Too Much Risk Aversion Is Too Risky
"This is not politics," President Joe Biden said last week. "Reinstate the mandate if you let it down." Give him credit for consistency: When Gov. Greg Abbott ended Texas' mask mandate last month, Biden called it "Neanderthal thinking."
But maybe the Neanderthals got it right. COVID-19 deaths in Texas plunged in March, and as National Review's Philip Klein points out, there's no relationship between mask mandates and coronavirus levels.
Biden is clearly wrong on another point. This is not "not politics." America's constitutional federal system, and the latitude that both former President Trump's administration and the Biden administration have given state governments, have produced distinctly different Democratic and Republican coronavirus policies.
Democrats have tended to impose mask mandates, to order restaurants and retail businesses closed, to require social distancing. Republicans have tended to push for full-time instruction in schools and to allow open-air gatherings in playgrounds and beaches.
Yes, there are exceptions here and there. But what's most striking is the prevalence of partisan patterns. Look at the maps of school closings, mask mandates and mask usage and the partisan patterns are obvious.
The economic results are obvious, too. With more restrictions, Democratic states have seen higher unemployment and less economic growth than Republican states.
Why the partisan correlation? The answer is that different responses to a pandemic reflect different degrees of risk aversion, and political differences often reflect differences in risk aversion as well. As economist Allison Schrager argues, welfare-state protections have appealed to risk-averse traditional Democrats, while deregulated free markets have appealed to more risk-taking Republicans.
Women tend to be more risk-averse, for obvious evolutionary reasons (they're needed for species survival), and be more Democratic and dovish; men, more willing to take risks, are more Republican and hawkish. There's a reason every society protecting itself against attack has always depended on strong, aggressive, utterly non-risk-averse (think skateboarding!) young men.
One oddity of American COVID responses has been the one-dimensional perspective of liberal decision-makers. They claim to be following "the science," but with a narrow focus.
To prevent the spread of a virus that is often asymptomatic and less lethal than influenza to people under age 65, they have imposed restrictions that have reduced life-saving medical screenings and produced mental illness and stunted development among children and adolescents.