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Diseases Are Bad. Government-Forced Shutdowns Are Often Worse.

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Tags Big GovernmentEconomic FreedomGlobal Economy

However high the death rate of the COVID-19 coronavirus becomes, the governmental response to the threat will be even more dangerous. If the current blockade of economic life continues, more people will die from the countermeasures than from the virus itself. In a short time, the basic supply of everyday goods will be at risk. By interrupting the global transport and supply chains, important medicines will be missing and food supplies will be insufficient. This is how a containment strategy works: operation successful, patient dead.

Government's Main Strategy: Destroy Commerce

The main concern for those responsible for healthcare is not the absolute number of deaths, but "flattening the curve," i.e., stretching out the frequency of cases of infection. 

The model may be correct, all else remaining equal, but it ignores the extent of the damage that the control measures entail. We already have a foretaste of that. In addition to drastic restrictions on international air traffic and the partial closure of borders, there are a whole series of measures that intervene deeply in the everyday lives of citizens and are aimed at isolating everyone as much as possible.

With the current focus, the authorities ignore the side effects of their measures. State agencies are obsessed with smoothing the curve and thereby ignore the fact that pursuing this goal almost exclusively will bring more collateral damage than the possible cost of the epidemic itself.

If government agencies continue to act as they are doing, people soon will be confronted with the problem that they can no longer buy necessary things—first, because the shelves will be empty, and second, because they will have no more income later, when the shelves are slowly restocked again. Companies have closed and salaries will not show up in bank accounts. Rent due dates for homes and businesses will not be met. It is not the coronavirus that will bring the economy to a standstill, but the way in which politics is responding to the epidemic.

Another strategy (partially practiced by South Korea and in Taiwan) is to minimally intervene in the daily life of the majority of the population.

If policymakers understood the very real threats to human life and wellness associated with economic destruction, they would adopt policies designed to ensure businesses remain open. The focus would be on ensuring that the most at-risk individuals and populations are able to voluntarily isolate themselves.

On the other hand, in Europe and much of the rest of the world, a state of emergency and a series of general lockdowns were proclaimed. Even if the current nightmare should end and the curfews and travel bans no longer exist, it would take a long time for the economy to recover—not from the virus, but from the response to it. In the United States and in many European countries, the state has taken control in the belief that with the severe restrictions on private and public life the epidemic can be gotten under control. The attitude prevails that there is no alternative to practically shutting down the economy and imposing restrictions on the everyday life of the people. Instead of bearing the immense costs that come with the current policy, capacity could be expanded in anticipation of taking care of the sick, moribund, and dead.

Although the burden of proof must be on those who wish to close businesses and bring the economy to a halt, the advocates for destroying the global economy have not made their case. In fact, up to now, in Europe, including Italy, the number of deaths remains well below what we expect from the fluThe mortality rate remains unknown because of the biases and difficulties in estimating total cases and collecting data—one can deal with it using short-term emergency measures. The statistics on the number of virus carriers are incorrect, since the error rates of test devices for new disease phenomena are usually high and in the case of COVID-19 tests are probably even higher, since demand and use has increased so quickly in a short time. The fact that a data set has been published by the authorities does not mean that the numbers reflect the facts. Even standard tests have error rates and usually several tests are necessary to arrive at a reliable judgment.

Not only is the death rate problematic because the actual number of cases is completely unknown, but the official death toll attributed to COVID-19 is also questionable. There is no reliable way to tell from the virus's presence in a corpse that the person died because of it. People's lives end due to countless factors, and old people die of  all kinds of ailments. Italy reports that 99 percent of COVID-19 victims had other illnesses at the time of death. If COVID-19 is found in a corpse, it does not prove that the virus was the cause of death. It may be just one of countless possible causes.

Viruses mutate constantly. Without specific tests, the modifications go undetected. If they were all discovered, one could panic almost every day. One can be sure that sooner or later another virus will appear after the coronavirus epidemic is over. Imagine if politics reacted the way it has done in the face of the coronavirus every time. The absurdity of the current antivirus policy becomes obvious.

The Longer the Forced Shutdown Goes On, the Greater the Resulting Poverty Will Be

The authorities want to make people believe that the many restrictions that are already in place are short-term measures. But what if the containment strategy taken much longer than foreseen? The consequences for the economy are already catastrophic. Every day and every week the damage increases more and more. Even when the policies achieve the containment of the viral disease, the economic damage will persist for a much longer time.

The real threat is less COVID-19 than it is the wave of bankruptcy and unemployment that will soon spill across economies like a tsunami. If the governments honor their aid commitments and make compensation payments to those affected, such high sums will be required that price inflation may result and exacerbate the effect of the economic recession. We will see widespread impoverishment—and, as usually comes with impoverishment, a decline in general health and a rise in morbidity.

Against the Political Scaremongering

Yes, there is reason to panic, but it's not the virus, it's the coronavirus policy. Organized panic serves as an excellent test for the state of how far it can go in terrorizing citizens and taking away their freedom without encountering resistance. Like sheep, people follow the orders of their leaders. The media is preparing the lambs to go silently and without a scream into the slaughterhouse.

Beyond the economic damage that has been already been caused by the political reaction to the epidemic, an even greater tragedy lurks: the loss of fundamental human rights and of our individual freedom. Given the modern methods of surveillance, a new kind of totalitarianism would surpass all the horrors that are known from past dictatorial regimes.

Author:

Antony P. Mueller

Dr. Antony P. Mueller is a German professor of economics who currently teaches in Brazil. Write an e-mail. See his website and blog.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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