The Cold Equations

Thinking about Florida’s much-criticized spring break shenanigans, at RealClearPolitics Sean Trende crunches some numbers and arrives at the tentative conclusion that Florida’s governor might have made the right decision. He concludes like this:

To be clear, I support most of the social distancing that has been imposed (I think the jury is still out on school closures). I don’t think the cure is worse the disease right now. Analogies to the flu are too flippant; left unchecked this virus seems certain to kill off at least one order of magnitude more people than seasonal flu. At the same time, the social distancing seems to have stopped a pretty nasty flu outbreak dead in its tracks. We could do this every winter and save tens of thousands of lives annually; over the course of my lifetime the failure to do this every winter probably will kill more Americans than unchecked COVID-19 spread would. We don’t do that, of course, but to be clear: We don’t do it because the social and economic costs of doing so would be too great.

There’s a certain beauty and moral rightness in saying that every life counts, and that one life lost to this virus is one life too many. In reality, almost every one of us at some point solves the cold equations against life. There is more than ample room to conclude that DeSantis did it wrong here, but we should be honest with ourselves that we all have our limits as to what we will tolerate, and be willing to consider arguments to the contrary if things don’t change for the worse there.

I’ve recently heard some people suggest, mildly, that we will need to keep the economy closed down for 18 months or more, apparently not understanding that would result in a global collapse that most living human beings probably would not survive while the remnants roasted the less fortunate over fires for food.

Our political leaders in particular need to adjust themselves to the realization that we cannot “shelter in place” for a year or more. Even raising the possibility of indefinitely long shutdowns is irresponsible. I don’t think we can do it for six months. For one thing at some point non-compliance will just make the whole thing moot.

13 comments… add one
  • GreyShambler Link

    Then we’ll have to stop reporting the body count.
    This is beyond pitiful. ONE patient made it out of ICU into a regular room in the STATE of Georgia?

  • bob sykes Link

    Representative Massey says (on Glenn Beck today) that the likelihood of food shortages this summer is increasing. He claims that many crops need to be harvested now, but the seasonal workers are not available. Some food processing factories are closed or operating part time. Some farmers are reporting shortages of fodder for their cattle.

    The one thing almost guaranteed to cause a revolt is a famine. And country folk get their food from the same companies that feed the cities, so there is no refuge in the country. In fact, food stocks in rural towns might be lower than in cities.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    Yes, I agree in reality, people are willing to lockdown for 2/3 months. But beyond that, the costs start rising exponentially in comparison to the possible benefits.

    Its not the economic costs — but so many critical (but not immediately critical) functions of society suspended. For example, FDA inspections of food / medicine has been scaled back. The legal system is comatose. EPA inspections are on hold.

    At some point, those functions must resume or that will cost lives too.

  • PD Shaw Link

    It’s not just about money.

    The court system has mostly shutdown. No jury trials, the Constitutional right to one is suspended. We pride ourselves as operating under the rule of law, but how much of that assumes access to courts to enforce rights or defend oneself? Are the people performing essential tasks going to be paid? I’m not sure a month makes that much difference, at two months I think we’ll probably learn things about each other.

    Also, I can see gaps opening in mental health services because of lack of in-person therapy, particularly for children. And speaking of children, the school closures are going to exacerbate a lot of problems and inequities in terms of education and social services.

  • steve Link

    Yup, but we have already learned a bunch. Stop handshaking. Seriously. Wear a mask if you think you are sick. Wash your hands more often. We have started the process of looking for a cure/vaccine. We are buying time, which has been pretty successful it looks like so far. Plus, we can situationally reinstate mitigation if needed.


  • jan Link

    There are too many unintended consequences to name should we maintain the shelter in place and social distancing mandates too much longer. Going to such extremes, on anything, just doesn’t wear well when practiced too long.

    Ironically, before this pandemic syndrome was upon us, unwashed hands, going out and about with a cold or worse was considered fine. In fact, for those of us who hesitated being around a sick person, it was perfectly ok to chide us as exhibiting unnecessary hypochondriac behavior. Now, with authoritarian guidance in place, the chiding continues, from the same people, except now directed at those for being too close, not wearing masks, or daring to walk outside one’s space to get exercise.

  • Guarneri Link

    So Grey, Bob, Curious and PD all observe that there is another side to the Faucci equation: the costs of absolute shutdown. This is what I, and others, have been pointing out for weeks. I think steve is nodding in agreement, but then gives us the obvious: do common sense things. Wash your hands. Tell me something I didn’t know.

    An inescapable couple have facts have emerged. We had absolute crap data, yet we fed it into models and it scared the bejesus out of everyone. Then the health care “experts” took that to take control of the narrative and policy. The media salivated – the filthy fucks. Meat. Meat!! Anti-Trump meat!!! All at tremendous costs. And now they are doing the moonwalk from the projections. Bastards.

    Who speaks for the millions of unemployed? Short or long term. Who? Who speaks for the destruction of the economy’s productive capital stock? Politicians and bureaucrats now scramble for political cover. It wasn’t me (even if its on tape), or “I was just acting out of an abundance of caution!” Millions of unemployed, more essential than probably 50% of the bureaucrats, now look at these miserable fucks and ask “who made you King, the guy who threw me out of work?” “And for what? A serious flu season?”

    Not 5% of those who created this mess will look in the mirror and ask “my God, what have I done?” Faucci screwed up AIDS royaly. Now this. This is your precious government, Democrats. Is drawing and quartering him in the public square too harsh?

  • Guarneri Link

    And now, for something completely different……….

    From Chicago: During this corona virus crisis please keep a distance of 10 feet from the nearest person to you. If you don’t know how much 10 feet is consider a Bears game. Consider a wide open Bears receiver and QB Trubisky’s missed pass to him. That’s about 10 feet……

  • TarsTarkas Link

    IMO I can see the Democratic and RINO governors keeping their states locked down indefinitely, because without them and their industrial base any recovery will just limp along and thus make Orange Man look BAAAD! And recall efforts can’t get started because they have to go through the political and legal system which is also locked down. Now tell me who are actually acting like dictators here? Yeah, my cynicism is showing, but it really got into sixth gear during the Kavanaugh hearings and hasn’t dropped into a lower gear since.

  • steve Link

    “This is what I, and others, have been pointing out for weeks.”

    I acknowledged that, but the other side was more deaths. You guys got your feelings hurt when I brought up the D word. The world has seen a lot of pandemics. Quarantine and isolation are the norm. We had data from the Spanish flu suggesting cities that mitigated did better than those that did not. Plus even without official lockdowns lots of people would have stayed home anyway. We didnt have another country that was willing to run the experiment for us of having no mitigation, but the UK did try it for a week, and there death rate is 2-3 times ours. Look at NYC that delayed mitigation. Imagine every big city became NYC. Conversely look at California which instituted early. I think we probably saved many hundreds of thousands and in the long run the economic costs will be small.

    ” I think steve is nodding in agreement, but then gives us the obvious: do common sense things. Wash your hands. ”

    Dont shake hands will be major cultural change. Wearing a mask if sick will be a major cultural change. You ignore that I think situational mitigation needs to be part of the plan. That implies testing and the public health framework to make it happen. Until we find a drug that offers a cure, the current ones dont do much, or a vaccine we will need to make some major changes and have the ability to find and abort local outbreaks.


  • PD Shaw Link

    Drew, I support Illinois’ response so far. I don’t know if it’s the best response, but I won’t judge a politician faced with so many uncertainties and fatalities with the decisions to be made here. My criticisms about the Governor have been about his communications.

    Longer term, there are issues of potential institutional collapse that might not be appreciated, and that includes in hospitals, which I see as both benefited and damaged by the shutdowns.

  • Greyshambler Link

    Don’t get me wrong, this ain’t the flu. From what we have learned it’s more contagious and very unpredictable in how long and how hard it hits you.
    The country has to start getting back to business while taking reasonable precautions. The kind we’ve learned in the last two months. As for us, we’ll lay low for a while longer anyway.

  • steve Link

    PD- How have hospitals benefitted? Besides the obvious we might better know how to handle infectious diseases. If by hospital you mean the hospital network, I think they are going to come out of this much better at telemedicine. Financially since outpatient care died down and ICU care loses money hospitals are piling up debt. Capital projects will be delayed for a while.


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