As we look back over the debris field of the year behind us, it is hard to believe what has transpired in just a handful of months. There we were last February, cruising at 30,000 feet, nibbling away at our little bag of pretzels, well adjusted to the cabin pressure, little realizing that our pilot — a representative here of our entire ruling class in this Homeric simile gone bloated — was about to hit the co-pilot over the head, strip naked, pull out a bottle of Jack Daniels, and commence doing barrel rolls and hammerheads.
In such a time, it is hard to imagine anybody back in coach writing a cogent book about anything, much less a book that carefully analyzed the barrel rolls, but Axe, Briggs, and Richards have actually done it. If you would like to understand what the heck just happened to you and all your loved ones, not to mention your nation, this is the book for you. The prose is straightforward and lucid, and the arguments are formidable.
Panic has a high price indeed, much higher, as it turns out, than the price of the problem we all thought we were solving. We thought we were facing the COVID challenge intelligently for reasons which, at this distance, seem inscrutable now. But this monstrosity was “the most egregious policy blunder in the history of American government” (Loc. 10). Amen. The subtitle says it all — How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe. Amen again.
A key note quote is from Thomas Sowell, who is, as usual, on point.
What can we be certain of from history? That human beings have been wrong innumerable times, by vast amounts, and with catastrophic results. Yet today there are still people who think that anyone who disagrees with them must be either bad or not know what he is talking about.Thomas Sowell, Loc. 44
Now by this point in our coast-to-coast debacle, the one bright spot that I can see is that at some inevitable point in the near future the real science will out. Up to this point, the thinking has been so bad, and the reasoning so egregious, and the governmental overreach so ridiculous, and the abuse of scientific method so transparently preposterous, we can be morally certain that a time is coming when everybody will know all about it. Some errors can be swept under the carpet, but when your mistakes are the size of west Texas and the only carpet you have is a little throw rug, the majority of your dunsical folly is going to be visible to pretty much everybody. And this means that the authorities will eventually move from their current intransigent posture to one that looks more like an abashed culprit digging a hole in the carpet with his toe, all while saying heh heh, “I did register my concerns.”
In other words, the facts are already coming out, and there is nothing that anybody can do to prevent all the facts from coming out. This game is over. Those who see that it is over need to prepare themselves so as not to allow the losers to cudgel those who see this reality into submission. And that is where this book comes in. Axe, Briggs, and Richards line the emerging facts up in a row, and walk us down the line, pointing at each one and explaining the problem.
What are some examples of things they point to?
Instead of welcoming debate, an acceptable orthodoxy on COVID hardened almost immediately. “Shaming of skeptics on social media was ratcheted up to ever-new heights” (Loc. 53). A fun recent example was Van Morrison getting chided by Rolling Stone magazine (that august voice of the Establishment) for his attitude toward the lock down.
“Never before had scores of countries around the world chosen to perform such economic harakiri in unison” (Loc. 82). They did this crazy thing on the basis of a hysterical projection from Imperial College. “They were sparked by a few forecasts that had the smell of science. The World Health Organization (WHO) favored a single, untested, apocalyptic model from Imperial College London” (Loc. 90).
When the dire predictions failed to materialize, what to do, what to do? Why, massage the data (Loc. 116). The whole enterprise was enabled by a gullible, self-righteous, and weaponized media (Loc. 118). This was a media addicted to apocalyptic click bait (Loc. 120), something that should be called panic porn (Locs. 644, 646). The so-called wise among us kept “healthy people with near-zero risk of death huddled in their homes for months” (Loc. 154). Decision-makers were faced with perverse incentives, in that it is “much better to overstate than to understate the risk” (Loc. 394). A generation of cowards, we freaked out over something that was a whole lot less serious than the previous Asian flu, Hong Kong flu, or swine flu (Loc. 622, 627, 661). Japan, Taiwan, and Sweden were constantly hectored for failing to get with the program, and yet they all did a great job. So did South Dakota. And did you know that those floor markers in all the stores all over the globe, helpfully showing you how to stand six feet apart, are the end result of a high school science fair project (Locs. 1632, 1635, 1640)? And it was a project that helpfully spit out the results that were fed into it? Let’s not forget the field hospital in Brooklyn that cost $21 million to build and never saw a single patient (Loc. 1947). When Georgia decided to be the first come out of lock down, hysterical predictions were made about them and their demented governor, and lo, none of it happened (Loc. 3086). Then a decision was made to count all who died with COVID as having died of COVID (Loc. 540), a distinction elastic enough to cover people who died of gunshot wounds. And even though a sharp increase in positive cases at the same time deaths were plummeting ought to have been taken as an indication of dramatically increased testing, it was instead used to whip up even more panic (Loc. 1085). Hey, did you know that “we can safely say that forty million Americans lost their jobs because of the lockdown” (Loc. 2303)?
This is the kind of book which you should order, even if you don’t have time to read it right this minute. We need help these gents sell a lot of these books. The Price of Panic is crammed full of contraband thought, and we know what our betters think about us and our contraband thought. In fact, while I am at it, I would encourage you to put about ten copies of this book on your Christmas shopping list. Surely you have people in your network of receivers of presents who could use this book, either as an encouragement or as an cogent explanation of your dangerous opinions.
Allow me to conclude, if I might, with a battery of quotations from this most excellent book:
All death brings pain, but as far as historic pandemics go, the coronavirus was unremarkable. What was remarkable is how we reacted.Loc. 1339
Yeah, we know this sounds like something out of a self-published conspiracy novel you’d find at a gun show.Loc. 327
Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.Loc. 311
Everything looks scary when you magnify it a thousand times . . .Loc. 646
Incestuous, homogeneous fiefdoms of self-proclaimed expertise are always rank-closing and mutually self-defending, above all else.Loc. 653
If you torture data long enough, it will confess to anything.Loc. 935
Elites don’t tend to welcome the news that the best thing they can do is stand aside.Loc. 1383
“Emergencies,” Friedrich Hayek argued, “have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have eroded.”Loc. 2488
The gods were wrong.Loc. 3018