Sure, the government could not anticipate what the coronavirus really meant — I think that most people understand that.
Although some of us who understood what a coronavirus was might have anticipated it, we didn't anticipate how many lives it might claim — I was one of those, and I admit to some surprise over the death toll.
However, we need to understand whether the government's reaction to it was in any way rational. My opinion is that the first reaction — that of so-called “herd immunity” was the right way to deal with this.
Coronaviruses are difficult to deal with, and much more difficult to find a vaccine for (I wrote about this previously), and it was likely both that many would have some antibodies and that a vaccine would be close to impossible.
Would my prescription have led to fewer deaths from COVID-19? Probably not — but the government locked us down and destroyed vast swathes of the economy, and that will be more damaging.
Broadly speaking, Nice approves interventions if the ‘cost per life year saved’ is below £20,000 to £30,000
So how do the various measures used to fight Covid-19 compare to the usual Nice threshold? A precise answer is not possible, but a rough figure is. Shutting down entire sections of the economy devastated tax revenue, and the government borrowed money not just to fill the gap but to increase public spending. This has risen by £135 billion this year alone, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which estimates that the national debt will grow to be £550 billion higher than was predicted at the start of the year. Obviously, this figure ignores effects on the economy not mitigated by government action, so true costs will be higher.
But let’s be cautious about the costs of lockdown and its associated measures and let’s be optimistic about what those lockdown measures achieved. The Department of Health and Social Care’s estimate of the life that might have been lost without such Covid-related expenditure is about three million life years. On this basis, the Covid measures cost just over £180,000 per life year.
The trouble is that the widely assumed statistics shows that the UK has come off worst of all of the Western economies — not only in deaths (whether measured in absolute terms, or per capita) — and politically Boris can only survive is he stops, or minimises, a “second wave”.
There are a number of issues with this assumption — with the economic one being, frankly, a lie. As Tim Worstall has repeatedly pointed out, the only reason that the UK is suffering the biggest drop in GDP is because the ONS is the only body that is measuring the economy even vaguely accurately.
In simple terms, here is how it works:
- because it is difficult to measure the value of education or health (for instance), every pound that the government spends is counted at £1 on GDP;
- in the private sector, the only thing that is measured is how much value a worker adds to the economy — which is broadly based on the amount of profit that a company makes;
- schools and hospitals don’t make profits, so;
- the way in which the government measures GDP is obviously bollocks.
But that’s how it works.
In a weirdly honest turn, the ONS has decided to measure the reduction in government output during the coronavirus panic. Since no education has been achieved (pretty much) and almost no healthcare has been achieved (pretty much), the ONS has decided to reflect that in GDP.
No other country, in the world, is measuring GDP this honestly.
Which must annoy our political masters but does, at least, allow people in this country to understand the absolute fucking devastation that the government has inflicted on this country.
We all know that serious healthcare issues are now affecting this country, but the stories that get me are those of business people — wealth creators — who have been unutterably fucked by the government response. People like Hattie Mauleverer highlighted on the BBC website...
Hattie Mauleverer used to run Top Hat Catering in London, but the business folded after the number of events dropped off a cliff after lockdown.
“It's been absolutely devastating," she told the BBC's Today programme. "Eighteen years of my life has just - puff - gone."
The local council declined to provide any rates relief for the business as people did not buy food on the the firm's large kitchen premises.
“Although it was voluntary liquidation, it wasn't much of a choice," she says. "When you're bringing in zero income it's just unsustainable to pay rent, rates, NI, whatever, anything else. So, I had to make that really difficult choice."
“So absolutely everything has had to go - the liquidators took what they wanted, and it's gone," she said.
Eighteen years of someone’s life wiped out by a colossal over-reaction to a virus that has not even killed as many people as the 2018/19 ‘flu.
As Chris Snowdon has pointed out at The Critic, it is now time to encourage and support voluntary lock-down for those who are still fear of the virus — not to endanger the wider economy.
More importantly, it is time to stop destroying the hopes, dreams and hard work of entrepreneurial individuals in our country who simply wanted to make better lives for themselves.