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John Tierney accurately describes lockdowns as “the self-inflicted disaster.” Four slices:

Long before Covid struck, economists detected a deadly pattern in the impact of natural disasters: if the executive branch of government used the emergency to claim sweeping new powers over the citizenry, more people died than would have if government powers had remained constrained. It’s now clear that the Covid pandemic is the deadliest confirmation yet of that pattern.

Governments around the world seized unprecedented powers during the pandemic. The result was an unprecedented disaster, as recently demonstrated by two exhaustive analyses of the lockdowns’ impact in the United States and Europe. Both reports conclude that the lockdowns made little or no difference in the Covid death toll. But the lockdowns did lead to deaths from other causes during the pandemic, particularly among young and middle-aged people, and those fatalities will continue to mount in the future.

“Most likely lockdowns represent the biggest policy mistake in modern times,” says Lars Jonung of Lund University in Sweden, a coauthor of one of the new reports. He and two fellow economists, Steve Hanke from Johns Hopkins University and Jonas Herby of the Center for Political Studies in Copenhagen, sifted through nearly 20,000 studies for their book, Did Lockdowns Work?, published in June by the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) in London. After combining results from the most rigorous studies analyzing fatality rates and the stringency of lockdowns in various states and nations, they estimate that the average lockdown in the United States and Europe during the spring of 2020 reduced Covid mortality by just 3.2 percent. That translates to some 4,000 avoided deaths in the United States—a negligible result compared with the toll from the ordinary flu, which annually kills nearly 40,000 Americans.

Even that small effect may be an overestimate, to judge from the other report, published in February by the Paragon Health Institute. The authors, all former economic advisers to the White House, are Joel Zinberg and Brian Blaise of the institute, Eric Sun of Stanford, and Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago. They analyzed the rates of Covid mortality and of overall excess mortality (the number of deaths above normal from all causes) in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. They adjusted for the relative vulnerability of each state’s population by factoring in the age distribution (older people were more vulnerable) and the prevalence of obesity and diabetes (which increased the risk from Covid). Then they compared the mortality rates over the first two years of the pandemic with the stringency of each state’s policies (as measured on a widely used Oxford University index that tracked business and school closures, stay-at-home requirements, mandates for masks and vaccines, and other restrictions).

The researchers found no statistically significant effect from the restrictions. The mortality rates in states with stringent policies were not significantly different from those in less restrictive states. Two of the largest states, California and Florida, fared the same—their mortality rates both stood at the national average—despite California’s lengthy lockdowns and Florida’s early reopening. New York, with a mortality rate worse than average despite ranking first in the nation in the stringency of its policies, fared the same as the least restrictive state, South Dakota.


The lockdowns were the most radical experiment in the history of public health, implemented without evidence that they would work. (In fact, before Covid, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and other nations’ health agencies had specifically advised against lockdowns in their plans for dealing with a pandemic.) The experiment was promoted by computer modelers who projected that 2 million Americans would die by the end of the summer in 2020 unless governments mandated lockdowns, which they estimated would reduce mortality by 80 percent or more. Both estimates turned out to be absurdly wrong—and so was the modelers’ assumption that government mandates were the only way to change people’s behavior.


Swedes avoided lockdowns partly because of the wisdom of their public-health leaders, and partly because of a provision in the Swedish constitution guaranteeing freedom of movement to citizens. Constraining the power of government officials improved Sweden’s ability to cope with Covid. That lesson applies to other emergencies, too, according to Christian Bjørnskov, a Danish economist who has compared casualty rates in natural disasters around the world.

Bjørnskov and a German colleague, Stefan Voigt, have found that fewer people die from natural disasters in countries with laws that restrict the power of national leaders during an emergency. If leaders are unconstrained—if they can suspend people’s personal and economic liberties—then the disruptions hinder people’s voluntary efforts to deal with the disaster. After a hurricane, for instance, local officials and citizens will normally aid their stricken neighbors, but they’re less inclined to act if the national government takes charge by suspending property rights to commandeer boats, vehicles, and other local resources. “Civil society is more likely to help if the authorities are not allowed to run roughshod over private citizens,” Bjørnskov says. “It is also much more likely that the authorities will misuse their emergency powers for their own uses, diverting resources toward purposes that have nothing to do with the emergency. They increase spending and regulation, and it takes longer for the country to get back to normal.”

That was certainly the case during the pandemic, as politicians went on budget-busting binges that showered money on special interests and pet projects that had nothing to do with Covid. To reward teachers’ unions for their support, politicians kept schools closed long after it was obvious that they could be safely reopened. The inflationary effects of the spending have slowed the economic recovery from the pandemic, and the school closures have set children back so far that many will never catch up. One estimate suggests that the average American student will earn 6 percent less over the course of a lifetime because of learning loss during the pandemic.


If we’ve learned anything from the pandemic and earlier disasters, we ought to be doing precisely the opposite by enacting new limits on government power during emergencies. Americans need what Swedes have enjoyed: legal protection against autocrats posing as saviors.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Swanson reports that “covid censorship proved to be deadly.” Three slices:

In the wake of the 1986 Challenger space-shuttle explosion, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman knew that the truth would both fuel progress and soothe the nation’s sorrow. “For a successful technology,” he said, “reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

For three years, pandemic public relations mocked nature, generating fear, illness, inflation and excess death beyond what the virus caused. Digital censorship supercharged the effort to hide reality, but reality is getting its day in court.

On July 4, U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty temporarily blocked numerous federal agencies and the White House from collaborating with social-media companies and third-party groups to censor speech.

Discovery in Missouri v. Biden exposed relationships among government agencies and social-media firms and revealed an additional layer of university centers and self-styled disinformation watchdogs and fact-checking outfits.

Elon Musk’s release of some of Twitter’s internal files revealed that up to 80 Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were embedded with social-media companies. The agents mostly weren’t fighting terrorism but flagging wrongthink by American citizens, including eminent scientists who suggested different paths on Covid policy.

The results of these relationships? Twitter blacklisted Stanford physician and economist Jay Bhattacharya for showing Covid almost exclusively threatened the elderly, severely reducing the visibility of his tweets. When Stanford health policy scholar Scott Atlas began advising the White House, YouTube erased his most prominent video opposing lockdowns. Twitter banned Robert Malone, a pioneer of mRNA vaccine technology, for calling attention to the vaccines’ dangers. YouTube demonetized evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein, who suggested the virus might be engineered and predicted vaccine-evading variants. And those are only a few examples.


The U.S. government spent $6 trillion to buoy its shuttered economy, and most people got Covid anyway. Worst of all, the lockdowns and mandates resulted in unprecedented bad health outcomes for young and middle-aged people in rich countries.

Excess mortality in most high-income nations was worse in 2021 and 2022 than in 2020, the initial pandemic year. Many poorer nations with less government control seemed to fare better. Sweden, which didn’t have a lockdown, performed better than nearly every other advanced nation.

After navigating 2020 with relative success, young and middle-age healthy people in rich nations began dying in unprecedented numbers in 2021 and 2022. Health authorities haven’t focused enough on this cataclysm of premature death from non-Covid heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary embolisms, kidney failure and cancer.


“Attacks on me,” Dr. Anthony Fauci famously insisted, “quite frankly, are attacks on science.” Feynman would have been appalled. “Science,” he wisely noted, “is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

Here’s David Henderson’s response to Clifford Winston. Two slices:

Cliff says that he has “no idea what tradeoffs the web designer made with an imagined consumer and consumer base.” But he doesn’t need to know. The web designer knows her preferences better than he or any court does. He says that he doesn’t want the judges to be central planners. But here he’s pretty clearly saying that he would have the designer ask “Mother, may I?” rather than letting her exercise her preferences. That’s the ultimate in central planning.


Cliff writes, “So, on the education loans and college admissions cases, I agree that Biden has not subjected his education loan policy to the ballot box, but that policy would influence voters’ preferences for or against him if it were maintained.” But a president, especially one with the power that modern U.S. presidents have, has thousands of policies. How do we know that if voters voted for Biden that it’s because of that policy? And even if we did know that, so what? Why is what relatively uninformed voters vote for so sacred? And especially why is it sacred when what they’re voting is what governments are going to do or not do others and it’s not sacred to let someone choose how to use her resources in her own life? This is seriously messed up and if I weren’t constrained by Liberty Fund rules, I would use another adjective.

And notice once again how comfortable Cliff is with letting one man decide how $400 billion is allocated because we get to vote against him.

Adam Smith can save your golf game.”

Scott Lincicome reveals the reality of U.S.-China “decoupling.” Two slices:

Just as important, if not moreso, is the rarely mentioned fact that the trade data are probably underestimating—by a significant amount—the extent to which U.S.-China goods trade remains intertwined. That’s because all the usual data simplistically assign imports’ and exports’ total (gross) value to a single country, when in reality most of these products—thanks to the proliferation of global supply chains—contain value-added from other countries, including the United States and China. Thus, for example, the full value of an imported automobile will show up in standard trade stats as coming from Japan, even though it has parts from numerous other countries. The “made in China” iPhone 7 reflects the same issues.

Trade economists have grappled with the gross-versus-value-added distinction for years now, but it takes on added significance in any discussion of U.S.-China “decoupling” because of China’s sheer size and Chinese manufacturers’ participation in so many Asia-Pacific manufacturing supply chains. Thus, for example, we read about how India and Vietnam are replacing China as both a destination for manufacturing investment and a platform for exporting to the United States, but such stories usually ignore that both of these countries are also receiving investment and inputs from companies that still have operations in China. Thus, Bloomberg reports, Indian manufacturers have found themselves in a “Catch-22 … the more they try to ramp up production in competition with China, the more dependent they become on their northern neighbor for components and raw materials.”


These “hard decoupling” fantasies also suffer from practical deficiencies. Most obviously, they ignore whether such an outcome is even possible, given the complexity and fluidity of the 21st century global economy and the central positioning of the U.S. and China therein. “New Cold War” nonsense aside, the points above hopefully show that this isn’t the Soviet Union in 1950, and we can’t just turn this stuff on and off like a lightswitch, regardless of whether we should. Policy–and the folks who write about it–should act accordingly.

Similarly, decoupling dreams ignore the vast amount of staffing and resources that the United States and allied governments, as well as private individuals and companies, would need to devote to implementing and enforcing a hard break from the Chinese economy. Federal law already enacts some restrictions and screens on a limited scale (e.g., with respect to slave labor and national security-related investments). But, as the Peterson Institute’s Adam Posen recently noted, the economic coercion needed to block almost all bilateral trade, investment, and migration (including inputs and investment funneled through third countries) would—costs notwithstanding—require the United States “to become a commercial police state on an unprecedented scale” and “to monitor and prevent its own headquartered companies from moving activities abroad.”

Indeed, the Mercatus Center’s Christine McDaniel calculates that simply subjecting low-value (“de minimis”) packages to standard customs screening procedures—as some China hawks now demand—“would mean dumping nearly a billion parcels into America’s mainstream port system” and increasing private companies’ compliance costs by almost $50 billion per year. A little less than half of those packages aren’t from China, but they’d still need to be scrutinized by CBP officials to confirm their origins—and that would require not only infringing on the privacy of millions of innocent Americans but also adding scores of customs officers to do so. In that regard, McDaniel estimates that, given the number of packages at issue and the time it takes simply to examine an imported parcel (at least 15 minutes), this policy would require more than 120,000 full time customs officers to do the job, at an annual cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $7.2 billion (assuming, per Indeed.com, an annual salary of $60,000 per year for a single CBP support specialist). For reference, the entire agency currently has around 32,500 employees.