Hang around politics for a while and it becomes pretty easy to identify where arguments come from. Lately, there’s been a bunch of high-minded critiques of COVID mitigation strategies such as stay-at-home orders and non-essential business closures.
These critiques are not the virus-denying, anti-vax, conspiracy-based, teenage “don’t tell me what to do” nonsense that we hear in the street. What I am talking about takes on the more considered tone of “What if we are over-reacting? Shouldn’t we consider all sides to this issue and make our decisions based on everything and the needs of everyone?” On the surface, these are reasonable “questions,” but it is important to question if the “questions” are indeed questions, and ask who is the source of the critique and what the agenda is behind it.
So, who is pushing this “reasonable” line of attack? Libertarians or libertarian-oriented conservatives. Like a lot of things Libertarian, these “questions” are attractive. Really, who wants to overreact? Who wants to be accused of being closed minded? No one. The thing is that these aren’t questions but statements disguised as questions. Taken as statements, we should ask:
What is meant by overreacting? Who is overreacting? What tactics are overreacting? Why is this overreacting? What it the measure for overreacting? Health? Medicine? Science? Money?
Yes, it is smart to “consider all sides,” but what are the sides? Are all sides equal, all concerns are valid? Are the concerns of the anti-vaxxer equal to that as Anthony Fauci’s? Is the worry over Bill Gate secretly microchipping us equal to that of increased community transmission if mitigation measures end? Are the needs of commerce as or more important than that of health? Is the either/or of commerce/health a true either/or?
If this is an either/or question, does the economic need of the meat packing plant owners or the health and safety needs of the workers? If the needs of the owner and worker are equal, do the owners and workers have an equal power base? Does our system favor capital or labor? Is money more important than health?
Question time reveals that the Libertarian’s concern about “overreacting” and “closemindedness” is really fear that the current economic order is being threatened. We need to “get back to work” now because, the longer we are away, the clearer we see how screwed-up the current economic order is. The clearer the picture the more we demand something different. When Trump and Libertarians tell us that “the solution cannot be worse than the problem,” the solution they are talking about is not the shutdown. The solution they fear is reforming and regulating capitalism.
Like Rand Paul, Libertarians and conservatives tell us to “consider all sides,” pimping themselves as the open-minded ones. They imply that scientists are close-minded and ideological. Truth is, the Rand ploy is a tactic to bum-rush their pet cause into a discussion that doesn’t involve them. They are trying to confuse an immediate crisis (health, COVID) with an impending crisis (economy, money), insinuating that their solution to our economic woes will solve a scientific problem. They won’t dare say what they really believe, that salvaging their free market ideal is more important than anything else.
Of course, we have two crises: COVID and the economy. If health is a priority, we deal with COVID as we have other new, unique viruses: We test, identify, trace, and quarantine in order to limit the damage and ease strain the health care system while we research therapeutics and a vaccine. When we “flatten the curve” we continue to work to keep it flat.
The faster we act, the more resources we have, the more competent our leadership, the more specific we can tailor a mitigation strategy and the less broad-brushed we need to be. We stay flexible and open-minded so we can capitalize on new information, as we enter into new phases of the virus. However, open-mindedness doesn’t mean that we fly blind, wing it, go from the gut, guess, spitball, or leave things to chance or warm weather. “Ah fuck it, I need a haircut” is not flexibility.
We have well established protocols that has been used with other pandemics, epidemics, and novel viruses. The protocols aren’t easy and there are no instant results, but the protocols work better than anything we have come up with in dealing with this kind of health crisis. The protocols we use come from science.
Science is not some close-minded, willy-nilly, ego-driven, hive-mind of a system that Rand Paul and others paint it as (and they know it). Science demands that many different people try to solve this puzzle using whatever is sound, ethical and effective. Sound, ethical, and effective does not mean closed-minded or inflexible. The process depends on flexibility within some pretty basic guidelines – the scientific method.
The scientific method is pretty simple: Ask a question. Research information based on the question. Use the research to propose a hypothesis (or a theory). Experiment based on the hypothesis. Analyze data learned from experimentation. Come to a conclusion. That’s it. But because this is science, no conclusion or “law” is safe from challenge. That is how we get from Newton to space travel.
The second crisis we face is the economic fallout from the virus. Let’s be clear about two things: First is that there is economic fallout and it is crisis level. I feel it, you feel it, we all feel it. Those of us out of work or who own small businesses feel it in little or no money coming in. Everyone feels it in higher grocery bills. None of this will get better any time soon and that is because:
The second thing to be clear about is that the economic fallout is due to the virus and not the strategies we use to mitigate and fight it. The virus came before mitigation. We use mitigation not for the hell of it, but because the virus is debilitating and deadly. The virus spreads rapidly and is easy to get. Let it “wash over the country” as Trump and Libertarians prescribe and we experience New York City’s spring season nationwide. The infection and death rates sour Hospitals get crushed. We still see unemployment, shuttered businesses, and a dive in consumer confidence, but also a healthcare system under a much higher demand and fiercer fight for scarce resources like PPEs.
Unlike the corona health crisis, we can deal with the economic crisis in a lot of different ways. By yelling that we need to “Open America Again,” get back to work and let nature deal with everything, Trump and Libertarians try to deny us from exploring options other than free market, oligarchic capitalism or the fractured stimulus/bailout strategy forced on us by conservatives and centrists.
Why not look to Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand? Why not use tax money to keep all businesses in business so that they can pay all their employees and survive the crisis? Why not shift the responsibility for healthcare coverage from employers and individuals to a single-payer system administered by the government or tightly-controlled insurance companies (as done in The Netherlands, France, and other countries)? Why not institute universal income?
Why not hike the tax rate on the wealthy, close tax loopholes, bring back the inheritance tax and capital gains? Why not break up monopolies and duopolies, and bring real competition in the economy? Why not reform our economy with the goal of more equity and, yes, compassion, something that can withstand challenges like this pandemic?
Why not be open-minded about the economy and not overact to COVID’s threat to capitalism?
What if by being quick to “get back to business,” we are over-reacting on the economy? Shouldn’t we consider all sides to this issue and make our decisions based on “everything and the needs of everyone”? Also, why is the only solution to the economic crisis a free market solution, the same free market that is failing us on PPEs and testing? Why are socialistic or social-democratic strategies to economic problems not worth your consideration? I am not talking ideology here, but as real practical solutions. Why is it the capitalists’ way or no way? Is capitalism an economic system or a religion?
Listen, I am all for questioning everything. If someone has “The Solution,” I say challenge it, but challenge everything equally and without prejudice. No scientist pulls an idea out of his ass – like using an anti-malarial drug to attack coronavirus – and says, “Go for it. What do you have to lose?” Every theory is tested and retested and challenged and challenged again. That is why we have drug trials. That is why it could take anywhere from one to two years for a COVID vaccine to become available.
So, how about applying the same scrutiny to the Libertarian critique and free market solutions to the problem? How about questioning the Libertarian/Trump desire to confuse health and economics? Or the tactic of pretend-reason and an “intellectual curiosity” that refuses to challenge one’s own assumptions? Let’s ask questions about the power structure that “Back in to business as usual” reinforces? C’mon, let’s ask some hard questions. Science will challenge itself. We need to take on conventional wisdom.