Features Australia

Will they ever admit they got it so wrong?

Lockdown-sceptics have won the argument. Repeatedly.

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

12 February 2022

9:00 AM

How would you distinguish those on the right of the political spectrum from those on the left?  Some people do so by pointing to the two groups’ largely differing attitudes to the military and preparedness to fund this kind of defence spending big time. Others point to the value put on tradition and traditional answers to social organisation. Or to the emphasis given to individual freedom. Or to the size of government spending. The list goes on and on and any conservative voter will be a person who puts differing (if any) emphasis on each of these values.  It’s not a monolithic crowd holding identikit values.

But here’s one yardstick or touchstone that has – or used to have – a high hit rate in separating the conservative side of politics from what, in the upper echelons of university political science jargon, is known as ‘the Lefties’. Just ask, ‘Do you trust government and its advisors generally to get things right?’ If you answer ‘no’, that’s a good indicator that you’re a conservative. All sorts of things flow from that core, foundational position. Federalism, real federalism (not the faux Australian variety), of the sort you see in Switzerland, the US, Germany and Canada (all the richer democracies, as it happens), is based in part on the assumption we’re lucky if government gets it right half the time. So, to take one example, why have one school curriculum across a country when it’s more likely than not to be woeful? Have ten or twelve as in Canada, with each province having its own, and one or two just might be okay and later be copied. (And that’s Alberta and its school results which put Australia’s to shame.) Or have hundreds of school curricula as in the US. Or have differing income tax rates per state or province to fund – directly and with voter accountability – the areas of power given to that level of government, not Australia’s one-size-fits-all monstrosity that amounts to incentive-free centralism run riot. It all flows back to a basic belief that government, with bigger government being progressively worse and less accountable, gets things wrong at least as much as it gets things right. Hence, in part, there’s the conservative desire for smaller government, more individual decision-making, lower taxes and smaller debt, etc., etc.

Got the general idea? Now turn to March 2020 and ask yourself what happened. Not to tell you all ‘I told you so’, but I told you so. It’s now becoming plain that the Big Government, ‘let’s copy communist China’ response to this pandemic was a disaster. The cure was so much worse than the disease that we (or at least the younger generation) will be feeling the effects – to be clear the effects of what the ScoMo’s and Justin Trudeau’s of the world did, not the effects of the virus – for decades and decades. Take the December 2019 WHO playbook on how to deal with viral pandemics, based as it was on a century of data and analysis, and throw it out the window in one month in a panic – unless you’re Sweden with its chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell who insisted on following that ‘no lockdowns’ playbook and who should, but won’t, win a Nobel Prize for being correct on just about everything bar early stuff around aged-care homes. Now from the start I was part of a small sceptical Australian group largely centred around this wonderful Speccie publication who publicly objected to the ‘lockdown on steroids’, heavy-handed and despotic government response to Covid that amounted to the worst incursion on all of our civil liberties in a century.

Was this omniscience on the part of this small group of heretics like me? Of course not. We read the data. We didn’t for a second think that a coterie of public health doctors, many of whom were pretty third-rate academically, had a monopoly on best policy or ‘the Science TM’. To a large extent, our first principles were sceptical of government generally getting things right. Why believe that ScoMo and his National Cabinet, aided by a Pravda-like ABC and legacy media, together with a doctorly caste of public health types, would get things right? I mean that question seriously. Posed like that, at the time without knowing more, I’d have put the odds at well under 50 per cent. Throw in the fact that some of the best medical academics and epidemiologists in the world formulated and distributed the Great Barrington Declaration that disputed the lockdown playbook nearly point by point and tell me again why you’d put the Big Government response’s odds above one in three? Then ask yourself this follow-on query: ‘If a democratic government completely screws things up by being despotic and heavy-handed for over a year and a half, can the politicians that took us down that path ever – and I mean ever – admit they screwed up?’ To ask is to answer. Ditto the whining ‘not on my watch’ journalistic caste who behaved incuriously, with no scepticism, largely like cheerleaders for heavy-handed policing and despotic politicians.

So just to be clear, here’s just a small sample of what has come out recently. There’s the Johns Hopkins University literature review and meta-analysis of all sorts of studies into the efficacy of lockdowns in Europe and the US. Lockdowns, they found, only reduced Covid-19 mortality by 0.2 per cent (laughably precise, but you get the point). Or as Dan Hannan puts it in the British context, ‘by about 100 deaths’. Sad. Unfortunate. But billions, maybe trillions, spent for that due to a single-minded focus just on Covid deaths, when the costs of lockdowns themselves – deaths due to missed health checks, suicides, drinking, drugs, and more plus the ruining of many young lives, years of schooling gone, exploding debt, despotism, the list goes on and on – will dwarf that total.

Or take Sweden, the control country because it never locked down. It’s excess deaths across the whole pandemic are now seen to be below pre-pandemic levels – and you can’t game that measure! Maybe they’re a tad higher than the rest of Scandinavia’s, but did we adopt Chinese-level inroads on civil liberties to try to get that? It’s laughable. California has had brutal mask and vaccine mandates in place and has noticeably higher Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths than no-mandates-at-all Texas.

It’s plain who won this argument. You won’t hear it in most of the press, well not for a few years until suddenly everyone – think invading Iraq – will think they were against the lockdown mania. Scott Morrison has been an illiberal, void-of-principle disaster. And where hundreds of British MPs voted against their own Tory government’s heavy-handedness, barely a single Coalition MP here has done so. Shameful!

Here’s the thing. Being sceptical of government’s ability to get things right is not limited to left-wing governments. It applies to all governments, even supposedly right-of-centre ones and even ones who outsource their thinking to an incestuous, illiberal caste of public health supremos.

Here’s the biggest lie we heard, ScoMo’s ‘we’re all in this together’ sloganeering. Not a pay cut to be seen across the political or bureaucratic or laptop classes, the ones who imposed bankrupting and heartbreaking mandates, ruthlessly enforced by an unthinking constabulary, on the rest of us.

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