– August 27, 2020

For so many months, it’s been nonstop bad news on business closures, arts trashed, museum shuttering, unemployment, missed surgeries and diagnostics, plus rising loneliness, drug overdoses, depression, and suicide. Every day has been as dark or darker than the previous one. 

And yet here we are with a political class, all over the world, refusing to admit error and fearing the reopening because they don’t want to be seen as reversing course on the most catastrophic policies in modern history. 

And yet, there are some signs of hope. Small ones. We shall see. 

A medical advisor to Boris Johnson, Prof. Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, has actually admitted that the government had no idea what it was doing and so completely panicked with lockdowns. 

“We couldn’t think of anything better to do,” he has admitted. 

“Lockdown was a panic measure and I believe history will say trying to control Covid-19 through lockdown was a monumental mistake on a global scale, the cure was worse than the disease.

“I never want to see national lockdown again. It was always a temporary measure that simply delayed the stage of the epidemic we see now. It was never going to change anything fundamentally, however low we drove down the number of cases, and now we know more about the virus and how to track it we should not be in this position again.

“We absolutely should never return to a position where children cannot play or go to school.

“I believe the harm lockdown is doing to our education, health care access, and broader aspects of our economy and society will turn out to be at least as great as the harm done by Covid-19.”

This is a hugely significant admission. Of course he is only saying what thousands of independent experts have said for many months. But we should appreciate just how much courage it requires for a person in his position to come forward with such a frank admission. 

And in Europe, we see signs and hints of admission. The Telegraph headlined: Europe is at last waking up to its lockdown folly by Sherelle Folly:

In recent days, world leaders have hinted at an extraordinary admission: lockdowns are a disaster, and we can’t afford to repeat the mistake.

Still, when that spiritless reverend of the global order Angela Merkel delivered this confession a few days ago, she was so officiously ambiguous that the world paid no attention. “Politically, we want to avoid closing borders again at any cost, but that assumes that we act in coordination,” she droned at a summit in the Mediterranean. And with that, an earthquake: saving lives “at any cost” has been excised from the lexicon of liberal internationalism. Instead the aim is to save the economy. This means “acting in coordination” to kill off second lockdowns.

Emmanuel Macron was the first leader to drop this little bombshell. Last week he said that France can’t cope with the “collateral damage” of a second lockdown, explaining that “zero risk never exists in any society”. Italy joined in three days later, with the health minister hinting that the country will not return to national hibernation. Meanwhile, after lauding China’s draconian lockdown, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is imploring countries to avoid battening down the hatches again.

To be sure, in the U.S. there are no such admissions, yet. Zero! How plausible is it that among 50 governors, each with different locking down and opening up plans, and countless thousands of mayors and county health officials, not one made any mistakes? It’s ridiculous. At some point, all credibility among these people is lost. 

There are small signs, however, that liberalization could come sooner rather than later. 

For example, Governor Cuomo has taken five states off the quarantine list: Alaska, Arizona, Delaware, Maryland and Montana. The governor says it is because these states met the targets, which sounds reasonable until you remember that none of these people have cared a thing about previous targets. 

Maybe governors are starting to inch out of the corner into which they have painted themselves?

The CDC has dropped its recommended 14-day quarantine for travelers and replaced it with more sensible guidelines: don’t travel if you are sick and stay safe when you go places. This is a very important change that could encourage more liberalization among states and nations. The end of travel was one of the most brutal and shocking changes since these lockdowns began.

On Monday and without announcement, the CDC has revised its recommendation on testing: no longer do people without symptoms need a test. Now, one might think that is very obvious. Why would any healthy person not in a vulnerable group subject himself or herself to a test if he or she doesn’t feel sick? Right now, kids all over the country are being forced to take this invasive test just to be in school or to work, and the testing keeps happening again and again. From now on, the CDC recommends treating Covid-19 like any other disease. Remember too that the number of asymptomatic carriers could be as high as 70%. In addition, the World Health Organization’s admission that asymptomatic transmission is very rare is supported by all available evidence. 

Revising the guidelines makes sense. A bit less compulsion is always a welcome thing. 

To be sure, some epidemiologists are very upset about this because it means that they are denied perfectly accurate data for the much-sought-after but still-elusive infection fatality rate. It also means giving up the fantasy of track-and-trace, an impossible and pointless task for a virus this widespread. 

There’s another factor too. For months now, the media has discovered that they can get clicks and generate public alarm by headlining increased cases, and governors can continue lockdowns merely by citing case data. Some people sarcastically call this the Casedemic. Truly, every day it makes one want to scream at the TV: cases are not deaths; cases are not hospitalization! 

So ending this would indeed be mercifully. But of course it’s a problem for governors invested in lockdowns, and therefore New York, Connecticut, and California immediately announced that they would ignore the CDC. So after yelling at everyone to obey the CDC no matter what, we find that they are happy to ignore the CDC insofar as it makes recommendations that contradict their political ambitions.  

Another very encouraging sign was the Wall Street Journal’s front page story by Greg Ip: New Thinking on Covid Lockdowns: They’re Overly Blunt and Costly:

In response to the novel and deadly coronavirus, many governments deployed draconian tactics never used in modern times: severe and broad restrictions on daily activity that helped send the world into its deepest peacetime slump since the Great Depression.

The equivalent of 400 million jobs have been lost world-wide, 13 million in the U.S. alone. Global output is on track to fall 5% this year, far worse than during the financial crisis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Despite this steep price, few policy makers felt they had a choice, seeing the economic crisis as a side effect of the health crisis. They ordered nonessential businesses closed and told people to stay home, all without the extensive analysis of benefits and risks that usually precedes a new medical treatment.

There wasn’t time to gather that sort of evidence: Faced with a poorly understood and rapidly spreading pathogen, they prioritized saving lives.

Five months later, the evidence suggests lockdowns were an overly blunt and economically costly tool. 

What’s important here is not so much the information in this article – AIER has been saying this since March, citing all the best science – but that it appeared in the news portion of the paper. The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has always been fantastic but now we see the news portion catching up. 

The New York Times doesn’t like to be bested, so it could become increasingly difficult to deny the facts on the ground. When the Times moves on this topic, the rest of the American media will begin to bend as well, just as they did in support of lockdowns. 

Meanwhile, the research is pouring in and being distributed that all these government mandates have been for naught. The latest is posted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, with authors from the Atlanta Fed, Emory University, and UCLA. This is a high-powered group publishing in a highly prestigious venue, and shows the unthinkable: none of the mandates anywhere in the world seem to have had any measurable effect on the virus. This paper has yet received the attention it deserves but attention is building. 

In addition, the New York Post is publishing great content by the ferocious anti-lockdowner Alex Berenson. “Sweden, Arizona and Manaus don’t have much in common, but in all of them, the epidemic burned out relatively quickly, without hard lockdowns, and after a relatively low number of people were infected based on antibody tests.”

That Sunbelt states refused to reinstate lockdowns after their cases rose indicates that public tolerance for all the nonsense could be at an end. 

And all the while, Sweden’s record is there to show what happens when you do not lock down. It’s true that the death rates among the most elderly and sick in long-term care facilities were higher than they needed to be, it’s still true that Sweden has a better record than Spain, Italy, or the UK and did this without closing schools or restaurants. 

Given the level of duplicity and grotesque incompetence that has been revealed by governors over the last 5 months, I wouldn’t expect a quick admission and resolution. Governments don’t behave that way. They don’t look at or act on evidence, which is precisely why they never should have been put in charge of managing a virus outbreak. Still, they can’t keep truth suppressed forever; there will be a reckoning for what they have done at some point. 

How does all of this get resolved? Probably not through contrition much less restitution for all the damage they’ve caused. It’s just an intuition for now, but I am guessing that there are many politicians at home and abroad who are already planning their next career moves, out of the public spotlight and the heat of a furious public for whom it is becoming increasingly obvious that these policies created a catastrophe. 

Of course there will always be shameless outliers. Governor Cuomo, who presided over some of the highest death rates in the world and is responsible in part for the systematic destruction of the world’s great city, has a new book out celebrating his own heroism. The book flap alone is jaw dropping:

He unified people to rise to the challenge and was relentless in his pursuit of scientific facts and data. He quelled fear while implementing an extraordinary plan for flattening the curve of infection. He and his team worked day and night to protect the people of New York, despite roadblocks presented by a president incapable of leadership and addicted to transactional politics…. American Crisis is a remarkable portrait of selfless leadership and a gritty story of difficult choices that points the way to a safer future for all of us.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages, most recently The Market Loves You. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. Jeffrey is available for speaking and interviews via his emailTw | FB | LinkedIn

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