Anyone in business is familiar with the concept of return on investment, or ROI. Before making a big purchase, prudent business leaders always perform an ROI to determine if the benefit outweighs the cost. If the benefit is greater than the cost, then it is wise to make the purchase. If the benefit is less than the cost, or if the time that it will take to realize the benefit is too great, then it’s probably not a good idea.
We do cost/benefit analyses all the time. McDonalds or Ruth’s Chris? Hawaii or Disneyland? Ford or Lexus? Paper or plastic?
We’re witnessing a monumental exercise of this concept.
Our leaders, and most of those around the world, have determined that the benefit of limiting COVID-19 is greater than the cost. By all accounts we are reducing the number of cases and deaths associated with this malevolent virus by social distancing. That is the benefit.
We haven’t experienced the brunt of the cost yet and predicting the effects of shutting down most of our economy for an extended time is not easy to do.
As we all know, calculating the cost and benefit of a decision in most cases is subjective. That’s why we don’t make the same decisions. Our values systems determines our choices.
What makes this situation so important is that we’re dealing with life and death. How much are we willing to do to save one life? How about 10,000? 100,000?
Every year Americans die of preventable things. The CDC estimates that 61,000 people died from the seasonal flu in 2016-2017. If we had practiced social distancing then the way we are now, how many fewer people would have died? On average about 40,000 people die every year from auto accidents. Shouldn’t we have more restrictions on motor travel? If the maximum speed limit were 40mph, how many lives would that save? Would it be worth it?
We will be wrestling with the results of the coronavirus ROI for a long time.