As auditors and congressional investigators try to figure out just how much federal COVID relief went to fraudsters, they are missing the trillions of dollars in fraud committed by the federal government itself in a war that we had no chance of winning.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office reported that fraudsters took in about $60 billion in unemployment checks. That’s on top of the tens of billions in fraudulent claims made through the Paycheck Protection Program, the tens of billions handed out through a Small Business Administration program, and on and on.
This Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability will hold a hearing “to investigate rampant waste of taxpayer dollars in COVID relief programs.”
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the chairman of the committee, said “we owe it to Americans to identify how hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent under the guise of pandemic relief were lost to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.”
That’s all well and good. But what we really need is an investigation into how the war against COVID wasted trillions of taxpayer dollars, imposed massive disruptions, handicapped millions of students, and probably didn’t save many, if any, lives.
That sort of investigation, if done honestly, would likely conclude that we would have been better off if we’d done nothing at all beyond asking people to wash their hands and stay home if they’re sick.
Shocking? Impossible to believe? Let’s review the evidence.
Start with the fact that since COVID-19 first landed on U.S. shores three years ago, 1.1 million have died from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even now, deaths are averaging around 4,000 per week.
Way back in early March 2020, the CDC met with experts from around the world met to map out COVID-19 scenarios. “Between 160 million and 214 million people in the U.S. could be infected over the course of the epidemic,” reported the Yale School of Medicine. “As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.” That assumed the country did nothing to mitigate COVID’s spread.
So, the U.S. embarked on an unprecedented effort to slow the disease’s spread and develop vaccines in record time, spending trillions of dollars in the process. For months, the entire nation was locked down. People were ordered to stay at home. Businesses were forced to stay closed. Church services were suspended. Students were locked out of their schools. The elderly weren’t allowed to have outside visitors. In many areas, mask-wearing was mandatory, even outdoors.
The economic result was catastrophic. The nation’s GDP collapsed by 30% in the second quarter of 2020. Unemployment, which had just reached 3.5% – a 50-year low – shot up to 14.7% in April 2020.
The federal government rushed through trillions of dollars in relief legislation. In March 2020 alone, Congress approved three aid packages totaling $2.43 trillion. By the following March, COVID relief spending was close to $4 trillion.
All of this spending was with borrowed money, and paying off this monstrous debt is a burden future generations will have to bear. But the harm caused by these interventions goes beyond the explosion in the national debt.
Shutting down schools had a tragic impact on education. Reading and math scores plunged as schools struggled with remote learning. Reading scores saw their biggest drop in 30 years. Minorities suffered the most. Masking children for years will likely have long-term effects on their social development as well.
Meanwhile, depression, anxiety, and suicide all increased. A CDC study found that one in four people between 18 and 24 contemplated suicide during the shutdown.
Even car crash deaths, which had been trending downward for decades, started climbing again in 2020, and have continued to increase, most likely because reckless driving became more common thanks to prolonged shutdowns and more empty roads.
And what did we get for all this? Look at those fatality numbers again. At the start of COVID, experts said doing nothing would result in 1.7 million deaths. We did plenty, but the death count is steadily approaching that number anyway.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University did a meta-analysis of studies done on the effectiveness of COVID mitigation efforts. Their stunning conclusion:
“We find no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality.”
But the researchers found that all these interventions “have contributed to reducing economic activity, raising unemployment, reducing schooling, causing political unrest, contributing to domestic violence and undermining liberal democracy.”
We will concede that the rapid development of COVID tests, three different vaccines, and improved treatment regimens saved lives, although just how many is unknowable.
But what if we’d done nothing beyond that, other than follow standard guidelines when a disease is spreading? Stay home if you’re sick. Wash your hands. Avoid highly congested areas. What if, instead of spreading widespread fear, public health officials focused on the population most at risk: the sick and elderly?
Our guess is that just as many people would have died from COVID. But we wouldn’t be climbing out of the deep economic hole we dug. Our children wouldn’t have lost a year of education. Fewer would have died from suicide, overdoses, and other lockdown ills.
Few of us who’ve lived through the three years of nonstop warnings, mandates, and hysteria would be willing to admit that this war was all for nothing. But if we’re going to avoid repeating these mistakes in the future, we’d better learn from these mistakes now.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board