Great Barrington Declaration

The Betrayal of Public Health During The Covid Pandemic

We’re publishing a new piece today by Dr. Alan Mordue, a retired Consultant in Public Health Medicine, who is alarmed and disappointed that longstanding and important principles of public health have been jettisoned in the pandemic. Alan worked as a Public Health Consultant in England and then in Scotland for 28 years, retiring in 2016. He has extensive experience of teaching and training in public health and was an Honorary Clinical Senior Lecturer at the University of Edinburgh for many years.

Here is the introduction, where Dr. Mordue highlights the difference between what the media often mean by a ‘public health expert’ and an actual trained and accredited Public Health Specialist.

During this Covid pandemic I have heard much in the media from ‘public health experts’ and ‘public health officials’, but rarely from colleagues in my own specialty – Public Health! This is very surprising since the specialty, which I practised for 28 years as a Consultant in England and Scotland before my retirement in 2016, usually leads the management of all outbreaks of infectious diseases in the U.K., and also has had the responsibility for leading the production of pandemic plans in the U.K.

But is there any difference between a Public Health (PH) official, expert and specialist? Certainly you wouldn’t think so listening to most broadcast media. Here are my definitions:

So these three groups are very different. Only one group has undertaken an in-depth specialist training and has theoretical and practical experience in outbreak control and management (as well as other areas of PH specialist practice). 

When a PH ‘expert’ expresses views in the media about the management of the Covid pandemic it is therefore essential to know a little about their background training and experience. Even if they have an exalted title like ‘professor’, their chair may be in anthropology or their main experience in nutrition or dentistry. This is not to dismiss the contributions of diverse disciplines – given the inevitable complexity of a national response to a pandemic we certainly need to draw upon a wide range of expertise. However, over the last 18 months I have kept asking myself whether PH Specialist knowledge, skills and experience have had sufficient influence during the Covid pandemic. I will attempt to answer my question by referring to some of the key principles of Public Health and considering whether they have been followed or not during the pandemic response.

Among other things, Dr. Mordue criticises the redefinition of ‘case’ in the pandemic, where for the first time a positive PCR test alone in the absence of clinical symptoms has been counted as a case of the disease, causing big problems with false positives and over-diagnosis.

Either symptoms or a positive test alone is insufficient, both must be present to be counted as a confirmed case. It follows that there is no such thing as an asymptomatic case.

This standard definition was not adopted at the start of the pandemic. Because of this we don’t know how many real cases of COVID-19 we have had or have currently – the numbers recorded include real cases of people with relevant symptoms and a positive PCR test for viral RNA, but also include people with no symptoms of COVID-19 and only a positive PCR test. This has been further complicated by mass population testing in the community and hospitals of those without COVID-19 symptoms, the use of high cycle thresholds in the PCR test, and inevitably large numbers of false positive tests.

The piece is worth reading in full.

Great Barrington Authors Hit Back At Collins and Fauci

A few weeks ago, emails obtained via FOI request revealed how America’s most senior government scientists sought to discredit the Great Barrington Declaration. In particular, the email below was sent by Francis Collins (former director of the National Institutes of Health) to Anthony Fauci:

Amazingly, Collins refers to the authors of the Declaration as “three fringe epidemiologists”, despite the fact that they held positions at Harvard, Stanford and Oxford respectively. (If even Harvard professors are considered “fringe”, there isn’t much hope for the rest of us…)

The use of “fringe” is particularly egregious when you consider that lockdowns represent a radical departure from the pre-Covid science. As Fauci himself stated on the January 24th last year: “Historically when you shut things down it doesn’t have a major effect.”

Collins then wrote, “There needs to be a quick and devastating takedown of its premise.” Which sounds like the sort of thing a PR consultant would say – not a supposedly neutral scientist. Further details of the exchange can be found in this article by Phil Magness, who actually obtained the emails.

Now two of the Great Barrington authors have hit back at Collins and Fauci. Writing in the Epoch Times, Martin Kulldorff and Jay Bhattacharya say that their critics “got the pandemic strategy they advocated for, and they own the results”. As the two professors explain:

Lockdowns protected young low-risk affluent work-from-home professionals, such as administrators, scientists, professors, journalists, and lawyers, while older high-risk members of the working class were exposed and died in unnecessarily high numbers. This failure to understand that lockdowns could not protect the vulnerable led to the tragically high death counts from Covid.

Kulldorff and Bhattacharya’s piece offers a clear and forthright defence of the Great Barrington Declaration. Worth reading in full.

“Lockdowns Aren’t a Public Health Policy. They Signify a Failure of Public Health Policy,” Says Leading Epidemiologist

Professor Mark Woolhouse, an expert on infectious diseases at Edinburgh University, has a new book out, The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir, in which he blasts lockdowns as morally wrong and highly damaging. He writes:

We did serious harm to our children and young adults who were robbed of their education, jobs and normal existence, as well as suffering damage to their future prospects, while they were left to inherit a record-breaking mountain of public debt. All this to protect the NHS from a disease that is a far, far greater threat to the elderly, frail and infirm than to the young and healthy.

The Observer has run a feature on the book this morning.

There was a distinctive moment, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that neatly encapsulated the mistakes and confusion of Britain’s early efforts to tackle the disease, says Mark Woolhouse. At a No 10 briefing in March 2020, cabinet minister Michael Gove warned the virus did not discriminate. “Everyone is at risk,” he announced.

And nothing could be further from the truth, argues Professor Woolhouse, an expert on infectious diseases at Edinburgh University. “I am afraid Gove’s statement was simply not true,” he says. “In fact, this is a very discriminatory virus. Some people are much more at risk from it than others. People over 75 are an astonishing 10,000 times more at risk than those who are under 15.”

And it was this failure to understand the wide variations in individual responses to COVID-19 that led to Britain’s flawed responses to the disease’s appearance, he argues – errors that included the imposition of a long-lasting, national lockdown. This is a strategy that Woolhouse – one of the country’s leading epidemiologists – describes as morally wrong and highly damaging in his forthcoming book, The Year the World Went Mad: A Scientific Memoir. …

“We were mesmerised by the once-in-a-century scale of the emergency and succeeded only in making a crisis even worse. In short, we panicked. This was an epidemic crying out for a precision public health approach and it got the opposite.”

Prof Woolhouse argues that largely voluntary behaviour changes, as in Sweden, would have been sufficient to limit the impact. But we instead went for an enforced lockdown, in part because because modern technology made it possible.

An Interview With Phil Magness

Phil Magness is an economic historian and Senior Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. He’s also a classical liberal and a lockdown sceptic. During the pandemic, he’s written articles about masks, lockdowns, pandemic modelling and the Great Barrington Declaration. I interviewed him via email.

On 28th January, you gave a talk at Hillsdale College titled ‘The Failures of Pandemic Central Planning’. You’ve since written a full-length paper with the same title. Could you briefly summarise your argument?

I argue that the political response to the Covid pandemic is best understood as an exercise in failed central planning. In a sense, it closely parallels the mindset behind mid-20th century economic planning. It’s the mindset that says complex human interactions may be tweaked, corrected, and managed by expert scientists with sophisticated models of the same society-wide systems. If a problem emerges, simply follow the model’s directions and pull the correct policy levers and all will be fixed – or so they claim.

With Covid, most of the world’s governments adopted an aggressive policy response built upon then-untested modelling that advised when and where to impose the ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ (NPIs) we’ve all come to know – things like social distancing requirements, school closures, event cancellations, and lockdowns. If an outbreak crosses a threshold, then lock everything down and the outbreak can be managed.

The problem, as we’ve seen time and time again, is that the models guiding the NPI approach were wrong – often catastrophically so. I focus on the Imperial College-London (ICL) model of Neil Ferguson, which had an outsized influence on the adoption of lockdowns and other NPIs. I show that, as of its one year anniversary, ICL’s main model overstated mortality projections in 189 out of 189 countries. It also severely exaggerated the effectiveness of NPIs, and even failed to account for the acute vulnerability of nursing home and old age care facilities.

Combined together, Imperial gave us a roadmap for centralized NPI planning that turned out to be fundamentally unsuited for the Covid pandemic. And yet once we were locked into that policy trajectory, politics intervened and made it nearly impossible to change course, despite mounting evidence that the NPIs were failing to deliver as promised.

You work for the American Institute for Economic Research, which hosted the conference that led to the Great Barrington Declaration – a public statement advocating focused protection. Could you tell us what happened at that conference?

In early October 2020, AIER hosted a small academic conference for the purpose of calling scientific attention to the costs of lockdowns. Up until that point, the media and political figures such as Anthony Fauci had been working to create a false impression of strong scientific consensus behind the lockdown measures – even as they were failing to perform as promised (recall “two weeks to flatten the curve”). This new consensus was an outright falsehood. As recently as 2019, the WHO, leading epidemiology research institutions such as Johns-Hopkins University, and even Fauci himself had gone on record stating that lockdowns would not work in a respiratory pandemic, and should be ruled out as a policy response.

The conference would call attention to the largely ignored harms of lockdowns, while proposing alternative approaches that were in keeping with the pre-2020 public health science. We hosted three eminently qualified scientists from top research institutions, who presented the case against lockdowns in a filmed discussion panel. This was followed by interviews with journalists who specialize in pandemic coverage. On the last day of the conference, the three scientists then drafted a general statement of principles that (1) summarized the case against lockdowns and (2) called for an alternative “focused protection” strategy. They dubbed this the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), and released it publicly the next morning.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the Declaration went viral. The scientists’ statement had tapped into growing scholarly dissent from the lockdown approach, which had thus far dominated the Covid-19 response, and quickly amassed tens of thousands of signatures from other scientists and medical practitioners.

Another Question for Chris Whitty

I previously posed a question for Chris Whitty here on the Daily Sceptic. (Outrageously, I have not yet had a response.) To jog your memory, here’s what I asked.

In an interview with The BMJ on 4th November 2020, you (Whitty) characterised the Great Barrington Declaration as “wrong scientifically, practically, and probably ethically as well”.

Yet five months earlier, you had outlined a plan to the Health and Social Care Committee which sounded an awful lot like focused protection. You said that we’re “very keen” to “minimise economic and social disruption”, and mentioned that “one of the best things we can do” is “isolate older people from the virus”. 

Given that you were recommending focused protection as recently as March of 2020, why did you subsequently describe the Great Barrington Declaration as “wrong scientifically”?

I now have a follow-up question for Professor Whitty. (If he answers this one promptly and in a satisfactory manner, I am willing to forgive his having ignored my first question.)

Professor Whitty, you opined that the Great Barrington Declaration is “probably” wrong ethically. I presume you said this because you believe that focused protection would have led to a higher death toll (notwithstanding the fact that you were recommending it back in March of last year).

The UK’s official death toll is on the order of 150,000. Let’s assume that if we had followed focused protection, the death toll would be double – i.e., 300,000. Note: I don’t consider this remotely plausible, but let’s assume it for the sake of argument.

Now, the ‘UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011’ states that planners should “aim to cope with up to 210,000 – 315,000 additional deaths across the UK over a 15 week period”.

Given that “315,000 additional deaths” is comparable to the number of people who would have died if the UK had followed focused protection, which you regard as unethical, you must regard the UK’s pandemic preparedness plan as unethical too?

If so, why did you not seek to change the plan while you were Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care between 2016 and 2021? Note: the ‘UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011’ was published by this very department.

Thank you for listening, and I once again look forward to your answer.

BMJ Publishes Belated Attack on the Great Barrington Declaration, but It Doesn’t Hit the Target

The Great Barrington Declaration, which advocates a focused protection strategy for dealing with COVID-19, was published in October last year – before many countries around the world imposed their winter lockdowns.   

Recently, The BMJ Opinion – a journalistic offshoot of the well-known medical journal – published a very belated hit piece against the authors. As you might expect, it’s light on scientific arguments and heavy on tactics like ad hominem, guilt by association and appeals to authority.

The authors, David Gorski and Gavin Yamey, really don’t mince words. For example, they describe the Declaration (which has been signed by hundreds of scientists and healthcare professionals) as a “well-funded sophisticated science denialist campaign based on ideological and corporate interests”.

Not exactly a respectful way to talk about your colleagues. But it’s hardly the first time the Declaration’s critics have sunk to this level. Just last month, Jay Bhattacharya became the subject of a censorious petition which claimed that he “sows mistrust of policies designed to protect the public health”.

Gorski and Yamey begin their article by criticising the Declaration’s authors for collaborating with the American Institute for Economic Research, which they claim is a “libertarian, climate-denialist, free market think tank”.

I’m not sure why this is a ‘gotcha’. Lockdown is about as un-libertarian a policy as you could imagine, so it’s not really surprising that a libertarian think tank would oppose it. And in any case, the Declaration’s website clearly states that the document was “was written and signed at the American Institute for Economic Research”.

Martin Kulldorff has since clarified that the AIER president and board did not know about the Declaration until after it was published. But even if they had done, so what? As Kulldorff notes, universities like Duke and Stanford have received money from the Koch brothers. Should we therefore completely disregard what their academics have to say?

Gorski and Yamey’s next move is to cite social media censorship of lockdown sceptics as evidence that their arguments constitute ‘misinformation’. (Incidentally, that term – which basically means ‘information that’s missing from the mainstream narrative’ – appears no fewer than six times in the article.)  

However, this argument relies on circular logic: ‘Something was censored on social media? Therefore, it’s misinformation. How do we know? Well, misinformation is what social media companies censor.’ In reality, of course, the fact that something was censored is no indication whatsoever that it’s factually incorrect.

The authors then allege that when Sunetra Gupta and Carl Heneghan met Boris Johnson in September of last year, they were successful in “persuading him to delay” a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown, which could have forestalled the second wave of infections.

As historian Phil Magness has already noted, this argument is deficient on two counts. It’s not clear that Gupta and Heneghan did persuade the Prime Minister to shelve the ‘circuit breaker’ idea. But even if they did, there’s no reason to believe that policy would’ve prevented a large number of deaths.

Finally, Gorski and Yamey compare lockdown sceptics to ‘climate science deniers’, insofar as both groups “argue that evidence-based public health measures do not work”. They call for experts to push back against the Great Barrington Declaration by highlighting “scientific consensus”, citing the John Snow Memorandum.

Of course, the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum is just another public statement signed by scientists and health professionals. If it constitutes “scientific consensus”, then so does the Great Barrington Declaration. I’m only aware of one attempt to gauge overall expert opinion on focused protection: the survey by Daniele Fanelli.

He asked scientists who’d published at least one relevant paper, “In light of current evidence, to what extent do you support a ‘focused protection’ policy against COVID-19, like that proposed in the Great Barrington Declaration?” Of those who responded, more than 50% said “partially”, “mostly” or “fully”.  

Regardless of the exact number of experts who support focused protection, claiming there is a “scientific consensus” against it is simply false. Long before the Declaration itself was published, many scientists had proposed some version of precision shielding. In fact, this was basically the U.K.’s plan until the middle of March, 2020.

On March 5th, Chris Whitty told the Health and Social Care Committee that we are “very keen” to “minimise economic and social disruption”, and mentioned that “one of the best things we can do” is “isolate older people from the virus”.

Another prominent scientist who has argued in favour of focused protection is Sir David Spiegelhalter. In an article published on May 29th, he and George Davey Smith said that we ought to “stratify shielding according to risk” because lockdown is “seriously damaging many aspects of people’s lives”.

They noted that this would require “a shift away from the notion that we are all seriously threatened by the disease, which has led to levels of personal fear being strikingly mismatched to objective risk of death”.

Among the ad hominems, appeals to authority and repeated uses of ‘misinformation’, finding a scientific argument in Gorski and Yamey’s article is not easy. And given that the content’s almost a year out of date, I’m not sure why the authors felt the need to publish it.

Immunity to Covid Is Still Present 12 Months After Infection

Back in October of 2020, the John Snow Memorandum was published as a letter in the Lancet. Originally co-signed by 31 scientists, hundreds of others have since added their names.

Although it does not explicitly name the Great Barrington Declaration, the Memorandum is widely understood as a response to that document. It refers to “a so-called herd immunity approach”, which proponents claim “would lead to the development of infection-acquired population immunity in the low-risk population”.

However, the Memorandum states: “This is a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” And it goes on to claim “there is no evidence for lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection”.

According to the organisers’ website, more than 6,900 scientists, researchers and healthcare professionals have signed the Memorandum to date (including names from Oxford and Harvard). So almost 7,000 people with supposed expertise deemed it plausible that natural immunity would not provide any lasting protection against reinfection.

Incidentally, the language used in the Memorandum may be partly responsible for the Great Barrington Declaration being mischaracterised as a ‘herd immunity strategy’. As the authors have been at pains to point out, this is like describing a pilot’s plan to land a plane as a ‘gravity strategy’. (Their approach is more properly described as ‘focused protection’.)

It’s now one year on from the John Snow Memorandum. Is there any evidence for “lasting protective immunity to SARS-CoV-2 following natural infection”? Yes, in fact, there is.

A recent systematic review (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) found that natural immunity confers a high degree of protection against reinfection. The researchers analysed 10 studies, and calculated a weight-average risk reduction of 90%.

But is this protection lasting? According to a new study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, immunity persists for at least 12 months in the vast majority of convalescents (those who’ve previously been infected).

Chinese researchers carried out a “systematic antigen-specific immune evaluation” on 74 individuals, 12 months after their original infection. They found that “humoral immunity is present within ~95% of convalescents and T-cell memory against at least one viral antigen is measurable among ~90% of subjects at 12m post-infection”.

Note: ‘humoral immunity’ refers to the type of immune response mediated by antibodies, whereas ‘cellular immunity’ refers to the type mediated by T-cells (as well as phagocytes and cytokines).

Although the researchers also had data from 28 healthy controls (individuals who’d never been infected), their sample was not large enough to estimate the protective effect of natural immunity on reinfection. Though it’s worth noting that not a single participant reported reinfection.

A study published last year analysed data on ten healthy males over a period of three decades, to see how often reinfections with seasonal coronaviruses occurred. They found that the median reinfection occurred after 30 months, suggesting that protective immunity lasts for years, not decades.

If SARS-CoV-2 is anything like the four other coronaviruses, we can expect immunity against reinfection to wane on a similar timescale. However, this seems more than sufficient to achieve focused protection, in the sense of shielding the vulnerable through the initial epidemic, and allowing time for treatments and vaccines to be developed.  

Lockdown proponents might respond that lockdown need only have lasted as long as it took to develop the vaccines. But this argument completely ignores the costs side of the ledger. Focused protection could have worked, if only we’d bothered to try it.

Stop Press: The Brownstone Institute has compiled a list of 29 studies showing that natural immunity to SARS-CoV-2 is “robust, long-lasting, and broadly effective”.

Why Did So Few Economists Speak Out Against Lockdown?

In a previous post, I mentioned Paul Ormerod’s argument that governments have relied too heavily on epidemiologists, and not enough on economists, when crafting their responses to COVID-19. (For example, they’ve consistently failed to subject their own policies to rigorous cost-benefit analysis.)

However, survey evidence indicates that many economists were just as strongly pro-lockdown as the doctors, epidemiologists and public health scientists who’ve been advising governments.

In April of 2020, members of the ‘IGM economic experts panel’ (a sample of 44 academic economists based in the U.S.) were asked whether a “comprehensive policy response will involve tolerating a very large contraction in economic activity until the spread of infections has dropped significantly”. Of those who answered, zero per cent disagreed.

In addition, zero per cent of the panel disagreed that “abandoning severe lockdowns at a time when the likelihood of a resurgence in infections remains high will lead to greater total economic damage than sustaining the lockdowns to eliminate the resurgence risk”.

In a survey of 47 Australian economists from May of 2020, only 19% disagreed that “the benefits to Australian society of maintaining social distancing measures sufficient to keep R less than 1 for COVID-19 are likely to exceed the costs”.

Why did so many economists back the lockdowns? Mikko Packalen and Jay Bhattacharya (of Great Barrington Declaration fame) seek to answer this question in a recent essay for Collateral Global.

They begin by taking the economics profession to task for its unqualified support of lockdowns. Of course, some economists did question the lockdowns, but the authors’ sense is that most did not. At the very least, few chose to air their reservations publicly.

Packalen and Bhattacharya are particularly exercised, they tell us, that so few economists raised the alarm about the costs of lockdown. After all, economists are meant to recognise that there’s ‘no such thing as a free lunch’.

As to why so few economists spoke out, the authors suggest a number of reasons. First, economists have a reputation for being somewhat miserly, and they were concerned about playing to type. This made them reluctant, during the early months of the pandemic, to raise the small matter of how much this was all going to cost.

Second, economists – like almost all professionals – are members of the ‘laptop class’ (i.e., people who sit around on their laptops all day). Lockdown didn’t affect their lives nearly as much as it affected those of small business owners, or workers who couldn’t access a furlough scheme.

Third, as economics has become more technical and more specialised, it has acquired a distinctly technocratic streak. Despite the subject’s roots in liberal political economy, the authors note, “there is now a widespread belief that almost any societal problem has a technocratic, top-down solution”.

Fourth, academic economics has formed a rather cosy relationship with big business, particularly the investment banks of Wall Street and the giant tech firms of Silicon Valley. It’s less surprising, therefore, that “the dismal science has had very little to say about how lockdowns have favoured big business”.

Packalen and Bhattacharya’s essay contains many other interesting observations, and is worth reading in full.

Great Barrington Author Gets Mobbed by His Stanford Colleagues

Jay Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, and one of the three co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which outlines a focused protection strategy for dealing with COVID-19.

Although many academics disagree with Bhattacharya about the merits of focused protection, you’d hope they would treat him with respect when expressing their disagreement. Unfortunately, in the era of wokeness and safetyism on campus, this is too much to ask for.

Professor Bhattacharya recently became the subject of a censorious petition circulated by his own colleagues at Stanford.

Although the petition does not name him explicitly, it refers to a “Stanford faculty member” who – gasp – “defends the Governor of Florida’s rejection of mask mandates”. It then directly quotes Bhattacharya as saying “there is no high-quality evidence to support the assertion that masks stop the disease from spreading”.

Note how reasonable this supposedly controversial statement is. Bhattacharya didn’t say there is “no evidence”. He said there is “no high-quality evidence”, which strikes me as entirely defensible. Although there has been one RCT of community masking – the Bangladesh mask study – its results were inconclusive at best.

What’s more, Bhattacharya’s statement concerned the effect of children wearing masks, and there haven’t been any RCTs on that. (The Bangladesh mask study – which had not been published at the time his comments were made – only monitored adults.)

According to the petitioners, Bhattacharya “sows mistrust of policies designed to protect the public health and puts young children, their families and their teachers at risk”. Quite a charge to level at one of your own colleagues. And this wasn’t an off-hand remark in a heated conversation; it was written in a letter to the University President.

The petitioners “recognise the right of every member of the scientific community to express their views and opinions”. But “a time comes,” they write, “when skepticism can no longer be seen as anything other than willful disregard of countervailing facts”.

Perhaps the petitioners are aware of another large-scale RCT of community masking, which does show an unambiguous benefit? If so, it was not mentioned in their missive.

They go on to say: “Encouraging others to deviate from nationally-advocated policy during a pandemic jeopardises us all.” Given that the authorities initially advised against mask-wearing, this must mean the first scientists who questioned that advice were also “jeopardising us all”.

Maybe Bhattacharya’s critics can pen a belated letter denouncing those scientists who “encouraged others to deviate from” the U.S. Surgeon General’s advice in February of 2020. He urged people to “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they are “NOT effective” at preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.

The petitioners conclude their missive by asking the University President to “forcefully declare your faith in the measures you are relying upon to bring us back to campus”. And if that doesn’t sound like a religious exhortation, I don’t know what does.

Incidentally, the petition against Bhattacharya isn’t the first example of Stanford academics mobbing one of their own colleagues for questioning the received wisdom on Covid policy.

Last October, 98 faculty members signed a petition criticising Dr Scott Atlas, whom they accused of spreading “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science”. As a matter of fact, a recent study of academic cancel culture found that Stanford had experienced more incidents than any other U.S. university.

Based on this evidence, it looks like Stanford scholars need to spend more time doing teaching and research, and less time denouncing their colleagues.

This post has been updated.

Why is Davos Man So Keen on Lockdowns?

In my column in this week’s Spectator I have tried to answer the question of why the global elite became such enthusiastic supporters of the heavy-handed, statist approach to managing the coronavirus crisis — stay-at home orders, business closures, face masks — and passionate opponents of less draconian alternatives, such as those set out by the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration. First, I summarise the explanation that my friend James Delingpole favours:

It’s because these 21st-century robber barons are making money out of the pandemic. According to Robert Watts, who compiles the Sunday Times Rich List, more people have become billionaires in the past year than at any other time in Britain’s history. The combined fortune of these Masters of the Universe has grown by more than a fifth, and the rest of the 1 per cent haven’t done too badly either, thanks to massive government expenditure. Across the developed world, central banks have pumped money into the economy, boosting asset prices and further enriching the plutocratic elite. What’s not to like?

But while I think that’s a factor, I don’t think it’s the whole of the story. I think it’s also because being in favour of non-pharmaceutical interventions is a high-status indicator, a way of advertising that you’re in the same club as tech titans like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and eminent public health scientists like Anthony Fauci and Neil Ferguson.

That’s a term coined by a doctoral student at Cambridge called Robert Henderson. In an article for the New York Post, he defines ‘luxury beliefs’ as “ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class”. The example he gives is the belief, prevalent in the 1960s, that monogamy is outdated and marriage a source of patriarchal oppression. That doesn’t cost the rich anything because most of them are brought up in bourgeois two-parent households and enter into stable, monogamous marriages. But as the credo of sexual liberation trickled down to the working class it has wreaked havoc, leading to illegitimacy, crime and poverty.

This is where Delingpole goes wrong, I think. The reason Davos Man has outsourced his opinions on the pandemic to the World Health Organisation is not because the policies recommended by Tedros Adhanom enrich him. Rather, it’s because they cost him nothing. He can just as easily work in the shepherd’s hut at the bottom of his garden as he can from his corner office. His children are provided with a full timetable of lessons via Zoom, courtesy of their private school, and if he feels like a holiday abroad he can charter a private jet. Becoming a cheerleader for lockdowns is a way of signalling that he is among the tiny elite of successful people for whom there is zero cost associated with them.

Worth reading in full.