British Lives Matter

Isn’t that what the acronym BLM stands for? No? There you go then, just goes to show the infinite possibilities of the English Language.

90,000 dead and counting

In any case, the new meaning incorporates the old one because British lives do come in various hues. That makes the acronym more inclusive, and isn’t inclusivity the name of the game, even if it’s sometimes rigged?

British lives do matter and, now that some 90,000 of them have been lost to Covid, it’s time to ponder how much. People do ponder, and two opposite views emerge, one pragmatic, the other libertarian.

The government clearly wishes to save as many lives as it can. The cynics may ascribe this impulse to purely political considerations, the idealists opt for nobler motives, and all of them, cynics and idealists alike, agree that HMG doesn’t go about its task in the most efficacious manner.

However, the pragmatists allow that the overall thrust of its policies is laudable. They ask themselves what they’d do if they were HMG, and tend to accept that it wouldn’t be strikingly different from what HMG is doing.

That some sweeping measures are desirable is proved by Sweden that haughtily adopted a laisser-faire approach to the pandemic. As a result, she ran up a death toll 10 times higher than in her more dirigiste Scandinavian neighbours. King Carl XVI Gustaf even had to apologise publicly for his government’s approach to Covid, which he correctly described as a failure.

Since this is the only European benchmark on which the validity of stringent measures can be assessed, one is justified in believing that their absence in Britain might have increased the death toll by an order of magnitude. That would mean close to a million victims, roughly twice the number of casualties the country suffered in the Second World War.

The libertarians, on the other hand, also have a point or two. First, they say that nothing about the pandemic is known for sure: its aetiology, treatment, prophylaxis, the efficacy of masks, social distancing and lockdowns, the likelihood and duration of immunity, the long-term effect of vaccination.

What is known for sure is that the people’s civil liberties have been severely and intolerably curtailed, to the point of confining Britons to house arrest without due process. This is especially objectionable in the absence of ironclad data clarifying every jot and tittle of coronavirus.

Yes, come back the pragmatists, co-opting Guy Fawkes to their cause. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t they? People’s civil liberties were even more curtailed during the Blitz, when a mere 43,000 died. So much more the reason to accept such restrictions now that the death toll is already more than twice as high. And we don’t even have to have blackouts yet.

Neither group invokes Christianity for support, sensing that no religion is relevant to the quotidian concerns of modern man. Progress has left Christianity in its rearview mirror, whereas the view through the windscreen unfolds in all its electronically enhanced beauty, complete with mushroom clouds billowing on the horizon.

However, just to keep the irrelevant record straight, Christ did attach value to every human life, while deemphasising the importance of civil liberties. “Render unto Caesar…” and all that. And when he said “the truth shall make you free”, he didn’t mean the kind of freedom that’s conferred by government decree.

But do let’s get back on the terra firma of unadulterated secularism. I am in general agreement with the pragmatists there, especially since they can also invoke arguments based on the outdated, but to me indisputable, notion of the sanctity of human life. Yet the libertarian argument can’t be dismissed out of hand.

The parallel lines I’ve drawn between Covid and war are long, and they don’t stop once the original reason for them has been eliminated. A trivial illustration of this tendency is the 55mph limit on US motorways introduced in 1974 during the oil crisis.

The crisis soon ended, but the risible speed limit didn’t. On the federal level it survived until 1995 and it still operates in many states. That proves yet again the immutable law of the universe: governments never relinquish everything they’ve claimed.

All modern governments, regardless of their political doctrine, are innately centralising, which means authoritarian at least latently. Authoritarianism means the state divesting the maximum number of people of the maximum amount of power.

Civilised countries have in place any number of checks on the state acting according to this inner imperative, but the state feels time is on its side. It patiently looks out for any pretext to grab more power.

Hence, the state sees an opportunity in any crisis, especially one in which large numbers of people die. Wars are ideal in that respect, but pandemics will do at a pinch.

You’ll notice that state power in Britain (and most other civilised countries) increased exponentially after both World Wars. Emergency measures were introduced during the hostilities, and after the wars ended so did many of the measures – but far from all.

No concession of power to the state can ever be entirely temporary. Even if most emergency powers run through the sieve after the emergency ends, some residual powers permanently settle between the holes.

That’s why Covid, while being the reason for temporary restrictions, may well become a pretext for permanent ones. Putting it bluntly, we may lose some important liberties in perpetuity.

On balance, I support the group I’ve described as pragmatist. But it can’t be gainsaid that a balance exists and it must be considered.

Perhaps the best course of action is to leaven acquiescence with vigilance. Do let’s comply with masks, lockdowns and so forth – while keeping an eye out for a permanent power grab by the state. Believe me, it’s eminently capable of it.      

9 thoughts on “British Lives Matter”

  1. In many outer London boroughs large planters were introduced to close roads to traffic, ostensibly to enable safe socially-distanced exercise during the pandemic while traffic volume was reduced by the lockdown. In many places these have now been replaced by concrete bollards, to create ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’.

  2. I am totally convinced that something very big world-wide is going on and that this so called pandemic is just a disguise. This is evident by the mad rush for the vaccine. In October, Dr. Michael Yeadon, once Pfizer’s most senior researcher, wrote:
    “There is absolutely no need for vaccines to extinguish the pandemic. I’ve never heard such nonsense talked about vaccines. You do not vaccinate people who aren’t at risk from a disease. You also don’t set about planning to vaccinate millions of fit and healthy people with a vaccine that hasn’t been extensively tested on human subjects.”
    Genevieve Briand, from John Hopkins, recently examined the date from the Centres for disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA and concluded that “the total decrease in deaths by other causes almost exactly equals the increase in deaths by COVID-19.”
    This suggests, according to Briand, that the COVID-19 death toll is misleading. Briand believes that deaths due to heart diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza and pneumonia may instead be recategorized as being due to COVID-19.
    I think that you will find the same statistical information for the U.K., it certainly is true in Australia where far less people have died (overall) than normal, even with the much higher suicide rate from those who couldn’t cope with their business shut-down.
    Also, masks are a major cause of bacterial pneumonia. Even the latest statement from the WHO states that they should not be worn except in extreme situations.

  3. You are one of the few commentators to listen to both sides of the argument on this issue. Most people seem to have made up their minds in March, with no real interest in new information.

    In regard to the lockdown, one would think the British would be well adapted to social atomisation by now.

  4. Mortality rate in the United Kingdom (according to the CIA web site but similar result from several other statistics sites) for year 2019 was 9.398 deaths per 1,000 people. For 2020 the number was 9.41 per 1,000 people. If the UK population is 65,000,000 that means a total increase in number of deaths by 780. Similar results; i.e. no increase in total deaths, for Sweden (my country of birth), Australia (where i live) and the USA. The China virus belongs in my opinion to the same category as the so called anthropogenic global climate change political scam.

    1. About 2 1/2 million to 3 million die USA every year. I think a lot of Americans are surprised by those numbers. Covid contributing to an increase to be sure. How marked is determined by the definition of what is marked I guess.

      1. Re; “Covid contributing to an increase to be sure. ” Any increase deaths have been caused indirectly due to people not coping with foreclosure of business, massive income loss, along with domestic violence increase due to unemployment and very restricted movement, isolation, disruption of sporting life. Therefore a sharp rise with increased drug abuse, alcohol related deaths, suicide, home violence and also deaths have risen due to awaited surgery not performed while practically empty hospitals awaited the COVID patients.

  5. I would make one amendment to your assessment of the libertarian and pragmatist (or cost-benefit) arguments for and against the policies that have been adopted in response to covid. It seems to me the pragmatic case for social distancing and mask-wearing is strong as a matter of risk-management, even in the face of some uncertainty about how well they work to save lives. But I do believe there are sound pragmatic arguments against lockdowns. The costs of lockdowns include large unemployment (some permanent) and destruction of businesses. Surely, there is a very real human dimension to the loss of one’s job or the destruction of a small business that took a lifetime of work to create, as Paul M. noted in his comment. There are anecdotal reports of higher rates of depression and even suicides among those who have been so affected. These ill effects have been ameliorated to some degree by the U.S. government’s expenditure in 2020 of approximately 3 billion dollars in transfer payments to individuals and businesses in 2020 for lockdown relief. But adding that sum to the national debt this past year (in addition to 1.5 billion from other borrowing) has created a distinct problem that bodes ill for the country. According to Federal Reserve Bank data I saw recently, the 4.5 billion increase to the national debt in 2020 is more in inflation-adjusted dollars than the entire accumulation of national debt from 1776 to 1984. A lot of that borrowing is being financed by Federal Reserve Bank purchases, and one wonders if there will be a day of reckoning from the massive scale of government borrowing and money-printing that lockdowns have made necessary.

    1. The question you ask is valid, with or without Covid, although Covid makes it even more so. I often wonder when a day of reckoning will arrive, and why it hasn’t arrived yet. Perhaps the fact that the American national debt is denominated in the American national currency helps – but I can’t see it helping for ever. Ditto, the interest rates, risibly low by historical standards. Ditto, the Fed’s hand on the button of the printing press. Ditto, the fact that the debt is still reasonably well leveraged. I just hope never to hear the fallacy ‘we owe it to ourselves’. We don’t owe it to ourselves. We (and by ‘we’ I also mean Britain) owe much of it to the international money markets, which charge interest, albeit it at a low rate at the moment. But what if the interest rate go up? Say, to 10 per cent, which is far from being historically impossible? In Britain, the cost of managing our debt is already greater than our defence budget — how long can we get away for such profligacy? It’s indisputable that modern governments are no better than modern people at living within their means and paying their way. Obviously, Covid brings such problems into focus and makes them worse. However, if I were PM (or president), I wouldn’t protect the economy and people’s businesses at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. That may be because I value people lives more than their livelihoods, or else because I simply wouldn’t have the nerve.

  6. Your points are all well-taken, By the way, I referred to “billions” of dollars in lockdown relief and national debt in my comment when I meant to say “trillions.” The lockdown relief payments in 2020 in the US added about 3 trillion dollars to the national debt, not 3 billion. And the total new addition to the national debt from all borrowing in 2020 is 4.5 trillion. I suspect that dollar number in a Biden administration for 2020 will be even higher.

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