No one really knows what is the best path forward — not President Trump, not Gov. DeSantis. But given the option to reopen, we’ll figure out what’s best.
That simple declarative statement in the headline has long been a part of family lore. The story is told that terse, six-word statement was the response from a precocious 2-year-old whose mother issued a motherly command to the young child.
The young girl’s response clearly indicated that, even then, at 2, she had a mind of her own and that she was in charge of herself.
Our elected officials should take note at this moment in time.
That story comes to mind as all of the U.S., Florida and our local regions and cities begin to enter the next phase of COVID-19. From President Donald Trump, down to Gov. Ron DeSantis, down to all of the mayors, city managers and county commissioners, we’re all watching for the big pronouncements in the next few days that life can resume.
Of course, that is not what is going to happen. As of this writing, we were told earlier in the morning the Manatee County Commission was to vote on a June 1 reopening of the county.
All through the weekend and much of Tuesday, DeSantis sent thick smoke signals that he wasn’t going to do anything outside the yellow caution lines.
“Baby steps.” “Methodical, slow and data-driven.”
Uh-huh. But what data?
Whose data? New York’s? Sweden’s? Sarasota County’s? Manatee County’s? Wuhan, China’s? Italy’s? All of Florida’s?
DeSantis has sent other signals that he recognizes not all of Florida should be categorized as one or lumped in with Dade and Broward counties. Florida has 67 counties, and each one is different in so many ways. Likewise, each city, each neighborhood, each person is different — all 22 million Floridians, each of whom has a brain that makes thousands of decisions a day geared toward satisfying his or her level of happiness or needs to survive.
As the famed Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises noted in his seminal book, “Human Action,” trying to answer “the question of whether the interests of society should be subordinated to those of the individual or whether the interests of the individual are to be subordinated to society is fruitless. Action is always action of individual men.”
And yet one man has made himself the boss of you, governing your daily life and decisions on the basis of “data.”
Experts are confused
The data is an omelet of confusion. It’s all over the spectrum.
For instance, we all watch the COVID-19 incident and death counts. We know that as of Tuesday, Florida had 32,846 cases and 1,171 deaths.
Or do we?
A Sarasota physician told us just about anyone who dies with preexisting respiratory issues is automatically being classified as a COVID-19 victim. In a 4,793-word report circulating widely online, entitled, “The Truth (and Lies) about Coronavirus,” Tuscaloosa, Ala., family practice doctor David Williams notes:
“On April 2, the National Vital Statistics System, which is part of the CDC, provided new guidance regarding the issuing of death certificates. COVID-19 was to be listed if it was assumed to cause or contribute to a death. For example, if someone dies from pneumonia, respiratory distress or COPD and has exhibited coronavirus symptoms, his certificate will list COVID-19 as a presumed contributing factor. Since shortness of breath, fever, and/or cough will be exhibited in all respiratory illnesses, every such death could potentially be recorded as a COVID-19 fatality.
“This certainly appears to be happening across the board. We have never seen any disease handled in this way.”
We asked Dr. John Steele, president of the Sarasota-based Intercoastal Medical Group, why America’s doctors haven’t been out front to help allay people’s fears. “All the experts appear to be confused,” he said.
Even in his own group of more than 100 physicians, his colleagues disagree on whether to reopen, restart elective surgery or end the lockdowns. And these are the experts.
In general, he told us, “People are not rational when it comes to their health.”
No one has the answer
How can you believe anything you hear and read?
You have the official talking points blathered out of Trump’s daily briefing, with Dr. Anthony Fauci describing his depressing Armageddon version of life, and CDC predictions of a second wave in the fall. And we’re supposed to take that as gospel.
You have media outlets, such as Axios, an online “news” source (note the quotes), blasting this on its site last Sunday: “The coronavirus crisis is way worse than feared,” followed by more than a dozen bullet points of predictions of death, dread and destruction.
And then, you read Avik Roy, a respected health care policy adviser, say in the Wall Street Journal: “States and localities should work as quickly as possible to reopen pre-K and K-12 schools. Children have a very low risk of falling seriously ill due to COVID-19, and the majority can and should return to school this academic year.”
Williams, the Alabama physician who borders on being furious about the way the virus has been overblown, wrote:
“If you love your children, enjoy sports or know anyone who owns or is employed by a small business, you should be angry. Very angry. We can absolutely take steps to protect the elderly and vulnerable, but everything should reopen immediately. … Absolutely NONE of [this] was or is necessary.”
We could fill pages of this newspaper with facts, data and expert opinions that go back and forth on what we should do or not do, whether to reopen the economy full-hog or in baby steps or not at all.
All of which should lead us to conclude: No one knows. No one really knows.
They’re making their best guesses — best guesses on the data … the scientific data and the political data. The science of public opinion.
Key word: Optionality
That brings us back to that 2-year-old and the Austrian economist. “You’re not the boss of me.” And, as von Mises noted, it’s futile and arrogant for anyone to think he or she knows better than 22 million individuals how to boss their lives than they themselves. Within those 22 million people, there are millions of opinions and beliefs on how best to go forward for themselves.
That point was explicitly evident in an online survey conducted by our sister paper, the Business Observer, last week. It asked business owners from Tampa down to Naples 15 questions about the state of their businesses.
One question: When should your business or industry sector be allowed to reopen? The respondents had these choices:
- When new reported COVID-19 cases dropped seven consecutive days;
- No later than when a new vaccine is available;
- Between May 1-15;
- No later than May 31; and
“Other” recorded the greatest number of responses. Fifty-five respondents submitted 50 different options.
And that, dear reader, is the point: Optionality.
In von Mises’ “Human Action,” he wrote: “The ultimate goal of human action is always the satisfaction of the acting man’s desire.”
We are all driven to reach a level of happiness. For businesses, that happiness level is achieved when the business satisfies customers and employees.
Business owners don’t need governors to boss them when or how to do that. Give them the option to reopen. They will figure out what’s best for them, their employees — and by extension, the community.