In the wake of rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, as many states, notably those run by Democrats, are going back toward economic lockdowns. They include New York, Illinois, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, California, and Washington. Those like California and Washington have considered full shutdowns.
This means lockdowns of schools, churches, businesses, restaurants, and office buildings. California Governor Gavin Newsom even issued orders on how to celebrate Thanksgiving with no singing, no laughing, and no more than ten people at the table. Who thinks of these unrealistic edicts? Much more worrisome is the discussion from the transition team of Joe Biden over a national lockdown that could last several weeks.
Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota said he wanted such a suspension of economic activities before the backlash and broad alarm about the effects that his recommendation would have, particularly on a nascent administration. He and other Biden advisers said the reason the last national lockdown in the spring did not work was because it was not “stringent” enough. What more do they want from us?
But enforcing all these regulations could be difficult. A recent survey by Gallup finds that less than half of Americans say they are “very likely” to comply with shutdown orders. The country could turn into a police state to enforce the mandates to cancel economic activities and demands that citizens stay home. What makes all of this talk about massive shutdowns so disturbing is that there is very little evidence that lockdowns slow the spread of the coronavirus. Even the World Health Organization concedes that such orders cannot curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The Committee to Unleash Prosperity has been tracking developments across the country since early spring. The states were divided into five categories, from the strictest lockdowns to states with no lockdowns at all. The evidence shows us that lockdowns are not associated with lower death rates or lower hospitalizations. In fact, the evidence is in the other direction as states with the most stringent lockdowns, like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, have had the highest death rates.
The effect of lockdowns is bankruptcy for thousands of small businesses and millions of destroyed jobs. Every week with shutdowns could lead to about $250 billion in lost output. So that means we would lose $2 trillion over two months. It would also crush the spirit of Americans, leading to more isolation, suicides, drug overdoses, and domestic abuse.
There is a far better strategy employed by many states to protect seniors, people who are severely overweight, and vulnerable medical populations. These groups account for well above 90 percent of the deaths and severe coronavirus medical problems. It is certainly one thing to have backed the shutdowns nine months ago when we had no idea if they would work. But to continue to promote ideology over data flies in the face of public policy based on evidence that the left accuses the right of ignoring.
Stephen Moore is a founder of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and current member of the economic recovery task force of the White House.