The False Dichotomy Of ‘The Economy Versus Lives’

If you haven’t been in a coma for the past 9 months, you’ve inevitably come across the ongoing war between those who value the economy, and those who value human lives.

For example, with regard to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there is a schism in public opinion, between those who wish to maintain the current lockdowns — in order to prevent more excess deaths and those who wish to end the lockdowns and restart the economy.

Here in Australia, Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews has just extended the State of Emergency by 6 months in response to a recent spike in COVID-19 deaths. While some have gone on to tweet the hashtag #DictatorDan, polls also show that a majority of Victorians support the extended lockdowns.

Similarly, throughout the U.S., this war between the pro-economy faction versus the pro-human-life faction has arisen in response to the ongoing protests, looting, and arson surrounding the BLM movement.

One side says that property damage pales in comparison to the human costs of police shooting black citizens disproportionately, and the other says that looting and destruction can never be acceptable, no matter the circumstances.

On its face, I have to side with the human-lives side and agree that human life is more valuable than property or the economy. It’s a simple proposition; which do you value more highly, your house, or your family?

When put like this, any sane person would obviously choose their family.

However, this level of analysis fails to recognize the many ways that the economy is intertwined with human life.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t an argument in favour of, or against the COVID-19 lockdowns, or any ongoing protests. However, I feel it’s important that decisions be made with all of the available data, rather than an oversimplified analysis.

For example, did you know that COVID-19 and its subsequent lockdowns have greatly worsened income inequality?

According to CNBC, American billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk collectively got $434 billion richer during the pandemic. Meanwhile, many parts of the world — including Australia and the U.S., have been plunged into a deep recession, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since WWII.

While income inequality may sound trivial compared with a global health pandemic, income disparity can also have some pretty serious effects on society.

For starters, heightened income inequality within a country often leads to a rise in violent crime. In fact, The Guardian states in an article that “Inequality predicts homicide rates ‘better than any other variable’.”

To some extent, we may already be seeing this, as homicide rates have spiked in nearly every large U.S. city as of late. In this regard, we can already see how economic impacts are inseparable from human impacts. Though that’s unfortunately not the only issue with income inequality.

There have long been concerns in the U.S. surrounding the impacts that wealth inequality has on education, predominantly on black children. As schools are often funded by local taxes, areas with more wealth tend to have better schools, and therefore the students that attend them may leave school with better grades and more opportunities.

Conversely, areas with lower income tax, which are disproportionately black communities, often have less local tax money to spend on quality facilities and teachers, and therefore the students of these poorer schools often leave with lower grades and fewer opportunities.

As wealth inequality widens and lower-income families are forced to shut their businesses and sign up for welfare, not only does the homicide rate begin to spike, but the funding to these schools and to future generations, also begins to dissipate.

Then, consider that the ongoing riots surrounding Black Lives Matter are prompting many wealthy citizens of areas like Chicago to move to lower-crime areas, and we may only see this inequality continue to further widen. And thus, a vicious cycle begins. Income inequality leads to a spike in crime in poorer communities, which devalues property costs and prompts wealthy citizens to move out, creating a high-crime, impoverished enclave with little money for education or services.

For all of these reasons, (and there are many more) the choice between the economy, or human lives, isn’t that simple.

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About Louis O'Neill 76 Articles
Having received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Macquarie University, Louis’ writing spans across cultural, social and political issues. Louis' work has been shared in Benzinga, FinFeed, The Green Fund, The Startup, The Quarry Journal, Independent Australia and Online Opinion.