What Are You Afraid Of?
For most of my teaching career, I was an economics professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. My students were generally motivated, reasonably hard-working military officers from the Navy, other US services, and other countries. I loved teaching them. But one day in the mid-1990s I told them a true anecdote whose shock value required them to know, for comparison, the population of the United States. I usually read students’ faces well and I saw little shock. I immediately wondered if they knew the US population. So I told them to write their estimate of the US population on a piece of paper and hand it in. At the time the US population was about 270 million. Finally there was a shocked face: mine. Although the median answer was within 10 percent of the right answer, only about 40 percent of the students gave a number close to the median. The estimates ranged from—are you ready?—1.5 million on the low end to 2 billion at the high end. I pointed out that 1.5 million was close to the number of Americans in the armed services. So that would mean that almost everyone in the United States, including little babies and eighty-year-olds, was in the military. At the other end, I noted, 2 billion was about one-third of the world’s population.
This is the opening paragraph of my latest article for Hoover’s Defining Ideas, “What Are You Afraid Of?” Defining Ideas, December 2, 2021.
And on to Covid:
And now we come to the issue that has dominated American society since March 2020: COVID-19. From almost the start, the United Nations, echoed by various media outlets, told us that “we are all in this together.” That’s one of those rare statements that are literally true but figuratively false. Yes, we’re all in this together, but the probability of death from COVID-19 varies dramatically by age. The younger you are, the less at risk you are, and if you’re really old, your risk is three orders of magnitude greater than the risk for the very young. This matters because the very young are bearing substantial costs of government measures on COVID-19 in return for tiny benefits to themselves. COVID-19 lockdowns, shutdowns of schools, and masking requirements not only indoors but also, sometimes, outdoors, are taking a huge toll on the very young that could well scar them for the rest of their lives.
Consider the latest risk data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As of November 24, 621 people in America age seventeen or younger had been killed by COVID-19. That’s only about 1 percent of all deaths (62,999) of people in that age bracket. People sixty-five years old and older, by contrast, suffered 580,605 deaths. That was a substantial 12.6 percent of all deaths (4,609,094) of the elderly. In 2019 there were approximately 54.1 million American residents age sixty-five and up. For people sixty-five or older, therefore, the risk of dying from COVID, over the almost two years we have dealt with it, was 1.1 percent. In 2019, there were 73 million American residents age seventeen or younger. So their risk of dying from COVID over the same almost two years was only 0.00085 percent. The elderly people’s risk of dying from COVID, therefore, is 1,294 times the risk of that of children.
Read the whole thing.