Texas' Dan Patrick: many seniors willing to sacrifice for economy

The Texan envisions a dynamic in which the economy returns to normal as some elderly succumb to the virus. That's ridiculous.
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Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick addresses the crowd before President Donald Trump took the stage for a rally in support of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas on Oct. 22, 2018.Loren Elliott / Getty Images file

Donald Trump argued at the White House yesterday that the nation might have to accept drastic public-health consequences for the sake of economic growth. A few hours later, one of his Republican allies went quite a bit further down the same path.

Dan Patrick, Texas' Republican lieutenant governor, on Monday night suggested that he and other grandparents would be willing to risk their health and even lives in order for the United States to "get back to work" amid the coronavirus pandemic. "Those of us who are 70 plus, we'll take care of ourselves. But don't sacrifice the country," Patrick said on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight."

The GOP official, who'll turn 70 next week, went on to say, "No one reached out to me and said, 'As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?' And if that is the exchange, I'm all in."

It's tough to know where to start with this, but let's quickly review some of the basics.

First, I hope Dan Patrick realizes that he's not speaking for all seniors, because I have a strong hunch millions of older Americans would be far less eager to put their lives on the line in order to prevent short-term economic hardship.

Second, to see the coronavirus crisis as one that only adversely affects those who are "70 plus" is wrong. Statistics from the United States and around the world make clear that COVID-19 is proving fatal for many young people, too.

Third, the tradeoff Patrick envisions -- risk a public-health catastrophe to prevent "sacrificing the country" -- isn't as necessary as he seems to think. A coordinated and effective mitigation effort can "flatten the curve," while economic rescue efforts -- from Congress and the Federal Reserve -- can ease the temporary downturn.

But even putting all of these relevant angles aside, let's not overlook the fundamental flaw in the Texan's calculus: as we discussed earlier, if we give up trying to slow infection rates, the economy will suffer anyway as more and more of the American workforce falls ill, and hospitals face an impossible onslaught.

Patrick seems to envision a dynamic in which the economy returns to normal as some elderly Americans succumb to a deadly virus, effectively taking one for the team. But among the reasons that's ridiculous is there can be no economic normalcy while a pandemic sweeps through the populace.