Social distancing measures intended to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, thus avoiding an overwhelmed healthcare system and unnecessary deaths, might present too great a cost to Americans, argued an article in The Federalist on Monday.
Hillsdale PhD student Jonathan Ashbach suggested in the article that most Americans would rather return to normalcy than be stuck at home for an indefinite period of time, according to Right Wing Watch — even if the goal is to save hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.
Ashbach made the case for unbridled freedom and a “me-first” way of viewing America’s response to the crisis, writing: “Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions.”
Acknowledging that his approach might seem “callous,” he suggested that it is more a matter of “honestly facing reality.”
“Of course, it sounds very callous to talk about considering the costs. It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die,” Ashbach wrote. “Probably for that reason, few have been willing to do so publicly thus far. Yet honestly facing reality is not callous, and refusing even to consider whether the present response constitutes an even greater evil than the one it intends to mitigate would be cowardly.”
Americans are making great sacrifices, he said, including “giving up a good deal of what makes life worth living — work, classes, travel, hugs, time with friends, conferences, quiet nights out, and so forth.”
If they had a choice, he insisted, most would probably rather go about their daily routines than sacrifice for the greater good.
An issue Ashbach fails to address, however, is what will happen when those Americans embracing "normalcy" are unable to seek care at their hospitals and medical facilities because the system is overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. Heart attacks, strokes, cancers, broken bones — no physical ailment is placed on pause because a pandemic is wreaking havoc.
But he continued, arguing that these measures are also negatively impacting the economy in a way that would potentially cause greater harm than allowing massive numbers of people to die.
“The current response is quickly driving the United States into a recession, which will result in a great deal of misery for tens of millions of people. Again, balancing lives against money sounds harsh, but everyone does so — and must do so — whether he is conscious of the fact or not. Not to mention, a recession also means higher poverty rates, which lead to higher mortality rates,” he wrote.
But more important than the loss of life or money, Ashbach said, is the inherent loss of freedom as people are told what they can and cannot do.
“Even for those of us who are by no means libertarian, the increasingly draconian measures put in place across the nation, especially in California, to isolate people and prevent them from moving at will are raising serious questions about whether Americans are in a dress rehearsal for tyranny,” he said.
“The American people must ultimately decide what they really want. Perhaps the overwhelming majority would happily endure indefinite isolation and sacrifices of freedom to prevent a fairly bad pandemic from getting somewhat worse,” Ashbach concluded. “But I doubt it.”
Recent polling shows that Ashbach’s assessment might miss the mark.
A Morning Consult survey conducted March 7-20 revealed that most American adults are practicing some form of social distancing, with 72 percent of respondents indicating they have at least stopped going into public places.
The poll also found that 65 percent of Americans blame those who are not following public health officials’ advice to stop socializing for the virus’ continued spread.