Streetwise Professor

August 5, 2020

Counting the Cost of Covid Hysteria

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Economics,Politics — cpirrong @ 1:30 pm

The covid hysteria continues. There’s really no other word for it. Responses to it have slipped the bonds of reason, and reasoned debate.

There are many manifestations of the hysteria. I will focus on two–hydroxychloroquine and lockdowns.

Hydroxychloroquine has been a hot button issue ever since Trump gave an equivocal endorsement of it months ago. The most recent demonstration of how radioactive it has become was a rally of sorts by practicing physicians in DC whose endorsement of a therapy regimen including hydroxychloroquine, antibiotics, and zinc unleashed a frenzy of criticism, retribution, and censorship.

The most ebullient endorsement of the therapy regimen came from a Houston physician, Stella Immanuel. Now normally Dr. Immanuel would check important boxes in Progland–she’s an African American (literally, born in Ghana) female. But her praise for hydroxychloroquine unleashed a fury of abuse on her. In addition to being a physician, Dr. Immanuel is a devout Christian who believes in demons, and who focuses on spiritual as well as physical health. These views became the focus of criticism, in the style of ad hominem attacks that have become the staple of what now passes for public discourse. The substance of what she said, and her empirical claims–that her treatment using hydroxychloroquine had impressive clinical results–were ignored altogether.

Well, that’s not quite right. Her views were not ignored, exactly. They were actively censored by the only authorities that currently matter–Facebook, Google/YouTube, and Twitter–who consigned the video of her impassioned presentation (which had received around 14 million views) to the Memory Hole. This blatant censorship was accompanied with the by now familiar paternalistic tut-tutting from our tech overlords that Dr. Immanuel’s views were not consonant with the pronouncements of government authorities (e.g., the CDC) and the WHO. (Bodies, it must be emphasized, which have covered themselves in ignominy in the past months, but why should that matter, right?)

If Facebook, Google/YouTube, Twitter have arrogated for themselves the role as enforcement agents for government ukasis, shouldn’t they be subject to the First Amendment, namely its prohibition of infringement on free speech?

I further note that if conservatives had unleashed such a stream of invective against a leftist African American woman the screams of racism and sexism from the very leftists currently imprecating Dr. Immanuel would shake the heavens. But if the left didn’t have double standards, it would have no standards at all.

But Dr. Immanuel should consider herself lucky. She’s still employed One of her fellow physicians on the Supreme Court steps, Dr. Simone Gold, was fired for her temerity in speaking out by her employer of 25 years.

This further illustrates the double standards issue. For months “front line” medical personnel, doctors and nurses, have been lionized, and cloaked with moral and intellectual authority because of their experience, and the risks they ran. It has not been as maudlin in the US as in the UK, with its clap for the NHS nonsense, but the near beatification of health care professionals has been a thing here. But now we have “front line” medical professionals with experience–by now far more experience than those lionized in March or April–speaking against the Party Line, and they are no longer sanctified–they are demonized. (Maybe Dr. Immanuel was onto something.) Block anti-lockdown protests in your scrubs–Hero! Express views on a treatment that contradicts the authorities while dressed in your white coat–charlatan who must be silenced!

The fact is that the evidence on hydroxychloroquine is on balance favorable, and at worst equivocal. Especially if given in the early stages of symptomatic covid, and crucially if given in conjunction with other medications, notably zinc, it does appear to reduce the risk of death. Further, as a drug that has been dispensed billions of times over decades for a variety of conditions its risks are known, and relatively benign.

So what’s the downside of employing the therapy? It offers some prospect of beneficial clinical results. There is not a readily available alternative that has proven superior. The downsides are modest.

One could get the idea that some people don’t want a treatment.

One of the critics of the studies of hydroxychloroquine is the insufferable, and insufferably arrogant, Dr. Anthony “Where’s the Camera?” Fauci. He caviled a study (described at the above link) at the Henry Ford Hospitals, claiming that it was flawed because it was not a controlled random experiment, but an observational study. Well, a controlled random experiment would be preferable, but observational studies can provide valuable information if done properly, as it appears the Henry Ford study was. Further, most of the anti-hydroxychloroquine studies, including the notorious, fraudulent Lancet study, were observational. Further further, Dr. Fauci’s main claim to fame was a study done in the 1980s that happened to be . . . an observational study.

The Insufferable Fauci provides a segue into the next subject of hysteria–lockdowns. Fauci claimed that the US record in combatting covid is inferior to that of Europe because this country did not lockdown as thoroughly.


This man who claims to be all about the data and evidence can make such statements only by ignoring the data and evidence. There have been numerous studies of how cross-jurisdiction variations in various metrics (deaths, cases, etc.) of the severity of covid outbreaks vary with the timing and severity of lockdowns. (One example is here, but there are many more.) The basic answer is: likely not at all, but at most, hardly at all.

At best the evidence supports the view expressed early in the outbreak (but curiously discarded) that restrictions on social interactions could affect the timing of the progression of the disease, but not its ultimate toll. That is these policies can affect the shape of the curve, but not the integral under the curve.

Why? Because virus gonna virus. A point that I made early on, and many bona fide experts did as well.

But we are seeing continued calls for a resumption of–indeed, and intensification of–lockdowns. One example is the state of Victoria in Australia (where Melbourne is located). The state has gone into a severe lockdown–with little effect on the spread of the virus. In the United States, Fauci insinuates that more intense lockdowns should be considered, and other figures go beyond insinuation. Minneapolis Fed president Neil Kashkari (like Fauci, a long-time apparatchik who has risen to a position of prominence and power despite little demonstrable record of actual achievement) has called for a “really hard” six-week lockdown. You know, to “save the economy.”

We’ve already seen the economic cost of less than really hard lockdowns. In the US, economic output contracted by 9.5 percent, and unemployment skyrocketed. And we’re the lucky ones. In Europe, the contraction was ~12.5 percent. Please spare us any more rescues.

And again, despite variations in the timing, design, and severity of the lockdowns that wreaked this economic devastation, the progress of the illness was remarkably similar. Sweden did worse than Denmark, but better than France and other European countries–and it suffered only an 8.5 percent hit to GDP.

I could go on and recount other manifestations of hysteria. Masks, for instance. But this post is already long enough.

The ultimate question is why the hysteria? This is a subject deserving of books (plural) not blog posts. In the US, the answer is largely political. As Thomas Sowell noted in Conflict of Visions, views on a wide variety of issues are highly correlated, and this is demonstrated in spades by covid. The left is virulently (pun intended) anti-hydroxychloroquine and pro-lockdown (and mask). The right the reverse. This divide is only aggravated by the pro- and anti-Trump divide.

Related to this is the interest of the governing class. The Faucis and Kashkaris and Democratic governors and mayors and county executives of the US (and their foreign equivalents) quite like the vast powers that they have arrogated in the name of public health. They have achieved unchecked authorities that they could only have dreamed of in January. Why should they want to stop now? And why should they want to tamp down hysteria, when it has worked out oh-so-well for them? Of course they don’t–hell, they have every incentive to stoke it, and by all evidence they are doing so with a hearty assist from the hopeless media.

The cost of this hysteria has been high, economically, and in terms of the collateral damage (including health and mortality) of economic collapse. The benefit is imperceptible. And that is almost certainly why our tech overlords are hell-bent on suppressing those who dissent.

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  1. @HibernoFrog #49: The record of our comments stands for everyone to read, HF.

    If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask.

    If you want to argue the worthwhile universal wearing of masks, despite masks proving ineffective and having little practical utility, have fun.

    There’s no point in continuing to circle around your repetitively thin arguments and yeah-buts.

    I refer you again to Inglesby, et al., (pdf) “Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control of Pandemic Influenza.”

    Every over-the-top thing that’s been done with the Cov2 pandemic, all the panic, the alarm, the lockdowns, the economic carpet-bombing — all of it, including the mask mandate — has flown right into the face of widely-known learned wisdom.

    It’s unconscionable, and much of it very likely criminally negligent.

    But do have the last word, HF. Make yourself happy.

    Comment by Pat Frank — August 24, 2020 @ 12:19 pm

  2. Hi Craig — my last post (#51) may have gone into the spam box. Please check, and thanks very much.


    Comment by Pat Frank — August 24, 2020 @ 12:22 pm

  3. @Pat-I looked in both pending approval and spam, and found nothing of yours. Sorry. Dunno what happened.

    Comment by cpirrong — August 24, 2020 @ 8:36 pm

  4. “The record of our comments stands for everyone to read”
    Is it just me or have they all been deleted?

    “But do have the last word, HF. Make yourself happy.”
    No, it’s a fair point – I’ll follow your lead to bring this to a close (and maybe this will finally convince you that I am arguing (or at least trying to) in good faith…). The argument was diverging anyway: Ultimately I think that the root of the issue is that you feel that the published research applies to the current situation, I do not feel the same and it appears that neither will convince the other. I thank you for the respectful debate practice, and I guess we will eventually find out for sure, since the experiment seems to be going ahead in many countries regardless of whether your or I agree with it.

    Comment by HibernoFrog — August 25, 2020 @ 1:51 am

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