After Covid

Many years ago, in the early days of 2022, the dark specter of Covid finally lifted from American society. True, the disease was still killing Americans at a prodigious rate, equivalent to about 1 million a year. And most of those deaths were preventable, because other countries had done just that. What changed is that we decided to not worry about it anymore. Across the country and across the political spectrum, people agreed it was time to move on, to treat Covid like a seasonal flu, and to rescind any of the tedious mandates that had been imposed, like vaccinations or face coverings. 

But the real transformation of American life that we all celebrate today happened in the immediate aftermath. Once we realized that a million deaths a year from a single cause of mortality was acceptable, we reconsidered all the irrational fears and regulations that had accumulated over the years. For example, Americans used to be asked for identification before boarding an airplane. Worse, they were forced to remove shoes, expose their bodies to X-rays, and let guards grope their genitals. All this was justified by the threat of terrorism. Now the most spectacular act of airplane terrorism known (at that time) killed about 3000 people in one day and then nothing happened for the next 20 years. Covid kills that number every single day! Being a rational people, we recognized the absurdity right away and rescinded all restrictions on air travel. 

Next to fall were traffic regulations: At the time traffic killed about 41000 Americans a year, so it posed less than one twentieth of the risk from Covid. And what were Americans suffering just to retain such an absurdly low number? There were speed limits on the roads, restraints on the passengers called seat belts, and expensive safety designs built into cars. Worst of all: Americans were under a forced mandate to abstain from drinking while driving. All this is hard to understand: the average American was so much more likely to die while choking on a respirator than from a drunk driving accident. Needless to say we don’t live in fear anymore.

This was also the year when the utopian idea of gun control was finally abandoned. The number of gun-related deaths was already ridiculously low, only 45000 a year, barely a blip on the Covid scale. Then the drug laws were rationalized. Only 69000 americans died from opioid abuse that year, and some of that could be ascribed to Covid epidemic anyway. In any case, with our newfound acceptance of risk, no-one could justify regulating these drugs in any way. Other regulations soon followed. For example we used to have laws about how factories could pollute the air and water, again justified by some risk to life and health, which we now understand to be laughably low.

In retrospect it is hard for us to understand how our society had accumulated all these petty laws that restrict our freedom while protecting us from supposed risks. Covid finally unmasked these regulations as pure theater. No-one will contest that we are more free today than in the dark pre-Covid era. True, there are considerably fewer Americans alive than at the time, but some economists regard that as an added benefit. And, unlike in the old days, there aren’t any grandparents around to remind us of the old days.