The Lockdown Response to COVID Was a Mistake.
In addition to destroying education for our children and young people, throwing over 300 people into major clinical depression and 127 people out of their jobs for every 1 COVID death prevented, and being the largest impairment of our freedom since slavery, lockdowns killed more Americans than they saved.
Lockdowns caused more loss of life (lost person-years of life) from the deaths they have caused (mostly ncreased suicides, drug overdose deaths, alcohol deaths, and increased murders from the increased crime) than they have saved in prevented COVID deaths. I estimate 5 times the loss of life. The median person dying of COVID is an 84-year-old in a nursing home with less than one year to live. The median person dying of suicide or drug overdose is a 42-year-old with 38 years of life left. But we decided as a society to increase suicides and drug overdose deaths in order to reduce COVID deaths. I say we decided to increase suicides and drug overdose deaths because that effect was entirely predictable and was in fact predicted by me and others. The CDC now confirms that by a report that in 2020 we lost 1.5 years of life expectancy but only 1.1 years was due to COVID, meaning the lockdowns caused 0.4 years of life expectancy loss. We deliberately decided to inflict on ourselves deaths resulting in 0.4 years of life expectancy loss, which is to say an increase of about 40,000 suicides and drug overdose deaths and murders in 2020 alone, in a (failed) attempt to reduce COVID deaths. We decided to kill young people (including driving some children to suicide) to try to save 84-year-olds in nursing homes. The excess deaths caused by the lockdowns will be more than the number of U.S. deaths in the entire Vietnam War.
You might also be interested to know that we lose more time of life to suicides every year than we did to COVID in 2020 or 2021 and more time of life to drug overdoses than we did to COVID. But we decided to increase deaths from the greater risks to decrease deaths from the smaller risk.
In addition, and worst of all, we threw 1 in 5 Americans into major clinical depression by the lockdowns. The percentage of the U.S. population suffering from major depression (excluding mild depression) went from 8% in 2019 (already the highest of any society in human history) to over 27% during the lockdowns. I consider time spent depressed to be lost time of life. The lost time of life from time spent depressed that we decided to inflict on ourselves is at least 30 times the time of life saved in prevented COVID deaths, even if the lockdowns prevented 200,000 COVID deaths, which they almost certainly did not.
Note that I have not mentioned money or loss of freedom, just deaths and unhappiness. I could also add that by the lockdowns we decided to kill more than a million people worldwide from hunger.
Chapter 11 (from my book COVID Lockdown Insanity)
The Trolley Dilemma: Do We Switch the Train From Track 1 to Track 2?
Philosophers have a thought experiment known as “The Trolley Dilemma” that is illustrated by this diagram.
Imagine there is a trolley or train coming down the track and below it on the track, in this diagram, three people are tied to the track who will be killed by the train. But between the train and where the three people are tied to Track 1, the lower track in this diagram, there is a fork in the tracks and a switch, and you are standing at the switch and you could pull the switch to divert the train to Track 2, the upper track in this diagram, to avoid having the train run over the three people tied to track 1 and save their lives. Unfortunately, however, there is a different person tied to Track 2 who will be killed if you pull the switch and who would not have been killed if you did not intervene. So you would be responsible for that person’s death, whereas you could argue you would not be responsible for the deaths of the three people on Track 1. Do you pull the switch?
This is figuratively what we have done with COVID. The train of COVID was coming down the tracks and it was going to kill some people from COVID if we did nothing. So we decided to intervene with our lockdown response to divert the train to Track 2 to avoid those COVID deaths. But we forgot, or more accurately, refused to acknowledge, that there were people tied to Track 2 who were harmed, and in some cases killed, by that decision.
The tables below show the choices we had, and still had throughout the year+ of lockdowns, between Track 1 and Track 2, as I have calculated them in Chapters 2-9. The numbers between Track 1 and Track 2 are normalized to one person on Track 1 whose COVID death our policies averted from the 200,000 COVID deaths (or zero to a maximum of 400,000 deaths) I estimated in Chapter 3 may be averted by the lockdowns. (So in the table for Track 2 we have fractional people; if you do not like to think of fractional people you could multiply the numbers in both tables by 10 or 100 or 1,000.)
Track 1 versus Track 2: The Choices We Had
Which track do you think involved more harm?
Did we cause more harm than we prevented by switching the train from Track 1 to Track 2?
If Track 2 involved more harm, was it ethical to pull that switch and have the train run over the people tied to Track 2, instead of allowing it to run over the one person tied to Track 1?
Now that we know what these numbers are, and once we knew these numbers by about the summer of 2020, is it and was it ethical to continue to pull that switch and continue to pursue the lockdown approach and continue to run over the people tied to Track 2?
It is important to emphasize again that none of these bad outcomes on Track 2 were caused by COVID—they were caused by our response to COVID. They were caused by the lockdowns. We did not have to take the approach we took. We could have educated people about their actual risk of death if they become infected with SARS-Cov-2, and then let them make their own decisions about whether they want to isolate themselves to reduce their risk of being infected, wear a mask, etc. That is the approach Sweden took, and they had fewer deaths per capita than us (Chapter 1) and had almost none of the other collateral damage we suffered of increased unemployment, depression, suicides, and general unhappiness.
My moral code says it cannot be justified to cause 19.3% of the population to become clinically depressed in order to extend life by 1 day on average. It should also be noted that the people we have imposed the sacrifices on are not the people at risk of dying from COVID. So we ordered some people to sacrifice to benefit others.
In fact, we decided to kill some people, almost all of them young or middle aged, by driving them to suicide or drug or alcohol deaths, in order to extend the lives of other people, almost all of them old and in poor health and with little life expectancy left. All of the costs listed were entirely predictable and were in fact predicted, so we decided as a society to inflict those harms in order to save the lives of other persons from COVID.
One of the worst parts is that when the people we have killed or harmed who were tied to Track 2 object to the decision to harm them to try to save the lives of some elderly people from death by COVID, we self-righteously scream at them that they are selfish. When people have lost their jobs or their businesses because their restaurants were ordered closed, they are shouted down that they have no right to complain when others are dying of COVID. The same happens when parents or university students complain that schools are closed and they or their children are being denied an education and the right to simply live their lives. The millions we have driven into major depression mostly don’t object or complain because they are too beaten down at this point to object and afraid that if they object people will like them even less than they do now. The people who have killed themselves, of course, are no longer around to object, and those contemplating killing themselves are too beaten down to object.
I am here to say that the people tied to Track 2 that we decided to run over by diverting the train from Track 1 have every right to object. Their lives are every bit as valuable as the elderly who are dying, like all of us will die, from, in this case, pneumonia caused by a natural virus
I would not have pulled that train switch. I think it was immoral to do so. Knowing what we know now, I would not continue to keep that switch pulled. I think even more clearly it is immoral to continue to keep that switch pulled.
Why we might have chosen lockdowns
Looking at this table it seems pretty obvious to me that the outcomes on track 2 are worse than those on track 1. And these harms were predictable. We knew the lockdowns would cause massive unemployment. We knew the social isolation we were mandating and the unemployment would lead to massive increases in depression and suicides. We obviously knew we were impairing education and harming young people by closing their schools and universities. And the experts, although perhaps not the public, knew at the very beginning of this that the infection fatality rate was less than 1% and probably less than 0.5%, so the number of deaths we have had is not much of a surprise, and even if we thought the restrictions would nip COVID in the bud and we would have almost no COVID deaths, the number of deaths prevented would only have been about five times the 200,000 I am estimating here, and therefore the harms of our policy would still have exceeded the benefits. And very soon into the spring lockdowns it was very clear the policies were not going to eliminate COVID deaths, so at that point the most you could hope for is maybe the restrictions would prevent 600,000 COVID deaths or three times the number in Track 1. Again, it should have been obvious at that point that the harms would have vastly exceeded the benefits of preventing those deaths. So why did we persist in our lockdown approach and persist in pulling the switch and running over the people tied to Track 2?
I think the answer is human psychology. We were faced here with two bad choices. People would die from COVID or people would die from suicide and have their lives ruined for a period of time with clinical depression. We were faced with a choice between bad and worse, not bad and good. We are not good at facing that. We have all been raised on movies where the good guy beats astronomical odds to escape and save the day. We hoped against hope that somehow that would happen here, and we have kept hoping even to this day, when the evidence is very clear that it has not happened and will not happen and that our approach has been a disaster and caused vastly more harm than it has prevented.
We need, and needed, to be adults and realize that sometimes bad things happen and the best thing to do then is move on and try not to make things worse.
From the Conclusion
It is not a matter of legitimate disagreement whether the lockdowns were a mistake. It is not a matter of legitimate disagreement whether an approach of no mandatory restrictions at all, but just educating people on their risk from COVID and on what modifications to their behavior would reduce that risk and then letting them decide for themselves whether and how to modify their behavior, would have been a better approach than lockdowns. Lockdowns have no advantage at all. If you think life is better than death, a long life is better than a shorter life, happiness is better than depression, more money is better than less, education is better than ignorance, child abuse and domestic abuse are bad things, and more personal freedom is better than less, then you agree the lockdowns were a mistake.
How this ties into Jury Democracy
With Jury Democracy, I or someone would have been able to make the arguments above to a jury. When a jury had to choose between the harms in Track 1 and Track 2 in the table above, no jury would choose Track 2 and the lockdowns. Ordinary people would not make the collassal mistake that the elites and experts made in choosing lockdowns. One of the things the lockdowns have proven is that experts make terrible, terrible decisions. Ordinary people could not possibly have done worse.
One of the reasons the experts made these terrible decisions is groupthink and peer pressure. It was very clear to everyone in government and academia and the public health community which way the wind was blowing and what was the "right" position you were supposed to take. And it was clear that to oppose lockdowns would be career suicide. A jury would not be prone to that problem. Their votes will be secret and their careers will not depend on how they vote.
Another reason we have continued to inflict lockdowns on the public long after all the evidence showed this was inflicting vastly more harm on society than benefit is the inability of our leaders to admit a mistake. That is human nature. When you have taken a public position, it is hard to admit you were wrong. But that will not be a problem with juries. Even if one jury initially decided to impose lockdowns, a later jury would be open to the evience this was a mistake and would not be afraid to change direction because it was not them who had imposed lockdowns--it was a previous jury. So they would not be wedded to the original answer and unwilling to see it was a mistake.