This is the headline for today’s editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette, the leading right-of-center outlet in the state owned by Colorado Republican megadonor Phil Anschutz. If you’d rather not read the whole thing, and we would understand your decision to put it mildly, the answer reached by the Gazette editorial board to the question “should we save all lives in Colorado regardless of expense” is no, we should not save all lives in Colorado regardless of expense.
This editorial attempts to argue that the relative costs of sacrificing the gains made in controlling the spread of COVID-19 are less severe than relieving economic damage wrought by the stay-at-home order and shutdown of most businesses. In short, the argument is that poverty costs lives too, which is certainly true, and therefore unchecked COVID-19 could cause some quantity less loss of life than the poverty caused by the stay-at-home orders depending on whose projections turn out to be right.
What this leaves out is the fact that poverty, unlike COVID-19, is treatable. Poverty can be directly treated with economic stimulus, even though watching all that money flow out to society’s “takers” certainly must rankle the sensibilities of the Anschutz family and Mitch McConnell alike. But the choice we have to put lives unrecoverably at risk versus temporary economic pain which can be offset by treatment we don’t yet have for this pandemic disease means we cannot simply place a 1:1 valuation on GDP losses versus whatever the insurance industry thinks a human life is worth.
That this is exactly what the Gazette is trying to do here is…well, it’s notable, and not in a good way.
Although it ostensibly is meant to defend Gov. Polis’ controversial and tentative announcement that the stay-at-home order will begin to relax next week, this editorial’s deeply misguided reckoning of what matters in the short and long run–valuing replaceable dollars over irreplaceable lives–doesn’t help anyone. Not least because we don’t believe for a moment that Gov. Polis’ judgment is anywhere near so unprincipled. All of these questions are better left in the hands of people with consciences instead of those eager to trade lives for cash. Coloradans who tune in in unheard-of numbers to Polis’ daily press briefings (and increasingly tune out Donald Trump’s) know the difference.
Long after this pandemic is over, the people of Colorado Springs are going to look back on this editorial and heap shame upon its authors.
Probably not, but they should.