Coronavirus panic: Is it really 'my grandmother' versus 'the economy'?

William Buckley once remarked, "Liberals are willing to consider all sides of an issue, then are surprised to hear there are other sides."  His point is borne out in the today's conflict over the containing the spread of the current coronavirus versus restarting our economy.

At some point, we will have to return to life before the virus.  Deciding what that point is requires discussion.  We can't reasonably discuss the alternatives until we can persuade a sizable fraction of the left that there are alternatives.  Only then can the alternatives be considered. 

To get through to these folks, I suggest we shift our use of two words: first "tradeoff" and then "economy." 

Most of us understand that all decisions involve tradeoffs.  We understand that sometimes tradeoffs involve choosing the lesser of two evils.  Even with this understanding, we tend to be paralyzed by absolutists who say things like "material gain is not worth one life" or "my grandmother is more important than your economy."

Instead of "tradeoff," I respond to those people with a thought experiment widely accepted among most leftist academicians.  It has even trickled down to sitcoms.  It's commonly referred to as the Trolley Problem.  It presents a moral dilemma: a moving trolley will kill five people who are restrained on its track.  You can throw a switch to divert the Trolley to a side track but then it will kill one person.  Do you intervene by throwing the switch?  Here is an adequate discussion of the permutations of this problem.  For our purposes, the point is straightforward: no matter what you decide, death happens. 

"No, no, no," cries the liberal — "that's a false equivalency.  It's death versus the economy, and we should always choose life over things."  My response: It's not the economy, stupid!  It's our entire society.  It is the way we all relate and interact with each other.  If we wait too long, the ties that bind people to their jobs will dissolve.  People losing the sense of meaning in their life will rival or exceed the level of the Great Depression.  We will see the stored value of an entire life's labor disappear, whether that value is stored in a 401(k) or in real estate.  Our levels of overt suicide and the prolonged suicide via substance abuse will dwarf our current levels.  Despite the massive evidence to the contrary, I believe that our Millennial generation will rise to the occasion.  They will nonetheless suffer burdens orders of magnitude greater than the combined consequences of the housing meltdown and student debt.

Many of us who were raised by the survivors of the Great Depression openly express our willingness to take our chances with the virus to prevent the next generation reliving that deprivation.  Two prominent people made the point in moving fashion.  Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, who is on the cusp of 70, made it clear on Tucker Carlson's show.  He said the risk is worthwhile to protect the future for his children, his grandchildren, and our county.  He was followed by the distinguished veteran newsman Brit Hume, who eloquently made the same point.  Neither was offering seppuku.  Neither am I when I add my name to theirs.  Like them, if stricken, I would strive to recover.  I'm willing to run the risk.

In the Trolley Problem, would you stop the trolley and save everyone by throwing yet another person in the front of the trolley?  That's a solution most everyone rejects.  Since the problem was created by academicians, it's not surprising that a self-sacrificing solution is never offered: would you sacrifice yourself by jumping in front of the trolley?  Probably not.

But let's think outside the box of the thought experiment.  Would I, along with most people, throw the switch, and then risk my life to free the single victim?  In a heartbeat.

William Buckley once remarked, "Liberals are willing to consider all sides of an issue, then are surprised to hear there are other sides."  His point is borne out in the today's conflict over the containing the spread of the current coronavirus versus restarting our economy.

At some point, we will have to return to life before the virus.  Deciding what that point is requires discussion.  We can't reasonably discuss the alternatives until we can persuade a sizable fraction of the left that there are alternatives.  Only then can the alternatives be considered. 

To get through to these folks, I suggest we shift our use of two words: first "tradeoff" and then "economy." 

Most of us understand that all decisions involve tradeoffs.  We understand that sometimes tradeoffs involve choosing the lesser of two evils.  Even with this understanding, we tend to be paralyzed by absolutists who say things like "material gain is not worth one life" or "my grandmother is more important than your economy."

Instead of "tradeoff," I respond to those people with a thought experiment widely accepted among most leftist academicians.  It has even trickled down to sitcoms.  It's commonly referred to as the Trolley Problem.  It presents a moral dilemma: a moving trolley will kill five people who are restrained on its track.  You can throw a switch to divert the Trolley to a side track but then it will kill one person.  Do you intervene by throwing the switch?  Here is an adequate discussion of the permutations of this problem.  For our purposes, the point is straightforward: no matter what you decide, death happens. 

"No, no, no," cries the liberal — "that's a false equivalency.  It's death versus the economy, and we should always choose life over things."  My response: It's not the economy, stupid!  It's our entire society.  It is the way we all relate and interact with each other.  If we wait too long, the ties that bind people to their jobs will dissolve.  People losing the sense of meaning in their life will rival or exceed the level of the Great Depression.  We will see the stored value of an entire life's labor disappear, whether that value is stored in a 401(k) or in real estate.  Our levels of overt suicide and the prolonged suicide via substance abuse will dwarf our current levels.  Despite the massive evidence to the contrary, I believe that our Millennial generation will rise to the occasion.  They will nonetheless suffer burdens orders of magnitude greater than the combined consequences of the housing meltdown and student debt.

Many of us who were raised by the survivors of the Great Depression openly express our willingness to take our chances with the virus to prevent the next generation reliving that deprivation.  Two prominent people made the point in moving fashion.  Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, who is on the cusp of 70, made it clear on Tucker Carlson's show.  He said the risk is worthwhile to protect the future for his children, his grandchildren, and our county.  He was followed by the distinguished veteran newsman Brit Hume, who eloquently made the same point.  Neither was offering seppuku.  Neither am I when I add my name to theirs.  Like them, if stricken, I would strive to recover.  I'm willing to run the risk.

In the Trolley Problem, would you stop the trolley and save everyone by throwing yet another person in the front of the trolley?  That's a solution most everyone rejects.  Since the problem was created by academicians, it's not surprising that a self-sacrificing solution is never offered: would you sacrifice yourself by jumping in front of the trolley?  Probably not.

But let's think outside the box of the thought experiment.  Would I, along with most people, throw the switch, and then risk my life to free the single victim?  In a heartbeat.