COVID-19 Panic is the New State Religion

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The TL;DR on COVID-19: Panic, not science, continues to drive the public policy discussion.

Here, such as it is, is the current science:

If 100,000 Americans  age 19 or younger contract COVID-19, three of them will die.

If 10,000 Americans between 20 and 49 years old contract COVID-19, two of them will die.

If a thousand Americans between 50 and 69 years old contract COVID-19, five of them will die.

But if you’re 70 years or older and contract COVID-19, your chances of dying skyrocket to about 1 in 20.

Those are the “best estimates” of COVID-19 Infection Fatality Ratios published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If the CDC’s estimates are correct — and if I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “listen to the experts!” I’d need a bigger house to store my nickels in — a COVID-19 infection is less likely than a seasonal flu infection to kill anyone under 70.

There’s a caveat, of course: CDC estimates COVID-19’s “R0” (the average number of people an infected person infects in turn) at 2.5, while seasonal flu’s R0 runs about half that. COVID-19 spreads more quickly and easily than flu. More cases equals more deaths.

And there’s an excuse: These are the numbers we have NOW, not the numbers we had when the pandemic hit. What we had THEN was uncertainty.

But uncertainty isn’t a very good excuse for shutting down significant portions of the US economy, driving unemployment up from one in 25 American workers to one in seven (it’s still nearly one in ten), and placing much of the population under house arrest.

When we didn’t know what was going on, panic wasn’t the correct answer.

Now that we have a better idea of what’s happening, holding onto the visible vestiges of panic isn’t the correct answer either. It’s just a new, state-imposed religion.

As late as a few months ago, the US regime condemned governments which require women to cover their faces in public.

Now, American politicians command men and women alike to do so, and most Americans meekly submit — not because masks prevent the spread of COVID-19 (evidence for that claim is sketchy at best), but because politicians and the “scientific” bureaucratic priesthood live to issue orders and obeying those orders lets us feel like we’re “doing something” about COVID-19.

Thus the masks, and the special magic “social distancing” formulae, and the ubiquitous “Stay Home, Stay Safe” signage. The Cult of the Omnipotent State is enjoying a periodic revival unlike any since 9/11.

If the CDC’s numbers are correct, they offer two lessons:

First, protecting the elderly from COVID-19 as best we can makes sense.

Second, the rest of us need to abandon the state-imposed superstitions and get back to living in the real world.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Unfortunately, Voters Aren’t “the Adults in the Room”


On Election Day, 1976, I was eight days away from turning 10 years old. As my morning school bus passed the lone polling place in my tiny town, I leaned out the window and yelled, at the top of my lungs, “Vote for Carter!”

I had three reasons for supporting Jimmy Carter. I’d like to think that the biggest one was that I had actually read and agreed with his campaign book (Why Not The Best?) — yes, really, I had somehow scraped up a couple of dollars in change to buy a paperback no normal 9-year-old would have been interested in — but realistically the other two reasons were far more compelling.

First, Gerald Ford was bald. Yes, I was just that petty.

Second, a couple of years before, I had turned on the TV before school to find Captain Kangaroo preempted by coverage of Richard Nixon’s resignation, permanently poisoning my mind against Tricky Dick and anyone associated with him.

No, I didn’t really understand the issues at play, or the policy differences between the two candidates, or what the heck “Watergate” was. Did I mention I was nine years old?

Looking at the election-related discourse in America today, I’m unfortunately not seeing as much logic or reason out of the political establishment as 9-year-old me was able to muster 44 years ago.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party want me to know that Joe Biden has been “captured by the radical left.” Last time I checked, Biden was the candidate of the center-right Democratic Party. If there’s a left in American electoral politics, it’s the Green Party. If there’s a radical left, it’s the Libertarian Party. Biden, I’m told, would “de-fund” police and offer amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants. Both of those are libertarian positions which he doesn’t, sadly, seem to actually hold.

Joe Biden and the Democratic Party want me to know that Donald Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin to rig the 2016 election (a claim for which no credible evidence has emerged after four years of investigations), is trying to do so again (ditto on the evidence), allowed COVID-19 to ravage the country (he thankfully has constitutionally limited powers to do much about that, but he’s exceeded those powers in the same ways, although not as much, as Biden promises to), and may be AKSHUALLY HITLERRR!

Even more unfortunately, I hear friends and relatives regurgitate both sets of nonsensical pablum as they metaphorically lean out the school bus window to yell “Vote for [insert name of terrible candidate here]!” And worst of all, THEIR school buses stop at the polling places and let them off to vote.

“Democracy,” H.L. Mencken wrote, “is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

On the evidence, he wasn’t wrong. Of those Americans who bother to vote, 90% or more will probably vote for one of two circus clowns, for all the wrong reasons.

If you plan to vote this November, please consider growing up first.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Is Home Ownership Really the “American Dream?”

Free Stock Photo from Pexels
Free Stock Photo from Pexels

In 2016, then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump bemoaned the “lowest [US home ownership] rate in 51 years,” promising that “WE will bring back the ‘American Dream!'” In a 2019 “Memorandum on Federal Housing Finance Reform,” now-President Trump called on federal agencies to “make sustainable home ownership for American families our benchmark of success.”

Trump’s 2020 Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, pledges to “rebuild the middle class,” which he defines as “a value set which includes the ability to own your own home.” While his campaign platform also nods to tenant protections and affordable rental housing, it’s clear Biden agrees with former President Barack Obama that home ownership constitutes “the most tangible cornerstone that lies at the heart of the American Dream.”

Are they right? Is home ownership the embodiment of the “American Dream?” Are Trump and Biden trying, in their own ways, to deliver the goods for you? Or are they just beholden to special interests whose members make larger campaign contributions than you do — for example, realtors, developers, and mortgage lenders?

Maybe a little of both, but the latter is certainly a factor. It’s not obvious that home ownership is a good fit, or a wise investment, for everyone.

The case for home ownership includes things like building equity instead of flushing rent down the financial drain, and owning something that might (prior to the 2007 housing collapse, the conventional wisdom was “would”) appreciate in value.

Here’s the case for renting instead:

The average American moves 11.x times in his or her life. Given a life expectancy of 80 years, that’s a move every seven years or so — 23 years short of paying off a 30-year mortgage.

When we’re kids, we move where our parents go. As adults, we might move for school, for work, for marriage (or equivalent), after a divorce (or equivalent), into larger quarters when children come along, into smaller quarters when we retire … we’ve got plenty of reasons.

A renter is almost always within less than a year of fulfilling a lease agreement, and isn’t likely to lose much by kicking out of that agreement. Selling a home for enough to pay off the mortgage and perhaps pocket some money is risky, speculative, and far from time-certain.

Got a great job offer requiring a 200-mile move? Did triplets arrive when you were expecting (and had nursery space to accommodate) a single child? Divorcing under circumstances where splitting cash would entail less nastiness than splitting real estate? Is home ownership a net benefit or an anvil on your foot, holding you somewhere you no longer want to be?

And keep in mind that “owning” a home doesn’t eliminate rent. Even after the mortgage is paid off, a “homeowner” in most places pays rent to the government. It’s called “property tax,” but it’s rent — if you don’t pay, you’ll eventually be evicted.

If home ownership does suit you, that’s great. If not, keep in mind that politicians of both major parties want bigger campaign contributions and higher property tax takes, whether you truly benefit or not.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.