All Life-Years Matter
Short Version / Summary of Content (800 words).
(Full version, 6100 words, follows.)
Moral Premise: All human time (“life-years”) has value.
Background: To the extent the “Pro-Panic vs. Anti-Panic” debate on the 2020-21 Wuhan-Coronavirus consists of rational argument (a big qualification), the Pro-Panic side’s Achilles Heel is how easy it is to demonstrate the following Thesis: FAR more life-years are lost to the effects of the Panic and Response than to the Virus, and it’s not even close.
Problem: The concepts of “life-years” (against “lives”), and “lost life-years,” “life-years lost to the effects of the Corona-Panic and Lockdowns,” and “life-year-equivalents lost” to the same, are either not understood, or not believed, or not appreciated, by many on the Pro-Panic side. The argument, when made directly, is often less-than-compelling to Pro-Panic and Neutrals. Why?
Understanding the Pro-Panic Side: I propose two types of core member of the Pro-Panic side: The “ceteris paribus carefree Anti-Covid Crusader” and the “Terror-Virus Fanatic.” The two have different psychological approaches to the Corona Question and self-justifications for why they support the Panic. Understanding the different types of Pro-Panic partisan help us understand the difficulty in persuading people of the above (on lost-life-years). Some on the Pro-Panic side are theoretically persuadable if the idea that pursuing a Pro-Panic policy line can be “cost-free” were to be broken.
With the understanding that any argument at all is pearls-before-swine before many of the more extreme Pro-Panic partisans, but also understanding that some can be persuaded, the “lost life-years” concept could be demonstrated with data, quantified rather than relying too much on intangibles and abstractions. Doing so may help anchor the argument and allow moderates on the Pro-Panic side to think again before more damage is done.
Proposal: The dataset “Unemployment” can be used. How many jobs were lost due to the Panic, Shutdowns, Lockdowns, CoronaPanic-Recession? How many aggregate life-years does this represent? For work-life and income and social standing and social/career advancement terms, these are “lost” years. “Aggregate life-years lost to unemployment” is quantifiable and also comparable to the same calculation for “Covid” deaths. We can also roughly quantify Covid-deaths in life-years-lost terms in the same way, given that we know the age-condition profile for Corona-Deaths, to create and apples-to-apples comparison.
Discussion: The Wuhan-Corona “flu”-wave is surprisingly mild when measured in aggregate-lost-life-years, though this argument itself is often unpersuasive to emotionally committed Pro-Panickers.
On the other hand, life-years lost (and to-be-lost) to the Corona-Panic and Response often come in ways neither immediately intuitive nor ‘sexy.’ There are several categories of losses, including public health, economic, social, and fertility (the latter alone potentially swamping losses to Wuhan-Corona in lost-life-years terms and even in absolute terms).
Slightly or moderately worse health outcomes at population-scale over a period of years will, it looks certain, easily swamp ‘Covid.’ They will also be invisible. Other effects are real and important to social, political, and (dare we say) civilizational health, but can hard to calculate and so simply get dismissed. Things like frayed relationships, weakened broad social ties, delayed relationship-formation, loss of opportunities for normal life-enhancing experiences, disrupted or distorted socialization and education of children, proliferating psychological problems, worsened working-life experience for young adults, and much more.
There are some natural objections to using unemployment life-years to compare with Corona-Deaths’ social impact, we can firmly and uncontroversially calculate unemployment, which anchors the analysis and signposts the way towards some of the other losses.
Data: Employment ‘Hard’ Losses: CoronaPanic-induced unemployment, which is ongoing at severe-recession levels, swamps the effects of the Virus in terms of aggregate lost-life-years. We now have one year of data, so a Lockdown-Recession and major unemployment is not prospective or hypothetical, as it was one year ago at the cusp of the Panic. It is now observed-data. We can also calculate the ongoing aggregate-lost-worklife-years and compare them to Covid-Deaths’ aggregate lost-life-years.
Data: Employment ‘Soft‘ Losses: The ‘hard’ number of jobs lost is, in some ways, of limited value. There are also work-life ‘soft’ losses relating to lowered quality of work, and what one is able to both give and get from it, due to the shutdowns, disruptions, work-from-home regime, and general Panic atmosphere. Lowered interaction with dedicated workspaces, (theoretically) lower productivity by many, much lower (and less meaningful) contact with colleagues and other potential contacts and new professional contacts, all are theoretically quantifiable in terms of “lost-life-year-equivalents.”
Results: On “hard losses”: At least 13 million life-years have been lost, as of this writing, to Corona-Unemployment, which is several times higher than the total number of life-years lost to the Virus (2.5 to 5 million). In the latter case many of the lost life-years are to those in seriously bad health condition, e.g. dementia or late-stage cancer, so a fairer comparison would require the calculated Virus Loss to take a deflating multiplier of some kind.
Results: On “soft losses”: Adding in the effects of worsened work experiences, etc. (as proposed above), Panic Losses probably double.
This puts direct Employment-related losses from the Corona-Panic, in life-years-lost terms, at around 10x the losses from the Virus, and that is (1) before any kind of quality-of-life multiplier is applied, and (2) before longer-term second-order effects of unemployment are considered. As the recession continues and unnecessary joblessness from the effects of the Corona-Panic continues, even as the virus fades away, the ratio will also continue to increase. When all is said and done, the ratio could be 50x more employment-related lost-life-years and lost-life-year-equivalents, again before second-order effects such as slightly worse health outcomes at population scale from income losses.
Implication: The employment “life-year losses” is real and important but also demonstrative of how the Panic affects everything. Lost life-years already logged and those impending. The ratio, once one starts making similar estimates for other losses, turns out to be so lopsided that the question is not which is worse, Virus or Response (“the disease or the medicine”), but rather how many orders-of-magnitude worse the Panic will end up being than the Virus. 100x? 1000x? More?
Prediction: The Corona-Religion which burst on the scene one year ago may roll on a while longer, but real damage has been caused, and by metaphor this fiasco is an undersea earthquake of great power, which causes a tidal wave to form beneath the surface, at first only observable as a minor ripple.
Follow-on effects of the Corona-Panic in coming years, unforeseen by the Pro-Panic side’s cheerleaders in their fervor, could be a big deal. Why would the millions of core-working-age people, the primary victims of the CoronaPanic, do nothing? (A future essay will be a continuation of this thought, on the subject of “Corona and Regime Stability”).
(End of Summary / End of Short Version.)
(Below, start of Full Version.)
“All Life-Years Matter“
An appeal to the Pro-Panic side.
If all human life is valuable, then all human time is valuable.Continue reading