The pandemic-induced “lockdowns” were a huge mistake.
There has been an enormous surge in excess deaths since the advent of COVID-19, but fewer than half of these excess deaths are due directly to COVID-19, except among the elderly. According to a new NBER paper by Casey B. Mulligan and Robert D. Arnott, “while the 46 percent of the adult population who had not yet reached age 45 were largely unharmed by Covid, their aggregate mortality rates increased 26 percent above previous trends.” This is larger than the percentage jump in deaths of older adults, where the COVID-19 toll was largely concentrated. Excess deaths are calculated by creating a historical baseline and then measuring the recent period against the expected result from the baseline.
The most solid measure of public health policy is the change in all-cause mortality. While relatively few young people died directly from COVID-19, their deaths from drugs and alcohol-induced causes, diabetes or obesity, and homicides soared. Were most of these fatal behavior changes a result of people being cooped up during the lockdowns?
Different countries had different lockdown policies, and within federal republics like the U.S. and Australia, different states and regions also had different lockdown policies. UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh revealed that a recent U.K. Office of National Statistics report says that “Sweden and Norway were essentially tied for the lowest all-cause excess-mortality scores.”
Using more recent OECD data (March 2020 to October 2022), Mr. Volokh then calculated that Sweden had the lowest aggregate excess mortality percentages (2.79) — even below Norway (4.28) — and the U.S., the highest (20.90), or approximately seven times higher than Sweden. Other OECD countries were far worse than Sweden but much better than the U.S. (e.g., Australia — 8.0; Germany — 8.86; France — 9.99; U.K. – 10.6; Canada 12.12; Israel — 13.14; and Poland — 20.13).
Sweden was unique in that it had the fewest “lockdown” requirements, while countries like the U.S., with substantial lockdowns, had much higher excess deaths. We also know that within the U.S., states with very onerous lockdown requirements, like New York, have total age-adjusted higher death rates than states like Florida with few lockdown requirements.
The big mistake the CDC people (Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Francis Collins, etc.) made was to single-mindedly focus on potential deaths directly from COVID-19 while largely ignoring the potential deaths indirectly induced by the lockdowns. Presidents Trump and Biden were also mistaken to basically listen to single-source “experts” from the government health care establishment rather than also listening to others from places like Johns Hopkins and Stanford universities, who had the expertise but did not have the vested interests of the CDC/Big Pharma cabal.
Other studies support the evidence of health harm to people who have not yet died but are likely to have their lives shortened by the indirect effects of the lockdowns. For instance, alcohol and tobacco use increased as more people spent more time at home drinking and smoking. One study found a “1.5-pound average weight gain per month spent in shelter-in-place,” and other studies show that the “Covid-19 pandemic worsened the burden of childhood obesity.” Hospitals reported big reductions in cancer screenings, which suggest “that cancer would be diagnosed later, at more advanced stages, eventually resulting in additional morbidity and mortality.”
During the lockdowns, many doctor’s and dentist’s offices were closed; and when they reopened, many did so on a restricted basis. The result was both the timeliness and quantity of medical and dental care were limited.
There was also the mistake of doing too little economic analysis of the effect of the lockdowns before and during the lockdown periods.
Originally, Dr. Fauci and company told then-President Donald Trump that the lockdown would be required for only two weeks, but it kept getting extended time and time again. The economy could have endured a two-week shutdown without much of a problem — but many months is a different matter. Congress made things worse with ill-thought-out “bailouts” of businesses and individuals. The Federal Reserve then pretended that its reckless monetary expansion to “pay for” the bailouts would not cause future inflation. The Mulligan/Arnott study estimated that Americans died from excess “non-Covid causes at a cumulative total of 52 per 100,000 through the end of 2021,” which has presumably continued. Converted to dollars, they estimate “the non-Covid deaths through the end of 2021 cost $1.7 trillion.” That number is much higher at this date.
When civil liberty issues resulting from the mandates were brought before the courts, too many judges sided with those who sought to restrict liberties (e.g., forced mask-wearing, prohibiting church attendance and travel, etc.) — all in the name of protecting the nation’s health. We now know this judicially sanctioned loss of liberty also resulted in worse health outcomes as well as economic destruction.
If the above-described mistakes had not been made, it is no overstatement to say that hundreds of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars could have been saved, and basic constitutional rights would not have been trampled. Those who pretended they had knowledge that they didn’t have and then, based on their misrepresentations, made recommendations or, worse yet, imposed destructive mandates on the American people have much to atone for.
• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.