The “best subsidy” we can get

Strange times, getting back to “normal,” and 5 links worth your time

These are strange times indeed. We’re breathing a sigh of relief because new cases of COVID are under 60,000 for several days in a row and deaths have dropped below 1,500 per day. Over two weeks, that’s a 40% decrease in new cases and a 28% decrease in deaths, so we should be grateful those numbers are declining.

As we celebrated those promising numbers, however, we also passed a very grim milestone: more than half a million people in this country have now died from COVID-19. 

Where we’ve been and where we’re going

About a year ago, in a White House briefing on March 31st, we were warned by experts that, despite our best efforts, COVID-19 might eventually cause 240,000 deaths in our country. 

We passed that number in November, and, as of today, we’ve suffered more than twice that many deaths.

This loss of life means that, as a country, we have changed in ways that will never be undone. But with the early success of vaccines, many of us are starting to think about our post-pandemic futures. 

When will we be able to get back to “normal” life? 

It depends on what “normal” means

This week, our five links offer different answers to that question, but each piece first asks, “What do we mean by ‘normal’?”

If “normal” means the way we lived in December of 2019, odds are we won’t ever return to that normal. If, on the other hand, normal means going to the theater or attending a sporting event, these links include some data-based estimates for when that might happen. 

And several of the links argue that getting back to normal will depend on each of our individual perspectives. After so much pain, loss, and time, many of us are most comfortable with an abundance of caution. Our pandemic “normal” has engendered habits of avoiding risk day-to-day.

Some of that caution, like wearing masks, will likely be with us for a long time, but other cautions, like closed schools and businesses, will add to our pain and loss if they persist simply because they have become habit. If, as the vaccine rolls out and new infections and deaths continue to drop, we’re unwilling to accept the discomfort of being less cautious, many of our neighbors and friends will continue to suffer from disruption to their lives. 

The “best subsidy” 

As adjunct Cato Institute scholar Arnold Kling put it, the “best subsidy” the government could provide for all of us and for the future of our recovery is to “reduce fear of the virus” through reasonable and data-supported efforts to help us get to whatever the new normal is. 

This past week, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the enormous scale of loss over the past year. I’ve also thought a lot about what I, personally, can do to help my family and those in my community get back to some kind of normalcy. These five links gave me encouragement and clarity, and I hope you’ll find something here to discuss with your friends and family as you think about your life post-COVID.

5 links worth your time

  1. Is the new COVID normal preventing us from getting back to life? The Week – What if “normal” just means the state in which we feel most comfortable? Maybe our new “normal” is preventing us from returning to the kind of life we had before COVID because this is what seems most comfortable. Noah Millman wonders if the biggest change we now need is one of perspective.
  2. COVID-19 fatalities hit 500k in the U.S. When will life return to normal? Dr. Fauci cautions, ‘It really depends on what you mean by normality’, MarketWatch – The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases made news last week when he said Americans might still be wearing masks in 2022. This article offers a summary of his recent interviews and what the prospects for getting back to “normal” are.
  3. The Most Likely Timeline for Life to Return to Normal, The Atlantic – What can we expect over the course of the next year? Joe Pinsker gives an accounting of what spring, summer, fall, and winter will look like.
  4. How soon will COVID-19 vaccines return life to normal?, Science – Like the other authors of the five links this week, Jon Cohen of Science explains that knowing when we’ll “get back to normal” depends on what we mean by “normal.” He looks at what herd immunity would require and how variants of the virus might affect the timeline for achieving it.
  5. The Economy After COVID-19, Law & Liberty – In this episode of the Liberty Law Talk podcast, host Richard Reinsch talks with Cato Institute adjunct scholar Arnold Kling about what the economy will look like after the pandemic. Kling argues the “best subsidy” the government could give to businesses is to “reduce fear of the virus.”

Photo by Monkey Business on Adobe Stock