THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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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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