Historian Toby Green’s new book ‘The COVID Consensus- The New Politics of Global Inequality’  is a rigorously researched study of the development of the global lockdown consensus following the emergence of the new coronavirus SARS COV2 in Wuhan in 2019. It asks an essential question: why did the western pandemic policy gain support across the political spectrum, when its social impacts conflict with ideology on both the right and left? Professor Green took on a formidable task by trying to collate and review fast-moving data during the politicisation of a public health crisis and the ensuing censorship of scientific debate. It’s a gripping read while being difficult to digest in parts, due to the harrowing accounts of the impacts of lockdowns, especially the author’s descriptions of their effects on the poor in both western democracies and the Global South. Professor Green’s research explores how the global ‘COVID consensus’ drove politicians on the right to recommend extending the reach of the state into the regulation of the most intimate aspects of citizens’ private lives, while those on the left supported policies that resulted in widening socio-economic inequalities and an explosion of domestic violence and abuse of children in the home. Meanwhile, those questioning the rationality of the global consensus found themselves increasingly marginalised, silenced and deplatformed by an army of social media ‘fact checkers’ funded and sponsored by the billionaire technocrats that all gained immensely from the crisis.
The author examines the historical and economic forces that drove western democracies to embrace the hitherto unprecedented lockdown intervention modelled in China, one of the most authoritarian societies in the world. Initially, Green argues, there was the widespread panic spread by western governments and media over the mortality rate of 3.4% infamously Tweeted by the WHO on March 3 2020, causing great alarm, especially in societies where the reality of death as an ever-present aspect of the life cycle is actively hidden. This figure was quickly circulated to governments worldwide, launching a fear-based struggle to identify an appropriate public health policy intervention that quickly converged on the WHO’s evaluation of China’s ‘success story’ in containing the virus. Importantly, Professor Green contextualises this unprecedented development by charting the development of US and UK economic dependence on China, and the political classes’ growing ‘silent admiration’ of the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism that promised to resolve the social contradictions in their own societies. He writes,
‘The US depended on China’s apparently insatiable demand to hold its debt and the UK and much of Europe relied on Chinese tourists and students to boost their capital flows. Through the need for Chinese capital and products the coercive political structure which had made China so powerful was tacitly accepted. This soft power and cultural influence paved the way for the world to accept a model of Chinese authoritarian state control when it emerged as a false consensus to tackle COVID-19 (p. 185).
Thus, a complex web of economic dependence has developed based on, among other things, the Global North’s economies’ demands for cheap consumer goods manufactured by Western companies in China, UK academic institutions’ dependence on Chinese students paying over-sized fees to keep them afloat financially, and the Chinese government’s purchase of American debt that bankrolls the credit lines supporting most of the American economy. As a consequence, 21st century democratic capitalism had gradually become subordinate to a new authoritarian variant in China, while Western liberal democracies’ traditional concerns with China’s disregard for civil liberties, for example in Tibet, became quietly side-lined. All this paved the way for China’s exercise of soft power during the COVID crisis as a global consensus emerged that China’s lockdown policy was the answer to tackling the viral outbreak.
In Chapter 3, Professor Green presents a graphic and harrowing account of the consequences of lockdown for the global poor including soaring hunger, the erosion of the informal economy which the majority of the Global South rely on for a daily income, and the collapse of remittances from relatives in foreign countries whose incomes had shrunk or disappeared. The lockdown policy enacted in the West to ‘save lives’ therefore had a direct impact on the incomes of those in the Global South. Professor Green writes,
‘In Africa remittances from relatives in richer economies account for half of private inward investment in the continent; although relatives sent money where they could during the crisis, the sudden contraction had serious implications. Elsewhere, a good example was the situation in Yemen, where the collapse of remittances by 80% or US$253 million had caused food shortages and price hikes in a country which imports 90% of its food. And yet by October, Yemen – alongside Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia designated five of the worst hunger zones in the world- had received zero Covid-related nutrition assistance such as had been promised by donor countries’ (p. 153).
Chinese investors stepped in to fill the void left by the negligence of traditional aid providers, by refinancing existing debt, thereby further extending their economic power on the continent. Meanwhile, a range of poor countries in the Global South including many in Africa took out IMF loans classed as ‘debt relief’ to avoid economic ruin in the short-term by indebting themselves much further into the future. Of course, the IMF imposed certain conditions on the issuing of loans, meaning ‘austerity measures’ will be required in the poorest countries for the next decade that will impoverish their populations further. The impact on future food security, public health, and life expectancy will be immense, promising to reverse decades of poverty alleviation work in the poorest countries in the world.
Professor Green also describes how the adverse effects of lockdown have disproportionately impacted the lives of women and children internationally. The violent abuse of women and escalation in domestic homicides were directly related to an explosive cocktail of family stressors caused by poverty, alcohol abuse, and the prohibition of movement outside the home. The response of the international community to these developments was lacklustre, to say the least, as the author writes,
‘In late November 2020, the UN finally announced a fighting fund to tackle the “shadow pandemic” of violence against women, the fact that only US$25 million was pledged to tackle this worldwide spoke volumes as to where this sat in the scale of priorities, given the enormous amounts of money that had been spent on other things throughout the year’ (pp. 167-168).
Meanwhile, many children in the poorest communities of both western democracies and the Global South found themselves excluded from education as school and college closures led to the transfer of learning to online platforms inaccessible to those without the internet or the ICT devices required. Moreover, many parents, most often women, found themselves having to double up as teaching support to compensate for the absence of spontaneous social stimulation in online environments, thereby placing further stress on families confined to their homes. The impact on children’s and young people’s mental health has been immense, and the exclusion of the poorest from education for more than a year is likely to have adverse effects for generations to come. Professor Green writes,
‘As the year continued, and with no prospect of schools reopening and a whole year of education lost and motivation or hope to recover the gap that had opened up dwindling any prospect of social mobility or even a minor inroad on the mass inequalities within poor countries just evaporated – probably for many years’ (pp. 163-164).
The book details the immense harms caused by the imposition of a blanket viral containment policy worldwide, despite the vast differences in economic organisation that exist between countries, and the societal costs of the ensuing widespread deprivations. Towards the end of the book, the author reflects on the lessons that can be learned and alternative policy options that could be applied during future pandemics to avoid these harms. In his summary, he writes,
‘… if it feels as if people around the world have been living in a totalitarian state throughout 2020 that is because they have been. In the space of the four weeks between the WHO leadership team’s visit to Beijing on 28 January and the 24 February report, the policies of one of the most repressive countries in the world had become the global scientific consensus. Yet without any control to the experiment or time to research other potential contributing factors (e.g., cross immunity) this was in fact a completely unscientific way to proceed’ (p. 181).
Professor Green explains how, according to his global analysis, the leaders of Western democracies, in particular, have failed to understand the deeply interconnected world we live in. Computer modellers assumed that the virus would behave the same way worldwide which led to scientific and political pressure to impose lockdowns globally. The international medical establishment pushed a virus suppression strategy based upon a model developed in China- one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. The wildly inaccurate computer projections were taken as ‘the science’ due to the increasing obsession with big data and a computer-driven reality, where the outputs of machines are preferred to human expertise, because the former can never be wrong. Additionally, public health data were presented in the media free of the relevant context. For example, mortality data were presented in the absence of data on daily mortality rates in general, fuelling widespread panic especially in western countries where the reality of death remains hidden from view and its open discussion culturally taboo. When a growing number of world-leading scientists became critical of ongoing lockdowns and the emergency authorisation of vaccines based on a technology with hitherto unknown medium and long-term side effects, they were ridiculed, abused, and censored by public figures leading the COVID consensus, and silenced by Big Tech monopolies and related media outlets dependent on funding by those with a vested interest in the continuation of the pandemic.
One startling example in the UK was the University of Edinburgh Professor Devi Sridhar’s public condemnation of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), and the authors’ criticisms of lockdowns, as unscientific and inaccurate . A closer inspection reveals Professor Sridhar is trained in anthropology, while the GBD authors Dr Martin Kulldorff, professor of medicine at Harvard University; Dr Sunetra Gupta, professor of epidemiology at Oxford University; and Dr Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford University Medical School are all world-leading scientists with combined expertise in medicine, epidemiology, health economics, immunology, vaccine development and public health policy. Yet Devi Sridhar was given huge amounts of media airtime and applauded by the scientific and political establishment for her remarks, while the GBD authors were ignored.
This toxic combination of data-driven modelling, media censorship of world-leading scientists, and socially and economically careless policy interventions has caused the worst recession in 300 years, argues Professor Green. It has brought widespread poverty in richer countries alongside starvation in the Global South due to the abrupt curtailment of long-standing relationships of dependence, exploitation, and resource extraction due to international border closures. Thus, many of the world’s poorest countries have been forced to sell off their raw material assets to the highest bidder in the short term to finance debt repayments in the medium term, following massive borrowing in a desperate attempt to ward off famine and mass deaths.
In the book’s conclusion, Professor Green reflects on what could have been done better and any crumbs of positivity that can be garnered from what he clearly regards as an international disaster. Unsurprisingly, he is left with more questions than answers, and asks,
‘… if we do you really value freedom, personal control over our closest relationships, and the lives of everyone from the richest to the poorest on earth, what other strategies might we adopt in future? […] Are ancient traditions of theatre, music, public houses, hotels, restaurants, and rights to religious practice and family and working life not also key in a fundamental and unchallengeable way? Do we not need to protect these as well as valuing, cherishing, and safeguarding our older friends, neighbours, and family? Is the right to childhood and its norms of socialisation not also a key element: something which in the past societies have fought wars to regain or to protect (just as they have for the right to religious expression)? Or do we rather value the extension of life to its limits above all else? As a historian I cannot be but be aware that this approach to death is one that is very particular to modern western culture. In many societies throughout history, the aim in life has been to die honourably rather than to preserve life at all costs’ (p.233).
These questions need to be debated as the lockdowns continue in different forms and loom as potential threats to freedom during the ongoing emergence of new variants that are being touted as potentially resistant to the glut of experimental vaccines. Professor Green makes some recommendations to mend the harms done so far that sound radical given the apparent reluctance of global leaders to rescind any of their newly claimed powers. First, we must cancel the indebtedness of the Global South (just as Germany’s debt was cancelled in 1953); second, we must enforce environmental protections to ward off climate change and the collapse of biodiversity; third, we should commit to massive investment in cultural sectors to resuscitate the arts that have been almost destroyed by COVID 19; and finally, establish a global commission to investigate the power of tech monopolies to consider whether they should be broken up and their profits redistributed to benefit humankind.
This rigorously researched book lifts the veil on the disastrous effects of lockdowns worldwide and raises more questions than it can answer given the continuing global crisis. It is a much-needed left-leaning critical intervention in the prevailing political consensus characterised by a totalitarian merging of Big Tech, Big Pharma, media corporations and government. Read it, weep (it is harrowing in parts), then read it again. All lockdown sceptics need this as an essential reference on their bookshelf, and pro-lockdowners are advised to read it to prepare for the battle to come.
 Green, Toby, (2021) ‘The COVID Consensus- The New Politics of Global Inequality’, London, Hurst.
 Frei, Matt (2020) ‘Great Barrington Declaration is not ‘scientific’ or ‘accurate’, says Prof Devi Sridhar’ Channel 4 News https://www.channel4.com/news/great-barrington-declaration-is-not-scientific-or-accurate-says-prof-devi-sridhar