Lord Sumption has written a piece for the Sunday Times about the lockdown policy that could be called ‘I Told You So’ – or, since some anger is surely justified, ‘I F***ing Told You So’. Here is an extract:
It was always obvious that you could not close down a country for months on end without serious consequences. The shocking thing that emerges from Sunak’s interview is that the government refused to take them into account. There was no assessment of the likely collateral costs of lockdown. There was no cost-benefit analysis. There was no planning. In government the issues were not even discussed. Sunak’s own attempts to raise them hit a brick wall. Ministers took refuge in evasive buck-passing, claiming to be “following the science”.
Yet the critical question was never a scientific one. It was a political question, in which the likely hospital admissions and deaths from Covid were just one element. The scientists said it was not their job to think about the social or economic implications of their advice. They were right about that. The problem was it turned out to be no one else’s job.
We are still paying for this negligence, and our children and grandchildren will be paying for it for decades to come. In 2020, U.K. GDP fell by nearly a tenth, the biggest hit to the economy for at least a century. According to Treasury estimates, 460,000 people left the workforce never to return. The policy took a wrecking ball to the public finances. The IMF estimates that government spending rose by more than £400 billion, or about £6,000 for every man, woman and child. Most of this was unproductive spending. It went on paying people for not working and supporting businesses forced to cease operations. At one point, in the spring of 2020, the government was spending about twice as much on compensating for the lockdown as it was on the NHS. Borrowing rose to £330 billion, a peacetime record.
Then there are the non-financial costs. Other mortal conditions went undiagnosed and untreated. In October 2020, after four months of lockdown, the Office for National Statistics reported more than 25,000 excess deaths at home from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and dementia. A year after the last lockdown ended, the NHS still has a vast backlog. Excess deaths, 95% of them due to conditions other than Covid, are running at about 1,000 a week. There has been a huge impact on mental health, with children and the poor worst affected.
Children lost two terms of face-to-face schooling. The closure of schools, training establishments and universities slowed the accumulation of skills, reducing productivity. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has estimated the cost to the economy at somewhere between £90 billion and £350 billion. The best-off, with plenty of resources at home, will probably recover. Those who are already disadvantaged will be permanently damaged. Existing inequalities will grow a lot worse.
The lockdown was an experiment in authoritarian government unmatched in our history even in wartime. Not only did the government assume powers over the lives of citizens that it had never previously claimed. In government, decision-making was concentrated in the hands of the prime minister, a man with notoriously poor judgment and little taste for detail. The cabinet was kept out of the loop until near the end. Discussion of fundamental issues was ruled out in the name of collective responsibility.
Sunak blames the government’s hysterical public messaging for aggravating the economic impact of the lockdown. Other countries did not stoke public fear in this irresponsible way. It has, he says, contributed to making the U.K.’s recovery the slowest in Europe. That is no doubt true. But there is a more serious criticism. Throughout history, fear has been the chief instrument of authoritarian rule. During the lockdown it was what enabled the government to silence dissent and inhibit discussion.
Worth reading in full.
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