I figured out years ago that journalism is the opposite of math.
Holman W. Jenkins Jr. shows another opposite of journalism:
I joked the other day that the media doesn’t do multivariate, but it wasn’t a joke. Sometimes it imposes a hard cap on what we can achieve with public policy when the press can’t fulfill its necessary communication function.
This column isn’t about Sweden, but the press now claims Sweden’s Covid policy is “failing” because it has more deaths than its neighbors. Let me explain again: When you do more social distancing, you get less transmission. When you do less, you get more transmission. Almost all countries are pursuing a more-or-less goal, not a reduce-to-zero goal. Sweden expects a higher curve but in line with its hospital capacity. Sweden’s neighbors are not avoiding the same deaths with their stronger mandates, they are delaying them, to the detriment of other values.
The only clear failure for Sweden would come if a deus ex machina of some sort were to arrive to cure Covid-19 in the near future. Then all countries (not just Sweden) might wish in retrospect to have suppressed the virus more until their citizens could benefit from the miracle cure.
Please, if you are a journalist reporting on these matters and can’t understand “flatten the curve” as a multivariate proposition, leave the profession. You are what economists call a “negative marginal product” employee. Your nonparticipation would add value. Your participation subtracts it.
Let’s apply this to the U.S. Americans took steps to counter the 1957 and 1968 novel flu pandemics but nothing like indiscriminate lockdowns. Adjusted for today’s U.S. population (never mind our older average age), 1957’s killed the equivalent of 230,000 Americans today and 1968’s 165,000. So far, Covid has killed 57,000.
Before patting ourselves on the back, however, notice that we haven’t stopped the equivalent deaths, only delayed them while we destroy our economy and the livelihoods of millions of people.
That’s because public officials haven’t explained how to lift their unsustainable lockdowns while most of the public remains uninfected and there’s no vaccine.
Hopefully we will demonstrate our mettle in the next chapter but I have yet to see it.