Been There, Done That...
The enthusiasm with which a year ago we jettisoned 2020 and welcomed 2021 looks pretty silly in retrospect, doesn’t it? Let’s keep that in mind as we get ready to celebrate the new year.
I am not feeling very optimistic, and when I look at my friends and family or the broader population I don’t see much confidence that 2022 will be any better. A bit depressing, but it could be useful if it led us to reflect on why things are getting worse rather than better. Start by considering two major trends that have defined 2021: inflation has come back, and Covid-induced panic has not gone away. Both stem from the same two fundamental failures: the abandonment of common sense and a dystopian distortion of science. Unless we correct them, the next several years will get progressively worse.
I hesitate to comment again on Covid because I know I sound like a broken record – but so do the public health officials and policymakers who keep insisting on the same misguided policies against all data and reality. Before 2020 most experts agreed that lockdowns would be useless against a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus, that they only worked in the fantasy world of simulation models. Then within a few months lockdowns became the weapon of choice, because...the models said they would work.
After nearly two years, we have countless comparisons of different countries and different US states and counties and no evidence that lockdowns or masks have any positive impact whatsoever. But political leaders keep imposing lockdowns and mask mandates “because we know they work”. The same way we knew the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it. Pointing out evidence to the contrary is considered heretical, just like in those good old days.
It has become abundantly clear that vaccination does not stop contagion; vaccinated people can still catch the virus and spread it, with the same viral load as unvaccinated people. That’s why when you travel you have to get tested, whether or not you are vaccinated. But health officials and policymakers insist everyone must get vaccinated. Countries with spectacularly high vaccination rates keep experiencing massive contagion spikes (Singapore, Israel, UK), so the answer is…more vaccines.
Vaccines have proved very effective in protecting vulnerable people from ending up in the hospital if they catch Covid. That’s a tremendous success. But forcing vaccinations on children and booster shots on healthy young people is madness. They face a higher risk from vaccines than from the virus, and vaccinating them will do nothing to stop contagion. During the early waves of the pandemic we failed the elderly by not protecting them better from infection; now we are failing the young.
We started 2021 with masks, lockdowns, and a bewildering array of arbitrary restrictions on travel and activity. Today countries that have vaccinated the vast majority of their populations are about to enter 2022 with masks, lockdown and arbitrary restrictions on travel and activity. Most of these measures have been shown not to work, but we keep imposing them because “we know they work”. We have turned science into religion, a set of unquestionable dogmas. This perversion of science has enabled governments to set back our way of life by a century; liberties and rights that we took for granted have become privileges that can be revoked at whim.
Unless we change our attitude, this will never change.
This unscientific attitude has also caused tremendous harm to an economic system that had lifted a billion people out of poverty over the past two decades. The same policymakers who sing the praises of global cooperation have crippled global supply chains. After many years of hard-earned price stability, inflation in the US and the euro area has soared to multi-decade highs, eroding purchasing power and causing enormous uncertainty for business and consumer decisions.
The US Federal Reserve sounds surprised that inflation has spiked. “This is not at all the inflation we were looking for!” protested Fed Chair Powell. But as my wife Sonal Desai humorously pointed out in her latest blog, when you keep running an extremely loose monetary policy on top of a gigantic fiscal expansion while causing restrictions to supply, a surge in inflation should not come as a surprise. This is not rocket science, it’s common sense.
Yet in the face of supply side shortages and limited labor force participation, governments in the US and Europe insist on stimulating demand with zero interest rates and generous fiscal spending while discouraging work and investments with high taxes, countless regulations, unpredictable restrictions and the occasional vaccine mandate.
All this is supported by Orwellian disinformation campaigns by social media and legacy media alike, aimed at fueling fear and cementing consensus rather than providing information and stimulating debate. Sadly, this seems to be working quite well.
So here are a few easy predictions for 2022: more masks, more lockdowns, and more inflation. Sorry.
For 2023 and beyond I want to keep hope alive; maybe over the course of next year we’ll learn and change our ways – stranger things have happened.