Imprimis: Thoughts on the Current Crisis

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The president of Hillsdale College writes on the question of rule, or governance, by experts. He notes, especially, the paradox of expertise: To become proficient in one area of knowledge tends to prevent proficiency in other areas. Thus, to be the greatest epidemiologist in the world, for example, is likely to come at the expense of being a good economist.

I see no easy way to resolve the paradox, but one thing each of us can do is avoid expecting or wanting too much from government.

11 thoughts on “Imprimis: Thoughts on the Current Crisis

  1. “Thus, to be the greatest epidemiologist in the world, for example, is likely to come at the expense of being a good economist.“

    That is a point the author seems to favor.

    But the expertise in economics is not really necessary to the extent that the same quality in epidemiology is.

    Get some good economists together and they will agree on little. And the economics of a shutdown is not rocket science. Cutting consumer spending in an economy that is 70% dependent upon that and the impact is severe.

    A contagion of the COVID type with its eccentricities that are different from many, if not most, other coronavirus varieties has few good solutions to save lives. Add in that we have few options for treatments and no vaccine, distancing is about all we have.

    So the obvious choice is to balance economic damage with lives lost.

    On paper, it sounds so clear cut.

    In real life, not so much. Then it becomes a matter of which is more important: saving lives that cannot be retrieved after death, or saving an economy which can be revived after a shutdown.

    So here is the irony.

    Influential conservatives, including the president, GOP governors and others on the right have seemingly indicated that not all lives are worth saving as the financial cost may be too high.

    “There are more important things than living…” D. Patrick

    “… and, yes, will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes.” president Trump.

    This is the “pro-life” party. The same one that won’t abide by an aborted fertilized egg for economic reasons related to a single mother or family. But are more than willing to call for citizens to die so the GDP looks better.

    To wrap, the epidemiologists are trying to save lives. Economists, particularly conservative ones, are essentially discussing how much are people worth individually with respect to the collective good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

    ― Robert A. Heinlein

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not to be disrespectful, but of the things listed, how many can you do?

      I’ve changed diapers, conned a ship, drew some really neat looking buildings when I was a kid, written love poems to my wife, balanced checkbooks, comforted the dying, taken orders, given orders, cooperated, acted alone, solved equations (loved math prior to Calculus), analyzed new problems, pitched manure (yes I have), cooked several tasty meals, fought efficiently (does that include fighting dirty when necessary?)

      I have never planned an invasion, but I believe I could. Computer programming was attempted back in the day of punch cards, but not effectively. And I have not yet died, but thought I might back in 2007. It would not have been gallantly. There is no such thing a gallant death from cancer. Dignified, perhaps.


      1. I donno, does a 136 ft ocean going tug count?

        Heinlein had a flair for the dramatic. But in general, a person should know enough about a lot of topics to know when an expert is bluffing.

        For example, I can’t write a climate model, but I can tell when the claims made from them exceed what is possible from the available data.

        Everyone should know enough about a wide array of subjects to have a working bullshit detector.


        1. “Everyone should know enough about a wide array of subjects to have a working bullshit detector.”

          Have you seen my avatar?

          ..”I can tell when the claims made from them exceed what is possible from the available data.”

          And mine pegged on this one. You THINK you can tell if claims are excessive. It does nto mean you are right. And when 95% or more of actual scientists who study the climate says something, I am more inclined to believe them over a hobbyist.


    2. Love him, hate him or a little of both, Bill Clinton was the consummate multi-tasker.

      Not everything was a success. Yet, he raised taxes, presided over one of the greatest economic growths, dealt with a very hostile Congress, reformed welfare, gave us a budget surplus, handled several international crises, etc.. he did all this while enduring investigative scrutiny for 6 plus years at a level not seen since.

      Culminating in impeachment and a very embarrassing expose of his sex life.

      He was certainly no insect.

      An alley cat maybe, but no bug.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. RE: “Specialization is for insects.”

      Interesting observation, considering the time period of Heinlien’s career. As the result of mobilization to fight WWII, the U.S. Department of Defense became, perhaps, the largest, most complex human organization in history. After the war, specialists in every discipline were much in demand, and some philosophers of the time speculated that the entire human race could be organized to great purpose under scientific guidance, just as the DOD had been. But while it is natural for insects to be so organized, it is not natural for human beings to be.


  3. Dr. Fauci answers the question quite well in my view.

    Fauci was responding to Rand Paul’s statement.: “”As much as I respect you, Dr. Fauci, I don’t think you’re the end all. I don’t think you’re the one person that gets to make a decision,” Paul said. “We can listen to your advice, but there are people on the other side saying there’s not going to be a surge, that we can safely reopen the economy, and the facts will bear this out.”

    Fauci responded that he doesn’t give economic advice.

    “I don’t give advice about anything other than public health,” Fauci said.”

    I do wonder what people Mr. Paul was talking about on the “other side”. The other side of what exactly? The consensus (a dirty word it seems, especially in the climate change deniers ears) is that there will be a surge if stay-at-home guidance is lifted too soon or too quickly.

    Fauci has a specialty. As do many of us here. He bases his recommendations on science and medicine. It is not his job to look at the economics of his recommendations. Economists, as Len pointed out, rarely come to a consensus on anything. Finding the balance between economics and public health is something that the administration should be coming up with.

    And just a thought: The economy can’t recover if there aren’t consumers around to purchase items.

    Liked by 1 person

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