Editors Note: This article is a follow-up to The Politics of Lockdowns, which explores politicians’ motives and motivations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early on in the COVID crisis, many warned that this fall would bring a second wave of infections, as people moved indoors and ended up in greater proximity to each other. We are seeing this warning materialize, especially if we look at Europe.

Concurrent with this possible spike in cases are the demands for renewed lockdowns, especially among those of a particular political leaning, a particular socioeconomic stratum, and a particular attitude towards government’s role in our lives.

During the first wave of virus and lockdowns, I came to the conclusion that support for or resistance to lockdowns correlated rather highly with whether a lockdown created mere inconvenience or economic devastation.

Whether lockdowns work in the slowing of communication of COVID is often debated, but it’s a debate that’s too often artificially constrained to exclude all the other effects and consequences. For it is a reality that the government cannot offset the economic harm inflicted by shutting down economic activity that relies on human interaction, no matter how much money it prints. It also cannot compensate for, or even measure, the ancillary harm, from delays in medical treatment for other matters, to mental health deterioration, to “lost months” for many at important life junctures (think: high school and college seniors, those in their later years of life, and others who cannot simply bunker down for a few moons and simply resume their lives when this is all over).

Talk like this is often rejected with simplistic “save one life” reductivism, or “you want people to die!” straw-manning, but talk like this is far more responsible than “virus spikes up, lock the nation down” absolutism.

The initial purpose of lockdowns was set forth as “flattening the curve,” as a means to slow the spread of the infection to reduce overloading of the health care system, to allow industry to ramp up its manufacturing of personal protection equipment, to give researchers time to develop treatments, and to allow pharmaceutical companies to get up to speed on both treatment drugs and vaccine research.

All that was achieved, and we are on the cusp of seeing vaccines emerge in a span of months, rather than the decade such normally take. Along the way, many lessons were learned, in treatment, in mitigation, in things we can do to protect ourselves and each other, and in risk profiles.

It remains, however, that we are going to go through the next few months before vaccines go wide enough to end the pandemic. Thus, the new lockdown talk. Unfortunately, many lessons offered by these past few months are certain to go unheeded, as are the plaints of and peril faced by those for whom lockdowns are not just an inconvenience.

Big companies going bankrupt make for big headlines, but thousands upon thousands of small businesses have failed and are continuing to fail due to lockdowns. That’s life savings lost, that’s careers ended, that’s jobs disappearing, that’s mouths not getting fed. Empty storefronts, already a bane in many major cities, are mushrooming, and it’s hard to imagine that they’ll be refilled any time soon, even after COVID is tamed.

It is pretty well established that the risk from COVID varies widely by age and certain other factors, such as obesity and certain other conditions. For young, healthy people, the risk from COVID is less than that of seasonal flu, which claims tens of thousands of lives every year but is not the subject of economic lockdowns. In addition, we already know far better how to treat COVID patients than we did months ago, and every young healthy person who contracts and recovers from the bug moves us further along to herd immunity. For the record, because I know how some can be: COVID is not the flu. It is several times more lethal, it appears to be more communicable, we are still learning about it, and taking prudent measures to mitigate its transmission is a good idea.

At what point do we assign some responsibility on the shoulders of citizens, and say “decide for yourself and your clan how much lockdown you should embrace,” rather than continue to destroy lives wholesale? We know who should be extra careful, and we know that not everyone should be treated equally by government’s response to a next wave of infections.

If you’re among those who desire blanket lockdowns, take a moment and ponder how big an impact those lockdowns are on your life. Are you working from home, earning your salary or most of it? Is your reduced access to public places a temporary annoyance? Will your life get mostly back to normal after the pandemic is over? Furthermore, if there were no mandated lockdowns, could you continue behaving in a self-protecting fashion by working from home and venturing forth in a limited and cautious manner? If so, you don’t really need the universe clamped down, do you? You don’t need others’ economic lives ruined to mitigate your chances of catching the bug. Take a moment and realize that not everyone’s circumstance mirrors yours.

Sometimes, a cure can be worse than a disease. Not necessarily in black-and-white fatality numbers, but in the countless hard-to-measure ancillary impacts and unintended negative consequences. Smart and caring politicians should know this, and they should, armed with all the knowledge and experience collected across this past spring and summer, serve all their constituents by being more judicious in their edicts.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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