“Politicians must stop obstructing the experts! Put the qualified professionals in charge!”
This is the response to covid-19 that many people want from our government. It may be well intentioned, but ultimately, it is misguided.
It goes against the fundamental nature of our society by devaluing the wants of citizens in favor of unelected bureaucrats. Highly subversive.
Yes, doctors are great at treating sick people, and microbiologists can tell us what covid-19 looks like, and epidemiologists know about R0.
It does not follow, however, that we therefore must do everything they desire on covid-19.
They are not experts on creating and maintaining civilization nor on how to run individual lives.
To take an analogy that our statist leftist friends should appreciate, it’s the same reason we don’t have Generals in charge of declaring war. Generals are going to want more war than citizens. Likewise, epidemiologists are going to want quarantine more than citizens.
They can and should supply subject matter expertise. But that is all.
Deciding policy, in a civilized society, isn’t a matter of expertise, but of values.
Democracy works when people take information, combine it with their values, and make a judgment. Similarly, a Republic works when our elected representatives take in information, faithfully represent the wants of their electorate, and make a decision.
There is no easy choice here. Experts can’t make this problem magically go away. How does that famous saying go? There is no such thing as a free lunch.
We could follow health expert recommendations on how to eliminate covid-19 but they will carry costs.
That is perhaps part of the problem. Nobody wants to acknowledge that this is a very bad situation that will carry costs no matter what. People are going to suffer.
We can try to ignore covid-19 but it may lead to more deaths. Conversely, we can lock everything down hardcore, but it carries its own price, one outside the expertise of health care experts.
Just force everyone to carry a tracking device, locate the sick people, and lock them up to die; then covid-19 may go away quickly.
In China, they seem to have faithfully followed advice on how to eradicate the disease, perhaps with success, to the exclusion of other considerations.
Instead of an outcome based policy—where we try to minimize deaths due to covid-19, a rather narrow consideration in the grand scheme of things—we may want a value based policy.
People can make decisions on what our top values are: Wealth? Freedom? The wellbeing of our elderly?
Deferring to health professionals to make this choice is a decision to decline the responsibilities inherent in a democratic form of government. It’s also a refutation of the idea that people can legitimately elect Trump as President and he should faithfully represent the wishes of his constituents.
We have politicians. Yes, this is very distasteful as we hate and distrust politicians, but it’s better than the alternative. For all their faults, politicians are accountable. They represent what citizens want. They can and should manage, hire, fire, the professionals as they will.
Though we may deep down desire to shun the responsibility of making incredibly hard decisions and take the easy way out of letting career health officials make policy, it is not true to a Democracy, where health policies should supply not policy, but expertise and facts, for citizens to act upon.