Commentary

printed 05/01/2020

As politicians, businesspeople, some economists and libertarian-minded individuals agitate for an end to the covid-19 lockdowns, the argument invariably brings up the relatively small percentage of virus-related deaths versus the economic ruin these restrictions will cause.

But the question that’s seldom discussed, as we argue over whether the exercise of common sense might negate the need for these repressive measures, is what the covid-19 numbers might be now if governors had not acted as they did.

The anti-restriction perspective asserts that, given the devastating economic problems that could lie ahead, we might be better off with less government control and more responsible common sense behavior by the citizenry.

If only common sense was that common. If it was, to cite some examples from everyday life, we wouldn’t have motorcycle helmet laws, or speed limits. We wouldn’t have laws that prohibit throwing objects at vehicles, property or persons, or have, as Ocean City does, a law that prohibits landing an aircraft in town.

Obviously, government officials and ordinary citizens have seen common sense thrown out the window so many times that it defies the imagination to believe that suddenly it will dominate our behavior. Hence these shackles on our liberties.

The question, however, remains: have these lockdowns done more harm than good? That is unknowable. The only estimate of the death toll of an unchecked covid-19 pandemic in the public conversation comes from Imperial College, London, where researchers in March concluded that the covid-19 fatalities in this country alone would be in the range of 2 million ... as compared to the current 60,000-65,000.

Is that overblown? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. Common sense suggests that governments need to react to what’s in front of them based on the advice of experts and their own opinions of public behavior.

After that, no one can say definitively what we need to do, other than to proceed with caution and not swing too far in either direction.

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