Pandemic-era lockdown policies may “represent the biggest policy mistake in modern times.” At least, that’s the conclusion reached by one of the authors of a major new study examining many government restrictions inflicted upon the public throughout 2020 and 2021.
An updated, peer-reviewed meta analysis of lockdowns examining 22 relevant studies was just published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. In it, authors Lars Jonung, Jonas Herby, and Steve H. Hanke examined the lockdown policies enacted in the US, England, and Europe and compared them to the light-touch approach enacted in Sweden where minor government restrictions were paired with voluntary action driven by extensive public information and awareness campaigns.
They find that in the US, extensive restrictions ranging from stay-at-home orders to business closures all combined to only save approximately 4,000 lives. Some particular policies, like gathering limits, actually increased COVID mortality. (As it turns out, much of the COVID-19 spread occurred at home). This is a far cry from the projections used early in the pandemic to justify lockdowns that estimated 2 million American lives would be saved.
Of course, 4,000 lives saved is nothing to sneeze at. Each and every one of those lives has tremendous value. But you have to compare that relatively minor figure, in the scheme of the pandemic, with the tremendous costs, disruption, and lethal consequences that lockdowns had for the rest of society: surging drug overdoses, a youth mental health crisis, mass unemployment, huge increases in global poverty, an uptick in domestic violence, and so much more.
When you make that comparison honestly, it’s clear that lockdowns were an enormous mistake.
“Lockdowns were a failed promise,” study co-author Dr. Lars Jonung concluded. “They had negligible health effects but disastrous economic, social and political costs to society. Most likely lockdowns represent the biggest policy mistake in modern times.”
“The science of lockdowns is clear; the data are in: the lives saved were a drop in the bucket compared to the staggering collateral costs imposed,” co-author Professor Steve Hanke similarly surmised.
It’s understandable that people were scared in 2020 and went along with things that, in hindsight, were obviously mistakes. But we must learn this lesson and remember going forward that when you sacrifice liberty in the name of safety, you often end up with neither.