Excess mortality is the only true measure of the impact of an epidemic, as the 19th-century epidemiologist William Farr insisted: “The death rate is a fact; all else is inference.” And lockdowns cause excess mortality outside the virus itself: from untreated cancer and heart disease, from suicide and mental illness. If you look at excess mortality over the past three years, on most data sets one of the countries with the lowest overall mortality increases is Sweden, the only country that stood against the herd and refused to implement widespread compulsory lockdowns or close schools.
Over the period from March 2020 to June 2022, Sweden’s cumulative, all-cause excess mortality was not much higher than that of its Nordic neighbours and significantly lower than that of most other countries.
Those who argued that Sweden was being sensible in relying mostly on voluntary measures were routinely vilified during the pandemic. We know with certainty that the Swedish model has failed, wrote Peter Geoghegan in The Guardian a year ago. Swedes are different, we were told: they live in the forest (no they don’t: the country is more urbanised than the UK); are more socially responsible (cultural stereotypes, anyone?); can be compared only with Danes and Norwegians.
In his fine book The Herd, the Swedish journalist Johan Anderberg has chronicled the development of the Swedish policy and how tough it was for its architect, Anders Tegnell, to stay the course as country after country was stampeded into compulsory and comprehensive lockdowns. “Shutting down society completely won’t work,” said Tegnell on March 12 2020, while watching with admiration Boris Johnson preach the same message. He was devastated when Britain about-turned 10 days later, leaving Sweden alone to be the world’s control experiment.
Britain changed course after the release of unrealistic and oversimplified models produced by Imperial College. The same trick was tried in Sweden by Joacim Rocklov and colleagues at Umea University, using a version of the same Imperial models. Unlike Sir Chris Whitty, Tegnell called it a “horror scenario of no use to anyone”. Honourable British exceptions include the epidemiologist Mark Woolhouse, who wrote a book accurately titled The Year the World Went Mad.
We now know – from Matt Hancock’s diaries – that one of the worst decisions, restrictions on children in schools, was driven not by any evidence that it would save lives but by a fear of being outflanked by Nicola Sturgeon.
To my shame, I was not a lockdown sceptic from the start. But when lockdowns kept happening and failing, my doubts grew. Being preached at by the mainstream media that protests against racism in 2020 were not super-spreader events but family funerals or protests against lockdowns were – that stuck in my craw.
Then, in December 2021, came the final proof that the lockdown fanatics were wrong. The science establishment tried to bounce Boris Johnson into a Christmas lockdown to prevent the omicron wave. Ignoring evidence that omicron was mild – and not just because many people had been vaccinated – they produced models showing a range of possible outcomes: very high to massively high death rates if we did not lock down.
Egged on by Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, Boris called their bluff and refused to cancel Christmas. As Fraser Nelson has chronicled in The Spectator, deaths and hospitalisations never reached a small fraction of even their lowest predicted levels. That emperor had no clothes.
Until 2020, lockdowns were never part of the plan to control pandemics. The reason they happened was twofold. The internet for the first time allowed economies to limp along, at least for the middle class, while locked down. And an inordinately gullible admiration for China had spread within academia and the World Health Organisation.
In the progressive imagination, science is sometimes treated like a static text that’s easy to interpret, with clear takeaways for behavior. “One of the big mistakes in our field is this mantra ‘Follow the science,’ as though science is not contested, as though there are not evidentiary gaps, as though there are not conflicting reports and data points you have to navigate your way through,” [Amy] Fairchild, the O.S.U. professor, said. The People’s C.D.C. talks about “science” as proof that the members’ position is correct, when in reality they’re making a case for how they wish the world to be, and selecting scientific evidence to build their narrative. It’s a kind of moralistic scientism—a belief that science infallibly validates lefty moral sensibilities.
It’s time for a change in leadership in public health. This generation of public health leaders repudiated basic ethical principles of public health and thereby failed to secure the health of the public.
It should at this point be apparent that none of the proposals mentioned would provide what the [New York] Times and the aggrieved passengers really want: “a better chance of getting home for the holidays.” Only more flights at affordable prices would do that, and more regulation is likely to produce the opposite.
Three of the most spectacular geostrategic blunders of the past 250 years have involved Russia: Napoleon’s invasion 210 years ago, Hitler’s invasion 129 years later and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 81 years after that. Putin aimed to show that Russia is a formidable nation — and that Ukraine is not a nation. He insisted that “Ukraine” is merely a geographical, not a political, designation. Instead, he demonstrated that Russia, with an economy significantly smaller than Italy’s — and smaller than the gross domestic product of Texas — is even less impressive politically than it is materially because its authoritarian culture breeds stagnation, corruption and toadyism.
Wall Street Journal columnist Daniel Henninger writes that members of Congress, with their recent passage of a $1.7 billion omnibus spending bill, “make drunken sailors look respectable.” Here’s his opinion of Biden’s economic policy:
That path was described on these pages recently by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s defense of the administration’s economic policies. I searched her piece for the phrase “economic growth.” What appeared—once—was “stable growth.” Mostly she described the administration’s spending proposals and transfer payments.
“Stable growth” isn’t just a sentiment. For Democrats, the U.S. economy is understood now as primarily a public economy in which well-being for most people comes from government payments to individuals, rather than from private economic activity or even work.
In this view, the role of the more heavily taxed, government-guided private sector is to keep the economy’s heart beating with “stable growth,” which means settling for the trade-off of long-term growth rates under 2%. This is socialism American style: lowered personal expectations, flattened well-being, more justice. Add to this the progressive goal of an economy of renewables, which will require massive public subsidies for a decade or more.
Federal student financial-aid programs have not only made college less affordable but have crowded out (via an enhanced administrative sector) the academic emphasis that used to be the reason for colleges to exist. Federal student aid comes with no meaningful academic standards. The student who takes five years and barely graduates will likely get far more aid from the feds than the hard-working, brilliant student graduating in three years. The feds have promoted mediocrity and reduced intellectual emphases by flooding schools with weak students who are just looking for an easy credential.