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Lockdown backers' risk aversion is producing a more unequal society - Michael Barone


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Washington Examiner

In between Donald Trump’s exit from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the vice-presidential debate, let’s turn to an apolitical analyst to understand what’s happening. Vaclav Smil, 76, native of communist Czechoslovakia, University of Manitoba professor for four decades, has written 39 books on energy, technology, and demography. “Nobody,” says Bill Gates, who has read every one, “sees the big picture with as wide an aperture as Vaclav Smil.”

 

What he sees now, he writes in a characteristically terse IEEE Spectrum essay, he finds puzzling. The COVID-19 death rate per million is about one-fifth that of the 1957-58 Asian flu and one-third of the 1968-70 Hong Kong flu. Yet these earlier pandemics had only “evanescent economic consequences” and did not “leave any deep traumatic traces in memories” of the 350 million people who, like Smil (and me), were 10 or older during both. “Countries did not resort to any mass-scale economic lockdowns, enforce any long-lasting school closures, ban sports events or cut flight schedules deeply.”

Why not? “Was it because we had no fear-reinforcing 24/7 cable news, no Twitter and no incessant and instant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens?” asks the non-cellphone-owner Smil. “Or is it we ourselves who have changed, by valuing recurrent but infrequent risks differently?”

Some of both is my tentative answer. As I’ve written about previously, Americans’ child-rearing practices are increasingly risk-averse. But this is not entirely consistent. Kids are kept in car seats till age 9, then encouraged to ride bicycles in heavy traffic a few years later. And some Americans are more risk-averse than others. Polls show that political liberals are more likely than political conservatives to wear masks and support extended lockdowns (except for “mostly peaceful” demonstrations against police).:snip:

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