In my various feeds, the argument to stopping shelter-in-place and take steps to le businesses open up has been met with caustic derision. The two refrains I hear the most is “You want to sacrifice lives for jobs” and “If it saves one life, then we must continue these measures.” Both of these are hyperbolic extremes that display an outstanding level of ignorance about the nature of trade-offs. The argument isn’t jobs vs lives. It’s lives vs lives.

Those of us in the gun community have heard the “If it saves one life” argument before. Usually, owe r opponents garnish this with “if it saves just one child’s life.” A good example of this argument in action is over waiting periods. Waiting periods may save a life, but we do know it has cost other people their lives who were attacked during that window.

When we look at shutting businesses down and putting millions of people out of work, there is a known uptick in deaths from suicide, overdoses, interpersonal violence, and other conditions. Not doing elective surgeries will cost lives due to not dealing with certain diseases early enough (e.g., cancer). The argument isn’t jobs vs lives, it’s lives vs lives.

The best argument I’ve heard recently came from the podcast Words and Numbers. When we’re deciding among these trade-offs, we often have to boil it down to dollars spent per life saved. It’s not that a life is only worth so many dollars, but more a matter of deciding how to use scarce resources.

How do we help the most people?