Dr. Fauci said last Aug. 13 that when you have fewer than 10 cases per 100,000, “you should be able to open up safely and clearly.” The U.S. reached that point in mid-May. It’s time to stop the fear mongering and level with the public about the incredible capabilities of both modern medical research and the human body’s immune system.
In light of this, are we at all surprised that it is very often the big social media firms, streaming services and the like that have been most strongly in favor of restrictions? There is nothing conspiratorial about this, nor probably even anything intentional. It is just the straightforward application of one of the most fundamental lessons of classical economics: incentives matter, and the incentives of these actors just tend to point in the same direction. It’s not that these businesses consciously support lockdowns due to a naked profit motive, in other words; it’s simply that their incentives to reject lockdownism are not strong, or are lacking entirely, because their interests are not in conflict with it.
One of the most important, helpful, but least well-systematized concepts in the study of regulation is the ‘bootleggers and Baptists’ phenomenon, coined by Bruce Yandle. Yandle observed that political activism in favour of the prohibition of alcohol sales and Sunday closing laws in the US was often a combination of high and low motives. Baptists are in favor of restricting the selling of alcohol because it is ‘good for society.’ Bootleggers are in favor of it because, for their purposes, the less alcohol that is lawfully available the better. The two groups do not conspire with one another, openly or otherwise. But the alignment of their interests is a kind of pincer movement which regulators find difficult to resist.
The world premiere of his £6 million Cinderella depends on social distancing being lifted, in accordance with the Government’s “roadmap”, on June 21, a promised milestone that looks increasingly in doubt. Yet, Lloyd Webber tells me, his voice bristling with defiance, “We are going to open, come hell or high water”. What if the Government demands a postponement? “We will say: come to the theatre and arrest us.”
It is unconscionable to treat businesses as if they can be switched on or off without consequences, especially when so many will have made plans for how they will attempt to fix the damage of the past year after June 21. Lord Lloyd-Webber’s intervention is a welcome one. Other industry leaders should follow suit.
We are still living under rules that few understand, but which remain bossily in place. This is the logic that says amateur choirs in carefully-managed environments cannot sing together safely but professional ones or terraces of chanting football fans can, that insists that you wear a mask when walking around a pub but the moment you sit down everything changes. And we are still being treated like irresponsible children, rather than rational citizens.
What explains our apparent indifference to all this? Perhaps we’ve simply become numb to the constant fluctuations and uncertainties. I’ve certainly found pessimism helpful – by adopting a 24/7 Eeyorishness; never assuming anything is happening, you’re rarely disappointed. Of course, what for some are mere annoyances or inconveniences can cause unimaginable anguish to others. But is something more profound happening here too?
In his brilliant essay The Seen and the Unseen, the 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat exposed a common human tendency to focus on the visible benefits of an action – the “seen” – while ignoring the “unseen” penalties or drawbacks associated with the same activity. I wonder if, per Bastiat, the combination of a year of limited horizons and the novelty of partial reopening has provided a kind of bread and circuses effect, shielding us from the “unseen”.
Sipping our pints in the glorious weather, it’s easy to forget about the quarter of hospitality venues that never opened; or the 8,500 that have so far shut their doors for good. Obedience is doubly easy for those who remain insulated from economic reality by furlough – or for those who’ve actively enjoyed elements of lockdown, such as working from home.
The straw man will simply not leave Australia. (That which is alleged to be imaginary is really battering a country that is alleged to have wisely used draconian policies to escape the alleged continuing need for that which is allegedly imaginary. It’s all terrifying in reality.) Here’s more from James Bolt:
We Melburnians know the reality of Zero Covid: we are currently locked in our homes 22 hours a day for another week because of six new local cases. This is no way to live. But, unfortunately, it is the way we will have to live for a long time to come.
A Zero Covid strategy is foolish. It involves confining people to their homes over a handful of cases. It involves closing schools, workplaces and churches. It involves cutting off people from friends and family at a moment’s notice. On Wednesday 25 May, Melburnians could be with 30 people in public. The next day they could not meet any.
This is how we live in Melbourne. We are trapped in a seemingly never-ending cycle of lockdowns. Whenever we get some freedoms handed back to us, we know they are only loaned – and could be seized back again at any time.