Jan 11, 2023·edited Jan 11, 2023

""even if in hindsight we know lockdowns unequivocally fail cost-benefit analysis, we didn’t know that at the time...""


"While the exact degree of excess damage was not known at the time, anyone not malicious or at least extremely negligent could have predicted that lockdowns would do more damage than the virus itself."

Are people saying this? Has it been established? I don't doubt at all that lockdowns did more harm than good, but I haven't seen great evidence of it (nor against it), much less people accepting that lockdowns did more harm than good.

What has struck me in fact has been the lack of curiosity for a cost benefit analysis of lockdowns. A good government would have produced one by now, but I'm unaware of any CBAs on lockdowns funded by the USG.

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I also don't think find this argument convincing, for the reasons you stated, and because its lack of specificity as to what it means by "lockdowns".

The original case for a lockdown was based less on analysis as our ignorance. I remember well when it hit; we had literally no idea what we were facing or what to do about it, only that it was hugely disruptive (overwhelmed hospitals and medical systems, shortages of medical equipment and personnel, huge mortality and severe sickness tolls in multiple locales - Florence, NYC, etc.), and potentially dangerous and scary.

Folks can blame the Trump administration for our lack of preparedness/knowledge. However, based on experiences elsewhere I doubt any administration would have been ready -- particularly as ready as we'd need to be to combat it and prevent the type of medical system collapses associated with unacceptably high illness/mortality totals. We only learned and built that capacity years later; it's inconceivable to me we'd avoid some severe short-term disruptions, as essentially every society on earth experienced.

After that initial period, as we learned more about the virus and how to combat it and/or prepare for it, the case for lockdowns (and other mitigation measures) indeed changed. However, so did our response. In my state, the stay-at-home order was issued March 22 and expired May 15, 2022; it was in place less than two months.

I find journalists often have a misconception on this point, because they are clustered in jurisdictions (notably California and New York City) that implemented and enforced more severe measures for longer periods of time. One can debate whether even their measures can really be described as "lockdowns". Nonetheless, outside of those jurisdictions there was very little even resembling a lockdown in most of the country.

What there was was folks worried about contracting and spreading the illness. I was under no obligation to do so, but I severely limited my social outings during this period, including and especially with my elderly friends and relatives. Similarly, I did not attend many heavily attended, closed-in indoor events during this period, including not going to sporting events, church services, or bars, and only flying or eating out rarely.

Some such events I abstained from voluntarily (airline travel was never curtailed for long in my area), while others the government restricted (mainly large indoor gatherings). We can debate whether these restrictions can be characterized as "lockdowns".

Regardless though, the justification for restricting or regulating such gatherings is much stronger -- or at least more nuanced -- than the citations in this post suggest. At the least they cannot be dismissed as obviously unnecessary with the superficial handwaves provided here to contest the utility of actual lockdowns.

I raise this point not mainly to criticize the post, but because I think the nuance it misses is leading this author and others to engage in poor analysis and reach faulty or unhelpful conclusions.

There is a not-insignificant chance that we will face another such communicable disease (based on the COVID-19 virus or a new one) in the coming years/our lifetimes. It's obvious that we were unprepared for this one and made poor and damaging choices as a result -- including, I'd be willing to concede, lockdowns.

However, that does not answer the question we face but only brings us to the starting point -- if permanent and stringent lockdowns are not wise or justified (and, indeed, were not employed in most locations for lengthy periods of time, even in this pandemic), what measures should we take to prepare, if any? Secondarily, once we identify measures we consider worthwhile or beneficial, how should we incentivize or enforce their adoption or compliance with them?

This nuance is necessary to address which, if any, of the measures which are high-profile and/or controversial, in part because they are imposed on the public directly, we should implement or adopt, and how. It also is necessary because many measures which are likely wise and worthwhile are not controversial at all, because they are not imposed on the general public -- measures relating to medical equipment and PPE, supply chains, a measure (how much, and at what cost...) spare capacity in various parts of the medical system (hospitals, clinics, testing), etc.

Focusing on "lockdowns" misleads, as it causes analysts engaged on the issue to focus on questions which do not matter (and, in most of the world, never did or did not for long), and clouds or obscures from them the questions, options, and decisions which do.

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'We' did know at the time that the CoV2 was mild in effect or harmless to most of the population. 'We' know 'we' knew because 'we' said so at the time - Dr Whitty Chief Medical Officer for UK Govt said it publicly, plus other evidence from Diamond Princess and data from China showed it to be that only a very small cohort in the population was at risk of severe consequences and being mostly elderly were not much mobile or engaged in economic activity, so poor spreaders and of little consequence to the economy.

But for the sake of argument let us accept the virus would be akin to a serious 'flu epidemic, the effect would have been mass absenteeism from work and schools, social interactions would fall. The result being wide-scale disruption of transportation, manufacturing, retail, distribution services, education and economic downturn. However many people would be immune or only slightly affected, most would recover within two weeks and so after a couple of months, life and the economy would be back to near normal, so overall disruption to the economy, education and society would have been relatively moderate and short-term.. The community immunity acquired would ensure the following Winter wave would be less disruptive.

The only case for any action would be to avoid what aseroous epidemic, if allowed to happen, would cause. Imposing restrictions that caused the very same things is idiotic, because there would be no benefit, and extended restrictions delayed return to normality which the actual epidemic would not. The most vulnerable would still end up in hospital and/or die either way. Bonus: lockdowns have no effect once a pathogen is active within a population.

However the virus without restrictions would not have produced the same effect as bad 'flu or lockdowns, and 'we' knew that in 2020 because the UK Government's own pandemic plan, put together and updated over the course of a century said so, and indicated that lockdowns would not work and would be counterproductive, causing more economic and social harm, and damage to health..

The same plan appeared on the WHO website and was the same as used by the Swedish Government.

So 'we' did know. There are no excuses.

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You've said a number of times that lockdowns were "the worst experience in the lives of most people in my generation." I expect that the worst experience for the typical person is something more mundane, like the death of a loved one or break up.

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Maybe that's true for other generations. This generation had a key time in their development wholly stolen from them. Part of this is because young people are more impressionable, if the order was reversed it may be the case that the breakup or death is worse.

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This piece would benefit from explaining how leaders the world over *knew* that lockdowns would cause more harm than good. No doubt they did, but that's a benefit of hindsight.

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