In Defense of the Shutdown Critics – Misconceptions


As time passes under the shutdown, an increasing number of people are ready to reopen their communities and get back to work. Several anti-shutdown protests have erupted in the United States in the past week. At the start of the shutdown, there were debates on “price-gouging” and shortages, later followed by debates on the proper reaction to the virus.

Now, the debate has shifted to when to reopen. Should we reopen sooner, or later? Have we already hit the peak, or is the worst yet to come? Should we prioritize profits, or human life?

“Muh Stonks”

Of course, that last question is a blatant strawman of what is actually being asked, but can be found all over social media. They claim that wanting to reopen the economy is prioritizing GDP growth and high stock prices over the inevitable cost of human life resulting from ending the shutdown too early.

But this is absolutely absurd. First, nobody is advocating this. The people attending these protest rallies are not shouting “Yes, more people will die, but my stocks are down!” The shutdown has costs and benefits that cannot be easily measured. If it is absurd to suggest ending the shutdown sooner rather than later, at what point does it stop being absurd? If we were to maintain the shutdown for five years, is that excessive? Surely, no one could argue that opponents to a five-year shutdown are only concerned about financial profit.

Death as a Metric

What are the criteria for ending the shutdown? The focus for those advocating to continue the shutdown seems to be entirely on the COVID-19 death toll. While that is certainly an important factor, it isn’t enough. If it were determined that maintaining the shutdown for an extra month would only decrease the COVID-19 deaths by one, would it be worth it? Of course not. There are many other factors, including deaths caused by the effects of the shutdown.

Job losses and the struggle to make ends meet have no doubt taken a toll on everyone, especially those with clinical depression. Many local restaurants and stores have also closed, meaning many more people are flooding supermarkets than usual, increasing the potential spread of disease.

There is also the cost to education by shutting down schools for such an extended period of time. Some pro-shutdown activists have been arguing for years that education is so incredibly important that it must be free to all, but now the shutdown of schools doesn’t seem to matter at all in their assertion that any opposition to the shutdown is absurd. There are many important factors required for a cost/benefit analysis. To insist that the COVID-19 death toll is all that matters is incredibly myopic.

One Size Fits All?

Part of the problem is the assumption that a shutdown must be a centralized across-the-board plan, rather than a decentralized, local approach. Residents of New York City are amazed that residents of the rural Midwest could possibly be opposed to the shutdown. They forget that the response need not be a one-size-fits-all solution. It may be necessary to continue the shutdown of certain big cities for much longer, while certain rural areas could easily have been reopened by now. It is also possible to tolerate public gatherings in small communities before reopening large concerts and cruises.

“Community” versus “Economy”

The first sentence of this article mentions reopening “communities” rather than simply “the economy.” This is an important word choice. Church and school attendance amd other community gatherings are prevented by the shutdown. It is not just financial opportunities that have been shut down, but entire communities. To reiterate an earlier point, advocates for ending the shutdown are not simply concerned about stock profits, they are ready to return to their communities.

Personal Responsibility

To the central planners, the solution to any problem is always central planning. In their view, to oppose centralized solutions is to deny that there is even a problem. But they forget that cultural forces can adapt and respond to problems without any nudging from bureaucratic systems. People are wearing masks and maintaining distance from one another. In some public areas, there is now a very clear social stigma against not wearing a mask.

Even if the shutdown were to end tomorrow, people are still able to decide on their own what approach is best. Many will still wear masks in public and exercise precaution around others. Those concerned about the virus can still stay home and maintain their distance from others. Communities that have suffered the most from the virus will no doubt still be concerned and will reinforce responsible precautions. Ending the shutdown is not the same as ending proper responses.

Deniers! Trust The Science!

The worst people involved in the shutdown debate have been those tossing around the word “denier.” To anyone unfamiliar, “denier” sounds like a crazy conspiracy theorist who denies that the coronavirus pandemic exists.

But, as is often the case, this is not what the “deniers” are saying at all. The term is being used to define anyone suggesting that the outbreak is anything less than media outlets have portrayed it to be, or that certain models may not be entirely accurate.

In fact, when CBS News misused footage of an Italian hospital when reporting on New York (and later reused it again when reporting on Pennsylvania), those who pointed it out were accused of being “deniers.”

The correct response to a global crisis is impossible to precisely measure, and to suggest that the current response is excessive and/or counterproductive is by no means out of the question. There are costs and benefits, and the proper response will be different from location to location. It is quite likely that certain locations have been ready to reopen for quite some time, while other areas need to remain under lockdown.

Protestors and advocates for ending the shutdown are bringing up valid points and are ready to reopen the economy. To dismiss them as lacking concern for human life is a disingenuous and narrow view of the real situation.

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Nathan A. Kreider is author of the Misconceptions column for Being Libertarian, and has written for the Austrian Economics Center, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Liberalists. He also occasionally publishes a blog and video content, including short book reviews, which can be found on his website, He can be contacted by email via [email protected]