Good Friday Morning, and welcome to one of the best times of the year: March Madness! It’s just amazing to have the NCAA basketball tournament back this year, after not having anything last year. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come in the pandemic and how fast we’re improving. A great many pessimists on the left thought this day would not come, and I’m happy to see that they’re wrong.
I want to highlight a great resource for everyone: VaccineFinder.org. If you’re wondering where and what kind of vaccines are available in your area, go to that website, plug in your zip code, select the vaccines you’re interested in. They’ll show you every single provider in your area, public or private. Some states are updated more frequently than others, but it’s an easy way to find out what your options are, wherever you are in the United States. You can also follow the links they provide to set up an appointment.
This week, I’m talking about policy-makers decision-making and why centralized plans for the pandemic have failed while bottom-up approaches have thrived—links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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America, the UK, and Israel prove better at handling pandemic than Europe – The Conservative Institute.
Another border disaster from Democrats and Biden – The Conservative Institute.
Politics as Art: Or How Centralization is the Worst of all Worlds.
Public policy and political decision-making are, contrary to popular belief, inexact and unpopular art. There’s no science to them, nor a sure-fire way to make a correct decision every time. If we could boil decision-making into a guaranteed formula, we could turn around and automate that capacity into a repeatable algorithm that correctly weighs, measures, and forges ahead.
We’ve never had such a formula, and I suspect we never will. We will never have a way to make perfect decisions because every decision we make in public policy is all about doing one thing: weighing one set of factors against another. Thomas Sowell put it like this, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs.”
He’s right. Case-in-point is the current COVID-19 pandemic. There are no solutions to it; there are only trade-offs. Deciding whether one country, state or politician “won” on the pandemic is looking at the trade-offs they made and selecting one set over another.
And the thing about trade-offs is that you never quite know which ones matter and which ones don’t. You just know that at some point, the dues of that trade-off will come due, and you’ll have to answer at that time for what decisions were made.
One of my favorite quotes comes from the Austrian economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek. He said, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
I would amend that. It’s the curious task of good statesmen to demonstrate humility in decision-making because they never know what will come next. They have to remain humble to the designs they dream up. It’s not quite as catchy, but the central point remains true. You cannot design the future in the present with knowledge of the past. It’s impossible. You can only take the past lessons and use them to shepherd a society into the future.
I’ll demonstrate with a recent new story, which provides one of this principle’s clearest aspects. In 2016, there was a wide, far-ranging debate over whether or not the United Kingdom should leave the European Union. The central argument of those wanting to leave was regaining the ability to exercise more control over the UK’s domestic and foreign policy instead of centralizing all authority to Brussels.
The arguments against leaving were that the UK would never be able to function as capably as it did in the economic borders of the EU, which aspired to be a kind of United States of Europe. There were also rampant accusations of racism, which involved immigration and other things.
But one event has settled who was right and settled it so completely there can be no more a debate on the subject. The UK’s ability to freely negotiate and get vaccines to its citizens without the trappings and bureaucracy of the EU is literally saving lives, while the EU’s failed rollout is not only costing lives but has caused even more questions of the legitimacy of the EU (see my column on Europe’s failure).
If you voted to leave the EU as a UK citizen, your vote is literally saving lives right now. That is not an exaggeration. Boris Johnson has used that decision-making capacity to rush vaccines to UK citizens with speed matched only by the United States and Israel. It’s a stunning rollout, which has destroyed the legitimacy of the European Union.
And as I say that, we will not know the full ramifications of this failure by the EU for some while. Countries like France and Italy have literally fought over who gets vaccines. They nearly started an international incident with Australia. The EU is suing AstraZeneca, the only vaccine they’ve got access to, on contract dispute grounds… in the middle of a pandemic.
Meanwhile, case counts are going up across Europe. In contrast, case counts continue dwindling or plateauing at low numbers in the United States, UK, and Israel. Israel is particularly instructive, they’ve vaccinated half their country, and case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths have plummeted. The US and UK are matching those results.
But back to trade-offs. They exist everywhere. Even in this vaccination campaign and lockdowns. This point was driven home hard for me in a recent study in Nature, which opened with the following:
Children are the invisible victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although they have a low risk of severe COVID-19 disease and death, they are suffering disproportionate harm from non-pharmaceutical public-health measures, including deleterious educational effects of school closures, and decreased social care, school feeding programs and health-service attendance. Of grave concern are the profoundly negative effects of the pandemic on childhood immunization coverage. All six World Health Organization Regions have reported disrupted immunization activities, with major adverse effects on routine immunization, mass vaccination campaigns (101 were cancelled in 56 countries during the first six months of the pandemic), outreach services and surveillance.
One deadly, highly infectious virus—measles—is unforgiving of immunity gaps and is certain to resurge after the COVID-19 pandemic, with a resultant catastrophic impact on young lives. The precarious measles immunity gaps resulting from suspended immunization activities and delayed campaigns are an ominous precursor to a measles resurgence. Increased malnutrition, due to effects of this pandemic on food supplies for impoverished children, and interruption of vitamin A supplementation during campaigns, may lead to increased measles-related deaths.
There are two sides to this: the first is that lockdowns and other similar measures have created all kinds of issues with schooling, social care, and basic vaccination drives to prevent other diseases, like measles (which is far more lethal and dangerous than COVID-19).
The other side of the coin is this. Globally, we will have to focus on getting as many COVID-19 vaccines out the door as humanly possible, which will drain resources away from health initiatives that prevent measles and other diseases. To be fair, as we get things back to normal, we can resume normal vaccine campaigns, which is good. But there are going to be holes here, and things will sip through the crack.
That’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a fact, just like last week when I pointed out that the COVID-19 relief plan would have positive and negative impacts. In the short term, we’ll likely be dealing with a better economy. But teasing that out from things returning to normal will be impossible. The long-term question is inflation. Does it hit? When does it hit?
All of which brings me back to Hayek and poking holes in the dreams of people who imagine they can design a better future. I suppose this is my most libertarian belief because I do fully subscribe to the knowledge problem Hayek posits.
The European Union’s central conceit was that it could centralize all decision-making and expertise in a group that would apply to 27 diverse countries. That has failed miserably and is costing lives. The problem with centralizing all response in a pandemic, or in any solution, is that you’ve bound yourselves to the knowledge and decisions of one set of peers.
The great irony of a progressive bureaucratic state is that it’s ultimately the least conducive to change or progress. They bind themselves to the vision of one set of experts in an era and centralize everything around that, preventing future change. Far from progressive, centralizing power is actually regressive and harms societies. Progressives often attack tradition in society, but all they do is replace one tradition with their own. The pandemic and the EU’s failure are proof-positive. The United States proves it even more because it empowered states and local governments, not the national bureaucrats. That allowed locals more control.
Joe Biden would love to take credit for what we’ve accomplished, but in reality, he’s done nothing. Everything we’re experiencing was already accomplished last year under Operation Warp Speed. Biden has done a few things, like buy more doses. But he did nothing to speed up the approval process for vaccines, he’s done nothing on vaccine distribution, and all the solutions we’ve created for COVID-19 were already in place. His 100 million doses in 100 days wasn’t even ambitious. It was a political line they knew they could hit, so they lied about there being no vaccine distribution plan to create the notion they’ve done something.
All the progress we see with vaccine distribution (or failure) is a direct result of the Governors and the people in those states choosing to get vaccinated. Operation Warp Speed was the Federal Government’s contribution (and a great one it was). But because we aren’t chained to a central authority, we aren’t locked into one authority’s past decisions or slowness. States and localities can pivot their plans on an as-needed basis.
The other irony in the American system versus the European one is that our decision-making is distributed in a way that allows for states and local communities to pick which trade-offs are better for them. Florida, for instance, is hyper-focused on vaccinating the large senior citizen population it has. Other states have already moved on to vaccinating everyone. Some states force you to prove every last ailment you have before you get a vaccine. Others have an honor system on those requirements and don’t care if the requirements are violated.
These trade-offs and decisions vary widely. If you centralized everything, everyone would get forced to have the same trade-offs. And you could make an argument for why one decision is better than another, but that blanket decision would mean some communities would fare better and others would suffer. And even with all the variations, the states are largely within the same range of vaccinations. Everyone is successful.
My point here isn’t that we shouldn’t make decisions. That’s impossible, and we have to have a functioning society. My point is that we have to be more humble about what we don’t know and cognizant that our decisions will have ramifications. We can’t predict the future, and even attempts to do so are based on statistics. Politics is an art form, not a science. And that, among many reasons, is why I increasingly distrust any expert or politician that doesn’t understand this key fact. There’s more power and wisdom in spreading decisions out to more people instead of forcing one person or group to do everything.
Links of the week
Meghan Markle Didn’t Do the Work: Part of Meghan’s problem was her naïveté about the workings of the Royal Family, which she had assumed would be similar to the workings of celebrity culture. – The Atlantic
Facebook Is Building An Instagram For Kids Under The Age Of 13: “We have identified youth work as a priority for Instagram and have added it to our H1 priority list,” reads an internal Instagram post – BuzzFeed News
Texas Medical Board Clears Houston Doctor Accused of ‘Stealing’ COVID Vaccine Doses He Wouldn’t Let Go to Waste: Hasan Gokal tracked down people to receive doses that were about to expire. For that, he was fired and threatened with prosecution. – Reason
Father jailed after referring to biological female child as his daughter: The warrant was issued by a judge for the arrest of a father after calling his biological female child his “daughter,” and referring to her with the pronouns “she” and “her.” He was found to be in contempt of court. – The Post Millenial
Families Trapped at the Border Say Biden Has Betrayed Them – The Daily Beast
How Trump Got Control of the Border – Rich Lowry, National Review
Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries are first ancient Bible texts to be found in 60 years: A 6,000-year-old skeleton of a partially mummified child and a 10,500-year-old basket were also discovered. – NBC News
Encountering Thomas Sowell – Thomas Chatterton Williams
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!