All over the landscape, whether it be real or virtual, the debate about re-opening the economy grows louder every day. The player-archetypes are both apparent and expected. At the extremes are the hypochondriacs and the hoaxers, and their excesses tend to drown out all the other voices. But, the other voices remain, and they’re probably the large majority of us, as I recently blogged.

Those other voices are not, however, homogeneous in their “Group 3” thinking. Therein we find people who agree the severity of the matter but disagree on the severity of the response. Some think the massive shut-downs in their environs have served their purpose and should be eased, others think they are prudent and should continue.

If we take a look at the circumstances of these people, we’ll likely find a correlation between beliefs regarding reopening and personal economic circumstances. It’s easy to forget, given how good our lives are, that stress and crisis tend to make people revert to their hard-wired “me first” responses. Thus, we find those who are… without sounding flippant… merely inconvenienced by the lockdowns more likely to want them to continue than those who face economic catastrophe because of them. If you’re a restaurant wage worker, with a couple decades of skill in that world but none outside of it, you’re far more likely to be suffering enormous personal stress, sleepless nights, and “how the **** am I going to eat next week” dread than if you’re an office professional forced to work from home. If you’re a small business owner, with shuttered doors or vastly curtailed traffic, facing the loss of everything you’ve spent decades building up, you’re freaking out a lot more than if you’re a corporate citizen facing a 10% or 20% pay cut.

It’s in our nature to minimize the plight of those facing catastrophe if they are not us, just as it’s in our nature to minimize the concerns of those who are affected but not destroyed by the lockdowns. It’s also in our nature to give less thought to the long-term effects of the lockdowns, because they are not well defined and often thought of as “happening to others.”

It’s probable – likely, even – that the average of social media voices tilts in the direction of the “inconvenienced,” since that segment of the populace often has more time and more resources to devote to what’s in essence a leisure activity. I think we get a good share of the “hoax!” voices from the ranks of the “inconvenienced,” as well. This would leave the “catastrophe” people underrepresented and with fewer speaking on their behalf.

Yet it is the “catastrophe” crowd that we must consider most in the re-open debate. The government cannot make up for the harm they’re suffering, the math simply does not work, and that’s before all the other problems that come from such efforts are factored. As the lockdown weeks march on, we’ll find more and more of them saying “I’ll take the risk, because I have no choice.” And, as the lockdown weeks march on, we’ll find more and more of them wanting more than a measured easing, demanding instead a total lifting of restrictions as the only way back from oblivion for them.

This all speaks for easing restrictions sooner rather than later, while we’re able to do so smartly and before the pitchfork mobs simply tell governments to piss off. Already, we know that COVID plays favorites, that we can identify those at greatest risk in the populace, so we can and should focus on measures to protect them most. We have evidence that simple, voluntary, low-inconvenience measures such as masks, hand-washing, and the awareness that has been dubbed “social distancing” are a large component of the mitigation success. And, we know that outbreak “hot spots” should not be the boilerplate for government response everywhere. Even amongst lifting of restrictions, voluntary mitigation behaviors will persist, simply because humans are wired for self-preservation. This obviates the worst-case “do nothing” death toll predictions, because even without mandates, we’d not have “done nothing,” not by a long stretch. The private sector responds. It always does.

I don’t have the answers on reopening, but I do know that reopen we must. There are dense population centers that will certainly have to reopen more slowly, so as is always the case in politics, decisions should be made as locally as possible, but it’s beyond any rational doubt that we cannot simply keep the economy on lockdown until this either goes away via herd immunity or a vaccine is developed and widely administered. Those who want or demand that long a lockdown are very likely those who know that they can survive that long a lockdown, and are either “not me I don’t care” about those who face catastrophe, or figure the government will find a way to fix those catastrophes.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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