The conservatives who would sacrifice the elderly to save the economy

The monstrous argument lurking beneath coronavirus skepticism

An elderly person.
(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

The public health response to COVID-19 is accelerating. France and Spain have adopted aggressive new restrictions on recreation, retail, and travel, as have five U.S. states and a number of localities, including New York City. As a consequence, the world economy is visibly and sharply contracting, with no bottom yet in sight.

Is the effort worth it? That might seem like a crazy question given the number of lives on the line — and since the depth and duration of the slump are difficult to assess until we know a lot more about the virus and how successful our efforts have been to combat it. If asymptomatic carriers prove to be non-contagious, the virus retreats naturally when the weather warms, and an effective vaccine comes on line before next winter, the death toll might not be worse than a bad flu season, and the economy would be expected to rebound very sharply by the third quarter. But all of those assumptions could still prove false. It may be impossible to meaningfully slow the spread of the virus without bringing the world economy to a standstill, and preventing renewed outbreaks may require restrictions on travel and other activities that last far beyond the next few weeks. In that case, surely no one will be debating whether we did too much, but whether we could have done more, sooner, to prevent the worst.

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Noah Millman

Noah Millman is a screenwriter and filmmaker, a political columnist and a critic. From 2012 through 2017 he was a senior editor and featured blogger at The American Conservative. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Politico, USA Today, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Modern Age, First Things, and the Jewish Review of Books, among other publications. Noah lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.