Some Links

by Don Boudreaux on December 19, 2022

in Current Affairs, Immigration, Media, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen

Noah Carl asks why, even after April 2020, so very many people continued to call for, and to fall for, lockdowns. Two slices:

Up until April of 2020, the basic case for lockdown was still intact: there’s a virus going round with a 1% mortality rate; it will continue spreading until two thirds of the population has been infected; if we don’t lock down, hundreds of thousands of people will die; therefore we must do so.

Now, I’m not saying this case was strong. After all, it completely ignores the issue of civil liberties – even if locking down had saved hundreds of thousands of lives, doing so might have still been wrong given the massive violation of civil liberties it entailed. Another weakness is it assumes the only way to stop people dying was by locking down; in reality, we could have tried focussed protection.

Nonetheless, the premises at least appeared sound. This changed at the end of April 2020, when Covid deaths in Sweden began trending downward….


It’s often claimed that Swedes locked down voluntarily by drastically reducing their time spent outside. But this simply isn’t true, as Google mobility data shows…. Swedes reduced their time spent on retail and recreation by only a quarter as much as Brits.

Sweden’s experience clearly undermined the second premise in the case for lockdown: that Covid will continue spreading until most people have been infected. After Sweden, it was no longer possible to argue that lockdown was necessary to halt the spread. You could still argue it made a difference, but not that it was the only thing standing between us and armageddon.

Which raises the question: why did so many people continue calling for lockdown? Why didn’t it dawn on them that the cost/benefit ratio was much greater than they’d initially believed? And I’m not just talking about joe public, who massively overestimated the risk of dying. Many ‘experts’ who were perfectly aware that the risk was low continued banging the lockdown drum.

Three reasons come to mind.

First, the benefits are concentrated (on those who are protected), whereas the costs are widely dispersed. Second, the benefits are immediate, whereas the costs are largely delayed (inflation, government debt, worse educational outcomes). Third, measuring the benefits is easy (or at least, was presented as being easy), while measuring the costs is somewhat harder.

For these reasons, I suspect, the costs were more difficult for people to “see” – in the sense of Frédéric Bastiat’s essay ‘What is seen, and what is not seen’. It’s not just the magnitude of costs that affects decision-making, but also their ‘visibility’.

Phil Magness – writing at his Facebook page – is skeptical of the chief conclusion of Markus Bjoerkheim’s and Alex Tabarrok’s new paper that is skeptical of focused protection. A slice:

I’m reading through the Marginal Revolution-featured paper on “focused protection” in nursing homes. Since the paper’s study period covers the pre-vaccination part of the pandemic, the main question I raised yesterday was whether they accounted for the mandatory covid patient readmission policies that several states imposed on nursing homes.

The contents are not encouraging. They acknowledge this problem, but minimize it (citing a document from the scandal-plagued New York department of health, which imposed one of those rules and covered up the consequences). They then go on to describe a series of approaches that could have been adopted that sound an awful lot like the “focused protection” from the Great Barrington Declaration…only to acknowledge that few if any of them were ever adopted.

One of their regressions does suggest a small but statistically significant relationship between covid patient admissions and nursing home deaths, although the interpretation of it here seems overly mechanistic (IOW simply predicting 25 admitted patients per 1 additional death discounts the transmission pattern of the disease, i.e. if 1 single admitted carrier gives it to another resident, who then spreads it to others & so forth). The discussion of this finding (in the third image) amounts to unconvincing hand-waving that repeats the NY Dept of Health press release’s talking point and invokes the implementation of testing…but only in June 2020, after the first wave had passed.

In conclusion: If (a) you did not control for significant policy variation between the states on admission requirements, (b) do not identify states that attempted any specific “focused protection” measure on a wide scale, and (c) do not show any evidence that other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns and mask mandates achieved any of the things they claim to do, how exactly do you justify the conclusion that “Focused protection without extensive non-pharmaceutical interventions elsewhere would almost certainly have resulted in more death”?

Brendan O’Neill describes “the elites’ blacklisting of lockdown dissenters” as “shameful and self-destructive.” Two slices:

Nearly three years on from the start of the pandemic, it’s apparent that censorship was central to lockdown. It wasn’t only our everyday lives that were forcibly put on hold – so was our right to say certain things and even think certain things. In the US, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who was fawned over by the liberal media for his handling of Covid, has been deposed in a lawsuit that accuses him and the Biden administration more broadly of colluding with Big Tech to undermine the American people’s speech rights during the pandemic. The lawsuit is brought by the attorney general of Missouri, Eric Schmitt. The transcript of the questioning of Fauci was released earlier this month. It’s a frustrating read. Fauci continually says he doesn’t recall or doesn’t know in response to questions about his alleged role in suppressing speech in the Covid era. But it seems clear that, informally at least, he helped to devise and enforce the parameters of acceptable thought during the pandemic.

Consider the Great Barrington Declaration. Fauci had high-ranking discussions about how to counteract this open letter that raised ‘grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental-health impacts of the prevailing Covid-19 policies’. Freedom-of-information requests show that Fauci was asked by officials to engage in a ‘quick and devastating takedown’ of the GBD. He hopped to it. He ‘jumped into action to smear and discredit the GBD in the media’, as one account describes it. This included writing off the GBD’s authors – Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta and Jay Bhattacharya – as ‘fringe epidemiologists’ who were peddling ‘nonsense’. We know now that Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine at Stanford, was subsequently shadow-banned on Twitter and even added to its McCarthyite ‘Trends Blacklist’, meaning his tweets would never make it into ‘trending topics’. The algorithm weaponised against a heretical professor who had been publicly denounced by Fauci.


Elite consensus opinion is a powerful beast. Time and again, the government view on Covid became the only utterable view in the digital public square. So when officialdom was pro-masks, dissent on masks was ruthlessly censored: witness YouTube’s banning of a video featuring senator Rand Paul questioning the effectiveness of masks. When officialdom insisted that lockdown was the right and only way to tackle Covid, all intellectual bristling against lockdown ran the risk of being blacklisted, as the GBD folks and others discovered. And when it was Fauci’s belief that the lab-leak theory about Covid was a ridiculous conspiracy theory, ‘all views in conflict’ with that take risked censure online. Strikingly, it was only when the Biden administration said in May last year that it would look into the lab-leak theory that Facebook finally lifted its censure of the theory – proof that the government view ruled supreme on social media in the pandemic.

Telegraph columnist Janet Daley decries the fact that modern governments “have learnt that fear works.” A slice:

As the year in which life officially returned to normal comes to an end, we must ask an uncomfortable question. What on earth just happened? We have lived through a period of what would once have been the unthinkable suspension of basic freedoms: interventions by the state into personal life that even most totalitarian governments would not have dared to impose. And we, along with most (not all) of the democratic societies of the West, accepted it. Before that era slips into the fog of convenient forgetfulness, it is absolutely imperative that we – the country as a whole – hold a thorough post hoc examination, because our governing classes have certainly learnt something they will remember.

The critical lesson that has been indelibly absorbed by people in power, and those who advise them, is that fear works. There is, it turns out, almost nothing that a population (even one as brave and insouciant as Britain’s) will not give up if they are systematically, relentlessly frightened.

The Covid phenomenon has provided an invaluable training session in public mind-control techniques: the formula was refined – with the assistance of sophisticated advertising and opinion-forming advice – to an astonishingly successful blend of mass anxiety (your life is in danger) and moral coercion (you are putting other people’s lives in danger). But it was not just the endless repetition of that message that accomplished the almost universal, and quite unexpected, compliance. It was the comprehensive suppression of dissent even when it came from expert sources – and the prohibition on argument even when it was accompanied by counter-evidence – that really did the trick. Now the prescription is readily available for any governing elite hoping to initiate a policy likely to meet with strong public resistance. First tell people that they, or their children and grandchildren, will die if they do not comply. Then prohibit any mitigating argument or critique of this prediction.

Glenn Greenwald tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

I’ve never seen an orgy of hypocrisy quite as brazen as how the exact same media corporations and journalists who spent years demanding more Big Tech censorship turned *overnight* into free speech champions: because now it’s their friends being silenced rather than their enemies.

Tim Worstall exposes the dystopian authoritarianism that’s at the heart of the “deegrowth” movement.

Bryan Caplan vs. Dan Klein on immigration. [DBx: These two gentleman are both my long-time personal friends and highly respected colleagues. It is seldom that I disagree with either; I typically agree with both. In this case, though, I find the better arguments to be those offered by Bryan.]

Here’s the transcript of Nick Gillespie’s talk, back in July, with John Cleese.

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