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?
Below is a letter that I just sent to The Des Moines Register. Odds are they won’t print it. So far, they have been about 100% anti-Governor Reynolds in reporting of her handling the pandemic.
To the editor,
Your report on businesses that are voluntarily continuing to require face masks is reassuring. (“Some bars, restaurants keeping mask rules”, 2/9/21) Although your report was only anecdotal, (not a statistically representative sample), 100% of the business on which you reported are continuing to require face masks without a government mandate. It appears that Governor Reynolds is correct to trust that most Iowans will do the right thing.
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.
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.
I don’t doubt the good intentions of our government leaders, including elected officials and public health regulators, as they tighten restrictions on our freedom of movement.. We are “bending the curve” and easing the pressure on our health care system. But unless an effective anti-virus drug is found and administered to everyone very quickly, bending the curve will only delay the time before most of us will become infected, and will lengthen the time that we all suffer emotionally and economically.
Why is our response to this situation so dramatically different than our response to the flu or automobile accidents? Both the flu and auto accidents kill tens of thousands of Americans each year and are preventable. We could dramatically reduce those deaths if we used the same extreme measures that we are using against COVID-19. But what is the point of living if we have to stay away from our family and friends? For a few weeks, fine. For several months or more, not acceptable. Life has risks. We need to balance the costs and the benefits of our efforts. Soon, we need to once again let people decide for themselves how much risk they are willing to take.
An open letter to our federal representatives (I emailed this to my three federal representatives:
As you consider how much the federal government should spend in response to the current pandemic, please consider the following:
One trillion dollars equals about $3,000 per person for every man, woman, and child in the U.S., or about $12,000 per family of four! Please be careful not to spend our tax money on anything that is not needed and not directly caused by the pandemic. Specifically, there should be no money spent on the following:
Seniors and others on Medicare, disability, pensions, and other fixed incomes – they will continue to be paid.
People who have had no reported W-2 earnings during the past year – since they have been getting by on unearned income
People who have household earnings around or over $75,000 per year – they qualify for unemployment benefits.
Don’t give grants, but make low-interest rate loans available. We can decide later whether or not to forgive any loans. Don’t allow unrelated “riders” on any pandemic response bill. For example, don’t’ forgive student loans, don’t add any permanent employer mandates such as child care, sick pay, paid family leave, etc. Watch out for and deny other special-interest legislation trying to take advantage of this crisis.
Please try to balance costs versus benefits. We have lived normally with the flu killing tens of thousands of U.S. citizens every year. I am a senior – age 66 – and I don’t need any bailout.