Lockdowns and Elite Lockjaw

I’ve been arguing for at least a year that we’ll eventually look back on the government handling of COVID (in particular lockdowns) as perhaps the greatest single public policy blunder in decades. And the evidence is starting to accumulate.

Like this article—which is a meta-analysis of hundreds of published studies—in the International Journal of Economics and Business, just out a week ago from Douglas Allen of Simon Fraser University in Canada:

Covid-19 Lockdown Cost/Benefits: A Critical Assessment of the Literature

Douglas W. Allen


An examination of over 100 Covid-19 studies reveals that many relied on false assumptions that over-estimated the benefits and under-estimated the costs of lockdown. The most recent research has shown that lockdowns have had, at best, a marginal effect on the number of Covid-19 deaths. Generally speaking, the ineffectiveness stemmed from individual changes in behavior: either non-compliance or behavior that mimicked lockdowns. The limited effectiveness of lockdowns explains why, after more than one year, the unconditional cumulative Covid-19 deaths per million is not negatively correlated with the stringency of lockdown across countries. Using a method proposed by Professor Bryan Caplan along with estimates of lockdown benefits based on the econometric evidence, I calculate a number of cost/benefit ratios of lockdowns in terms of life-years saved. Using a mid-point estimate for costs and benefits, the reasonable estimate for Canada is a cost/benefit ratio of 141. It is possible that lockdown will go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in modern history. (Boldface added.)

Some of the copy in the full study is even more bracing, much of written in actual English that a layperson can read:

The public and business trust has also been reinforced by the one-sided, incomplete, and almost unchanging ubiquitous media, public health, and political response to the pandemic. With respect to lockdown policies, many political jurisdictions have repeated the same spring 2020 programs in 2021, ignoring what has been learned in the meantime. Often public announcements were made that were inconsistent with basic Covid-19 facts that were easy to find, if you knew where to look. Furthermore, when research results contrary to the official government response were shared on social media, they were often pulled from these platforms, making access to the full research picture generally unavailable to an average citizen. As a result, for most citizens and business people the public media and official public health news conferences have been the only source of Covid-19 information. . .

[I]t appears that lockdowns are not necessary for viral waves of deaths and cases to end. Nor does it appear that there was ever any widespread over-utilization of hospitals, especially in locations with little or no lockdown. Furthermore, casual observation shows that jurisdictions with lockdowns often did not avoid large waves of cases and deaths. In many ways, the virus seemed to progress independently of lockdown policy. Thus, on the one hand citizens and business people have been asked, in a blind trust, to go along with drastic and unprecedented lockdowns; while on the other hand, becoming aware of apparent inconsistencies. How is a reasonable person to think about all of this?

There’s a lot more in this richly documented and well-argued look at the whole scene. But when it comes to COVID, our leadership class is afflicted with lockjaw—locked in to authoritarian control rather than reconsidering their mistakes.

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