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Monday, November 2, 2020 Leer en Español

The Many Perils of the UK’s Return to Lockdown

Lockdowns are catastrophic for the economy. 

Composite Image by FEE | CC By 2.0 via Pixabay and Flickr

Things are looking pretty bleak across the Atlantic right now—and it’s not just the UK’s famously gloomy weather. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new four-week (or longer) national “lockdown” beginning Thursday in hopes of curbing the spread of COVID-19.

All non-essential shops, restaurants, pubs and leisure facilities [are set] to close for at least four weeks,” the Guardian reports. “People have been told to ‘stay at home’ where possible, but will be allowed to leave their homes for education, medical appointments, to shop for essential goods, and to work if they cannot work from home.” 

“Unlike the first national lockdown introduced in March, schools, colleges and universities will remain open, as will childcare and early years care,” the British paper continues. “Johnson also announced a ban on overnight stays and outbound international travel, unless the trips are for work, while places of worship will be open for private prayer but not for services.”

Schools do not appear to facilitate the spread of COVID-19. So, it’s good to see that the UK will keep its schools open. But this return to lockdowns is nonetheless an alarming development. 

First and foremost, it’s just not clear that more lockdowns will mitigate COVID-19 deaths. It may simply postpone them and delay the inevitable. 

After all, Britain already locked down—hence why this is the second lockdown. Yet when the UK opened up, the disease inevitably started spreading once again, in the same way COVID-19 has continued to plague other countries even after they went through extensive lockdowns.

It’s just hard to show with data that lockdowns are actually effective. 

“There’s little correlation between the severity of a nation’s restrictions and whether it managed to curb excess fatalities,” a Bloomberg News data columnist concluded. (Hardly a right-wing source.)

A study of 50 countries published in medical journal The Lancet found that while COVID-19 mortality was correlated with population age and obesity rates, it was not correlated with full lockdowns.

Of course, we should all hope that Britain fares well. But hope is not a strategy.

The fact remains that the coronavirus doesn’t seem to care what policies you put in place. And the perils of the UK’s return to lockdown go far beyond it simply not working. Sweeping lockdowns are rife with unintended consequences as lethal as any disease.Hope is not a strategy—and the perils of the UK’s return to lockdown go far beyond it simply not working.

For example, lockdowns are catastrophic for the economy. 

The reason why is fairly intuitive. When you lock people in their homes except for some “essential activities,” many can’t work, can’t produce, and can’t consume. 

An economy naturally slows to a trickle as a result. It’s no coincidence that the World Bank projects that the COVID-19 crisis and ensuing lockdowns could push up to 100 million people worldwide into extreme poverty. 

On the domestic front, FEE’s Jon Miltimore showed that red states have significantly lower unemployment rates than blue states. This, at least in part, stems from the fact that Republican-run states have broadly had fewer COVID-19 restrictions. 

Image Credit: FEE

In sum, the facts clearly suggest that Britain’s return to lockdown will have drastic economic consequences. It’s even possible that the second lockdown will be more damaging than before.

“Many firms are in a much weaker position now than at the start of the pandemic, making it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions,” British Chambers of Commerce Director General Adam Marshall said.

But even beyond the economy, returning to lockdowns will have drastic unforeseen and unintended consequences for Britain’s people. 

Locking people inside their homes fuels social isolation and despair.

This, tragically, will lead to more suicide and depression. We won’t have complete figures on the full toll lockdowns have taken for years to come, yet we do already have compelling evidence that they are severely harming mental health. 

Suicides are up nearly 100% among young people in Wisconsin’s second most-populous county, for example. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 4 young adults contemplated suicide during the summer amid the pandemic.

Other unintended consequences abound. For example, COVID-19 lockdowns have led to a rise in domestic violence as vulnerable people are trapped at home with abusive partners.

These are extreme examples, but sweeping top-down government restrictions are always and inevitably going to incur unintended consequences. Why? Because of what economic philosopher Friedrich Hayek called the “knowledge problem.” Even beyond the economy, returning to lockdowns will have drastic unforeseen and unintended consequences for Britain’s people.

“The ultimate decisions must be left to the people who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them,” Hayek wrote.

The principle is simple and true. Only those closest to a situation, at a decentralized and individual level, have enough information and familiarity to effectively and efficiently solve complex problems.

In London or anywhere, top-down efforts to solve vast societal ills from the offices of detached government bureaucrats are destined to fail.