The Tyranny of Experts

A couple of years ago, the bees were dying.  Readers may recall the alarmist news coverage:  soon, we were told, the mass extinction of our buzzy little pollinators would destroy agriculture globally, resulting in widespread famines.  We must save the bees!

Meanwhile, I can’t walk to my car without fat, furry bees hovering around, ensuring the giant Sasquatch before them is just getting into his sensible subcompact hatchback, and not coming for their precious hive.  My yard is a dream for bees (especially before I got the winter weeds mowed up)—they particularly love the azalea bushes—and they seem to be doing fine.

The point is, had you listened to the expert apiarists, you’d think that civilization itself rested on the gossamer wings of black-and-yellow insects.  Sure, there probably is a problem with bee populations declining due to exposure to advance insecticides.  But the intense focus of apiarists in their field blinded them to other considerations.  They saw bee populations declining, and nothing else.

Experts know their fields so well, at times they can’t see the hive for the bees.  The dire prophecies of global bee deaths and the resulting famines never came, and we didn’t declare a national emergency over the decline in bee populations because there are a million other priorities.  We didn’t shut down industrial-scale agriculture to save the bees from insecticide, because to do so would result in millions of lost human lives.  The bees would have to figure it out on their own (indeed, as bee populations fell, beekeepers turned a tidy profit renting their hives to farmers, and that incentive encouraged the cultivation of more bees).

You can see where I’m going with this extended bee metaphor.  In the current coronavirus pandemic, we’ve leaned so heavily on the advice of medical professionals, we’re not considering the broader trade-offs.  The old expression “the cure is worse than the disease” is particularly apt here:  while social distancing and government-sanctioned “shelter-in-place” orders will surely slow the spread of infection and save lives, they will also result in massive economic destruction.

Small companies in particular will likely shutter indefinitely—they can survive a two week interruption, maybe, but not one to three months.  The dream of a rapid snap-back recovery will grow increasingly remote and unlikely the longer we keep everyone cooped up at home.

It’s melodramatic to write, but it’s true—a lengthy depression will result in far more human misery, and even death, than the coronavirus, which (as best we can tell) has something like a 1.5% mortality rate.  That’s nothing to sneeze at (pardon the expression)—that’s nearly five million Americans dead out 330 million.  For perspective, about 2.8 million Americans die every year.

It’s important to remember, too, that this crisis is the medical profession’s time to play the virtuous hero.  Before I go on, let me hastily add that, yes, they are heroes.  I am incredibly thankful for nurses and doctors who are on the frontlines of this viral conflict, risking infection and even death themselves.  But there’s an awful lot of grandstanding and virtue-signalling going on.

Anecdotally, I spoke with a nurse down in Charleston who claimed—un-ironically—that had Charleston not issued “stay-at-home” orders, the death rate would be anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 people—dead.  The population of Charleston itself is only 135,000 people.  That would mean a 55.5-77% mortality rate.  Even the Black Plague wasn’t that destructive!

If we’re more generous, Wikipedia notes that the population of the greater metropolitan area of Charleston is around 665,000.  That would still be around 11-15% mortality—ten times what the actual mortality rate (so far) seems to be.

The nurse told me that these figures were based off a study of a cruise ship in which passengers freely spread the virus among themselves.  I pointed out that “Charleston is not a cruise ship”—it has tons of medical facilities, and even if people are closer to each other, it’s easier for them to cloister up.  But her hospital administrators intoned these dire prophecies, which, more than anything, merely rubber-stamps the draconian local government’s orders.

Consider, too, that the medical profession (a bit like education) is both heavily feminized and full of high-functioning hyper-autists.  The former quality means safety is highly prioritized, often above all other considerations.  The latter means the profession is laser-focused on its desired outcome, healthiness, while tuning out other concerns.  Both qualities reinforce one another.  The female desire for grace-on-the-cheap via social media virtue-signalling and Facebook rants about people staying home also feeds into this hysteria.

As we’re discovering, the statistical modeling isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  There seems to be this fanatical cult arising around reverence to The Virus, though, which has all the hallmarks of progressive hysteria:  you’re either 100% for us, or you’re 100% against us.

As I’ve written, our medical professionals are heroes, and they’re fighting this thing with everything they’ve got (as they’ll be quick to remind you on Facebook).  The Virus is dangerous.  Those are both true statements, but that doesn’t mean they are the only true statements, or the only priorities.  We also need an economy.  People need jobs.

Most importantly, people need to be free.  The CDC doesn’t get to run roughshod over the Constitution just because there is a particularly deadly respiratory virus floating around.

Safety is a wonderful thing, but it’s not the only thing.  The busybodies in public health are buzzing about all in a tizzy, and Liberty is getting stung.

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