December 22, 2021 Reading Time: 4 minutes

The participation of the characters in Squid Game, a popular fictional Netflix series, is voluntary. Players return to the game knowing full well the meaning of the term “eliminated.” Although the game rules are harsh, they are consistently applied, much like Omar Little’s code in HBO’s The Wire, which depicts deadly life in Baltimore for those who choose to participate in the drug “game.”

As in Shirley Jackson’s chilling short story “The Lottery,” everyone today is forced to play a type of sanguinary game involving Covid and Covid policies. The results are more insidious than those in Squid or Wire because the rules remain unclear and yet people cannot opt out, only adapt, if they can afford to.

Covid itself is a deadly disease, but that hardly makes it unique. What is new is the over-the-top policy response to a contagious malady that mostly kills the aged and infirm. The Great Barrington Declaration showed that the lowest cost/highest impact policies would protect the vulnerable and provide effective therapeutic interventions for those who fall ill. Most policymakers, however, opted instead for society-level rules ostensibly designed to control the spread of a virus designed by nature (perhaps with a human assist) to spread.

Odder still, some policymakers are returning to those policies, including lockdowns and mask mandates, even though they clearly did not work the first time around. It is one thing to be wrong once, but twice in a row?

In Squid Game, The Wire, and “The Lottery,” individual outcomes rely somewhat on skill, but also on random processes. Seong lucked out during “Red Light, Green Light,” but survived several later games by means of his wits. Tessie’s pick was unfortunate and her attempt to change the system came too little, too late. Omar, and sadly Michael K. Williams, the actor who portrayed him, fell victim to addiction (nicotine and heroin) combined with tragic timing.

Success or failure in the Covid Game depends partly upon luck and partly upon skill but mostly on money. Those who happen to live in places with rational policies are obviously luckier than those who reside in areas where policies are difficult to predict due to their underlying irrationality. The rich and connected can switch regulatory regimes or hedge by establishing residency options in multiple jurisdictions but most people have to suffer through whatever their local government dictates.

And I do mean suffer. I recently visited New Orleans, which has quietly put a Covid “passport” regime in place that appears designed to enrich companies that produce Covid “vaccines” and tests while creating one whopper of a Peltzman effect.

Anyone entering a bar or restaurant in the Big Easy is supposed to present proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test. In exchange, masks are not mandated and capacities are limited only by the fire code. All the places I visited were packed. 

Such voluntary exchanges are good, of course, but there is no way that the city’s policy can slow the spread of Covid. For starters, not every place I visited asked to see a passport. All of the others checked in such a cursory fashion that anyone who wanted to could have gotten into the venue using any number of ruses, including showing someone else’s phone or a mockup screenshot of a vax card or negative test result.

Even if venues somehow began to verify that the holder of the phone is the owner of the vax card or negative test, both are easily gamed, in several different ways. Overseas, where vax mandates are more widespread, people are getting shots in fake arms, using proxies, and so forth. Here in America, fake cards are easily procured.

On Canal Street, I jokingly asked a fellow who looked down on his luck if he would take a Covid rapid test for me for $5.00. He said that he would be happy to guarantee a negative result before receiving payment because he caught Covid during the initial 2020 wave. 

His guarantee was a shrewd move, because the rapid antigen tests are not very accurate, tending to produce false negatives. (PCR tests, by contrast, are notorious for being slow and producing false positives, especially at higher cycles.) The vaccine mandate is also dubious because of the large number of so-called breakthrough cases, especially with the newer variants which, as some scientists warned, evolved and spread precisely because they are able to outflank the “vaccines.” 

In short, in a restaurant with hundreds of patrons, one or more are bound to have Covid. So NOLA’s residents and visitors are essentially being asked to forfeit their civil liberties by “showing their papers” in exchange for the illusion of combating Covid. The illusion makes Covid “vaccine” and test manufacturers, and bar and restaurant owners and most of their patrons, happy. 

The cost, though, are the lives of a few vulnerable people lulled by the mandates into complacency. As economist Sam Peltzman argued, the safer people think they are, the more risks they take. Scientists have indeed documented Peltzman effects during the current pandemic. Ample anecdotes, like that of Brian May, the boosted Queen guitarist who got Covid at a luncheon where everyone was vaccinated and provided a negative Covid test the morning of the event, support the stats. 

The parallel with TSA and other post-9/11 intrusions on freedom is palpable and troubling. Given the burgeoning national debt and high rate of inflation, the waste of resources is almost as troubling as the denigration of liberty. All the dollars and hours spent removing shoes/flashing a meaningless mobile phone screen could have been used to track down terrorists and develop better Covid therapeutics. But apparently America’s political system is too flawed to develop and implement workable, rational policies, leaving Americans to guess what might come next in the Covid squid lottery wire.

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright

Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s The Best of Thomas Paine (2021) and Financial Exclusion (2019). He has also (co)authored numerous articles for important journals, including the American Economic ReviewBusiness History ReviewIndependent ReviewJournal of Private EnterpriseReview of Finance, and Southern Economic Review. Robert has taught business, economics, and policy courses at Augustana University, NYU’s Stern School of Business, Temple University, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere since taking his Ph.D. in History from SUNY Buffalo in 1997. Robert E. Wright was formerly a Senior Research Faculty at the American Institute for Economic Research.

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