It may well be that lockdowns are a good idea, that nations should theoretically open up after reaching some vaccine threshold, that track and trace will prevent outbreaks according to modelling, that bounce-back loans will help businesses bounce back according to economists, and that whatever other government policies you favour to fight the pandemic are a good idea too.
But there’s just one problem. You’re assuming the government can actually implement those policies successfully. Which is laughable.
When Ronald Reagan explained that, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help,” he wasn’t kidding. He tried to fix the US government’s fiscal deficit and look what happened! The government can’t even fix itself…
Whatever the problem, whatever the solution, the government will find a way to make things worse.
This includes privatisation too, by the way. That’s just another government policy which the government will manage to make a mess of, somehow. You never end up with a remotely free market solution when the government goes through the process of privatising something. You get cronies, regulatory capture, political appointments and corruption.
But let’s go with some more relevant examples…
Track and trace may well have been a good idea. But who couldn’t have seen the pingdemic coming?
Vaccine passports may well be popular with some of us. But believers are getting what they deserve, if you ask me. The Telegraph reports, “Up to 700,000 vaccine passports hit by NHS blunders as officials record wrong data” and “Hundreds of thousands of jab records contain errors, leaving some double-jabbed people without proof they need to travel.”
Imagine the humiliation these poor people experience…
But does it surprise anyone that, if you need government permission to travel, it will often prevent you from travelling?
My mother was once stranded in a foreign country when a border officer broke her passport while trying to scan it. He tried to blame her. It didn’t go well for him.
Back to government pandemic policies gone awry…
Australia’s quarantine measures were supposed to prevent outbreaks. They haven’t.
Australia’s lockdowns were supposed to prevent outbreaks from getting worse. They haven’t.
Australia’s internal borders were supposed to stop the spread between and within states. They haven’t.
All of those policies are still in place…
The Nightingale hospitals were the pride of… well, journalists. But were they used? Were they even useable?
The BBC: “But they were never used on a large scale, because the NHS did not have enough trained staff to fill the Nightingales as well as the permanent hospitals.”
The healthcare website King’s Fund summed up a good detailed analysis like this:
But, in the end, the country has been left with relatively unused emergency facilities, hugely overworked existing facilities that were full of patients with Covid-19, and rising waits for routine care. The Nightingales have shown that in an emergency you can build ventilators, you can adapt buildings and you can manufacture personal protective equipment – but unfortunately, there is no magic NHS staffing tree to shake.
The underlying error was of course the modelling which extrapolated trends instead of identifying waves. This has been especially enjoyable because the modellers get it wrong on the way up and on the way down too. First it’s “200,000 cases a day” that’s “almost inevitable” and then the pandemic might be over by October, just when cases turn back up!
In Israel and Seychelles, vaccines were supposed to mean an end to pandemic restrictions. They weren’t.
Next, the vaccines were supposed to avoid hospitalisations. They didn’t.
But at least very few people in Israel are dying, right?
In Israel, the government is undaunted by the failure of past policies. It’s a case of… rinse and repeat with the third jab, better known as a booster, and more Covid restrictions too. But still, cases rise…
And, cue panic in Australia as a result of Israel’s experience. Australia managed to announce that it’ll re-open once certain vaccine thresholds are met, just when Israel disproved the theory behind the assumptions.
Two of the country’s state premiers have already bailed on the promise to open up.
According to one expert who appeared on the news-ish TV show The Project, the modelling which calculates which threshold of vaccinations needed before the nation can open up assumes a low level of cases. News.com.au summed up the claims:
Lockdown-weary NSW residents have been told for weeks now the embattled state will begin to reopen once the vaccination target of 70 to 80 per cent is met.
That’s been the key message from not only Premier Gladys Berejiklian, but also from the Doherty Insitute [sic], which has produced modelling to back up that goal.
But in a sobering interview on The Project on Monday night, Professor Nancy Baxter, clinical epidemiologist and head of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, said it would not be possible while NSW case numbers continue to explode.
Prof Baxter explained that while opening up was reasonable in places with 70 per cent vaccination and low case numbers, NSW did not meet those criteria.
What, vaccinations only work when there isn’t much Covid!? No wonder Israel is back in lockdown…
In Germany, Die Bild Zeitung is describing the German statistics on vaccination rates as a “Numbersalad”. The headline reads “Health Ministry defends Numbersalad”. It turns out nobody knows how reliable the numbers really are…
Here in Japan, the strangest Covid conspiracy theory of the lot – that vaccines make magnets stick to you – has had a very odd sort of revival. The Japanese government withdrew Moderna vaccines after discovering contaminants that reacted to, you guessed it, magnets, and are therefore thought to be metal.
But that was only in Okinawa, right? And only one lot of the vaccines, right?
Oh, Gunma too? Two more lots? Two deaths?
Putting your trust in a new vaccine dished out by the government is a good example of extreme faith. And people are discovering they’ve been disappointed by the promises which were never included in the vaccines’ fine print.
The Telegraph’s Annabel Fenwick Elliott, for example, had hoped that taking the vaccine would mean an end to dreaded Covid tests. Her article describes her disappointment:
I didn’t want the Covid-19 vaccine, but I got it anyway, for three key reasons. One, because I was assured it would be selfish not to. Two, because I wanted to be able to travel freely. And three, because I utterly despise PCR tests.
Alas, in recent weeks, there has been increasing evidence to suggest that thanks to one very important development – the jabs failing to prevent transmission of the delta variant – all three of those incentives have withered.
The journalist lays out the evidence for this quite well, and then presents the conclusion:
Certainly, therefore, it’s still worth rolling up your sleeve if you’re worried about getting seriously ill as a result of Covid yourself, as the vast majority of British adults now have. But no longer can you be smug in the knowledge that it doesn’t make you a biohazard to others.
It means we’re scary again to all the countries still trying (in vain) to fend off the delta variant. It renders our vaccine passports, in all their various guises, far less valuable.
It follows that those nations we were eagerly hoping would reopen their gates to the UK (the US and Australia among them) may continue to stall, despite our top-tier inoculation rates. It means more masks.
And worst of all (if you, like I, are a wuss) it means that no, taking two free needles in your upper arm muscle will not exempt you from having endless exorbitantly-priced swabs shoved high into your nasal cavity and down the back of your throat.
When you arrive in Japan, you only need to spit in a tube and wait an hour or two… unless you’re too young to provide the rather large amount of saliva needed. Then you get prodded.
In Israel, though, for some venues even three-year-olds now need vaccine passports!
What surprises me is that the disappointment comes as a surprise to people like Annabel. I mean, after all the government has done over the last 18 months, how can anyone believe the latest promises?
Of course, it’s not just Covid which governments have made a mess of recently.
Invading Afghanistan to get at Al Qaeda may well have been a good idea. But, realistically, we were always going to find a way to make a disaster of it. Why anyone thought otherwise is a mystery to me…
Then there were the revelations that the UK doesn’t accurately count migration and so it wasn’t aware of how many EU citizens were in the country. Do we expect our government to collect statistics on an illness properly? If they can’t count living people, how can they count fatality statistics?
My question to you is this: the next time someone comes up with a perfectly reasonable government policy to help solve a problem, how do you explain that it will inherently descend into disaster?
After all, it’s often tough to predict where exactly the error will be. But, even when you know precisely what’ll go wrong, no amount of historical evidence seems to dampen the enthusiasm that a government programme will work as intended. It is simply presumed.
So, how do you explain that the nine most terrifying words in the English language really are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help?
Don’t forget to include permission to publish (under your initials only).
Oh, and as the War on Terror ends, I’d like to welcome you to the War on Covid.
I wonder which will last longer?
Editor, Fortune & Freedom