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Yet More on Covid-19’s Risk to Young Adults

Here’s a friendly response to Café Hayek commenter Rob Read:

Mr. Read:

Thanks very much for commenting on the Café Hayek post in which I criticize the authors of a New York Times op-ed for failing to put into context Covid-19’s danger to Americans ages 25-44. This failure creates the false impression that Covid poses a serious risk to people in this age cohort.

Pushing back mildly on my point, you note, in effect, that even my estimated death risk of 0.0329 percent – which, by the way, is surely excessive – is nevertheless high enough for many young adults to take seriously.

Of course, risk preferences are subjective, and so different individuals respond differently to the same objective level of risk. I have no interest in talking anyone out of his or her risk preferences. (I do, however, have a strong interest in preventing that someone from foisting his or her risk preferences on me and others.) But as another commenter, Bruce Berlin, notes, people routinely subject themselves to risks much higher than is the risk that Covid poses to young adults. Therefore, it’s important to do what the New York Times’s op-edists recklessly failed to do – namely, put relative risk-levels in perspective lest a false perception of the risks of Covid create even greater hysteria than it’s already stirred up.

As far as we know now, the chance that Covid will kill an American aged 25 to 44 is roughly 1 in 3,040. Here’s a sample of the lifetime odds of Americans dying from activities or events other than Covid:

– motor-vehicle crashes (1 in 106)
– fall (1 in 111)
– drowning (1 in 1,121)
– fire or smoke (1 in 1,399)
– choking on food (1 in 2,618)

Should the state lower all speed limits to 10 MPH? Should Americans be ordered always to wear bubble wrap and never have their feet more than three feet above the ground? Should government outlaw swimming and bathing? Should the police confiscate all stoves, matches, lighters, candles, firewood, flints, and electrical wiring? Should it be illegal to prepare, sell, and ingest all edible items other than baby food?

Or should we at least publish breathless op-eds in major newspapers advising people to live in greater fear of daily life – fear utterly out of proportion to underlying objective risks? I’m sure you agree that the answer is no.

These New York Times’s op-edists, as well as all who promote their work, want everyone to believe that Covid poses significant risks to young adults. They write “But what we believed before about the relative harmlessness of Covid-19 among younger adults has simply not been borne out by emerging data.”

This claim is preposterous. Not only are Covid’s dangers to young adults, by the authors’ own admission, tiny relative to Covid’s dangers to the elderly, Covid’s dangers to young adults are tiny relative to many other dangers that Americans routinely encounter yet never use as an excuse to pummel civilization.

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