As other jurisdictions begin to fall prey to repeating folly associated with the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, Louisiana and specifically Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards should learn from his mistakes as highlighted by a new study.
The Committee to Unleash Prosperity recently released a report on the efficacy of measures taken in the pandemic by U.S. states and the District of Columbia. It reviewed both health and economic statistics to rank order states in their responses, where higher grades went to states that endured less economic destruction, reduced educational disruption, and whose citizens suffered fewer deaths (either from the virus or in excess deaths triggered by restrictions). To refine further the explanatory power of policy, the economic indicators were adjusted by composition of state economies (such as Louisiana being more vulnerable due to its reliance on tourism) and by overall state health (such as Louisiana being more vulnerable due to worse lifestyle factors). The authors noted that of these mortality likely was the least likely least affected by policy.
All in all, Louisiana — and by extension Edwards’ policies, since statute permitted little legislative input — didn’t fare badly on the index. It ranked not far below average at 29th, although only Virginia scored worse among southern states. Also of note, of the 28 states ahead of it, only eight didn’t have unified Republican governance and just one didn’t have the GOP in control of at least one branch. By contrast, of the 22 behind, only four had unified Republican control and split control in three, leaving the other 15 under complete dominance of Democrats.
Actually, the state performed poorly on two of the categories. The economic component included gross state product and unemployment, where on the latter it scored a low-middling 32nd but on the former, even adjusted, trailed just Hawai’i and Connecticut to produce an overall score of 43rd. This reflects the comparatively strict and lengthy restrictions Edwards imposed.
It didn’t do that well on mortality also. Virus deaths actually put the state in the top half at 16th; keep in mind this was adjusted for overall health. This indicator the authors saw as fairly impermeable to policy decisions, except for nursing home fatalities from which deaths vastly proportionally have come. Here, they stated how well policy segregated residents from infected people made a difference, and in his best pandemic decision Edwards’ orders didn’t allow for mixing the sick with the virus with the healthy.
But Edwards worst decision was reflected in the other mortality indicator, excess deaths. His overzealous curtailment of and interference with commerce provoked unnecessary despair that needlessly sent people over the edge or obstructed medical care that placed the state 45th. This left the aggregate ranking for the category at 34th.
What really brought the state up from the doldrums was its score on education, measured by proportion of in-class learning. Most states had more closures and hybrid learning than Louisiana, and as a result it ranked 10th on this. Notably, Edwards laid off making policy in this area after the first few weeks of the pandemic, so this was left in the hands (by decision of Department of Education, specifically Superintendent Cade Brumley) of local school districts and most opted to resume classes meeting physically.
The study noted policy appeared largely unrelated to severity of pandemic outcomes; for example, no pattern existed between strictness of restrictions and virus deaths. They argued, thusly, that except for policy that tried to protect the most vulnerable, government intrusiveness brought no discernible benefits.
This means many of Edwards’ policy decisions didn’t improve matters, if not made things worse, and Louisianans bore unnecessary costs as a result. It’s a lesson for the future as well as an assessment for the history books.