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Should Libertarians Support Lockdown Policies?

This entry is part 4 of 9 in the series The Pandemic Bites

Absolutely not. Lockdowns don’t work. While you might be forced to comply and make the best of it, we ought not to stay silent about lockdowns. These policies were among the greatest evils perpetrated by governments around the world in response to COVID-19. It’s true that physical distancing has a measurable impact against spread of contagions, and reasonably isolating the infected and most vulnerable is the right thing to do, but lockdowns presuppose that every person is equally at risk and equally risky for the disease while simultaneously ignoring the associated risks of the lockdown itself. 

Lockdown policies are like taking a sledgehammer to a small nail. Not even the WHO recommends them as a primary means of virus control. The tool is not appropriate to the task at all. 

The evidence also does not support the use of lockdowns to stop a pandemic, whether we look at the United States or elsewhere in the world. Epidemiological studies suggest that lockdowns cannot eradicate a disease and do not even reduce total cases over long time periods. Lockdowns only provide a delay switch, and do so with a heavy price. A Stanford Study led by Jay Bhattacharya found that while less restrictive nonpharmaceutical interventions made an impact, the most restrictive interventions were worthless. Marine recruits in quarantine still had uncontrolled transmission. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board has admitted that lockdowns didn’t stop COVID. Comparing Texas and California policies demonstrate that cracking down doesn’t help. Cost-benefit analysis of lockdowns clearly shows they aren’t a good bet. And we’re just scratching the surface of analysis with these studies and editorials. 

Besides flat-out not working, blowback from lockdowns abound. Obviously, economies that cannot work cannot produce, and those ripple effects have been clearly felt. The WHO is on-record saying that they expect worldwide poverty to double, child malnutrition to double, and lockdowns “have one consequence that you must never ever belittle, that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.”

Lockdowns cause people to avoid needed medical care and skip essential medical visits. This results in lower childhood vaccination rates, less cancer screening and skipped cancer treatments, and increased incidence of cardiovascular disease. Even indoor air pollution has gotten worse.

The prognosis is also dire for mental health. We are social beings, and cutting people off from each other is a losing proposition. Lockdowns have demonstrably caused mental health issues everywhere they have been instituted. UK students show extreme levels of anxiety and depression. Nurses observe massive upticks in admissions to psychiatric wards. Usage levels of mental health services have risen dramatically. Massachusetts has seen four times typical levels of children and teens in mental health emergencies. An estimated one-in-four young adults considered suicide in June 2020 – and that’s the CDC’s admission!Recommendations from people with expertise in public health, government-related or not, can have value — this we do not dispute. But recommendations need to be offered in a non-patronizing, humble, and responsible manner so as to ensure the hearer understands its context and limitations. Largely, governments around the world have treated their role as a dictator rather than an information and recommendation provider, and thus completely botched a responsible and useful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The primary lesson: Lockdowns don’t work. As usual, it’s up to the marketplace and individual actors to dig ourselves out of the muck the state has put us in.

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