Updated: Jun 23, 2020
Recently during the COVID lockdowns, I saw several comments around the topic of phased reopening to the effect of, "how many lives are you willing to sacrifice to make a dollar?" This sentiment struck me as a terribly bad-faith, myopic, "gotcha" attempt which is prevalent in today's #CalloutCulture or #OutrageCulture. Even worse, it blatantly presented a "death vs. greed" false dichotomy.
“How many lives are you willing to sacrifice to make a dollar?”
Dallas County almost shut down all construction, which many of us agreed would have been a terrible idea. The thought of taking thousands of 18 - 40-year old males and making them unemployed immediately raised concerns about a crime wave combined with a depression-level economy. In fact, creating a mass of unemployed military-aged males sounds like Page One of the Insurgency Playbook*.
These thoughts caused me to start looking into the unintended second- and third-order effects of lockdown, and what other effects might we be ignoring by simply focusing on the virus, while ignoring other impacts.
I have listed those on the right side of my balance in the image above. No, they are not necessarily to scale. This image isn’t meant to be a peer-reviewed scientific article as much as it’s meant to illustrate a theme: We have allowed governmental overreach, fear and a singular focus on COVID to create an imbalance with many unintended circumstances - many of which we haven’t even seen show up yet.
It’s a Balancing Act
Our job as legislators is to balance many different societal aspects, and in this case, we have given way too much focus to the medical professionals and largely ignored other factors. We need to strike a balance.
Are you saying to ignore the virus or that it isn’t bad?
I’m definitely not saying that, and the virus is indeed bad in many cases and spreads rapidly. However, if we say COVID-19 is five times worse than the flu, I’m saying our reaction to it was about 1,000 times. In other words, highly disproportionate. We need to slide back to center a bit.
The Media Doesn’t Help
Our media - demonstrating the old saying “if it bleeds, it leads” - quite literally benefits from creating fear by promoting headlines disproportionate to actual facts. We have a perverse incentive here which encourages fear in a society known for boldness.
The result is we are crippling our economy and forcing small businesses to close. We are putting families out of work and making them wonder how they will feed themselves and pay bills. Children already approved to be removed from abusive homes no longer get to escape to school, and to make matters worse, the abusive parents no longer have jobs to go to. We are suffering and fighting to get our economy up and running. The curve has been long-since flattened and we need to allow Americans to be in charge of their own individual health. We did all of this with a singular focus on COVID.
It’s easy to lead when things are going well. However, when things get really hard is when true leaders emerge. Bold leaders who are not afraid to make decisions and are not paralyzed by fear. Bold leaders who run into the fire.
So what do we do about it? Here are a few ideas, and this is not an exhaustive list:
After Action Review - Conduct a thorough review of steps taken at all levels of government. We need to include what other countries did well (Sweden and Hong Kong come immediately to mind) and learn from them. We should also learn from countries who suffered, and ignore anything coming out of China that is not independently verified (E.g.: Unedited WHO inspections, others).
Planning - We need to create sets of plans and guidelines, from federal to down to municipal, for when the next crisis like this happens so we are not unprepared. These plans should be tailored. What works for Loving County, TX (population 102) will not work in New York City.
Data - We must ensure we identify and collect key metrics going forward to understand when to enact certain protocols in the future. I think of these as the leading indicators which tell us when we need to make certain decisions.
Singular Viral View - we need a new viral view to look at as a nation to ignore all of the media noise. For this time, it was the “Flattening the Curve” infographic. However, data visualization experts can create something with leading and trending indicators we can all refer to. This way, when we see the headline “RECORD NUMBER OF CASES,” we can balance this media noise with actual context.
Bold Leadership - It’s easy to lead when things are going well. However, when things get really hard is when true leaders emerge. Bold leaders who are not afraid to make decisions and are not paralyzed by fear. Bold leaders who run into the fire. Unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of that, especially in the House of Representatives today, where leadership there is afraid to come to work. That’s not leadership at all, but that’s a conversation for another day.
*Insurgent Playbook is obviously not a real thing