In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, new studies have observed that substantially more devastation was wrought in areas where governments seized extensive emergency powers and use them to lock down their jurisdictions, compared to areas in which governments did not or were constrained.
This has been confirmed through two thorough analyses of the pandemic lockdowns in the US and Europe, revealing that lockdowns made minimal difference to the Covid-19 death toll. Yet, they resulted in additional deaths from myriad other causes, especially among young and middle-aged individuals.
Swedish economist Lars Jonung, co-author of the report “Did Lockdowns Work?” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), says, “Most likely lockdowns represent the biggest policy mistake in modern times.” The report, which analyzed around 20,000 studies, estimates that the average lockdown in the United States and Europe reduced Covid-19 mortality by just 3.2 percent. This translates to about 4,000 avoided deaths in the US, a negligible outcome compared to the annual toll of the ordinary flu.
An additional report from the Paragon Health Institute finds no statistically significant impact of the restrictions on mortality rates. The death rates in states with stringent policies were not considerably different from those in less restrictive states. For instance, California and Florida had the same mortality rates despite drastically different policy approaches.
Moreover, the lockdowns had other adverse health effects, with increased rates of smoking, drinking, and obesity, and nearly 100,000 extra annual deaths from non-Covid causes in the US.
IEA report co-author Jonas Herby emphasizes, “But in fact the voluntary social distancing and other changes in behavior had a huge impact, much larger than the lockdowns.” The example of Sweden stands out, where elderly people significantly reduced their outdoor activities without government mandates. Sweden experienced fewer Covid deaths and less social and economic damage, while also witnessing a decline in excess mortality from non-Covid causes.
Christian Bjørnskov, a Danish economist, has found that fewer people die from natural disasters in countries with laws that limit the power of national leaders during emergencies. “Civil society is more likely to help if the authorities are not allowed to run roughshod over private citizens,” Bjørnskov explains.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the mishandling of power led to budget-busting decisions and unnecessary school closures that have long-term negative impacts on children’s learning. Yet, instead of reflecting on these consequences, officials are seeking even more authority in the future.