Selective concern for the future of children

Now that Donald Trump has broached the possibility of quickly easing the restrictions that he thinks are harming the economy (which in his mind is the stock market), other right wingers are joining in support, using a curious argument.

Joining the president, a growing chorus of American television pundits, business leaders, tech investors, cryptocurrency enthusiasts, and right-wing influencers have decided to convince the American people that possibly dying from the coronavirus is a small price to pay for economic health.

No clearer was this utilitarian calculus articulated than by Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight on Monday night following Trump’s White House briefing. Patrick suggested that Americans over 70 would be happy to die for the good of the American economy.

“Those of us who are 70 plus, we’ll take care of ourselves. But don’t sacrifice the country,” Patrick said. “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.”

Patrick has been excoriated for his cavalier disregard for the lives of older people.

Notice that Patrick is casually sacrificing an entire generation that did not appoint him as their spokesperson. You can be sure he will make sure that he himself is never in any danger. This is quite different from what happened after the Fukushima nuclear reactor caused by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. A group of retired engineers and other professionals actually volunteered to go into the damaged reactor and do the clean up because they felt that it would be better for them to be exposed to the radiation than young people who had their entire lives before them.

It is funny how this concern for the world we leave to future generations works only in one direction. Patrick says he is willing to sacrifice his own life to make the world better for his children and grandchildren. But when those same children and grandchildren ask for urgent action to save the planet that they will inherit from the ravages of global warning, actions that would not require him to die, suddenly the message changes to “Tough luck, kids!” What they really care about is preserving or growing their own wealth.

You may also remember how when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, critics such as Sarah Palin (where is she now, anyway?) warned that it would ration health care and create ‘death panels’ that would decide that grandma needed to die. But when it comes to saving corporations and boosting stock prices, grandmas suddenly become expendable.


  1. billseymour says

    Although I tend to make Utilitarian decisions about matters that are simple and well-understood (Should I get a flu shot? Sure. Herd immunity is a sufficient reason.), on bigger matters, it seems to me that “the greatest good for the greatest number” is devoid of actual meaning since we lack a calculus for it. Indeed, most Utilitarian arguments sound to me like apologetics:  making up reasons to support an existing belief (kind of the opposite of what experimental scientists generally do).

  2. billseymour says

    Marshall @2:

    … Sarah Palin is … rapping horribly on reality TV.

    Oh, dear! I will never be able to unsee the image now in my brain.

  3. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    They are also the small government party. And then Trump published the biggest Keynesian market intervention in history. No wonder the Chicago School economists are horrified.

    Maybe they will extend their operations to a Chicago School of Medicine? Whatever the ailment, the only remedy is to do nothing, and let the Market cure it.

  4. Mano Singham says

    Marshall @#2

    Wow, thanks for that! It looks like she is still doing her greatest hits: run-on sentences, switching abruptly from topic to topic, invoking God, using her family as convenient props, botching metaphors, and attacking the media.

    Never change, Sarah! As long as you are nowhere close to having any power, of course.

  5. captainjack says

    My Dad’s about to turn 100. He served in WW2, flying a 1000 hours over the North Atlantic summer and winter. After that, he raised 6 kids on a teacher’s pay so he worked a second job selling insurance. He always went to work and paid his bills and taxes on time. He outlived two women, my mother and the woman he was with for 20 years after my mother died. He has a feeding tube, congestive heart failure and fibrosis from previous lung infections. He’s happy to still be alive so he can talk with his children and grandchildren. I think it would be great for Dan Patrick to look him in the eye and tell him to die.

  6. mnb0 says

    “possibly dying from the coronavirus is a small price to pay for economic health.”
    Excellent idea. Let Dan Patrick set the good example, have euthanasia and donate 90% of his inheritance to the battle against corona, with the main focus on those patients who do not have insurance.
    What I have noted though is that people like Patrick -- and especially christian authorities -- always expect others to sacrifice themselves.

  7. mnb0 says

    @1 BillS: Dan Patrick’s call is not utilitarian. He’s rich. By sacrificing himself etc. (see my previous comment) he could save quite a few lives. But that is not what he means.

  8. billseymour says

    mnbo @15:  I don’t disagree.

    But I’m no expert in ethics, and I tend to describe as “Utilitarian” any argument that sounds like “greatest good for the greatest number”. Should I use the word more narrowly?

    Anyway, my point was that I’m suspicious of such arguments when we don’t really know how to “do the math”, and especially when the argument would seem to benefit the speaker.

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