Science does not tell us what we should do. Science can tell us what the consequences will be if we do or do not do some particular thing. Science informs us and our elected representatives, but science does not dictate what the political policy should be.
Almost every decision involves some kind of trade-off. Often, the trade-off is between safety and liberty. For example, most driving and traffic regulations involve giving up some amount of liberty in return for greater safety.
In the case of Covid-19, the use of vaccines, masks, business closings, etc. is a trade-off between safety and liberty. If you say that a Covid-19 related policy is justified if it saves even one life, then you would have a problem. The vaccine has clearly saved many lives, but some people have died from the vaccine as well. It is not as simple as choosing the one that saves the most lives. Almost everyone who wants to take the vaccine can take it. The majority of adults have already chosen to get the vaccine. The relatively few who are compromised in some way and, therefore, are advised against getting the vaccine can do a lot to protect themselves against those who might be contagious.
As a libertarian, I believe that private business owners, just like homeowners and individuals, should be free to choose whether or not to associate with those who are not vaccinated. Government, on the other hand, should really not be able to discriminate based on vaccine status in most situations because we citizens don’t really have the option to “opt-out” of dealing with the government. There may be some situations or circumstances where a vaccine mandate by the government might be appropriate, but the default position should be liberty, with the burden on the government to show why the mandate outweighs the loss of freedom. Ultimately, the decisions will be made by our elected representatives. And as we all know, there is a wide difference of opinion about vaccine mandates among our elected representatives as well as among we citizens.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) has announced a benefit of up to $9,000 to reimburse funeral expenses for those who died from Covid-19. There is no means test, so people qualify for the benefit regardless of the income or wealth of the deceased or family members. (This same benefit has been available in previous disasters.) FEMA will not reimburse any amounts paid for or reimbursed by pre-planned sources such as funeral insurance, veterans benefits, etc.
Everyone dies eventually. If a person died with no resources and there is no insurance or other benefit available, it can be difficult or impossible for relatives to pay funeral expenses regardless of when or why the person dies. Most states have provisions to pay for a burial if the person died with no resources and no one else volunteers to pay. And relatives cannot be forced to pay for a funeral or burial.
So why should we expect FEMA to pay such a benefit? And even if a benefit is available, why should there be no means testing?
Here is the text of a Letter To The Editor that I just sent to The Des Moines Register:
On Friday, December 4th, you started your daily COVID-19 report with, “The state added another 70 deaths to the tally of people who died with COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the largest one-day increase since the pandemic arrived in the state.” Later in the article, you clarified that of the 70 deaths “reported”, 61 actually died in November, eight died in October, and one died on August 26th. Your introductory sentence was at best poorly written, and at worst intentionally misleading. It does appear clear that we have recently been seeing significant increases in the spread of the virus and deaths from the virus, but you lose credibility when you make such misleading statements.
Below is the link to an excellent article by Eric Boehm from Reason magazine’s August/September issue. It gives specific evidence that shows how international trade makes us safer in a world-wide pandemic rather than the opposite. There is a knee-jerk reaction when we have shortages to assume that we would be better off if we did not depend on other countries for our various needed products. This essay shows that the facts indicate otherwise.
Here’s some good news for Iowans: Although more than 75,000 Iowans have tested positive for COVID-19, that represents less than 3 out of every 100 people – and two-thirds of those have recovered. Although more than 1,200 Iowans have died from COVID-19, the highest peak was in May and the current trend is sharply down from the lower second peak in early September. We have kept COVID-19 hospitalizations, intensive care bed use and ventilator use well below our capacity, and healthcare system availability continues to get even better.. The number of Iowans being tested for COVID-19 continues to increase and the percentage of people testing positive continues to decrease. So, Iowans, keep up the social distancing and the wearing face masks when appropriate so that these positive trends continue until a vaccine becomes available.
The statistics used in the recently published White House coronavirus report for Iowa, and published in The Des Moines Register do not prove that the coronavirus is growing faster in Iowa than the rest of the nation. The two key statistics used are not valid indicators. The statistic “average number of positive tests per day per 100,000 population” is not valid because the results vary depending on how many tests are reported each day, and because those getting tested are not representative of the entire population. The statistic “percent of tests reported each day that are positive”, (the positivity rate), is not valid because, again, those getting tested are not representative of the entire population. The only currently available valid statistic is the death rate, which is a lagging indicator, and which is going down. We should not be locking down parts of our economy based on bad data. We should continue to encourage mask-wearing and social distancing when appropriate.
The editorial team at The Des Moines Register, (as well as many liberals), seem to think that anyone who does not follow the recommendations of our government’s scientists is a “science denier.” That’s not true. People can believe the science but disagree about how to respond politically. Science can give us a pretty good idea of what will happen when we take certain actions, but science does not tell us what risks are acceptable or what trade-offs we are willing to make to achieve any specific level of safety. Those are either individual or political decisions. We could stop COVID-19 completely if everyone was required to stay in their home for the next 30 days. But even then, some would die in their homes. There is no perfect answer. It is a proper role of government to use its force to stop or slow the spread of a communicable disease. But as we can clearly see there are wide differences of opinion regarding what trade-offs we are willing to make and what level of safety should be our goal. To the extent that those who are not willing to take a risk can protect themselves, others should be free to take risks.
I agree with John Stanford’s essay in the Wall Street Journal today that controlling drug prices would slow biomedical innovation and and research. (WSJ 7/2/2020 – see link below.) When you spend less money on anything you will get less of it. But that’s okay. Today, we get more drug research and innovation than we want to pay for.
Most drugs approved by the FDA are required by law to be covered and paid for by Medicare and Medicaid regardless of price! Many are required by law to be covered and paid for by private insurance companies regardless of the price! This is true even when the drug provides little or no improvement over other existing approved drugs! Under such a situation we, of course, get maximum research and development.
If we did the same for space exploration, we would probably already have colonies on Mars. If we did the same for climate change, we would probably already have that problem solved. The point is that development of new prescription drugs is not our only priority, and our ability to pay is not unlimited.
We don’t have anything close to free market capitalism in the prescription drug market in the U.S. Government is already very involved, mostly providing subsidies, protection from competition, and other benefits to drug manufacturers. It is not unreasonable to set a drug price ceiling that is 20% higher than what is being paid by Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Japan. We can always make special exceptions for something like a vaccine against the Covid-19 virus.
Bob Vander Platas’ essay in the Register supporting the State ordered prohibition of abortion was a poor attempt to rationalize his religious beliefs. (See link below.) Most would agree that if an abortion is to be done, it is best done at the earliest stage possible, ideally during the first trimester. Iowa should not be prohibiting abortions or other “elective” surgeries that increase a person’s health risk if they are delayed. Currently, hospitals in Iowa are not that close to capacity, and surgical masks are different than the N95 masks. This is one area where restrictions should be eased now.