Did lockdowns take more lives than they saved? It’s an important question. Earlier this month, the Rand Corporation and the University of Southern California, working on behalf of the National Bureau of Economic Research, released a working paper to ascertain just that.
Most casual news consumers might not have heard about it, and that’s not surprising because here’s what they found:
We find that following the implementation of shelter-in-place policies, excess mortality increases. … We failed to find that countries or U.S. states that implemented [shelter in place] policies earlier, and in which [shelter-in-place] policies had longer to operate, had lower excess deaths than countries/U.S. states that were slower to implement [shelter in place] policies. We also failed to observe differences in excess death trends before and after the implementation of [shelter in place] policies based on pre-[shelter in place] COVID-19 death rates.
There you have it: Following lockdowns, “excess mortality increases.”
In 2020, nearly every American in the world had to endure a month or more of shelter-in-place orders depending on where he lived. In states like New York and California, oppressive policies lasted for months after the literal lockdown ended. In Ireland and other parts of Europe, lockdowns have just tentatively begun to end. In Australia, they’re still ongoing.
Through it all, people, businesses, and communities were destroyed because some public health “experts” were dead-certain this was needed to save lives. The predictable irony is they weren’t saving lives at all — just making you miserable and poorer in return for nothing.
The past year should be a humbling experience for humanity, or at least our leaders. We were faced with a problem that didn’t come with an answer at the back of the book, and we flunked it.
Why did we fail? The answer is a vice the ancient Greeks understood well: Hubris. Our leaders believed that nature could be controlled from a government office, and that humanity could be micromanaged like a particularly large game of “SimCity.”
When the virus was still limited in scope, they demanded the borders stay open and the flights keep flying. Then they told everyone to go out and party for the Chinese New Year. In Italy, people were told to hug a Chinese person to prove they weren’t a racist.
When the virus was still far off, they dismissed measures that could stop it as unnecessary or bigoted, and somehow being proven wrong only made them more confident. Once the virus broke containment and spread everywhere, there was no talk of reasonable mitigation: Instead, we were going to stop this virus in its tracks with overwhelming force.
In the end, we didn’t crush the virus, but we did crush a lot of ordinary people.
Over our history, we’ve gotten pretty used to this kind of hubris. It’s the arrogance that believes common sense and time-tested policies can be thrown out as leaders chase utopias. It’s the arrogance that makes men think they can shape the economy and tax and spend without inflation.
It’s the arrogance that makes men think they can install a republic in countries that lack a middle class or a Western and Judeo-Christian tradition of individual liberty. It’s the arrogance that makes men think they can maintain a republic in a West that’s gutted its middle class and banished its Western, Judeo-Christian moral code.
It’s the arrogance that causes people every generation to decide they won’t be held back by dusty old wisdom and tradition, and it’s the arrogance we see playing out every day on our city’s streets, where violent crimes threaten citizens’ lives and property.
Believe it or not, 70 years ago society had mostly figured out crime. They knew to be quick, efficient, and consistent in punishing criminal acts; to never cede territory to gangs; to never let breaking the law become the norm; and to never let dangerous mobs destroy at will.
Then social reformers got ideas: They decided the system was too punitive, too biased against the poor, so they started to tinker. Few still remember, but from 1950 through the early 1970s America’s criminal justice system outside the South became one of the most lenient in the world.
According to the most recent data, Sweden and Denmark both have 68 prisoners per 100,000 people. In 1972 Massachusetts had 32 prisoners per 100,000 people. Illinois had 50. Even New York state, fresh off the race riots of 1967 and the Martin Luther King assassination riots the following year, had only 64 prisoners per 100,000 people. That same year, New York City had almost 1,700 murders, yet the state had fewer people in prison per capita than Sweden does today.
America was lenient on crime, so crime exploded. It took decades to undo the damage, and required expanding police forces and building a much larger prison system than the one reformers had wanted so badly to dismantle in the 1950s, but it worked: Crime rates fell and our cities became livable again.
Instead of studying this lesson, our leaders want to make all the same mistakes of half a century ago, and last year they gave it a trial run. We saw what happened: Shootings exploded, murders went up 20 percent or more. In spite of it all, our policy makers are only getting bolder — and no amount of failure deters them.
When our leaders set out to solve the virus, they instead wrecked our children and teenagers in school, closed sports and glued already-addicted children to screens, delayed the studies of college students, and retarded the life-skills and development of young people entering the job market. They rolled out tests for their welfare-for-everyone plans, hobbled business owners in hiring people back, and hooked a large part of a generation on massive handouts.
They used judges’ benches to take over elections and decreed ridiculous pro-fraud, anti-enforcement rules. They forced our sick and our elderly to die alone so they wouldn’t get COVID, refused our right to bury and mourn our loved ones, sent sick patients into nursing homes then barred children from holding mom’s hand while she slipped away.
They arrested church leaders, closed temple doors, and enthroned a new moral leadership under Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control. They sold their efforts as neighborly affection and caring, but did neighborhoods and communities become more caring? Or did vicious, suspicious and frightened people begin to call police and report on banned activity?
Just as with any system, there are winners and there are losers: Grandma didn’t get a funeral but the activists and Democratic politicians got to attend three for George Floyd. Worshipping God had to go virtual, but activists and rioters worshipping critical race theory and its new martyrs packed our streets, ransacked our cities, looted and burned our already struggling businesses, and killed dozens of innocent people.
Jeff Bezos and his friends got a whole lot richer and a whole lot more powerful.
As we now know, all of the tyranny and sadness and suffering and hubris brought us absolutely nothing but more tyranny, sadness, suffering, and hubris. They didn’t control disease — how could they? But if it can be believed, all that was not their craziest plan for America: Having completely failed to control disease, they’ve set their sights (and their newly enthroned scientific bureaucracy) literally higher — on the global climate.
It’s the perfect crisis, so large and global in scope that fixing it requires empowering government bureaucrats totally and perpetually — and giving them absolute mastery over the direction of our lives from the cradle to the compost heap.
President Joe Biden’s administration set about this new agenda right away when he took office, and began by trying to unilaterally halt all new oil and gas leases in America, canceling a whole sector of the U.S. economy for “climate.” They rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and are pledging to cut America’s carbon emissions 50 percent below 2005 totals by 2030 — a number their activists already claim isn’t enough to save the planet.
In The New York Times last week, Ezra Klein hosted a round table with several thinkers about what is to be done. Sci-fi novelist Kim Stanley Robinson said the oil industry will have to be abolished totally and completely. Scientist Saul Griffith said that our notions of property and ownership will have to die to save the planet. Democracy itself might have to go.
In a 2019 essay for Foreign Policy, Cambridge University professor David Runciman said, “Democracy is the planet’s biggest enemy,” and suggested that an authoritarian Chinese one-party system might be the only one capable of tackling climate change. The New York Times’ Tom Friedman has pondered much the same: A one-party system with people like Friedman and Runciman in charge.
We’re told that maybe even the very idea of what it is to be human has to change for the climate. A video from 2016 that went viral last week shows bioethicist S. Matthew Liao speculating that maybe we can get humans to stop eating meat if we forcibly engineer all of them to have a meat allergy.
The famous economist Friedrich Hayek saw communism and Nazism, and he saw a connection between their schemes and so many others, including those that were obviously evil and those that seemed more benign and good-intentioned. He called it “the fatal conceit:” the idea “that man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes.”
It’s no different from the sin identified by the Greeks, the Christians, and the Founding Fathers. Hayek, like those before him, knew it was wrong, and he knew it was deadly. Like those who came before him, he was right — then and now.