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Times Columnists and Duff data

Daniel Finkelstein, in The Times, yesterday, asked whether we were too ready to sacrifice our freedom. He asked the question a year after the government implemented house arrest (also known as lockdown). Finkelstein also acknowledges that lockdown as a policy was inspired by China.

But despite all of this Finkelstein, bizarrely, implies that the government’s Covid measures in the last year were appropriate – but may not be in future: 

“In the absence of preventive measures, it is clear that hundreds of thousands more people would have died. There are, of course, trade-offs but the impact of Covid is so severe I’m not surprised that almost everywhere, national governments have made a similar choice.”

This is, of course, nonsense. And Finkelstein presents precisely no evidence to show that the government’s “preventative measures” had the impact he claims. There’s no data available that can show such causality. He knows it and the government knows it.

Every Winter we see spikes in excess deaths from respiratory disease. And every Spring the excess deaths go away as more people build immunity to novel coronaviruses. This year’s spike was severe but we’ve had worse in previous Winters.

I suspect I could put together a much more compelling counterargument (to Danny’s non-argument) that the government’s lockdown measures on the healthy population had little to no impact on excess death from Covid-19. But they had a devastating impact on hospital waiting lists for non-Covid procedures, mental health, education and livelihoods.

Finkelstein’s assertion that other countries adopted such ridiculous policies is supine. Many other nations take their lead from the UK – except, of course, nations that couldn’t possibly incur the sovereign debt required to fund the folly of lockdown. 

Despite all of this, Finkelstein does make the case that with such authoritarianism out of the bottle, there is a real prospect that it might be used again in the future when it’s not justified:

“A bad flu season might take the lives of 20,000 people. What if it threatened, say, 10,000 more than that? If that happens, the authorities may not react as they have done in the past. Now they know we might be willing to isolate, or wear masks, or cancel mass events or even lock down again. We need to discuss how many deaths we are willing to tolerate before we do those things.”

Indeed. And that is precisely the issue at hand. Many of us believe that that is precisely what has just happened – but the government has used wholesale propaganda (and bought the media by becoming one of the biggest national advertisers) to have the majority of the population believe (and many leading political columnists) that the means were justified in the last year. They weren’t. 

The last year has shown us that the government could very easily put together duff forecasts of the likely impact of a virus/flu and bring in draconian measures to justify keeping us all “safe”.  Finkelstein, like many journalists, has no ability to distinguish between fearmongering and forecasts. There is every likelihood that we’ve just been through such a Winter as the hypothetical one he describes. While “with-Covid” deaths have been data-engineered up, flu deaths have mysteriously declined. I’m not arguing that it wasn’t a bad Winter in terms of excess deaths, but I’d dispute that it was particularly exceptional based on longer term historical data.  In the past we haven’t had a novel virus to blame.  Nor did we have hugely inaccurate testing systems as props for ridiculous spurious-causality data claims. 

Finkelstein is indeed right that this last year has shown just how many people can be completely terrified by sensationalist and erroneous claims by government. The trappings of lockdown have all been about enhancing the narrative – masks, social distancing, yellow markings, warning signs, pseudo-science babble from journalists who just never bothered with a grounder in data analysis or quantitative techniques.

This government has engaged in wanton destruction of the economy and public health – built on a huge edifice of dodgy data.  The track and trace “system” has resulted in criminal wastage of taxpayer money (and taxpayer funded debt). The lesson to learn from the last year is that governments can indeed scare the hell out of the population and impose control against the will of the thinking class.  For many of us this has undermined our trust in parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.

The people of our four nations have been let down very badly by this government and its devolved fiddle-players.  My fear is that the perception of our nation and its public servants may be terminally damaged.   If pseudo-science and duff data define our public policy response to everything that represents public health risk, is this a country in which people will want to live? 

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