Libertarian ideas about the covid phenomenon should be aired and debated. I am therefore grateful to my friend and fellow editor, Bruce Ramsey, for his vigorous statement of his own views. Since mine are directly opposite, we have a debate.
I have received two vaccinations and a booster shot. I believe that covid vaccinations are, for adults, more likely to be helpful than harmful. I have not followed any of the arguments about treatments for covid, once you have it. My knowledge of covid itself is derived from universally available statistics, medical reports and opinions, the things I learned in college about the history of disease, and my own observations, which are not special in any way. Now you know the basis for what I’m about to write.
As far as I can see, covid has behaved in a manner that is quite predictable for diseases of its kind: as it has spread to more people it has become somewhat easier to catch, but also a great deal less deadly. The majority of Americans may already have contracted it and recovered, many or most of them not even realizing that they did. This is the reason, if there is one, for covid tests: the disease is usually so mild that people don’t know whether they’ve been infected. Deaths “from” (as opposed to “with”) covid are strongly associated with other serious illnesses, advanced old age, and obesity. While it is said that 800,000 Americans have died because of covid, the true number is doubtless very much lower. Recent figures from New York State are further evidence of what we already knew, that in many jurisdictions anyone who dies — from anything — after testing positive for covid is counted as a covid death: “Under pressure from Governor Kathy Hochul, hospitals in New York have disclosed that nearly half of their so-called COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized were admitted for other reasons.” Thus wantonly have medical authorities deprived their own science of the data on which it depends.
The majority of Americans may already have contracted it and recovered, many or most of them not even realizing that they did.
All deaths are terrible. I mean that literally; it’s not a throwaway line. But I consider it very doubtful that significant numbers of the deaths actually caused by covid would have been prevented by additional interventions of government. In the notorious nursing-home cases, government got in the way, and then tried to conceal the resulting death toll. Despite the “surge” of infections during the past few weeks, the number of deaths has remained steady, or dropped, and practically no one but President Biden has pretended that this has anything to do with government interventions.
If you consult the statistics provided by the government, you should take some skepticism with you. You may assume that the number of deaths and “cases” (i.e., infections) is exaggerated. But when you compare states and periods in which masks and lockdowns have been mandated with states and periods in which they have not been mandated, what you’ll see is fairly similar patterns. You may see evidence that such programmatically “lax” states as Florida and Iowa have done better — sometimes much better — than states that have cracked down massively on their populations. In Florida, for example, deaths have gone steeply downhill since mid-September, when they were about ten times higher than they were now; compare deaths in the nation as a whole, which are significantly but not dramatically lower. You may also notice that in the two weeks following December 6, 2020, when California’s governor imposed a draconian lockdown, including a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, covid cases went up by about 50% and stayed that way for several weeks. Would the covid spike have been higher without those measures? The figures from Florida and Iowa, for instance, suggest otherwise.
Well, what means have been available to control the epidemic in the general population?
Scientific and pseudoscientific views of the efficacy of masks are mixed, but as Dr. Fauci opined at the start of all this, masks are a very unreliable means of stopping a virus. It is notable that even the covid hawks at CNN and New York magazine are spurning cloth masks and trying to move everyone to medical masks, which few people can tolerate wearing for very long. “Social distancing” has some appeal, and is normally practiced, without government mandate, by people who have a sense of smell. It has never been shown that keeping people from going to the gym or eating indoors has any crucial effect on containing “the spread.” Curfews could conceivably make sense if viruses were, like vampires, more potent at night than they are during the daytime. To go further, and confine millions to their homes all the time, befits a totalitarian state, and such states are welcome to it; but it won’t eradicate the virus, which will eventually run its course. Vaccination, of the kind currently administered, offers significant but incomplete and rapidly diminishing protection. (To see why, consult Steve Murphy’s article in Liberty.)
Curfews could conceivably make sense if viruses were, like vampires, more potent at night than they are during the daytime.
If you think that any of these methods works, you are free to practice it. Wear a mask. Don’t get close to other people. Stay home at night. Eat at home. If you are actually terrified of a disease that kills a very small, and ever-diminishing, proportion of its victims, you can do as one of my friends has done — refuse to leave your home for years at a time. (Although it has been known, nearly from the start, that the vast majority of covid infections take place, guess where? At home.) Public health agencies can, if they condescend to do so, give you all the information they have to enable your choice. But why is it that, because you think any of these things can protect you, I have to make the same choice? If I catch something because I’m not vaccinated, that’s my problem, isn’t it? And if I pass it along to someone else who isn’t vaccinated, then it’s his problem, right? If anything were needed to confirm the suspicions of ordinary Americans about governmental guidance, it has been the frenzied attempts of government and media to keep such questions from being asked.
What has happened, of course, is that public health agencies have chosen to panic the populace instead of informing it. A list of their evasions, coverups, and outright lies would fill any medium-sized database. My favorite is Fauci insisting that everyone stay six feet away from everyone else and speculating happily that we will never return to shaking hands, while saying with a grin that it’s fine with him for strangers to hook up through Grindr.
The whole covid episode has been a farce — from the arrest of people daring to wade or surf in the Pacific Ocean, thereby endangering themselves and others; to the filling of kids’ playgrounds with sand and gravel, so they can’t go there and spread the virus; to the elimination of all small movables from hotel rooms, so the covid gremlins can’t stick to them and jump down somebody’s throat; to requirements that 3-year-olds wear masks and present proof of vaccination before they can enter a McDonald’s; to the requirement that high-school students wear masks while playing sports; to the requirement that high-school students be zipped into all-body plastic pods while playing in the band; to the constant spectacle of solitary walkers, bikers, and even skateboarders encased in the pomposity of masks. All this will be remembered with the amazed contempt we feel for exorcism as a cure for plague.
If the covid episode has given us anything good, it’s the reductio ad absurdum of the rule of experts (or supposed experts; Fauci has been a fool ever since the start of the AIDS epidemic, when he announced that, according to the science, AIDS can be contracted casually). Experts — at least those appointed by politicians, and what are their qualifications? — have an occupationally induced blindness to problems that are not in their field. Ask a Lit professor like me how many years of Lit should be required, and “17!” will be the answer. Who cares about the other things that people have to do? So the experts on covid eradication turned out to care for only one thing — eradicating covid. They didn’t do it, because they couldn’t do it, but they let nothing stand in the way of their pursuit of that single, all-consuming goal.
If I catch something because I’m not vaccinated, that’s my problem, isn’t it? And if I pass it along to someone else who isn’t vaccinated, then it’s his problem, right?
And look at the results. Millions of businesses destroyed (at least 100,000 restaurants alone), together with tens of millions of jobs; increases in suicide attempts; crippling damage to early education; alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, all on the rise; deadly illnesses going untreated because their victims couldn’t get timely attention from a self-clogged medical system; tax money expended for “stimulus” and “relief” at the rate of $4.5 million per alleged covid death . . . shall I continue? But I didn’t mention the damage to our laws and Constitution. Governments learned that by declaring an emergency they could proceed directly to rule by decree, managing every aspect of daily life without any legal or constitutional warrant, and that they could keep this up indefinitely.
If you say, oh, that’s just because of a pressing health concern — look, I’ve had kidney cancer, and if you don’t think that cancer is a pressing concern, well, it is. Each year, about 600,000 people die of cancer in the US. The government can identify, or create, such concerns at any time, and following covid precedent, assume despotic powers. How many government agencies now consider “racism” a public health crisis? How about the crisis of “climate change”? Now that’s something. It’s already being used to plot a revolution in the way you lead your life. And is this the place to mention the excuse that covid has given to social media, to suppress all dissent from established opinion?
These, I would argue, are plagues much worse than covid.
To return to covid itself — If I’m reading him right, Bruce is suggesting that libertarians who want to criticize the government’s handling of the disease need to address the whole problem of disease control, and that they need to offer solutions, not just criticisms. I believe that neither of these propositions is true.
I don’t need to have a comprehensive theory of sex and love in order to point out that Joe and Jean have a bad marriage and to suggest that they get a divorce. And I can argue for that without having to say what I would do to fix the marriage or to ensure that there would be no ill effects from divorce. It would be an even stranger world than the one we inhabit if people had to write a good speech for Biden before they could criticize the bad speeches that Biden gives. As a limited government libertarian, I could support the government’s effort to drain a swamp that was breeding malaria or yellow fever, while denying that the government should be able to close a barbershop because some customer might give covid to some other customer. By that logic, every bar in the country would be closed, for fear of syphilis.
Governments learned that by declaring an emergency they could proceed directly to rule by decree, managing every aspect of daily life without any legal or constitutional warrant,
Still, I’ll take the “what would you have done about covid” cue. I won’t just criticize what has been done; I’ll say what I think should have been done. There’s nothing original about my thoughts; they resemble those of Jay Bhattacharya and others.
I would have given the populace free and full information about every aspect of the disease, as far as I knew it, doing my best not to produce the kind of panic that clogs hospitals and leads to hoarding. I would have mobilized medical personnel to counsel infirm people about their dangers and their options, and held legally responsible any institution that failed to provide proper care to the patients entrusted to its care. Hoping for a vaccine that, like the vaccine for polio, would prevent infection, I would have done as Trump did and cleared all governmental obstacles from the path of development. I would have left all Americans free to protect themselves in whatever way they wished, but I would have realized that the virus could not be permanently arrested even by a ban on visitors from infected countries, which is what Trump quickly imposed.
In lieu of a fully efficacious vaccine, I would have understood that the next line of defense is herd immunity, and to enable that to happen I would have taken such noninvasive means as the Swedes have successfully taken. Would I have prevented all deaths? Of course not. And neither have the bold interventionists. We have suffered several hundreds of thousands of deaths despite the government’s invasions of liberty and common sense, and we have suffered the damage of the invasions in addition to the deaths.
A final note. Unlike Bruce, I see no reason to believe anything the Chinese government says about anything, and least of all about this. I don’t need photos of mass burials to tell me that there were lots more infections in China than the communists are willing to reveal. If you were a Chinese visitor to an American city in 2020, you would not have seen mass burials either. But during the first part of the covid scare I happened to see a satellite image of East Asia at night. North Korea was dark, as always; South Korea was brightly lit; but in the place of China there was only a wide, dark hole — dark as death.