• The London Finance Journal

Ending Lockdown: The Private Property Solution

Updated: Jun 17, 2020

`We’re following the science` has been the constant mantra of Government briefings and press conferences throughout this crisis. Needless to say there is no such thing as `following the science`. Scientists may provide ministers with evidence, estimates or modelling, basically what they believe is the situation, but scientists per se cannot recommend what ought to be, i.e. Government policy.

Nonetheless, the basic ethical principle of Government policy is to minimise the number of lives lost to Covid 19. In the following I will challenge this principle and instead assert the principle of freedom as that which should decide Government policy. By respecting private property freedom will be restored for those who want it, while a voluntary lockdown will be able to remain for those who wish to live in a low-risk environment.

Individual rights are inalienable and the Government has no authority in removing them from the people: For it is only through these rights that an individual can pursue his ends without infringing on the liberty of others to do the same. By forcefully halting the exercise of these rights the State has committed a great injustice. It’s only justifiable reason for being, the protection of individual rights, has been betrayed.

The inevitable response to such uncompromising libertarianism is the objection stating that the freedom of some necessarily infringes on the rights of others, and hence restrictions must be put in place to stop these rights violations. Essentially the diseased may not be allowed freedom for they may kill someone i.e. violate their right to life.

Such a position though fails to justify almost any element of the current lockdown. This is due to the fact that individuals may willingly consent to a higher risk of death from the virus. If pubs were open and made clear that entry involved consent to infection (or the risk of it) then no objection can be made on the grounds of violating someone’s right to life. The issue then becomes one of harming oneself.

No reasonable person can take issue with individuals willingly shortening their own lives – to do so would undermine the very foundations of a liberal society. Smoking, drinking and excessive eating all shorten the life of the individual, yet no one is proposing outlawing them. The same logic should apply to becoming infected at a pub.

The prospect of a second peak, provided it is consensual, should, therefore, provoke no response from Government. Ultimately, the death toll per se is irrelevant. At this point, there will be many questions and they all fundamentally boil down to this: How can you ensure that the second peak, with an increased number of deaths, is only among those who consent to such a risk and not among the those who do not consent to higher risk? That is, how can those who don’t want to risk infection be protected?

In the rest of this piece, this question will be answered. However, before we embark on applying libertarian theory to practice a few underlying assumptions must be questioned. The first is that a full lockdown is effective for reducing deaths. As Sweden shows it is possible to maintain liberties and experience a lower death rate. As of the 12th of June, the UK had experienced 621 deaths per million compared to Sweden’s 473.

Numerous scientists have also questioned the evidence behind the effectiveness of lockdown and the infamous Imperial College London study is now widely discredited. Some, such as Professor Sunetra Gupta, say that `we might have done better by doing nothing at all`. Evidence from America’s Centre for Disease Control & Prevention suggests that the fatality rate may be as low as 0.26%.

All of the preceding demonstrates the importance of allowing for open debate and being honest with the population. For `the science` is not settled, but being continually debated, to dismiss those with dissenting views and explanations as ignoring the science is nonsense, for there is no such thing as `the science`. Even on the Government’s own grounds, their strategy may have failed.

Nonetheless, let us not question the Government’s scientific evidence and accept the 0.66% death rate produced by ICL. How can those who do not wish to consent to the increased possibility of infection be held in a voluntary lockdown, while the rest of the population returns to normal, consenting to such a risk?

The un-consenting are in competition for space with the consenting. Due to the nature of the virus, the two groups cannot occupy the same area. For simplicity of analysis four spaces will be explored: the supermarket, the pub, work, and home. The default position is the `old normal` with institutions being constructed for the un-consenting.

For the un-consenting supermarkets could provide specified hours of shopping exclusively for this group. The principle of specified hours has already been voluntarily conceded by supermarkets e.g. Waitrose currently provides a dedicated hour for the elderly and vulnerable.

With the rest of the country totally unlocked it may be profitable for supermarkets to install thermal cameras at the entrance of their shops, therefore giving them the ability to exclude the symptomatic easily. Indeed, the British technology company SCC has developed such a technology and has already installed it at Bristol airport.

In all probability, extensive cleaning would probably occur before such specified hours as the customer base would almost certainly be an incredibly vulnerable group. For a paranoid base, the rules in supermarkets could be made incredibly strict, requiring hand washing at the entrance and then gloves and facemasks worn inside. Supermarkets could compete on the level of cleanliness provided.

There would still be a risk of infection, as there is now, but it could be seriously minimised (perhaps to below the current risk level) and advertised as such. Supermarkets would be able to provide a lockdown environment via voluntary means. Nonetheless, I detect the reader is waiting to raise a decisive objection.

How shall supermarkets know that those entering their shops have not gone to a pub or night club and therefore infected themselves? Without this knowledge, the supermarkets schemes will be of much-reduced effectiveness in providing a low-risk environment.

The answer for supermarkets to overcome this asymmetric knowledge problem is a membership scheme with the requirement of wearing an irremovable location tracking wristband. This wristband would monitor the individuals’ location and ensure they do not move out of the supermarkets approved area of specified roaming. This would most obviously include the supermarket and the individual’s home. Due to the possibility of mixing with the infected in other locations, the supermarket would probably prohibit movement to other places.

Many will call this idea absurd and totalitarian; it is nothing of the sort. This is due to the fact such a scheme is entirely voluntary. Yes, it is not ideal in that the old and vulnerable that opt for such membership will not be able to do certain things they can do today or did before the lockdown. But then this whole situation is non-ideal. The technology for such a scheme is available and actively used in Hong Kong[1].

If individuals were to still attempt to enter the low-risk hours, having gone to a prohibited area, they could face severe financial penalties from the supermarkets, discouraging such behaviour. The cost of the wristband could be covered by a membership fee to enter the specified low-risk hours. Rules by the supermarket could also prohibit the member from meeting friends and family and most probably fellow workers.

The workplace presents a far greater issue than supermarkets for those who don’t wish to expose themselves to the virus. Ultimately it is up to the employer to determine the rules of employment. Like the supermarket, he may require everyone to wear a location monitoring wristband that only allows them to attend work and home (with all food having to be delivered). Again, once contracts had the wristband clause entered into them and the consent of employees, misdemeanours (going to the pub) could be punished via large financial penalties.

Nonetheless, the most probable outcome employers would take is a total restoration to normality. The 2m rule (1m larger than WHO recommendations) which grossly hinders productivity would quickly be dropped. The old and vulnerable in employment who don’t wish to expose themselves to a high risk of infection will have to consider their positions. They cannot expect the whole of business and commerce to adapt to their wishes.

As a recent report suggested, to keep the 2m rule in place would result in up to 75% of pubs, restaurants, and hotels going bust. To see a number of old and vulnerable individuals who object to a high-risk environment being sacked is unfortunate, but to keep the rules they desire will only result in greater unemployment. In a post lockdown world, there are no easy trade-offs.

However, it is more than possible to imagine that employers may redeploy the vulnerable to exclusive online homework, stocking offices with younger and more resilient employees. Firms may also attempt to reduce infections by checking temperatures at work, as Pizza Hut currently does.

Carehomes should strictly adhere to a voluntary lockdown and be far more vigilant than they have been, Yet again though it appears that the incompetence of the public sector can be largely to blame for disaster. As David Crabtree (a care home provider) has said, he was essentially forced to take individuals from hospital, being threatened with being reported to social services for not accepting them. A number of his residents died as a result of one of them having Covid 19.

The pub presents the easiest space to consider. Provided the pub displays in the door a notification that such an area is a high-risk zone, then all customers by entering have consented to an increased risk of death. Naturally, publicans will attempt to make as much profit as possible and therefore they shall adapt table and bar spacing to the desires of consumers. In all due probability this will mean a near restoration to normal, those restaurants that attract an older customer base may space out their tables a bit more and charge higher prices while others may do the reverse. Ultimately, it will be the consumer who decides.

Underpinning all of the above is the institution of private property. In each case, a separate set of rules or arrangements can be put in place to adapt to the demands of consumers. A variety of risk levels can be provided, from the packed pub to a socially distanced restaurant right the way through to the voluntary lockdown of a supermarket at certain hours. Furthermore, freedom of contract can ensure that different groups of people can divide amongst themselves on an entirely voluntary basis, with harsh punishments for those who breach such agreements.

By restoring freedom and allowing these institutional rules to develop each group of individuals will finally be able to pursue their own ends again. Will this result in more death? Maybe, but then this has not stopped the British people persevering in the past. In 1968 Hong Kong Flu killed an estimated 80,000 people in the UK and yet no restrictions on economic activity were imposed and the economy continued to grow.

Life can be lived with a virus in the population, especially when the fatality rate is less than that of flu for those under the age of 40 at 0.08%. Even for those in their 50s the figure only rises to 0.15%, no worse than a bad seasonal flu, climbing to just 2.2% for those in their 60s.[2] Given that about 90% of those who have died had underlying health conditions the healthy population has little to worry about.

Nonetheless, the British population appear terrified of returning to normality and are continuing to criticise the Government for unlocking the country too quickly. The Government can in large part by blamed for whipping up this hysteria. A liberal State has no responsibility for advising its population of its preferred course of action; this is especially the case when such propaganda is incredibly expensive.

The economic impact of this crisis has been huge and will continue to scar the British economy the longer it goes on. Already the British economy is 25% smaller than it was at the start of this year. The private property solution that has been proposed in this piece would almost certainly offer the best chance of restoring employment, growth, and industry. However, much of the economic recovery will involve restoring confidence in production and consumption.

In order to achieve this goal, all Government briefings and public information campaigns should be immediately ceased. The Government’s propaganda machine has been so effective that people are terrified of economic activity. As such many businesses have been bankrupted due to the attitudes of consumers and will continue to be bankrupted if politicians insist upon a safety-first approach. Approaches to dealing with coronavirus should be entirely at the discretion of civil society, not the State.

The final area that many will be concerned about is a second peak overwhelming the NHS if freedom were fully restored. Firstly, it must be pointed out that according to Imperial College London studies Sweden’s healthcare system would be overwhelmed right now, evidently this is not the case. Indeed, Professor Ferguson’s model predicted Sweden to have around 40,000 deaths by now due to not locking down; it has experienced less than 5,000. Ferguson was wrong.

Nonetheless, the NHS has expanded critical care capacity vastly since the start of this pandemic meaning a possible second wave should easily be dealt with. Virtually all of the eight Nightingale Hospitals remain empty, meaning there is much spare capacity to fill. Naturally, there may be a concern that those who opt for a voluntary lockdown lifestyle are pushed out of treatment due to the laissez-faire attitudes of the rest of the population. This injustice may be dealt with by giving first priority to those who remain in a voluntary lockdown.

Throughout this piece, the case has been made for the restoration of freedom via the institution of private property. As such a vision has been presented whereby the population may divide into those who wish to return to normal and those who wish to remain in a voluntary lockdown. Freedom is essential to the human condition, for it is only with such liberty that an individual has the potential to achieve his ends. Currently, the Government is destroying the prospect of individuals realising their ends. This must change, and change immediately. Freedom must reign once again.

By Charles Amos,

Town Councillor

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/hong-kong-has-tracking-bracelets-to-enforce-coronavirus-quarantine-2020-4?r=US&IR=T#the-stayhomesafe-app-is-used-to-connect-to-the-wrist-bands-and-periodically-rescan-if-someone-tries-to-break-quarantine-it-issues-a-warning-4 [2] https://medium.com/wintoncentre/how-much-normal-risk-does-covid-represent-4539118e1196