THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Posts categorized "Coronavirus" Feed

Pandemic, or catastrophic government failure?

 

This is one Australian journalist’s take on the situation in his home state of Victoria.  It’s the kind of voice I grew up with; thoughtful and robustly sceptical. It’s the kind of voice that belongs to, nay is essential to, nay forms a free society. It’s the kind of voice that — with honourable exceptions — I am not hearing in Britain.

In a dispiriting conversation with an old friend this week I was barraged with “official” information and accused of callous indifference. The social media ban on criticism of official messaging on the pandemic (even where it’s self-contradictory) is apparently redundant. The population is policing itself; sending to Coventry anyone who dissents. I’m beginning to feel like metaphorical Coventry is my home town.

If you try to research the issue on Google you will find yourself steered to the state’s agitprop (sorry “official information”). I distinctly recall reading an article reporting a study by medical researchers at Oxford University, which estimated that 63,000 life years will be lost in the UK to cancers undiagnosed/untreated because of the “save the NHS” focus on COVID 19. I remember the detail that twenty years of a young cancer patient’s life could be lost to a late diagnosis. I remember mentally contrasting that with the weeks or months of life of those most vulnerable to coronavirus that might be “saved” by lockdown. Or rather might have been saved if it had not been combined with sending infected old folk back to their care homes. I should have kept a link because that article has vanished into the search engine’s sinister, algorithmic “memory hole”. 

The old-fashioned blogosphere comes into its own here (though weakened by search engine manipulation). This excellent post makes several important points, for example, and I suggest you add the blog in question to your regular RSS feed or bookmarks. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to take the blue pill and be happy in the carefully-crafted search engine matrix of мистификация (Russian for “mystification” or what we call disinformation)  

If the criterion is severity of the pandemic or likelihood of death from the disease, this disease is not unprecedented at all — and not even within my own lifetime. In 1968-69 we had the so-called Hong Kong flu. Look up how many people died of it, and you will find a figure of “approximately” 100,000. They didn’t even try to keep exact track of the figure; but of course the seeming precision of today’s number is an illusion anyway. The 100,000 may sound like a lot fewer than the recent Covid-19 numbers, but remember that the U.S. population was much smaller — under 200 million, compared to today’s 331 million. Gross up the 100,000 figure for today’s larger population, and you would have had about 165,000 deaths, which is approximately the same as the worldometers site is reporting today as the number of U.S. deaths in the current pandemic. Then there was the so-called Asian flu of 1957-58. U.S. mortality for that one is given at about 70,000, but this time with a population of only 172 million. Grossed up for today’s population would give close to 140,000 deaths.

What was different about the Asian flu and Hong Kong flu pandemics was not the severity of the disease or likelihood of death, but that governments and bureaucrats had not taken on the arrogance of power to think that they could make the disease go away by scaring everybody out of their wits and locking down the economy and throwing millions of people out of work. We went about our lives as normal. People went to work. Children went to school. Social events and plays and concerts continued. Indeed, the Woodstock festival was in 1968, just as the Hong Kong flu epidemic was cranking up.

Our Western leaders put us all under house arrest. Our leaders in the 1960s never thought to stop their “flower children” going to Woodstock or the Isle of Wight. Consider how different our cultural history would have been if those “happenings” had been prevented. Quite apart from economic impoverishment and (for the most unfortunate among them) lost years of life, what Woodstocks has this generation lost? What moral right did our political leaders have to make these choices for them? What does it say about us that, not only did we allow it, but most of us ostracised or even demonised those who questioned?

 

POST SCRIPT

Encouraged by David Bishop's comment (below) I went back to Google and managed to track down if not the article (behind the Daily Telegraph paywall) that I was remembering, then one very like it referring to similar research. More helpfully I found the article in The Lancet Oncology that it was referencing, along with this alarming chart (click to enlarge). The number of "life years" lost seems to be more than I remembered, when you add up all their careful calculating, cancer by cancer (the effects of delayed diagnosis vary).

Image 10-08-2020 at 18.20

My "memory hole" point stands in that Google puts lots of approved data in your way when you are trying to find something specific. There are clearly algorithms that detect searches looking for such things as "lockdown causing cancer deaths" (which is what I searched for). Back at the beginning of this self-inflicted "crisis" I said I would not be surprised if measures to "fight" coronavirus caused more deaths than the virus itself. Given that these stats refer ONLY to cancer (and there will be lots of heart patients and others who failed to present for diagnosis because of the corona-panic) it's sadly beginning to look like I may have been right. I take no pleasure in that, but I do think heads should roll among the apparatchiki. With great power, as I believe someone's Uncle Ben once said, comes great responsibility. They must take responsibility for the way they abused the great powers we should never have granted them.

POST POST SCRIPT

This tweet links to the actual article I was remembering. I mis-remembered 63,000 as 68,000 and have corrected that above. 


What have we learned from coronavirus?

I have not blogged about Coronavirus. Why? Because I have no relevant scientific knowledge or skill and this is a scientific problem, right? Everyone says so. Epidemiology is certainly not my subject and humility (not always my strong suit, to be honest) is definitely in order. So I have been all ears and no mouth. Thank goodness there are people who don't find epidemiology as boring as I do. I doubt I'd enjoy their company, to be honest, but right now I am ready and willing to love them. 

From the outset, I worried that the governments of the world were caught up in a kind of mass hysteria. Leaving aside the totalitarian states (including the one whose vicious incompetence has probably given the world this learning opportunity) the response of the world's democracies has been fascinating. Firstly, our leaders played it down. It was just another flu. Then they realised they faced something that might kill voters on a scale comparable to Spanish flu, leaving grieving relatives disinclined to vote for them again. They acted on scientific advice to implement some sensible control measures. So far, so reasonable.

Then the press asked (as is its job) if the measures were enough. Discussion about how far the measures should go became a pissing contest and hysteria mounted. Opposition parties everywhere suggested they would (of course) do more and better. Popular pressure built until the current draconian measures were implemented. Even libertarians like me can't just blame the vicious statists here – our fellow-citizens cried out to be roughly dominated like the submissives they apparently are.

Governments anxious to be seen to "do something" (the curse of democratic politicians everywhere) made grand dramatic gestures – building hospitals in days that would normally have taken years. To hell with whether they were needed or not (the much bruited London Nightingale reportedly has just 19 patients) Look! We are doing stuff. Stuff you could never do yourselves!! The State and its hordes are heroes.

Now we face the risk of the worst economic crisis in centuries. Even citizens of those countries whose leaders did not stampede with the global panicked herd of brute beasts (h/t Sweden, Iceland and Portugal) will be badly affected by what is happening now. Those of us retired and living on our investments face ruin. Those earning a living by selling their labour face it too.

I have read what I can on the subject, noted the conflicting opinions, been amused by the fact that they are coloured by personal animosities between the scientists, and tweeted links to those writings on the subject that made sense to me. So what have I learned? Not much science, to be honest. Just that the laws of economics – a science every bit as imperfect as epidemiology – don't go away and nor do political divisions.

Even that learning is doubtful, affected as it no doubt is by my confirmation bias. The internet is awash with people (at times including me) using the greatest information resource in human history to prospect for nuggets of information that "prove" their opinions to be true. I try to be alert to that bias, but I must acknowledge that it exists. It draws my eye to every example of entrepreneurs developing solutions to the threat of the virus and every state agent behaving like a thug. The confirmation biases of Leftists, on the other hand, draw their eyes to noble agents of the heroic state solving problems and grasping capitalists profiting from tragedy.

Human knowledge in science advances, it seems, along as crazy a zigzag path as in other fields. Every new fact is seized upon to confirm views that are hard to shift. Extremely powerful forces are required to change human minds. The mind of Professor Neil Ferguson, for example, does not appear to have been much changed by his own scientific failures. In 2005 The Guardian ran this story;

Last month Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told Guardian Unlimited that up to 200 million people could be killed. "Around 40 million people died in 1918 Spanish flu outbreak," said Prof Ferguson. "There are six times more people on the planet now so you could scale it up to around 200 million people probably."

Actually fewer than 500 people worldwide died. Amazingly the experience of being so bone-crushingly wrong does not seem to have impacted Professor Ferguson's self-esteem at all. There is something admirable in that. Being wrong once, doesn't mean you always will be any more than winning one bet guarantees you'll win the next. That it hasn't disinclined HM Government to take his prophecies of doom with a pinch of salt however, is not admirable at all.

What have have learned is that, as Bastiat told us long ago, problems arise when people prioritise the seen over the unseen. Professor Ferguson and his clients in government are not setting out to hurt anyone. I accept their sincere attempt to try to save lives. Their extreme focus on one seen epidemiological issue however may well cost more lives than they save when all the unseen issues they are ignoring emerge. As a commenter on this article at the Ludwig von Mises Centre's site said;

“If we want to stop traffic fatalities, we could ban cars. That’s a solution that would ‘work’. But it only ‘works’ if our sole benchmark is the number of traffic fatalities. What about liberty, moral agency and economic rights?”

Exactly. Stay safe, gentle readers, as no doubt everyone is advising you, but also stay calm. This too will pass and when one day we are looking back at it, I predict only that it will prove to have been a very different story than it seems at present. In the meantime, I commend you to this blog for a different perspective.