New book release – Lockdown: Did Government Do the Right Thing?
South Africa has endured one of the harshest lockdowns in the world, with Government imposing a curfew, and extended bans on tobacco and alcohol. After forcibly shutting down businesses and overturning industries, South Africa’s GPD for the 2nd quarter has contracted by 51%.
Millions of South Africans have lost their jobs.
At the same time, South Africa has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world. Government argues this is a result of the strict lockdown. But at one point, South Africa had the fifth highest number of Covid-19 cases globally, leading some to question whether the lockdown had any helpful effects.
Many are asking: Are lockdowns unethical?
To answer this question, Mark Oppenheimer and Dr Jason Werbeloff, a practicing advocate and a philosopher, have written Lockdown: Did Government Do the Right Thing?
The book starts with a fictional case.
Imagine you are standing beside a train track, and you feel the vibration of an oncoming train. Ahead of you, five innocent people are tied to the rails, screaming for your help.
You can save them. But there is a catch…
Pull a nearby switch, and the oncoming train will be diverted. But there is a woman tied to the other track. Are you willing to kill her to save the others?
Government locked down to save vulnerable lives, while forcing businesses to close their doors.
Did Government pull the right switch?
Lockdown severely limits our freedoms. Is this use of State power legitimate, even if it does save lives? To answer this second question, Oppenheimer and Werbeloff ask us to imagine another fictional case.
Suppose you wake up in a hospital bed, covered head to toe in bandages. You also have a severe case of amnesia and cannot remember your name, age, gender, or race. But you have some basic understanding of human psychology and economics.
A man in a white coat walks into the room, and says: “I'm going to give you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm going to let you design the rules for the world that you step into when you leave here.” The challenge is to design, from scratch, the rules which will apply to everyone, yourself included.
Your amnesia, which hides what you know about your own identity, will motivate your choice of rules. You would not want to design a society in which men will be treated much better than women because when the bandages come off, you might be a woman. You would not want a society that is racist because you might be in the disfavoured race.
Similarly, you could be someone who wakes up to find that you have diabetes, or an underlying health condition that would make you vulnerable to a serious Covid-19 infection. Would you want a Government that locks down in a pandemic, to ensure that you have a hospital bed, which could save your life?
Lockdown is an important book in a time where Governments are exercising unprecedented power in the name of saving hundreds of thousands of lives.