One of the biggest government mess-ups was state and local government lockdowns of their economies. Although this has not been well publicized, epidemiologists themselves, before the pandemic, seemed to have a consensus that lockdowns were a bad idea. In a September 2019 report  from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, for instance, the authors stated:
In the context of a high-impact respiratory pathogen, quarantine may be the least likely NPI [nonpharmaceutical intervention] to be effective in controlling the spread due to high transmissibility. To implement effective quarantine measures, it would need to be possible to accurately evaluate an individual’s exposure, which would be difficult to do for a respiratory pathogen because of the ease of widespread transmission from infected individuals.
Yet massive quarantines were the main policy implemented by state and local governments.
And how have the lockdowns worked? Remember that the original purpose of the lockdowns was to “flatten the curve.” This strategy was based on two ideas. The first was that it was important to reduce the number of people needing to go to hospitals so that the hospitals would not be overwhelmed. The second was that if disease and death were postponed, they might be postponed indefinitely, because we would either find cures or get effective vaccines.
Yet a look at the evidence  as of January 4 gives little basis for the view that lockdowns reduced deaths. It’s true that the COVID-19 death rate for locked-down California, at 675 per million residents, is well below the 988 and 1,029 for, respectively, Texas and Florida, which are relatively open. But the death rates for locked-down Michigan, New York, and New Jersey, at 1,341, 1,980, and 2,180 respectively, are well above the rates for Texas and Florida. To be sure, a more careful analysis that sifts through the data and accounts for factors other than lockdown—maybe climate matters—is needed. But on their face, the data give cold comfort.
Moreover, what if a more careful analysis did show that lockdowns prevented COVID-19 deaths? That’s not a slam-dunk case for lockdowns because the costs of lockdowns are huge. They are shattering the careers and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers, haircutters, gymnasium workers, and others. One might argue that the sacrifice is worth it, but isn’t it easier for vulnerable people, most of whom are old and have co-morbidities, to stay home? They would have to stay home anyway, so why insist that others who are younger and have fewer co-morbidities also stay home?
In their book The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe , Jay Richards, William Briggs, and Douglas Axe correctly explain that during the peak of the lockdowns, the public supported criminalization of low-risk human activities such as walking in the park, family visits, shopping at an open-air fish market, and driving. They report:
“This was not a top-down dictatorship imposed on a resistant public. Polls showed that most Americans supported the lockdowns. If anything, we pushed for them. Neighbors snitched on small church groups with gusto. New Jersey posted a form on its website to make it easy to turn your neighbors in to the authorities. In late March, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said that ‘snitches’ in his city would ‘get rewards.’”
Who are the Tommies stirring irrational fears throughout the pandemic? We are responsible for our decisions, but we can be primed for irrational behavior as in the Twilight Zone episode.
But asserting that a statistically mediocre viral strain, “identified” by made-up tests never corroborated or intended for diagnosis, is a ravaging scourge so lethal, that it justifies turning the world into a penal colony while economic armageddon and educational apocalypse contend for being the greatest threat, would not have made it past a first reading for a B-grade thriller in the 70’s.
So we must just beware that we not get waylaid debating only the grand currents of change. This is so jolting because of how Monty-Pythonesque it is by comparison. How have we so blithely taken seriously the blatantly ludicrous (and I’m not sure we can point to a past precedent where utter indifference to what we actually statistically see to be the case held sway like this)? It would be riotously ironic as a position if it weren’t so devastatingly tragic in outcomes.
So let’s please keep debunking and never stop. Yes, agreed it may be a shout in the hurricane. And fully agreed it’s heroic, and perhaps heroically futile in the short run. But in the larger stream of history, that debunking is needed.
We cannot allow a smidge of respectability for these crimes to make it onto the ledger.
According to the Brookings Institution, polls overstate the share of Covid-19 deaths among younger people (those aged under 25) by 800-fold. The public also appear to believe that many more coronavirus cases end up in hospital than is the case. Virus deaths as a share of the population are similarly skewed in the public mind. An August UK poll found that respondents believed that some 6%-7% of the British population had already died from the coronavirus, roughly 100 times greater than actual fatalities. Psychologists ascribe the exaggerated fears unleashed by the pandemic to “salience bias” and “emotional innumeracy”.
During manias people have trouble absorbing information that doesn’t fit with their prior beliefs. Dissonant facts are suppressed. Non-believers or sceptics are savaged. Scientists who challenged the consensus beliefs on Covid-19 have been pilloried. After epidemiologist John Ioannidis of Stanford disputed Imperial’s doom-laden forecast, his financial motives were questioned and a rumour circulated on the internet that his aged mother had died of Covid. Likewise, the Nobel laureate biophysicist Michael Levitt was disinvited from an academic conference for expressing a non-consensus view on coronavirus risk.
I want to say now that should another virus hit these shores and I am older and more vulnerable than I am now, that I do not expect everyone else to put their lives, jobs, education and way of life on hold for my precious health because I am the most special diamond in all the land. To expect this would selfish indeed.
The boomers demanded that the government use the ferocious power of the state to cancel exams, cancel Christmas, criminalise playdates between children, to criminalise children having a birthday party, and to cause mass employment to protect them from a virus that has a mortality rate of less than 1 per cent.
Those who support the Covid-Fascist state and all its immense destruction are doing something that is evil.
Throughout the Covid crisis the WHO has repeatedly been shown to be untrustworthy, under-informed and politicised to an extent which would shock anybody not previously aware of their existence. It was the WHO, for example, that said some while back that asymptomatic spread of the virus is very rare; other authorities, including the CDC and the UK government, have said that it is in fact responsible for a large number of infections. Back in the spring US health authorities stated that masks don’t reduce transmission and should not be worn, something that would get a content creator removed from YouTube only weeks later.
The only answer is that there should be as wide a debate as possible. This is not just a principle that has seen us through in the past, but one which has never been more urgent.
(Note: I – Don Boudreaux – bemoan many of the contents decisions made by private companies such as Facebook and Twitter. And I applaud any and all persons who speak out against poor decisions made by these companies. But I emphatically oppose any attempt to use government to prescribe or proscribe the contents decisions made by such companies. Such a ‘cure’ would be far, far worse than the disease.)