COVID-19 can be a serious disease and it needs to be taken seriously. Recognizing that obvious fact is not the same as supporting the often heavy-handed and not infrequently self-defeating policies that many governments have adopted in response to it, a reaction defined more than anything else by the failure to recognize the trade-offs involved.
G. Patrick Lynch, writing in Law & Liberty last week:
Public health experts talk about “excess deaths,” which are essentially additional deaths in a place over a time period above what you would have predicted under normal conditions. Since the beginning of the year, the US has experienced about 300,000 excess deaths, which is a lot. The number directly attributable to Covid is “only” about 200,000. So Covid has killed 200,000, but another 100,000 Americans have died while these policies have been in place. Health officials widely point to higher rates of serious health problems that aren’t being treated because of fear associated with Covid. For example, the heart attack death rate has doubled since the pandemic began. Many of those other excess deaths might be attributable to our Covid policies, not the virus.
That’s a failure on both counts. We haven’t prevented 200,000 deaths from Covid, and our lockdowns and draconian approaches lasting for months have at the very least contributed to another 100,000. Individuals who cannot afford to do so are forgoing basic health services. Heart attacks, strokes, and many other significant health problems are occurring and not being treated because of fears related to the pandemic. And perhaps most dangerously, these extra deaths not directly attributable to Covid are occurring among younger Americans between 30 and 60 who are not at high risk of dying from the virus, but are foregoing treatment because of misplaced fear . . . .
Constructing public policy takes not only expertise, but a proper balance between risk and reward. Aaron Wildavsky’s work on this topic points out two reasons why public officials, in conjunction with citizens, must accept tradeoffs in the creation of safety policy. As Wildavsky argues, and the discussion of excess deaths clearly illustrates, seeking safety will inevitably increase danger in other areas…
The problem with our current regulatory environment, as Wildavsky sees it, is twofold: resilience is not valued, and regulators and policymakers seek what he calls “perfect safety.” Our policymakers today are rejecting resiliency, making us poorer, less socially stable, less well-educated, and more divided. The second problem is that our health experts also seek some sort of ideal or perfect safety when it comes to Covid mitigation. When policymakers compete in a race to the bottom for draconian measures that fight Covid outbreaks only with brute force, they are lauded as being proactive without careful consideration of the harm these policies inflict.
There’s also something else to consider. In the course of a piece I wrote in March, I argued this:
To imagine that large swathes of America could be shut down by administrative order would, six months ago, have been no more than the stuff of prepper paranoia, and yet here we are. And powers that have been used once can be used again, perhaps not in the same way, and perhaps not to the same extent, but they will be used. After all, an “emergency” can be a conveniently flexible concept. Those, for example, who talk of a “climate emergency” will be paying close attention to the precedents that are now being set, as, doubtless, will be foes of the Second Amendment.
And some climate warriors, at least, have indeed been watching what’s happened with interest.
Here, for example, is Mariana Mazzucato, a professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College London, and, amongst other achievements, someone who has been invited to join a special Vatican task force to advise the pope on economic policy matters, with special focus on problems created by COVID-19, an appointment I merely note without any comment (almost).
Mazzucato has an article in MarketWatch that is well worth reading in full, if only as a warning of where the unelected elect may be looking to take us. She, of course, is not to blame for the photo that accompanies it — a picture of a wildfire in California. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s worth noting that flames have made a regular appearance in millenarian writings, not least those promoted by, well, the Vatican for a long time now.
Under a “climate lockdown,” governments would limit private-vehicle use, ban consumption of red meat, and impose extreme energy-saving measures, while fossil-fuel companies would have to stop drilling. To avoid such a scenario, we must overhaul our economic structures and do capitalism differently.
To be fair, Mazzucato claims that she wants to avoid such a scenario, but I wonder.
In any event, sorting out climate and related crises will require:
reorienting corporate governance, finance, policy, and energy systems toward a green economic transformation. To achieve this, three obstacles must be removed: business that is shareholder-driven instead of stakeholder-driven, finance that is used in inadequate and inappropriate ways, and government that is based on outdated economic thinking and faulty assumptions.
Corporate governance must now reflect stakeholders’ needs instead of shareholders’ whims. Building an inclusive, sustainable economy depends on productive cooperation among the public and private sectors and civil society. This means firms need to listen to trade unions and workers’ collectives, community groups, consumer advocates, and others.
Shareholders, the people who have provided the core finance for a business and, who (checks notes) own it, have “whims,” but these mistily defined stakeholders have needs.
Stakeholder capitalism is clearly having a moment, and, as we see from the World Economic Forum’s (“Davos”) effort to include it as central to its “great reset,” there are plenty of people prepared to use whatever crisis comes to hand (the WEF, a long-time advocate of stakeholder capitalism, has, rather greedily, recruited both climate change and COVID-19) to advance it.
But, whatever the crisis, the essence of stakeholder capitalism remains the same. As I noted back in August:
Stakeholder capitalism is a modish name for what is just another expression of corporatism, an old ideology with a sometimes sinister past that, because of the power it gives to the unelected and the unaccountable, will never fall far out of style. That, in this case, it involves playing around with other people’s money only adds to its sleazy appeal. . . .
Corporatism is a trickier challenge. It has taken different forms over the years — some more benign than others — but all of these forms are based on the belief that society should be organized by and for its principal interest groups — let’s call them “stakeholders” — intermediated by, and ultimately subordinate to, the state. The individual doesn’t get a look-in, but to the managements of large corporations (the latter would count as one of those interest groups), it is an opportunity (and thus a temptation) as well as a threat. After all, much of the power that is being taken from shareholders will end up with those to whom they unwisely entrusted their funds. . . .
If stakeholder capitalism is an opportunity for corporate managements, it is even more so for others looking to set the country’s course. However heavy-handed big government may be, in a democracy it is accountable to the electorate, albeit often tenuously. By contrast, “socially responsible” corporations, working in conjunction with mysteriously selected representatives of arbitrarily defined stakeholders, and — if it decides to get involved — the government, can be used to exercise a great deal of power with little in the way of restraint. In the absence of the checks and balances provided by both democratic and constitutional control, such corporations can go where government might fear to tread. And, when they are sufficiently woke (or conformist), they probably will.