COVID-19: a (sad) tale of 14 countries


In this article I’ll compare the history to date of the COVID-19 epidemic in fourteen European countries, including the UK. I chose the countries with an aim of making them representative of Western Europe as a whole. I excluded island countries other than the UK and Ireland; and I excluded very small countries such as San Marino, Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco. Here are the countries I picked, in alphabetical order:

Austria
Belgium
Denmark
France
Germany
Ireland
Italy
Luxembourg
Netherlands
Portugal
Spain
Sweden
Switzerland
UK

In hindsight, I might perhaps have added Norway as well; but fourteen should be enough.

The COVID data I used came from Our World in Data at https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data, and runs up to October 31st. But many of the graphs I show will stop short of that date. For example, any graph which requires (centred) weekly averages in its calculation cannot go further than October 28th, because to calculate the centred weekly average for October 29th would require data for November 1st.

Stop Press!

In the last few days, the article I originally planned has been overtaken by political events, as posturing European governments indulge in a game of “COVID copycat” (https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-lockdown-returns-to-france-and-germany-heres-what-you-need-to-know-12117280). Ireland has been back in lockdown since about October 21st. The UK will, in effect, be going back into full lockdown from November 5th. Belgium and Germany, will be doing the same from the 2nd, and France is already there. The Netherlands is already in partial lockdown. Austria, Portugal, Italy and Spain, too, are locking down further; and Denmark has already done so, if relatively lightly. Switzerland already has “a range of new COVID measures” – which include making people wear masks outside! Even Sweden is now implementing local lockdowns. As far as I can tell, only Luxembourg has not yet followed the copycat trend; and even there, there is talk of a “lockdown lite.”

It’s particularly exasperating that the UK has decided to go the national lockdown route. A few weeks ago, they brought in a “tiered lockdown” system, in which individual areas could be put under restrictions appropriate to the situation in their particular area, while leaving people in less badly affected areas under far lighter restrictions. This seemed to me a very sensible way to go. After all, epidemic control is, by the nature of epidemics, a local matter. And it doesn’t make sense to confine people in Cornwall, say, to their homes because of a serious situation in Leeds, or even in Bristol. Moreover, slightly different rules in different areas would have created an opportunity to collect hard data on what works and what doesn’t.

Johnson and co could perfectly well have used the tiered system to implement full lockdowns in just those places that needed them. But instead of using common sense and adding a “tier four” to the new system, they have caved in to extremists like the SAGE committee, that seem to want to lock people down for the sake of locking people down. Now we are in danger of a situation, where even those in relatively unaffected parts of the country are likely to be forced into a period of lockdown every few months or even every few weeks. That may make the cases figures look better; but in terms of beating the virus, it’s a no-no. For, absent a vaccine, we are going to have to get to the herd immunity threshold. But to lock down people in areas where there are relatively few cases will mean it takes longer – perhaps, years longer – to get there, and beat the virus. Indeed, someone with a nasty agenda, looking to prolong the agony caused by the virus and to prevent the economy ever fully recovering, would find this strategy very attractive.

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Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech


Know Your Enemy – Charlie Hebdo and The Freedom of Speech 

By Duncan Whitmore

In previous essays posted on this blog, I have often pointed out that opponents of private property (and of capitalism specifically) believe, incorrectly, that to advocate for a free society is to crave an orgy of individualism, greed and selfishness in which each person grabs as many riches for himself as possible while leaving those less fortunate to starve.

Empirically, of course, we know that private property orders have solved the problems of poverty and hunger more than any other socioeconomic alternative, for the reason that the wealth accumulated by the rich takes the form of capital goods that produce more and more consumer goods at lower and lower prices for ordinary people. In other words, even if someone wanted to accumulate as much wealth as possible for himself his only avenue of doing so is to serve the needs of others.

That aside, however, the theoretical error of the anti-capitalists is to confuse permissibility on the one hand with promotion on the other. Yes, capitalism and freedom give you the right to be selfish and greedy, but they do not demand that you be so – you are just as free to give away all of your wealth as you are to accumulate as much of it for yourself as possible. Thus, libertarians are advocating only for your right to choose your actions. They are not stating that any conceivable action within your range of options is necessarily a good and beautiful thing, nor should anything you do be immune from criticism simply because it is peaceful and voluntary.

For instance, a libertarian would say that a person should have the legal right to smoke three packets of cigarettes a day. But he is not saying that a person should smoke three packets of cigarettes a day, nor that such a heavy volume of smoking is a wise and beneficial choice. True enough, there will be libertarians who, out of either naivety or a personal commitment to libertinism, do indeed reason in such a fashion, seeing nothing morally wrong with any possible choice one may make so long as it does not breach the non-aggression principle. Libertarianism itself, however, entails no such advocacy – it is the foundation upon which wider moral problems should be solved, not the final word. Continue reading

The “Big Tech” Problem


The “Big Tech” Problem 

By Duncan Whitmore

“The legislature, were it possible that its deliberations could be always directed, not by the clamorous importunity of partial interests, but by an extensive view of the general good, ought, upon this very account, perhaps, to be particularly careful, neither to establish any new monopolies of this kind, nor to extend further those which are already established. Every such regulation introduces some degree of real disorder into the constitution of the state, which it will be difficult afterwards to cure without occasioning another disorder.”

                  –  Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

The debate over the power of social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook has intensified this past week when both platforms attempted to restrict the distribution of reports concerning allegations of corruption made against Democrat Presidential nominee Joe Biden. The precise details are unimportant; suffice it to say that the reports are likely to prove damaging to the Biden campaign if disseminated widely amongst the electorate. Both Twitter and Facebook restricted the sharing of the New York Post’s story on the matter, while the White House Press Secretary was locked out of her Twitter account. All of this, of course, takes place against the backdrop of “cancel culture” and the censorship of information (even from authoritative sources) that challenges the official narrative of lockdown and restriction in response to COVID-19.

Although, in this particular instance, the social media companies may end up succumbing to the “Streisand Effect” – the phenomenon whereby any attempt to ban or censor information increases its allure and, thus, leads to a greater degree of exposure overall – those on the right have responded in at least one of two ways to this latest betrayal of the apparent leftist bias that pervades Silicon Valley. Continue reading

Eighty-six sages


Eighty-six sages

By Neil Lock

This article is about SAGE. That is, the UK’s “Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.” Its self-stated remit is that it: “provides scientific and technical advice to support government decision makers during emergencies.” And it has been front and centre in recent spats about COVID-19 [[1]].

The list of SAGE participants can be found at [[2]]. That list, dated 17th July, shows 86 members, of whom up to about 20 may be involved in any one meeting or topic.

SAGE recently released the minutes of one of its meetings from last month. This was an immediate response to Boris Johnson’s newly announced tiered COVID lockdown system. The Guardian [[3]] titled the release: “SAGE documents show how scientists felt sidelined by economic considerations.” The experts, they said, wanted a dramatic increase in restrictions across the country to check the alarming rise in infections. To include a “circuit-breaker” lockdown of a couple of weeks, and “closure of all bars, cafes, restaurants, indoor gyms and personal services such as hairdressers.”

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The Rising of the North?


The Rising of the North?

By Duncan Whitmore

In a recent essay, we suggested that one of the possible outcomes of the COVID-19 hysteria could be a greater push towards decentralisation of the British state:

[T]he provinces of the UK are beginning to assert more independence and have tailored their own responses to the COVID-19 outbreak. Both government and the mainstream media refer increasingly to “the four nations”. It would not be a bad thing if this was to drive us towards full political independence for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Moreover, the greater emphasis on tailoring responses to specific regions – such as “local lockdowns” as opposed to the London-centric uniformity that was imposed back in March – may create a demand for more regional governance over other areas of policy, particularly when the repercussions from the lockdowns are more keenly felt.

It seems that those repercussions are now starting to bite. The introduction, this past week, of the Westminster government’s “three tier” approach to COVID restrictions has led to a considerable degree of regional backlash, particularly in Liverpool and Manchester, which either are, or could be moved into, the highest tier of lockdown. Such a category is barely different from the general lockdown back in March, resulting in the closure of pubs and bars (unless they can operate as restaurants – a seemingly inconsistent exception), travel restrictions, and no household mixing either indoors or in private gardens. One amusing, but incisive response from locals was the re-branding of a forcibly closed Liverpool pub to “The Three Bellends” in honour of Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Dominic Cummings – a case, you might say, of a picture telling a thousand words. Continue reading

My Fantasy Boris – D.J. Webb


 

I must have had a shot or two too many to drink. Whatever it was, my dream—or was it a daydream—appears insubstantial in retrospect. Drifting into reverie, I imagined…

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, rose to his feet at the despatch box, amid anticipation on all sides of the House. Now we had left the EU on the “No Deal”, rumours were flying around that we might repudiate the Withdrawal Agreement and go it alone. Surely not? Surely the Conservatives didn’t have it in them?

“Mr. Speaker,

After extensive discussions in the Palace, we have reached an understanding of English Common Law and the underpinnings of our constitution. Upholding our law remains at the centre of everything this government will do.

Firstly, our fundamental law is the Common Law. Let me expand on this. The Queen reigns and, indeed, is part of the Crown in Parliament and thus at the apex of the legislative as well as executive and judicial branches of government. But what document specifies the Queen’s right to reign? Was there some dusty, long-forgotten constitution passed by the Witan under Alfred the Great? What provides for the Queen’s right to reign? Was it a decree she herself issued? Or a statute signed by her? In truth, any such thing would be circular—it would amount to the Queen declaring herself Queen. In fact, the monarchy’s existence is given in the Common Law. The Queen’s right to reign reflects the fact that there has been a monarch since time immemorial. There is no written constitution that provides for this. Continue reading

Statism: Conspiracy or Incompetence?


Statism: Conspiracy or Incompetence?

 By Duncan Whitmore

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” 

                  –  Hanlon’s Razor

In some recent essays examining the factors that have brought us to the political, social and economic conditions in which we find ourselves in 2020, we mentioned briefly the role of conspiracies, concluding that it is not necessary to speculate upon their existence in order to explain our current situation. This essay will not examine the phenomenon of conspiracy theories in great detail. Instead, we will look specifically at whether the possible existence of a conspiracy among the global “elite” that aims to reduce the entire human population to enslavement offers a convincing explanation for major societal changes that tend towards a crushing of freedom.

Revisionist History

The common theme of conspiracy theories is that certain key events are planned, directed or orchestrated deliberately by establishment figures in order to achieve a specific, underhand purpose while being passed off either as mere accidents or as the responsibility of other parties. Thus, it is essentially a form of historical revisionism that is antagonistic to those who have an interest in maintaining conventional historical understanding, and so the latter normally deploy the term “conspiracy theory” as a slur so as to dismiss any explanation of an event that differs from that of the official, approved narrative. Indeed, following the enormous increase in state power as a result of government responses to COVID-19, the term has been used to pigeon-hole opponents of “lockdown” measures, particularly after popular protests which were attended by well known conspiracy theorists such as Piers Corbyn and David Icke. Generally, however, such opposition is now being voiced in mainstream terms by those whose credentials make them more difficult to ignore, and so the “conspiracy” element has not received a great deal of attention. No Austro-libertarian can doubt, though, that the power of the state has increased many times over throughout the past century or so, often in response to specific events. It is, therefore, important for us to diagnose correctly the causes of this seemingly unstoppable trend if we are to have any hope of reversing it.

In spite of the fact that it is an unhelpfully pejorative label with a tendency to capture both the serious and the spurious within its ambit, we will continue to use the term “conspiracy theory” to denote revisionist theories which, unlike some proven or persuasive theories, have failed to gain acceptance as accurate historical explanations. Continue reading