13 Mar Some Covid Links
On March 10, 2020 at 7:16 p.m. the University of Dayton tweeted that all dormitories on campus would be closed less than 24 hours later in order to protect “the health and safety of our campus community.” It was one of hundreds of colleges and universities that rushed to clear out its campus in mid-March over fears of an impending coronavirus outbreak.
Most of these decisions were announced at a moment’s notice, leaving only a matter of days or hours for students to comply and make last-minute travel and housing arrangements in the face of impending eviction.
Dayton’s order proved particularly egregious. The college displayed little concern for the health and safety of its community members who had no mode of transportation or financial means to leave the campus with virtually zero notice. Its 11,271 student population had to vacate immediately. When a group of students took to the streets around campus to protest the hasty and chaotic decision, they found themselves accosted with pepper spray pellets by police officers who broke up the protest at 2:15AM.
U.S. deaths adjusted for population are comparable to Western Europe’s. Asian countries also experienced surges, though fewer deaths because of healthier populations. Island nations Australia and New Zealand closed their borders. Mr. Trump too often downplayed the virus, and his compulsion to make himself the center of the Covid story is a major reason he lost the Presidency. But most politicians and public-health officials also minimized the virus early on because they didn’t want to cause panic.
Mr. Trump’s biggest mistake was putting too much faith in health experts and their lockdown models. As hospitals in northern Italy burst with patients, epidemiologists predicted U.S. hospitals would soon be overwhelmed. On March 16, Mr. Trump ordered a 15-day national lockdown to “slow the spread,” which he later extended through April.
There was an alternative. Tens of thousands of doctors signed the Great Barrington Declaration, which recommended that government minimize deaths and economic harm by protecting the vulnerable while letting most Americans return to normal life. Individuals and businesses could adjust to the virus and socially distance as they saw fit. The media and progressive elites dismissed these voices and refused to drop their lockdown dogmatism.
The Covid pandemic has seen the greatest loss of American liberty outside wartime. Politicians closed houses of worship without regard for the First Amendment. They ordered arbitrary shutdowns that favored some businesses but punished others. Politicians and governments have used the pandemic to justify an enormous expansion of state power. Government had to act in March to avoid economic catastrophe from the lockdowns it ordered. But the politicians keep amassing power even as vaccines are rolling out.
What we had were livelihoods wrecked, dreams shattered, and despair spreading faster than the disease these measures attempted to counteract. Against that, indiscriminately delivered government checks are small comfort.
What we’ve had in the last year are mostly stupid government regulations (are there any clever ones…?) and people sheepishly internalizing them as if they were handed down by a prophet on stone tablets. Yes, the Covid mania is a religious cult. What worries me more than a misplaced resurgence in idolatry is the social attitudes that come with this. Now any threat can again be dealt with by imposing rules like we just did – my life becomes yours to govern. (You don’t think the climate crowd is eager for their turn to call the shots?)
While the U.S. was busy dishing out dough in a not-so-covert attempt at introducing Universal Basic Income (UBI) schemes, European rulers went with the more zombifying version: freeze labor markets in place, by paying employers and workers not to work. “Hands up, nobody moves,” said European governments and regulators.
One year and several lockdowns later, and this remarkable experiment in social control has done untold harm to the economy, to education, mental health and civil liberties. Care home residents have suffered the worst of Covid 19, thanks in part to a bizarre policy of discharging patients suspected to have had Covid back into those places – but also the worst of lockdown, being deprived of family contact. It is reported that some dementia patients have even lost the power of speech. Meanwhile, victims of domestic abuse have been trapped at home with their tormentors.
The uniformity of the new ruling class, and the games that one must play to enter it, explains the consensus on lockdown. The political class is naturally drawn to power, meaning that its members are often keen to signal how ‘on board’ they are with elite projects. This distorts the line between those responsible for policy and those who should critique it. It is evident in the tendency of mainstream journalists to discuss the pandemic within the framework set by lockdown rather than to think outside of the box, or in their total failure to ask probing questions of ministers and state scientists. They can further tell one another that they are being ‘responsible’ by refusing to question a Government policy designed, of course, to ‘save lives,’ but this means that they partake in the state’s management of society rather than in holding power to account. Many journalists will also avoid criticising lockdown because a lot of those who do are political class undesirables, notably Donald Trump, with whom they do not want to appear associated. It often appears to be a political class article of faith that frequently unreasonable people cannot, in fact, say reasonable things.
Who the actual ‘expert’ is or the nature of their track record is not entirely relevant (and the influential Professor Neil Ferguson’s past performance at predicting pandemic lethality is indeed abysmal). What is important is the rhetorical role that citing the expert plays: it is the argumentum ad verecundiam, designed to intimidate and embarrass opponents, which also abrogates the need to play the ball rather than the man and therefore to grapple with the issue at stake in a truly critical manner. It is the helpful quote in the rushed, weekly essay that allows you to stop thinking about one aspect of the subject and to move on.
This is something important to consider as we approach the 365th anniversary of “two weeks to flatten the curve.”
Epidemiology modelers tricked many well-meaning and intelligent people into backing the lockdowns out of fear and a belief in the limited timeframe we had to forestall emergency. If you were among them and have since updated your position in light of overwhelming evidence that they do not work, that’s a defensible position.
OTOH, if you’re still arguing for lockdowns a year later, or defending those policies as justified in the hindsight of the destruction they have caused to no meaningful effect at stemming the pandemic, you are exhibiting a level of delusion that should cast doubt upon your judgment in all other matters as well.
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