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Life in the time of Corona

My conventional-thinking, main-stream media reliant friends sneer at the blogosphere; dismissing it all as "fake news". Yet at present they are furiously emailing, Facebooking, Whatsapping and Tweeting coronavirus disinformation by the shedload. Clicking on and deleting all this "fake news" from them affords me some amusement in a dark time. I do worry about the effect on the nation's morale however.

Humans didn't survive to become this planet's dominant species for lack of risk-aversion. We take in our stride the risks we are used to (e.g. driving) without worrying about the death rate but our instinctive response to novel risks is to over-react. Ex abundenti cautela, as lawyers like to say when lawyering an issue to death at great expense. 

What scientific knowledge I have is – at best – that of a dilettante. It was gleaned from the basics I learned at school before dropping every science I could at the first opportunity. That has been supplemented by casual reading of science articles in generalist newspapers and magazines. Quite a lot of it came from my boyhood reading of super hero and sci-fi comics, so I can tell you more about the properties of Kryptonite than of any virus. So, unlike my friends on social media, I shall not be commenting on the medical risk. I have nothing to add and anything I do say will change nothing, so mum's the word.  Actually, those theorising without data or expertise would do better (if they're lucky enough still to have her) to use that time to call their mum.

The only observations I have in the context of the present pandemic are to do with economics and political history.

Most economics errors (like the "broken window fallacy" first explained by Frederic Bastiat) stem from prioritising a seen effect over the unseen ones. In an emergency like the present one, governments – eager to be seen to "do something" – are likely to act forcefully on the seen economic effects of the crisis, while ignoring the unseen. Keeping their heads while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on them is hard for politicians at the best of times. Tending to narcissism or sociopathy anyway, they have less difficulty than the rest of us in seeing themselves as saviours. 

There is danger here. This article by Chris Edwards at the Cato Institute explains the danger well and I commend it to you.

Classical Liberals and the dryer kinds of Conservative feel threatened in such crises because we seem to lack the bold answers offered by authoritarian statists. Even Britain's classically-liberal Prime Minister, who is otherwise acquitting himself quite well in the circumstances, has promised state intervention on a scale and at a cost that might give Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders pause for thought. I predict that ten years from now it will be clear in retrospect that government actions to "save" the economy did more harm than good – even without taking into account the way such measures are bound to be gamed. Were I still practising law, I would be strategically positioning my clients under every tap of government aid that is about to be turned on. The lawyers, accountants and lobbyists of the big corporations will be doing just that.

As to political history, it teaches us that authoritarians love the opportunities presented by a crisis. I scoff at the conspiracy theories poisoning minds on the internet. No government (not even the monstrous Chinese regime) would cause such a pandemic on purpose, but all of them will seize the opportunity it presents to expand their power. Income Tax in Britain was introduced as an emergency measure to fund the Napoleonic War. Napoleon is no longer a threat, but still the tax bills keep on coming.

Any emergency measure should expire. If it doesn't, it's a fraud. Emergency laws (actually, I would argue all statute laws) should have "sunset clauses" so they expire unless specifically renewed. Parliamentary scrutiny is essential and any reader who has the ear of his or her MP should press these points home. As for the rest of us, let's just listen to the credible advice on offer, take what precautions we can and be kind to each other – especially the elderly and other vulnerable people who are most at risk. I hope all my gentle readers will come out of this pandemic unscathed. Here's wishing us all luck.


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Thank you for that. It’s another excellent, cool-headed article. I have tweeted links to both of them.

David Bishop

Given that the FT is said to be as pink in its politics as in its paper colour, that’s not entirely surprising. It seems that the West is in something of a downward spiral, with politicians regulating (as politicians love to do) and the hoi polloi becoming ever more risk averse – to the detriment of all.

Another take on the pandemic comes from John Ioannidis, a statistician of some note, who has dissected other scares such as so-called climate change. Again via the GWPF, he has this to say on the current coronavirus alarm:


That article makes an interesting point about the precautionary principle. At a conference I attended a few years back the then editor of the FT said we could not blame politicians for excessive regulation until we, as an electorate, were prepared to accept more risk.

David Bishop

The rather-far-from-conservative Conservative government seems to have discovered a wondrous magic money tree even more magnificent and enchanting than that conjured up by magic grandpa and his comrades. As you suggest, it will be ruinous for the economy for long to come.

This, via the GWPF, is a level-headed (if slightly wordy) take on the way in which in recent decades the precautionary principle seems to have elbowed aside more rational approaches to managing risk:

I blame Lance Corporal Jones ...


I agree. We really can and should leave politics aside at present because this crisis, or rather the political response to it, is possibly an existential threat. Our usual political arguments might well be fiddling while Rome burns.

Cheryl Churm

Statistics are only valuable if if the research and demographic behind them is published to allow for analysis.

Leaving politics aside and looking at all of the people that could have been PM at the time of this current crisis. I think Boris was the best of all choices, he is trying to get a grip of the situation.

Teresa May was wishy washy on Brexit. It doesn't bear to think what would happpen if she was in charge during the current crisis.


I worry that the statistics are so inconsistently collected as to be useless. The oddly low death rate in Germany for example might mean they are following the hygiene and separation advice better than we are. Or it might mean we are not detecting/recording as many of the non-fatal cases, so that our percentage of deaths appears to be higher.


One of the biggest problems I am seeing is the presentation of misleading, context-free statistics to the point of outright lying by the media. From this, the bovine herd stampedes into panic.

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