JACKSON — COVID-19 has killed tens of thousands, but the economic hardship caused by a prolonged panic will kill hundreds of thousands.

That premise is based on a 2009 scholarly paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and endorsed by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Its authors are Daniel G. Sullivan, a former Princeton economics professor who is now executive vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Till Von Wachter, a professor of economics at UCLA.

The paper concludes: “We find that job displacement leads to a 15-20% increase in death rates during the following 20 years. If such increases were sustained beyond this period, they would imply a loss in life expectancy of about 1.5 years for a worker displaced at age 40.”

If you accept the paper’s conclusions and run the numbers, a severe economic downturn will kill 30 times more people than COVID-19 has killed so far.

The shutdown has caused 24.6 million Americans to lose their jobs. Each unemployed person loses, on average, 1.5 years of life expectancy. That’s 36.9 million life years. Given the average age of a person in the U.S. is 38, that’s 971,052 lives lost to the economic collapse caused by the government-mandated shutdown.

In contrast, COVID-19, according to unofficial counts, has caused 81,190 deaths. The average age of death is 80 years old. That’s 1,217,850 life years lost to COVID-19. That is 30 times fewer life years lost to COVID-19 than will be lost to economic hardship.

I think we can all agree that losing your job or business causes stress. Medical research is full of studies illustrating how stress causes a host of deadly illnesses.

Take, for instance, our biggest killer, heart disease. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, “Studies suggest that the high levels of cortisol from long-term stress can increase blood cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure. These are common risk factors for heart disease. Stress can also cause changes that promote buildup of plaque deposits in arteries.

“Even minor stress can trigger heart problems like poor blood flow to the heart muscle. This is a condition in which the heart doesn't get enough blood or oxygen. And, long-term stress can affect how the blood clots. This makes the blood stickier and increases the risk of stroke.”

Stress also increases the incidence of our second-biggest killer, cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Evidence from experimental studies suggests that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. For example, some studies have shown that when mice bearing human tumors were kept confined or isolated from other mice — conditions that increase stress — their tumors were more likely to grow and spread (metastasize).”

In addition, “Apparent links between psychological stress and cancer could arise in several ways. For example, people under stress may develop certain behaviors, such as smoking, overeating, or drinking alcohol, which increase a person’s risk for cancer.”

There are numerous reports and studies showing a huge detrimental effect on the mentally ill caused by COVID-19. I could go on and on.

This is a classic example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Our government, trying to do the right thing, mandated a shutdown of our economy in the hopes of slowing down the virus. But nobody took into account the health consequences of 24.6 million Americans losing their jobs and tens of millions more being scared to death.

In an effort to get Americans to practice good hygiene, our media and our officials scared our country to death, literally, and have created a crisis far worse than the virus itself. As they say, the cure is worse than the disease.

The whole point of the shutdown was to prevent hospital overload. Instead, just the opposite happened. Hospitals became empty. Basic hospital operations were halted. People were too afraid to seek medical help. Future studies will show just how many deaths this unintended consequence caused.

Almost all the epidemiologists agree that you cannot stop a contagious virus through changes in human behavior, including shutting down the economy. The point was to temporarily slow the spread to prevent hospital overloading, They called this “flattening the curve.” Here in Mississippi, we thought we were going to need 4,000 ICU beds. Instead, the number was 400, well within our capacity.

It’s the same story throughout the nation. There is no shortage of ventilators. There is no shortage of ICU beds. None of the multimillion-dollar hastily erected emergency facilities were ever used. We overreacted.

So this begs the question: Now that we know what we know now, why are we still pursuing a shutdown strategy? This is even more misguided as a policy when we factor in the lives lost to economic stress — 30 times more lives.

We are obsessing over one thing, and this obsession is killing us in many other ways without us even knowing. It’s time to stop.

There is good news. Sunday’s U.S. death stats were the lowest in six weeks. So were the new cases stats. This virus is petering out, like all viruses do. It’s call Farr’s law.

Perhaps social distancing helped. But in Sweden, where there was limited social distancing, it’s petering out just the same. Viruses mutate and become less deadly.

No doubt, COVID-19 is real. Studies now indicate an infection fatality rate of 1 in 350 versus 1 in 1,000 for the flu. That’s bad, but it’s manageable. And certainly not worth destroying the economy over.

Freedom and individual liberty are the cornerstone of our country. We have sacrificed millions of young soldiers’ lives to defend that freedom. No virus should undo that.

Social distancing, shutdowns and the like should be a personal choice, not a government mandate. Neither President Trump nor Governor Reeves nor Mayor Lumumba should be dictating what we do with our lives, churches, clubs or businesses. Those who are afraid are free to cloister in their homes. Those who are not should be free to roam. That’s freedom. That’s liberty.

It’s one thing for a virus to destroy our bodies. It’s far worse for a virus to destroy our ideals.

We had nothing to fear but fear itself. But our city, our state, our nation and the world succumbed to fear. We will pay a high price for that. In God we must trust, always.

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