My own view is that both of the dominant “models” of Covid response, suppression and mitigation, are unworkable in a large federal system such as the U.S. (Suppression is also problematic even in small unitary systems, but that is another subject). The only plausible response is a flexible version of focused protection, a system that takes seriously the very real constraints of social acceptability and medical feasibility. In my view, “focused protection” should be seen as an extension of the Hayekian notion of “local knowledge,” with individual responses augmented by state capacity where it is necessary for the most vulnerable populations.
This would mean that the least vulnerable would have substantial freedom to mingle, go to restaurants and bars, attend outdoor events, and live their lives without interference. The most vulnerable, however, especially in group settings such as nursing homes or workers in chicken processing plants, would receive substantial targeted assistance with managing exposure when healthy, and quarantining in the case of infection.
Finland’s main newspaper urges moving on from Covid fears:
“For some, this fear has been left on. Now they should find a way back to normal life. Covid does not disappear anywhere. But if we continue to fear other people, the consequences will be dire.”
It is astonishing that universities deny natural immunity from COVID infection; with their #VaccineMandate‘s for the already immune. What’s next? Universities claiming the earth is flat?
The Covid-19 pandemic has spurred a remarkable stream of scientific investigation, but that knowledge isn’t translating into better public policy. One example is a zealous pursuit of public mask wearing, a measure that has had, at best, a modest effect on viral transmission. Or take lockdowns, shown by research to increase deaths overall but nonetheless still considered an acceptable solution. This intellectual disconnect now extends to Covid-19 vaccine mandates. The policy is promoted as essential for stopping the spread of Covid-19, though the evidence suggests it won’t.
Mandates infringe on personal autonomy, which can lead to political strife and unintended consequences, but they have value in some situations. In general, however, wise policy making respects the intrinsic value of personal autonomy and seeks the least burdensome path to achieve social gains.
The sensible approach, based on the available data, is to promote vaccines for the purpose of preventing serious illness. You don’t need a mandate for this—adults can make their own decisions. But mandates will prolong political conflicts over Covid-19, and they are an increasingly unsustainable strategy designed to achieve an unattainable goal.
Lockdowns and related policies of behavioral and economic restriction introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic are criticized, drawing on three sets of ideas and arguments that are organized in accordance with the likely degree of controversy associated with their guiding assumptions. The first set of arguments makes use of cost-benefit reasoning within a broadly utilitarian framework, emphasizing uncertainty, the role of worst-case scenarios, and the need to consider at least the medium term as well as immediate effects. The second draws on assumptions about the political value of basic liberties. The third draws on ideas about the roles of different stages within human life.
And here’s a slice from the text of Godfrey-Smith’s paper:
Many versions of the question “Do some lives have more value than others?” are incoherent, but there is a meaningful question about an ideal, or a political commitment, that is gestured towards here. I endorse a commitment to the view that all lives should be accorded the same value in our society, but a “life” is a thing that extends, that has a shape, including earlier and later stages. To say that all lives have, or should have, the same value is not to say that the same efforts and investment should be applied at every stage of every life. It is instead to say that all those lives, each of which has its shape, should be counted equally in our attempts to handle opportunities, freedoms, costs, risks, and so on. Concern over intergenerational theft in economic and in environmental matters, again, is an application of this sort of reasoning. Intergenerational theft prevents the adult years of presently young people from having desirable features that earlier generations of adults enjoyed. In the realm of health policy, if someone asks how much we should spend to “save a life,” the fact that “saving a life” is a misdescription of what we are trying to do also becomes salient. We all die eventually. No lives can be saved as wholes (except in the irrelevant sense in which some actions can prevent or facilitate a life coming into being at all). Those health policy question are better asked about extending lives, preserving lives. Though we can’t save lives, we can save life-years. And once we are thinking that way, the ages of people affected by the policies on the table do matter, and should be factored into cost-benefit analyses and models of the kind discussed earlier in this essay.