Jeffrey Tucker is an American economics writer and the Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER). Since the early days of the pandemic, he has authored many articles on the topic, several of which are contained in Liberty or Lockdown, published last September and likely to be updated and re-released, perhaps periodically, as the current events unfold.
A libertarian whose scholarly interests include politics, philosophy, technology and culture, Tucker got out of the gates quickly with the pandemic barely six months old. Only French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy was as expeditious, his excoriating The Virus in the Age of Madness having appeared in July.
While it could be argued that a dissection and critique of the various measures imposed to combat the virus should have appeared further down the line – after more evidence was gathered and time for reflection allowed – many will disagree, since the speed with which governments have acted, not to mention the extent of collateral damage wrought, warrant a timeous riposte.
Controlled by a New Social Protocol
Tucker’s book is certainly a riposte: a thoughtful, ideological and evidential argument against lockdowns.
Interestingly, certain passages have a retrospective quality, as though Tucker is summarising the wild events of a bygone age rather than those of the recent past.
“During those times,” he writes, referring to the months of March and April 2020, “we found ourselves controlled by a new social protocol while giving voice to a new and strange language.
“Forced human separation was given the oxymoronic label ‘social distancing’. Brutal business closures were called ‘Targeted Layered Containment’ (TLC, which in the American lexicon once meant ‘tender loving care’). House arrest was rechristened as a ‘Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention’. We were all made part of an experimental game, encouraged to see ourselves as bit players on bell-shaped curves we needed to help flatten and viral spreads we needed to slow.”
Needless to say, Tucker is completely horrified not only by the way that science has been clumsily marshalled to justify certain actions (lockdowns, business closures, quarantines, etc), but the sinister way language itself has been manipulated.
“We could not have imagined,” he writes, “that the whole of the freedoms and rights we had previously taken for granted – choice of leisure, dining, travel, profession, and education – would be taken from us in a matter of days, and only given back slowly over six months or more.”
But the ends justify the means, no? Well, that depends on your perspective.
If you thought American politics/Brexit were divisive, the enmity pales in comparison to the Covid debate. Pro-lockdown vs anti-lockdown. Pro-masks vs anti-masks (or anti-mandatory masks). Pro-vaccine vs herd immunity and/or vaccine-suspicious (or those simply disturbed by the idea of taking a vaccine developed at “warp speed”). Of course, such conflict may have passed you by entirely if you happen to avoid the febrile battleground that is social media.
Actually, given the way in which certain voices are being suppressed on such platform, any semblance of dissent might soon be snuffed out altogether. I digress… Where were we?
Primitive Impulses and Distorted Information
Throughout Liberty or Lockdown, Tucker tears apart what he sees as the fallacies and haphazard assumptions of supposedly enlightened entities, as well as their arbitrary and baffling executive orders.
“The prevailing policy ethos that hit us in early March,” he observes, “was borrowed from the most primitive impulses last operational in the Middle Ages: a disease is a miasma from which we must run and hide.
“Another was from the ancient world: presume everyone is carrying a deadly pathogen. By everyone, I mean, truly. Even children who have near zero susceptibility.”
Governors, prime ministers, mayors, agent-based modellers, tech giants and “a highly irresponsible media apparatus hungry for clicks and mind share”: all are pilloried by the author, who writes not as someone who knows all the answers, but who has a pretty good idea about the precedent authorities are setting by stripping away citizens’ liberties in the name of virus containment; not to mention the damage that panic on this sort of scale can cause.
As he notes in an early chapter, “Sometimes it appears that we know not much more today than we did even at the outset, simply because lockdowns have created such chaos and the trillions spent by governments on finding and killing Covid-19 have distorted information flows so seriously.”
Critics, of course, would contend that lockdowns themselves haven’t been responsible for the chaos – at least not exclusively. The virus deserves a large portion of the blame. The media, too. But should lockdowns get off the hook?
As the author notes, billions of lives have been “fundamentally altered, economies wrecked, centuries-old traditions of liberty and law thrown out” with “police-states everywhere.”
Tucker also quotes a study published in The Lancet that shows no association (let alone causation) between “rapid border closures, full lockdowns, and widespread testing and Covid-19 mortality per million people.”
As a scholar, Tucker enjoys quoting from his forebears such as Donald Henderson, the doctor who played a key role in eradicating smallpox. Henderson, the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002, once observed that “Communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted.”
Of course, if you have watched the news recently, or witnessed any of the endless government briefings (Tucker shivers at the “strange absence of normal human emotion in these public performances”), you’ll know that anxiety-minimisation is hardly a top priority. In fact, it scarcely seems to have been considered.
So what does Tucker think we should do, you might wonder? Broadly speaking, he believes we should follow the advice of the Great Barrington Declaration: “Protect the vulnerable while groups at no or low risk acquire the immunities… Do not fear what we have evolved to fight but rather strengthen what nature has given you to deal with the disease.”
Tucker describes herd immunity as a taboo topic and a case of “Rothbardian-style lost knowledge, similar to how humanity once understood scurvy and then didn’t and then had to come to understand it again.”
By now, you’ve probably got a good idea about whether you’ll enjoy reading Liberty or Lockdown, or at any rate find the arguments compelling. It is not a book that conforms to the dominant orthodoxy. Nor is it a rant-filled angry essay. It is a meditative, well-argued compendium that will almost certainly give you pause and make you think. In this, it has probably achieved its author’s aim.
The Final Word
The final word goes to Tucker, and it’s only right that we end on a (relatively) optimistic note: “The virus will vanish from the public mind as viruses do: inauspiciously as our clever immune systems incorporate its properties into our internal resistance codes.
“But we will have another struggle facing us in the years ahead concerning what precisely we are going to tolerate from our state officials and how much of a priority we are going to place on retaining our rights and liberties.”
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Liberty or Lockdown is a meditative, well-argued compendium that will almost certainly give you pause and make you think.