FOR many months, lockdown sceptics have been presenting statistical studies showing that there is no correlation between the severity of government restrictions in a country and its Covid-19 performance. These studies, on the whole, are mathematically correct, and the results generally hold for neighbouring countries with similar climates and population densities – comparing apples with apples. Lockdown fanatics deny the results, or claim that there are differences that account for the data: this country’s citizens are more socially minded, or that country’s citizens all sneaked out to parties, or that country’s population all live on isolated farms, or . . . Less polarised observers are left scratching their heads – the data is mathematically correct, but surely the virus should spread less if people take precautions and observe social distancing – it doesn’t add up.
Those less dogmatic observers are correct, and there’s a simple explanation about why Chinese-style lockdowns don’t provide the expected benefits. In liberal Western democracies, we don’t copy Communist-style central planning of the economy, because anyone who has read any history knows that it just doesn’t work – central planning and rigid central control might sound (to a 12-year-old) as if it should be super-efficient, but grown-ups know that it has been a disaster everywhere it’s been tried, and that free enterprise (with some state regulation) is far more efficient and effective, giving much better results for both rich and poor. So why did we adopt Chinese-style central planning and totalitarian controls for our approach to the virus?
In the UK and many other countries, governments introduced completely arbitrary laws and took away all autonomy for citizens to make their own moral and practical choices: we were just forced to follow the rules. And, instead of practical information on how the virus spreads and who is at risk, we were fed a nonstop stream of propaganda. In countries where the police were not sent out to enforce arbitrary rules, and most businesses were not forced to close, people did not continue as if there was no pandemic – they listened to the advice from health agencies, thought about how their own actions could affect themselves and others, and made many small decisions every day. When added up, those small individual decisions were more effective in containing the virus than the one-size-fits-all, police-enforced restrictions from less liberal countries. The economies of the free countries were not nearly as badly affected, and people’s human rights were not stripped away by decree; they continued to have personal autonomy and chose their own actions, without the threat of arrest or fines.
If we accept that free enterprise is more efficient than central planning for the economy, why is it so hard to see that free will and individual morality are more efficient than totalitarianism for a happy and healthy society? This is not an ‘extreme libertarian’ view: it is what all centrist parties in liberal democracies used to believe until 2020. The current UK government is not conservative at all; it isn’t even as conservative as any past Labour government. It does not trust individuals to make the right choices on anything, and has adopted an authoritarian, centrally planned approach for both society and the economy. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Boris comes on TV to present a five-year-plan for tractor production.