Here’s a letter to the staff of the Melbourne (Australia) School of Population and Global Health:
Lockdown is not our “worst nightmare” @9NewsAUS.
Our worst nightmare is hospitals overrun with cases & buckling under the strain, a deadly virus out of control in the community and having to cope with loved ones dying from covid19.
What are you talking about? As of yesterday, the seven-day average of new Covid cases – cases, not deaths or even hospitalizations – in Victoria was 4 . In the entire month of July so far the total number of new cases is a paltry 38. Of Victoria’s population of 6.7 million, that’s 0.0006 percent. Surely hospital capacity in your state isn’t so minuscule that it will be overrun by however many hospitalizations might emerge from 38 Covid cases – or even ten or twenty times this number of cases.
You’ll undoubtedly respond with a ‘What if?!’ – as in ‘What if the number of cases increases exponentially? At some point our hospitals will be overrun.’ Yep; that is indeed how math works. But that’s not how public policy works – or, at least, not how it should work. Good public policy is not done by first blithely assuming a worst-case scenario to be realistic and then, with equal blitheness, by assuming that no cost is too high to pay to avoid that scenario.
What is among society’s worst nightmares is public policy done in the manner you propose: Obsessively focus on a single risk; ignore all others; and drive that one risk as close as possible to zero, all else be damned. As it now appears that governments in Australia believe that the only acceptable goal in life is to avoid Covid, 9News Australia was indeed correct to describe public policy there as nightmarish.
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