URLs du Jour

2020-05-11

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  • Matt Ridley is on the short list of People I Trust on pandemic issues. His latest: We know everything — and nothing — About COVID.

    We know everything about Sars-CoV-2 and nothing about it. We can read every one of the (on average) 29,903 letters in its genome and know exactly how its 15 genes are transcribed into instructions to make which proteins. But we cannot figure out how it is spreading in enough detail to tell which parts of the lockdown of society are necessary and which are futile. Several months into the crisis we are still groping through a fog of ignorance and making mistakes. There is no such thing as ‘the science’.

    This is not surprising or shameful; ignorance is the natural state of things. Every new disease is different and its epidemiology becomes clear only gradually and in retrospect. Is Covid-19 transmitted mainly by breath or by touching? Do children pass it on without getting sick? Why is it so much worse in Britain than Japan? Why are obese people especially at risk? How many people have had it? Are ventilators useless after all? Why is it not exploding in India and Africa? Will there be a second wave? We do not begin to have answers to these questions.

    That "short list" I mentioned seems to get shorter every day, by the way.


  • Jonathan Kay, a Canadian, uses a funny spelling, but he's had Enough With the Phoney 'Lockdown' Debate.

    On March 15th, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee ordered all bars, restaurants and recreational facilities closed. The next day, New York followed suit, in a move coordinated with New Jersey and Connecticut. In Florida, by contrast, Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t issue a stay-at-home order until April 1st, more than two weeks later. And in Sweden, there was never any real lockdown, even if bars and restaurants there have been operating under restrictions that govern use and occupancy.

    Four jurisdictions. Four different lockdown timetables. Imagine if we were able to plot an index of human activity in these four places. These graphs would show, one might predict, that things were going along fairly normally, perhaps starting to dip, until a lockdown went into effect, and then activity levels plunged abruptly.

    You might predict that, but you'd be wrong. Mr. Kay provides the data to show that "lockdown orders tend to ratify public behaviour as much as prescribe or circumscribe it."

    I.e., people are behaving sensibly according to their own lights without mandates from their local despots.


  • And at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has a theoretical point to make along those same lines: Politicians Cannot Achieve Consent to a Policy Consensus. (NRPLUS article, sorry).

    Without consensus, there is no consent — that’s almost a redundancy: The two words come from the same Latin root meaning “agree,” but each has its own special role in the political lexicon. We speak of “consensus” as a generally agreed-upon fact or set of facts, often with the qualifier “expert” or the mock-qualifier “elite,” but we consent to a course of action, a regime, or a state, which can deploy force legitimately only with “the consent of the governed.” That’s Liberal Democracy 101.

    When you lose the ability to forge consensus, you begin to forfeit consent, and effective governance becomes difficult if not impossible — as we are seeing right now in the coronavirus response.

    One more point:

    It is hardly surprising that, as we have seen in recent weeks, the two major tribes of American life cannot achieve widespread consent to a policy consensus during a time of acute national emergency — because there is no consensus about the facts of the case, which is itself the result of there being no consensus about who it is we can trust to document and adjudicate those facts. The falling dominoes of institutional failure and intellectual malfeasance have left standing very little of the institutional credibility we need to develop and implement useful and necessary public policies. The dangers and harm resulting from that are obvious even to a fringe libertarian like me. I do not want government to do very much, but I want government to do the things that we need it to do, and to do them effectively.

    I've seen some on "my side" slip into conspiricism, which is difficult to handle.


Last Modified 2020-05-11 4:18 PM EDT