Trusting healthy North Carolinians to choose about reopening our economy

by Amy Cooke

Raleigh, NC – The professional left’s work-equals-death argument is an irresponsible misrepresentation of the movement to reopen North Carolina’s economy, which has been devastated by state and local government mandated shutdowns and the resulting job losses and business closures. 

photo by Romy Queven

The argument implies a profound lack of trust in our fellow North Carolinians to make wise decisions about themselves and their families. 

Instead of acknowledging the need to minimize risk when reopening, the work-equals-death argument appears to be designed to scare or shame North Carolinians into staying home in perpetuity, creating economic insecurity to push a left–wing agenda that includes everything from identity politics to global, government–dictated health care schemes. 

We’ve seen this before. The same type of cynical, apocalyptic either-or argument surrounds global warming and President Trump’s American energy dominance policy. 

As a member of the President’s Transition Team for the Environmental Protection Agency, I had the honor of being a small part of a group crafting an agency action plan showing how Americans didn’t have to be forced into a false choice of either American-produced energy or our environment. 

The president rightly proved we can develop our natural resources responsibly and be excellent stewards of our environment. We can be energy dominant and promote human flourishing. We can enjoy clean air and water and a vibrant economy. 

We shouldn’t be forced into the same type of false either-or choice surrounding reopening North Carolina.  

We know there will be risks in reopening, but weigh them against the cost of keeping our state shut down. As of this writing, more than 630,000 North Carolinians have filled unemployment claims. Using the Bob Luddy formula, that’s nearly 100 jobs lost per confirmed case of COVID-19. 

St. Louis Federal Reserve leader James Bullard said, “What will happen in the second quarter won’t be comparable ‘to anything we’ve seen in U.S. macroeconomic history.’…” In other words, worse than anything our parents and grandparents suffered through during the Great Depression. 

The numbers will be horrific and likely to cause additional health problems as Carolina Journal’s editor-in-chief Rick Henderson wrote last week. Colorado-based economist Paul Prentice put those problems in terms of human lives, “Numerous economic studies show a high correlation between poverty and mortality, and between unemployment and mortality. Estimates range from a low of 10,000 additional deaths per percentage point increase in unemployment, to a high of 40,000.” 

Simply having the federal government print more money to distribute to the unemployed is not a long-term solution. “We must create wealth, to create health,” Prentice added. 

To add insult to economic injury, decisions about shutting down and reopening are being made based on models with possibly flawed assumptions that the public isn’t allowed to see. A recent column in the Wall Street Journal from molecular biologist Andrew Bogan suggests new data show the coronavirus may not be as deadly as originally thought. It seems we required far less data to shut down our economy than to reopen it. 

I don’t envy Gov. Roy Cooper having to make the tough decision to shut down our state, but now we need some clarity from his office on reopening. He and his fellow Democrat governors use the dimmer switch analogy to explain how they plan to reopen their respective states. That leaves some of us wondering how long we’ll be forced to navigate a dimly lit economy. 

In addition, the one-dimmer-switch-fits-all approach fails to recognize the difference between rural and urban areas, as well as locations that have seen no COVID-19 cases but still must suffer the dimly lit economy. Locations with no cases should be able to re-open. 

I’m a little leery of the lone finger on our economic dimmer switch. It’s too susceptible to the work-equals-death argument. Instead, I put far more trust in healthy North Carolinians who are in the best position to make wise choices for themselves and their families. 

Getting healthy people back to work safely will go a long way toward healing all of us. 

Amy Cooke (@TheRightAOC) is CEO of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.