Dear Professor Emily Oster,
You recently published an opinion piece in The Atlantic where you called for a so-called amnesty for all those who advocated, enacted, and enforced lockdowns during the 2020 pandemic. You claim that some choices made in response to the pandemic “turned out to be better than others,” that misinformation “was, and remains, a huge problem,” but that “most errors” in response to the pandemic “were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society.”
You point to “the amount of uncertainty” as an obstacle to good decision-making, and then acknowledge that some people turned out to be right, while others were proven wrong.
Then you say:
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive … All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet.
You are so worried about hearing from people who were proven right that you want those of us who opposed the lockdowns and other forced measures during the pandemic to forgive you who advocated them. You want an amnesty for yourself and everyone else who endorsed the strong hand of government to close businesses and schools, who confined unvaccinated people in their homes, who got people fired, and who shattered lives.
I will tell you right away, professor Oster: there will be no amnesty. Not a chance. And here is why.
I know personally of at least one case where a man committed suicide as a direct result of the lockdowns. The extreme propaganda, the social bullying, and the unhinged fear-mongering that all you lockdown proponents unleashed, drove this man to the point where he would rather end his life than see the pandemic through.
His family is devastated. Do you think they owe you an amnesty?
I also know of many people whose businesses were forced to close. The owners lost everything they had. Employees were forced into deep economic hardship. I was affected, too. I was in the final stage of negotiating a well-paid job with a research institute at a university when the lockdowns hit and the university eliminated the position in a wave of panic-driven budget cuts.
My family took a very hard financial loss as a result. Like millions of others, we had to go deep into debt before we could rebuild our lives.
You, on the other hand, are a tenured professor at Brown University in Rhode Island. Your paycheck kept coming every other week. Much like a government employee, your personal finances were not affected.
Do you think we owe you an amnesty?
Why should we, who opposed the lockdowns from the start, ignore the fact that we have been proven right on practically every account? We raised our voices about school closings, pointing to the harm it would do to the kids. We pointed to the economic devastation that would follow in the footsteps of the lockdowns.
We were summarily dismissed, then vilified by lockdown-extremist social mobs. I remember one of them viciously and verbally harassing me in a parking lot. He even chased me toward my car with such aggression that I had to reveal my conceal-carry firearm to him to make him back off.
You fear our gloat. Well, I heard a whole lot of gloating from lockdown extremists back in 2020. There was no shortage of government employees and university professors—again two categories of people whose finances were unaffected by the lockdowns—who gloated about ‘trusting the science’ because ‘science’ was on the side of the lockdown-ers.
We knew all along that this was not true. Now you know too.
At no point in your article do you show any understanding of the massive consequences of the totalitarian response to the pandemic. You give not even a whiff of sympathy for all the shattered lives.
For all these reasons, we cannot grant the amnesty you want. But there is one more reason, one that you avoid like the plague (or an unvaccinated neighbor). At no point do you seem to ask yourself what the lockdown madness tells us about the very foundations of a free society.
During the pandemic, governments in many countries suspended individual and economic freedom, in some instances even the rule of law. I am not going to saturate this open letter with examples, simply because the list is so overwhelming, but let me offer one, from Austria, November 2021:
The Austrian government has ordered a nationwide lockdown for unvaccinated people … to combat rising coronavirus infections and deaths. The move prohibits unvaccinated people 12 and older from leaving their homes except for basic activities.
And then, to make sure no people with yellow stars on their clothes were out and about:
The lockdown will initially last for 10 days and police will go on patrol to check people outside to make sure they are vaccinated.
The social lepers were fined €1,450 if they violated their lockdowns.
Professor Oster, do you see the risk here? Can you see the shapes of what we lockdown opponents were most worried about?
When you say that “most errors” regarding the pandemic response “were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society,” you use a kind of language that has been used by totalitarians throughout human history. Or, in the words of C.S. Lewis,
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.
Benito Mussolini and his fascists claimed to work for the betterment of society and improvement of the economy when they closed the Italian parliament. The Chinese government today works to better society by enforcing social credit scores and curtailing freedom of speech.
I will stop there, but I am sure you are intelligent enough to follow this train of thought all the way to The Gulag Archipelago.
By asking for an amnesty for those who erred “in earnest for the good of society” you ask for forgiveness for having assaulted the very bedrock of our free society. Your request reminds me of a scene from the comic book Lucky Luke. The Dalton Brothers are on the run from the law and one of the brothers is hungry. He suggests that they eat one part of one of their horses, and then keep riding.
If there is one thing we learned from the lockdowns and all the other totalitarian government responses to the pandemic, it is this:
Never ever give up an inch of your freedom to anyone who works “in earnest for the good of society.”
Once we do, “the good of society” will eventually replace our freedom in its entirety.
So there, professor Oster, you have it. No amnesty. If you want to learn more about how to defend freedom and fight tyranny, I recommend the plethora of excellent writings here at the European Conservative. You might also want to read my own book Democracy or Socialism: The Fateful Question for America in 2024. Try the paperback. It’s only $36. I’m sure you can afford it.
Sven R. Larson, Ph.D.
Political economist and writer with the European Conservative