“I’d say the cost of a human life, a human life is priceless. Period.”
That was Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, arguing for stretching the economically catastrophic lockdowns into the foreseeable future. Never mind that more than 105,000 abortions were performed in New York in 2017 alone, at an average cost of about $600. Clearly, human life is not priceless.
In a world where resources are limited and everything involves a tradeoff, we are constantly making decisions that put a value on human lives. Federal regulators have even set an amount for what’s called the “value of a statistical life.” During the Obama administration, the EPA put that value at close to $10 million. Regulations that cost more than that to save one “statistical life” are seen as costing more than they’re worth.
So, the relevant question is, how much are we spending in an attempt to save someone from a COVID-19 induced death, and is it worth it?
As it stands, nobody has a clue.
The only thing we know for sure is that the cost is mind-boggling. One report puts the price tag for the shutdown, now stretching into its third month, at $5.2 trillion.
Researchers at the University of Wyoming concluded that the shutdown would cost more than $7 trillion, but it was worth it because the value of the lives saved would be more than $12 trillion.
“Based on this comparison, we find that social distancing policies likely do not constitute an overreaction to COVID-19,” the authors wrote. Their findings attracted widespread media attention.
But that study assumed the lockdowns will save more than a million lives, a number they appear to have derived from the Imperial College coronavirus model that forecast more than 2 million deaths in the U.S. without lockdowns, and more than a million with them.
We’ve learned since that Imperial College model is junk, and that the virus is far less deadly than previously assumed. The current estimate is that slightly more than 130,000 people will die in the U.S. from COVID-19 by August. Even that could be an exaggeration.
This still leaves open the question of how many lives were saved by the lockdown. At $7 trillion in economic costs, the lockdowns would have to save 700,000 lives before they even met the government’s $10 million-per-life-saved threshold.
That seems increasingly unlikely. In fact, the more we learn about the disease, the more it appears that the lockdowns didn’t save very many lives, if they saved any at all.
Swedish infectious disease expert Johan Giesecke, writing in the journal Lancet, says “It has become clear that a hard lockdown does not protect old and frail people living in care homes — a population the lockdown was designed to protect. Neither does it decrease mortality from COVID-19, which is evident when comparing the United Kingdom’s experience with that of other European countries.”
He goes on to say that “A lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear … I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country one year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken.”
Lyman Stone, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, looked at the available evidence and concluded simply that “lockdowns don’t work.”
He notes that COVID-19 deaths crested in Spain, France, and the Lombardy region of Italy before the lockdowns could have had any impact on the spread of the disease.
In the U.S., he found the death rate climbing after the lockdowns went into effect. “For every two weeks a stay-at-home order is in place, the death rate rises by one person per 100,000. For bans of gatherings of 50 people, it’s every 11 days.”
Stone goes on to say that:
“The only U.S.-based academic study empirically linking lockdowns to lower deaths is a recent economics paper identifying California’s lockdown as the reason for its lower death rate. The problem with this paper is that the authors find that the lockdown began to reduce California’s deaths just five days after being implemented. The effect is too early to derive from the supposed cause.”
The massively intrusive and costly government lockdowns are looking more and more like the most expensive and least effective regulations ever imposed in this nation’s history.
Will anyone be held responsible for the calamity, or will we just go on pretending it was worth it?
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board.