Exploring the political economy of embracing lockdowns is an interesting topic for economists to research. Philip Baggus recently published a piece on the political economy of Covid-19 hysteria and it would be fascinating to read his findings if he were to study the proposed topic. Evidence indicates the futility of lockdowns, yet they are still widely embraced. That support for lockdowns remains pervasive suggests that something greater than a desire to conform is at work.
Humans are rational actors interested in minimizing costs and believing that lockdowns work is a reassuring and inexpensive alternative to taking responsibility for one’s health. Lockdowns shift the burden of responsibility to politicians by relieving citizens of their duty to act on their own accord. Hence, accepting the ineffectiveness of lockdowns may force them to adjust their lifestyles to the reality of Covid-19. But the truth is that most people lack the discipline to change their diet to suit the reality of Covid-19 and neither are they willing to be guided by research in the process. For example, some studies argue that the consumption of Vitamin D can reduce the impact of Covid-19. However, the average person will not engage in serious research to protect himself from Covid-19, this is simply time-consuming.
So, affirming the value of lockdowns makes it easier for people to use their time efficiently without concern for Covid-19. Hence, one can increase leisure by outsourcing responsibility to government bureaucrats who promote lockdowns. The average person is rarely fond of research and doing it to preserve his health is not a major motivator. For matters of health, people rely on medical opinion, only few opt to conduct independent research. Lockdowns are therefore popular, due to self-interest. Rejecting this option forces people to be responsible for their well-being and this may prove to be costly for those of us who are uninterested in allotting time to understand the complexities of a novel disease.
Moreover, unlike ordinary people, experts advocate lockdowns, since they confer psychic benefits in the form of improved social status. Prior to Covid-19, many of these experts were unknown, but today they are prominent characters. Because of Covid-19, they are now able to write articles telling politicians how they can make lockdowns more effective. Yet medical practitioners are not the only people benefiting from the hysteria of Covid-19. There has been a great demand for psychologists to explain why people might oppose anti-Covid -19 measures. Covid-19 creates several opportunities for experts to boost their popularity, so they are encouraged to amplify the dangers of the disease.
Another factor responsible for the sacralization of lockdowns is the fear that skepticism will engender a moral hazard. Covid-19 is portrayed as a pandemic and experts believe that tolerating skepticism could result in the justification of inane theories that are in opposition to preventing the spread of the disease. Therefore, experts aim to manage chaos by maligning skeptical voices. In short, cooperation is vital for the success of society and becomes extremely important, during a pandemic. Entertaining skeptical positions can deter cooperation, so managing dissent could be a rational option for experts in a perceived pandemic. If people are critical of lockdowns, they can also be skeptical of policies able to reduce transmissions.
I have presented a theory, now I expect a brave economist to test the hypothesis. And I think that Philip Baggus is up to the task. I hope he accepts the offer.