The Cost of Lockdowns in Human Health and Human Lives Is Becoming Increasingly Clear
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The cost of destroying the economy in the name of saving lives from COVID-19 is becoming increasingly apparent, and the details of just how costly the "lockdown" strategy will be for countless human beings continue to emerge.
In the past, we've examined the long-term cost of unemployment on mental health, physical health, and long-term earnings. In short: unemployment kills.
Stay-at-home orders and other sorts of police-enforced social distancing create conditions that lead to more child abuse, domestic abuse, suicide, drug abuse, and even stress-related death through ailments like heart disease.
Consequently, the shortsighted efforts at locking down entire populations by biologists, epidemiologists, and other "experts"—who apparently have little or no knowledge at all about the physical, social, and psychological effects of wealth destruction on human beings—have set the stage for the impoverishment of millions in the United States alone. (The effects in the developing world will be far worse.)
On Monday, for example, physician Scott W. Atlas and economists John R. Birge, Ralph L. Keeney, and Alexander Lipton noted in The Hill that efforts to brand the downside of shutdowns as purely economic problems gravely misinterpret the reality of wealth destruction. The authors write:
The policies have created the greatest global economic disruption in history, with trillions of dollars of lost economic output. These financial losses have been falsely portrayed as purely economic. To the contrary, using numerous National Institutes of Health Public Access publications, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and various actuarial tables, we calculate that these policies will cause devastating non-economic consequences that will total millions of accumulated years of life lost in the United States, far beyond what the virus itself has caused.
Statistically, every $10 million to $24 million lost in U.S. incomes results in one additional death. One portion of this effect is through unemployment, which leads to an average increase in mortality of at least 60 percent. That translates into 7,200 lives lost per month among the 36 million newly unemployed Americans, over 40 percent of whom are not expected to regain their jobs. In addition, many small business owners are near financial collapse, creating lost wealth that results in mortality increases of 50 percent. With an average estimate of one additional lost life per $17 million income loss, that would translate to 65,000 lives lost in the U.S. for each month because of the economic shutdown.
In addition to lives lost because of lost income, lives also are lost due to delayed or foregone health care imposed by the shutdown and the fear it creates among patients. From personal communications with neurosurgery colleagues, about half of their patients have not appeared for treatment of disease which, left untreated, risks brain hemorrhage, paralysis or death.
Similarly, the New York Post reported yesterday that chemist Michael Levitt has concluded that the lockdowns saved no lives at all:
“I think lockdown saved no lives. I think it may have cost lives,” Levitt, who is not an epidemiologist, told the publication.
“There is no doubt that you can stop an epidemic with lockdown, but it’s a very blunt and very medieval weapon and the epidemic could have been stopped just as effectively with other sensible measures (such as masks and other forms of social distancing),” he added.
Levitt attributed the additional lives lost to other dangers from the fallout of the lockdowns, such as domestic abuse and fewer people seeking health care for ailments other than the virus.
“It will have saved a few road accident lives, things like that, but social damage—domestic abuse, divorces, alcoholism—has been extreme. And then you have those who were not treated for other conditions,” Levitt told the newspaper.
Supporters of lockdowns may be quick to claim that these commentators are not epidemiologists. Yet the epidemiologists—at least the ones at the "official" government offices—have shown little insight in recent months. Their models have consistently been wrong. Nor do the epidemiologists appear to have any idea of the lethality of the COVID-19 virus. After insisting for months that the virus was perhaps more than ten times as deadly as the flu, the CDC has now slashed the fatality rate to a mere fraction of previous estimates. The epidemiologists' only tool has been to order healthy people to stay home, even as demand at food banks triples as families queue in order to avoid starvation.
Now, Anthony Fauci, who in April was insisting that it would be impossible to even relax stay-at-home orders until there is a vaccine or until there are "no new cases, no deaths for a period of time," has totally abandoned this position. Fauci now admits that his "lockdown until vaccine" position would cause irreparable damage:
We can't stay locked down for such a considerable period of time that you might do irreparable damage and have unintended consequences including consequences for health. And it's for that reason why the guidelines are being put forth so that the states and the cities can start to reenter and reopen.
Of course, anyone who deals in interacting with the real world (i.e., not lifelong bureaucrats like Fauci, who needs not exhibit any actual competence to collect his $400,000 paycheck) always understands that preserving and augmenting wealth is key in enhancing health and the quality of life.
Not surprisingly, this has already been seen in the empirical evidence. As M. Harvey Brenner has noted in the International Journal of Epidemiology,
the large and growing literature on unemployment and health is highly consistent in demonstrating elevated morbidity and mortality associated with unemployment and withdrawal from the labour force….Economic growth, cumulatively over at least a decade, is the central factor in mortality rate decline in the US over the 20th century. (emphasis added)
In other words, to reduce mortality, we need to protect the creation and preservation of wealth. Bureaucrats and social democrats may sneer that this puts GDP growth before saving lives, but the reality is that economic growth translates into saving lives. The lockdown advocates may refuse to admit this, but the evidence is abundant.