Reply from Authors of “To Save the Economy, Save People First” Regarding “Lockdowns Work”

Yves here. Yesterday, we published a post by Phillip Alvelda, Thomas Ferguson, and John C. Mallery: To Save the Economy, Save People First: Targeted Measures and Subsidies for Cost Effective COVID-19 Abatement.

The first major section argued:

Lockdowns Work

With over ten months of data from dozens of coronavirus hotspots around the world, statements proclaiming the futility of lockdowns are now provably false. Strict lockdowns do work, and they work swiftly, within 4-6 weeks. They worked not only to suppress, but to virtually eliminate the virus in Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland, as well as in China, Korea, and Taiwan. Figure 1 below tells the story in one picture of new COVID-19 case counts by country….

The uncomfortable reality is that the pandemic doesn’t respond to political ideology, especially when it flies in the face of nature and reality. Those who resist lockdowns and containment measures early in the wave of infections are not, in fact, avoiding lockdowns. What they are really doing is guaranteeing that the inescapable lockdown will happen regardless, and will have to be more stringent, and for much longer, because they refused more moderate action earlier. (And it will cost more and more, all along the way until the virus is suppressed.) This conclusion follows from the way coronavirus infections ramp up exponentially and taper off much more slowly. All the economy-first boosters are really doing is trading off a few weeks of “freedom” up front for months of extra lockdown on the back-end once the hospitals are overwhelmed and allowing tens of thousands of people to die needlessly in the process.

Doubters should compare the recent trajectories of Belgium and Germany. In the face of the virus resurgence, they both instituted new abatement measures at the same time. But Belgium waited until the prevalence was 10x higher than Germany’s threshold to act. The economic difference? Belgium was forced to completely close the economy, while Germany took much milder measures to decrease maximum meeting sizes and adjust the restaurant capacity limits, but otherwise kept the economy open for business.

Some readers argued that the claim (underlined) had not been substantiated. The authors of the post respond (albeit a bit curtly due to competing demands):

The critic should take a longer look at the data.

The Belgian case shows that strict lockdowns work. But let’s begin with Australia. The data tells the story. (Each vertical line separates one week.)

Whether Australia decided to stay locked down or not is independent, to some extent, of how the lockdown worked.

You can see from the data… first lockdown…worked inside four weeks. Second one tool a little longer, close to eight weeks because they waited too long, and the lockdown wasn’t particularly strict, certainly looser than Wuhan, Singapore, Korea, or Taiwan, say. Supports our points exactly.

Quicker action to begin abatement and/or lockdown results in shorter, more effective lockdowns.

Tighter lockdowns with more stringent measures are required, and take longer to resolve, the longer you wait.

Other lockdowns, in calendar order: Wuhan, Bergamo, Korea, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan (after their outbreak) and as noted, Belgium.

Yes, multi-factor, but all around strict lockdowns. Others were leakier and slower, but still worked as long as they were maintained.

The claim about not observing best practices is pernicious nonsense. The data says what it says. Best practice is to focus on the data, not spurious arguments from authority based on editorial standards (themselves subject to conflict).

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  1. davie

    If only the conversation wasn’t conceded to the right wing by using their preferred framing.
    My take away isn’t that we don’t have the scientific technology or data to overcome a pandemic in the 21st century, but we’re lacking the social technologies to overcome the collective action problem.

    I know the cat’s out of the bag on this one, but this continued framing of a “lockdown” like it’s prison, or a punishment, or an occupying army, instead of a “public quarantine” or any other sort of term that emphasizes the responsibility and solidarity required by the activity.
    Haven’t we seen this game already with the pro-lifers, or Obama-care, or “illegal aliens?”
    Like honestly, who decided to call it a business shutdown or closure instead of an economic pause or intermission? or a freeze, that can be thawed or cooled off again variably?
    Or social distancing, versus physical distancing, or health cushioning?
    We’re supposed to trust the scientists, yet they are the worst at delivering their information in an actionable form?
    Orwell’s Politics and the English Language was written half a century ago.

    (okay, anyhow, I’m done complaining while drinking my morning coffee, cathartic)

    1. chris

      The framing is due to class issues. My “sparkling isolation” is someone else’s personal hell because they can’t work and there’s no one to help them with their problems. A natural reaction to the neoliberal assault we’ve been living through is to rely on extended family more. The places where people are told to “learn to code” or leave for a city, ideally both according to the people giving the advice, are being stripped of their community networks and family support by this pandemic every time someone says we need to lockdown.

      To give you a small, simple problem caused by this pandemic and the minimum standards for physical distancing we’re trying to employ in the US: emergency school pick up of young students. If your community is lucky enough to have contained the virus and if your community is lucky enough to have teachers who want to teach in person, then you most likely will have to revise your emergency contact list so that the school knows who to call to pick up your kid in an emergency. This list has to be revised due to COVID risks for most people because the individuals on that list for many are elderly relatives. They probably don’t want to pick up an allegedly sick kid from school right now. So unless you have options or other community ties, you can’t send your kid back to school even if it opens for in person education. Pile that kind of problem with the addition of no church for many, no access to food banks for many because of surging demand, no ability for many to work from home, no ability for many to participate in even the small scale enjoyments to distract from boredom or misery, no promise of any real help with required living expenses if you’ve lost a job, and you get the current reaction.

      Telling the US to go into a strict lockdown for the pandemic is like asking people to hold their breath underwater for more than 4 minutes. Most know they’ll die or seriously injure themselves in the attempt.

      I absolutely agree with the authors who are saying that a strict lockdown in the past year would have helped the US. I absolutely agree that the data shows we would be suffering much less know if we had enforced a period of strict stay at home measures and had barred interstate travel too. But I might as well tell my neighbors to walk to the Moon. They can’t accept that kind of lockdown because they and their families will suffer so much under those conditions that they’d rather take their chances with the virus.

      1. Louis

        I completely agree–it’s easy to be for a lockdown when you have the luxury of working from home or are comfortably retired. It’s easy for these people to overlook the fact that implementing a lockdown without proper support, is putting a large number of people in an impossible situation: on one hand they are prohibited from working and earning a living, while on the other hand doing nothing to put money in their pocket to ensure that can survive the duration of the lockdown. While the public health data may favor a lockdown, a “lockdown first, worry about the economic consequences later” approach–yes there are some people who seem to favor this–will not end well for a lot of people.

        The pushback against lockdowns isn’t necessarily driven by people being stupid or wanting to kill granny, or whatever nonsense lockdown advocates tell themselves but rather a very real fear of the consequences of being out of a job without a safety net. Given the grim prospects for another stimulus bill, this may be a rational fear.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > The pushback against lockdowns isn’t necessarily driven by people being stupid or wanting to kill granny, or whatever nonsense lockdown advocates tell themselves but rather a very real fear of the consequences of being out of a job without a safety net. Given the grim prospects for another stimulus bill, this may be a rational fear.

          There’s no “may” about it. Ya know, though, Italy and France close up for the month of August (mostly). But that’s not a lockdown — a horrid term indeed, how on earth did it migrate over from school shootings — but a vacation. A paid vacation.

      2. Louis Fyne

        “They can’t accept that kind of lockdown because they and their families will suffer so much under those conditions that they’d rather take their chances with the virus.”

        Not just the deplorables….If in Feb. – Mar., Trump had ordered a 9/11-style inbound international travel stop for all persons (like AUS, Korea or NZ), the Manhattan-Beltway class would have gone insane, calling it a dictatorial power grab.

        1. SouthSideGT

          The only thing the president* is afraid of is being sentenced and sent to jail I don’t believe he would much care if the Manhattan-Beltway class called a lockdown or anything for that matter a “dictatorial power grab”.

      3. ks

        Exactly, Chris. I think the combination of elite scolding and apparent indifference to the suffering of people facing financial ruin is going to leave an embittered section of the electorate in the pandemic’s wake. Legislators in my “progressive” state express concern for and sponsor/support legislation helping individuals and small businesses, but convey no burning sense of urgency, which is what’s needed. “Stay home and wear a mask” at the end of liberal broadcasts gets on my nerves. They should be saying “get after your representatives to help you stay home and wear a mask.”

      4. Cuibono

        Well described. And why cant we fix this problem you mention?
        For precisely the same reasons we cant do proper lockdowns

      5. Yves Smith Post author

        You didn’t read the original post. The authors recommended lockdowns WITH INCOME SUPPORT.

        Straw manning is a violation of our site Policies, but I assume this was not intentional.

      6. Lambert Strether

        > I absolutely agree with the authors who are saying that a strict lockdown in the past year would have helped the US. I absolutely agree that the data shows we would be suffering much less know if we had enforced a period of strict stay at home measures and had barred interstate travel too. But I might as well tell my neighbors to walk to the Moon. They can’t accept that kind of lockdown because they and their families will suffer so much under those conditions that they’d rather take their chances with the virus.

        That’s why (as I’ve been saying forever) we need to write them a check for the needful, for the duration. Perhaps relieving the angst on the economic dimension will ease the suffering on other dimensions; it often does. Of course, that’s not on offer.

        1. chris

          No, sadly it isn’t. I took the original letter as analysis of what should and could be done. I took the response as a reply to critics comparing it to what has been done. And then I tried to reply to Davie’s question about framing with what people think will be done and why they’re against it.

          The maddening thing about this time is seeing that we have options and we’re refusing to consider them. In most cases we’re actively choosing the path that leads to more pain. At every moment I’m reminded that I’m not cynical enough to properly estimate what our government will decide to do to us next.

    2. Hickory nut

      Indeed, and I have so much trouble offering this alternative framing so others hear it. Man it feels so good to hear someone else say this before me – lockdowns don’t have to be punitive.

    3. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

      What adherents to the Church of COVID don’t talk much about is: this is America- Libertarian Paradise. If you’re not working all the time, you literally don’t eat and have nowhere to live. Go ahead & advocate paying people to stay home (thank you AOC but good luck). I’d stay home, but if I don’t go out in the public and ply my trade I will be living in a plastic tent favela in Portland or SF in very short order. There is zero mercy. So until some of the professional/managerial class or Go Forbid the Technopriests start to feel some of the pain, we’re going to continue to go out regardless of your guilt-tripping and hectoring. Over a super cold that has a 99% survival rate. The facts are always ‘right-wing’ when they don’t suit the ideology of the technocracy which has determined that 80% of the human race is now economically superfluous and therefore a drain on their meritocratic ‘betters’. Go on and beat that drum. Chris Hedges was right-the liberal class has surrendered its moral authority for quick returns on the NASDAQ

      1. marym

        Hospitals filling up again, though.

        It may have been helpful if those, elite and non-elite, who worship at the church of libertarianism, had joined “AOC“ on issues of providing economic and healthcare support for everyone, and workplace protections for all who had to continue working during the attempted partial closures.

        1. Louis

          The true libertarians have been against closures in the first place, at least government mandated ones–I’m not saying this is right but at least it’s consistent.

          It’s among the non-libertarian elites that are advocating a lockdown yet not also making it a priority to help those who will lose their livelihoods and be put in an even more precarious situation without some kind of assistence.

          1. marym

            No disagreement on the failures of non-libertarian elites.

            Non-elite libertarians who scream at retail workers who ask them to wear a mask, and don’t care if businesses don’t implement workplace safety precautions; and elite libertarians who profit from super-spreader events and workplaces are consistently anti-worker.

          2. Lambert Strether

            > It’s among the non-libertarian elites that are advocating a lockdown yet not also making it a priority to help those who will lose their livelihoods and be put in an even more precarious situation without some kind of assistence.

            The double-bind isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.

            We’ll have to see what Biden does. But if a lockdown — Covacation? — ins’t on offer, and income isn’t on offer, and testing is free but treatment is not free (I don’t think Biden says that it will be), then there’s always going to be a reservoir of people who don’t dare to take the test. So Biden, like Trump, would be betting everything on a vaccine. An mRNA vaccine whose technology has never before been tested on humans at scale.

        2. Cocomaan

          Look at the CDC numbers on covid patients in hospitals. In most states it’s less than ten or fifteen percent of beds for covid patients. Any different from a tough influenza season?

          Beds are full because of deferred treatment for disease or other reasons.

      2. anon y'mouse

        the “fatality rate” is not a function of the virus.

        it is a function of the society that responds to it.

      3. jonboinAR

        It’s worse than a “super cold”. Some of the victims are having their health ruined by it. No one seems to have a handle yet on what percentage of the over-all Covid-19 victims these are, or whether their serious-now health problems will be permanent or not,but until we do, we’d better assume that Covid-19 is one heck of a lot worse than any cold there’s ever been.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > It’s worse than a “super cold”.

          There are no long-haul victims of colds. And colds don’t give you heart trouble.

          The swagger in “it’s just a cold” really frosts me. It’s not. I don’t recall there being a worldwide shortage of ventilators during the cold season.

  2. Stephen The Tech Critic

    > “Lockdowns Work”

    I have a somewhat different criticism of this claim. I think the historical data certainly shows that “Lockdowns worked” last Spring, but a huge variable here is human behavior. I don’t believe humans are reacting to information about the virus now in the same way that they did in the Spring. Back then, I think people were a lot more afraid of the virus and behaved more cautiously given similar data trends. Now, people seem a lot more nonchalant, and they may tolerate much more dire statistics before they alter their behavior.

    With that said, behavior could change quite dramatically if news suddenly gets worse or things get bad enough to directly affect a lot of people. If hospitals widely become overwhelmed and death rates spike, people could suddenly turn very fearful. Or maybe not. I mean Joe Biden (believe in Science!) is president now right? And we’re going to have vaccines in a few weeks! So now the TV people can talk about something else, hospitals be damned. Meanwhile, many of the Trump people are already convinced its a hoax, even on their COVID-19 death beds.

    Forgive me for being jaded, but I don’t have much faith that anything useful will come from the US federal government anytime soon, and without adequate economic support, I remain unconvinced that a lockdown is even beneficial. Instead, it seems like a good way to foment civic rebellion, which is probably bad for both COVID and the economy.

    The US has really backed itself into a corner here, and barring some kind of dramatic change in sentiment from Congress and the new Biden Admin (Ha!) toward the “radical progressive left”, I think we’re headed down the long, hard path toward herd immunity, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we “get there” (suffering heavy losses along the way) before any of these vaccines see wide distribution. And then, things get even more interesting because of the likely social backlash that will ensue.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > behavior could change quite dramatically if news suddenly gets worse or things get bad enough to directly affect a lot of people.

      Or if the “lockdown” is “strict.” Quarantines are enforceable at the local level. Surely the point of law is to change behavior? (An example would be non-smoking ordinance. Yes, a lot of yammering about freedom, but ultimately people decided if the price of being nice to smokers was cancer, the price was too high. Of course, “ultimately” is going a lot of work there; the Covid-19 is a multiplicative process.)

  3. Clive

    This is finessing the original statement, which was “strict lockdowns work in 4 -6 weeks”.

    The statement only works as originally written when the starting conditions are varied in order to achieve the durational outcomes desired. Obviously, if you have a starting condition which is 1000 cases in a population of, say, 100 million, there is a lot less in-progress community transmission so a far greater likelihood of arresting community transmission through a lockdown because less of the population are infected essential workers or others who have no choice but to interact with others thus initiating new infections even within the lockdown regime.

    This was also where the further “strict” finessing came in, because an obvious area of leakage is essential workers and other unavoidable interactions such as personal care for seniors — restrictions of which are tolerable for a couple of weeks but not viable much beyond that as societal breakdown would ensue pretty quickly once utilities, refuse collection, food distribution and so on were ceased. A “strict” lockdown (more-or-less everyone under house arrest) can be viable for a limited duration but the stricter the lockdown, the less sustainable it is. Once, then, past a given point the strictness of the lockdown is incompatible with the lockdown duration required.

    But then the decisioning as to strictness levels remains unaddressed. Why did some countries — who had previously instigated very stringent lockdowns — decide to have less strict ones? One theory which was postulated was a concern for revitalising economic activity. But there is also another possibility which wasn’t discussed — maintaining some semblance of a functioning society. This latter consideration was not, well, considered.

    Turing to situations where much higher levels of community transmission were occurring, it’s good to learn that the “4 – 6 week” timeframe has been walked back — because with the sorts of starting conditions which most countries had, this timeframe could not be substantiated (and it hasn’t been). It was an attempt to obfuscate that the solution, as described, was only viable in starting conditions which we don’t now have. If the suggestion to “observe best practice” had been taken, it would not need a follow-up post to contextualise and clarify (you could also say “correct errors”) in the original. So perhaps it isn’t such precious nonsense after all.

    If best practices were followed, readers wouldn’t need to point out inaccuracies which were, at best, due to a lack of context and, at worst, deliberate attempts to skew data — and certainly some important data was omitted from the original piece to ensure apples weren’t compared with oranges — at least now we can see which are apples and which are oranges. This would improve trust in writers covering COVID-19. Improved trust is essential in the acceptance and adoption of public health policies. But we can’t bemoan a lack of trust if we act in an untrustworthy way. Being sloppy with claims through omitting essential context does not build trust.

    Next, the issue of failed early strict lockdowns has not been mentioned. As the FT notes:

    Peru’s early, stringent lockdown proved ineffective at containing the spread of coronavirus


    The early national lockdown imposed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March was one of the strictest in the world but it failed to flatten the curve of cases and left millions of people without their daily wages. Suddenly jobless, many people travelled to their home villages to reunite with their families, often taking the virus with them.

    Forced to reopen the economy to let people earn again, the central government loosened restrictions in early May, which led to a sharp rise in cases and a splintering of opinions among state leaders on how fast to manage the economic reopening. Some decided to extend the lockdown locally but, inevitably, the uneven easing of restrictions led to a surge in the number of cases. They are now growing faster than anywhere else in the world — by 80,000 a day — and both the economic and human toll remain huge.

    What does the author attribute these failures to? The FT suggests that different countries have, to state the obvious, differently-organised societies and different societal norms and expectations. This seems logical. How are these to be homogenised in short order so as to bring all countries into a position where short, strict lockdowns are effective — absent magical thinking?

    Finally, given the wildly variable outcomes for the same original inputs which different countries are experiencing, how is the random element, again, referring to the FT’s coverage:

    Yet for all the patterns that appear in the data, the resurgence also demonstrates the outsized role seemingly played by random chance in the story of Covid-19. When Italy avoided a second wave in the late summer, many pointed to its high levels of mask-wearing as a contributory factor. And indeed, only one country has higher levels of mask-wearing than Italy. That country’s identity? Spain, home to the worst second wave of the continent.

    … to be both accounted for and discounted? If it cannot be explained and quantified, it represents a perfectly viable alternative theory for all other theories not just mask adoption but also lockdown efficacy. The author must, surely, be aware that these points are the subject of vigorous debate in the scientific and medical communities (and the general public, too). Why, then, the persistent claims to be in possession of what sounds like absolute certainties when these simply do not exist?

    1. Donald

      To me it looks like lockdowns work if they are fairly strict and if the society which imposes them has a strong safety net. If it doesn’t, then it won’t work very well. In the US we don’t have a strong safety net except for Wall Street, so people see it as the economy vs public health or worse, they see it as public health vs “my constitutional rights” and it becomes part of the stupid culture war.

      1. Louis Fyne

        Add in….high trust in government, a government that’s transparent, and high trust-solidarity between citizens.

        This is not the US—whether run by a Republican White House or Democratic.

        1. Dirk77

          Trust is important. I have the luxury of currently living in a state in which the governor seems pretty sensible. So I’ll do what she says and leave it to her to learn from any mistakes. I realize she regards the will of her big donors as absolute – like every politician. Yet for whatever reason that tends to coincide with the best interests of her constituents at least in this case.

      2. The Historian


        It is truly odd that there are people who think that the Constitution says that they have no responsibility to protect their fellow citizens from illness or death. Methinks politics and ideology have overcome their ability to think critically.

        I agree that because we don’t have a safety net in this country, Covid has become a culture war in the minds of many instead of the disease that it is.

      3. JWP

        I’m disappointed no one on the left like AOC, Bernie, Markey, etc would have pushed for some sort of social safety net like the european model of paying x% of people’s salaries to stay home in a lockdown. A good way to force the rest of the politicians to show their true colors and say ‘no, we do not want to pay you and have you be safe.” That segment of the left needs a more unified approach because they really missed a once in a lifetime opportunity to box out neoliberal policies in the public eye and move towards normalizing a social safety net.

    2. CuriosityConcern

      If I had the time, I would compile quarantine efforts by country, state, province, and municipality and also provision by state to citizen for sustenance during and after quarantine.
      My base assumption is that a quarantine will work because physical avenues of transmission are mitigated/remediated by virtue of distance.
      Urban areas with multifamily residences where air systems are shared might be a lockdown counter example as being stationary in a domicile but being exposed to virus via air systems would not help anyone. Elderly urbanites might be in this situation due to living in assisted living facilities.
      Apologies if I missed the point of your comment.

      1. CuriosityConcern

        But public health experts say living and working conditions in the country of 33 million—where a fifth of people live on only around $100 a month—has made it near impossible for many Peruvians to comply with quarantine measures.

        Time, 5/2020

    3. Carolinian

      Thanks as always for some perspective. There’s now a large scale Danish study that suggests mask wearing doesn’t really help. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t wear a mask in stores–particularly if you are even vaguely symptomatic–but one does have to wonder whether masks are more a placebo than a real thing. Which is to say by making people feel safer they allow them to carry on with the things that need to be done like grocery shopping.

      But the underlying assumption in all of these discussions is that we can somehow control the epidemic as long as we aren’t “doing it wrong” and that too has yet to be proven. Of course if everyone is quarantined 24/7 then they aren’t going to get sick. But such a single minded approach is both impractical and may itself be harmful and even deadly in ways that don’t get talked about. It’s really as much an epidemic of fear and the media are leading the charge.

      The truth is we all take risks every day and the fact that some are more willing to do this than others cannot be allowed to be an excuse for punishing everyone. The epidemic will eventually go away but government special powers, once granted, may be hard to take back.

      1. rusti

        There’s now a large scale Danish study that suggests mask wearing doesn’t really help.

        The study only attempted to assess effectiveness for the wearer and happened to result in some small margin for even this much more modest conclusion:


        Inconclusive results, missing data, variable adherence, patient-reported findings on home tests, no blinding, and no assessment of whether masks could decrease disease transmission from mask wearers to others.


        The recommendation to wear surgical masks to supplement other public health measures did not reduce the SARS-CoV-2 infection rate among wearers by more than 50% in a community with modest infection rates, some degree of social distancing, and uncommon general mask use. The data were compatible with lesser degrees of self-protection.

        I’m receptive to the idea that mask wearing is likely overstated as an effective epidemiological tool but this study definitely doesn’t nullify all the other studies about mask use. At my climbing gym they let one hundred people pack inside during busy hours and put a bit of hand sanitizer by the exit to show that they’re taking things seriously. People will believe what they want to believe.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I pointed out the study methods were crap since they involve retrospective reporting. Studies on diet and exercise that rely on self-reporting have been found to be highly inaccurate. Participants exaggerate their level of compliance. Here, that would reduce any measured effects.

          On top of that, masks (short of n95s, which have to be fitted to deliver the full benefits) were never about protecting the user. They are about protecting other people.

          So this study is complete garbage in, garbage out.

          1. rusti

            Participants exaggerate their level of compliance.

            I strongly suspect that this was the case for this study, because wearing a mask in the Nordic countries during this time (April-May) resulted in a lot of bug-eyed looks from other people which would take a bit thicker skin to get used to.

        2. Carolinian

          I don’t believe or disbelieve anything and think I made clear that I’m not advocating not wearing masks. What I am objecting to is the idea that masks are some kind of solution when, forget the Danes, they clearly have not been. Most of America has been wearing masks for months now and Covid is still with us. The likely explanation is that masks don’t protect you in the situations where you are most likely to contract the disease–i.e. from family members and people you know.

          1. Basil Pesto

            ‘Most of America’ is doing quite a lot of lifting there.

            On the other hand, masks have been mandatory in Victoria for 4 months now (this is being eased a little bit in about 20 minutes) and there are now one (1) active cases.

            That’s reductive too, because there was also a strict lockdown. I can’t shake the feeling that you appear to be cherrypicking to support your belief (albeit expressed with an air of insouciant intellectual innocence “one can’t help but wonder”) that masks are a placebo.

            Or to put it another way, you said:

            There’s now a large scale Danish study that suggests mask wearing doesn’t really help.

            to which I am inclined to respond: bullshit. (there’s always a study). Of course, in the fullness of time I might be completely wrong.

      2. FluffytheObeseCat

        Considering one of Clive’s points, that social characteristics of different societies impact their lockdown results, I would not use a Danish study for dissing or “debunking” the value of universal mask mandates in the U.S. I’d use studies from the U.S., like the following: The scientific talk this news report is based on follows:

        U.S. studies overwhelmingly support universal mask use, and both the above studies suggest municipal/county government mandates save lives and reduce morbidity.

        If you are going to use examples from other regions, the apparent great success of mask use throughout east Asian nations is another piece of large-scale evidence in favor of mask use….. much larger than anything that can be done in Denmark. Despite all the vaguely Orientalist yapping here about the ‘authoritarian’ cultures of the Pacific littoral, they aren’t in fact, all the PRC. They do not all goose-step in tandem. Yet, infection and mortality rates in these very different cultures are vastly lower than ours. The one commonality they do clearly share is extensive mask use.

        In reviewing popular news articles on Google, one thing that I noted was that many of the highest ranked anti-mask studies cited were studies of influenza transmission, not SARS virus transmission. The East Asians seem to base their strong mask mandates and preferences on actual study of, and experience with SARS coronaviruses rather than a very different virus, influenza, with a distinctly different morphology and likely pattern of transmission. I trust their hard won assessments more than those of people who 1) hate masks, 2) suffer from ill-concealed xenophobia, and 3) rely on 2-3 year old studies of influenza contagion.

        1. Carolinian

          Asian countries have long used masks for reasons other than Covid including more crowded and more polluted cities. Science says correlation does not equal causation and given the huge cultural, climatic and other variables I’m not sure country to country comparisons are meaningful. The Danish study was all in one country and therefore eliminated many of those variables. It isn’t definitive but then, no offense, your conclusions aren’t either.

          There is no statewide mask mandate in South Carolina but since the beginning of summer there has been substantial masking in the Upstate urban area where I live. And we now have the highest Covid incidence in the state. Could it be other factors including more contact with out of staters and more immigrants (which was a factor in Queens, NYC)? I don’t know but it’s hard to say masks have made much difference. And around here people do wear .them

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            It is appalling that this study is getting any attention.

            As I stated above, the Danish study is crap. Retrospective self-reporting has repeatedly demonstrated to be unreliable. Participants would tend to exaggerate their degree of compliance, which in this case would would make masking look worse.

            More important, the study is all about a bogus question. Masking is about protecting other people, yet the study was about the irrelevant issue of whether masks protect the user, something (aside from n95s) they were NEVER intended to do.

          2. Lambert Strether

            The Danish study is not very good. If you read it, you will find the Limitations section (linked to by me this morning). It reads:

            Inconclusive results, missing data, variable adherence, patient-reported findings on home tests, no blinding, and no assessment of whether masks could decrease disease transmission from mask wearers to others.

            Yves points out the “patient-reported findings on home tests” issue, but there’s more.

            In general, controlled studies on mask-wearing for whole populations are hard.

      3. Aumua

        Forget lock downs. 10 months into this and we’re still at “masks don’t work”. Shaking my head…

      1. Lambert Strether

        > The authors’ rebuttal is really disingenuous in the extreme

        I don’t see two things.

        First, the disputed claim (helpfully underlined) is:

        Strict lockdowns do work, and they work swiftly, within 4-6 weeks.

        The author presents one chart for Australia, and says he can present others for Wuhan, Bergamo, Korea, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan (after their outbreak) and as noted, Belgium, to suppoprt the claim. I fail to see how this is disingenuous.

        Second, “disingenuous” implies bad faith. From what basis can you possibly make this assertion? I am aware that the language of scholarly controversy is sometimes robust, but I fail to see how this accusation comports with the standards for scientific writing that Clive seems so concerned to have upheld.

        1. Clive

          The problem is that, without context, someone reading the piece, as written (and as quoted above) in, say, the US, would quite understandably think that all that needed to happen was a strict lockdown (glossing over, as the author did, what, exactly is specified by “strict”, but that’s a comparatively minor issue) for 4 – 6 weeks.

          As the author conceded, this is not true when there are significant levels of ongoing community transmission. Where this is the starting point, as experience in countries like China and Australia has shown, 10 to 12 weeks is the figure from what has already been experienced and proven.

          And failure modes — such as I cited from Peru and India have not been explained.

          So without a robust model on what starting conditions produce what length of lockdown needed with what risks of failure, you are asking populations to undergo significant hardship merely on conjecture. Of course, if there is a model (preferably published and peer-reviewed) which covers this, I’d be happy to see a link to it.

          Why does this matter? Societies’ trusts in experts and journalism is low to non-existent. These professions need to therefore rebuild trust. Being either intentionally or unintentionally inaccurate, leaving readers with incorrect understandings, skewing societal problems like COVID-19 fit in with ideological narratives and, frankly, making stuff up continue to undermine trust. Did you not read that the Best Practice is previously linked to was aimed at scientists communicating with the public and journalists writing about science and medicine? It is not intended to apply to scientific papers being published.

          If the author of the post and the rebuttal piece here had taken care to contextualise the claim they made — or layered an explanation to cover different starting scenarios — everyone would have been clear from the get-go what would have to happen in their own countries. I, for example, in the UK would have assessed that a 10 – 12 week long lockdown was never going to get traction with a vaccine, or something labelled as a vaccine anyway, in the offing.

          Readers in the US would be able to offer their own more accurate views, but I’d hazard a guess that the notion of the US being able to sustain a 12 week lockdown, with some (currently unquantified, but definitely some) risk of it failing to eradicate COVID-19 (and, again, we’re still in the dark about what “strict” would mean, but it’s hardly likely to be especially palatable) are vanishingly small as things stand today. We could, then, look at what societal changes were necessary to improve the possibility of public adherence to a likely lengthy lockdown (and then we could evaluate how plausible those were). But no. If I hadn’t kicked up a fuss, we’d have just ended up with another dead-end debate about why we can’t just have a 4 – 6 week lockdown — which would have crashed and burned when the truth came out that it wasn’t even a viable option in the first place given where the US is at today in terms of community infection levels.

          Of course, it is only guidance. There’s no law — nor should there be — against writing misleading articles with easy-to-misinterpret claims. Whether doing that helps or not, I’m not so sure.

    4. Code Name D

      You wanted data? You got data. Its quite inarguable at this point that lockdowns do work. The evidence to this effect, presented in this small venue at least, is overwhelming.

      So why the science denial? May I hazard a guess that it blows a giant hole through “free markets?” One of the central tenants of free markets is that governments cannot do anything competently while markets are hyper competent. If markets can’t control COVID, then COVID can’t be controlled.

      Along comes government mandated lockdowns which proves this myth wrong. It also strongly suggests that government supervision over markets can be effective in managing crises. This has implications not just with COVID, but also with global warming, inequality, education, health care, and social safety nets. Even the issue of smoking and “cultural corms” are impacted here.

      COVID doesn’t respect ideology. Nor should we.

    5. ChrisPacific

      I think there is also some selection bias at work in the examples offered to support the thesis that lockdowns are effective. Yes, they were effective in those particular instances. What about all the other times they were tried? For example, there have been many ‘lockdowns’ in various US states – how did they all work out?

      You can try a ‘No True Scotsman’ argument if you want and say that the lockdowns that didn’t work weren’t really lockdowns or weren’t properly implemented or otherwise failed in one or more particulars. But if you do that, you’ve given up the ability to generalize and recommend it as a solution for other cases, as the authors are trying to do. The only way to fix THAT problem is to look at practicalities, particulars and regional variations, which I think is what Clive is saying. He’s not arguing that lockdowns don’t work ever, just that they work in a particular and unique set of circumstances that may not always be achievable. “Here are some times when lockdowns worked” is not a rebuttal to this.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Aside from NYC and California, some of the so-called “lockdowns” didn’t warrant the label due to non-compliance/lack of enforcement. And most in the South were too short. Here in Alabama, which had shelter-in-place, the top epidemiologist at the University of Alabama-Birmingham (best med school in South and the prof in question is recognized as a national expert) made strenuous objections in the press over the lockdown being lifted a week too early.

    6. cocomaan

      Clive, I’ve been reading your posts for a few weeks and thank you for being relentless on this. I think your criticisms are on point.

    7. Lambert Strether

      > deliberate attempts to skew

      Bilge, if only on the grounds that nobody here is a telepath. Yes, I saw the “at worst” qualifier. Feh.

      > we can’t bemoan a lack of trust if we act in an untrustworthy way

      You got that right.

      I think the constant whinging about “context” is, well, not helpful. For one thing, I am unpersuaded, based on the copious reading I have done of your commentary on this topic, that any “context” would satisfy you. I hardly think that an open invitation to goalpost-moving is “best practice” in any context.

      More importantly, your critique in essence demands that the poster write a different post from the post that he did (like the reviewer who wanted the book about penguins to be about ravens). That’s not on. I don’t know a publication where it would be on. If readers don’t like posts, they are perfectly free to move on an find a post that they do like.

      Most importantly, this is a blog with a comments section. The readers aren’t dumb, or easily led astray by evil forces that fail to implement “best practices.”* The comments section, among its other functions, allows for context to be provided. So I think it’s — I don’t want to attribute motive — curious, not to say puzzling, or peculiar — that an author who posts in a forum which by definition allows for the addition of context is to be pilloried and smeared for not providing it.

      * And stop with this tendentious “best practices” bullshit. It’s offensive. Naked Capitalism sets its own editoral standards, has for years, with success, and isn’t going to adopt second-hand ones lifted from a different form of writing entirely. If readers get their knickers in a twist about low standards, they are free to try to find the happiness they seek elsewhere.

      1. Clive

        This contextualisation would have been perfectly satisfactory (or some variation of it):

        “Strict lockdowns work in 4 – 6 weeks where countries start from low levels of COVID-19 community transmission, as New Zealand demonstrated, although where there are high levels of ongoing community transmission the duration of the lockdown is likely to be nearer 10 – 12 weeks, as has been shown in Australia and China”.

        That took me all of a minute or so to write. It would have probably been helpful to add something about how there’s always a risk that a lockdown won’t be effective. An author as you say chooses what to put in and what to leave out. If the author knows of something which could invalidate a point they make, but makes a decision to omit that something, they are, though, inevitably, relying on and preying on reader ignorance rather than informing a reader and giving them the freedom to make an informed opinion. Still, if we’re happy to knowing let readers stay ignorant then we can use that to gain some advantage in signing up converts to whatever cause we’re espousing. I’ve certainly been tempted to do this myself in the past. What always stops me is that such converts are likely to be short term because, sooner or later, they’ll suss out that I’ve played them for fools and not only will they become unconverted, they’ll probably, correctly, refuse to listen to a single word I say ever again.

        It is not unreasonable to expect an author to be accurate on a point where accuracy matters. If an author refuses to accept they’ve been inaccurate or else is mealy-mouthed about issuing a begrudging correction (which still isn’t particularly an explicit one) then they can double down if they want but that isn’t especially helpful to their credibility and doesn’t make them appear particularly trustworthy, either.

        As you rightly say, if an article which appears here has inaccuracies we can, as commentators, have the privilege of being allowed to say so. We can also point out how the inaccuracies crept in in the first place, especially where other writers have both seen the same mistakes being made over many years or even made them themselves. I am unsure why any author would be reluctant to learn from the experience of others in the same situations and then be able to take steps to avoid repeating the same process which led them to making the mistakes — unless they just like writing rubbish and inflicting it on readers. If they do, they can hardly be surprised if it gets a rough reception.

        And did you really intend to instruct readers to stop doing that? If so, are we not to be damned if we do (we can’t point out the reason an author is making mistakes is because they’re ignoring an established methodology for helping accurately write on science and medical matters) and damned if we don’t (we just look like we’re opinionating because we don’t get to cite what’s forming the basis of our opinion)? The only other option I see is to laboriously type out or paste someone else’s formulation for why mistakes occur in scientific or medical writing and try to pass it off as my own work, lest I fall into the trap of appearing to appeal to authority or attempting to issue editorial direction.

        And yes, again, an author can say in effect, I’m determined to write rubbish and have no intentions to learn from my mistakes or anyone else’s. Why they would want to do that though beats the heck out of me.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The authors still dispute your assertions. Via e-mail:

          I‘d guess he is making that “10 week+ once community spread has taken hold” assertion because he is comparing strict and swift Asian lockdowns, with slow and leaky Western ones.

          Few, if any, of the western countries used forced quarantines of positive tests away from family, as an example. Even at high prevalence, with STRICT lockdowns, think, doing the full-Wuhan, including importing 40k workers to treat and manage the quarantined, and organizing vast federal and citizen armies to feed those locked in their apartment blocks. Then, even high prevalence can be swiftly suppressed.

  4. Fazal Majid

    Compliance with lockdown orders varies widely between countries. Here in London I see no evidence of it, despite the stereotype of the British as a stern and disciplined lot, and that probably accounts for the spike in infections.

  5. Cocomaan

    The United States was as locked down as it was ever going to get back in March. People were willing to listen. There were almost no planes flying, almost nobody on the road. I had never seen anything like it before. Except, perhaps, after 911.

    The fact is that the opportunity was wasted. 911 happened two decades ago and I’d venture to say that you can only put society through a Shock and Awe campaign like a 4-6 week lockdown about once a decade.

    We had a lockdown and it did not achieve the ends espoused by people who want another one.

    1. Donald

      In the NYC area the health care system was on the verge of collapse in the spring. The lockdown prevented total catastrophe.

      I can’t speak for other countries. In the US we have two problems. First the safety net is laughably inadequate. We did have the Cares act, but it needed to be extended. But we sure saved the stock market.

      And the second problem is that everything becomes part of the stupid culture war. People judge everything according to who says it. That even happens in the comments section at this blog, where the professional managerial class is rightly criticized, but unfortunately if they happen to be in favor of lockdowns or against Trump it must mean that lockdowns are bad and that Trump is good.

      I am not saying that there are not criticisms one can make of lockdowns— they don’t work if the working class people aren’t supported. But I don’t care that bad people favor lockdowns. Bad people also oppose lockdowns. It cancels out.

      1. tegnost

        “People judge everything according to who says it. That even happens in the comments section at this blog, where the professional managerial class is rightly criticized, but unfortunately if they happen to be in favor of lockdowns or against Trump it must mean that lockdowns are bad and that Trump is good.”

        Criticizing the PMC…Your argument is Criticize PMC>PMC in favor of lockdowns>PMC doesn’t like trump>People who criticize the PMC don’t want lockdowns and favor trump. Is that the basic trend of what you’re saying?

        1. Clive

          Unfortunately it is way bigger and way more complex than that.

          Whether the author is or isn’t a member of the Professional / Managerial Class (PMC), they used the same playbook in both their original post and today’s adjoined one.

          In their original post, they either unintentionally or intentionally mislead potential readers — a reasonable person, on a fair reading their original post, taken as a whole, would conclude, as commentators did, that for those of us in countries where readers were likely to be drawn from (such as the US, the U.K., France, Germany, most of Europe really — anywhere with a pre-existing high level of COVID-19 community transmission), that a 4 to 6 week “strict” lockdown would reduce COVID-19 cases to very low (manageable) levels.

          When challenged, this proved to be, again, at best, a sleight of statistical hand and at worst knowingly inaccurate and virtually certain to hoodwink a typical reader.

          Thus, far, I think this my statements there are fairly uncontroversial and will assume accepted.

          But then, faced with legitimate criticism, which led to “clarifications” and additional explanations, the author did something that is a classic technique deployed by the PMC. They completely ignored that they are le demandeur (someone in a position of asking others to do something, but with no power whatsoever over anyone to get them to do it) and instead, tried to turn the tables on those who would exert their own power.

          The power is that to criticise and say “no” to a demand which is in truth in no position at all to be a demand, but is, rather, in reality a mere request or suggestion. They both criticised and (I’ll leave fellow readers to be the judges of the tone they employed) potentially sought to belittle those taking them to task for sloppiness in both their theory (as was expressed) and the right to ask le demandeur to sell their wares to their audience. And not just expect their audience to lap it all up unquestioningly.

          The author seemed to completely forget the real power relationship. Which is they, hawking a theory on how to construct a public health policy (who have no power) and us, potentially sell-able on a theory but who need to be convinced if we’re sceptical of it (and thereby have all the power, because we can simply say “no, sorry, I’m not buying it” and go and watch cat videos on YouTube or something).

          Or perhaps they didn’t for a moment forget and were, instead, acutely aware of the chronic imbalance they were facing into. To which, they may have decided to bluster it out.

          Which of those it is, I of course can’t tell. If they want to, they can tell us whether they knew, with foreknowledge, who was trying to sell us stuff and who was buying (or maybe not buying) it but hoped we wouldn’t notice or else whether they’d completely forgotten who was doing what.

          But regardless, this whole exercise has been a most illuminating one in the dynamics of the PMC (or those who act like the PMC and adopt a PMC-like role). It isn’t really about lockdown strictness, durations, whether lockdown sceptics are dastardly capitalists or just the genuinely not persuaded. It is about power. Who has it and who wants it.

          The uncomfortable reality for the PMC, in this as in everything, is that we have all, they have none. No wonder, in the face of anyone spotting that le demandeur can demandeur all they like, but that’s the limit of what they can do, that some in the PMC class are casting an envious eye on authoritarian countries. Things are all a whole lot simpler in those. You don’t, for a start, have to worry about making overstated claims in a policy piece and anyone calling you out on it.

          In fact, you don’t need to worry about the people at all. They just do what you tell them to do. Or else.

          1. cocomaan

            But regardless, this whole exercise has been a most illuminating one in the dynamics of the PMC (or those who act like the PMC and adopt a PMC-like role).

            The uncomfortable reality for the PMC, in this as in everything, is that we have all, they have none.

            I think you hit the nail on the head here: when it comes to the PMC, they’re acting as if they’re in charge, and that’s usually enough.

            Look at the readership of the NYT or the viewership of CNN and you find that an extraordinarily small number of Americans consume it. There’s a feedback loop between politics and the media where politics needs airwaves and the media craves being kingmaker. Both crave attention and consume/feed each other. But the vast majority of people are neither and don’t need these PMC groups.

            I for one have lost faith in pretty much every institution at this point and I am seeking to be self sufficient as a matter of self defense.

          2. Lambert Strether

            > In their original post, they either unintentionally or intentionally mislead potential readers — a reasonable person, on a fair reading their original post, taken as a whole, would conclude, as commentators did, that for those of us in countries where readers were likely to be drawn from (such as the US, the U.K., France, Germany, most of Europe really — anywhere with a pre-existing high level of COVID-19 community transmission), that a 4 to 6 week “strict” lockdown would reduce COVID-19 cases to very low (manageable) levels.

            The 4 to 6 week figure is entirely reasonable. See here.

            As for community transmission, Wuhan ffs.

            NOTE * “unintentionally or intentionally mislead” is clever. Unintentionally and intentionally are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. So there’s no reason to say “unintentional” unless one wishes to smuggle in the “intentional.”

            1. Clive

              No country with preexisting high levels of community transmission has been able to demonstrate eliminating or even controlling COVID-19 with a 4 – 6 week lockdown. Wuhan took three months

              The claim that a country can do this in 4 – 6 weeks is simply untrue based on empirical evidence. While it is possible to construct models to postulate any theory if real world observations don’t match the model then the model needs to explain why. The link provided was not in a scientific journal and did not contain a published, peer reviewed paper. It wasn’t even a model, it was an opinion piece. It was written by Andy Slavitt whose bio is isted as follows:

              Slavitt graduated from both The College of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1988, and earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1993

              Slavitt therefore has no experience in practicing medicine or in epidemiology. Readers can review the rest of his career history and decide if he is someone who’s musings on public health policy are ones we should take particularly seriously

              I was being measured and refraining from making claims about the motivation of the author of the original piece. I genuinely do not know why they made a claim which even they couldn’t substantiate (and still hasn’t been substituted — that a country with high levels of preexisting community transmission can control COVID-19 in 4 – 6 weeks) and I do not know whether they just didn’t check or checked but ran with an unsubstantiated claim anyway.

              If they did know, then it looks like a crude attempt at bait and switch i.e. an attempt to hook in readers with a teaser lockdown duration and then, when a population had already born the brunt of the initial cost, use an escalation of commitment to get them to go along with the rest of the (previously-undisclosed) demand.

              If a politician approached the public with a Medicare for All policy and claimed that how it would be financed was to take 4 – 6 weeks wages from everyone and that would be the cap, but then, once enacted, it turned out that no, it wasn’t 4 – 6 weeks wages that would be paid but 10 – 12 and also, by the way, you might not actually be covered depending on what conditions existed at the start of the policy, we’d hound them out of town here. Rightly so.

              It wouldn’t be much better if they said, gee, we were only talking about introducing the policy in some theoretical country but unfortunately that wasn’t like the one we’re actually starting out with so yes, in that case, it’ll be worse than you might have (incorrectly) thought it was. We’d, again, rightly, label them as incompetent and unfit to have anything to do with advising us on public health policy.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                See the key chart from the after-action report from Wuhan, from the Chief scientist who managed the effort, Slide 11 here:

                Up through Jan 20, China had not tried any serious containment measures. They tried a light lockdown from Jan 23 to the end of January, and then, when they figured that wasn’t enough within about a week, they went to full lockdown with mandatory qua, as the chart shows.

                They continued the lockdown of the area as they slowly relaxed, and squashed a few minor flare-ups over the next couple of months, but the rest of China was already starting to slowly go back into production by the middle of March.

        2. Donald

          I don’t respond to straw man arguments.

          Lockdowns work if governments provide adequate support for people under lockdown and if people don’t have childish attitudes.. Unfortunately in the US we have a crappy safety net and a lot of people who think masks and basic concern for others infringes on their freedom. But even here the one in the Northeast worked last spring.

          1. jsn

            Yes, this.

            While I’m sympathetic to Clive in his thinking, his logic and argument are better thought through and closer to a very complex reality, they are not communicable: very few people can or will follow the logic down the real and propagating rabbit holes reality degenerates into when we’re in a hurry.

            This comment centers its politics, has high explanatory power and doesn’t tell anyone what to think or do. It has the kind of heuristic transparency that lets you decide how to act yourself.

          2. Tom Bradford

            I argued this point with Clive yesterday when he dismissed New Zealand’s success at defeating Covid largely through lockdown as being attributable to unique conditions not applicable elsewhere.

            Yes we had the advantages of good leadership which adopted the author’s arguments and put the people before the economy (or perhaps recognised that without people you can’t have an economy) and a population that largely saw the sense of what it was being asked to do and did it. A good social safety net helped but businesses were still ruined, peoples’ finances were strained and there was a lot of social harm, but it worked.

            My argument was that any country COULD have done this but few, at least in the west, DID do it – because of a combination of bad, myopic leadership and resistance from a significant proportion of society to act socially.

            The lesson to be learned, surely, is that the countries that failed like the US and the UK in particular, need to take a long look at why they failed as this, surely, indicates an underlying sickness in their societies that Covid merely took advantage of.

            1. Alex Cox

              This is a fascinating conversation. And whatever one’s response to the original article, the authors were kind enough to respond to the commentariat. How often does this occur? Thank you NC!

            2. Bakes

              Genuine question being asked here:

              Was NZ really a case of lockdown? Or more a case of lockout?

              An island nation that seals its borders soon enough and fast enough may have some advantage in dealing with a nascent pandemic. Indeed, it seems Hawaii did well until they attempted to restart tourism. Which is a significant part of their island economy.

              Continental nations have additional challenges in sealing extensive, multi-thousand kilometer borders.

              Add in lack of support for the common folk and their families and is it any surprise the result?

              1. ChrisPacific

                We benefited from being able to easily secure our borders, but the main point of lockdown was to halt community transmission, and it achieved that. It started up again at least once since that time, but we used a regional lockdown and contact tracing to get rid of it again.

                The model has arguably been successfully replicated elsewhere, e.g. the Tufts Covid protocols that somebody linked to a few days back, which all looked instantly recognizable to me, and which have kept their case count extremely low and positivity rate well under 1%. Given that they sit within a community with no border controls and higher infection rates, this is pretty impressive, and might be close to the optimum that can be achieved under the circumstances.

          3. tegnost

            “A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes another person’s argument or point, distorts it or exaggerates it in some kind of extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion, as if that is really the claim the first person is making.”
            What that means in real life is that your “I don’t respond to straw men” is the straw man. Distort then attack.

            I merely took your claim and excised your ifs, and, and buts, then asked if that was what you meant. Freshman level writing critique.
            In my opinion you committed a logical fallacy and I was trying to point it out, i.e. pmc for lockdowns and don’t like trump. Criticizing pmc does not result in lockdowns bad and trump good. The argument sounds fancy but does not follow.

            Fallacy. “A fallacy is the use of invalid or otherwise faulty reasoning, or “wrong moves” in the construction of an argument. A fallacious argument may be deceptive by appearing to be better than it really is.”

            “Lockdowns work if governments provide adequate support for people”

            Which government is going to do that?
            In my experience most people wear masks.
            Your “lockdown” in the northeast had a lot of people still working, only the select few get to watch the world through their window while waiting for the instacart driver to show up.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > We had a lockdown and it did not achieve the ends espoused by people who want another one.

      Do you understand that the claim of “Strict lockdowns do work, and they work swiftly, within 4-6 weeks” is entirely compatible with the claim that “The United States butchered its lockdown”?

  6. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I get the impression that Covid demands respect which it got from those who were visited by it’s predeseccor, but from that which I have read South Korea used other tools besides lockdown to get on top of it – although it is it seems now making a comeback.

    A friend sent me a link to this from economist Umair Haque, which if his figures are correct in comparison to them, the West has incurred about a 97% higher death rate.

    ” South Korea’s population is 51 million people. It’s had (just) 600 Covid deaths. Let’s extrapolate those numbers to the West.
    Europe’s population is about 740 million people. It’s had about 260,000 Covid deaths. At Eastern levels, it would have had just 8700 deaths.
    The USA’s population is about 330 million people. It’s had about 243,000 Covid deaths. At Eastern levels, it would have had just 4000 deaths.
    The UK’s population is about 67 million people. It’s had 51,000 Covid deaths. At Eastern levels, it would have had just 780 deaths “.

    Obviously only a simple comparison & I don’t know why he has used the general term of Eastern rather than SK, but all the same it doesn’t look good even if there are many contributing factors at play.

    1. Wukchumni

      In some ways Covid resembles a war, with neutrals (SK would be a good example) and belligerents (the west in general, there’s only 1 NZ like example i’m aware of) with resultant casualty lists of the latter not all that different from the daily toll in a newspaper circa 1943.

  7. The Rev Kev

    After ten months of this pandemic, the measures to defeat it are plain as they were several months ago. You go in early and you go in hard. As this virus spreads exponentially, slamming the door shut on it as early as possible reduces the spread of it and makes the job for contact tracers simpler. The virus then burns itself out in individual homes and any that turn serious are evacuated to a hospital which won’t be so overwhelmed.

    A quick lockdown also acts as a circuit breaker while authorities get a chance to get organized but it will not work successfully unless you support those people in lockdown. You cannot expect families to starve themselves for a few weeks without supporting them and though expensive, is nowhere as expensive as letting this virus get loose. This pandemic has I believe cost the US about $16 trillion which is enormous when you consider the annual GDP of the US is about $20 trillion. Supporting people will cost but nowhere as much as just letting this thing spread in a forlorn hope of herd immunity.

    1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

      As far as Northern Ireland is concerned from what I read in the local press as to where they had returned from with Covid back at the start. The main problem was I believe in not stopping flights, or at least enforcing quarantine on those who it seems brought Covid in mainly from Italy, some of whom flew into the Republic & then crossed the border into the North.

      There was also a 2 week delay when Westminster gave herd immunity a trial, followed by a master class in incompetence.

      Meanwhile a couple of good charts on Sweden’s let’s all get past the finishing line so we can then all compare our piles of dead.

    2. Cuibono

      The lesson of all epidemics is as you say
      Go in early go in hard

      China did it. Korea. Taiwan. Vietnam. Thailand NZ Australia.

      Trust is needed.
      Common sense is needed.
      Leadership is needed. Social support and economic support and solid public health.
      We have none of those

  8. Just like 1918

    If you read the canonical book about the 1918 pandemic, which is John Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History,” you will be struck be how remarkably similar the events of 1918-1920 are to what is unfolding today. Everything from the clown-car official response, to widespread public resistance, to the pandemic waxing and waning seemingly at the will of the virus are the same as what we’re seeing now.

    It kind of makes one wonder whether the agency we think we have as humans is somewhat illusory.

    The one big difference this time, if it succeeds, is the development of effective vaccines. If the mRNA vaccines do indeed work on a mass basis (without unanticipated negative side effects), it will mark the dawn of a new age in biology. (Actually, sequencing the genome in the 1990s was the actual start of this new age, but I think you get my point.)

  9. jef

    “The data says what it says. Best practice is to focus on the data…”

    Ok so where is the data? Is the graphed curve based on a consistent, standard number of tests per day? Otherwise the curve could be following number of tests per day. That graph is meaningless.

    What tests are being used? Are they all the same? What cycle counts are being used if it is PCR, is it the exact same cycle counts for every test? The graph could be following the increased cycle counts. By the way PCR does not determine if the virus is infectious.

    What are the age ranges of these “new cases”? The “success” they tout is for what? Locking down 90% of the population when less than 20% of the population are at risk and of that 20% the infection mortality rate is 1.7%.

    Lockdowns are successful at what? Heck of a lot of data missing.

    1. juliania

      I think the ‘criticality’ message many are missing is that lockdowns are necessary because the hospitals are full beyond capacity. That’s what I saw yesterday on signs above the highway as we drove to a foodstore. That starts to affect hospital workers who are in harm’s way, so the message is not a bogus one. Lockdowns of whatever capacity in which they can be put into effect can give those at the eye of the storm some relief. I don’t understand why this isn’t obvious. Didn’t we see it when New York got overwhelmed? It’s not even a matter of testing and tracing when it gets this serious.

      And yes, those who need assistance for the duration should get it!!

      1. juliania

        Pots and pans, people; pots and pans! Remember the great Molly Ivins – this is not a time to quietly go into that good night.

    2. Lambert Strether

      It’s the John’s Hopkins data, the best we have, ffs.

      > What are the age ranges of these “new cases”? The “success” they tout is for what? Locking down 90% of the population when less than 20% of the population are at risk and of that 20% the infection mortality rate is 1.7%.

      So your quarrel is really with the policy because you’re in the “it’s just a cold” camp.

  10. ambrit

    A quick observation.
    The unstated underlying aspect of the various ‘lockdowns’ that we are considering is that, at some point, to maintain a functional society, someone will be ‘sacrificed’ for the common good. Much of the debate swirls around the question of who is to be ‘sacrificed,’ and on what altar.
    Thus, in more communitarian societies such as we see generally in “the East,” the ‘safety net’ is wider and more comprehensive. “Essential” workers soldier on with a degree of stoicism not generally seen in “the West.” Appropriately, the society devotes more in the nature of ‘essential’ resources to maintaining the generality of the population.
    So, we must ask ourselves, who is to be ‘sacrificed,’ and to who’s benefit?

    1. furies

      That is the truth of it.

      Knowing I’m one that will happily be sacrificed for Mammon.

      Yes there are posters here I don’t even read anymore.

      1. ambrit

        I don’t know what triggered this memory, but your comment reminded me of the Gahan Wilson cartoon; “Is Nothing Sacred?”
        I find it very educational to consider the imputed ‘backgrounds’ of various commenters and posters as applied to their points of view. (I occasionally “look in the mirror,” but that way lies madness.)
        Stay safe!

        1. Susan the other

          My computer is on slow motion lately. Love Gahan Wilson. Did he capitalize on Congress taking a knee? That one wouldn’t even need a caption.

    2. Louis Fyne

      the irony is that most East Asian countries have a barebones government safety net (in the Western European sense beyond national health care).

      What they do have is high trust between citizens, less income inequality, high degree of civil participation, stronger community and family ties, high sense of personal and communal responsibility.

      1. ambrit

        True. I’ll observe further that “the West” has experienced a social shift away from such ‘communitarian’ values towards a more libertarian, atomized, and neo-liberal ethos. “The West” used to have the qualities you so rightly identify in “the East,” but seems to have been seduced into abandoning them in favour of chasing a gold plated brass ring.

          1. ambrit

            Oh, I forgot the advances in materials sciences these last few decades. You are absolutely right. Now that Ring of Power (TM) is plastic, coated with a few microns thick layer of “Gold Like Substance.”

              1. ambrit

                That was quick off the mark Mountain Defender.
                This Ring is like Casino revenues, the beauty is only skim deep.

  11. Louis Fyne

    If the US had a strict for EVERYONE, for 6 weeks, the country will starve as food processing and distribution chains were not built for social distancing and could not keep up in “social distance mode”

    Inevitably covid would still run rampant, even with PPE, in the supply chain until herd immunity was reached.

    Rendering the 6 weeks of isolation for town folk moot.


    1. Cuibono

      This is shear nonsense. The goal is to get R0 under 1 not to starve everyone. Like was done very successfully in Wuhan

      1. Tom Bradford

        No, it’s true for most places NOW. Covid is so well established in the community that ‘essential workers’ have their share and will spread it amongst themselves and the community they interact with as is happening in hospitals now.

        Lockdowns DO work if they’re early, before the contagion is widely established so that a) the authorities can concentrate in bringing clusters and outbreaks under control and eliminating them, and b) essential workers are and stay free of it.

        Going hard and early, though, means a) trusting the experts when they say what they think is coming and b) a political leadership willing to put their careers on the line by imposing a lockdown that hindsight might decide was unnecessarily damaging.

  12. jef

    “Recent studies of medical errors have estimated errors may account for as many as 251,000 deaths annually in the United States (U.S)., making medical errors the third leading cause of death.”

    Every year, year after year. 1 million people died needlessly in the last 4 years and 1 million more in the next 4 years.

    We should lockdown all hospitals immediately. Or just not worry about those people.

    1. ambrit

      That’s kind of silly jef. “Medical errors,” covers a lot of ‘ground,’ not just hospitals. I’ll go out on a rotten limb and suggest that most “medical errors” occur in the doctor’s office. Diagnosis is the hard part I’ve been told. Next up would be plain old stupidity; that can be found anywhere and everywhere.

      1. jef

        Not one of you addressed the issue. HELLOOOOOOO!!!!! So you all are saying EFF those people that we know for certain are going to DIE! … no way are we going to address this MEGA PANDEMIC OF DEATH. We can all just relax and move on……

        Hypocritical much?

        1. ambrit

          Well, your conclusion in your first comment was an extreme. Since you conflated all medical error sources, then your conclusion should logically be to “lockdown” all medical providers and let everyone die off. The cynic in me imagines that such an outcome would be perfectly acceptable to the ‘Masters of the Universe’ that claim to “run” our society. Also, only two possible outcomes for a social question? It is social. The medical part just supplies the ‘experimental subjects’ with which to run the experiment.

    2. furies

      So two wrongs equals a right then Jef? One can *avoid* seeking health care, that is my right, yeah? But I cannot *not* participate in my local economy, not having minions to do my bidding.

      Why do you want to kill me?

      1. Jef

        red – you are turning off your brain. The medical errors are not contagious they are absolute, year after year. Is that not important to you? By the way at least 30% and as much as 85% of “new cases” are not contagious. But you don’t seem interested those FACTS. Only the scary FACTS.

        1. Wukchumni

          Its important in a way similar to 1.35 million people around the world dying in auto accidents every year. Yes it happens, and no there isn’t much you can do about it, nor am I going to stop driving on account of it.

  13. Marshall Auerback

    Sorry, but Taiwan did NOT impose a strict lockdown in the manner of, say, Italy but, encouraged public to wear masks.

    It also enforced travel restrictions, quarantine and led targeted testing and contact tracing.

    Taiwan’s success against the coronavirus has been linked to its lessons learnt from SARS 17 years ago when the island nation suffered the highest mortality rate in the world. The Lancet has a good account (comparing it to New Zealand):

    I would also point out that many of the places cited by the authors in their rebuttal, especially in Europe, have experienced significant recurrences. There is a question of political practicality in sustaining what they define as “strict lockdown”.

    Going forward, I would suggest that border closures are probably the first effective step a country should consider adopting. Taiwan banned people coming in from Wuhan in January (obviously, they had better information sources than we did in the west) and then locked down the borders completely by mid-March.

    1. Louis Fyne

      Korea did not have a national “strict lockdown” as well. EG, Seoul’s (metro pop. 20+ mil.) subways kept running through the entire crisis. mandatory business restrictions were limited to discrete sectors.

      Korea has a mandatory 14-day isolation for inbound international travelers. Good luck getting that enacted in the US. Peeps on the left and business right would howl—-ie, free movement of commerce and any form of border control is bad.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > There is a question of political practicality in sustaining what they define as “strict lockdown”.

      No, there isn’t. The two questions are entirely orthogonal. This is like saying the question of engineering a tunnel under the Hudeon is the same question as getting the tunnel approved and funded. It is true the latter is the blockage, but getting the tunnel bill passed isn’t an engineering question at all.

      Saying “lockdowns aren’t politically feasible” doesn’t refute “lockdowns work.” In fact, it’s identical to the logic centrists use against #MedicareForAll. Granted, centrists who oppose #MedicareForAll have used that faulty argument for many years with great success, tendentious thought it is.

  14. Rod

    I think the language we use is very influential

    Do you ‘beat’ or ‘treat’ a virus infection? Are you strong if you survive SARS-CoV-2 but weak if you don’t? Language matters if we are to galvanize people to follow public health guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Importantly, the authors found that using war metaphors can produce fatalistic responses and can result in surrendering behaviours. These types of analogies might conceivably lead to individuals feeling that death is inevitable no matter what they do, and so perhaps they should do what they want. This is most certainly not what is needed in a pandemic, when the actions of individuals are of paramount importance to infection control.


    States are not the only actors in our globalized world, and information circulating on traditional and social media emanates from a wide variety of social actors, ranging from media corporations via political parties to large numbers of highly diverse community groups and grassroots efforts… Others have contributed to an “infodemic”, where populations who do not have access to timely, high-quality information are simultaneously being swamped with misleading information (Zarocostas 2020). A combination of language barriers, on the one hand, and low levels of trust in official communications, on the other, have made minority populations particularly vulnerable to misinformation and fake news, as has been found in Dutch (van Liempt and Kox 2020) and European Union (Burke 2020) research.

    imo opinion a lot of our pandemic ‘language’ is media generated/media repeated language adopted by health professionals without discernment for impacts(ratings, yes)

    I am not social distancing at all(if i can help it), however I am definitely physically distancing and protecting my breathing appropriately

    1. anon y'mouse

      i don’t think health professionals were heavy in the mix of crafting the pandemic language. i saw all of the buzzwords on a message board i read laid out extremely early on. especially including “herd immunity” and “only those with pre-existing conditions will die” or that “people will die more if they stay home because the economy will tank”.

      the PR crew were already crafting the narrative before most people in this country even knew what the virus was called. i don’t know who these posters are on the boards, but they probably worked very close to the source of this Medico-Social Darwinism project.

      1. Lambert Strether

        > i don’t think health professionals were heavy in the mix of crafting the pandemic language.

        That might not have helped either. I wish I knew how “lockdown” migrated from a tactic in school shootings to another word for quarantine. In a school shooting, there’s the shooter, but everybody else is more or less helpfless, except for the good guys with guns. In a pandemic, we are not helpless, and we can help each other. As a reader davie pointed out in the very first comment, “lockdown” is terrible framing.

  15. Spring Texan

    Yep. The misery is very real and the lockdown enthusiasts (unless they ARE truly pushing for a UBI or something effective in alleviation) are pretty callous to it.

    Even with no financial problems, for living-alone me, being fairly careful but not as careful as some would have me be (I do grocery-shop and see a limited few other people) has been mentally super difficult. Some, I realize, don’t have that issue, but MANY do.

    I’m doing better in the last couple weeks but the misery is no joke. I fully realize COVID is no joke too. But telling people to stay home when they financially CANNOT is crazy.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      As I said 3 or 4 times above, the original post DID forcefully advocate substantial income support. I suggest you read it rather than effectively straw man the post.

  16. bwilli123

    Covid exposes all of the structural flaws that 40 years of neo-liberalism has inflicted upon society. The assertion that economics, corporations, private enterprise are more important than people, for one.
    The Australian success shows that neo-liberalism has more work to do. I think though that the public worldwide has by now woken up.
    The fight against Covid was led by the community following medical advice from each state’s chief medical officer, and succeeded despite a campaign by Business, the Murdoch media, and a neo-liberal Federal government (who were initially quite happily to tout Boris Johnson’s advice to “just let it run”) that did their best to curtail or frustrate any restrictions imposed by State Premiers.
    Where the virus escaped quarantine was due to outsourced, undertrained and underpaid guards in quarantine hotels for returned international travellers, usually from recent immigrant communities who then took the virus back to their large, non english speaking families and communities. Guards who were paid cash in hand, and off the books and because of their low pay worked at different workplaces. This occurred with aged nursing homes (where they have been privatised) also.
    Guards and other staff working in these covid rich environments not being tested unless they self reported (with symptoms) and obviously not about to do so because they would then have no income at a time when there were no other jobs available because of lockdown.
    Testing and management of the virus was also hampered in Victoria’s case because of the centralisation and under funding of the public medical health system that began under the then Premier Jeff Kennett in the 1990’s, and continued by the Labor Governments following.
    The first national lockdown was largely successful but was only introduced in mid March. During this time the federal Government freely allowed international travelers off airplanes, (with only voluntary self-isolation and no compulsory medical checks) that only slowly tightened, and only as a result of public outrage.
    The second wave (in Victoria) occurred because of all the above meeting an all too self-congratulatory attitude as the first wave restrictions were eased.

  17. Wukchumni

    This was something I posted here on April 19th, and yes, Lockdowns work if you allow them to, combined with leadership

    I wasted a hour and a half watching Trump’s Covid presser yesterday, and all he really wants to do is tear our country apart-and is doing a fine job in that regard. It was akin to watching a slow motion head-on crash between a couple of cars in theory on different sides of the road.

    In contrast, watch this 11 minute presser from yesterday of NZ PM Jacinda Ardern and Dr. Ashley Bloomfield. It is full of hope, honesty, transparency and a ‘we’re all in this together’ feel that is so reassuring in these times.

  18. Martin Davis

    We should link the recent article on the Asian trade deal with this one. A provocative observation might be that it’s no coincidence that the countries which survived the COVID outbreak best were those which were signatories to this trade agreement. An inquisitive person in any case might want to enquire as to why this was the case. This is not the last pandemic by any means, even if it is relatively innocuous in terms of mortality to the major pandemics of the past. Next time we may not be so lucky. The slogan ‘learning from East Asia’ might be a novel experience and to that extent not particularly attractive. But a willingness learn from others good example, albeit that it requires a certain humility, is always to be recommended.

  19. Shiloh1

    The Dog That Didn’t Bark – local government dictators who haven’t lost a hour of pay and the property taxes going up! Up!! UP!!! Giving the orders to the small businesses going down the toilet. Any mention of this in your local media?

  20. Bakes

    How did the residents of Wuhan survive their lockdown? What resources were available to provide food, shelter, and warmth in a Wuhan winter?

    Compare that to Western society.

      1. Phil-J


        That article went off on a surprise tangent. I’m not sure ‘diversity’ can be argued as the differentiating factor:

        “ In the West today competence always comes second. It used to be normally first and occasionally second; now it is always second. Second to what? Second to diversity. The list of diversity categories that must be satisfied is ever-changing and ever-growing: race, language, gender, sexual preference, transgender – always expanding. And all of these categories have to be filled first. ”

  21. Norseman

    Since the rebuttal graphs cited Australia (where I live), I have a dog in the fight. I observe that successful lockdowns here are accompanied by Government, community and non-profit support at most levels of society, imperfect as it was. Despite some missteps & car wrecks here, that happened well enough, plus most people in Australia are practical & support practical efforts given a good explanation. The energy went into fixing it. Can do!
    I contrast that with the USA which used to have a Can do culture of exceptionalism, but as the comments here show blindingly clearly, the social energy is going into a thousand different stupid arguments as to why things can’t work, or didn’t really work anywhere else supposedly.
    If I was in the US, I’d be taking a long hard look in the mirror, not wasting energy arguing like a kid who has not done his homework.

    1. Martin Davis

      Surely a key part of the problem is that looking in the mirror is all that most Americans do. Certainly the conventional commentariat. It’s bad enough in Europe, but at least comparison between counties in the region are commonplace. Having said that, all that banging on about Sweden when the best examples to follow were elsewhere. Yes, I understand that once you are in the position of shutting the stable door etc. it’s different ball game. But the centrality of getting a unified (as much as possible that is) response is critical.

    1. eg


      Effective pandemic response requires a high trust society along with a government committed to providing the necessary income supports to enable the majority of the populace to isolate.

      The US hasn’t had either of those things for generations.

  22. Jamie

    The authors of Save the Economy, Save People First are cherry picking their facts all over the place. Plus they are quite wrong about Iceland; there was hardly any lockdown in Iceland at any time and they have been comparatively successful in dealing with this pandemic. I have visited Iceland recently and have many friends there.

    1. Basil Pesto

      Iceland did close their borders for a time; this might be what the authors were referring to (it seems to line up with the chronological order that they give).

  23. Palaver

    Climate denialism was practice for Covid denialism.

    Ignoring experts. Check.
    Avoiding responsibility. Check.
    Making a sport of the issue. Check.
    Bad foresight. Check.
    Symbolic/voluntary solutions. Check.

    Americans are immune to argument, but use it often. This is a prelude to authoritarianism.

  24. Alternate Delegate

    I have a friend who worked two jobs. The first lockdown took both of his jobs.

    He found two new jobs. Now the second lockdown has taken both of these jobs.

    “But the authors advocate for income support” cuts no ice with him. He has no income.

    Instead, he chooses to believe that covid is a hoax ginned up to take away his jobs and the jobs of people like him. He’s wrong, but so what?

    He believes what a lot of people believe.

    While your country is coming apart around you, it’s helpful to focus on where the cracks are actually propagating, rather than doubling down on an idea of “strict lockdowns” that might work in a different country.

  25. John Anderson

    Look at all these thoughts, opinions and I wouldn’t doubt that each and everyone comes from a genuine caring for a goodness to happen here.-Wow! Is it, that man needs a togetherness in direction? Sorta like the song lyric says ‘to have a code to live by’. The only way to go here is to follow the code established 2,000 years ago by this guy Jesus. Somebody tell me a better way to go!

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