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Ryan McMaken

Why Didn't the 1958 and 1918 Pandemics Destroy the Economy? Hint: It's the Lockdowns

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Media pundits and politicians are now in the habit of claiming it was the pandemic itself that has caused unemployment to skyrocket and economic growth to plummet. The claim is that sick and dying workers, fearful consumers, and disrupted supply chains would cause economic chaos. Some have even claimed that economic shutdowns actually help the economy, because it is claimed allowing the spread of the disease will itself destroy employment and economic growth.1

Leaving aside the fact there's no evidence lockdowns actually work, we can nonetheless look to past pandemics—where coercive government interventions were at most sporadic—we should see immense economic damage. Specifically, we can look to the the pandemic of 1957-58, which was more deadly than the COVID-19 pandemic has been so far. We can also look to the 1918-19 pandemic. Yet, we will see that neither produced economic damage on a scale we now see as a result of the government mandated lockdowns. This thoroughly undermines the claims that the lockdowns are only a minor factor in economic destruction, and that the virus itself is the real culprit.

Economic Reactions in 1957–58, and in 1918–19

The CDC estimates that as of May 18 this year approximately ninety thousand Americans have died of COVID-19. Adjusted for population size, that comes out to a mortality rate of 272 per million.
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The Experts Have No Idea How Many COVID-19 Cases There Are

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In the early days of the COVID-19 panic—about three weeks ago—it was common to hear both of these phrases often repeated:

- "The fatality rate of this virus is very high!"

- "There are far more cases of this out there than we know about!"

The strategy of insisting that both these statements are true at the same time has been used by politicians to implement "lockdowns" that have forced business to close and millions to lose their jobs. For instance, on March 12, Ohio Department of Health director Amy Acton insisted that "over 100,000" people are "carrying this virus in Ohio today." The state began to implement "stay-at-home" lockdown orders that day.

At the time, the World Health Organization (WHO), the media, and others were reporting that 2 to 4 percent of people with COVID-19 would die. Taking the low-end 2 percent number, and allowing for an incubation period, this would mean that two weeks after Acton's announcement—assuming that the lockdown was 100 percent effective and not a single additional person caught the disease—two thousand Ohioans would likely be dead of COVID-19.  But as of April 17, more than a month later, and after a month of the disease spreading through grocery stores and other "essential" areas of commerce, about 418 Ohioans have died of COVID-19.

Clearly, something doesn't add up.
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As of Late March, Weekly Mortality Data Has Yet to Show a Surge

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Information on total deaths through March 28 shows no indication of a general surge in deaths in the United States. It's quite possible we'll see April's total mortality begin to show levels well above normal, but the weekly data we have so far show no indication of this.

We now have data up through week 13 (the week ending March 28) for this year, as can be found here. As of April 15, the week 13 data is not yet quite complete, although the CDC lists that data as 93 percent complete.

The missing data may yet slightly push up these totals, but given that data from hard-hit New York, New Jersey, and Michigan is already accessible for week 13, big increases from the current total are unlikely. After all, week 13's total would need to increase by 27 percent just to match 2019's week 13, as can be seen here (week 1 is the column on the left for each year. Week 13 is the column on the right)...
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In March, US Deaths from COVID-19 Totaled Less Than 2 Percent of All Deaths

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About 2.9 million people die in the United States each year from all causes. Monthly this total ranges from around 220,000 in the summertime to more than 280,000 in winter

In recent decades, flu season has often peaked sometime from January to March, and this is a major driver in total deaths. The average daily number of deaths from December through March is over eight thousand.

So far, total death data is too preliminary to know if there has been any significant increase in total deaths as a result of COVID-19, and this is an important metric, because it gives us some insight into whether or not COVID-19 is driving total death numbers well above what would otherwise be expected. 

Indeed, according to some sources, it is not clear that total deaths have increased significantly as a result of COVID-19. In a March 30 article for The Spectator, former UK National Health Service pathologist John Lee noted that the current number of deaths from COVID-19 does not indicate that the UK is experiencing "excess deaths."
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A White House Press Pass Has Nothing to do with the First Amendment

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A federal judge this week ruled the White House must temporarily re-instate the press pass of CNN reporter Jim Acosta's, who had been barred after an argument with Donald Trump in the press room. The judge ruled the White House had violated due process by banning Acosta.

CNN, however, had requested a ruling saying that Acosta more or less had a constitutional right to a press pass, and that the First Amendment guaranteed CNN and its reporters access to the White House press conference room.

Judge Timothy Kelly disagreed. According to the Washington Post:
In explaining his decision, Kelly said he agreed with the government’s argument that there was no First Amendment right to come onto the White House grounds. But, he said, once the White House opened up the grounds to reporters, the First Amendment applied.
On the due process issue, Kelly is mostly right on this one. But Kelly gets it wrong when he says that the First Amendment potentially applies wherever the White House has opened up access to reporters overall.
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US Sanctions Against Venezuela Will Hurt Americans

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After fifty years of imposing embargoes and other sanctions, the United States never managed to topple Cuba's communist regime. After forty years of the same in Iran, the US met with similar amounts of success. Ongoing sanctions against North Korea have not toppled to regime there. 

But, some people in Washington won't let decades of failure dissuade them.

Last week, Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) introduced new legislation to bar Americans from importing oil products from Venezuela. The Washington Examiner reports
[T]he Protecting Against Tyranny and Responsible Imports Act, or the PATRIA Act ... would target Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro after he stripped the country's democratically elected national assembly of its power and authority. According to the bill, the proposed ban on imports would last until the assembly's power is fully restored.

'The goal is to change the conduct, the character of the Venezuelan government under Maduro. I think the window is closing,' Coffman told the Washington Examiner. 'They are dependent upon the export of oil really to fund their government, and without that, they can't pay their security forces.'
Experience suggests there is little reason to believe that sanctions will cause the regime to give up in Venezuela. If the regime has less oil money with which to pay the military, the regime can always steal more from the average citizen to make up the difference. In other words, ordinary Venezuelans will suffer more in response to US sanctions.
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