Well, here’s some back-of-the-envelope math. Say the U.S. economy is $20 trillion. Let’s also estimate that we’re looking at a 5 percent hit, which equals $1 trillion. Now suppose that we save 1 million lives, instead of the, say, 2 million we might lose if we did nothing or less than what we’re doing now. That would be $1 million per life saved. If the hit to the economy is greater than 5 percent, the cost per life saved—overwhelmingly the lives of old and sick people—the higher the cost would be.
Now, I don’t think we should let this kind of thinking be our guide, and apparently neither do all the progressive health care wonks, because none of them have dared to say anything like this. And neither have all the supposed fetishists of the free market. Even the Wall Street Journal is merely saying that the current approach is not sustainable indefinitely—and they may be right.
And, yeah, I understand there are other reasons to respond the way we have. An overwhelmed medical system is bad for everyone. But if we just ordered all the old folks into quarantine, fewer Americans would be inconvenienced and we’d see less economic damage. We’re not doing that.
The simple fact is that this country is doing something morally heroic. I hate metaphorical war rhetoric, but we’re taking the “millions for defense, not one penny for tribute” approach to this.