As a naturally optimistic person, it vexes me that the word catastrophe has echoed in my mind since early March 2020. It’s the word the great smallpox eradicator Donald Henderson used in his 2006 prediction of the consequences of lockdown, a word that wasn’t around then. His masterful article addressed the idea of travel restrictions, forced human separation, business and school closings, mask mandates, limits on public gatherings, quarantines, and the entire litany of brutality to which we’ve been subjected for nearly a year, all summed up in the word lockdown.
Dr. Henderson warned against it all. This is not how you deal with disease, he said; at a minimum society needs to function so that medical professionals can do their work. Diseases are managed one person at a time, not with grand central plans. That was the old wisdom in any case. Under the influence of vainglorious modelers, ideological resetters, and politicians hoping to make names for themselves, most of the world tried the lockdown experiment anyway.
Here we are nearly a year since I wrote my first article warning that governments presumed themselves to possess the quarantine power. They could use it if they wanted to. I didn’t expect they would. I wrote this piece as a “for your information” public service just to let people know how terrible governments could be.
I had no idea that quarantines would be only the beginning. At this point we know what we did not know then. They are capable – by they I mean even governments in presumably civilized countries with functioning democracies – of the unthinkable, and they are capable of persisting in the unthinkable for an appalling amount of time.
Now the lockdowns are our life in the US, unless you are lucky enough to live in Florida, Georgia, South Dakota, South Carolina, and perhaps a few other places. Here in these outposts of what we used to call civilization, life seems normal. Our readers in these states don’t even think about the virus much, and they read my articles and find them overwrought, like I’m describing life on another planet.
The US seems to have two economies, one open and one closed. You see the difference on social media: people at the beach, malls, living life more or less normally. Meanwhile, in the lockdown states, businesses are shuttered, people are demoralized, fights over masks are breaking out in stores, the arts are wrecked, and multitudes are still cowering in their homes. The unemployment differences between the two reveal exactly what’s going on.
We are experiencing what is a migratory demographic shift that could compare to 19th century legend. From what is being reported by U-Haul and other moving companies, people are fleeing from closed to open. Reports United Van Lines: “Among the top inbound states were South Carolina (64%), Oregon (63%), South Dakota (62%) and Arizona (62%), while New York (67%), Illinois (67%), Connecticut (63%) and California (59%) were among the states experiencing the largest exoduses.” And this all happened since the summer when it became unbearably obvious that the bastards were not going to stop tormenting their people.
Moving, however, is not a panacea. Normal life seems to be breaking down. The government mails are running 2 to 3 weeks behind. Companies can’t even close their books because the tempo of life has dragged to a crawl. Tech support takes many hours on hold. Accountability for failure to deliver on services seems to be evaporating. Groceries experience sporadic shortages in unpredictable ways. We no longer know the rules and yet fear breaking them.
Health care is not functioning normally, with non-Covid patients hurled out too soon while positive tests land you in ICU whether you need it or not. (My own 81-year-old mother was hospitalized with a serious condition and then thrown out because she didn’t test positive for SARS-CoV-2). Vaccine administration has been mostly chaos because society is not functioning normally. Weddings and funerals are still out. We are being socialized to treat everyone, including ourselves, as nothing but pathogenic disease vectors.
The hatred and threats of violence in online venues are out of control. Society has never been more angry or divided in my lived experience. Tech giants are still censoring dissent, trying to force everyone to believe the pronouncements from the World Health Organization even though they change week to week, as if they are working hard to realize Orwell’s vision of the future. The blue check marks and people with access daily advocate trampling on the rights of those who can’t live their lives online.
The mainstream media that most people once trusted continues to pretend as if this catastrophe is a result of the pandemic rather than the pandemic response. Just look at the number of headlines that begin “Pandemic Has Caused….” and then fill in the blank with any one of the many terrible things happening now: a third of restaurants bankrupt, opioid deaths, alcoholism, suicide ideation, female unemployment, demoralized and abused children missing a whole year of schooling, loved ones separated by borders, murder rates soaring, vaccinations missed, cancer screenings forgone, and so on. It’s all the pandemic, they say.
Why won’t the media name the lockdowns as the culprit? It’s not just denialism. The implication is that we had no choice but to shatter life as we know it. Lockdown is just what one does in a pandemic. It’s utterly not. Nothing like this has ever taken place, never in history. This remains an egregious attack on fundamental rights, liberties, and the rule of law. The results are all around us. That the news media refuses to name the reason feels like gaslighting, except that we know they are lying, they know they are lying, and they know that we know they are lying. It’s just an unwritten rule in journalism now: never name the lockdowns (unless you bury it in the 13th paragraph of an otherwise boring article).
And even after a full year, the public remains mostly deeply ignorant of the age/health gradient of Covid-19 fatalities, even though we’ve known this since February of last year! According to the CDC – even conceding the accuracy of testing and exigencies of fatality classification – it’s 99.997% for 0-19 years, 99.98% for 20-49 years, 99.5% for 50-69 years, and 94.6% for 70+ years. It’s nursing homes that have been a main vector for disease outcomes. The threat to school-age kids approaches zero. The more information we get the more normalized the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen seems, a respiratory and flu-like illness we have seen become pandemic before it became endemic just like another dozen times in the last hundred years. We didn’t shut down society, and, for that reason, we managed them just fine.
Is it that numbers like the above are just too abstract to mean anything to people? More likely, the numbers mean something but that meaning is overwhelmed by the nonstop panic porn one sees on the media each day. People can no longer distinguish these various terms that media pundits throw around to signal how terrible this disease is: outbreaks, cases, outcomes, deaths, spread, infection rates, hospitalizations – it’s just a huge and blurry blizzard of terrible.
Citing a bit of reality-based data cannot make a dent in the pathological Munchausen Syndrome that has been unleashed. Primal fear has swamped rationality for the better part of 10 months. So people douse themselves in sanitizer for fear of the enemy they cannot see, and presume everyone else is trying to infect them. They put up with attacks on their rights under the belief that it is for their own good.
The fiscal and monetary policy response has been equally egregious, all premised on the idea that money printing and spending – it all goes together these days – can possibly be a substitute for private investment and actual people buying and selling things. That combined with continued protectionist measures in the last days of the Trump administration make for the worst combination of policy malpractice in generations, or perhaps ever. The pain of recovery will be monstrous.
Many of us spend a good part of our days poring over the latest research, which reveals their terrible toll of the lockdowns, the inescapable horror that it is the lockdowns not the pandemic that has done this. It shows the absence of any relationship between lockdowns and lives saved. It shows that a significant number of excess deaths are due not to disease but to drug overdoses, depression, and suicide. It shows the tremendous problems with PCR testing, the nondriver of “asymptomatic transmission,” the incredible proliferation of disease misclassification, and the absurdity of the idea that political solutions can intimidate and arrest a virus.
We do all this research every day, and then turn on the TV to find the nation’s top medical spokesman (a certain Dr. Fauci of fame and fortune) knows nothing and cares nothing for any of the research. He is a performance artist who just likes being on TV, being fawned over while he advocates the permanent overthrow of our rights and liberties. And yet even his colleagues and others in the profession, who know his long-running racket very well, dare not call him out for fear of losing grant money, being ostracized within their institutions, and trolled on Twitter. He is a scary man with the power to make or break careers, so rather than take the risk, others just shake their heads and turn the channel.
Sheer cowardice explains most of the dearth of dissent. It’s easy to forget how cravenly careerist people become when they are afraid. Most people would rather lie or be silent than risk facing disapproval of friends and colleagues. Cancel culture makes this worse. Doctors who dare talk about natural immunities or the talisman of masks and distancing find themselves investigated by medical boards. Academics who speak out are accused of encouraging superspreaders, blasted by colleagues including students. It’s way beyond witch hunts at this point. As a result, you can easily get the impression that everyone agrees with the desperate need to dismantle civilization as we know it.
None of this is sustainable. When it was “14 days to flatten the curve,” I feared for the future of investment, public confidence in government, lost revenue for small and medium-sized businesses, and their permanent shock that would come from the realization that government can and will do something this horrible. Another two weeks went by and we were writing furiously to warn the world of the deadly consequences of this course. April 13 came and AIER released the most strongly worded editorial then in print: we need complete liberation now. The Wall Street Journal followed and said the same two days later.
In those days, the prevailing theory of the virus was that you cannot stop it but you can slow it down. Tall or short, the area of the curve is the same. Why prolong the pain? The talking point at the time was to preserve hospital capacity. But over time, this plausible idea mutated into a full suppressionist agenda. Slow the spread became stop the spread. It was a small step until the “experts” defaulted to a medieval view of disease: run away! Actually, that’s too flattering: it was a gradeschool view of cooties that became the new and thoroughly fake science.
Then we arrived at the current moment in which professional virus fighters, having failed miserably to suppress the virus, have turned against the public, blaming those who do not comply with complete enthusiasm. Fauci says some version of this daily on TV: if everyone would just comply, we won’t have to lock down anymore. Unless morale improves, the beatings will continue.
After two weeks, there was still time to undo major parts of the damage of lockdowns. After 10 months, not so much. There will be loss of life for many years to come plus population-wide psychological, social, and economic damage. The catastrophe has not been averted. It is far worse than any of us could ever have imagined at this time last year. The world has shifted and drastically, and the pain and suffering are unspeakable. Our governments are the pathogens that have done this to us. They were aided and abetted by fake news, fake experts, fake intellectuals, fake science, and a fake view of life.
At this late date, we’ve lost confidence in most of what we used to trust and think was normal. Despair is taking over. Many of those who were willing to fight in the spring and summer have given up, tired of writing, tired of protesting, tired of yelling. The attempt to demotivate the opposition is working. This is a huge error.
What, then, is the path to the future? We can stay on the present catastrophic course or we can reverse it. The sooner governments wise up and stop hurting everyone like this the sooner the healing can begin. It will take years, decades, but a version of the rule of medicine from the ancient days pertains: first stop doing harm.
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 nine books in 5 languages, most recently Liberty or Lockdown. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
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