We are doing the same again now, as one of the most socially restricted major countries in Europe but the one with the lowest death rate. We risk allowing officials to cling on to their beloved levers of control too long, and to squander the advantage won by our vaccine taskforce. If a new variant of the virus threatens a third wave, permanent lockdown is very unlikely to stop it anyway. And if the new variant is vaccine-resistant, then vaccine passports will be useless.
When things are controlled by bureaucrats, it takes a real effort of imagination to envisage them not being so. We assume that in the absence of direction, chaos must ensue, forgetting the lessons of economics. ‘How does Paris get fed?’ asked Frédéric Bastiat in 1845, and answered: not through the efforts of brilliant and omniscient food commissioners — that way lies inevitable disaster — but through a market that blindly matches demand with supply and thereby summons up the collective genius of millions of ordinary people.
With few exceptions, the tribe of academic scientists and hospital doctors which now controls our government has literally never heard such arguments. Their worldview is a top-down one: they assume things happen because somebody ordains that things happen. Spontaneous order is a foreign concept to them. This is surprising, given that it is the essence of evolution, but when it comes to society they are in thrall to intelligent-design theories. They are political creationists.
So of course the scientists will hesitate to recommend liberation. The politicians must bear this in mind.
My GMU Econ colleague Peter Leeson and GMU Econ PhD student Louis Rouanet, writing in the Southern Economic Journal, insightfully explore some of the economics of Covid-19. Here’s their paper’s abstract:
Negative infectious disease externalities are less prevalent in the absence of government intervention and less costly to society than is often supposed. That is so for three reasons. (1) Unlike externality‐creating behaviors in many classical externality contexts, such behaviors are often self‐limiting in the context of infectious disease. (2) In market economies, behaviors that may create infectious disease externalities typically occur at sites that are owned privately and visited voluntarily. Owners have powerful incentives to regulate such behaviors at their sites, and visitors face residual infection risk contractually. (3) The social cost of infectious disease externalities is limited by the cheapest method of avoiding externalized infection risk. That cost is modest compared to the one usually imagined: the value of life (or health) lost to the disease if government does not intervene. We elaborate these arguments in the context of the COVID‐19 pandemic.
(DBx: In the coming days I’ll link to some other of my colleagues’ academic papers on Covid.)
Such reports are concerning, but I also worry that the narrative about a new chronic disease caused by a mild infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, is getting ahead of the evidence.
Long Covid has no universal definition. It is instead often used as a catchall to describe individuals whose symptoms last more than a few weeks or months after the onset of Covid-19. That many individuals experience protracted symptoms after infection with SARS-CoV-2, however, should hardly be surprising. After all, critical illness of any cause can be devastating.
Reporting on long Covid needs to be more cautious for several reasons.
First, consider that at least some people who identify themselves as having long Covid appear never to have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In Yong’s influential article, he cites a survey of Covid long-haulers in which some two-thirds of them had negative coronavirus antibody tests — blood tests that reveal prior SARS-CoV-2 infection. Meanwhile, a survey organized by a group of self-identified long Covid patients that recruited participants from online support groups reported in late December 2020 that around two-thirds of those surveyed who had undergone blood testing reported negative results.
Taylor Dotson warns of the dangers of “fact-ist” politics. (HT my intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy) A slice:
By ducking at every turn behind “follow the science,” our leaders have reduced people to vectors for disease spread, data points to be controlled, while displaying an indifferent attitude toward their lived realities. That this style of leadership makes many people suspect is no surprise.
Even Scott Gottlieb is calling for an end to edicts to wear masks outdoors. Here’s his conclusion:
After a year of sacrifice, more than 140 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine. They know their dangers are receding and want to return to normal. Public-health officials need to be willing to relax some restrictions and tolerate a low level of risk. Americans shouldn’t be afraid to go outside and enjoy the warm weather—no mask required.
“Hooray,” we all shouted, and those with horns blew them, those with drums banged them, some with saucepans and spoons bashed them and off we went like the jolly conspiracy theorists that we are. And actually, for conspiracy theorists, the people around me during the five hours of marching that I did, were very moderate. They just did not want to see their freedoms spirited away from them with weasel words by the Government. They did not trust all the figures, did not like children wearing masks (did not like anyone wearing masks). They were furious about the old people left to fade away and die in despair and loneliness, for their own good. They did not want to be forced to have vaccines and no one, absolutely no one wanted vaccine passports. “Wake up!” we all wanted to say, “much of this Government and media stuff is madness!”