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Yet Another Non Sequitur in the Coronavirus Debates

Summary:
Steve Landsburg links to a Jeff Tucker article explaining that Woodstock occurred during a flu pandemic. Jeff writes: The flu spread from Hong Kong to the United States, arriving December 1968 and peaking a year later. It ultimately killed 100,000 people in the U.S., mostly over the age of 65, and one million worldwide. Lifespan in the US in those days was 70 whereas it is 78 today. Population was 200 million as compared with 328 million today. It was also a healthier population with low obesity. If it would be possible to extrapolate the death data based on population and demographics, we might be looking at a quarter million deaths today from this virus. So in terms of lethality, it was as deadly and scary as COVID-19 if not more so, though we shall have

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Steve Landsburg links to a Jeff Tucker article explaining that Woodstock occurred during a flu pandemic. Jeff writes:

The flu spread from Hong Kong to the United States, arriving December 1968 and peaking a year later. It ultimately killed 100,000 people in the U.S., mostly over the age of 65, and one million worldwide.

Lifespan in the US in those days was 70 whereas it is 78 today. Population was 200 million as compared with 328 million today. It was also a healthier population with low obesity. If it would be possible to extrapolate the death data based on population and demographics, we might be looking at a quarter million deaths today from this virus. So in terms of lethality, it was as deadly and scary as COVID-19 if not more so, though we shall have to wait to see. 

Now Steve uses the opportunity to explain the different responses as being rational (as is his wont).

But I just want to make a much simpler point: The rhetorical force of Jeff’s article is (my paraphrase): “Hey, we had arguably an even worse contagious outbreak back in 1968-69, and we didn’t shut the economy down back then. So why are we doing it now, for something that’s not killing as many people?!”

Do you see why that’s a weird argument, that (a) sounds awesome to people who already agree with Jeff on this but (b) sounds patently absurd to people who already disagree with him?

Jeff is showing that when the US didn’t lock down, more (adjusted) people died than is happening now, with the lockdowns. And that is somehow supposed to show the lockdowns are a bad idea.

If you don’t see why that’s a strange argument, try this one: “Surgeons didn’t wash their hands in the 1700s, and way more people died during operations back then compared to today. So why are we falling for CNN’s hype about ‘unsafe hospitals’ nowadays?”

Or if that’s too contrived, how about this?

“Antiwar activists are whining about casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq. But during the years 1968-69, about 29,000 Americans died in foreign war. We didn’t suddenly end the wars and bring the troops back home then, even though the death toll was much worse than nowadays.”

Before I end, let me say, as usual: I AM VERY MUCH AGAINST THE POLITICAL LOCKDOWNS. BUSINESSES AND INDIVIDUALS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO DO WHAT THEY WANT, SETTING POLICIES AND MAKING THEIR OWN ASSESSMENTS OF RISK.

Robert Murphy
Christian, Austrian economist, and libertarian theorist. Research Prof at Texas Tech and author of *Choice*. Paul Krugman's worst nightmare.

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