Categories
coronavirus Dunning–Kruger effect empathy deficit entitled babies trump

Coronavirus: The Federalist prefers mass death to massive deficits

Federalist editorial board meeting (artist’s conception)

By David Futrelle

People often ask “who funds The Federalist,” assuming that the answer is some shadowy right-wing billionaire who finds the site’s crackpot conservatism congenial. But I think I’ve found the actual answer: it’s the coronavirus. Yes, that’s right: the coronavirus is funding The Federalist.

I was led to this conclusion by a pair of articles that went up on the site today arguing, quite seriously, that hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of coronavirus deaths might be a fair price to pay for an early end to the not-quite-national shutdown that has millions of Americans now “sheltering in place” to help control the virus’ spread.

If you think I’m exaggerating or engaging in rhetorical overkill, nope. I’m basically just paraphrasing. In an article posted on The Federalist today, Hillsdale College grad student Jonathan Ashbach writes

It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die. … 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.

In addition to the economic costs of the shutdown, and what he sees as a fundamental loss of freedom, Ashbach worries that all this social distancing is making our lives a lot less fun.

“[C]onsider the massive sacrifice of life Americans are making in their social distancing campaign,” he writes.

True, nearly all are not literally dying, but they are 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. Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions. The abandonment of normalcy, therefore, is in many ways equivalent to shortening the lives of the entire nation.

He’s rather have hugs and death than a temporary loss of hugs. One wonders if his blithe acceptance of the possibility of mass death may have something to do with the fact that as a grad student (presumably in his twenties or early 30s) he is much less likely to be one of the dead than, for example, those over the age of 70.

When it comes to Federalist executive editor and self-described “happy wife” Joy Pullman, one does not have to wonder: she plainly acknowledges that she’s unlikely to die if the current state lockdowns are brought to an early end. But when it comes to the country as a whole, she’d prefer mass death to massive deficits.

“My point here is not that I like people dying,” she wrote.

It’s that very often our society chooses to allow deaths because the alternative is worse. I’m suggesting the severe social and economic tradeoffs of unlimited quarantine are an important consideration that is not being taken seriously enough. …

The costs Americans are being forced to bear may be more than is rational to impose.

She’s well aware that the cost of abandoning the current lockdowns could be utterly devastating; indeed, she begins her article citing a report predicting that without social distancing the deaths in the US alone from cornonavirus could reach 4 million, two million more than the deaths that could result if we stay locked down. Naturally, she prefers the considerably more optimistic takes on the subject that have come from others on the political right, but she knows that serious researchers think the cost in lives could run into the millions.

Nonetheless, she suggested in one of the article’s subheads that “a depression will ruin 330 million lives, not 4 million.” She worries that cash payments from the government to ordinary Americans will “[addict] millions to welfare … transform[ing them] from workers to takers,” while “many” others will “die due to poverty, lack of medical care, and despair.”

Huh. That last bit sounds like a plug for socialized medicine and a stronger welfare state, but of course to Pullman the very idea is anathema.

In the end, she decides that she’d rather risk coronavirus than a massive economic slump. I mean, why should she and others like her suffer economically when they’re not even part of the group of people most likely to die from the disease?

Why would the entire nation grind to a halt when the entire nation is not at a severe risk? I would rather have a flu I am 99.8 percent likely to survive than the nation plunged into chaos indefinitely because we pulled the plug on our economy during a stampede.

In other words: I’ve got my health, fuck the rest of you.

It would be one thing if this thinking was confined to the fringes of the crackpot right. But it’s not just Federalist writers who see the disease this way. Indeed, Donald Trump himself seems to be suggesting in one recent tweet that he’s getting pretty annoyed with the effect all this social distancing is having on the stock market, and that he might be considering a more laissez faire approach.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1241935285916782593

At the daily coronovirus briefing today, Trump went further. ”
“America will again and soon be open for business — very soon,” he said. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.”

The Federalist is providing Trump with handy talking points for whatever terrible policy — or non-policy — he decides to enact when the 15 days are over on March 30. Depending on what he does or does not do,4 million deaths may turn out to be too optimistic a projection.

H/T — Dr. Nerdlove, who drew my attention to these articles

UPDATE: Story updated with quote from the coronavirus briefing.

Send tips to dfutrelle at gmail dot com.

We Hunted the Mammoth relies entirely on readers like you for its survival. If you appreciate our work, please send a few bucks our way! Thanks!

150 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Viscaria
Viscaria
2 years ago

I’m suggesting the severe social and economic tradeoffs of unlimited quarantine are an important consideration that is not being taken seriously enough.

I’m taking you and your calls for people to die so you can maintain your standard of living extremely seriously, Joy Pullman. I’m taking it so seriously that I would like to see some more exact figures. Exactly how many dollars in your pocket is every individual death worth? Like, if every person who dies nets you personally the equivalent buying power of $60 in the current economy, is that a good trade-off? $100? How many avoidable deaths are a fair exchange for you to buy a new couch?

As for Ashbach:

Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions.

If a population of ten people get sick and one person dies, the mortality rate is 10%. That doesn’t mean each person in that population gets to make the considered choice to sacrifice 10% of their life in order to be freer in the moment. It means nine people get to be freer and live, and one person gets to die. Today. Their life isn’t “somewhat shorter”; it’s over.

He knows that, of course. He wants to gamble based on the odds that other people will have to pay the ultimate price for his “normal life” and he will come out unscathed. He’s just using this language to try and obscure that fact.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago

It’s not entirely irrelevant to take into account economic effects in mortality rates.

The usual figure bandied about is every 1% increase in unemployment causes an additional 40,000 deaths (in the US).

Other studies though suggest it’s not as high as that.

https://news.yale.edu/2002/05/23/rising-unemployment-causes-higher-death-rates-new-study-yale-researcher-shows

Psychologically though we would probably not see those deaths as proximate as the lives we can save by reacting to the pandemic. I guess it’s a bit like those trolley car problems.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Viscaria

Exactly how many dollars in your pocket is every individual death worth?

To a Republican, the death value of an individual probably depends on the race, gender, sexuality, and economic status of the person. They’re bigots, some people are worth more than others. Plus, they pretty openly wanted minorities to die even before the coronavirus.

He wants to gamble based on the odds that other people will have to pay the ultimate price for his “normal life” and he will come out unscathed.

Something tells me most of the people doing that don’t really understand disease transmission or probability.

Moggie
Moggie
2 years ago

I don’t know what the world will look like when we’ve got through this, but there will undoubtedly be a lot of anger, and it may be expressed in ugly ways. When people are calling for retribution, I would not want to be remembered as one of those who wanted more death.

Viscaria
Viscaria
2 years ago

@Alan

The usual figure bandied about is every 1% increase in unemployment causes an additional 40,000 deaths (in the US).

[…]

Psychologically though we would probably not see those deaths as proximate as the lives we can save by reacting to the pandemic.

I disagree very strongly with this. Every one of those potential deaths is significant and front-of-mind. There are two main differences between those deaths and deaths from a pandemic let loose. One is the incredible difference in scale. Many, many more people will die from COVID-19.

The other is that deaths from poverty are not inevitable. If we stop allowing a few individuals to hoard massive amounts of wealth and we instead create a safety net for every single person, guaranteeing them access to food and safe homes to live in and medical care, less people will die.

Like several people have mentioned in this thread, capitalism is absolutely killing people. No one is forgetting that. Every day I think about people who live paycheque to paycheque as servers or retail workers who have now been laid off. It’s just that if we get our heads out of our asses we can help those people and their families. Coronavirus doesn’t have a head, and it doesn’t have an ass, and it will kill or permanently injure millions if we let it.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago

@ viscaria

Every one of those potential deaths is significant and front-of-mind.

I’m not sure that’s the case. You’re a particularly compassionate person; so you do feel it. I doubt though if most people have considered it, or are even aware of that statistic.

There’s also that thing about how humans process risk and causation; we’re not very good at it. If someone tests positive for the virus and dies of a respiratory failure then we can readily ascribe a cause. But if someone kills themselves then we might speculate that’s because they were struggling to pay their mortgage, but we can’t be sure and it’s unlikely to make the news anyway.

capitalism is absolutely killing people. No one is forgetting that.

No one here maybe; but this is perhaps a group of people with a similar mindset, at least in certain regards. Again, I’m not sure that’s necessarily the case in mainstream society. The general vibe just seems to be wondering when things will get back to normal.

Of course there’s that thing that normal is what caused this; but I don’t think there will be any seismic shifts in attitude once this is over.

You’re a really nice person, but will you make any changes in your life to reduce future zoonotic pandemics? Of course not, and why should you. And equally nice people won’t see any need to change the economic system either. As a society we’re as wedded to capitalism as we are to the lifestyle that caused this in the first place.

They key thing we are likely to learn from this pandemic and the aftermath is what systems and processes we might wish to employ during future ones. And that knowledge in itself has value.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

Thinking on this overnight, I’ve decided that this isn’t about the stock market. I’m pretty sure the wealthy know an out of control pandemic won’t be good for the economy. You can also be sure they’re lying when they say they’d be willing to sacrifice their own lives for the economy. We all know they’ll social distance when people around them get sick/die.

I think this is all in service of making sure the public don’t get “socialist” benefits like cash aid, guaranteed sick leave, free medical treatment etc. Because when people get these things, they’ll see that it’s a good thing and not tyranny. The bootstraps myth will be destroyed and Americans will start to expect the same thing citizens everywhere else get.

The wealthy are gambling that they’re more likely to retain power in the chaos of a pandemic and economic crash than they are in an environment in which community is prioritzed over the individual and in which government is seen as a force for public good.

That’s what this. A power grab.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago

Ah with perfect timing* this just popped up on my Facebook.

https://www.fool.com/investing/2020/03/23/heres-when-bill-gates-predicts-we-can-reopen-the-e.aspx

I’m not sure about the article itself, but the study it links to is well worth a read I think.

(*or is that just some internet algorithm thing knowing what I posted here?)

Amtep
Amtep
2 years ago

Another thing they’re forgetting in their rosy “only a million people will die” models is the number of people who get sick enough to need urgent treatment. That’s going to far outstrip the death rate. The medical bills and bankruptcies from that alone will do a number on the economy. Wouldn’t universal health care be handy right around now? Ah, but someone fought tooth and nail against that.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Amtep
In addition, people who don’t get coronavirus but get other illnesses or injuries will not be able to get treatment due to shortages of medical equipment and doctors, so we’ll see more people suffering and dying from other treatable diseases or injuries.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago
Couch Thing
2 years ago

Jesus. Sure millions will die, and millions more will be financially ruined by medical bills, but think of all the value we can create for investors is not a take I expected. I guess I will never understand how venal, disgusting and evil the American right wing is.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Couch Thing

I guess I will never understand how venal, disgusting and evil the American right wing is.

It’s like a fractal: the deeper you look into the horribleness of the right wing, the more evil you see, and it’s infinitely deep.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cgp2WNNKmQ
However, fractals are pretty and the right wing is not.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago

Somehow, Trump’s approval ratings are going up during all this. We’re a weird species.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/commentisfree/2020/mar/24/trump-pandemic-floundering-coronavirus-crisis

Moggie
Moggie
2 years ago
Drew
Drew
2 years ago

My pessimistic take is that Americans are too dumb and our government too ineffective to make shelter in place work. We aren’t going to be willing to weld people in their homes or shoot people.

An economic lockdown with a typical American approach to locking down people is going to result in mass casualties and a massive depression.

If you start from the position that a non-coercive quarantine won’t meaningfully bend the curve then our options are either to immediately deploy national guard to seal people in their homes for two weeks or give up.

Aaron
Aaron
2 years ago

@Alan: I don’t think it’s that odd. Americans (like most people) tend to rally behind their leaders in crisis; remember that George W. Bush has the highest recorded approval rating of any President – right after 9/11.

If Trump continues to bungle the coronavirus response, the polls will probably reflect that eventually. Just not now.

Diego Duarte
Diego Duarte
2 years ago

We are on the 9th day of our quarantine and it looks like it’s beginning to die down over here. Yes, looks like we might head for a recession, but this seems frankly like the least costly of your options because look at our curve, updated as of today with 416 infected nationwide (quarantine was declared upon reaching 71 infected):

comment image

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
2 years ago

a depression will ruin 330 million lives, not 4 million

Except that deaths don’t occur neatly in a vacuum, with no outside ripple effect. If 4 million people die from coronavirus, that represents a huge humber of family, friends, and loved ones whose lives will also be ruined. There will be orphaned kids, widowed spouses, elderly people without caregivers, Gen Xers bereft of parents, households without a breadwinner. I’d guess that at least 330 million lives, and probably more, would be ruined in that scenario.

It’s also a lot of people to suddenly remove from the economy. 4 million deaths represents a huge amount of workers, knowledge base, and consumers. It would be nearly four times the amount of US soldiers and civilians lost during WWII (proportional to the total population). How does she propose to replace that?

She worries that cash payments from the government to ordinary Americans will “[addict] millions to welfare … transform[ing them] from workers to takers”

A one-time subsidy check from the government isn’t going to make anyone suddenly quit their job.

Right wingers always sound like they’re trying to justify their own character flaws to themselves.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@Aaron

If Trump continues to bungle the coronavirus response, the polls will probably reflect that eventually.

Probably there will be some drop in the polls, seeing as I can’t imagine him not continuing to fuck up his response. That being said, the drop will only be to a point because 30-40% of the country is fully brainwashed. True Believers in Trump’s personality cult will support him even if they themselves get COVID and are dying. Hopefully the number of people who do wake up and realize what’s going on will be enough to get him out of office.

@Buttercup

Right wingers always sound like they’re trying to justify their own character flaws to themselves.

On some level, I think they are trying to. They’re awful people and they’re trying to reassure themselves that it’s okay because supposedly everyone else is awful too. It’s a subset of the conservative projection complex.

On a semi-related note, who wants to bet that Aimee Terese et al have some take identical to the alt-right about how millions of people should die because that will supposedly help the working class (nevermind that they will be among those dying) and quarantine is bourgeois?

Sheila Crosby
Sheila Crosby
2 years ago

@Diego Duarte I speak SPanish although I’m rather lazy about reading it.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
2 years ago

@ aaron & naglfar

Yeah, I guess social solidarity needs a figurehead; and for good or ill, the current head of state is Trump.

Funny what affects the approval ratings. Being impeached worked for both Trump and Clinton. Maybe it’s that no such thing as bad publicity?

But as they say here “a week is a long time in politics”; so let’s see how this pans out.

Supposedly this was Biden’s big chance. All he had to do was sound vaguely statesmanlike and give a few somber homilies; but he’s gone off radar. Apparently the ceilings of his house are too low allow for filming :-/

Dalillama
Dalillama
2 years ago

@Drew
Yes, if you make inaccurate assumptions you can justify all kinds of things thereby. None of them will be useful or relevant though.

weirwoodtreehugger: chief manatee

This business about saving the economy by ending social distancing also doesn’t take into account the fact that people will just plain stop showing up to work if the pandemic gets bad enough. Once everyone knows people who have died or become seriously ill, people will choose to stay home whether the boss wants them to or not. Corporate America is really used to having all the leverage because the lack of universal health care and social safety nets have workers scared. But immediate death is a bigger fear.

Naglfar
Naglfar
2 years ago

@WWTH

people will just plain stop showing up to work if the pandemic gets bad enough

Many probably will stop, but I’d bet that a lot of hardcore Trump supporters will continue to work because either a) they’ll think it won’t happen to them or b) they’ll just do what Trump says without thinking it through.

%d bloggers like this: