Simon Fraser University Professor: "Lockdown will go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in Canada’s history"
Cost-benefit analysis does not favour lockdown as a policy.
A paper published this month by Douglas W. Allen, Professor of Economics at Simon Fraser University confirms what many of us have suspected (in growing numbers) over the past 13 months - that lockdowns have had, at best, a marginal effect on the number of Covid-19 deaths, and that more stringent lockdowns do not result in fewer deaths.
Much of Allen’s conclusion rests on a cost-benefit analysis that considers life-years lost both to Covid-19 directly and to lockdown:
For some this past year has been horrific. Perhaps they suffered violence or abuse that was fueled by frustration and alcohol while locked down during a long stay-at-home order. Or perhaps they lost a business, a major career opportunity, or struggled over a long period of unemployment. How many months of 2020 would these people have been willing to sacrifice to have avoided the negative consequences of lockdown? Many might be willing to give up years, others several months.
There is also a socio-economic dimension to this as well:
On the other hand, for others who are older, professional, have no children at home, live in a large house with a garden, dislike travel, and have poorer health, lockdown might have given them comfort and been no inconvenience. These folks might sacrifice nothing to avoid lockdown.
The average Canadian is said to have lost two months of normal life, which means that for a nation of 37.7 million people, 6.3 million years of life have been lost due to lockdown.
In contrast, as the average age of reported Covid-19 deaths is about 80, and as the average 80-year-old has a life expectancy of 9.79 years, the 6.3 million years of life lost is equivalent to the deaths of 643,513 80-year-olds. Given the 22,716 deaths due to Covid-19 as of March 22, 2021, a total of 222,389 years of life were lost. (Note: 23,435 as of April 16, 2020.)
Allen’s ultimate conclusion is that the cost-benefit ratio of lockdown is somewhere between 3.6 and 282, and that therefore “lockdown will go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in Canada’s history.”
Professor Allen is not the first to suggest lockdowns as a policy approach are not supported by a cost-benefit analysis. An opinion piece in the mainstream and conservative Wall Street Journal last month used the lifting of lockdown in Texas (along with the mask mandate) to make the point that “the benefits of stringent measures aren’t worth the costs” and that “there's a reason no government has done a cost-benefit analysis: The policy would surely fail.”
If stricter lockdown measures led to more lives saved, we would expect to see a strong negative correlation between lockdown stringency and deaths per million. However, the available data does not suggest that's the case. If anything, there is virtually zero correlation between stringency and Covid-19 deaths per million.
The United States provides a number of interesting comparisons between lockdown and no-lockdown jurisdictions, as lockdowns were a state decision. This is akin to an experiment in which we have an experimental group (lockdown states) and a control group (non-lockdown states).
The contrast between North Dakota, which had a lockdown, and South Dakota, which had no restrictions on business, is telling. The end result is the same.
Likewise with the big states. Here are three states with long and strict lockdowns (New York, New Jersey, California) and two states that abandoned lockdowns (Florida in 2020 and Texas in early March 2021). Again, the evidence in favour of lockdowns is not compelling when viewed comparatively:
Over the coming years, when the dust of Covid-19 and lockdowns has settled, it is critical that we conduct these sorts of cost-benefit analyses on our collective responses to Covid-19 and determine objectively what worked and what didn’t work.
One should ask the question of why we accepted lockdowns as a policy when our pandemic preparedness plans from 2019 and earlier universally rejected them as a viable option. The benefits didn't justify the costs then, and that has not changed since.