COVID-19 INFORMATION What you need to know about the coronavirus if you are living in Japan or planning a visit.
President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus during a news conference at the White House on Wednesday. Photo: AP
world

Trump's push to open U.S. economy could come at cost of lives

30 Comments
By AAMER MADHANI, LAURIE KELLMAN and KEVIN FREKING

The contrast could hardly be more stark. Gov Andrew Cuomo of New York has said that if all of his sweeping, expensive measures to stem the coronavirus saved one life, it would be worth it. President Donald Trump has another view: The costs of shutting down the economy outweigh the benefits, frequently telling Americans that 35,000 people a year die from the common flu.

Though it may seem crass, the federal government actually has long made a calculation when imposing regulations, called “the value of a statistical life,” that places a price tag on a human life. It has been used to consider whether to require seat belts, airbags or environmental regulations, but has never been applied in a broad public health context.

The question is now an urgent one given that Trump in recent days has latched on to the notion that the cure for the pandemic should not be worse than the disease and argued that “more people are going to die if we allow this to continue” if the economy remains closed. He has targeted a return a semblance of normalcy for the economy by Easter Sunday, April 12.

Critics say he’s presenting the nation with a false choice at a moment when deaths and infections from the virus are surging.

“We’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable,” said Cuomo, whose state has seen far more infections and death from COVID-19 than any other state. “And we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”

For decades, the federal government has made calculations on how policies intended to safeguard American health could impact the economy. Since the Reagan administration, federal agencies have been required to perform analysis of any proposed regulations that are expected to have $100 million or more impact on the economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, conducts cost-benefit analysis to estimate in dollar terms how much people are willing to pay for reductions in their risk of death from adverse health conditions caused by pollution. The Transportation Department estimates the additional cost that consumers would be willing to bear for improvements in safety at $9.6 million.

Now, the push-pull of when to re-open the economy during the coronavirus crisis centers on a similarly bleak question: What’s an economically acceptable death toll? Putting dollar figures on the value of life and health is inherently uncomfortable, one expert said.

“People hate that question,” said Betsey Stevenson, an economics and public policy professor at the University of Michigan who served on the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama administration. "By laying out the math in such a crude way, people cringe when they see it.”

Days into his own call for Americans to dedicate themselves for 15 days to social distancing, including staying home from work and closing bars and restaurants to help try to stall the spread of the disease, Trump has changed his tune.

Trump has grumbled that “our country wasn’t built to be shut down” and vowed not to allow "the cure be worse than the problem.”

“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”

He also pushed back against suggestions that he is being cavalier about the prospect of more deaths being caused by a premature of reopening of the economy. “How many deaths are acceptable to me?” Trump told reporters Wednesday evening. “None.”

But Democrats say that Trump was prioritizing the economy over the health and safety of Americans.

"I’d like to say, let’s get back to work next Friday,” said former Vice President Joe Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. ”That’d be wonderful. But it can’t be arbitrary.”

Trump certainly has his defenders. Fox News commentator Britt Hume has called it an “entirely reasonable viewpoint” that older Americans would be willing to sacrifice for the good of the economy, and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said he’s "all in" on lifting social distancing guidelines in order to help the economy.

Mike Leavitt, a Health and Human Services secretary in the George W. Bush administration, said the battle against the virus is shaping into a “supremely local fight” and communities may need to periodically adjust as the crisis unfolds.

“Each jurisdiction may not come to the same conclusion — because each jurisdiction may have different situations about shopping and businesses reopening,” Leavitt said in an email.

In the recent past, the government has also put a dollar figure on American life in the aftermath of man-made calamities, including the 9/11 attacks and the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 and devastated the regional economy, to compensate victims.

Kenneth Feinberg, who administered the victims’ funds stemming from those events, said the formula used in the nation’s courts was a simple one: What would the victim have earned over the course of their life at work but for the tragedy that took their life? On top of that, there was some added compensation for pain and suffering and emotional distress, he said.

“It is a rather straightforward calculation,” Feinberg said.

But when it comes to the current pandemic, Feinberg said calculating the impact is not so simple.

“When somebody says, ‘You know the risk of the virus is not as great as the risks to everybody through a deteriorating economy,’ that’s a choice that everybody will have to make,” Feinberg said.

In the case of the coronavirus crisis, some economists and policy experts say the pandemic continues to present too many unknowns to employ the sort of coldly calculated, cost-benefit analysis that’s been used to evaluate the impact of policies such as federal highway and air quality rules.

“It doesn’t help to save the economy if a tremendous number of people have died or fallen ill and their lives are changed forever,” said Lisa Heinzerling, who grappled with regulatory impact on the economy as the head of EPA’s policy office at the beginning of the Obama administration.

Northwestern University economists Martin Eichenbaum and Sergio Rebelo and German economist Mathias Trabandt said in a working paper published this week that optimal containment efforts would lead to deeper economic damage and that recession in the U.S. was inevitable. But the economists also projected that maintaining social-distancing measures before the U.S. hits its peak in infections “saves roughly half a million lives."

Stepping back from efforts to preserve human life in the midst of an event of this scale could also have enormous impact on the trust of institutions for generations to come, said David Ropeik, a former instructor of risk communication at the Harvard School of Public Health,

“The benefit of an all-out fight against a virus includes reassuring the public that the government is on their side. Backing off that fight reasonably questions whether the government we have created to protect us from things like this crisis will do so,” said Ropeik, the author of the book “How Risky Is It, Really?"

“The loss of that to protect the economy is undermining that faith. How can you price that?” he asked.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

© Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.


30 Comments

Comments have been disabled You can no longer respond to this thread.

Just so long as it doesnt hit close to home Trump wont give a damn, that should be obvious to everyone!

6 ( +13 / -7 )

"..... it will be detrimental to my election success ...."

That's all Donnie the Great is worried about.

He, himself and his loyal family.

He doesn't care about the average American.

And calling it an election success already .... well, let me tell you something: way too early!

8 ( +14 / -6 )

Aside from the obvious moral issues, taking a “let old people die” approach seems politically risky given that the elderly make up a huge proportion of the Republican base.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

It is a very brutal thing to ever put a value on a human life, but it is something that we do all the time as a society.

The president lacks that empathy to see this as a something that most find very uncomfortable, so puts what he sees as the truth in very blunt terms - this is part of three problem with being s sociopath.

He also overvalues the economy at the expense of life. If half a million Americans die, that is vastly more than die of common influenza. All of this social distancing will also have a positive knock-on in reducing deaths from influenza and other diseases.

But Trump thinks about his re-election and money well before the people.

3 ( +9 / -6 )

Aside from the obvious moral issues, taking a “let old people die” approach seems politically risky given that the elderly make up a huge proportion of the Republican base.

That may become particularly telling in Florida where there are a lot of elderly and it is a key marginal. If they feel they have been abandoned, they will punish him him at the ballot box.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

It is 50:50 that by the end of today (US time) the will be more cases of coronavirus on the US than in China. By tomorrow, a certainty.

Cases growing exponentially and this will soon translate into deaths.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

For some reason people think only about the now, and never the future.

A large economic recession will take more lives and make life miserable for many years to come. So take your poison, but what I'm mostly sure is that, when everyone starts to struggle to pay their most basic bills, they will start to consider that, maybe, just maybe, it was a little of an overreaction.

I mean, of course no one wants to see people die, but for some reason we never go into full lockdown mode, or no one seems to really care about the millions of people who die from preventable contagious diseases every single year.

I don't think most people even are aware of the real risks of this pandemic, which means that they cannot even take a good risk assessment, and just panic because they believe their life is in danger.

-4 ( +4 / -8 )

Ok, so then, Trump should Completely let the economy sink and bring on the rise of the demise of the US no matter what. Sounds very smart politically from a liberal point of view OR you can follow the CDC, W.H.O guidelines and practice extreme safety precautions and go to work in the industries that desperately require it. Because if the country comes to a complete stand still, it’s pretty much over for the US and the rest of the world. If America goes down, the world will follow.

-7 ( +8 / -15 )

“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,”

What an awful, awful human this Trump fellow is. How on earth people feel attracted to this vicious, selfish, crooked child will always baffle me.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

It did not take long for the "mainstream" media to turn this into a Trump bashing narrative, did it.

All that Trump did was to set a preliminary time frame. Of course that is not set in stone. But at the same time, of course the entire economy of the country can not be shut down indefinitely, unless we all want to starve and freeze to death. Gradually, healthy people, especially those that have been tested and show antibodies (i,e, resistance to the virus) must return to work.

But yes, we know.... Trump must be bashed every day.

-6 ( +6 / -12 )

Trump, his fellow elite, his fellow politicians all have the best health care possible. Most have little if any understanding of what it's like to sweat health problems. The elite's 'greed is good' beliefs are psychotic. Most have zero if any understanding of others (i.e. those not from their class or demographic). They see others as existing to serve them. And with Trump, they exist to praise him at one of his rallies and clean up after him at one of his resorts. Cult of personality after all. When has one ever bettered the lives of the general population.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

It is certainly true that a collapsing national and world economy will do a lot of harm, and not just financial harm. Unemployment, bankruptcy, poverty, depression, suicide... not a great outlook.

However, from the article:

Though it may seem crass, the federal government actually has long made a calculation when imposing regulations, called “the value of a statistical life,” that places a price tag on a human life.

Trump's a businessman, and not one of your modern new age businessmen who have a commitment to society as well as to making a profit. Not surprising this calculation would appeal to Trump, an old-style businessman who identifies his own success as President very much with a buoyant economy and market.

Stepping back from efforts to preserve human life in the midst of an event of this scale could also have enormous impact on the trust of institutions for generations to come... The benefit of an all-out fight against a virus includes reassuring the public that the government is on their side. Backing off that fight reasonably questions whether the government we have created to protect us from things like this crisis will do so,”

Trump's also a politician, looking for a new four-year term. He can't afford to be seen as someone willing to risk the lives of his electorate in order to put business back on the right track.

Tough choice. I guess Trump supporters will have the confidence in their man to do the right thing. The rest of us might not be so certain.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

It did not take long for the "mainstream" media to turn this into a Trump bashing narrative, did it.

Free, for-profit press, after all. Lots of opinions. Trump's media are praising him. See. most of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire, which includes Fox 'news' cable plus about 200 local/regional TV stations, Sinclair Broadcasting's 250+ local regional TV stations, the 500 radio stations Rush Limbaugh's on plus Hannity, Glen Beck etal, magazines like The National Review and others, the 100's of internet sites pushing Trump's agendas.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

@bass4fTrump should Completely let the economy sink 

No one said that.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Ok, so then, Trump should Completely let the economy sink and bring on the rise of the demise of the US no matter what.

Its not very productive to pose it as a choice between economic collapse or letting huge numbers of old and vulnerable people die. We need an approach that avoids both.

My concern is that the viewpoint that we should re-open everything soon because of the economic stress runs the risk of having both of these outcomes come to pass. Stop our efforts prematurely and the infection spreads way further and way more people will die, which will itself tank the economy anyway since nobody is going to shop or work when they are terrified of a runaway virus, even if stuff is allowed to open.

The best approach seems to be to bite the bullet and keep a strict lockdown for a couple of months to get the spread of this under control, then start lifting restrictions and returning to normal. That'll both minimize the death toll and the economic chaos.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

“The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!”

Even by Trump standards that's just revolting. How can anyone support this monstrous excuse for a human being?

6 ( +11 / -5 )

A large economic recession will take more lives and make life miserable for many years to come. So take your poison, but what I'm mostly sure is that, when everyone starts to struggle to pay their most basic bills, they will start to consider that, maybe, just maybe, it was a little of an overreaction.

If we use half a million as the number of lives that the pandemic will take, how does that compare to the numbers that will die if everyone takes a month off if work?

In Europe, people typically have a couple of weeks or more annual vacation time than in the US. So this should surely translate into lots of deaths.

Does it? No - developed European countries have a higher life expectancy than the USA.

So taking a month off work is simply an additional couple of weeks more than the average European gets off each year. That's hardly going to cripple the economy.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

How can anyone support this monstrous excuse for a human being?

The forelock tuggers and benighted have always been with us. And today many of them have found their messiah who's convinced them he'll slay their enemies, i.e. those not from their demographic.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Ptownsend:

Trump, his fellow elite, his fellow politicians all have the best health care possible.

...as do have his political rivals, the talking heads in in the "mainstream" media, and the celebrities and royalty that are bashing him. Trump is rich, that is why he can take them on. Your point?

Free, for-profit press, after all. Lots of opinions. Trump's media are praising him.

The only "mainstream" organization that is not bashing Trump every day is Fox (or Faux as your friends like to spell it). All the other dissident voices you mention are not mainstream, and are increasingly suppressed by big tech. The big names in the alphat soup media, the goverment media (like BBC, Agency France, ARD etc), agencies like Reuters and Bloomberg, and big Tech are solidly pro-globalist and anti-Trump. You are really denying reality here.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

rainyday:

My concern is that the viewpoint that we should re-open everything soon

I do not think anybody said that. Re-opening should happen gradually and reasonable. I.e. once you have a large part of the population that is confirmed to be safe, of course they should not be kept locked in.

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Ah so:

It is 50:50 that by the end of today (US time) the will be more cases of coronavirus on the US than in China. By tomorrow, a certainty.

Your prediction is based on data provided by the CCP?

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

I do not think anybody said that. Re-opening should happen gradually and reasonable. I.e. once you have a large part of the population that is confirmed to be safe, of course they should not be kept locked in.

Yup, basically I can agree with that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.

And the vast majority of Trump supporters are over 50 - hear that Trump fans? Donnie is coming after you...

Trump: "Some of my supporters will die, but the rest will still vote for me in Nov"...

The power of the cult...just like Guyana and Jim Jones...

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

@willibYou are really denying reality here

7+ billion on the planet. 7+ billion ways to see 'reality'. Yours one of them. Mine also. The 'dissident voice' media reach huge numbers of people. As do the ones said to be 'mainstream'. As do those that could be somewhere between the two. It's up to individuals to decide which to believe. Those constantly bashing outlets that have different perspectives from theirs add nothing to discussions. Not surprising they're ones pushing for greater authoritarianism.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

PTownsend:

7+ billion on the planet. 7+ billion ways to see 'reality'. Yours one of them. Mine also. The 'dissident voice' media reach huge numbers of people. As do the ones said to be 'mainstream'. As do those that could be somewhere between the two

You are trying relativize. It is really not that hard to define "mainstream". Look at media that supported by governments, by Big Tech, by Hollywood, look at the big news agencies. And you will the see the massive anti-Trump agenda.

Yes, there is Breitbart, there is Gateway Pundit, there is Gates of Vienna etc etc. But none of those are pushed at you in airports, hotels, talking TV heads. You really have to go out of their way to find them. I agree that the much smeared Faux news channel would count as "mainstream" seeing their size. But afaic, that is the only one that is not on the Trump bashing wagon. Or can you name another one?

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

@WilliB

As Trump and his supporters tell us, next to nobody is watching the MSM.

Many people are watching podcasts and parroting mediocrities like Dave ‘libertarian’ Rubin, Candace ‘like’ Owens, Scott ‘creator of Dilbert’’ Adams and the like.

Don’t think that circus is any better.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Look at media that supported by governments, by Big Tech, by Hollywood, look at the big news agencies. 

Pro-Authoritarian posters who cannot defend their preferred politicians often attack vague notions like 'the media', something they call the 'deep state'. Though that's their right, they add nothing to discussions. the topic of this thread is...?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If we use half a million as the number of lives that the pandemic will take, how does that compare to the numbers that will die if everyone takes a month off if work?

Let's put everything in perspective.

People haven't been putting too much attention, because right now they only care about the new coronavirus, but the current flu season (mostly A(H1N1)pdm09, B/Victoria, A(H3N2)) has been actually pretty bad, which actually is one of the reasons there are way less beds available in hospitals right now.

There are en estimated 0.45-1.2 million deaths already, so there is your over half a million already, but from a different disease.

And here is the thing, people doesn't seem to care that much if millions die from any other disease, but when it comes to the coronavirus, for some reason only then we need to start to take those deaths seriously.

I would say, at least be consistent and ask for constant lock-downs every year, whenever the "normal" flu is killing thousands.

Now, about your "taking a month off of work", it depends a lot on the industry, and for the most part, specially in industries that require people doing stuff all year long, those vacations are spread around the year, which means that the number of people working at any given times is about the same.

This isn't a paid vacation, we are basically stopping the whole world for who knows how long, and with who knows what consequences. Just think about mental health problems that will arise from this. It is like, right now, people with depression, or people with anxiety disorders do not matter.

There will be, and probably already it's already ongoing, a spike in suicides because of all these measures.

And that doesn't even consider the fact that many of the civil right restrictions put in place today, as history shows us, will remain in place, and will be used for a completely different reason, and something that was once seen as a violation on basic human rights, will be seen as the new normal.

Just look at 9/11. After almost 20 years, the patriot act is still in place, and what was once thought as a violation of human rights, is now the law of the land.

So yeah. Once again, pick your poison.

What I fear is that, because most people are just in pure panic mode, as it usually happens in these instances, the poison people will pick isn't a rational one that actually causes the less suffering, but the one who "feels" right at that moment in time, to calm down their own panic.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Jimizo:

As Trump and his supporters tell us, next to nobody is watching the MSM.

Our regular contributors here certainly do, and they are pushed on us. What do do you see in air ports, hotels, intl supermarkets etc.? Breitbart? Rebel media? Not in the world I live in.

Many people are watching podcasts and parroting mediocrities like Dave ‘libertarian’ Rubin, Candace ‘like’ Owens, Scott ‘creator of Dilbert’’ Adams and the like.

Don’t think that circus is any better.

I absolutely think that circus is better! In particular, I watch Scott Adams regularly, and the guy has been spot on for a long time. You might want peek outside the bubble sometime.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

Trump's fan base likes to opine that with Trump "what you see is what you get", but those of us who have the ability to read body language and tone of voice do not like what we see in this huckster. He is a terrible actor who is unable to disguise his thoughts making him the most transparent public person I have ever seen, especially when he starts nervously squeezing his air concertina to accompany the nonsense he spouts. Looking directly into the camera (cue to his church-going supporters) the "religulous" Dr Trump told the incredulous interviewer how "beautiful" and "special" Easter is (his favorite book in the Bible?) and talked packed churches to herald re-opening America for business as usual!? This ridiculous empty rhetoric is patently calculated expressly to help his re-election, but, as with the guy who died swallowing fish tank cleaner, Trump's irresponsible words could have deadly consequences: on Easter Sunday, somewhere in America, the virus will certainly be attending church.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites