…comes from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who issued an order yesterday shutting down all “non-essential” businesses in the state. Of course, pretty much all businesses are essential to those who own them and work for them. But that isn’t what Cuomo meant:
“I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do,” Cuomo said. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”
This is profoundly stupid. When you are dealing with the lives of millions of people, everything you do–or don’t do–has consequences. When you drive thousands of businesses into bankruptcy, people die. When you unemploy millions of people, some of them die. When tens of millions live in more straitened circumstances, some of them die. There is robust social science research on this point. Shutting down New York’s “nonessential” businesses will kill. How many, we will never know. So Cuomo won’t have to take responsibility for his ill-advised action. And, of course, millions of lives will be blighted even when no one dies.
The London Times quotes a mental health professional:
The impact of social isolation on mental health could be worse than the toll of coronavirus itself, a charity has warned.
Tony Giuliano, policy manager for the Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said businesses going under and loneliness could result in increases in depression, addictions and suicide.
Mr Giuliano, who has been in self-isolation himself after returning from visiting family in Italy, said: “The mental health implications are huge and unfortunately they are being a bit side-stepped.”
He expressed concern that job insecurity had been clearly linked with suicide. An international study, which looked at people who took their own lives in 63 countries over 11 years, found about a fifth were linked to unemployment.
And suicide is just one of many ways in which economic decline causes loss of human life.
A reader asks some good questions:
Is Saturday Night Live an essential business? Is the New York Times? MSNBC? New York magazine?
Not to mention the broadcast television networks. If the coronavirus caused the shutdown, even temporarily, of the New York Times and MSNBC, it would not be entirely in vain. But I don’t suppose that is going to happen. “Essential” means different things to different people.