How Many Years of Life Does the Average Covid-19 Victim Lose?

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal reported on a study suggesting that the average person who dies of Covid-19 loses tens years of life. I looked up the study, and left the following comment on the study’s site (which, to the author’s credit, they have up to get instant peer review), after noticing that the author’s seem to assume that the victims were previously as healthy as their demographic average:

Two people who are coded with the same disease could be in vastly different circumstances. We know the virus has taken a huge toll on nursing homes.  An 82 year old with heart disease who lives in a nursing home is not similarly-situated, life expectancy-wise, to an 82 year old who is otherwise doing well and is self-sufficient. The former would assumedly be much more likely to succumb to Covid-19 than the latter. Similarly, “otherwise-healthy” people who succumb to Covid-19 can be expected to, on average, be more likely to have an undiagnosed health issue than those who don’t. Is that taken into account? If neither of these are taken into account, the effect on life expectancy must be reduced.

Now, I see you’ve responded [to another commenter[ that this should NOT have a major effect on life expectancy. I don’t see how you can be so confident. A *huge* percentage of deaths, wildly disproportionate, have been in nursing (“care”) homes… You simply can’t compare an otherwise healthy 82 year old with heart disease to someone whose heart disease so enfeebles him or her that they need to be in a nursing home.

A day later, another commenter wrote:

I’m perplexed by this study. How can it be assumed that the Covid victims would have lived the average life expectancy unless there’s no or minimal standard deviation around that average? Wouldn’t it be more compelling to compare to the minimum life expectancy of each cohort? Otherwise, you are implicitly assuming that the people who are dying are more or less representative of the average, which seems like a major assumption that, if untrue, would render your conclusions pretty useless. I

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Is Civil Disobedience Justified in Defense of the Freedom to Worship?

In defiance of orders from their respective governors, a significant number of houses of worship will open for services beginning tomorrow. As John Dale Davidson of The Federalist notes, most of them will be doing so while maintaining social distancing measures that are at least as thorough as those at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, hair salons, or the Department of Motor Vehicles. They will nonetheless be engaged in civil disobedience.

Where do you stand on this issue? Is civil disobedience ever justified? Does it constitute official discrimination against the practice of religion when government declares that liquor stores and abortion clinics are “essential services” that can stay open while it deems your spiritual health non-essential and orders your church, synagogue, or mosque shut? Does it bother you that if a house of worship performed abortions or served alcohol, it would stand a better chance of earning the state’s blessing?

I concede there may be room for differing views on these matters among people of good will. But if you are in the camp that categorically opposes even non-violent civil disobedience—for any purpose, against any stupidity or oppression—I have a few more questions for you:

This is a country born in civil defiance of a monarchy 3,000 miles away. If you could go back in time and walk the streets of Boston in the early 1770s, could you have urged the citizens, “Pay that Stamp Tax, let those troops quarter in your home, stop criticizing the King!”?

Harriet Tubman and tens of thousands of others defied the law to escape slavery. Could you have looked any one of them in the eyes and exhorted, “Go back, you’re breaking the law!”? If an escaped slave showed up on your front porch, would you have turned him in or helped him out? If you say you would have helped him out, then you too would be a lawbreaker.

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama, she was engaged in civil disobedience. If you were the bus driver, could you have told her, “Get in the back or get off!”?

Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans without due process. No court ever heard evidence and convicted any of them of anything. They were incarcerated because they had names like Toshio instead of Bob. Could you have addressed them through a loudspeaker with words like, “You haven’t harmed anybody but just in case you might, we have to put you away for a few years”? If one of them escaped, would you have reported him?

History is full of stories of people who practiced peaceful resistance in defense of sound principles in the face of official stupidity and oppression. Sometimes it has been the best way, if not the only one, to get bad policies changed.

One hundred and seventy years ago, a famous American figure wrote,

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.

That figure was Henry David Thoreau. Born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1817, he was an eminent philosopher, poet and essayist. His best-known works are his book Walden: Life in the Woods and his essay, Civil Disobedience. The latter proved influential far beyond his time and place, shaping the thoughts and actions of eminent dissidents the world over. As we ponder the civil disobedience rising in reaction to coronavirus policies, now is a perfect time to give Thoreau’s essay another look. Toward that end, I offer some excerpts below.

One last thing before I do that: I want readers to know that, speaking strictly for myself, I endorse the re-opening of houses of worship (and many other things, for that matter), whether the government officially allows it or not. If that perspective makes life a little uncomfortable for the power-hungry at this time, so be it. The additional articles listed below reflect my reasoning.

Now, to Henry David Thoreau:

  • “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison…, the only house in a slave state in which a free man can abide with honor.”
  • “If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go; perchance it will wear smooth—certainly the machine will wear out. If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”
  • “I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject.”
  • “If a thousand [citizens] were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.”
  • “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”
  • “I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.”

Thanks for listening. See you in church.

For additional information, see:

South Africa’s Lockdown Is Especially Severe

The COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa started on March 27, 2020. With the announcement of the lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa also implemented a national state of disaster. Before the lockdown, the country’s economic growth hovered between one and two percent. More than ten million people were unemployed. Given the incredibly harsh lockdown that was imposed, and the myriad irrational regulations that have come with it, it would not come as any surprise if, post-lockdown, the majority of those in South Africa who could work, will be left unemployed. It turns out that here on the southernmost tip of Africa, the cure will very likely be much worse than the disease.

There are different levels for South Africa’s lockdown. At time of writing, South Africa sat at level four, with level five being the ‘harshest.’ The thinking that permeates all levels is that of white-listing: everything, every product, business, and social activity, is to be presumed banned, unless a government minister or department announces that it is once again ‘allowed.’ Ostensibly the aim of the lockdown was to prevent the quick spread (or peak) of the virus; however many scientists, including the country’s epidemiologist-in-chief, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, have indicated that the lockdown may well have already served that purpose.

Police and military brutality have flared up. The alleged assault of Collins Khosa at the hands of members of the SA National Defense Force (SANDF) stands out. Collins later passed away and at time of writing, the High Court had ordered the suspension of said SANDF members without pay. An investigation is currently underway. South Africa’s history is marred by abuse of citizens by police as well as the armed forces. To see it manifest again is deeply concerning for anyone worried about the future relationship between the state and the people.

After an abrupt about-turn, e-commerce was allowed to resume. While most in-person business activity was prohibited, and this move enjoyed some support, it made no sense for e-commerce to be banned as well, especially if the companies involved can take the necessary preventative measures. Surely it stands to reason that one would

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Our Living Standards Are Not a "Given." They Are a Gift We Owe to Commerce and Production.

It’s an odd fact of the human condition that we take extraordinary things for granted. As soon as a good thing becomes commonplace, we assume that its presence is just the ordinary state of affairs, and we forget to be grateful for it. On the other hand, the loss of a good thing often causes us to appreciate it anew. This may never be more true than when your air conditioner goes out right before summer hits in Texas.

Recently, my central AC unit stopped blowing cold air. Being springtime in Houston, this was a big deal that was going to get bigger very rapidly as summer began to swelter. I did some preliminary tests, and determined that the compressor was dead. I could have replaced the compressor and extended the life of the rest of the unit, but since the whole system was pushing 20 years old I decided it would be a better investment to chuck it all out and start from scratch.

As I write this, a crew of HVAC technicians is gutting my system and one of their colleagues is en route with a brand new unit. They are doing great work, and I’m deeply grateful that the market provides these services and that I don’t have to be an expert in air conditioning to fix my problem. Given all the variables, I value their expertise more than my money, and am happy to pay these competent men to do the work for me.

This is what the division of labor in the economy is all about. Some people specialize in one thing so that others don’t have to. They offer their expertise to the market—which is properly understood not as an ethereal abstraction but simply as the aggregate of other human beings who consume goods and services—and ask a fair price in compensation.

Other people specialize in other things, and so on and so forth. No one forces anyone to do anything, but the net result is that society is enriched with a plethora of specialized knowledge. This knowledge is maintained and constantly improved by the competent men and

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