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.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The State’s lament: ‘A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened;’

Thus went the UK government’s discussion paper on increasing social distancing on 22nd March 2020.

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.

There were other considerations:

Hong Kong’s experience:

Having a good understanding of the risk has been found to be positively associated with adoption of COVID-19 social distancing measures in Hong Kong

And carrots:

Incentivisation
6. Social approval: Social approval can be a powerful source of reward. Not only can this be provided directly by highlighting examples of good practice and providing strong social encouragement and approval in communications; members of the community can be encouraged to provide it to each other. This can have a beneficial spill-over effect of promoting social cohesion. Communication strategies should provide social approval for desired behaviours and promote social approval within the community.

And of course, coercion, along with ‘social disapproval’:

Coercion
7. Compulsion: Experience with UK enforcement legislation such as compulsory seat belt use suggests that, with adequate preparation, rapid change can be achieved (16). Some other countries have introduced mandatory self-isolation on a wide scale without evidence of major public unrest and a large majority of the UK’s population appear to be supportive of more coercive measures. For example, 64% adults in Great Britain said they would support putting London under a ‘lock down’ (17). However, data from Italy and South Korea suggest that for aggressive protective measures to be effective, special attention should be devoted to those population groups that are more at risk (18). In addition, communities need to be engaged to minimise risk of negative effects. Consideration should be given to enacting legislation, with community involvement, to compel key social distancing measures.

8. Social disapproval: Social disapproval from one’s community can play an important role in preventing anti-social behaviour or discouraging failure to enact pro-social behaviour (15). However, this needs to be carefully managed to avoid victimisation, scapegoating and misdirected criticism. It needs to be accompanied by clear messaging and promotion of strong collective identity. Consideration should be given to use of social disapproval but with a strong caveat around unwanted negative consequences.

So, for us rats in the lab, we can see the experimental parameters. I can’t find the words ‘rights‘, ‘freedom‘, ‘free‘ or ‘liberty‘ anywhere in this document. I can see this, my emphasis in bold, with the lie about people being ‘asked’:

9. Community resourcing: People are being asked to give up valued activities and access to resources for an extended period. These need to be compensated for by ensuring that people have access to opportunities for social contact and rewarding activities that can be undertaken in the home, and to resources such as food. Adequately resourced community infrastructure and mobilisation needs to be developed rapidly and with coverage across all communities (6, 15).

10. Reducing inequity: Adherence to these measures is likely to be undermined by perceived inequity in their impact on different sections of the population, especially those who are already disadvantaged, e.g. those in rented accommodation and those working in precarious employment. Reducing costs of phone calls, data downloads etc. by ‘responsibility deals’ or government subsidies should be considered.

Just in case you don’t think that this is an experiment, there is a reference to methodology including this, but read the whole thing:

The criteria go under the acronym, APEASE (Acceptability, Practicability, Effectiveness, Affordability, Spill-over effects, Equity)

Edit: Just after Paul’s comment, a bit more has just come out, from 25th February 2020, about the risk of disorder, foreseeing a risk of PPE shortage on 25th February 2020, so they knew that they could be short long before they did anything about it:
The last paragraph says it all:

Promote a sense of collectivism: All messaging should reinforce a sense of community, that “we are all in this together.” This will avoid increasing tensions between different groups (including between responding agencies and the public); promote social norms around behaviours; and lead to self-policing within communities around important behaviours.

Discussion point: Don’t lock me down, baby

It seems that the Mekon might be about to be knocked off his levitating chair. Dominic Cummings is in trouble for breaking the lockdown. He joins the epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, for whom the lockdown was no obstacle to pantsdown, in the list of those caught violating the quarantine they urged others to obey. Oh and let us not forget Scotland’s (former) Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, though I must admit I had.

Should Calderwood and Ferguson have resigned? Should Cummings resign now? Are there any principled reasons for differentiating between the three cases, by which I mean principles better than which political parties each of them are associated with?

Samizdata quote of the day

The only thing I want a war on is a war on government wars.

Hector Dummond

Samizdata quote of the day

No country has ever improved the health of its population by making itself poorer.

Dr John Lee.

The signs of the times, they are a-changing…

England may soon have new road signs for pedestrians. We have some new signs coming out, to remind us about ‘social distancing’. Here are the samples taken from the .gov.uk website.

What are these signs for? The UK government’s Department of Transport is clearly playing the long game in short order in the war on freedom and against the private motor vehicle, er.., Covid-19 in England. On Saturday 9th May 2020, guidance came out for local councils (who manage most of the road space) to make changes to road use to facilitate the use of ‘roadspace’ by cyclists and pedestrians. This has been done by providing new ‘guidance’ to local councils on under The Traffic Management Act 2004. So the response to this epidemic is clearly going to be rather more ‘permanent’ than temporary, the government is engaged in not just a reaction to widespread respiratory tract infections and the inability of the NHS to provide health care. Take a look at some of the wording:

“The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.”

“When the country gets back to work, we need them to carry on cycling, and to be joined by millions more. With public transport capacity reduced, the roads in our largest cities, in particular, may not be able to cope without it. We also know that in the new world, pedestrians will need more space. Indications are that there is a significant link between COVID-19 recovery and fitness. Active travel can help us become more resilient.”

A new world, are we on Mars? It goes on:

“We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities. According to the National Travel Survey, in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling.”

Never let a crisis go to waste.

“Active travel is affordable, delivers significant health benefits, has been shown to improve wellbeing, mitigates congestion, improves air quality and has no carbon emissions at the point of use. Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.”

Will those citizens be happier and healthier cycling to work in the cold November rain? Sorry, I assumed that there will be any meaningful jobs left by then. Why haven’t they been cycling already? ‘…no carbon emissions at the point of use…’, really? I think it means ‘carbon dioxide’ of course. But if anyone rides a pushbike and doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, whether immediately or via lactic acid metabolism, they will be dead.‘…lasting local economic benefits…’: Never mind the bigger picture. The bull is big on this and they know it and don’t care.

So all this is what the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Grant Shapps, a sort of Bruce Foxton lookalike, has in mind. He seems to be there to make the rest of the Cabinet look good, and who has a very trustworthy past.

Is, in this ‘new world’, (their words) HS2 going to be viable as this virus will still be deemed a threat in 2030 or whenever it is ready, and the train will be ‘socially-distanced’? Don’t hold your breath, unless you want to reduce carbon emissions.

Whatever the UK Prime Minister says tonight, the UK government is clearly using this situation as an opportunity to regulate ever more closely every aspect of our lives. This is Mr Johnson’s green agenda bursting out into the open, the Khmer Vert with Covid-1984.

Kieren McCarthy criticises the proposed coronavirus contact-tracing app

Here is a link to yesterday’s article by Kieren McCarthy in the Register:

UK finds itself almost alone with centralized virus contact-tracing app that probably won’t work well, asks for your location, may be illegal

Is he right?

Update: Guido Fawkes is also on the case. He is engaged in a vigorous and very public debate with the government, specifically the Department of Health. Earlier he sent this missive their way: 10 Problems With the NHS’s New Coronavirus App. Fair play to them, they did respond, and he has now issued this: NHS App: Rebuttal and Response. (Hat tip to Niall Kilmartin, who independently mentioned this link in the comments.)

“Possible equity issues”

“Coronavirus in Scotland: Parents and children left to struggle after councils ban online teaching”, Helen Puttick of the Times reports.

It seems many private schools in Scotland are using video conferencing and other internet tools to continue to educate pupils while they are in quarantine. Some state schools are doing likewise. But fear not, Scotland’s ever-vigilant local councils have been alerted:

However, a number of councils in Scotland have banned state education via live video interaction. East Dunbartonshire council said: “Streaming live lessons is not recommended at this time due to safeguarding and possible equity issues.” East Renfrewshire said they were “not advocating” the approach. East Lothian and Stirling also cited safeguarding issues. Midlothian council told headteachers: “No platform is considered suitable for interactions involving young people at this time.”

You may send any enquiries as to what “Possible equity issues” might mean by letter or postcard* to:

East Dunbartonshire Council
12 Strathkelvin Place
Kirkintilloch
G66 1TJ

*Enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope if you wish to receive a reply. Please note that the council does not accept owl post as not everyone has owls.

East Dunbartonshire council thanks you for your ongoing understanding and co-operation as we put measures in place to support our children and their families during this difficult time.

A tarantula moulting

It shakes. It convulses. It casts off its old body. It emerges softer and more flexible.

Don’t kid yourself. It’s still a tarantula.

Clare Foges writes in the Times, “We need Big Brother to beat this virus”.

Hands in the air! Step away from the Easter eggs!” The Keystone Coppery of recent weeks has had some people muttering darkly that we are heading the way of a police state. Those who style themselves as defenders of ancient British liberties will soon have bigger fish to fry: the digital surveillance tools that government hopes to use to trace the infected. Prepare for dire warnings of state intrusion and an avalanche of Nineteen Eighty-Four quotes on social media warning that Big Brother is upon us.

Yet if we are to beat a path out of this pandemic without destroying our economy, overblown concerns about threats to our liberties must be countered by pragmatism. To recover some semblance of normality before a vaccine is found, we must accept the need for the state to access more information about ourselves, our health and our whereabouts — and not waste precious weeks arguing about it.

Look east to see how digital surveillance is an integral part of returning to “normal” life. Hong Kong has mandatory tracking wristbands for those in quarantine. In Taiwan the phone-tracking system is known as an “electronic fence”; those who are meant to be in isolation will be visited by the authorities if their phone is turned off. In South Korea the pooling of data from credit card use, mobile phones and CCTV cameras means that they can detail the movements of an infected citizen down to where they sat in the cinema and which bar they went for a beer in afterwards — and in less than ten minutes can trace and contact the woman who was sitting two stools down. Public support for these measures is high, for the simple reason that they are working.

Samizdata quote of the day

About half the patients have managed to recover sufficiently to ‘earn’ a tracheostomy and be weaned off the ventilator. The damage to their lungs makes us all wonder if any will avoid being respiratory cripples. Despite this recovery, COVID is also leading to profound neurological dysfunction. Some patients are agitated and confused but for a significant proportion, the lights are on but no one is home. We wonder how families will react to their loved ones being different people.

Dr Smith at the Adam Smith Institute’s Despatches blog. Smith is an ASI supporter who has gone back to the NHS for the crisis and is reporting from the front line. We are lucky to have a reliable source of information at a time like this.

Japan and Coronavirus

As you know, despite being right next to China – or perhaps because it is right next to China – Japan is having a good coronavirus outbreak. Despite getting it earlier than Western European countries it has had fewer cases and fewer deaths (349 at time of writing). Why is this? I’d had it down to mask-wearing which as anyone who has ever been to Japan will know is very common.

But I wasn’t quite sure, so when the other night NHK (that’s Japan’s equivalent of the BBC. Think bad, but not that bad) had a documentary on the subject I thought I’d take a look. So, what did they say? The first thing that struck me is that they are bricking it. They – meaning the team that has been set up to study the outbreak – can see this killing a lot of people. They in no sense feel that they have turned a corner. They look enviously at the South Koreans and Singaporeans who had far better testing capacity. That’s not to say they aren’t proud. “I had every faith in the Japanese people.” says one.

Another aspect is the way that Japanese government is formally powerless but informally quite the reverse. There is no legal lockdown in place in Japan because – they say – they don’t have the powers. So why doesn’t the government grant itself those powers like they did in Britain, one wonders? They don’t say. But it would appear that the government “requesting” that people stay away from bars and other crowded places has had the effect of law.

The approach of the study team was – and it may well have changed since the documentary was filmed – to study in detail the outbreaks that occurred. They concluded that the big spreader was the 3 Cs: (En)closed; Crowded; Close Proximity. I must admit that I thought crowded and close proximity meant the same thing. But I guess that crowded refers to the number of people present. One of Japan’s hottest of coronavirus hotspots turned out to be a “Blitish pub” – whatever that may be. I was amused to see that their chief modeller spent time at – you guessed it – Imperial College. So there’s a very good chance that they’re using the same dodgy, secret code that we are. It’s not just viruses that get transmitted from human to human.

What they didn’t do was address why they are doing so well. Considering the size of Tokyo and the scale of commuting there you would have thought it would be far worse. So, I’ll stick with my original hunch. Masks work.

Masks work. Usually but not always. Two days later I was in hospital.

Samizdata quote of the day

Swine Flu was never eradicated. It has hung around ever since it first emerged in 2009 but now goes by the name ‘flu’. It’s quite possible that coronavirus ends up seen as part of the viral furniture, lethal, but a manageable risk if the right preparations are there.

Fraser Nelson

Lockdown socialism eventually runs out of other persons’ money

This is too long and not right for a Samizdata Quote of the Day. I am busy today, but just have to put this up:

Under Lockdown Socialism:

–you can stay in your residence, but paying rent or paying your mortgage is optional.

–you can obtain groceries and shop on line, but having a job is optional.

–other people work at farms, factories, and distribution services to make sure that you have food on the table, but you can sit at home waiting for a vaccine.

–people still work in nursing homes that have lost so many patients that they no longer have enough revenue to make payroll.

–professors and teachers are paid even though schools are shut down.

–police protect your property even though they are at risk for catching the virus and criminals are being set free.

–state and local governments will continue paying employees even though sales tax revenue has collapsed.

–if you own a small business, you don’t need revenue, because the government will keep sending checks.

–if you own shares in an airline, a bank, or other fragile corporations, don’t worry, the Treasury will work something out.

This might not be sustainable.

Arnold Kling. (Hat-tip, Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution economics blog.)

Margaret Thatcher once famously said (to the fury of the Left) that socialists always run out of other people’s money. Same applies to locking people down for months on end. It will end. The issue is how high the rubble is going to be.