As the pigs proclaimed in “Animal Farm,” “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
The oinkers ruled the farm with an iron fist and didn’t want the horses, sheep and other critters to get any improper ideas. George Orwell’s novel, of course, was an indictment of the Soviet government, which ruled in the name of the “people” — but only select people had a say in what went on.
The “Animal Farm” reference is useful these days, as a small group of politicians has suspended the usual checks and balances and is imposing edicts to protect us from the spread of COVID-19. Those who have questioned the wisdom, effectiveness or arbitrariness of specific policies have largely been shut out of the debate. In these uncertain times (as the tiresome saying goes), all ideas are equal, but some ideas are more equal than others.
The critics have been consistent in their response to my columns. As one letter-writer explained, “It is people like Greenhut who will cause more misery and more death — all because they want to go to the beach, the movies and to hell with everyone else.” I have a daughter with a compromised immune system and a mom in a senior facility, so I do indeed take the contagion seriously and do not want people to die so I can head to the cineplex.
But it’s deeply disturbing that officials are only considering one side of the lockdown’s “death and misery” index. I’ve read that governments should never be willing to endanger anyone’s life. Good grief. Governments always make trade-offs with people’s lives. If that weren’t the case, then the national speed limit would be around 15 miles per hour. In fact, shutting down the economy and forcing people to stay inside imposes vast dangers, too.
The well-known United Nations agency, UNICEF, argues that the economic shutdowns are increasing the risk of death to children in developing countries and the risk “far outweighs any threat presented by the coronavirus,” the British newspaper, The Telegraph, reported. It’s based on a model from Johns Hopkins University researchers that forecasts the deaths of 1.2 million children because of shutdowns. And reports point to a potential food crisis that could affect wealthy nations, also.
As we’ve learned throughout this pandemic, forecasts are not holy writs. Last week, I noted that worldwide anti-coronavirus strategies were based in part on forecasts by one British researcher who pointed to 500,000 possible deaths in the United Kingdom and 2.2 million deaths in the United States. That data was alarmist, and the child-death data could be, also. But if we’re calculating possible deaths, why are some forecasts more equal than others?
“The economic devastation the pandemic wreaks on the ultra-poor could ultimately kill more people than the virus itself,” according to a recent news report in the Los Angeles Times. “The United Nations predicts that a global recession will reverse a three-decade trend in rising living standards and plunge as many as 420 million people into extreme poverty.” You might note that the United Nations, UNICEF and the Los Angeles Times aren’t exactly right-wing organizations.
The anti-lockdown protests have endlessly been described as the result of entitled people who are placing their own selfishness above people’s lives. I keep reading social media memes saying that Americans who don’t support the lock downs are big babies who can’t stand some inconvenience. Yes, many people can’t stand the inconvenience of unemployment, hunger and destitution. What brats they are. Have you noticed that the people most zealous for continued lockdowns tend to have steady sources of income? Who is being entitled?
Washington Post columnist Megan McArdle dismissed concerns about widespread American unemployment — the Federal Reserve chairman recently noted 40 percent of lower-income households lost jobs in March — because of a poll showing that 79 percent of unemployed or furloughed people support them. Polls are interesting, but I’d be interested to know what percentage of respondents are collecting unemployment and other benefits.
McArdle tweeted that “‘Open up’ has always been about small biz owners, not the workers whose bloody shirts they’re waving.” Wow. I guess it’s not a serious concern when people lose their life’s investments or go bankrupt. Since we’re looking at the polls, a recent Pennsylvania survey found that 63 percent of that state’s small businesses say they might have to close permanently in a few months.
I’ve quoted him before, but Spiked Editor Brendan O’Neill is spot on again: “These people who can work from home — doing their public-sector stuff or making their ironic podcasts — insist that anyone who calls for a return to work is elevating the economy over lives. … As if work, production and creating the wealth that funds health, schools and housing isn’t also about life.”
That’s sensible, but it’s dangerous to our leaders when people start spouting these improper ideas.