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Moving Forward in the Debate on COVID-19

Victor Davis Hanson has a piece today in National Review that does a great job of laying out how we are on course

to have so many questions about COVID-19 answered. It is insightful, and worth a read in its entirety, but one particular passage captured a series of thoughts I've been juggling in my own head for the last few weeks.

As the forward-looking models of deaths and infections are adjusted downward time and time again, and calls to re-open the economy intensify, these debates will be framed by antibody testing and a more accurate picture of how deadly and widespread the virus is. But as Hanson points out, "[g]reater information about the virus might cause as much acrimony as conciliation. Some experts will be discredited, others reaffirmed." He explains:

If past predictions are proven too gloomy, their authors will still claim that their doomsday prognoses at least prompted needed social distancing. Critics will counter that their paranoia caused untold social and economic damage.

If other experts are discovered to have unduly played down the deadliness of the virus, they will be derided as callous and partly responsible for the outbreak’s mayhem.

This is an important point. There is a circular argument available to nearly every debate swirling around the pandemic, and arguing in circles leads nowhere.

There is no shortage of opinions on the decision to shut down the economy. Spend any time on social media and that will become clear. At a certain point, however, everyone is going to need to start looking forward again, and we will be armed with data we did not have before. Maybe that data will show that we need to continue sheltering in place a while longer. Or maybe it will show that we know enough to take a more targeted approach. We're going to have to come out of our corners, let go of the arguments we've been having, and decide together what the best path forward is. We need to be mindful of COVID-19 and protect the public health, but we also need to recognize that shutting down life as we know it is not a sustainable solution. As Thomas Sowell notes in A Conflict of Visions, "there are no solutions, only tradeoffs." Indeed. Such is public policy.

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