Is it wrong to be skeptical about lockdowns?

In this column for the Washington Post, Megan McArdle tries to show that “the lockdown skeptics are wrong.” McArdle argues that even if lockdowns only delay the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, they will produce benefits by enhancing our ability to treat those who become infected and, quite possibly, by reducing the number of infections.

Treatment will be improved, she says, because our health care systems won’t be overwhelmed and because, with more time, we likely will figure out better treatments for the sick. In addition, with more time, various health control measures (she may mean some combination of tracing, testing, and isolation) might reduce the total number of infections.

These are arguments I made here and here. However, they don’t demonstrate that “the lockdown skeptics are wrong.” In my view, they show that it’s wrong to be dismissive of the ability of lockdowns to save a substantial number of lives, not that it’s wrong to be skeptical about this.

In addition, McArdle considers only the benefits of lockdowns. She doesn’t consider their costs.

Thus, if McArdle set out to write a general defense of lockdowns, she has written only half a column.