October 13, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

With the coronavirus, the most frustrating counterfactual of all is to think about how much better off we all would have been if politicians had done nothing. Stop and think about it for a minute. The more desperate the situation, the more freedom makes sense. 

The reality is that well before the needless lockdowns began, Americans had started to adjust their behavior. This included staying at home for some. Notable about this is that it was in the U.S. states that locked down the latest that citizens adjusted the most. In a global sense, it was reported by the great Holman Jenkins that the supply of masks had run out before major action by Merkel et al in Germany. People get it. They don’t need a law. Fear of sickness or death concentrates the mind.

Remember how restaurants started to clear somewhat before the lockdowns? People were adjusting. Imagine if businesses, including restaurants, had been left free to meet the needs of customers (or not at all) free of business tips from those who brought us the DMV.

No doubt some businesses would have gone under amid fear of the virus, but they were already going under before that. Particularly retail. Remember all the hand wringing about Amazon and the internet “hollowing out” shopping malls? While the nailbiters will eventually regret the association of their names with such alarmism, the reality in a dynamic economy is that the roster of names in shopping malls and town centers is constantly changing.

The main thing is that near-term caution taken by free people would have resulted in more saving, and as a consequence a rising capital base for businesses and entrepreneurs to access on the way to recovery. Natural slowdowns paradoxically fuel the subsequent rebound. Translated, what you’ve been told about “recessions” by economists, pundits and politicians is mostly bunk. This wasn’t nor is it a recession; rather it was a forced contraction. Tragic.

Politicians foisted on us lockdowns that wrecked lives and business. Economic growth produces the resources to fight a virus, but this time around an always obtuse political class outdid itself by choosing economic desperation as the path to a cure.

There’s a China angle to this, though perhaps not what you think. It’s known the virus originated there, and the first documented infection dates back to November.

November raises a question about when the virus first began spreading. Presumably before that, but since over half don’t know they have it, who knows? The main thing is that the virus had been around the global block as it were well before January when Beijing officially acknowledged its existence.

So what if China had announced the virus right away. Then we would know they were the enemy. Think about it, scary as it may be. It’s frightening to contemplate because it’s possible an alarmist political class locks down even sooner. Perhaps months sooner. If so, and quoting Jenkins from his Wall Street Journal column over the weekend, “the economy wouldn’t have fallen off a cliff in March,” but maybe months sooner. It gets worse.

Contemplate what it means that the virus started spreading in November, and perhaps earlier. What it presumably means is that the virus had been traveling around the world for months before politicians began calling for lockdowns. If so, it’s not unrealistic to at least ask if broad immunity hadn’t begun to form long before the political reaction. Was “herd immunity” achieved before March?

This was a question posed by me the weekend before last in Great Barrington, MA. The American Institute for Economic Research is headquartered there, and that’s where the Great Barrington Declaration was written. In response to my question about “herd immunity” having possibly already asserted itself before the global political meltdown, Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta confirmed that she’d speculated just that in March of 2020, and right as the lockdowns began. If the virus moves around with easy rapidity, why wouldn’t it have begun spreading with abandon toward the end of 2019; thus setting the stage for broader immunity before politicians acted like politicians?

If so, China’s early quietude about the virus should be a relief. How awful if early alarm had brought on a much earlier political crack-up such that the lockdowns began in December 2019 or January of 2020. Not only would the economic suffocation have begun months earlier, but assuming lockdowns actually work in terms of slowing the spread of the virus, we’d presumably be much further away from broad immunity today. A much weaker economy combined with nail-biting politicians delaying the spread necessary to achieve immunity.

About what’s been written, it’s worth at least asking about. No medical expert here, what’s been asked doesn’t seem unreasonable in consideration of how experts say virus spread can be restrained: through isolation. Ok, but if it was spreading for months before March, weren’t the lockdowns in mid-March and beyond pointless in addition to violating freedom, wrecking the global economy, and restraining the production of information that free people produce?

Time will tell, but there’s an argument that the rhetoric about China gets dumber by the day. Considering survival rates that exceed 99%, it’s hard to ascribe something sinister. Why manufacture a virus that is so meek? As for delayed acknowledgement of it, how lucky that politicians, experts and their media enablers didn’t have a chance to lose their minds sooner. While there are many layers to the discussion of “China,” it’s hard not to be a little relieved they didn’t freak out the unreasonable sooner.

Needless to say, the high survivability rate for the virus doesn’t square with some of the anger directed at China. The anger contradicts the survivability number, plus it excuses politicians, experts and pundits for their role in what’s easily the biggest unforced error of the 21st century; one that has hundreds of millions rushing toward starvation. All for what?

Reprinted from RealClearMarkets

John Tamny


John Tamny, research fellow of AIER, is editor of RealClearMarkets.

His book on current ideological trends is: They Are Both Wrong (AIER, 2019)

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