In the wake of rising numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, as many as half the states, notably those run by Democrats, are headed back toward economic lockdowns. These include New York, Illinois, Virginia, Michigan, Maryland, Minnesota, California, and Washington. Some 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. No singing, no laughing, and no more than ten people at the table. Who thinks up these 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 public 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?
But enforcing all these regulations could be difficult. A new Gallup poll finds that less than half of Americans say they are “very likely” to comply with shutdown orders. America could turn into a police state to enforce Democrats’ plans to cancel economic activities and demand people stay at home.
What makes all of this talk about massive economic shutdowns so disturbing is that there is no evidence — none — that lockdowns slow the spread of the virus. When even the World Health Organization — hardly a pro-business organization — concedes that lockdown orders don’t stop the spread of the virus, one might think that the case is closed.
The Committee to Unleash Prosperity has been tracking the virus developments in lockdown states and non-lockdown states since March. We grouped the states into five categories, from the strictest lockdowns to states with no lockdowns at all. The evidence shows unequivocally that lockdowns are not associated with lower death rates. They are not associated with lower hospitalizations. In fact, the association runs in the other direction: States with the most stringent lockdowns, such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have had the highest death rates.
The only effect of lockdowns is to bankrupt tens of thousands of small businesses and destroy millions of jobs. Every week of shutdown leads to roughly $250 billion a week in lost output. So, over six weeks, we would lose $1.5 trillion — more than the entire annual GDP of Michigan and Ohio combined. And it would crush the spirit of the American people, leading to more depression, isolation, drug overdoses, spousal and child abuse cases, and deaths of despair.
There is a much more cost-effective strategy employed by many states: protect seniors, people who are severely overweight, and medically vulnerable populations. These groups account for well over 90 percent of the deaths and severe COVID medical problems.
It is one thing to have supported shutting down the economy nine months ago when we didn’t know if this would work. But to continue to promote ideology over facts and evidence flies in the face of the very “evidence-based” public policy 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.