Perspective Is Always Necessary

by Don Boudreaux on November 30, 2020

in Current Affairs, Media, Myths and Fallacies, Reality Is Not Optional, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to an upset Cafe patron.

Ms. Grayson:

You disagree with my criticism of USA Today for its failure to report that, as a percentage of total Covid-19 deaths in America, that of people younger than 40 (at 1.5%) is tiny. “The fact of the matter,” you write, “is that more than 3500 kids and young adults died of this disease. That’s more than 3500 shortened lives and grieving families. It was right for government to respond with tough emergency measures.”

Of course all premature deaths are especially sad and to be regretted. And these deaths are downright tragic when the victims are children. But such deaths are sad and tragic regardless of their cause. By failing to put the number of young people killed by Covid in perspective, however, USA Today not only conveyed the false impression that Covid is unusually dangerous to young people, it also implicitly discounted the sadness and tragedy of the deaths of young people who die of causes other than Covid.

Consider that each year in the U.S. the number of children and adolescents who are killed in automobile accidents is, at around 4,000, nearly 8 times higher than is the number (515) of Americans ages 24 and younger killed by Covid. To paraphrase you, that’s more than 4,000 shortened lives and grieving families. Yet are you moved by this number to demand that government reduce the maximum speed limit on all roads to 10 MPH, or that it prohibit young people from riding in automobiles? Such “tough emergency measures” would, after all – and with greater certainty than Covid restrictions will actually reduce net deaths – dramatically reduce the number of young people killed in automobile accidents.

If we live with the risk that automobiles pose to young people – if this risk does not cause us to utterly upend our familiar ways of living – certainly, and contrary to your claim, the harsh restrictions imposed in the name of fighting Covid find no justification in the much smaller number of young people killed by this disease.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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