Today we have the “rule of experts.” Monopoly experts have the power to choose for you in one field after another, including child protective services, economic policy, and pandemic response. But if you give some humans the monopoly power to choose for other humans, you have created some dangerous incentives. The rule of experts gives you the highest chance of expert failure. We should value expertise, but fear expert power. Whenever possible, then, we should do away with the rule of experts by empowering the people.
Extracted from the cohesion of the tribe, we transfer that innate desire for communion to a much larger group of strangers, imagining that we’re in sync with the rest of the nation, and that salvation will come from everyone working together for tHe common good. That sounds wonderfully fulfilling and altruistic, but in practice the only way to coordinate a nation of strangers is by giving new powers of coercion to a small political elite, with its particular goals and limited knowledge of (and concern for) how to deal with our problems.
Compare the imperfect market outcome with the imperfect government outcome. To show that the state governments improved the situation with their lockdowns, we would have to show that the additional safety was quite large relative to costs. We know that the costs were huge. What we don’t know is the additional benefit. We can’t just assume that the flattening of the curve happened because of the lockdowns. As noted, much of the social distancing occurred before the lockdowns. What’s the marginal effect of the lockdowns? A fundamental principle in economics is that we should think on the margin. That’s missing from the cost/benefit analyses that most economists have done of the lockdowns. They fail to separate the effects of the lockdowns from the effects of voluntary social distancing.
Perhaps the greatest single cost for Americans of the covid-19 crisis is the CARES Act – or so seems to think Arnold Kling (with whom I am in this matter, as on so many others, in strong agreement). No physical disease has lurking within it the ability to inflict on humanity as much damage as can be, as sometimes is, inflicted by the state.