The Federalist Asks: Is America ‘Better Off’ Letting People Die From Coronavirus?

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The Federalist published an article Monday that ​considers an argument to​ consciously allow​ ​hundreds of thousands of people to die in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic if it mean​s Americans would regain a sense of normalcy.

“Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions,” Hillsdale PhD student Jonathan Ashbach wrote in his article titled “Is Social Distancing Saving Lives Or Ruining Them?”

In the Mar. 23 article, Ashbach questions whether social distancing measures that ​U.S. officials have implemented in an effort to flatten the curve and lessen the ​number of deaths from ​the coronavirus ​are more trouble than they​ are worth​. Pointing to shuttered businesses and ​cancelled public events across the country​, Ashbach adopts an extreme position that they are not​. He writes in The Federalist:

The extreme reactionary measures to the pandemic focus only on the benefits of those actions, entirely ignoring the costs. And the costs will likely be massive.

Of course, it sounds very callous to talk about considering the costs. It seems harsh to ask whether the nation might be better off letting a few hundred thousand people die. Probably for that reason, few have been willing to do so publicly thus far. Yet honestly facing reality is not callous, and refusing even to consider whether the present response constitutes an even greater evil than the one it intends to mitigate would be cowardly.

First, consider the massive sacrifice of life Americans are making in their social distancing campaign. True, nearly all are not literally dying, but they are giving up a good deal of what makes life worth living — work, classes, travel, hugs, time with friends, conferences, quiet nights out, and so forth. Probably almost everyone would be willing to live a somewhat shorter normal life rather than a somewhat longer life under current conditions. The abandonment of normalcy, therefore, is in many ways equivalent to shortening the lives of the entire nation.

Of course, there is more to it than losing some quality of life. The current response is quickly driving the United States into a recession, which will result in a great deal of misery for tens of millions of people. Again, balancing lives against money sounds harsh, but everyone does so — and must do so — whether he is conscious of the fact or not. Not to mention, a recession also means higher poverty rates, which lead to higher mortality rates.

More is at stake than lives and money: namely freedom. Even for those of us who are by no means libertarian, the increasingly draconian measures put in place across the nation, especially in California, to isolate people and prevent them from moving at will are raising serious questions about whether Americans are in a dress rehearsal for tyranny.

But at the end of his essay, Ashback ​makes a strange rhetorical pivot​, abandon​ing his prior argument​ and claim​ing that he actually has no opinion on the matter. He writes:

I am not advocating either option, nor any of the others in between. But these are the choices Americans must consider, and these are the costs we will be accepting if we adhere to a strict social distancing policy. The American people must ultimately decide what they really want. Perhaps the overwhelming majority would happily endure indefinite isolation and sacrifices of freedom to prevent a fairly bad pandemic from getting somewhat worse. But I doubt it.

Since the site’s launch in 2013, it remains unclear who, exactly, funds The Federalist, ​but the site regularly features extreme right-wing political columns.