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Are lockdowns and government missteps “teachable moments” for libertarianism?

Like a number of other readers of this blog, I have wondered how or whether the COVID-19 disaster, and the government responses to it, might actually lead to a sort of “libertarian moment” when people wake up to the insight, which this blog likes to make from time to time, that “the State is not your friend”. It might be too early to know whether the clampdowns will have this effect on people, but they might. During the 1940s the policy of food rationing, continued through the decade, and only ended by the time of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, became hated. Churchill, with his gift for a phrase (I hope Boris Johnson remembers this), said his party would “Set the People Free”; he also talked of a “Bonfire of Controls”. If Mr Johnson has any sense, he will embrace such a move as soon as possible.

The failures so far of government over issues such as test and trace, and the chopping and changing of direction, with the current 3-tired restriction system, are surely examples of the folly of state central planning. As I have noted before, the National Health Service in many ways demonstrates the weaknesses of 1940s-era central planning. FA Hayek’s point about the “fatal conceit” of socialism, and of the hubristic idea that planners can run a society so much more intelligently than through the extended order of a free society, is truer than ever. On the other hand, those parts of the economy able to work more or less freely, such as supermarkets, delivery services and internet-driven communications channels, have more than risen to the challenge. That point needs to be rammed home over and over.

One of the problems with the 2008-09 financial crash was that a false narrative was allowed to take root that the cause was “evil bankers”, “greed” and laughably, “unregulated capitalism”. The cause was in fact more about state-influenced imprudent lending, too-big-to-bail promises of bailouts, years of underpriced money, and unwarranted confidence in risk management models. (See this excellent analysis in the book Alchemists of Loss, by Kevin Dowd and Martin Hutchinson.) We are arguably still paying the price for not pushing those insights hard enough. So I’d argue that one important lesson of the current shit-show is that it is vital to point out that it is free individuals, able to act on their initiative and through voluntary co-operation, and not the hubristic powers of a State, that holds the key to getting us to a better place.

Addendum: Here is a good point made by Sam Welsh in the Sunday Telegraph today:

I am not surprised that, among friends of all ages, I increasingly hear the question: why can’t we be trusted to judge the risk for ourselves? I had originally thought the pandemic would push society to the Left. But there is something morally offensive about a virus strategy that devalues all that makes life worth living, and which hinges on the incompetence of the Government and the state’s chronic inability to foresee the demands that will be placed upon it. That it then blames its failures on the very individuals it claims to serve only compounds the outrage.

69 comments to Are lockdowns and government missteps “teachable moments” for libertarianism?

  • Stonyground

    The easy availability of a wide variety of face masks is interesting. If providing the things had been left to the state you can bet that they would have been in short supply, with people queueing up to buy them so that they could legally go shopping.

  • Nullius in Verba

    The obvious question they would ask in reply is “If the free market has the solution, why has R gone above one and why is the epidemic now spreading exponentially again?”

    What alternative solution to stop the virus are you proposing, and why didn’t you do it?

    There should certainly be plenty of free market freedom-respecting solutions possible, but it is notable that there hasn’t been much movement in that direction. People have preferred to sit on their hands and wait for the government to tell them what to do. Why is that?

  • People have preferred to sit on their hands and wait for the government to tell them what to do. Why is that?

    What a great idea! I’ll tell the local Plod not to bother enforcing measures & the local council not to fine businesses so I can implement a free-market solution called “assess your own risk & act accordingly”.

    What alternative solution to stop the virus are you proposing, and why didn’t you do it?

    My proposal is “stop trying to stop the virus propagating throughout a population that will overwhelmingly survive exposure to it”.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    People have preferred to sit on their hands and wait for the government to tell them what to do. Why is that?

    Actually, a lot of people haven’t sat still; as I noted, those sections of the country that weren’t told to shut down have performed with all the vigour I expect when such freedom obtains. (Construction, finance, investment management, IT, etc.)

    Among the wider public, there was, perhaps understandably, a desire to give lockdowns a go and wait for a cure. As we enter the back end of 2020, with more lockdowns threatened, there are no more mass-clappings for the NHS. The mood has changed considerably, in my view. This is not just exhaustion. People are increasingly looking for a policy aimed at shielding the vulnerable and allowing the rest of the population to get on with life. We have been told that this is not possible, without ever being given a coherent explanation as to why. This is fuelling more and more anger. Hence my post.

    It is also certainly true that a population constantly nagged and harassed on health, environment and other issues, and also affected by a decade and more of cheap money and easy credit has become deadened to some degree to the need to create wealth. But the bleak next few months ought to be a teachable moment about all this.

    By the way, we are having a micro-demonstration of what much of the Green movement wants for us.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think, to the OPs point, the opposite is true. This is more of a “teachable moment” against libertarianism. The almost unchallenged narrative is “sure we believe in free markets but when something like this happens we need the state to step in and save us”. The idea that the collective responsibility to not spread the virus needs to be centrally planned.

    Now to be clear, I think we should have left this all alone and allowed the free market to solve this, but I don’t think libertarianism is what people will take away from this at all. On the contrary, it will make all to many people throw themselves of on the mercy of the state to save them from this dreadful thing. The legacy of this will be more state control not less. Trump has poured more borrowed money into this in a year than Bush and Obama pissed away in the Middle East in a decade. And Biden’s laughable solution is more central planning.

    Sorry, I am not terribly familiar with the British situation, but it seems that BoJo’s personal experience with the virus seems to have drained the free market out of him.

  • This is more of a “teachable moment” against libertarianism

    Not what I am hearing. Much to my surprise, remarks about excessive government are being uttered by the most unlikely people.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    I don’t think libertarianism is what people will take away from this at all

    Which is why it is necessary to point out the type of things I mentioned in my post, such as the hubris of central planning etc that has been demonstrated, in bright lights, during recent weeks. Lessons don’t get learned if people are not making the points and joining the dots.

  • Flubber

    The obvious question they would ask in reply is “If the free market has the solution, why has R gone above one and why is the epidemic now spreading exponentially again?”

    Because the state is using a PCR test tuned so high you’re guaranteed a majority of false positives.

    The hospitals are almost empty. Cancer patients are dropping like flies though.

  • Jon Eds

    This seems not to be the case in New Zealand, where Big Sister was re-elected in a landslide.

    Maybe we are lucky in the UK that the government isn’t competent enough to maintain a pretence of competence.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “My proposal is “stop trying to stop the virus propagating throughout a population that will overwhelmingly survive exposure to it”.”

    OK. So do you apply the same principle to every societal risk? Terrorism? Murder? Poison? How many million deaths would be tolerable to libertarians? Where do you draw the line?

    “Because the state is suing a PCR test tuned so high you’re guaranteed a majority of false positives.”

    I don’t think so. Test results here and here.

  • OK. So do you apply the same principle to every societal risk?

    Pretty much. But I am sure complete state control over everything would prevent a lot of terrorism & murder, well, other than the state approved ones.

    How many million deaths would be tolerable to libertarians?

    Hard to say, how many are tolerable to statists? A cursory examination of history suggests in the tens of millions at least over less than a decade.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Pretty much. […] in the tens of millions at least over less than a decade.”

    OK. I’ll take that as your standard. I’ll bear that in mind next time one of those subjects comes up.

  • bobby b

    “OK. I’ll take that as your standard.”

    I don’t think that was his point. Maybe something along the line of, the world isn’t perfect, but we’re killing one hell of a lot fewer people than are the statists?

  • H Storey

    I have found the situation helpful in my libertarian focused rambling among family and friends. Trouble is, they now want to lock me up. I don’t think too many people really want to listen or hear. But as JP says, this is an opportunity, as in never let a crisis go to waste.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I don’t think that was his point. Maybe something along the line of, the world isn’t perfect, but we’re killing one hell of a lot fewer people than are the statists?”

    Are you?

    We’re talking about a “teachable moment” to use these events to educate and convert people to libertarianism. The argument for lockdowns that has persuaded the public to support them is that doing what Perry says would kill at least half a million people in the UK, and possibly several million people if it happened fast enough to overload the health service. Most of them don’t consider that acceptable. However, I would quite a lot are probably persuadable that there are better alternatives that prevent the mass deaths but also don’t impact liberty to the same degree. But then the obvious question is what are they and why has the free market not implemented them?

    Perry’s answer is not to provide an alternative plan for preventing the deaths, but instead to tell the public that libertarians consider large numbers of deaths acceptable. To persuade the general public that libertarianism is for them, that number has to be acceptable to them too. So what’s the number? And how many voters will agree that tens of millions of deaths – or whatever number you set – are an acceptable price to pay for the libertarian revolution? It seems to me relevant to the question of whether this moment is “teachable”.

    Guido reports a poll saying 40% don’t think the government have gone far enough, and only 15% think they’ve gone too far. That’s a lot more than it was six months ago, but it doesn’t suggest to me it’s going to be a winning argument yet.

  • TheHat

    If Joe Biden is elected President of the USA, then NO!

  • Myno

    There is another Big Ticket Item that confronts libertarianism with numbers of potential deaths: terrorism. Public fear has allowed the statists to dictate a top-down approach, heavy on surveillance. But as the phrase goes, when seconds count, the authorities are minutes away. So one libertarianish answer would be to allow concealed carry everywhere, so good guys can respond to the bad guys in a timely fashion. The problem for the politicos (and for libertarians who endorse such a plan) is that if we accept that citizens have to protect themselves (as in the coronavirus case!!!) and so dismantle the surveillance state (~shutdowns), we won’t get nice early warnings (ultra-low hospital saturation with severe covid cases) that allow the feds to proudly proclaim that they’ve saved our collective asses more times than SloJo can count. More terror attacks will happen than if surveillance were used, and so there might be many more such attacks. Citizens would naturally respond, so the deaths from each incident would be lowered greatly, but the incident count would rise, and the media would focus on that, not on the absolute number of deaths (just like the mismanagement of statistics in the coronavirus case). With the focus on incident frequency, the statists would have their argument for (re)enactment of surveillance. The public is so easily swayed by emotional appeals, it is difficult for libertarians to cut through the limbic system’s Pavlovian grasp at the enticements of centralized solutions.

  • Mr Ecks

    NiV–the C19 LD arse kissing polls are the usual cockrot from the usual suspects

  • Fraser Orr

    @Nullius in Verba
    The obvious question they would ask in reply is “If the free market has the solution, why has R gone above one and why is the epidemic now spreading exponentially again?”

    I wasn’t aware that the free market was being allowed to do anything to do with this virus except that which the government tells them to do. (Except I suppose, make masks and refill supermarket shelves, which they seem to be doing gangbusters at.)

    What alternative solution to stop the virus are you proposing, and why didn’t you do it?

    I was thinking something like this would be a good approach.

  • decnine

    After more than six months of the UK’s Somme offensive against the dastardly virus, deaths are rising again. Why is Boris Johnson so busily casting himself as COVID’s Douglas Haig?

  • Perry’s answer is not to provide an alternative plan for preventing the deaths, but instead to tell the public that libertarians consider large numbers of deaths acceptable

    If you think that is what I am saying, you have a bright future as a political spin doctor (or perhaps you are just posturing as usual) 😆 I am only making the same argument the government made right at the start of this ‘crisis’ before hysteria set in (just let herd immunity happen or, to quote Boris ‘take it on the chin’). Your preferred moar control hysterical response will certainly end up killing (not to mention impoverishing) vastly more people, but then that is always how such things work.

    But germane to the article, it is not just swivel-eyed libertarian who have started to suspect that, I am even seeing some of the ‘sensible left’ & even a few High Tories start to grasp the sheer insanity of the current approach. This whole episode of global mass hysteria is on course to be the most spectacular example of unintended consequences ever (at least to the extent it of being so global).

  • itellyounothing

    Surely the libertarian reply to lockdowns is, “I am not willing to murder 200,000 cancer patients who the science shows will die without early treatment for the fake computer projections and the blind panic of cowardly idiots”

  • Marius

    Perry’s answer is not to provide an alternative plan for preventing the deaths, but instead to tell the public that libertarians consider large numbers of deaths acceptable. To persuade the general public that libertarianism is for them, that number has to be acceptable to them too. So what’s the number? And how many voters will agree that tens of millions of deaths – or whatever number you set – are an acceptable price to pay for the libertarian revolution? It seems to me relevant to the question of whether this moment is “teachable”.

    Sometimes I forget why I don’t come to this site that often….

  • thefat tomato

    @fraser orr: your link does not work in the EU, that’s a teachable moment about un-intended consequences of government
    It’s pretty clear to me that nothing gets back to normal till there is an effective vaccine and or treatment and or cure, and unfortunately for libertarians, that vaccine/treatment/cure is probably going to come from a government sponsored program, with the management&clinical trial&manufacturing aid of the large pharma companies.
    Flag waving libertarians have not been seen to be willing to pool resources to solve the problem, and have not as individuals created a solution.
    I agree with fraser orr, if anything this situation appears to be a teachable moment against libertarianism.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “There is another Big Ticket Item that confronts libertarianism with numbers of potential deaths: terrorism. Public fear has allowed the statists to dictate a top-down approach, heavy on surveillance. But as the phrase goes, when seconds count, the authorities are minutes away. So one libertarianish answer would be to allow concealed carry everywhere, so good guys can respond to the bad guys in a timely fashion.”

    That’s the sort of response I’m talking about. The problem set is to prevent deaths. The state solution is bans and controls to stop them doing it. The libertarian solution is to arm and train everybody, so people can fight back. I don’t think people would be persuaded by proposing that we ignore the terrorists and let them kill people, since fewer than tens of millions will die.

    On the virus, somebody here mentioned the idea of proper PPE for everyone. Proper airtight, but comfortable masks and face screens, and plastic overalls, and gloves. With that on, you can get as close as you like and be sure of not passing it on. Other solutions I’ve seen floating around are more pervasive use of better disinfection methods (e.g. UV lights), better ventilation systems, setting up business outdoors, opening up warehouses and empty office space to allow people to spread out, development of home IT, robotics, a more organised system of social bubbles, more mobile phone track-and-trace tech, covid detectors that can pick it up airborne, developing better, faster tests that can be used to screen everybody every morning, and so on.

    That was the sort of answer I was expecting – both from the free market and from the people here. But the free market seems to be just sitting around waiting for the government to give them orders, and the people here are just proposing we ignore it and carry on as normal. Hence my other question – why hasn’t the free market approach worked?

    “I wasn’t aware that the free market was being allowed to do anything to do with this virus except that which the government tells them to do.”

    I wasn’t aware that orders had been issued to stop them. The only case I can think of was when they discouraged selling medical-level PPE to the public during the early days when they were short-supplied for the health services, but that should have been only short-term until supply could be increased. The other case, where initially they only did tests in government labs, was because in the beginning Covid was listed as a biohazard requiring level 3 containment and most of the commercial facilities were only containment level 2. After they made an exception, testing was able to expand. (“However, in light of the exceptional circumstances posed by SARS-CoV-2 and the potential impact on the diagnostic sector, a risk-based proportionate approach has been adopted in agreement with ACDP and HSE where certain laboratory activities can be undertaken within a MSC at containment level 2 (CL2)1”)

    What other solutions are there that the government is preventing? And would it not therefore be more useful (“teachable”) to tell them to stop preventing it?

    “If you think that is what I am saying, you have a bright future as a political spin doctor”

    What other interpretation am I to put on “My proposal is “stop trying to stop the virus propagating throughout a population that will overwhelmingly survive exposure to it”.”?!

    “I am only making the same argument the government made right at the start of this ‘crisis’ before hysteria set in (just let herd immunity happen or, to quote Boris ‘take it on the chin’).”

    Yes. That was their policy up until somebody pointed out to them explicitly how many people it would kill. “only 1% of the UK population” sounds small. “Disaster results in 660 thousand deaths!” sounds big. People are not very numerate. Nor very consistent.

    I don’t actually have a problem with people using population-level death tolls as a way to justify safety regulations. You can set a level, anything above the level gets regulated, anything below is not, and then it’s just a purely scientific question to estimate how many deaths might be caused. Chernobyl caused only 50 deaths, so it shouldn’t be regulated. Traffic accidents kill only a few thousand every year, so no more traffic regulations. Islamic terrorism in the UK causes 6 deaths per year on average, so we should get rid of all the security theatre at the borders, the ridiculous spectacle of people arguing about taking jars of baby milk on planes, the TSA groping travellers, GCHQ and the NSA spying on us, and so on. And all the regulation of food additives and asbestos and so on can go, too. Fine by me.

    And I think it’s entirely possible for ‘millions dead’ to sometimes be the morally acceptable choice, as with Churchill entering the Second World War.

    But it gets my goat when people are inconsistent about it. They’ll impose stringent (and often extremely expensive) safety measures in some cases where hardly any deaths at all are involved (e.g. shuttle launches), but kick up about regulations applied to prevent us killing far more. It tells me they’re not being honest about their real reasons for approving or opposing regulation.

    And finally, I have to ask whether it’s an approach that will serve as a “teachable moment” to educate people about the benefits of libertarianism. The public are not very consistent about their criteria, either, but as a rule they consider hundreds of deaths in a single incident as a significant disaster, and thousands as a national catastrophe. (How much fuss have people made about 9/11 over the years?) Millions is in another category altogether. Given that, do you think saying “Let’s let millions die” is really going to teach the public the right lesson about the merits of libertarianism?

    If that’s the truth about libertarianism, then of course we should tell people so. But I think the wider public’s response to that would be predictable.

  • Snorri Godhi

    among friends of all ages, I increasingly hear the question: why can’t we be trusted to judge the risk for ourselves?

    If i may give what i think Hayek’s answer would be:
    No, you cannot be trusted to judge the risk for yourself.
    But the government can be trusted even less.

    That is only a flippant answer, of course. (And Hayek was never flippant.)

    There are other considerations.

    First, externalities. The rhetorical question is framed so as to exclude consideration of externalities.

    Second, the fact is that, in this crisis, many governments have proved themselves trustworthy.
    You know which countries i am talking about: the countries that had about an order of magnitude fewer deaths than the UK, without lockdowns.
    I do not exclude the possibility that the people of these countries are much more conscientious than the British; but it seems unlikely to be the only factor at play.

  • What other interpretation am I to put on “My proposal is “stop trying to stop the virus propagating throughout a population that will overwhelmingly survive exposure to it”.”?!

    So I assume you either did not read my reply or if you did, have never heard of herd immunity.

    Yes. That was their policy up until somebody pointed out to them explicitly how many people it would kill. “only 1% of the UK population” sounds small. “Disaster results in 660 thousand deaths!” sounds big. People are not very numerate. Nor very consistent.

    And is there ANY evidence to back that up? Any evidence whatsoever the death rate would have really been that based on what we have actually seen elsewhere in the world? Meh, you are so disingenuous that replying to you further is a waste of my time.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “So I assume you either did not read my reply or if you did, have never heard of herd immunity.”

    Of course I’ve heard of herd immunity! Getting to herd immunity is what will kill half a million people! That’s why the politicians changed their minds.

    “And is there ANY evidence to back that up? Any evidence whatsoever the death rate would have really been that based on what we have actually seen elsewhere in the world?”

    Yes. That’s the **observed** death rate, everywhere in the world.

    In the UK about 7% of the population have antibodies indicating they’ve caught it and recovered. That’s 4.6 million infected. Of that number, about 1% have died. Same in New York. Same in Italy.

    Unconstrained, each infected person potentially infects on average about 3-4 other people (that’s R0), so you have to reduce the chance of that infection succeeding by a factor of 3-4. So around 66% to 75% of the population has to be immune for R to drop to 1, which doesn’t actually stop it but just maintains stasis at the same level. You have to drop the rate of infection even lower for the epidemic to start subsiding. Which means conservative estimates figure around 70-80% of the population needs to have been infected before herd immunity stops it proceeding any further. That’s about 10 times the number infected so far, which means on a simple proportionate extrapolation, we can expect about 10 times more deaths. Half a million.

    And if you have the majority of those 45 million infections happen in a matter of weeks, as exponential growth implies, then the hospitals will be overloaded, most people will be unable to get treatment, and lots more will die. About 50% of those who go into intensive care ventilation survive, so you can bet on the number doubling, and if a lot of those who only need oxygen also end up dying for lack of treatment, it might be three or four times the number. Nowhere in the world has got that bad yet, so we don’t know for certain, but it’s a serious possibility.

    Now I don’t mind if it really is your position that half a million deaths is morally acceptable – it is after all less than 1% of the population, so no biggie. I don’t agree, and most of the UK population don’t agree and likely aren’t going to be persuaded, but you can’t reason an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. I’ve got no argument.

    And I definitely don’t mind if you’ve got some statistics or data, or even models, that predict some smaller number, and that stand up to five minutes scrutiny. But so far, all I’m seeing is the same blind rejection of the ‘engineering data’ that those Thiokol engineers got in the last post. ‘The conclusion is unacceptable, therefore the data must be wrong, and the engineers disingenuous liars.’ It’s a common mindset.

    But I’m not being disingenuous. I think it’s just a statement of the bleeding obvious that herd immunity results in about half a million deaths. I’m not lying or deceiving you on that. And I think the majority of public opinion is dead set against that, and not about to change. However, I think the public would be much happier with an alternative solution that was less restrictive on their liberty, so I do think libertarians could win support for serious alternatives.

    Few, though, are going to be impressed with an ideology that takes a price tag of millions of deaths lightly. That’s painfully close to Socialism’s line.

  • Mike Marsh

    Apparently, despite the Toothy Tyrant having won, the Libertarian Party got a record 8% of the vote in NZ. That has to be the “lockdown effect” I should think.

  • The Pedant-General

    NiV,

    But what ACTUALLY happened was that the virus had been spreading reasonably benignly amongst the population, then someone in Govt got scared at the 1% death rate and emptied the hospitals, thereby taking back to spread it really thoroughly amongst the most vulnerable section of the population.

    That is, they did the worst possible to thing to the most vulnerable group at a time when we knew little about how to treat the disease and you still have max 1% death rate.
    The real rate in the population at large is going to be a very small fraction of that.

    You can tell that this is all bollocks now because the media NEVER overlays the infection rate chart (LOOK SCARY! EXPOENTIAL GROWTH – MUCH HIGHER THAN THE LAST PEAK!!!) with the resulting death rates (total nothing burger) and you are also never hearing what proportion of the new infections are amongst the student population, where it clearly is not killing 1% at all.

    The really sad thing is that Boris’s first instinct was probably right.

  • thefat tomato

    1% fatality rate does not sound like a lot, 1% fatality rate per annum does not sound like a lot, unfortunately there is a reason mortality statistics are calculated and compiled on a per 100,000 annual basis.
    One per cent, sounds trivial to a layman, but is a 1000x times bigger than the normal unit of measurement used for epidemiology.
    A 1% disease will kill 78 million people, more than all, ALL 2017 deaths from EVERY and ANY cause.
    A 0.1% disease will 7.8 million people, or No.3 behind all cardiovascular diseases(combined) and all cancers(combined).
    A 0.01% disease will kill 780K, just ahead of malaria.
    BTW: WHO has the case fatality rate at 2.78% as of today, not 1%.
    NiV is right, and by taking account prevalence data into his/her analysis, highlights a simple covid discussion filter;
    namely any covid analysis&commentary which does not include prevalence data is idealogical.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “But what ACTUALLY happened was that the virus had been spreading reasonably benignly amongst the population, then someone in Govt got scared at the 1% death rate and emptied the hospitals, thereby taking back to spread it really thoroughly amongst the most vulnerable section of the population.”

    Possibly. The problem is we don’t actually know that, and there is no easy way to tell if it’s true.

    It’s estimated about 7% of care home staff were infected (like the population at large), and about 11% of care home residents, so it’s true the level is slightly higher. But there’s no easy way to tell whether they got it from hospital discharges, or from care staff, or non-care staff, or from family and friends visiting, or touching infected packages, or from each other, or whatever. On the one hand, any influx of residents from anywhere obviously doesn’t help. On the other hand, the residents moved were probably safer in the care home than in the hospital, where all the sick people are.

    The ONS study on care homes found higher levels in London and the West Midlands, higher levels associated with Bank/Agency nursing, higher levels associated with staff being infected (although of course the causality could go both ways), and staff working at multiple locations. They don’t mention seeing effects of admissions from hospitals, visitors, or any other factor.

    But you’re going to have to quantify things a bit better to prove to me that “The real rate in the population at large is going to be a very small fraction of that.” Vague hand-waving won’t do it.

    “You can tell that this is all bollocks now because the media NEVER overlays the infection rate chart (LOOK SCARY! EXPOENTIAL GROWTH – MUCH HIGHER THAN THE LAST PEAK!!!) with the resulting death rates (total nothing burger) and you are also never hearing what proportion of the new infections are amongst the student population, where it clearly is not killing 1% at all.”

    Exponential growth is never scary when it *starts*, and there is always a couple of weeks time delay between infection and death.

    However, you can see a log plot of the number of deaths here. A straight line increase in a log plot implies exponential growth. You can see that deaths have been rising exponentially for the last 4 weeks, increasing 10-fold in that time. It’s much slower than the first peak, which was rising 10-fold a week, but at the rate we’re going it will take a month to overtake the the previous peak.

  • Paul Marks

    Some libertarians have not exactly covered themselves in glory over this – for example ME.

    It took me weeks to understand that the international establishment were lying. Lying about the lockdowns, lying about treatments, lying about everything.

    Weeks – WEEKS. For weeks I at least half believed what they were saying.

    My brain has gone soft – as I approach the “second childhood” of senility.

  • David Norman

    NIV. I find it extraordinary and rather distasteful that you do not in any of your posts acknowledge, let alone take proper account of, the fact that the Government’s concentration on Covid will inevitably result in increased deaths from cancer and other causes. There seems to me a very good chance that in the medium term deaths resulting from other causes will exceed those from Covid; in short that the cure, if it’s a cure at all, will be worse than the disease. And that’s leaving aside that lockdowns etc trash the economy, damage our mental health and restrict our freedoms.
    The figure of half a million deaths from Covid in the UK is, to be frank, away with the fairies. True only in the world inhabited by Professor Ferguson and, it would appear, you.
    On the question posed I have no views on whether this is a teachable moment for libertarianism or not. The whole business is so tragic that it seems frivolous to indulge in a debate about whether it benefits one ‘ism’ or another.

  • Snorri Godhi

    NIV. I find it extraordinary and rather distasteful that you do not in any of your posts acknowledge, let alone take proper account of, the fact that the Government’s concentration on Covid will inevitably result in increased deaths from cancer and other causes.

    Will it?

    Never forget: when doctors go on strike, death rates go down.

  • APL

    Johnathan Pearce: “One of the problems with the 2008-09 financial crash was that a false narrative was allowed to take root that the cause was “evil bankers”, “greed” and laughably, “unregulated capitalism”.”

    Keep up fighting that rearguard action Johnathan. William Black outlines quite clearly how the S&L crisis and the 2008 financial crash, had at their root, the same fundamental cause, fraud.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “NIV. I find it extraordinary and rather distasteful that you do not in any of your posts acknowledge, let alone take proper account of, the fact that the Government’s concentration on Covid will inevitably result in increased deaths from cancer and other causes.”

    I agree that it will. I can only offer the excuse that I can’t cover every aspect of the question in every comment if I’m to keep them sufficiently “pithy” that people will read them. People moan enough about that as it is!

    “There seems to me a very good chance that in the medium term deaths resulting from other causes will exceed those from Covid”

    If by “deaths resulting […] from Covid” you mean deaths from Covid with restrictions in place, I agree that’s entirely possible. We’ve seen approaching 50,000 deaths from 7% infection, and that’s far from impossible as an impact of the hospitals being diverted from treating other conditions. I’d be somewhat more dubious whether the impact could approach the effect of Covid without restrictions in place. Not only would half a million deaths double the total annual deathtoll from all causes, a large number to match, but in those circumstances the hospitals would be totally overloaded and overflowing with Covid patients, which would impact other treatments even more, as well as imposing an extra risk from all those cancer/heart patients who caught Covid in hospital too.

    You have to look at all the consequences for each branch of the decision tree.

    1. With tight restrictions in place, you get 50,000 deaths from Covid, perhaps another 50,000 deaths from other causes, and major but temporary economic damage from the shutdown.

    2. With the “flattening the curve” strategy you run the epidemic up to the health service’s maximum capacity, you then have to put intermittent restrictions in place to keep it there, holding at R = 1 just as you do for option 1, only starting a little later. So now you get 450,000 deaths from Covid, an unknown but significant number of deaths from other causes due to max-loaded hospitals, exhausted medics driven to the brink for months on end, and still plenty of economic damage from the measures to keep it stable at the max.

    3. Without any restrictions in place, you might get around 1-2 million deaths from Covid, some large number of deaths from other causes due to overloaded, overflowing, and Covid-rife hospitals, and some probably lesser level of economic damage from the health service crisis, workers off sick, workers dead, and supply chains distorted by the demand for PPE and medical services.

    And of course there will be a political costs when the vaccine comes around just after it’s too late to be useful, and the public realise you just let half a million to two million people die who could have been saved if you had been willing to apply restrictions for just one year. If you went for option 2 the economic cost is not far short of option 1, since you still have to maintain R = 1 for getting on for a year, to funnel all the victims through the NHS bottleneck.

    And the politicians will be well aware of the public opinion polls telling them that a majority of the public value lives over the economy. If the public discover that this is the cost of libertarian, freedom-oriented policies, they are unlikely to give it another chance. The Conservative Party’s reputation for being heartless and profit-oriented will be sealed. The most libertarian government we’ve had since Thatcher (and I agree, that’s not saying a lot) will go down in history as the authors of one of Britain’s worst government-run atrocities. Two million dead would put you roughly level with Pol Pot in the league table of infamy!

    Oh, but we want to go to the pub. We want to go to parties with our friends. We want to cheer on our football teams. That’s more important. We can’t even survive one year without them. ‘First-world problems’ history will say.

    I sympathise with your position, I really do. But I’m scared of the “teachable moment” that a majority of the non-libertarian population are likely to learn about libertarianism if this is the approach you choose to take. I think there’s a lot of merit in proposing free-market technological solutions that don’t need to restrict freedom so much. I think that ignoring/rejecting the numbers will get you where those NASA managers in the previous post found themselves after they ignored the engineers.

    There are still plenty of unknowns and unquantifiables, of course. And there are many intermediate options and alternative plans besides those I’ve listed. I don’t claim to have all the answers.

    But that’s just my personal opinion. You’re not required or expected to agree with me.

  • Bell Curve

    Few, though, are going to be impressed with an ideology that takes a price tag of millions of deaths lightly. That’s painfully close to Socialism’s line.

    I realise Perry think you’re disingenuous but I disagree, I just think you’re not very smart if that’s your analysis.

  • APL

    NiV: “I sympathise with your position, I really do. But I’m scared of the “teachable moment” that a majority of the non-libertarian population are likely to learn about libertarianism if this is the approach you choose to take. “

    The totalitarian wolf draws its libertarian sheepskin closer.

    It weeps tears, ‘I’m so worried I’m the only libertarian in the world’ or that People who’ve never heard of Libertarianism, will suddenly make the connection between the death rate of annual influenza and Libertarian ideology. “Ha! It was those despicable Libbo’s all along, sitting in WuHan just plotting to kill granny!”.

    NiV: ” We can’t even survive one year without them. “

    Anyone remember when this was just going to be a couple of weeks, a month at most?

  • bobby b

    There’s a conflict in how we strive for a more libertarian world.

    One view wants to market liberty forever, and keep talking about the topic so as to attract more and more adherents until someday – come the revolution, presumably – a professed and admitted libertarian candidate wins something.

    The only way to achieve this, in this view, is to avoid making some libertarian faux pas that annoys those possible future voters. Thus, we’re not supposed to actually fight for liberty itself except in an uncontroversial manner. We can fight publicly for the freedom to choose our toothpaste, maybe, because that won’t make anyone mad at us.

    But fighting for actual liberty right now at this minute for something that is hotly contested – such as opening society for business and life today, before we sink – results in unpopular teachable moments, and turned-off voters, and so must wait until the time is more ripe . . .

    I guess you can fight for attainment of end-of-the-continuum “libertarianism”, or for more liberty today, but not both at the same time. Is that a teachable moment?

  • Is that a teachable moment?

    I suspect some who believe risks from Chinese Bat Lung were vastly overrated will see this as the “teachable moment” than brought them to the realisation the state has vastly too much power over civil society. But those who believe the GIGO models will conclude the opposite, and this will prove to them the world should have been locked down by wise leaders since 1346 😆

  • I realise Perry thinks you [Nullius] are disingenuous but I disagree, I just think you’re not very smart if that’s your analysis. (Bell Curve, October 20, 2020 at 7:17 am)

    I invite you to embrace the healing power of ‘and’, Bell Curve. There is both stupidity and duplicity in Nullius. APL above (October 20, 2020 at 8:52 am), and Paul Marks in various other-thread comments, see the duplicity as predominating. (I think it is there but not alone.)

    Regardless, I find it more productive to analyse Nullius’ argumentation methods than speculate about what causes them, because the methods are, as Burke said during the French Revolution, “the same old rotten stuff from Knave’s Acre, patched and mended for the present age”, and are much used by the PC today. The chance to observe these techniques at leisure, unclouded with media protection and cancel culture (and therefore often not so ineptly done) can be put to use. Nullius is a walk in the park compared with being targeted by the PC in hostile-audience debate – and partly for that reason performs at a higher level than they often do, so in another way is more demanding.

    The particular technique Nullius uses above is simple inversion of the opposing argument. Perry remarks on statists being as ready to accept many dead from their preferred policies as they are to pretend it will be the outcome of policies they oppose – whereupon Nullius pretends that Perry was expressed that readiness.

    (Something similar happens in Nullius’ reply below this. Nullius having claimed his redefinition of free speech is in fact John Stuart Mill’s idea of free speech, I explain that only a bowdlerised version of John Stuart Mill could accept it, whereupon Nullius replies that my explicitly-bowdlerised version of Mill is – a bowdlerised version of Mill! 🙂 )

    I have in the past wondered if we’re talking to a politicised version of the man who mistook his wife for a hat:

    “It is a continuous surface infolded on itself, with five outpounchings … .” No child could have spoken of ‘a continuous surface infolded on itself’, but any child would have recognised a glove.

    That Nullius has a mental limitation in understanding behaviour, akin to being able to recognise a dodecahedron but not a face, is an idea I have entertained. But the thread I link to above, when even that free speech that NiV claimed to hold so dear got redefined to replace “clear and present danger” with “could be [by somebody’s argument] shown to cause [any of a very long list of increasingly debatable and indirect forms of] harm”, made me raise my estimate of the duplicity percentage a bit closer to Paul’s and APL’s.

    (BTW, I also remark apropos of Nullius’ many comments that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.)

    While thus noting the ability to take benefit from Nullius’ comments, I do see their ability to derail the discussion as well. Perhaps all of us (me included) should make greater efforts in threads to keep rabbit-hole discussions with Nullius more distinct from comments on the main topic. Just my 0.02p FWIW.

  • Snorri Godhi

    I guess you can fight for attainment of end-of-the-continuum “libertarianism”, or for more liberty today, but not both at the same time.

    I am not sure that i understand the rest of bobby’s comment, but this strikes me as an appropriate analysis of the choices that governments had to face early this year.

    Sensible governments, such as the one where i live, decided for end-of-continuum liberty. The result was no lockdowns.

    Inane governments in Italy*, the UK, and New York (city and state) decided for more liberty “today” (i.e. in March 2020). The result was deaths and lockdowns.

    Neville Chamberlain made pretty much the same mistake: he chose more liberty “today” (i.e. in October 1938).

    * I am sympathetic to the Italian gov. though, since they did not really know what they were up against. The same cannot be said for Boris, Cuomo, or De Blasio.

  • Paul Marks

    I do not believe that any of the “experts” sincerely believed that “lockdowns” and other restrictions would reduce deaths. But, for the sake of argument, let us assume they were sincere in March.

    The evidence is now clear that countries, and those few American States, that did not “lockdown” do NOT have a higher death rate than countries and American States that did lockdown (ditto with mask mandates) – so why do the establishment STILL push lockdowns, restrictions and mask mandates? They may have been sincere in March (although I do not believe they were sincere) – but they are most certainly NOT sincere now.

    So what is all this really about? It is about “The Great Reset”, “Stakeholder Capitalism” (the extermination of what little is left of freedom and its replacement by the FASCISM that is the Woke Corporations and Big Government coming together – the dream of such beings as Klaus Schwab), “Sustainable Development”, “Build Back Better”.

    It is the same with treatments….

    It was clear as long ago as March that EARLY treatment (when Covid 19 is still its first stage) with medical doctor prescribed doses of hydroxychloroquine, zinc sulphate and (for non Covid problems that may hit the lungs in their weakened state) something like azithromycin is very important – especially for people in vulnerable groups.

    But think about the words of such people as Dr Rick Bright (vaccine maker) – to be broadcast on a anti President Trump Agitprop production on “Hulu” (“Totally Under Control” is the name of the totalitarian Agitprop production).

    “Contrary to POTUS [President of the United States] orders, I restricted HCQ use to hospitals only”.

    So the President was begging for vital medicines to be allowed “rush it out to the pharmacists” (these are the words Dr Bright claims were said) and that is what he (and the rest of these Legion of Devils) PREVENTED.

    HCQ and zinc is a STAGE ONE Covid treatment (as Dr Bright well knowns) – by the time someone has to go to hospital it is often TOO LATE (as Dr Bright also well knows).

    In short policy in the United States (the policy of the official “experts”) was to deliberately INCREASE the number of deaths – DELIBERATELY INCREACE THE NUMBER OF DEATHS.

    That is what they were tying to do – in order to undermine the President and pave the way for the victory of totalitarianism.

    And it was not their only move…..

    There is a lot of evidence that lack of Vitamin D makes people more vulnerable to Covid 19.

    The source of Vitamin D is often SUN LIGHT.

    So what was the advice of the Legion of Devils (the official “experts” – and not just the United States)?

    Their advice, repeated again and again and again, was ……

    “STAY AT HOME, STAY HOME, STAY AT HOME”.

    They were trying to REDUCE the amount of sun light people got – in order to reduce Vitamin D. levels – in order to INCREASE deaths, in order to “justify” totalitarianism.

    Discredit (SMEAR) EARLY and vital treatment for Covid 19 – and make people more vulnerable to Covid 19 in the first place.

    That was the policy of the experts – with the intention of maximising deaths, in order to justify the victory of totalitarianism.

    This is why the death rate was so much WORSE in Britain and the United State than in many “primitive” countries – for example in Africa.

    The death rate was worse – because it was deliberately made worse, for a political purpose.

    “STAY AT HOME, STAY AT HOME, STAY AT HOME”. Push down vitamin D. levels – make people more vulnerable to Covid 19.

    “Do not use this medicine, it will KILL YOU – it is FISH TANK CLEANER, it is DEADLY DISINFECTENT, it will KILL YOU”.

    Discredit, SMEAR, the treatment that could (if used EARLY) have saved so many lives.

    I am not being melodramatic when I refer to these people as the “forces of evil” – for that is exactly what they are.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Thank you, Paul.
    I skimmed very quickly through your comment, but it reminded me that i had not yet taken my vitamin D today.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I realise Perry think you’re disingenuous but I disagree, I just think you’re not very smart if that’s your analysis.”

    Easy to say, but can you prove you’re smarter?

    Perry thinks I’m ‘disingenuous’ because I’m saying things he believes are untrue but in a way that sounds reasonable and that he can’t think of a valid argument against. So I must be using trickery and deception somehow. Is that smart?

    You’re saying I’m not smart, but presenting no statistics or reasoning to explain how and why. Anyone can do that. People did it to Einstein, when he came up with that idiot ‘special relativity’ theory. Is that smart?

    What you really mean is “We don’t believe you. We don’t know how you did it, but those conclusions cannot be true.”

    OK. I can’t argue with that sort of thing. You believe what you believe. But you still have a problem when we move on to the question of “teachable moments” that the politicians, epidemiologists, and most of the public *do* believe the numbers I’ve mentioned, and they *do* care more about the potential for millions dead than your liberty to go to parties and bars. And they think you’re nuts.

    Which is a bit of a problem for teaching anyone anything. If you start by convincing them you’re not very smart on epidemiology, why should they believe you on economics?

    “People who’ve never heard of Libertarianism, will suddenly make the connection between the death rate of annual influenza and Libertarian ideology.”

    The annual death rate from influenza isn’t half a million people!

    “But fighting for actual liberty right now at this minute for something that is hotly contested – such as opening society for business and life today, before we sink – results in unpopular teachable moments, and turned-off voters, and so must wait until the time is more ripe . . .”

    Auugh!! I’m NOT suggesting we don’t use this opportunity to argue for libertarianism! I’m NOT suggesting we wait! I’m saying that we ought to use arguments that stand a cat in hell’s chance of persuading anybody we’re not crazy conspiracy theorists incapable of understanding simple statistics!

    As I said above:

    On the virus, somebody here mentioned the idea of proper PPE for everyone. Proper airtight, but comfortable masks and face screens, and plastic overalls, and gloves. With that on, you can get as close as you like and be sure of not passing it on. Other solutions I’ve seen floating around are more pervasive use of better disinfection methods (e.g. UV lights), better ventilation systems, setting up business outdoors, opening up warehouses and empty office space to allow people to spread out, development of home IT, robotics, a more organised system of social bubbles, more mobile phone track-and-trace tech, covid detectors that can pick it up airborne, developing better, faster tests that can be used to screen everybody every morning, and so on.

    That was the sort of answer I was expecting – both from the free market and from the people here. But the free market seems to be just sitting around waiting for the government to give them orders, and the people here are just proposing we ignore it and carry on as normal. Hence my other question – why hasn’t the free market approach worked?

    I’m all in favour of “opening society for business and life today”. We just have to find non-statist ways of doing it that don’t kill people.

    “Regardless, I find it more productive to analyse Nullius’ argumentation methods than speculate about what causes them”

    That would be nice!

    “Perry remarks on statists being as ready to accept many dead from their preferred policies as they are to pretend it will be the outcome of policies they oppose – whereupon Nullius pretends that Perry was expressed that readiness.”

    What Perry *said* was:

    My proposal is “stop trying to stop the virus propagating throughout a population that will overwhelmingly survive exposure to it”.

    He doesn’t mention statists here. He doesn’t pretend it was not himself expressing that readiness to accept the resulting dead.

    On being asked how many deaths libertarians accept, he answers the question with another question, which is a common idiomatic formula indicating the answers to the two questions are the same, or at least related. If that wasn’t what he meant, he’s welcome to offer a different number. Since the policy he proposes could result in two million dead, presumably the number is somewhere between two million and tens of millions?

    Or does it mean, as he indicated later, that he wasn’t aware of the numbers/evidence, thought the death total would be much smaller, and thus maybe has a smaller threshold? I don’t know. He didn’t recant from his proposal, so I’m guessing not.

    “Something similar happens in Nullius’ reply below this.”

    Oh yes. You did to Mill what you keep doing to me. You took a piece of an argument by Mill clearly saying that eccentrics and non-conformists should be allowed to speak up against the common line imposed by society because that’s where the best ideas for improvements come from, and somehow bizarrely interpreted it as an argument for elites having legal privileges that the common mass do not! It’s the sort of thing that makes me wonder if we’re both speaking English.

    “(BTW, I also remark apropos of Nullius’ many comments that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.)”

    A man with a clock always knows the time. A man with two clocks is never quite sure…

    I will be interested to see if you are smart enough to work out what I meant by that! 🙂

  • bobby b

    “Auugh!! I’m NOT suggesting we don’t use this opportunity to argue for libertarianism!”

    I actually didn’t have you in mind as I wrote that.

    It was more my frustration that so many “libertarians” see more value in marketing the brand than in fighting for the nuts and bolts of actual liberty.

    It’s a strange attitude to take for people explicitly seeking a lessening of power of “the people” over the people – to push an anti-movement as if it were a movement. Let us do popular and nonthreatening things so that we can build our team so that we might win and thus abolish teams.

    I’m beginning to believe that, in our current society, the only true libertarian is a lone violent anarchist. It takes that much of a sea anchor to make a small course correction of our huge and unwieldy ship.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I actually didn’t have you in mind as I wrote that.”

    In that case I apologise. I may be getting oversensitive!

    “I’m beginning to believe that, in our current society, the only true libertarian is a lone violent anarchist. It takes that much of a sea anchor to make a small course correction of our huge and unwieldy ship.”

    Are we talking about a “true libertarian” or an “effective libertarian” here?

    But if I understand you correctly, I agree. Politics is a trap. Winning popular support is commonly seen as requiring compromise with what’s currently popular.

  • Paul Marks

    How many people will die in Britain alone BECAUSE of the lockdown and general hysteria that was whipped up by the officials and “experts”?

    At least 200 thousand people will die because of this – so the report that was published (essentially leaked) to the Daily Telegraph some time ago.

    They will die of delayed medical treatment (for cancer, heart disease and so on) because people were DELIBERATLY filled with terror (so they would not go to the doctor) – and they will from the ECONOMIC COLLAPSE that is being DELIBERATLY created.

    On top of that there are the people who have died of Covid 19 – more that 43 thousand in the U.K., most of whom could have been saved by EARLY treatment with cheap and well established medications (hydroxychloroquine, zinc sulphate and azithromycin – all, of course, under medical supervision at the correct dosage).

    So that is about 250 thousand people who have died or will die in the United Kingdom alone.

    All for the purpose of paving the way to “Build Back Better”, “Sustainable Development” – the end of “market fundamentalism” (as Klaus Schwab calls what scraps of liberty that still exist).

    Instead their will be a FASICST State “Stakeholder Capitalism” (“Build Back Better”) – not just in the United Kingdom, but in the United States, the Republic of Ireland, and most other countries.

    Such things as Freedom of Speech and real customer CHOICE will be things of the past.

    People are already being censored – as I was today.

    My crime?

    Posting links on Facebook to MEDICAL DOCTORS with long experience and much success in treating Covid 19.

    Think about that. They were not really censoring me – they could not care less about Paul Marks. They were censoring the MEDICAL DOCTORS.

    Why? Because they (the Silicon Valley totalitarians) want to MAXIMISE deaths.

    Mass murder – and for a political purpose, the political purpose being to bring the Build Back Better Corporate State people to power.

    And in two weeks it may all be over – freedom utterly crushed, exterminated.

    For ever. At least none of us will live to see freedom again.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    APL says the 2008 financial crisis was caused by fraud. That’s absurdly simplistic. A whole range of forces were at work, many of them the result of foolish State policies over many years.

    There have always been fraudsters. The issue is why some of them managed to cause so much damage at a particular time. It’s because the incentives and market signals were so distorted that the normal disciplines of bankruptcy, restructuring and profit weren’t allowed to operate.

    NiV’ claims that the herd immunity strategy could have killed up to 1 million. That seems a gross overestimate, particularly if shielding of the vulnerable was a priority. Which could have operated if people were free to take that decision.

    Some commenters seem quite sniffy at my suggestion that this should be an instructive ideological moment. Why the pearl-clutching at this suggestion? We can be sure that statists will try and use this era to push their agendas, so I don’t see why the effort shouldn’t be made in the opposite direction.

    Let’s grow some backbone.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “NiV’ claims that the herd immunity strategy could have killed up to 1 million. That seems a gross overestimate, particularly if shielding of the vulnerable was a priority.”

    “Seems”? Based on what?

    Shielding of the vulnerable was already a priority back in March/April. And people are free to take that decision right now. It’s an obvious commonsense measure people could and should already be taking already, without being compelled, and yet the numbers among the elderly are still going up. What makes you think it can be done? And how do you explain why we’re not already doing it?

    This is the same problem we saw with the NASA managers in the previous thread. The engineers provide numbers and graphs to show how it’s really, really dangerous. The managers provide a “seems” to argue that must be a gross overestimate. Why? How do they know? Where are the managers’ numbers? Where are they getting their engineering knowledge and certainty from?

    “Some commenters seem quite sniffy at my suggestion that this should be an instructive ideological moment.”

    I think it’s a wonderful idea! If the problem is that the O-rings don’t work in cold weather, let’s invent some that do, or pre-heat the rocket before launch, or find a new way to seal the joints. Put the question out there, get some competition and innovation going. There are always lots of better alternatives to the centralised ‘command economy’ legislative solution.

    There’s plenty of ideological instructiveness to be had from this situation. But we’re not taking it. We’re instead trying to tell people that there’s really no danger, as if we were unable to think of a freedom-respecting non-statist solution either, and therefore were forced to deny the problem’s existence in order to avoid having to admit that. Definitely weird.

    C’mon. Think of it as a hypothetical case, if you need to. We’ve had the PPE suggestion. Doesn’t anyone have any more?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Shielding of the vulnerable was already a priority back in March/April.

    Shame it did not remain that way, instead of “burn the village in order to save it” approach.

    And people are free to take that decision right now.

    Indeed they are. But others are not free to live their lives as they wish. You left that bit out.

    There are always lots of better alternatives to the centralised ‘command economy’ legislative solution.

    Which is what I said in my OP.

    There’s plenty of ideological instructiveness to be had from this situation.

    Which is what I said in my OP.

    But we’re not taking it. We’re instead trying to tell people that there’s really no danger, as if we were unable to think of a freedom-respecting non-statist solution either, and therefore were forced to deny the problem’s existence in order to avoid having to admit that.

    Who is this “we”? And speak for yourself. I don’t minimize the danger (just as I don’t overplay it, either). My point is that bottom-up, decentralised solutions that work with the grain of open societies tend to work much better, and the evidence is around us to that effect.

    If you have suggestions, provide them.

  • APL

    Johnathan Pearce: “APL says the 2008 financial crisis was caused by fraud. That’s absurdly simplistic.”

    But true. Which is the salient point.

    Johnathan Pearce: “There have always been fraudsters.”

    True.

    Yes, it was a failure of government, too. But only in the sense that the government institutions set up to police the financial services sector were negligent if not complicit.

    And yes, the government did pretty much the worst thing it could have done after the crash, prop up RBS & BOS. RBS alone cost around 100bn in the ten years following its collapse. And BoS practically destroyed a ‘sound-ish’ bank like Lloyds. But then, Gordon Brown’s calculation that £40bn was a price worth the rest of us paying to keep his Parliamentary seat.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    APL, the problem here is that everyone wants to turn a complex situation in to a narrative of evil people over here, and good guys trying to track them down, over there. The problem is that hardly any of the crisis can be explained by active criminality, since the sort of practices going on were largely legal.

    We had a housing market in the US and certain other places where rules of lending were relaxed by political decisions (the role of GSAs such as Freddie Mac, etc, etc); central bank thinking was that the “new economy” meant that interest rates could be much lower than previously thought without triggering inflation (Alan Greenspan’s mistake), and too-big-to-fail assumptions among bankers led them to take their eyes off the ball (made even worse by conflicts of interest among rating agencies and accountants, and inflamed by capital rules that encouraged banks to shuffle their balance sheets).

    This is what caused the 2008 fuck-up. Fraud was brought to light (Madoff, most notably) and some unpleasant, foolish men were exposed as reckless (Fred Goodwin, others), but criminality was not really what the crisis hinged around. That, unfortunately, does not make for great newspaper copy or political speeches.

  • APL

    Johnathan Pearce: “the problem here is that everyone wants to turn a complex situation in to a narrative of evil people over here, and good guys trying to track them down, over there.”

    That’s your strawman, Johnathan. There were too many involved for me to say any one of them were ‘evil’.

    Do you agree that fraud was committed by several numerous actors in the financial services sector?

    I’m not attributing evil motive to those actors, simply a desire to get rich coinciding with the opportunity of lax controls to realize that desire. Many people might fall victim to such temptation.

    Then for example Tyco executive, Dennis Kozlowski was not the only such corrupt senior executive.

    You know what they say, ‘a fish rots from the head’.

    Johnathan Pearce: “We had a housing market in the US and certain other places where rules of lending were relaxed by political decisions “

    Relaxed rules is one thing. Turning a blind eye when sub par loans were packaged to the extent that they formed the majority tranche in a securities instrument, is quite another, you might call putting ‘dog shit’ mortgage loans into a security then representing it as AAA, ‘relaxing the rules, I’ll call it what it is, fraud, then ‘misrepresentation’ when selling that security as AAA. Fraud condoned by the seniors in the financial institutions. William Black called it [lack of] ‘control’ fraud.

    Johnathan Pearce: “(Alan Greenspan’s mistake)”

    Mistake? You are far too generous.

    In my opinion Greenspan is where the rot really got into the structural timbers. The last decent Fed chairman was Volcker.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    APL, you suggested the issue ultimately was about fraud. So I pushed back to show why that’s a gross simplification.

    A desire to exploit the rules isn’t proof of fraud. Bad laws creat bad incentives. The law of unintended consequences.

    The knowing sale of trash is indeed fraud. But as I said, a lot can be explained by the conflicts of interest inherent in the system that accumulated. If you can prove breach of fiduciary rules that is an issue, although largely a civil rather than criminal one.

    It may induce a warm glow of moral satisfaction to put heads on spikes, but that rarely deals with the underlying problem.

  • APL

    Johnathan Pearce: “It may induce a warm glow of moral satisfaction to put heads on spikes, but that rarely deals with the underlying problem.”

    Er no. That’s is the problem. Putting ‘heads on spikes’ ( metaphorically speaking ) would have acted as a disincentive to fraudulent behavior. Pretty much the whole purpose of the criminal justice system.

    The fact that hardly anyone, to this day, has been held responsible charged or ‘paid the price’*, has ensured that that type of behavior has not been disincentivised.

    But in so far as only a handful of people have been prosecuted, illustrates to me, that, yes, governments have been culpable.

    * The fines that we periodically hear have been imposed on a company, are essentially treated as a cost of doing business. Rarely does an individual corporate officer get penalized, the cost of wrongdoing falls on the shareholders or customers. Talk about those perverse incentives!

  • neonsnake

    The failures so far of government over issues such as test and trace, and the chopping and changing of direction, with the current 3-tired restriction system, are surely examples of the folly of state central planning

    Agreed, and I think the principle of the “teachable moment” question is sound. Those particular failures are well worth highlighting.

    I guess my question would be (and apologies if this has been answered in the 55 comments above mine!), what particular features of libertarianism do you want to highlight?

    And by that, I mean “positive” ones.

    I think it’s very easy to point to the failures, but I’ve yet to see a “libertarian” solution to COVID.

    Actually – to be fair, I’ve seen two.

    The first is to say that it’s not that bad, so we should have just carried on as normal (to a greater or lesser extent, with some fuzziness round the edges, certainly), and people should assess their own risk. Sound enough under normal circumstances, but in a pandemic, it means that people aren’t deciding what risks they’re willing to carry themselves, they’re deciding what risks they’re willing to make other people carry. So, that approach is out of the window. That’s the “err, we can’t think of a solution, so let’s just pretend the problem doesn’t exist!” thing that NiV (accurately) mentions.

    The second is to shield the vulnerable. I see this a lot, and I want to be clear: 99.9999% of people who are saying it are absolutely coming at it from a morally sound position. However, shielding essentially means that the vulnerable in our society (not just elderly, but people with underlying conditions that would otherwise be able to lead “normal” lives) are forced to imprison themselves for an indefinite amount of time, not coming within 2m of their loved ones, until we have a vaccine. On the plus side, everyone else gets to go to the pub or the footie with their mates. Now, YMMV, but I’m not okay with asking (telling?) people who already have vulnerabilities that their lives need to be put on hold because I want to go to the pub with me mates. It’s the inverse of “woman and children first”. Again – to be clear, I’m not having a pop at anyone, I just think that people haven’t thought through the implications of “shielding”, and I only have because I’ve seen it up close.

    So, I’d actually steer clear of “this is a libertarian solution to COVID”, because it’s not possible under current circumstances to come up with one. We’d need to have already been living in a more libertarian society than we do, for a libertarian solution to be effective, and the people you’re trying to teach are going to glaze over if you try to describe it.

    Instead:

    Focus on the positive aspects to start with. Steer clear of the abstract economic stuff, and focus on things that people recognise.

    For example, a lot of us, being libertarians, were no doubt heavily involved in mutual aid groups – nothing complex, just walking up and down your street, or round your apartment block, and getting a whatsapp group going. Identifying who was most vulnerable, who was likely to be isolated from their family, and making sure everyone was being looked after. Checking on your elderly neighbour, or the bloke with the disability, or whoever was struggling. Taking over a casserole now and again, that kind of thing, if someone had lost their job. Mowing people’s lawns for them, working out who had the breadmaker, hedge trimmer, sewing machine, and generally looking out for one another.

    When the supply chains looked brittle and fragile back in April, focus on the folks who contacted the farms, and were bulk buying, forming food co-ops, and doing the work of driving, buying and distributing food to the members who couldn’t get to the shops.

    That kind of thing is really easy to “sell”, and shows a more libertarian devolved approach to problem solving, than, say the “Boris Boxes”, which sent bread to people with gluten allergies, and dairy to the lactose intolerant. It laid the responsibility at the door of the people who could make a difference, and inherently ensured that people got what they needed, not what some central planning office decided was best.

    (that’s just a few examples, I’m sure others can think of more)

    Then, on the negative, I’d talk about regulations: again, I’d keep it “real”, not abstract.

    Lots of people have lost their jobs, or been furloughed, and have turned to cottage industries to make ends meet (which is great, and is libertarian in and of itself!) – but are being met with regulatory burdens. As a for instance, even making and selling food to your neighbours requires all sorts of paperwork, from being able to trace supply of food to having constantly updated tick-boxes of your hygiene practices and so on. It’s not enormously onerous, but I spend more hours a week with paper and pen than with pan and spatula.

    Then, I’d maybe talk about what “Living with the virus” actually means.

    There’s some confusion here: a lot of people mean “let’s pretend it doesn’t exist, and go about our lives as before”. That’s not going to win people over when an overwhelming majority are very concerned about the virus. So, you meet them where they are.

    Instead, it should mean: how do we live, knowing there’s a virus that exists and is potentially very dangerous? So this is where solutions come in (libertarian or not). Perspex screens between outdoor tables? Seems sensible. How do we get back to be able to going to gigs (suggestions welcome) and so on. How do we *live* with a virus amongst us? Not just being locked down and shut away? Because we can’t continue as we are, certainly, but the old normal is done and dusted for the foreseeable future.

    I’m beginning to believe that, in our current society, the only true libertarian is a lone violent anarchist

    Oh, you! *flutters eyelashes coquettishly*

    *smirks*

    It was more my frustration that so many “libertarians” see more value in marketing the brand than in fighting for the nuts and bolts of actual liberty.

    More seriously – I might be misunderstanding, but are you talking about “hills to die on”?

    I *do* believe in marketing, in a way. If I’m trying to win someone over, there’s stuff I’ll talk about – that’s important to them – and stuff I probably won’t.

    There’s a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t get agitated about, or won’t bring up of my own accord, because what’s important to me isn’t strictly what’s important to others (that’s not a criticism, by the way, just a note that everyone has – of course! – different priorities).

    Get them to agree on the obvious stuff first. Then, start sneaking in the rest.

    To repeat my old trope – in practice – that generally means starting with “civil” liberties – then move on to “also, while we’re at it, it’s crap, isn’t it, that your mate can’t sell home-made lemonade without all sorts of licences and stuff?”

    C’mon. Think of it as a hypothetical case, if you need to. We’ve had the PPE suggestion. Doesn’t anyone have any more?

    What are yours?

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Putting ‘heads on spikes’ ( metaphorically speaking ) would have acted as a disincentive to fraudulent behavior. Pretty much the whole purpose of the criminal justice system.

    Where fraud can be proven in a court of law, I have no problem with that happening. Fraud and theft and so on are already crimes. The problem is that much of the behaviour that people object to is not strictly fraud but actions that people thinka are terrible, rather like aggressive forms of tax avoidance (as opposed to evasion, which is a crime).

    If people who run banks fear that business decisions that some think are dodgy, but not specifically illegal, are condemned, then no sane person will want to run a bank. The laws should be clear, consistent, and few. (Another topic for another day is that in my view insider dealing should be a civil, not a criminal, matter.)

  • APL

    Johnathan Pearce: “If people who run banks fear that business decisions that some think are dodgy, but not specifically illegal, are condemned, then no sane person will want to run a bank.”

    Stop it Johnathan, I’m getting all weepie.

    Fact is, we’re no where near that scenario, since the queue of people lining up to get to the plush top slots in the FIs shows no sign of letting up.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fact is, we’re no where near that scenario, since the queue of people lining up to get to the plush top slots in the FIs shows no sign of letting up.

    C-suite figures in major banks are increasingly bureaucrats, mouthing the various platitudes of the day. (I work in the sector, so I see this all the time.) That’s what happens when the folk running banks are threatened with fines and punishments (not necessarily jail) not so much for breaking a criminal law but for doing something that a politician/regulator deems immoral or even risky. Anyone with any entrepreneurial energy would never go a mile of a bank as a career. And that is exactly what is happening.

    The solution is not to demand lots of people whom one disapproves of to be clapped in irons, but to change the incentives, and where necessary, structures such as around limited liability. (A whole topic in itself.)

    Anyway, we are off topic a bit by now, and I am leaving this here.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Neonsake:

    With shielding, it has to be ultimately a decision for its purported beneficiaries. A vulnerable person (not necessarily elderly) who has an issue, such as auto-immune problems, or Type 2 diabetes, etc, should be given the choice about how much shielding they need. The libertarian approach is that the risks are for these folk to judge, and to respect their choices. With minors, parents may be entitled to intervene; with aged people suffering cognitive decline and where there is a lasting power of attorney empowering a guardian, such a judgement may rest with another.

    There is not or should be a “libertarian position on COVID” any more than a “libertarian position on opera music”. What I think here is that I come to this topic with a set of tests: does this approach protect individual autonomy as much as possible? Does it work with the grain of open societies and liberties of the individual? Does it harness, where possible, voluntary co-operation? Does it respect and if possible even enhance, autonomy and choice? Are citizens informed and able to have plenty of input into what is going on?

  • I think the principle of the “teachable moment” question is sound. Those particular failures are well worth highlighting. I guess my question would be (and apologies if this has been answered in the 55 comments above mine!), what particular features of libertarianism do you want to highlight? (neonsnake, October 21, 2020 at 3:43 pm)

    Neonsnake’s examples are good points – mild, kind to do, and easy to illustrate why government solutions are not always best. And I’d agree there are some possibilities for teachable moments.

    However (taking neonsnake’s jocular rejection of bobby b’s jocular “lone anarchist” seriously for a moment 🙂 ), I advise recognising the effect of our being libertarians, not anarchists. We believe the state is medicine, not food; like Burke, the Federalist papers and others, we think this dangerous, occasionally-kill-or-cure potion is nevertheless sometimes necessary – otherwise we’d call ourselves anarchists. How many of us would denounce, without qualification, Britain’s imposing conscription in WWII to defeat Hitler? Likewise, how many of us would insist that a true pandemic, as lethal as the Black Death or more, would offer no scope for a legitimate act of government?

    So we need to recognise – and not always as a disadvantage – that a pandemic is somewhat neutral ground for us.

    – We can point out that the Chinese state acted to protect itself at the expense of its citizens safety (and of ours). We can point out (to the small number in the UK that follow US news) that US states that treated the virus as a crisis not to be wasted sometimes gave away their true agenda in the crudest terms, and also did worse than those that tried to preserve liberty. We can point out that the UK instructions went from “science says masks are pointless” to “science says thou shalt wear masks”, and in many other ways were never wrong but often changed what they were not wrong about. And here in Scotland, we can laugh at Sturgeon’s obvious

    “Anything you lockdown, I’ll lockdown harder.
    Your confused 3 tiers meet my confused 5 tiers.
    Your phone-app’s blocked when my phone app is active.
    … ” (Etc. etc., etc.)

    – We can also argue cogently that this pandemic is a less dangerous than was understandably thought at first. But that is an empirical question. People who accept it may then accept that not only is government prejudiced (like the rest of us) against learning that it was wrong but it is particularly averse to learning it was less needed even when it was needed a bit. But the empirical realisation/discussion comes first. An elderly group I talked to recently were very aware that people over 90 still had a three-in-four change of surviving the bug (and not huge odds of surviving many things at that age) and cared about quality of life. That kind of awareness is growing – and in discussion we can recognise that someday a virus whose PR is less far ahead of its reality might appear, and by thus being reasonable maybe at least get more people to think that libertarian habits sweeten the medicine of government.

  • neonsnake

    mild, kind to do, and easy to illustrate why government solutions are not always best.

    Always remember – you’re talking to Mark from Purchase Ledger and Sophie from Marketing. Meet them where they are.

    😉

    (taking neonsnake’s jocular rejection of bobby b’s jocular “lone anarchist” seriously for a moment

    I’d reject the “lone”, and somewhat awkwardly, I know, the “violent” ( 😉 ), but for the rest – “our being libertarians, not anarchists” – in, an uncharacteristically non-PC sentence for me – “speak for yourself, paleface”

    😉

    We believe the state is medicine, not food

    What do you mean? Genuine question, I don’t understand the difference.

  • We believe the state is medicine, not food

    What do you mean? Genuine question, I don’t understand the difference. (neonsnake, October 22, 2020 at 5:22 pm)

    The remark is not original to me: ‘medicine, not food’ is a common way of distinguishing between something you naturally want in and of itself and something you would rather not need, and take only because the alternative of not doing so is believed to be worse. Specifically,

    – Food: something humans require routinely to stay alive and healthy, and typically enjoy eating.

    – Medicine: something humans require when they are unwell, which ideally cures them so they no longer require it. Often attended with unfortunate side-effects.

    “speak for yourself, paleface”

    The version I know is, “Why do you say ‘we’, white man?” (to be said in a Hollywood-film Red Indian accent). 🙂 I guess ‘paleface’ makes the intended ethnicity of the speaker clearer when typing, but ‘speak for yourself’ sounds less like what a Red Indian would say unless very acculturated to the white men from whom he would separate himself.

  • Snorri Godhi

    There is not or should be a “libertarian position on COVID” any more than a “libertarian position on opera music”.

    Amen to that!

    I do not demand in any way that other people agree with my negative attitude to opera music.

  • This opens with a tragic human interest story – four newborns die in Oz because of ChiComCold travel restrictions – and ends with a brief (story-relevant) shout-out to Bastiat’s essay “That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen”.

    I suggest it is a kind of answer to the OP question, in the sense that any members of the public who are just as keen on statism after reading it as they were before seem unlikely to be swayed by the more usual kind of teachable moments offered by lockdowns.

  • neonsnake

    The remark is not original to me: ‘medicine, not food’ is a common way of distinguishing between something you naturally want in and of itself and something you would rather not need,

    It’s a very odd formulation. Not being familiar with the original source, I can only assume I’m missing some nuance, since food is something one needs every day (regardless of the point that, yes, it can be enjoyable), and medicine is something needed occasionally – but needed with the same (perchance more) urgency as food.

    It feels like you’re alluding (consciously or not) to min-archism over an-archism. Libertarian min-archism is a practical stance, and one with a very long and illustrious history, from Nozick on one side to Henry George and the LVT+UBI crowds on the other (I side with George, if push comes to shove).

    “Why do you say ‘we’, white man?”

    That’s the one: same intent, albeit I paraphrased. I was possibly conflating Lone Ranger and Lucky Luke. Point being: broad church and libertarianism encompasses a lot of schools of thought.

    Indeed, if it didn’t, then the word itself is a misnomer.

  • bobby b

    (In the US, it’s “who’s “we”, Kemo Sabe?“)

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