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Commentary: Make no mistake, 'social distancing' is also going to cost a lot of lives, and no one knows how many


Is the cure worse than the disease?

Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

I will admit the obvious at the outset: I am not an infectious disease expert. Like a lot of people who are dealing with the coronavirus crisis, I am in the unenviable position of having to trust experts who often seem like they don't know what they are talking about either.

I suppose it's entirely possible, and even probable, that the current extraordinary measures being taken to combat the spread of coronavirus are necessary to prevent significant loss of human life. I'm not here to argue that point, and I myself am participating in social distancing, which is being advised by the experts.

But there's another side to this coin that isn't being adequately discussed, or even discussed at all, at least as far as I've seen. And that is the fact that the social distancing measures currently being imposed across the globe are also going to cost lives. Perhaps quite a lot of them.

There's a pretty significant amount of research that proves that wealth/prosperity and health are highly correlated. You probably didn't need scientific research to tell you this, but it exists anyway: The more money people have, the longer they tend to live, and the fewer health problems they tend to have.

This is true on both the individual and societal level. Wealthier economies produce longer average life spans, and wealthier individuals within each society tend to live longer. The correlation is so strong that it can be fairly said that if you want to make sure someone lives a long time, the best thing you can do for them is to make sure they have opportunity to maximize their personal wealth portfolio.

You can probably see where I am going with this, but I'll say it anyway: The social distancing measures we are currently putting in place are going to destroy a lot of wealth. An absolutely devastating amount of it.

And when I say "wealth," I don't just mean that the wealthy are going to lose money; in fact, lower-income people across the globe are likely to bear the brunt of the coming economic contraction, as they are the ones most likely to be laid off from industries that rely on person-to-person contact, like food, leisure, and travel.

Some economists have even gone so far as to predict the possibility of a second Great Depression as the result of our social distancing measures, and no one knows how long it will take the global economy to recover.

This is going to have deleterious effects on human health. Companies impacted by the coming recession are not going to be as able to produce or distribute life-saving or improving technology. Research and development into technologies that will continue to improve human health will suffer. And even where it does not, the people who will need to purchase such technology will be less able to afford it.

How many lives is it going to cost? I don't know. I can't quantify it and don't have the resources necessary to make even a reasonable guesstimate, to be perfectly honest. But it's going to be some, and potentially quite a few.

Will the social distancing measures we are putting into place save more lives than they are going to cost? I don't know the answer to that question, either. But it bothers me — and it should bother us all — that no one who is in a position to find the answer is even bothering to ask the question.

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