Why are any lockdowns still in place anywhere in the United States?
The rationale for them was already waning by the close of May.
With the riots of the past week, ending them is now a matter of national necessity.
Timid governors and mayors previously calculated that letting the lockdowns run on for a little longer, or phasing them out gradually, was the safe choice. The economic damage couldn’t get too much worse in another week or two, they reasoned, and on the other hand they would be blamed for even the slightest increase in coronavirus deaths if they reversed course too early.
Maintaining the lockdowns is no longer the safe option. Erring on the side of caution now means opening up everything bar nursing homes tomorrow.
Back in February, there was tough talk from some Bernie Sanders supporters that “if Biden gets the nomination, Milwaukee will burn.” Few people really believed that the Democratic National Convention in Wisconsin this August would be like the 1968 convention in Chicago, because Americans have gotten too fat and lazy. Socialists might mouth off on Twitter, but in a First World country like ours, they have too much to lose to really riot.
Then came the lockdowns, and suddenly no one had as much to lose anymore.
The severity of a riot — at a certain point, whether a riot graduates to a revolt — depends on the number of people involved. A rampage of fifty people is qualitatively different from one of five hundred people, or five thousand.
The Los Angeles riots of 1992 were precipitated by a crowd of only about three hundred. The LAPD surrendered the pivotal intersection of Florence and Normandie avenues to a crowd that size on the afternoon of April 29, then came back a few hours later, found a crowd the same size, and fell back again. This signaled to the rioters that the neighborhood would be abandoned to its fate and prompted the mass lawlessness that raged for five days.
There are now more than 40 million unemployed in the United States.
Job losses have been concentrated among the young and poor, the kind of people who don’t yet have families and careers to make them circumspect about lawbreaking.
Never before in American history, literally never, has the country had so many people in the combustible demographic of the young and unemployed.
In the face of this unprecedented danger, why are we not giving these people something else to do? For three months, they haven’t been able to go to the gym, pick up girls at a bar, or shout themselves hoarse at a concert. COVID-19 poses less risk to their age bracket than the flu, so why shouldn’t we let them start doing those things again immediately?
Why shouldn’t they go back to work? Not knowing where you’re going to be living in three months, whether you’ll have to crash on couches or if you’ll have any kind of job, is a powerful stimulus to recklessness.
The silver lining of the past week has been the way it has jolted coronavirus worriers out of their lingering anxieties. Most people can now see with their own eyes that nothing bad will happen to them if they stand closer than six feet apart or gather in groups of more than 10, all while data continues to roll in showing the concentration of coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. The idea that ordinary people will be too frightened to go out and get a haircut is ludicrous, and politicians can’t credibly keep barbershops closed after cheering on the protests.
The presence among this week’s rioters of so many college-educated and middle-class people—the sort who would have been too employed to riot in 1968, who probably were too employed to riot six months ago—is highly ominous. We immediately need to reduce the population of potential rioters to ordinary levels, the usual underclass and antifa malcontents, or this year could be worse than 1968.
Much mischief in the world has been averted by the six little words: I can’t, I have work tomorrow. Having somewhere to be in the morning is the best curfew.
The lockdowns caused these riots. Ending them can be part of their cure.
Header: Protesters destroy store fronts and loot , on May 30, 2020 during a protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images)