In 1841 Charles Mackay’s Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions was first published and 180 years later we should probably refer back to it as there is much to learn from it as far as the reaction to the Coronavirus or COVID-19 is concerned. Aside from covering some of the major financial bubbles like John Law’s Mississippi Scheme, the South-Sea Bubble and the Dutch Tulipomania Mackay also wrote about the alchemists, fortune tellers, relics, the witch manias or hunts. So what does Mackay’s book have to do with COVID-19 you might ask? I will be trying to show why, in my opinion, many governments and the public have gone over the top or mad in their reaction to a virus.
Even though I am not a virologist or doctor I think that after almost two years of the pandemic there are many aspects of governments’ and the public’s response that lead me to believe that we are now deeply into a time of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. One may have varying opinions on the pandemic and what is going on so I will try to give my views based on reasoning and common sense. I would like to state that I am not trying to tell anyone what to do I terms of their medical or health decision as I think that is a private matter. I would also like to point out that I have great sympathy for those who have lost loved ones during the last 20 months or so.
There have been facts that have raised questions in mind since the beginning of lockdown last year on March 26th. One of the most nagging things is that since March 19, 2020, or one week prior to when the lockdown measures became law in the UK this is what the government’s own website said and still says about covid-19: “As of 19 March 2020, covid-19 is no longer considered to be a high consequence infectious disease in the UK.” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/high-consequence-infectious-diseases-hcid.This statement has left me asking why then was the country put into lockdown one week after it was made?
We have seen that almost every country in the Western world and especially in Europe adopted very similar rules to try and combat covid-19 and lockdown has been the major tool apart from social distancing, mask-wearing, and sanitizing hands. To be honest, at the beginning of this crisis I was scared into washing my hands regularly but then realized it was hurting my skin so I went back to normal hygienic procedures that I have followed all my life. I remember also hearing from the UK transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, in a radio interview with Julia Hartley-Brewer of Talk Radio in 2020 that mask-wearing was not proven to be 100% scientifically effective but that we should all do our bit and wear it as a symbol? The symbol for what really? We were also encouraged to clap for NHS staff once a week because they were heroes but now some of these same heroes are being sacked because they have made their own choice regarding their bodies. So back in 2020 they were heroes and doing a great job despite the fact that none had been vaccinated.
All these contradictions and unreasonable actions make me believe that for some reason that we will probably never know someone high up in the corridors of power wanted to scare the public into following rules and regulations that made very little sense. I have to be honest and say here that I have always been wary of authority and government. Wasn’t it Lord Acton who once said the following: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”? That dictum has always been in the back of my mind and as we have progressed further and further into this health crisis or pandemic it has led me to ask many questions.
Now I would like to touch upon Sweden as this country decided not to adopt lockdown measures and its economy was left largely unscathed. To give PM Boris Johnson some credit I do remember him saying he wanted to go down the same road as Sweden. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/coronavirus-no-10-boris-johnson-italian-pm-herd-immunity-pierpaolo-sileri-a9548786.html So after over one year I decided to look at what happened in Sweden in terms of covid-19 and compare it to what happened here in the UK. As of December 18, 2021, Sweden, a country of 10.35 million people, has had 1.25 million cases of covid-19 and 15’231 covid-19 deaths (a). The population of the UK is 6.49 greater than that of Sweden at 67.22 million and the UK as of December 18, 2021, has seen 11.2 million cases and 147’000 deaths(b). If we multiply Sweden's data by 6.49 we get the UK equivalent data and they are the following: 8.11 million cases compared to 11.2 million cases in the UK and 98’849 deaths compared to 147’000 UK deaths. The numbers don’t lie. Non-lockdown Sweden has had better results than lockdown Britain.
Now let’s look at the financial and economic impact of the lockdowns in the UK and around the world. What we need to understand is that the UK economy crashed and burned because the government chose to do so. We had the worst economic contraction in about 300 years and it was not surprising as the majority of businesses were told to shut down for months. According to Statista (1) Swedish GDP grew by 0.5% in 2020 while according to the World Bank (2) UK GDP dropped by 9.8%. Aside from huge economic costs lockdowns led to massive fiscal and monetary stimulus on the part of the government and the Bank of England. This was done to pay people and businesses to stop producing and stay at home watching Netflix and conducting zoom wine parties with friends. Where did HM Treasury get all the money from? Well, it borrowed about 15% of GDP or £300 billion and the bank of England created £450 billion out of thin air since lockdown in March 2020 to indirectly buy the bonds HM Treasury had to issue into the market to borrow all the money to keep the country at home.
Is it any surprise that we are now seeing the consequence of inflation in spades? We are seeing the price of all the basic necessities of life like food, utilities, rent, houses, travel, etc... go up as a consequence of all the government borrowing to keep millions at home on furlough and producing nothing in return. Is it any wonder we are also seeing labor shortages, energy shortages, and supply chain shortages around the world? So why go through this whole crazy exercise of locking down most of the major economies of the world in order to fight a virus that has killed less than 2% of those (UK median age 80.4 years versus 81.2 life expectancy*) infected https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/? I could go down some rabbit holes and theories as to why this is happening and might do so in the future but it seems to me that we are all caught in an extraordinary popular delusion and madness of crowds of which I am sure future historians will write dozens if not hundreds of books about.
*Average age of those who had died with COVID-19: https://www.ons.gov.uk/aboutus/transparencyandgovernance/freedomofinformationfoi/averageageofthosewhohaddiedwithcovid19
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