We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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I wonder what future generations may say?

People in years to come will speculate on the reasons why so many developed countries went for lockdowns, and on such a scale and for so long. The economic, social, cultural and psychological damage is so great that future generations will wonder at the insanity. There are going to be a lot of ruminations on this in future, so here are some brief thoughts from yours truly:

Technology reduced the costs to certain classes of lockdown: A lot of people, myself included, have been able to work from home and run a profitable business. Modern tech tools have enabled this to happen. It is fashionable to rag on Big Tech and all the gadgets we have, but they have been crucial. Before the internet, this would not have been so possible. And I suspect the government pre-internet could not have got away with long lockdowns. Infrastructure is important.

Central bank Quantitative Easing (creating money from thin air by buying assets): This has inoculated (geddit?) governments from the fiscal short-term consequences of lockdowns. UK debt now exceeds GDP for the first time since the end of WW2. Central bank fairy dust reduces the pain. Since the 2008 financial crash, much of the developed world has been on a morphine drip. It is addictive. Mainstream economists, even those who profess to support free markets, think this is okay. But at some point the wheels will come off.

The mainstream media: Much of the modern media is full of people who are college/university-educated, and have imbibed much of the Big Government/Precautionary Principle mindset. Nearly all of the MSM criticism of governments during the pandemic has been about them not being even more harsh. There are some dissenting voices, but generally quite marginal. This has created a climate in which governments operate.

There is a natural fund of goodwill (although it is eroding) towards most governments trying to cope. Several senior figures such as Mr Johnson got very ill. There is natural sympathy.

The role of social media platforms will be analysed in how views and panics spread. In fairness, I have seen a lot of examples of contrarian points of view, including some nutty stuff, so I am not so sure how big an “enabler” social media is.

Fear of death: although it is too glib to say that the decline of mainstream religious belief opens the doors to paranoia about death, since people with a secular, philosophical view of the world can face mortality, it clearly must be a factor. Again, preventing death, even if it means creating a living hell, seems a bargain a lot of people are willing to take.

Trust in vaccines: modern science appears to be quicker at coming up with cures and treatments, and we have the growing field of genetics etc to thank for this. A paradox of this is that it means people are even more cautious because they don’t want to put health at risk if there is a vaccine along the way.

31 comments to I wonder what future generations may say?

  • Stonyground

    Technology is one of my favourite aspects of modern life. I’m still quite boggled by the fact that the Spotify app on my phone installed a little control panel on my watch. That and the way that it automatically hooks up with the car stereo when I get in and drive off.

    On the Covid thing, there seems to be a general agreement that the government haven’t a clue what they are doing, combined with a moral duty to try to obey the rules. The inherent contradiction doesn’t seem to bother people. I think that, in the absence of a vaccine, the thing would have been best left to run its course while trying to protect vulnerable people. Providing that the vaccines turn out to be safe and effective, it does make some sense to try to slow the spread until those that want to be can be immunised.

  • John Lewis

    Several of Jonathan’s points contributed towards the (to me) surprising level of overt public support for the nhs. People were scared and the old trope about it being the new national religion was seen to have more than a grain of truth.

    I doubt people will be clapping in the streets again but the residual memory of that time is helping our leaders spin out the “don’t let the nhs become overwhelmed” mantra while peer pressure prevents widespread questioning of this misguided and increasingly harmful policy. All but the most wilfully ignorant now know that the cost to the nations health and finances is already off the scale and will continue to worsen for at least the next 3-6 months.

  • Deep Lurker

    The economic, social, cultural and psychological damage is so great that future generations will wonder at the insanity.

    Not insanity. Evil.

    Evil seeking a “final solution” to the kulaks – to the bitter clingers, the deplorables, the brexit supporters, the revolting uppity peasants. They hate us and they want to kill us.

  • John Lewis (December 24, 2020 at 9:55 am), my 0.02p on your comment FWIW.

    Over and above the pro-NHS propaganda and so on, the fact that

    “Those on average incomes are less likely to express political views to send signals; political views are much less important for signalling to one’s immediate in-group when you are on 20k a year.”

    cuts both ways.

    In 1947, British people knew how they would handle health problems. Today, it is not just that many cannot imagine how that worked for the working class. It is that for many (though few on this blog, I am guessing), their only realistic health care choices for sudden serious illness are the NHS or the NHS. They know it’s there, so they live up to the not-so-lavish incomes left after taxes or provided by the state. Just as the poor are more in danger from crimes like burglary or theft, because they lack reserves to cushion the loss, so they are are more in danger from ill-health episodes.

    It is in principle illogical to reject just criticism (e.g. of the NHS) because it does not come with an obvious promptly-realisable alternative, but it is in practice human nature for many.

    The NHS is there and obviously nothing else is going to address any immediate nation-wide health issue. In the same way, the army can get a lot of support when a war starts, even if they were little thought of beforehand and much grumbled about during it, because in both cases it is too late to rebuild things from the ground up and address the problem via some new organisation.

    People will turn against the lockdowns before they turn against the NHS over here – and people will turn against the lockdowns in the USA before they turn against them here.

  • Dr Evil

    These lockdowns are to take pressure off the various healthcare systems. We have too few beds in the UK.

  • JohnK

    We had large scale Asian flu epidemics in 1957 and 1968, largely forgotten now. In both, tens of thousands died, but life went on.

    The thing then was that currencies operated on Bretton Woods lines. Exchange rates were fixed against the US Dollar, which was fixed at $35 per ounce of gold.

    Because of this, governments could not do QE. It was impossible. So lockdowns were impossible too. The British government in 1957 or 1968 could not just order the Bank of England to issue billions in unbacked cash. Money then still had a relationship to something real and external to itself, in this case gold. That is why we kept on having balance of payments crises back then. We needed real money to buy things from abroad, not banana republic money backed by fresh air.

    Ironically, 1968 was the year that Bretton Woods started to come apart, when General de Gaulle insisted on payment in actual gold bullion from the USA, and sent a cruiser to New York to pick it up. Faced with the demands of the Vietnam War, the Great Society and a reluctance to raise taxes to pay for them, President Nixon shut the gold window “temporarily” in August 1971. It has stayed slammed shut ever since.

  • John B

    ‘ People in years to come will speculate on the reasons why so many developed countries went for lockdowns, and on such a scale and for so long.’

    Or… they will have been brain washed to believe lockdown the normal situation necessary to stop climate change, save the Planet, save the NHS, just as now people accept causing offense is a crime, and freedom of speech should go only so far, and that Socialism is better than Capitalism because it delivers social justice and equality.

  • Jacob

    “what future generations may say?”
    Why invoke thus silly rhetoric? Nobody is spokesman for “future generations” (neither for THIS generation). If you wish to know: I don’t give a damn what “future generations” will say, I won’t be around, it does not matter.
    I propose to ban any mention of “THE FUTURE”. Total ban. The future is unknowable and therefore uninteresting.

    As to whether lockdowns make sense or are just a crazy excess of totalitarian-inclined leaders-madmen (of our generation) – that is indeed a good question.
    That “our leaders” are stark mad – that is obvious. You need go no further than the “net zero emissions” or “green new eel” legislation and rhetoric.
    Why would it surprise anyone that a “net zero” nutter would like the idea of lockdowns ?

    By the way: lockdowns do indeed reduce contagion and mortality from covid. The question stands if this reduction justifies the damage. Second question is: aren’t there any individual rights? Can governments violate human rights without any limitation?

  • Why invoke thus silly rhetoric?

    Then don’t reply to the article. Seriously, your reply is asinine.

  • Philippe Hermkens

    Basically because the people now in charge Wall Street Silicon Valley the big Universities and Media the CCP want to stay in charge for ever with the excuses of Covid 19 and all the catastrophic economic consequences of this disease
    It is the only possible explanation
    I can’t believe that our masters have such a level of incompetence

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jacob, what’s the problem with speculating what future generations will think of our actions? It’s a good way to frame debate in some ways. Go and have a drink. Sounds like you need one.

  • Paul Marks

    “the future is uninteresting” – Jacob that is something a man says when he has given up all hope, even I have not reached the stage of “after me the deluge”, of being totally uninterested in the future. True both of us will be dead soon – but that does not mean that we should have no interest in the future, and I am sure that you DO care about the future (that what you have typed here does not fully reflect your thoughts upon the matter).

    I may be a sentimental old fool, but on the walk I had today when I noticed young people I was deeply concerned for them. They seemed so happy, so full of life, and yet they are going to suffer so much – it was almost unbearable to think about it.

    The Keynesian regimes of this world have destroyed the future of these young people – this is a terrible, a despicable, thing for them to have done. Everything that has been done in many countries has been wrong – wrong economically AND wrong in terms of public health. Even basic things such as the EARLY TREATMENT OF THE SICK have been savagely neglected – although what medicines to use has been known since at least March.

    I still hope that, somehow, total collapse can be avoided – for in a country this densely populated total collapse would mean starvation.

    TECHNOLOGY may be the answer – already technology means that polices that in any other age would have led to starvation (make no mistake government spending and regulations at this level would have led to starvation in any other age) can be tolerated – at least for a time.

    But eventually sound money and honest finance must return – for not even the wonders of technology can make 2+2=5.

    As for the international establishment will their dark plans – their totalitarian “sustainable development” and “inclusive capitalism”, for which they have used Covid 19 as a EXCUSE.

    Well after Christmas comes Easter – death and judgement, and there may be justice after death for those who escape justice in this life.

    Of course they laugh at that – including the “religious leaders” among the international establishment, who have long ago “reinterpreted” religion to mean Collectivist “Social Justice” with a “Social Gospel” that denies the individual soul and individual life after physical death. However, even if atheism is correct – they will NOT win in the end.

    I repeat – 2+2 does NOT make 5.

    Not all the powers of the IMF, World Bank, United Nations, World Economic Forum, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, can make it do so.

    The Collectivist plans of Klaus Schwab and co will fail – just as the plans of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and all the rest of them, failed.

  • Bruce Hoult

    I was living in San Francisco and returned to New Zealand at the end of March after being laid off.

    It’s just astounding to me what’s been happening in the UK and USA. Both countries have severely pissed off the population with ongoing restrictions that are strong enough to cause severe (and unevenly distributed) economic hardship, but at the same time not strong enough to control the virus.

    UK and USA currently both stand at around 1 death per 1000 people. Sweden which has not infringed on the rights of their population to anywhere near the same extent is currently at 1 in 1250. (Though this may change with the current surge)

    NZ has protected the population (not the health service) by eliminating the virus with a very strong 33 day lockdown in March and April followed by a weaker (don’t go to another city) 16 day lockdown. By May 14 we were back at work, free to travel anywhere, everything was open as usual — and the country was COVID-free. And that’s how things have remained for more than seven months. There have been a couple of infections that got past the border quarantine and needed mopping up — including an outbreak in August that caused Auckland (only) to stay home from work and not leave the city for 18 days. That cost 180 cases and 3 deaths. NZ is now at almost 1800 cases total (500 or so of which were in border quarantine facilities) and 25 deaths — 1 death per 200,000 population.

    The economic damage in the June quarter was quite large, but the economy has recovered almost totally, being only 3% below pre-COVID in the September quarter. In the first three quarters of 2020 the overall drop in the economy is 5.1%. This is, I believe, the best result in any Western nation. The UK is down something like 20% I think.

    All cause mortality is actually down in 2020.

    In a normal winter there are 5000 positive flu tests from people sick enough to get one, and 400 to 500 deaths. This year there were 6 positive flu tests and no deaths.

    Again, there have been fewer than 1800 people test positive for COVID and 25 deaths.

    So it’s not as if flu deaths have been labeled as COVID instead. They have simply disappeared.

    Hospitals have been open and treating cancer and heart disease and so forth just the same as normal.

    I’m currently at a family Christmas gathering with 61 people over three generations — just as we normally do every second year. There aren’t many places you can do that this year.

    I have two main criticisms of the handling of COVID in NZ so far:

    – the government waited three or four weeks too long in March before acting. There were already 200 cases and increasing rapidly — and the first death. If action had been taken immediately there was a confirmed case (in late February) then probably the severe 33 day lockdown could have been avoided or at least shortened considerably — and maybe 90% of the 22 deaths avoided.

    – the government has been slow to expand the capacity of the quarantine facilities for people entering NZ, resulting in only citizens and residents being able to enter NZ. Only very recently have people started to be able to bring in (married or not) partners who don’t have a residence visa — and then only people from countries whose citizens don’t normally need a visa. This affects me personally as I’d like to be able to bring a partner here who I met when I lived in Russia.

    Australia was doing very similarly to NZ until they were lax in dealing with an outbreak in Melbourne in July. Despite that they’re still only at one death in 28,000. The current outbreak in Sydney seems to be under control.

    Like Aus and NZ, the UK is also an island. There is no good reason the UK couldn’t have had similar outcomes and 1) preserved public health, 2) preserved the economy, 3) preserved personal freedom as NZ and Aus have.

    Instead the UK seems to have achieved the worst result in the world along *every* axis.

  • David Norman

    Bruce. The situation in NZ looks good now but the consequence of the policies is that the population has next to no herd immunity and is ripe for infection if and when the virus does get through. Of course vaccinations could come to your aid if your government gets the timing of the rollout right.

    The UK could have done a lot better than it did by making use of the fact that it is an island but I’m not sure it could have done what NZ did as successfully. It is much closer to its neighbours and is of course a major travel hub.

  • Jon Eds

    – It seems unlikely to me that the average person will value safety less and liberty more, than the current generation.
    – It is not necessarily the case that they will be less religious, such things go in cycles, so may fear death more or less than us.
    – With the benefit of hindsight I expect that they will judge our leadership as exceptionally poor. I can’t imagine anything else.

    If you have extremely low risk tolerance you might consider the governments of New Zealand and similar places to have acted competently. Maybe they did by their own yard stick. But, to me, these are authoritarian dictatorships.

    It is not ‘bring me liberty or bring me death, but ‘bring my liberty and death’. You can’t have the former without a healthy disregard for the latter.

  • APL

    Jacob: “The future is unknowable and therefore uninteresting.”

    On the contrary, it is because it is unknowable, that it is interesting.

    Jacob: “That “our leaders” are stark mad – that is obvious. “

    Western leaders, if you believe in democracy, are drawn from the population at large ( at least in theory ). So that comment rather damns us all.

    I do think, in the light of COVID-19 hysteria, would should take a good long hard (and critical) look at some (UK) institutions.

    The NHS – obviously unfit for purpose.
    The BBC – an agent of foreign interference.
    Overpaid professional politicians.

  • Bruce Hoult

    “Next to no herd immunity” isn’t a thing. Herd Immunity is a Boolean quantity — you have it or you don’t. Infected people either come into contact with enough non-immune people to on average infect more than one other person, or they don’t.

    No country has yet achieved herd immunity, including Sweden.

    Even if in another year or two years NZ gives up and accepts the virus into our shores, I can’t see how what would happen then would be worse than what the UK has already had. At minimum there will have been several years more development of methods of treating the sick effectively, at maximum there might be safe and effective vaccines.

    In the meantime our economy has been harmed less than anyone else except Taiwan and we have been living free, without masks and without fear.

    Here is my family’s Christmas lunch today


  • David Norman

    Bruce. Well OK but a bit pedantic. Perhaps I should have said that NZ hasn’t even started on the journey towards acquiring herd immunity. Believe me I hope it all goes well for NZ but I do think there are practical drawbacks to the approach it has taken – these are of course apart from the issues of liberty that Jon Eds mentions.

  • Mr Ed

    Conclusions to be drawn:

    1. There is, effectively, no limit to or check on the powers of the British State. The Courts will not uphold in any meaningful way any challenges to the tyrannical State. Parliament is a rubber stamp.

    2. Protest will be very limited and easily contained.

    3. Large businesses will parrot the government line and happily trot out patronising adverts assuring people that they will be ‘safe’ and welcoming them ‘back’.

    4. The media will in the main, egg on the State, and only criticise it for not being harsh enough. The opinions of government scientists can be passed off as ‘science’.

    5. Vast amounts of money can be wasted, businesses and livelihoods destroyed, careers ruined, and people driven to suicide or death by medical neglect, and they count for nothing.

    6. No matter how many people it kills, the NHS can be trotted out as a talisman and many people will clap at the sky for it (and the people who are employed by it).

    7. The political opposition will only complain that they haven’t had the chance to pull the levers.

    8. The conditions are ripe for an enduring tyranny.

  • Bruce Hoult

    We certainly feel we have a lot more liberty here in NZ these last seven months than people in the UK or USA have.

    We can have parties of any size, pubs and restaurants are open and crowded, rugby and cricket sports stadiums are crowded, there are concerts and festivals and weddings and funerals as normal.

  • Paul Marks

    Bruce Hoult – as you know Taiwan has done better than New Zealand, only 7 (seven) dead out of a population of over 20 million people, and no Lockdown.

    However, Taiwan has turned itself into a fortress. Life is free in the inside of the fortress, but travel is essentially cut off.

    As for the vast numbers of dead in many countries – the lack of EARLY TREATMENT is a terrible scandal, it has been known since at least March that a combination of long standing medications is normally effective (if prescribed EARLY), but people are normally left to fester till they have to be taken to hospital – by which time the infection has often spread from the lungs to the body generally, the immune system going crazy. True a lot of people just recover on their own – but Early Treatment cuts hospitalisations by 80%.

    WHY has Early Treatment been neglected – indeed why has it been SMEARED (for example the “Nullius” creature often smeared it) – it is hard not to come the conclusion that the international establishment WANT a lot of deaths, in order to justify their totalitarian agenda of “sustainable development” and “inclusive capitalism”.

    In a just world doctors such as Dr Zev Zelenko would be greatly honoured – in our despicable world he, and other doctors, are persecuted and censored.

  • Paul Marks

    As for insane levels of government spending – only six Senators in the United States Senate have opposed it.

    Six honourable Senators – out of 100 Senators.

    The American Republic is doomed – and the West will die with it. For, without America, the rest of the West can not stand.

  • Chester Draws

    By the way: lockdowns do indeed reduce contagion and mortality from covid.

    No, they don’t — unless they are so strict and so long that it is eradicated and then quarantine put in place to ensure it does not return. Like NZ has done, at the cost of being locked off from the world for nearly a year now, and we won’t be joining any time soon.

    UK-style lockdowns achieve very little at all, for the cost of large amounts of wealth. Since they don’t eradicate the disease, it merely returns once lockdown is over. How could it not? Give me the mechanism whereby lockdowns reduce overall contagion.

    Meanwhile Sweden has passed its second peak of deaths and is quietly slipping down the ranks of “deaths per million”. I say quietly, because the media are very careful not to tell you that. Lots of the countries above them have had multiple lockdowns which have not worked. The curves all look remarkably similar regardless of where in the process lockdown occurs (and in the absolute stupidest places, lockdowns were instituted after the peak, which is just plain nutiness).

    So give me this magic mechanism whereby lockdowns reduce long term contagion.

  • Bruce Hoult

    Yes, I mentioned Taiwan in an earlier message.

    NZ also of course is currently something of a fortress, though travel is possible. A couple I know had to travel from NZ to Moscow in August to sign documents for the sale of a deceased parent’s apartment. They stayed two weeks and then returned to NZ, via the 14 day quarantine at the border of course.

    As I’ve already said, my major beef with the government handling of COVID is not expanding the capacity of the quarantine system quickly enough. There are plenty of people — both citizens and tourists —perfectly willing to pay for their quarantine, if only capacity was sufficient to allow them to travel as they wish.

  • Bruce Hoult

    As you admit, a lockdown suffiently strong to get the r-value well below 1.0 does in fact work. If infectious people (including asymptomatic, which is the problem with COVID) are kept isolated so they can’t infect anyone else, then once they have all recovered (or died) there is virus no more.

    Yes we had a strong lockdown in NZ in late March and April — for only 33 days.

    I consider that infinitely preferable to nine months (and counting) of restrictions strong enough to tire the patience of the population and destroy businesses, but not strong enough to actually eliminate the disease.

  • Jim

    “Like Aus and NZ, the UK is also an island. There is no good reason the UK couldn’t have had similar outcomes and 1) preserved public health, 2) preserved the economy, 3) preserved personal freedom as NZ and Aus have.”

    The reason (though its certainly not good) we couldn’t do that is that we are infested (particularly at higher levels of public administration and media) with Common Purpose Cultural Marxist types who the moment anyone suggested closing the borders in March screamed their usual mantra of ‘Racism!’.

    You in NZ obviously still have adults in charge who are trying to do their best for the NZ public, we in the UK have children in charge who hate the UK public and wish them harm.

  • Paul Marks

    If the governments of Europe had wanted to “eliminate the virus” they first thing they would have done is CLOSE THE BORDERS – as such countries as New Zealand and Taiwan did.

    Remember how “Nullius” was AGAINIST that – he supported the (horribly damaging) “lockdowns”, but he followed the line of OPPOSING closing the borders. He also carried on the cover up and the SMEARING of EARLY TREATMENT.

    Early Treatment has been understood since at least March – for example Early Treatment with the proper dozes of hydroxychloroquine, zinc sulphate and azithromycin (or doxycycline) reduces hospitalisations by 80%.

    Yet it is NOT done. Nor are other medications (for there are alternative Early Treatments) used instead. People are just told to STAY AT HOME – till the infection spreads and, in many cases, becomes untreatable. Certainly many people recover without any medications – but not everyone does, and vast numbers of people have died WHO COULD HAVE SAVED.

    WHO COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED – that is the scandal, but hardly anyone seems to care.

    Honest men, such as Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, are utterly baffled as to why the establishment keeps covering up or SMEARING Early Treatment.

    The logical answer is simple – but terrible.

    The international establishment WANT (yes WANT) very large numbers of people to die of Covid 19 – in order to justify their agenda of “Sustainable Development” and “Inclusive Capitalism” (i.e. the Collectivist Corporate State).

  • SteveD

    Future generations will be too busy generating their own hysterias to give much thought to us.

  • Paul

    What next?

    You think this is the last virus?

    We have made a world where a coughing street cleaner can get on a non-stop Wuhan to Chicago.

    We all go NZ?

  • Bruce: If infectious people (including asymptomatic, which is the problem with COVID) are kept isolated so they can’t infect anyone else

    Maybe asymptomatics really aren’t much of a problem.

  • Jeff Greason

    Let me start by saying clearly that I think the outrageous levels of U.S. Federal government debt are a terrible thing which is going to end very, very badly.


    I have to also acknowledge that people have been saying that for 40 years now, warning of dire consequences, and they have never come. Even in the current U.S. political system, where a Senator has to die before being removed from office (and even then, in some cases, one wonders), there is only one Senator still serving who predates the election of Reagan.

    So for the entire career length of U.S. political figures, water has been running downhill and they have been able to assume it will never reach bottom.

    The rest of the world has remained remarkably willing to loan the U.S government enormous sums of money at low interest and denominated in U.S. dollars, hiding the consequences.

    I believe strongly that this is a case of the person who has jumped off the empire state building passing the 20th floor and saying “fine so far”. But one must, if honest, admit that advocates for fiscal responsibility, myself included, have been predicting disaster for a long time and it hasn’t happened.