by Ryan McMaken of Mises Institute
In an article last week for the Financial Times, Richard Milne examined the issue of Sweden’s “dissent” when it came to policy responses to the spread of covid-19. The article is essentially a hit piece on Sweden, containing all the usual strategies of portraying the Scandinavian nation as an irresponsible outlier.
Sweden, of course, famously refrained from imposing lockdowns on its population, while relying on targeted isolation for vulnerable populations.
The fact Sweden refused to go along with other states, which, as Milne put it, “as country after country imposed lockdown restrictions on their populations rarely seen outside wartime” apparently dismayed the global media and politicians from other countries who demanded global lockdowns.
The result was a nearly endless stream of media stories about how Sweden’s response to covid-19 was disastrous. These comparisons, of course, conveniently omitted the fact that Sweden experienced better outcomes than numerous countries that imposed draconian lockdowns, including Belgium, the UK, Spain, and Italy. Moreover, as cases and hospitalizations are growing again in these prolockdown nations, Sweden has yet to show any resurgence as of October 2020.
Even more frustrating for the global pushers of lockdowns is the fact that the Swedish policy is “enjoying strong support” and “most of the criticism still comes from outside the country.”
It is quite likely that the leaders of large states and international organizations aren’t terribly fond of this sort of independence still enjoyed by nation-states in these matters.
The relentless drive to discredit the Swedish response is one indicator, and another is the growing chorus of calls for stronger “global governance” in matters of infectious disease.
Politicians, think tanks, and left-wing publications are all pushing for strong international institutions to “coordinate” responses to pandemics. But this then raises a question: Just how much coordination should there be, and how much of the sovereignty of individual states must be destroyed in the process?
These questions ought to highlight the dangers of global political centralization, and this has been illustrated by the global media’s focus on attacking Sweden for its “noncompliance” in the global drive for lockdowns. If one medium-sized country’s refusal to go along with the global “expert” will arouse this sort of vicious counterattack, it stands to reason that any reasonably powerful global institution with powers to impose health policy would happily crush any state that sought to go its own way.
After all, just consider how much easier it would be for global health bureaucrats to manufacture a narrative favorable to their own version of events if Sweden hadn’t done what it did. Without the example of Sweden, it would be far easier for politicians to claim that the death toll in the absence of coerced lockdowns would be double, triple, or even ten times larger than the death tolls experienced in countries with harsh lockdowns.
“Yes, Spain has experienced a terrible death toll in spite of our strict lockdowns,” the pundits might say. “But things would have been five times worse without the lockdowns!” Without Sweden, there would have been no national-level counterexample to point to.
Any situation that contradicted the asserted “you get either a harsh lockdown or an incalculable bloodbath” story would be largely hypothetical. But things didn’t turn out that way. Because of this, we must expect the calls for ever-greater global “coordination” and “governance” to increase. While few of these efforts will ever explicitly call for actual “global government,” the ultimate destination will be—as has been the case with the EU—a global bureaucracy that can demand compliance and implementation of mandates handed down by the governing bodies of these new and strengthened global organizations.
Calls for More Global Governance
From the very beginning of the announced pandemic earlier this year, there have been calls for greater international “coordination.” In May, former British prime minister Tony Blair called for member countries to give the World Health Organization “much greater heft and weight.” In June, current British prime minister Boris Johnson called for the creation of a NATO-like organization that could produce “a radical scaling up” of global responses to disease. Ex-prime minister Gordon Brown has also expressed similar views.
Many global NGOs, of course, have expressed similar sentiments. The Center for Global Development (CGD), for example, concluded in April:
we need strong multilateral institutions and stronger global governance. As the President of Ethiopia put it in his letter to the G20: “These challenges cannot be adequately addressed (…) by one country; they require a globally coordinated response. Just as the virus knows no border, our responses also should not know borders.” (emphasis in original)
While this all sounds very voluntary and collaborative on every level, the far-left Jacobin has noted that these plans all remain rather toothless unless these organizations are given coercive powers. In a July article explicitly pushing for a global democratic government, Leigh Phillips writes:
Some of this agenda could be achieved straightforwardly enough through interstate treaties rather than a new global executive. However, much of it would require real governmental authority for the new body, not least the ability to compel national governments to obey its directives, even if Blair — always the savvier public relations operator of the Brown-Blair duo — makes no explicit mention of the term “world government.”…
The world is already “governed” by some 1,000 treaties and agencies that involve varying levels of finance and enforcement. For these centrists, moving toward a world government would not be a revolution so much as the next logical step, accelerated by the pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn.
Eliminating Local Control
Pandemics, of course, provide the perfect rationale for demanding an end to sovereignty at the level of nation-states. If the refrain is “the virus knows no border,” then it naturally follows that countries unwilling to adopt the “correct” antipandemic policies must be forced to comply. After all, any independence in this matter could be construed as one nation endangering all its neighbors.
Thus, in the new schema, an “uncooperative” country like Sweden would essentially forfeit its sovereignty by not adopting “recommendations” handed down by global health experts. The fact that Sweden’s policy has been pushed by a democratically elected government to a generally approving electorate would be immaterial. All that would matter would be the mandates handed down by a distant global bureaucracy.
Naturally, an international organization with powers like these would also eliminate subnational independence within the nation-states themselves.
In the United States, for example, seven states never locked down at all: Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Arkansas. All of these states have experienced covid-19 deaths per million at rates well below those of states that enacted harsh lockdowns—especially New York and New Jersey. Deaths also remain far lower by this measure in many states that enacted either short or weak lockdowns, including Texas, Georgia, and Florida.
Moreover, like Sweden, these jurisdictions continue to provide counterexamples to the “lockdown or die” claims coming from states that did impose draconian lockdowns. For example, when Georgia was among the first states to end its lockdown—long before most states in the northeastern United States— the The Atlantic declared it an “ experiment in human sacrifice.” Clearly, several months later, this prediction continues to be wildly incorrect. In Georgia, covid-19 deaths per million are still less than half of what they are in New York. And hospitalizations continue to decline. But even if total deaths do double and the rate is eventually similar to that in New York, we’re still left with the question: Why bother locking down at all if the outcome is the same?
Naturally, this outcome would be embarrassing for advocates of lockdowns, so this sort of local sovereignty and independence would need to be eliminated by the global protectors of “public health.”
Were there a global, uniform lockdown policy, of course, prolockdown reporters and politicians would have to worry about being contradicted by “renegade” jurisdictions. Lockdowns would only be allowed to end in ways that suited the agendas of policymakers at the WHO, or whatever far-off governments were making policy for every state, town, region, and nation worldwide.
Inventing New Explanations
The usual narrative having failed in the case of Sweden, prolockdown critics have attempted other explanations. One is that population density is lower in Sweden, so therefore, it will have lower deaths per million. But new research suggests the data is, at best, inconclusive on that matter. While density is likely a factor of some kind, there’s no evidence it is a factor to the extent that would be necessary to explain why Sweden has performed better than the UK and Spain, for instance.
Another theory is that the Swedes have voluntarily practiced social distancing so studiously that this explains away the apparent failure of the “forced lockdown or die” narrative.
But, again, the data doesn’t show this.
In fact, the Google Community Mobility Trends data suggests that Sweden socially distanced less than many European countries that imposed harsh lockdowns, yet had more deaths per capita than Sweden. In other words, the usual explanations proffered by lockdown enthusiasts fail to explain the reality.
Surely, this all strikes the prolockdown policymakers as rather exhausting. It would be far easier if it were unnecessary to address the fact that jurisdictions like Sweden and Georgia have failed to produce the bloodbaths that were promised.
This could all be solved by imposing a single, uniform global policy an every regime, as directed by global technocrats. This “solution” is apparently already in the works.Author:
Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is a senior editor at the Mises Institute. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado and was a housing economist for the State of Colorado. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.