Blame Adam Smith

Phil Patterson
5 min readJan 10, 2021

Life is a bit rough right now, isn’t it? If you are reading this in the UK, then the claustrophobic embrace of lockdown is upon us. Again.

With vaccines being administered at a good rate of knots, that gives us hope, but nonetheless, life’s rich tapestry, of which we have become accustomed, continues to elude us.

There is the hope of an exit from this Covid half-life in March. Or, maybe Easter. It could be summer though. The deadline for the cessation of Covid related activities keeps slipping further and further away, and with it, the illusory mirage of hope.

It is exceptionally serious this time, too. It is estimated that 1 in 50 people in England is currently infected¹. I think back to the crushing fear of lockdown in March 2020 and it was all a bit baffling.

If you’d asked me a year ago, “what do you think a pandemic would be like?” I’d have speculated bodies piling up in the streets. Bin lorries being repurposed to collect corpses, ration cards and streets that resemble some sort of Zombie apocalypse.

Now, I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like. And thankfully, it isn’t what I thought it would be.

Unlike March 2020, where the grim spectre of Covid-19 was always a far-away threat cushioned by a few degrees of separation. Tales like “My cousin’s dog groomer has it” were aplenty; but thankfully, I didn’t have to see it up close.

January 2021 looks and feels different though. It feels like a real pandemic now. I watch heart-wrenching stories of loved ones bereft, of closed caskets and solitary funerals. Of cancer treatments cancelled and of a loneliness epidemic.

It’s hard to watch the news. Right now, the level of collective spirit abundant in March isn’t with us this time. Clap For Our Carers was attacked by trolls, and is thus cancelled. Conspiracy theorists and lockdown critics have found their voice and are growing in number. The novelty factor of all of this has worn off, as has the brief solace of Christmas. It is now, very much, the bleak mid-winter.

Right now, people are angry. They are disillusioned, weary and badly want a scapegoat. To have someone to channel their frustrations though.

I have the very person. The architect of this crisis.

First, though, let me run through a couple of truths:

Lockdown is for the NHS

False. Or at least, not completely true. Covid has a relatively low mortality rate of less than 1%² with the median age of a fatality being 83³.

The less charitable among us cling to these statistics like it is hard to proof of the folly of lockdown.

As sad as it is, it really doesn’t matter to the Government if 100,000 people die of Covid-19 over the course of the yeat.

Lockdown is about protecting the NHS

If the NHS is overwhelmed and collapses, civilised society falls.

  1. Covid-19 is contagious

As discussed already, lockdown is rough. It is literally heartbreaking to read of cancer surgeries cancelled, or of heart failures not being treated.

It’s awful too to read of a depression pandemic and increasing suicide rates.

Sadly, the reality is, this doesn’t really matter to government modelling. That sounds truly awful and is deeply sad, but that is the grim reality.

Why? Because depression and cancer are not contagious. Covid is. It’s as simple as that.

And that’s why lockdown is justifiable.

Lockdown, of course, will cause huge collateral damage to the health and wellbeing of our country. A lot of people will, very sadly, die as a direct result of lockdown measures.

But, the NHS won’t be overwhelmed. And that’s all that matters.

If you took the view loneliness and isolation will cause a depression epidemic, fine, but the reality is depression is not contagious. Therefore it is a manageable ailment. By lifting lockdown and allowing life to continue as normal, Covid will run rampant.

So, with these truths in mind, who is the aforementioned scapegoat? The subject of our ire?

His name is Adam Smith.

It’s a wonderfully common name, that. I like to think that someone, somewhere is tagging Adam Smith’s Twitter handle and outing him as the architect of the world’s downfall. Roaring “IT WAS YOU” down the phone at cousin Adam of the Smith clan.

No, I can safely say, not that one.

My nefarious scoundrel was born in 1723. He did not, as far as I am aware, eat bat soup.

Adam Smith was known as “The Father of Capitalism”. Like “Father Christmas” only a lot more sombre and, er, capitalist than our jolly, giving friend.

Smith espoused theories of free-market forces and the “invisible hand” principle of market equilibrium. Market inefficiency was found at the optimal intersection between supply and demand and should not be interfered with.

When we look at the legacies of Smith’s doctrine, we can consider footballers. Mesut Ozil, for instance, earns £350k per week but is never picked to play for Arsenal.

£350k per week to kick a football around does seem excessive, whenever a third of the world exists in poverty, but hey, that’s what the invisible hand of the market has decreed. That’s his equilibrium rate, and it works.

And thus, we charge Adam Smith with crimes against humanity pertaining to Covid lockdowns.

The NHS, like health care systems all around the world, are designed to operate at an equilibrium rate of supply and demand.

When an external pressure such as Covid-19 arrives, unaccounted for and at short notice, it throws that equilibrium off.

The supply of hospital beds, doctors and nurses is not designed to cater to external pressures. It is designed to operate at normal levels, providing adequate care for all, but never operating at an excess.

Indeed, if there were hundreds of hospital beds sitting around surplus to requirements, during normal times, it could be considered a waste of taxpayers money. So, for decades, the NHS has been designed to cope and no more. Not necessarily thrive, just cope, in line with equilibrium principles.

Which is why we are in this mess.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you your scapegoat, Mr Adam Smith. He even looks a little smug in his portrait.

¹ Public Health England

² World Health Organisation

³ World Health Organisation



Phil Patterson

Founder of —Former VC and Startup Guy…I write for fun. About things I like, and some things I hate.