research from the World Economic Forum estimated that the economic crisis of 2008-2009 resulted in 5,000 additional suicides in the United States, directly resulting from the recession. Peak U.S. unemployment in the Great Recession was around 10%, with some states seeing it as high as 14% or 15%. Fast-forward to 2020; in a span of weeks, the U.S. economy effectively shut down, sending more than 33 million workers into the unemployment line. Those aren’t just numbers — they are lives sinking into economic, physical, and emotional turmoil.

An examination of the statistics on COVID-19 deaths paints a surprising picture. As of Monday, the Centers for Disease Control data page reports 103,700 COVID-19 deaths. Forty-four percent of those deaths had occurred in just three states that straddle New York City — Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey — which comprise 9.7% of the nation’s population. Digging in a bit further, looking at specific counties, an even more remarkable picture emerges. Thirteen of the hardest-hit counties in the U.S., all of them in the New York City area, account for 4.4% of the U.S. population but 33% of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now see that we might have overreacted in taking the experts’ advice to shut down the entire country and pull the plug on the most prosperous economy in modern history. We got out the bazooka when a scalpel might have done the job better. We might have been able to protect the most vulnerable while taking more drastic measures only in the high-density places where the virus seems to thrive.

What we needed was sober and reasoned leadership emanating from experts in the federal government that then resulted in sound policy wisdom from governors and policymakers. Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota, for example, resisted overzealous calls for a state shutdown. Her state has suffered 64 coronavirus-related deaths, making it, on a per capita basis, the 13th least-affected state in the union.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, in my home state of Florida, threaded the needle by addressing virus hot spots limited to a handful of South Florida counties. He was savagely criticized for avoiding a total lockdown, but the results speak for themselves. It is unfortunate that 2,447 Floridians died of COVID-19, but that figure is comparable to the 2,118 who died just in Nassau — one county in suburban New York. Florida has a larger population than all of New York state, yet despite its less stringent approach, it has less than one-twelfth the number of COVID-related deaths.

Based on expert opinion, commentators predicted disastrous outbreaks in both South Dakota and Florida. They were wrong. Their rates of coronavirus-related deaths per capita are far below the national average and even further below those of some states where governors took the most heavy-handed and, in some cases, legally dubious actions in commandeering their states’ economies — Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia, for example.

Surgeons use scalpels because patients don’t respond well to chainsaws. When a virus is viciously attacking a small part of the population in one specific region of the country, we should use a policy scalpel and get to work on an appropriate response. If we’ve learned anything, it is that there is little sense in taking the chainsaw to the other 95%, turning the economy into a wasteland that destroys even more lives.

I hope that we can find some scalpels for the next crisis we face. We’ll need them.

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