In my opinion, the responses of governments to the covid epidemic represent the worst failure of public policy since, at least, the Vietnam War. In fact, the covid responses were probably more destructive than Vietnam. You would likely have to go back to the perverse reactions of the Hoover/Roosevelt administrations to the Great Depression to find their equal.
The centerpiece of governments’ efforts to “fight” the covid virus was lockdowns of businesses, schools, churches, and social life generally. No one ever doubted that these lockdowns entailed terrible costs, and it pretty quickly became clear that they conferred few if any benefits. But many governments around the world, including our own with the collaboration of tech magnates, ruthlessly suppressed debate over their advisability.
That is finally changing, as more and more observers are willing to say what pretty much everyone knows: the shutdown emperors weren’t wearing any clothes. See, for example, former British Supreme Court Justice Jonathan Sumption in the hyper-establishment London Times: “Little by little the truth of lockdown is being admitted: it was a disaster.” The whole thing is worth reading. Here are some excerpts:
Lockdown was an extreme and unprecedented response to an ancient problem, the challenge of epidemic disease. It was also something else. It marked one of the gravest governmental failures of modern times. In a remarkably candid interview with The Spectator, Rishi Sunak has blown the gaff on the sheer superficiality of the decision-making process of which he was himself part.
Lockdown was a policy conceived in the early days by China and the World Health Organisation as a way of suppressing the virus altogether (so-called zero Covid). The WHO quickly abandoned this unrealistic ambition. But European countries, except Sweden, eagerly embraced lockdown, ripping up a decade of pandemic planning that had been based on concentrating help on vulnerable groups and avoiding coercion.
Likewise in nearly all American states.
At first Britain stood up against the stampede. Then Professor Neil Ferguson’s team at Imperial College London published its notorious “Report 9”. Sunak confirms that this was what panicked ministers into a measure that the scientists had previously rejected. If No 10 had studied the assumptions underlying it, it might have been less impressed. …
And, as Report 9 pointed out, lockdown would not destroy the virus. It would come back as soon as the restrictions were lifted. …
It was always obvious that you could not close down a country for months on end without serious consequences. The shocking thing that emerges from Sunak’s interview is that the government refused to take them into account. There was no assessment of the likely collateral costs of lockdown. There was no cost-benefit analysis. There was no planning. In government the issues were not even discussed. Sunak’s own attempts to raise them hit a brick wall. Ministers took refuge in evasive buck-passing, claiming to be “following the science”.
Same in the U.S. But of course, “science” could never tell us whether slowing the spread of the covid virus–assuming that could be done–was worth destroying hundreds of thousands of businesses, devastating the lives of our young people, planting the seeds of future illness and death due to foregone “non-essential” medical checkups and procedures, and so on. Politicians, with few exceptions, took the coward’s way out.
We are still paying for this negligence, and our children and grandchildren will be paying for it for decades to come. In 2020, UK GDP fell by nearly a tenth, the biggest hit to the economy for at least a century. According to Treasury estimates, 460,000 people left the workforce never to return. The policy took a wrecking ball to the public finances. The IMF estimates that government spending rose by more than £400 billion, or about £6,000 for every man, woman and child. Most of this was unproductive spending. It went on paying people for not working and supporting businesses forced to cease operations. …
Then there are the non-financial costs. Other mortal conditions went undiagnosed and untreated. In October 2020, after four months of lockdown, the Office for National Statistics reported more than 25,000 excess deaths at home from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and dementia. A year after the last lockdown ended, the NHS still has a vast backlog. Excess deaths, 95 per cent of them due to conditions other than Covid, are running at about 1,000 a week. There has been a huge impact on mental health, with children and the poor worst affected.
The numbers would be different in the U.S, but the conclusion is the same.
The lockdown was an experiment in authoritarian government unmatched in our history even in wartime.
My own governor issued an order that said no one in the state could leave his or her house except as permitted by the governor. Is there a word for this kind of high-handed, unconstitutional authoritarianism?
Ministers and scientists responsible for a policy that has inflicted untold misery on an entire population naturally find it hard to admit they may have been mistaken. But closing ranks against the public interest usually fails in the end. There will be more embarrassing disclosures after this one. The official narrative is beginning to unravel.
Let’s hope so–here in the U.S., as well. As the official narrative does unravel, the last to know will be those who depend on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook for their news. I have a feeling that ignorant tech employees will keep fighting the shutdown battle long after the war is over.