Team Lockdown, or Team Get Back to Work?

An anonymous reader writes in with the question below:

As a student of economics, our mind forces us to think rationally, even during the present time of corona pandemic which is taking a toll on several lives. The question which is bothering me is about the enactment of lockdown and bypassing the one of the fundamental right of livelihood without constitutionally declaring emergency in the country due to COVID-19. As we’re constantly keeping an eye on news, the millions of businessman, traders, labor whose daily living is in danger (for at least coming 2 more weeks) has been taken away with an announcement of PM.
Are we sacrificing our country’s livelihood in the wake of moral persuasion by PM or it is the just the ignorance/illiteracy towards our fundamental rights?


 

First things first: I’m the very opposite of a legal scholar! But here’s my attempt at answering the question, first from a legal viewpoint, and second from a philosophical viewpoint.

You’d think I’d want to answer this question from an economist’s point of view, considering my “profession” and “qualification”, but honestly, this is best viewed and thought about from the prism of philosophy.


 

But legal aspects first:

As best as I can tell, the right to livelihood is guaranteed by Article 21:

Article 21 reads as:

“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.”

Although Article 19 also deserves a closer look, especially sub-clause (g) of clause (1) of Article 19:

19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech etc
(1) All citizens shall have the right
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) to form associations or unions;
(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
(f) omitted
(g) to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business

But both Articles 19 and 21 have far too many loopholes, exceptions and what-have-yous. Again, I am not a legal expert, but this, with regards Article 19 seems pertinent:

(6) Nothing in sub clause (g) of the said clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it imposes, or prevent the State from making any law imposing, in the interests of the general public, reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause, and, in particular, nothing in the said sub clause shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevent the State from making any law relating to,
(i) the professional or technical qualifications necessary for practising any profession or carrying on any occupation, trade or business, or
(ii) the carrying on by the State, or by a corporation owned or controlled by the State, of any trade, business, industry or service, whether to the exclusion, complete or partial, of citizens or otherwise

And Article 21 ends with “according to a procedure established by law”, and so I’m sure the legality is not, therefore, an issue at all.


 

Now that the legal aspect is out of the way, let’s try and figure out the philosophical issue at hand here.

Seen Sophie’s Choice? (I haven’t, because the one of the premises is so horrifying that I have never been able to get myself to watch it). Spoiler alert, consider yourself warned!

She reveals to him that, upon arrival at Auschwitz, she was forced to choose which one of her two children would be gassed and which would proceed to the labor camp. To avoid having both children killed, she chose her son, Jan, to be sent to the children’s camp, and her daughter, Eva, to be sent to her death.

Seen Eye in the Sky? Again, spoiler alert, but here’s the core dilemma of the movie:

You can kill three terrorists who have committed unspeakable crimes by ordering a drone to shoot a missile at a home in which they are hiding. BUT: you will also end up killing a little girl who is selling bread right outside that home, blissfully unaware that there are terrorists inside. Do you order the strike?

Heard of the trolley problem?

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options:

Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.
Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the more ethical option? Or, more simply: What is the right thing to do?

Here, as simply put as possible, is the dilemma in front of the leaders of almost all nations on the planet:

Let people move about freely, letting them earn their living, BUT also be spreaders of COVID-19, thereby putting themselves, and an untold number of others at risk

OR

Confine people at home, therefore saving at least some lives, BUT therefore deny people, especially the poor, the chance to earn a living.

Put another way:

do we optimize for health and life, at the cost of untold economic suffering (Team Lockdown)…
..
..

…or do we optimize for the opportunity to earn money, at the cost of people (for no fault of theirs) losing their lives? (Team Get Back to Work)


 

My personal opinion? A human life is a non-negotiable. That, to me, is axiomatic. And on first blush, you might think that therefore I am Team Lockdown.

But will the lockdown, at the margin, cause deaths inflicted by the imposition of the lockdown? Almost certainly yes. So both policies will result in the loss of some lives. That’s just the hard truth.

Then, morally speaking from my perspective, we ought to choose that policy which minimizes death and suffering.

Can Team Get Back to Work minimize death and suffering, or do a better job of minimizing death and suffering than Team Lockdown?

In my opinion, no.

Therefore, Team Lockdown for me.

But that being said:

Can Team Lockdown try and ensure that those most impacted by the lockdown get all the support we (all of us) can possibly give? That, in my opinion, now becomes a moral imperative.

Beginning with tripling the current stimulus!


That’s just my opinion, for reasons explained above. That doesn’t necessarily make it right, and I’m more than open to listening to opposite points of view. Here’s one from the other side, for example. The-Pensford-Newsletter-3.23.2020

But right now, and at the current margin?

I’m Team Lockdown.

 

My thanks to the anonymous reader for raising this question; it helped me clarify my own thinking on the issue!