October 28, 2020 Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’ve rarely seen it put so bluntly as I have in the video posted below, in an interview with epidemiologist Paul Elliott. However, I have begun to suspect that this error has crept into the thinking of the lockdowners over the course of the summer.

It seems that certain disease experts genuinely believe that they can game the reproduction rate of the virus to get it below 1, and thereby create a mathematical result that will make the virus go away. This seems to be their goal and the metric by which they measure whether and to what extent they have achieved it. The problem is that the reproduction rate (very difficult to discern precisely) is an effect – a measurement of an evolved condition – not a cause. 

At first it seems crazy that such an elementary logical fallacy could be at the heart of the lockdown ideology. This faulty presumption puts public health officials in the position of being central planners for the whole population, governing how close we get to each other, who we meet and when, where we go, taking control of the whole of our interactions and the whole of our bodies as well, as if they are our owners. 

They speak as if they have every confidence that this can happen, and then, like magic, the virus, lacking hosts, goes into deep retirement and leaves everyone alone. 

If this sounds like common sense, it is not. So far as I know, this is the first time in the history of the world that anything like this has been attempted. 

Is there any virus epidemic in the history of the world in which public health officials successfully manipulated the human population in a way that drives down the infection rate and thereby deletes the pathogen from its presence among us? If it did not entirely go away – and it will not and cannot – wouldn’t the central planners have to lock down every generation in the future too? 

The way the infection rate has traditionally been reduced in history is the only way it can be reduced, namely through the achievement of herd immunity, whether through acquired natural immunity or a vaccine (one can learn about this in Cell Biology for Dummies). The virus does not disappear. It becomes endemic; that is, predictable and manageable in every generation. 

I asked an old-school epidemiologist about whether there is a simple logical error connected with whether coercive reduction of the R naught is even possible. He confirmed what I had come to suspect: it’s all based on a fallacy that mixes up cause and effect. 

Yes, when herd immunity is reached, the R value can eventually be measured to observe that each person infects fewer than 1 other person and it falls and falls until the bug becomes endemic. But you can’t game it in the other direction, forcing an effect to bring about the cause.

Similarly, you can’t scatter leaves on the ground to cause the fall to arrive, or put up sun lamps on snow to speed up the summer. 

Can the whole error here really be that simple? Perhaps so. 

A seemingly simple mistake can have astonishingly radical implications. If you really believe that experts can bludgeon the R naught to determine the fate of a pathogen, all bets are off. There can be no more freedom or rights for anyone.

We see this in economics all the time. During recessions, aggregate demand falls; if we boost aggregate demand, the recession ends: this is the core claim of Keynesian countercyclical policy. We saw this happen in 2008. The fall in real estate prices was regarded as a cause rather than an effect; therefore the goal of policy became to raise them and make the downturn go away. 

It’s the same with price controls. People believe that if we can only suppress price levels we make the results of monetary expansion vanish. 

Trying to bludgeon effects into existence in order to blot out causes is a conventional mistake within the social sciences, and, apparently among certain naive disease suppressors too. 

Is it possible that the same mistake has gone viral in the epidemiological profession?

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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