John Tierney reviews Scott Atlas’s A Plague Upon Our House – calling Fauci, Birx, and Redfield “Covid’s three blind mice.” Four slices:

How could public officials vowing to “follow the science” on Covid-19 persist in promoting ineffective strategies with terrible consequences? In a memoir of his time on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Scott W. Atlas provides an answer: because the nation’s governance was hijacked by three bureaucrats with scant interest in scientific research or debate—and no concern for the calamitous effects of their edicts.

Atlas’s book, A Plague Upon Our House, is an astonishing read, even for those who have been closely following this disaster.


Vice President Mike Pence chaired the Task Force, but Atlas says that Pence and the other members were regularly cowed into submission by three doctors who dominated from the start: Deborah Birx, the Task Force’s coordinator, along with Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control.

Atlas calls them “the troika” because of their strategy for presenting a united front, never disagreeing with one another during the meetings in the White House Situation Room. (Reporting later revealed that they had made a pact to resign in unison if any of them was fired.) These veterans of the federal bureaucracy had worked closely together during the AIDS epidemic, and their track record was hardly reassuring. Their long and costly quest to develop an AIDS vaccine ultimately failed, but they did manage to persuade the public that AIDS would spread widely beyond gay men and intravenous drug users. Redfield, with some help from Fauci, was the chief prophet of a “heterosexual breakout,” a threat that terrified Americans for more than a decade but never materialized.

The troika stoked more needless fears during the Covid pandemic, continually emphasizing worst-case scenarios—the computer models, for example, that wrongly forecast millions of American deaths in the summer of 2020. Surveys showed that most Americans, especially young people, vastly overestimated their risk of serious disease. Yet Fauci still wasn’t satisfied, as Atlas discovered when Fauci complained during one meeting that Americans didn’t take the virus seriously. “I challenged him to clarify his point,” Atlas writes, “because I couldn’t believe my ears. ‘So you think people aren’t frightened enough?’ He said, ‘Yes, they need to be more afraid.’ To me, this was another moment of Kafkaesque absurdity. . . . Instilling fear in the public is absolutely counter to what a leader in public health should do. To me, it is frankly immoral, although I kept that to myself.”

Fauci got the most media attention of the troika, but Atlas thinks that Birx did the most damage.


The troika also ignored dozens of studies showing the ineffectiveness of lockdowns, and the data showing that places that avoided lockdowns, like Florida and Sweden, did as well as or better than average in preventing Covid deaths. “I never fully understood why there was no admission, even internally by the Task Force, that the Birx-Fauci strategy did not work,” Atlas writes, concluding that it wasn’t simply because the media was eager to champion anyone who questioned President Donald Trump’s desire to reopen schools and businesses. “Disagreeing with Trump, especially in this election year, ensured near idolatry on cable TV and in the New York Times or Washington Post. But I never thought politics was the main driver of those on the Task Force. Perhaps it was an unstated fear that they were in way too deep to admit their errors.”

Mainstream media were the chief weapon the troika wielded against Atlas and scientists who opposed lockdowns and instead advocated a policy of “focused protection” that would concentrate testing and related resources on the elderly or other high-risk populations. (Atlas invited Birx to a meeting in the Oval Office with some of these eminent researchers, but she refused to attend.) Journalists caricatured their proposals as a callous “let it rip” strategy, portraying Atlas as an unqualified ideologue, unconcerned about the spread of the virus. Some of the false accusations in the press came from anonymous sources on the Task Force—presumably Fauci and Birx, Atlas writes, though Fauci denied it when Atlas confronted him. On the record, Fauci dismissed Atlas as an “outlier,” an assessment that journalists reinforced by repeatedly noting that he was “not an epidemiologist,” as if that were the only relevant qualification for determining overall public-health policies.

Fauci, Birx, and Redfield were not epidemiologists, either, but they were enshrined as “the science” because they provided what mainstream journalists craved: scare stories that boosted ratings and made Trump look bad.


The politician who comes off best is Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who had, Atlas observes, “a far more detailed understanding of the pandemic than anyone I had encountered in the Task Force.” Trump comes off fairly well, too, in his conversations with Atlas, as he frets about the harms of the lockdowns and instinctively recognizes the futility of the troika’s strategies. But Atlas lays the ultimate blame for the lockdowns—“a crime against humanity”—on Trump himself, because he allowed Birx and her allies to remain in charge. “This president, widely known for his signature ‘You’re fired!’ declaration, was misled by his closest political intimates,” Atlas writes. “All for fear of what was inevitable anyway—skewering from an already hostile media.”

K. Lloyd Billingsley rightly decries the hubris-drunk, narcissistic tyrant Fauci. A slice:

When the virus that causes COVID-19 arrived on these shores, Dr. Fauci was the man most responsible for the lockdowns that cause untold suffering for millions of Americans. As confirmed, Dr. Fauci wields executive-level power but in more than 50 years in government, he has never once faced the voters.

Anthony Fauci earned a medical degree in 1966 but if he ever practiced medicine it was only for a short time. In 1968, Fauci took a job with the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Fauci’s bio shows no advanced degrees in molecular biology or biochemistry, but Fauci has headed NIAID since 1984 and is now the highest-paid bureaucrat in the federal government.

The late Angelo Codevilla pegged Fauci as a deep state fraud, and the NIAID boss is under fire for lying about funding for gain-of-function research at the WIV. Dr. Fauci has reversed himself on many aspects of the pandemic but now claims his critics are “really criticizing science because I represent science.” Embattled Americans have to wonder.

“There comes a time,” Dr. Fauci recently told a McGill University audience, “when you do have to give up what you consider your individual right of making your own decision, for the greater good of society.” Dr. Anthony Fauci represents white coat supremacy, ruled by unelected bureaucrats.

Christos Makridis reports on some interesting research on Covid and social capital.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Marc Siegal counsels, about omicron, to keep calm and carry on. Here’s his conclusion:

The media is out for ratings, and politicians use fear to gain votes. If we give them neither we will find that fear begins to fade.

Alberto Mingardi asks if compulsory vaccination works. A slice:

A specter is haunting Europe—the specter of compulsory vaccination.

In the face of the Omicron variant, European governments are escalating in their anti-Covid measures. Compulsory vaccination is on the table, but so is the idea of going back to at least partial lockdowns. It is interesting that by now shutting down at least part of social life is sort of a default option, happily embraced by governments and experts as a first resort application of the precautionary principle. “When in doubt shut down”. Who would have predicted this, say, two years ago?

One of the reasons for this is a particular belief which has been circulated since Sars-Cov-2 reached us from Wuhan: the idea that “closed societies” are better at protecting people and fighting epidemics than open societies. Interestingly enough, those holding this belief do not waste their time in producing any evidence in support of their contentions. The idea that individual liberty is a nuisance in a pandemic is sort of taken for granted. This meant and still means that the tougher things get, the less justification is apparently needed to curtail older liberties.

Reason‘s Christian Britschgi reports on NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tyrannical imposition of a vaccine mandate for all private employers – on top of other Covidocratic authoritarian measures. Two slices:

[NYC health commissioner, Dave A.] Chokshi said the city will also require those aged 5–11 to have at least one vaccine shot in order to enter restaurants and other public venues. The city will also now require people aged 12 and up to get at least two doses of the vaccine to enter these places. Previously, people aged 12 and over only needed one shot to go to restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues, and anyone younger didn’t need to be vaccinated at all.


That’s an incredibly troubling approach to COVID-19 and one that will get more coercive the fewer unvaccinated people are left. Will a 95 percent vaccination rate be enough for the city to ease off the mandates? Or will that small remaining rump of the uninoculated necessitate a general vaccine requirement to finally get to universal vaccination?

It’s not clear what the off-ramp is for de Blasio and his ilk. Increasingly, it seems like there isn’t one.

Jacob Sullum reports that the “5th Circuit Temporarily Restores Greg Abbott’s Ban on School Mask Mandates.”

Independent-No-to-Groupthink tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

Yes. sarscov2 infected, caused covid in some-but the larger scale impact of sarscov2 has been to transform a small set of humans into irrational, unscientific, dangerous tyrants who imposed their iron will on us- and still refuse to see the harm they inflicted on the world’s poor

Telegraph columnist Sherelle Jacobs rightly insists that “[p]unishing the unvaccinated would be both immoral and unjustified.” A slice:

But perhaps most importantly, measures targeted against the unvaccinated would cross several important moral lines. Compulsory jabs are dehumanising in the sense that they undermine human agency. Taking their cue from mandatory child vaccinations, they infantilise the public, endorsing the idea that the state must protect people for their own good.

Some wrly suggest that the state could nudge anti-vaxxers in a way that encourages greater self-responsibility by charging them for Covid-related hospital treatment, as in Singapore. While this is a potentially clever way to square the circle, it would be ethically repugnant to single out the unvaccinated, but continue to indulge the obese or heavy drinkers, who put strain on the NHS as well.

If we were to introduce discriminatory measures against the unjabbed, we would also surely be setting a worryingly low bar for the circumstances in which the social good is deemed to outweigh the freedom of the individual in the future. For all the worries about the omicron variant, Covid now has an estimated fatality rate of 0.085 per cent (not dramatically greater than flu, which is believed to be 0.04 per cent), and deaths have continued to fall.

Writing in National Review, Alex Story decries Austria’s Covidocratic authoritarianism. Two slices:

Indeed, this process has already begun, with a classic bureaucratic “roundtable” that will bring all the right stakeholders together. The outcome, Soviet-style, has already been determined. As constitutional-affairs minister Karoline Edtstadler said, different opinions are not required, as it would “not suggest a constructive contribution.”

The unvaccinated and partially vaccinated are already barred from participating in normal life. The Austrian government announced a lockdown for the “unvaccinated” two weeks ago before imposing one for all last week. As reported by the Salzburger Nachrichenten, the lockdown for all currently in force was extended to December 11. However, health minister Wolfgang Mückstein, a member of the Greens, added that “the lockdown for the unvaccinated will be extended.”


A vaccine mandate will mean inevitable job losses for those unwilling or unable to submit. Those who do lose their jobs won’t easily have access to unemployment aid. After all, they will be outlaws. In addition, they will be physically constrained, stopped from leading a normal life, and fined.

As people are barred from earning an honest living, many of the fines levied will go unpaid. Arrests, bankruptcies, and more incarcerations will follow. The Austrian state is set to create a new generation of martyrs.

Italy begins lockdown of the unvaccinated.

Brendan O’Neill argues, quite compellingly, that “[m]andatory vaccination spells the violent end of European liberalism.” Three slices:

Europe is on a precipice. It has marched, blindly, towards something very much resembling tyranny. Austria will shortly criminalise those who refuse the Covid vaccine. Germany looks set to follow. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, is wondering out loud if every member state should do likewise and make offenders of those who reject this form of medication. In Italy you are deprived of your livelihood rather than your liberty if you say no to vaccination: the unvaxxed are not permitted to work. Anywhere. In Greece, everyone over the age of 60 must pay the government 100 euros for every month they remain unvaxxed. As if the Greek government, in cahoots with its masters in Brussels, had not immiserated Greek pensioners enough already.


What is happening in Europe right now is nothing short of terrifying. We are not merely witnessing another round of Covid restrictions. This isn’t just the introduction of another set of emergency measures that some people believe are necessary to stave off the latest Covid wave and the Omicron threat lurking on the horizon. No, we are living through a chilling overhaul of the entire relationship between the state and the individual, with the state empowered to such an extraordinary degree that it can now instruct its citizens on what to inject into their bodies, and the individual so politically emaciated, so denuded of rights, that he no longer even enjoys sovereignty over himself, over that tiny part of the world that is his own body and mind. We are witnessing the violent death of European liberalism and the birth pangs of a new and deeply authoritarian era.


Strikingly, there is very little pushback from the so-called human-rights lobby against the proposed new regime of forced medication. Europhiles in the UK and elsewhere – the kind of people who assured us the EU was the great modern defender of the dignity of the individual – are meek as mice in the face of these state threats to strongarm citizens into medical compliance. It wasn’t meant to be like this, you see. It was Brexit Britain, they said, that would become a hotbed of deranged authoritarianism, while the EU would hold a candle for the modern principles of rights and respect. And now that the opposite has proven to be the case, they look the other way, or they subtly give their nod to what amounts to a tyranny of the state over the souls and flesh of individual human beings. European liberalism is dying, the European Union stands exposed as a seat of extreme authoritarianism, and the future of this continent looks very uncertain indeed. Covid will look like a blip in the affairs of man in comparison with the fallout from this political and moral crisis of the European continent.

(DBx: Why are so few voices protesting this hellish tyranny that is now sweeping across the globe? If – and this “if” is big – humanity recovers its senses and liberalism survives Covid hysteria, our children and grandchildren will look back on today’s goings-on with much the same mix of revulsion and “How could human beings have done that?!” with which we today look back on the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and other brutal religious persecutions.)

Here’s the abstract of a new paper by Ari Joffe and David Redman:

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has caused tragic morbidity and mortality. In attempt to reduce this morbidity and mortality, most countries implemented population-wide lockdowns. Here we show that the lockdowns were based on several flawed assumptions, including “no one is protected until everyone is protected,” “lockdowns are highly effective to reduce transmission,” “lockdowns have a favorable cost-benefit balance,” and “lockdowns are the only effective option.” Focusing on the latter, we discuss that Emergency Management principles provide a better way forward to manage the public emergency of the pandemic. Specifically, there are three priorities including the following: first, protect those most at risk by separating them from the threat (mitigation); second, ensure critical infrastructure is ready for people who get sick (preparation and response); and third, shift the response from fear to confidence (recovery). We argue that, based on Emergency Management principles, the age-dependent risk from SARS-CoV-2, the minimal (at best) efficacy of lockdowns, and the terrible cost-benefit trade-offs of lockdowns, we need to reset the pandemic response. We can manage risk and save more lives from both COVID-19 and lockdowns, thus achieving far better outcomes in both the short- and long-term.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on December 7, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 125 of the original 1960 Harvard University Press edition of Frank Knight’s collection of lectures, delivered in 1958 at the University of Virginia, titled Intelligence and Democratic Action:

Human society is basically a phenomenon of more or less stable beliefs and patterns of conduct. The principle of [classical] liberalism is that these are not fixed once and for all – historically through prescription by some supernatural (or charismatic) authority – but are always subject to question, discussion, and alteration by agreement. Free society thus stands for progress, and also allows for and approves of much variety in both belief and conduct.

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My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy again exposes the economic ignorance of those who press for government-arranged paid leave.

David Henderson reminds us why we’ll miss the late Rick Stroup. (DBx: The first textbook out of which I taught was the second edition of Gwartney and Stroup – from which I myself learned much. Also, I’ll miss Rick in part because he always called me, whether in person or by e-mail, “young man” – a designation that men my age don’t believe but nevertheless get a kick out of hearing.)

I’m saddened to learn of the death of Phil Harvey.

Johan Norberg explains that “[t]he ‘good old days’ weren’t all that good – but they’re still messing with politics.” A slice:

In a wonderful podcast episode, Build for Tomorrow host Jason Feifer explored nostalgia throughout history. If you want to make America great again, you have to ask yourself when America was great, he thought. The most popular answer seemed to be the 1950s. So then he asked scholars of the ’50s whether people in the ’50s thought they were the good old days. Definitely not. People were worried about race and class, the impact of television, and the very real threat of instant nuclear annihilation. There was anxiety about rapidly changing family life and especially the new youth cultures and mindless, consumer-oriented students on campus. American sociologists warned that rampant individualism was tearing the family apart.

But there must have been exceptions. For example, being an autoworker in Detroit must have been amazing, considering how often this group is featured in current labor market nostalgia. Or was it?

When historian Daniel Clark launched an oral history project to find out how the autoworkers themselves experienced it, he fully expected to hear stories about a lost Eden. However, as Clark wrote, “hardly anyone, male or female, white or African American, recalled the 1950s as a time of secure employment, rising wages, and improved benefits.”

Instead, Clark was told about economic volatility, precarious employment, and recurring unemployment. In 1952, one-tenth of all U.S. unemployment was concentrated in the city of Detroit. Impressive hourly wages don’t say much about annual incomes if you are only called in temporarily and quickly let go. Most of the workers Clark spoke with recounted how they had to take secondary gigs (cab driver, trash hauler, janitor, cotton picker, moving company worker, golf caddy) to pay the bills.

Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Euijin Jung examine 50 years of industrial policy. (HT Timothy Taylor)

Tyler Cowen is rightly impressed with the entrepreneurial drive of Paul McCartney.

Let’s hope that government-school administrators, and the teachers unions for which these schools are principally operated, will continue to reveal their true colors so that we might take a giant step on the happy road toward a complete separation of school and state.

Pierre Lemieux decries the FTC’s “supply chain witch-hunt.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board applauds some scientists who are standing up to dangerous woke idiocy. A slice:

The last few years have seen a proliferation of “open letters” by academics in politics and the humanities in favor of progressive causes. The hard sciences are different, and when mathematicians, physicists and engineers speak up to defend the integrity of their fields, Americans should pay attention.

The latest example is a new public statement from hundreds of the country’s top quantitative scientists warning about the assault on math in schools. “We write to express our alarm over recent trends in K-12 mathematics education in the United States,” the statement begins. The social-justice wave of 2020 accelerated efforts to eliminate standardized testing and lower standards in math to give the appearance that achievement gaps don’t exist.

The scientists delicately describe the politicized erosion of standards as “well-intentioned approaches to reform mathematics education.” They zero in on the California Department of Education’s proposed new math framework, which encourages math teachers to take a “justice-oriented perspective.” The signatories say the course roadmap will reduce the “availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers” and discourage students from taking calculus.

George Will remembers the late Bob Dole.

Tim Worstall is rightly unimpressed with the increasingly common assertion that labor markets are infected with monopsony power.

Kevin Williamson relates tales from the “Carbon Cult in Glasgow.” Two slices:

The climate movement likes to wear the cloak of Science!, but here on the streets of Glasgow, inevitably described as “gritty,” it is a movement of slogans — fruity and loopy and hippie and New Agey inside the Scottish Exhibition Center, where the U.N.-approved activists and critics and RINGOs and QUANGOs and YOUNGOs offer up their predictable maxims (“We Have a Right to Climate Education” and “The Future Is Female” and the inevitable “Black Lives Matter”), but they get angrier and ragier and a good deal less grammatical as you move outward through the concentric circles of Serious Power, centered today on the most sacred person of Barack Obama, paying a surprise visit and upstaging the official U.S envoy, haughty private-jet enthusiast John Kerry, which is plainly part of the former president’s extended “Hey, Joe Biden Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time!” tour. And the mottos and calls to arms and such grow positively hostile as you land on the actual Glaswegian street, outside of the barricaded zone of U.N. approval, where there is talk of Nuremberg-style trials for “climate criminals” and naked anti-humanism (“Love the Planet: Hate Children!”) and graffiti scrawled either by some quasi-illiterate climate warrior with approximately Greta Thunberg’s education or by some ingenious and nihilistic street philosopher offering up Plato-by-way-of-N.W.A.:

F*** the Polis!”


The downside, of course, is that transforming environmentalism into a religion — a religion with creeds, rituals, and infidels — has made widespread international cooperation on meaningful environmental goals, including meaningful climate goals, all but impossible. As the graffiti around Glasgow denouncing “climate criminals” and the jeremiads of Greta Thunberg et al. have made perfectly clear, the true-believing environmentalists have very little interest in common ground or a middle ground, insisting instead that “climate justice” requires a complete transformation of both the individual and society.

As politics, that is totalitarianism; as religion, it is fanaticism. And the sweet smell of incense is not enough to mask the stink of it.

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My most-recent column for AIER is the first of a two-part series on my favorite of all of F.A. Hayek’s lesser-known papers – namely, his 1964 paper “Kinds of Order in Society.” A slice from my column:

Among the assumptions at the foundation of this article is that we human beings extend our ability to achieve our goals by cooperating with each other. And the greater is the number of individuals with whom we cooperate, the greater is the number of goals that we can successfully pursue.

This fact explains the omnipresence of human cooperation. Such cooperation began eons ago in small hunting and gathering bands in which each individual personally knew those with whom he or she cooperated. Today, this cooperation literally spans the globe and occurs among billions of people, nearly all of whom are strangers to each other.

When the cooperation is only among individuals who know each other personally – that is, only among a very small number of persons – it’s easy for each person to comprehend the nature of the cooperative arrangement. For example, John, Steve, and Sven agree to go out together at dawn to hunt, while it’’s understood by all that Sarah, Sally, and Sue will remain by the tents and prepare a fire for cooking.

No prehistoric social scientist was necessary to discover and reveal the nature of such simple cooperation – to theorize about how it arose and what purposes it serves.

But cooperation on such a small scale doesn’t allow individuals to achieve as much as each can achieve by including in the cooperative effort more individuals. The inclusion of more individuals brings to the cooperative effort not only additional muscle power but, far more importantly, additional and more diverse brain power – that is, more human creativity. The inclusion of more individuals also encourages greater specialization, which in turn results in each task being done more expertly, more uniformly, and faster.

The human mind, however, isn’t evolved to be able to know more than a few hundred individuals. If we cooperated only with individuals we know, the span of our cooperation would remain extremely narrow and, hence, the results of our cooperative efforts would be correspondingly meager.

Fortunately, our inability to personally know more than a handful of fellow human beings is offset by our instinct to adopt and follow rules. By following rules we can, and do, increase the number of individuals with whom we cooperate beyond the number that we personally know.

An example is trade, which has at its base this rule: Each person is entitled only to what other people voluntarily give to him or her. No one gets to take other people’s stuff without their permission. Under this rule, if Jones wants some item, say an axe, owned by Smith, Jones understands that he can get this axe only by persuading Smith to give it to him. And especially if Smith is a stranger to Jones, the most obvious way for Jones to persuade Smith to give him the axe is for Jones to agree to give some other item – say, a barrel of beer – to Smith in exchange.

By following this simple rule – “Each person is entitled only to what other people voluntarily give to him or her” – each of us can cooperate with strangers. Jones doesn’t have to know Smith, or to personally work with Smith to produce the axe, in order to gain (to “profit”) from Smith’s ability to produce axes. Likewise, by following this rule, Smith doesn’t have to know Jones, or to help him brew beer, in order to gain from Jones’s ability and willingness to brew beer.

Trade allows each of us to tap into the unique talents, interests, and endowments of our trading partners, be they neighbors across the street or strangers across the ocean. And trade is possible because its most basic rule is easily understood by every human being regardless of cultural background.

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In my column for the October 5th, 2011, edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I warned against falling for the promises politicians were then making for an “infrastructure bank.” You can read my column beneath the fold.

Read the full post →

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Stacey Rudin continues to write insightfully about Covid, Covid hysteria, and the tyrannical Covidocracy. A slice:

They are trying to save grandma, but grandma’s fate is sealed. What is actually happening is they are paving the way to routine universal mandatory vaccination. The political establishment intends to make “the unvaccinated” second-class citizens, to dehumanize them and deny them basic rights many generations have taken for granted. This conditions the population to movement restrictions based on behavior. Compliance gets you rights, like a dog earning treats.

Reason has been stalwart over the past year in combating Covid Derangement Syndrome.

Noah Carl reports on a new study (although one not yet peer-reviewed) that finds evidence that vaccine (and prior-immunity) passports reduce the public’s trust in public-health authorities.

el gato malo reminds us that “health agencies were not always deranged.” A slice:

never forget this.

they knew before 2020 than none of these interventions worked, that their prices were insanely high, and that they should never be undertaken.

they knew the dangers of vilification and polarization.

standing pandemic guidelines vehemently warned against any of this and especially against making pariahs of the infected and cultivating exaggerated fear to drive compliance.

this has NOT been “following the science” is has been the abrogation of a century of evidence based epidemiology and social mores in order to take a devastating and self-serving joy ride with the world’s populace like it was some sort of video game.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Edward Hadas digs deeply to uncover the cause(s) of lockdowns. Four slices:

There are two possible families of explanations for this litany of fearful failure, which has continued for almost two years.

i) It was justified. The threat to public health from Covid-19 was in fact so great and continues to be so great that it is worth sacrificing everything else for the effort to fight it.

ii) Neither the system nor the social values were as strong as previously believed.

The first type of explanation is completely unpersuasive. In March 2020, there was no good reason to ignore the established procedures of dealing with pandemics. The disease was undoubtedly frightening, but those procedures were created exactly to help the responsible officials respond calmly and realistically to frightening diseases.

Even if the panicked emulation of Chinese repression could initially have been justified, it was clear by June 2020 that such measures were disproportionate to the danger posed by Covid-19. By then, deaths in the first wave had peaked and were declining in most countries. Calmer scientists were persuasively arguing that Covid-19 would settle into the typical pattern of infectious viruses – becoming less dangerous as the population’s immunity increased and evolution led to more contagious but less severe variants.

In addition, treatments for all sufferers improved significantly and estimates of the case fatality rate steadily fell. Initial panic cannot explain the continued copying of formerly unthinkable policies. Something more was going on.


Among non-traditional liberals (non-libertarians in the American vocabulary, non-neoliberals in the European discourse), enlightened despotism has often been considered the most appropriate form of rule for the development of positive freedom. The imposition of oppressive public health rules for the good of the people whose lives are being disrupted can be described as supposedly enlightened despotism.

The “supposedly” is needed, because the enlightenment is imaginary. Indeed, the fervent commitment to anti-Covid lockdowns suggests an all too typical authoritarian inability to use available knowledge wisely and an equally typical tendency to exercise more force than any outside observer would consider enlightened.

There is the second political explanation. Rather than thinking of intrusive restrictions as manifestations of the desire for authoritarian rule and rulers, the anti-pandemic expansion of government bureaucracies into everyday private life can be explained as the latest step in the expansion of what can be called the Intrusive State.

States have increasingly subsumed and tamed rival authorities (churches, families, businesses), while encouraging subjects/citizens to consider the State to be the ultimate judge of the people’s good. They exercise their power primarily through rational, extensive, and basically competent bureaucracies, in which moral standards are optional. (For people interested in social philosophy, the idea of the State’s seemingly expansion is Hegelian, the preeminence of bureaucracy is Weberian.)

The Intrusive State is generally quite popular with the people whose lives it increasingly controls. Most people seem to crave the State’s protection, especially when they feel threatened. Indeed, their respect for their governments is so extreme that they readily believe that the State should and can control natural phenomena, including highly contagious viral respiratory infections. The intrusively ruled people are very happy to participate in the processes of control, so they willingly obey the State’s commands to suspend their normal economic and social lives.


The mastery of nature: Hubristic modern cultures are to some extent based on the premise and promise of achieving every greater human control over nature. From that perspective, it is easy to believe that the inability to keep people from dying in a viral pandemic is a sign of scientific and governmental failure. Because “saving” lives carries so much cultural weight, it appears reasonable to destroy the quality of many lives in order to delay the deaths of even a relatively few people.

The campaign for Zero-Covid is bad science, but it fits well the desire to treat the virus as a military-style enemy that is expected to surrender unconditionally to human willpower. Lost years of school, deaths of despair, emotional distress, and even deaths from untreated conditions are mere collateral damage in the battle to ward off this natural disorder.


Perhaps the worst aspect of the response to Covid-19 is the precedent it sets. Barring a revulsion of the scale that produced Germany’s multi-decade reeducation programme after the fall of the Nazi regime, most people in the Western world will accept that the authoritarian-biopower-purification responses were reasonable in 2020-2021 and will remain reasonable in the future.

Such a grand revulsion is improbable, as there seem to be no brakes on any of the deep historical, cultural, and spiritual forces that lead to authoritarian governments, random exercises in bio-power, and anti-scientific purity cults.

Vinay Prasad writes about a new study that casts further doubt on the wisdom of vaccinating children against Covid-19.

Writing in the Times of London, David Quinn argues that “[n]ew public health totalitarianism gives government and officials endless chances for moral blackmail to enforce restrictions.”

Let’s hope that Liam Halligan is correct when he argues that “[t]he public has turned against the excesses of the lockdown fanatics.” Two slices:

This time last year, Professor Neil Ferguson observed how China’s draconian anti-Covid restrictions had influenced the response to the virus across the Western world – not least the UK. “We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought,” said the epidemiologist, dubbed Professor Lockdown. But after Italy shut down “we realised we could”.

When Covid-19 first emerged as a global pandemic in early 2020, Prof Ferguson had assumed, like the vast majority of government advisers, that severely restricting freedoms would be deemed unacceptable by the British public. Controlling where people go and who they meet was seen as a non-starter in a liberal democracy. How wrong that turned out to be. Not only did people accept the lockdowns, but there was a level of enthusiasm for them – and a level of derision for those who questioned them – that astonished those of us who had thought that the UK was a nation committed to liberty.

Meanwhile, the costs of lockdowns have become far harder to ignore. The fact that GPs made hundreds of thousands fewer suspected cancer referrals during the pandemic, in part due to fewer face-to-face consultations, was last week highlighted in a National Audit Office report. The impact has been “devastating”, says Macmillan Cancer Support, given related delays in the treatment of life-threatening conditions, including among the young. The relentless focus on Covid, the NAO concluded, means that by March 2025, some 12 million people – around a fifth of the UK population – could be on an NHS waiting list, caught in the lockdown-related treatment backlog.

The “lives versus livelihoods” debate which characterised previous lockdowns – in which those who opposed restrictions were damned as selfishly concerned solely with the health of the economy – is therefore being exposed as the nonsense it always was. The damage done to children’s mental health and education when schools close is now undeniable – which is why Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza yesterday pleaded with ministers to keep schools open. The tragedy of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, murdered by his stepmother, has also highlighted the pressure lockdown puts on vulnerable households.

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… is from page 124 of Arthur Diamond, Jr.’s, superb 2019 book, Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism:

In a system of innovative dynamism, creative inventors will finds ways to reduce global warming, and innovative entrepreneurs will find ways to adapt to it. Besides the risks of global warming, there are other countless risks that are conceivable – for example, the collision of a large asteroid with Earth. Many of the conceivable risks seem unlikely in the short term, and in any event we do not know how, or currently have the resources, to counter them all. Whatever small subset of the conceivable future risks actually occur, we should trust our future selves, and our descendants, to have the entrepreneurial nimbleness to deal with them. IN addition to our trust in their entrepreneurial nimbleness, they will also have the new goods and process innovation tools that we will have created for them.

DBx: Yep. But this message is unwelcome by people who seek to rule others, or who embrace a dogmatic faith in the powers of coercion.

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Among other sensible proposals, my GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan calls for an end to all Covid restrictions. A slice:

Despite the rising fashion of “national conservatism” among the right, I suspect that the stars for American deregulation are indeed aligning as we speak. A politician today could loudly promise lots of deregulation – and win. Furthermore, he could fulfill his promises – and win again. Topping the list of potentially popular deregulation:

1. An immediate end to all Covid rules. No more mask mandates – not in schools, not in airports, not on planes. No more distancing. No more Covid tests. No more travel restrictions on anyone. (The “anyone” phrasing is how you free foreigners, as well as natives, without calling attention to the fact).

2. An immediate end to all government Covid propaganda. No more looping audio warnings at airports. No more signs or stickers. Indeed, a national campaign to tear down all the propaganda that’s been uglifying the country for almost two years.

Jay Bhattacharya explains what Focused Protection – the policy advocated in the great Great Barrington Declaration (of which Jay is a co-author) – means in practice for nursing homes.

Sunetra Gupta, another of the three co-authors of the great Great Barrington Declaration, writes that “Covid variants don’t warrant restrictions on our freedom.” Two slices:

Variants gain an advantage in two ways: first, by increasing transmissibility and, second, by evading pre-existing immunity. Both the delta and omicron variants clearly evade neutralising antibody responses which can temporarily prevent infection. This gives them an advantage even if they are not significantly more transmissible than the variants they replace. Indeed, they could succeed even if they were less transmissible.

It is a shame that these well-established principles of evolutionary epidemiology appear to have been disregarded by the majority of the scientific community.


It is time that we acknowledge that the way in which we aggressively implemented non-pharmaceutical interventions – underpinned by multiple lockdowns – caused extensive collateral damage when there were better ways to protect the vulnerable. Yet we remain wedded to the same means of responding to any new potential threat.

We must regain a position of compassion – one that is in line with the social contract.

It may therefore be useful to consider how we have managed the threat of influenza. We do not, when we detect new mutations in influenza, lock down borders and force school children to wear masks and eat lunch in the freezing cold. We do not take away jobs and ostracise those who have elected not to take the influenza vaccine. We remember that we do not want anyone to tell their children that there is only baked beans on toast for supper just to protect ourselves from the risk of dying from influenza.

David McGrogan identifies a foundational problem with mask mandates.

Telegraph columnist Janet Daley is correct: “It is dangerously misleading to talk about the ‘war’ against Covid.” Two slices:

Some letter writers to this newspaper have pointed out, with great generosity of spirit, a similarity between today’s requirement for mask wearing with its threat of prosecution and fines, and the legal enforcement of wartime blackout, the suggestion being that this is a quite small inconvenience which we should not begrudge. The experience of all out war has been implicitly reinforced by government ministers with their description of the virus as a “silent enemy” which must be “defeated”.

This metaphor, useful as it might be to politicians who adore the image of themselves leading their countries into battle, is seriously misleading. It is a good example of what an earlier generation of Oxford philosophers called a “category mistake”. Wars eventually come to an end – usually definitively. One side is defeated, the other is victorious. Sometimes, in more contained local conflicts, the outcome is ragged and there is residual fighting on disputed borders or guerilla resistance to occupation. But with the great global wars of the last century (to which this pandemic is being compared) there was a defined, identifiable finality of outcome. The losing side not only submitted to public humiliation – and in the case of Nazi Germany, to prosecution by a world court –  but generally sacrificed its right to re-arm or wage any form of military aggression for the foreseeable future: an edict which could be policed by international law. This was the objective to which all of those civilian sacrifices were dedicated and there was no question of what counted as the ending.

Presumably you can see the difference between that sort of struggle which was a literal confrontation with a knowing enemy, and the present “battle” with a virus which cannot decide to surrender – because it cannot decide to do anything. Covid is not a sentient being: it has no malign intentions or devious tactics even though politicians often talk as if it did, thus adding to the air of superstitious fear. Like any virus, it has only the evolutionary imperative of all living organisms to survive and replicate.


Even supposing that Omicron turns out to be a more transmissible but less dangerous form of the virus, allowing the new restrictions to be rolled back pretty quickly, the precedent has been established. Personal liberty is no longer a right. It is a conditional privilege which can be recalled whenever current circumstances which are (unlike aerial bombardment by a military enemy) hazily defined, uncertain in their effect and only barely understood, seem to indicate a possible need.

In the true spirit of national emergency, members of Parliament – with a few honourable exceptions – have accepted this shift in our constitutional arrangements with scarcely any resistance. The Government is now permitted to seize powers that would have been unthinkable even during a war. If it’s any consolation, European Union member states have gone much further. But the whole point of the EU was to install benign oligarchy in place of chaotic, potentially irresponsible democratic government so that should come as no real surprise.

Covid hysteria can be hazardous to your health.

And what’s most important – all-important, apparently, as it always trumps all else – is that what will kill these people won’t be Covid-19. We have learned, over the past two years, that humanity’s overriding goal, a goal ever above all others, is to avoid exposure to SARS-CoV-2. People who will die early deaths from cancer should feel some sense of relief, for what will sweep them away from this vale is something other than Covid-19.

See also this piece, with the sub-headline: “The UK is facing a ‘cancer catastrophe’, after huge numbers of referrals were missed during lockdown.”

Phil Magness reports on someone still advocating for the straw man.

Some Europeans have the courage and good sense to protest Covidocratic tyranny.

el gato malo reveals the truth behind the propaganda peddled by Australia’s Covidocracy.

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by Don Boudreaux on December 5, 2021

in Current Affairs, Risk and Safety

This Venn diagram created by Mark Perry is brilliant.

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