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Reblogged:Krugman Misses Wider Lesson on China

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We live in strange times indeed: I found myself momentarily nodding in agreement with something Paul Krugman -- of all people -- said this morning after reading his editorial regarding the unrest in China, which began as a rebuke of Xi's "zero Covid" policies:
Image by the Government of Japan, via Wikimedia Commons, license.
[W]hat can the rest of us learn from China?

First, autocracy is not, in fact, superior to democracy. Autocrats can act quickly and decisively, but they can also make huge mistakes because nobody can tell them when they're wrong. At a fundamental level there's a clear resemblance between Xi's refusal to back off zero Covid and Vladimir Putin's disaster in Ukraine.

Second, we're seeing why it's important for leaders [Why only them? --ed] to be open to evidence and be willing to change course when they've been proved wrong.


In short, what we can learn from China is broader than the failure of specific policies; it is that we should beware of would-be autocrats who insist, regardless of the evidence, that they're always right. [bold added]
I'd beware of any would-be autocrat, but let's indulge Krugman: If we presume for a moment that an autocrat really does know (and actually wants) what is best for his country, one who is open to evidence and will change course when he is wrong would be better than one who does not.

The problem is, it is impossible for an "autocrat" -- or anyone else -- to know what is "best" for any nation beyond the requirements of proper government as applied to the peculiar circumstances of that nation.

Anything else a government does beyond protecting the individual rights of its citizens violates those rights:
The concept of a "right" pertains only to action -- specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive -- of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. [bold added]
It is interesting to consider briefly some of the ramifications of such violations as they pertain to the pandemic, even in our relatively free "democracy" (i.e., mixed economy).

I will leave thorough discussion of the proper role of government in a pandemic to the good people of the Ayn Rand Institute: I will only note here that "lockdowns" (i.e., indefinite mass detentions) of sick and healthy alike are gross violations of individual rights and had no place in any pandemic response we saw -- whether as harsh and long-lived as China's or as relatively mild and short as Florida's. To the best of my knowledge, only South Dakota's governor recognized that she did not have the authority to employ such a measure.

Be that as it may, let's consider -- as does Krugman below -- the official reason our "democracy" committed these detentions:
At first, the goal in the U.S. and many other countries was to "flatten the curve," avoiding a peak in cases that would overwhelm the health care system. Then, once it became clear that effective vaccines would become available, the goal was or should have been to delay infections until widespread vaccination could provide protection. [link omitted, bold added]
It is interesting to note how widely this old, Bush-era idea was implemented, top-down in our "democracy" despite the fact that this strategy was contrary to the advice of such prominent epidemiologists as D.A. Henderson. Worse still, there are a few "would-be autocrats" I can think of on our own shores who'd love to continue and worsen such detentions. Randi Weingarten comes to mind.

Furthermore, it is also worth asking why our hospital capacity was so inflexible vis-a-vis market demand in the first place. Regulations -- many of which were suspended during the pandemic in an implicit admission that they were problematic -- were largely to blame. Barrier to entry laws, for example, prevented physicians from practicing telehealth across state lines. "Certificate of Need" laws, for another example, prevented some hospitals from being built at all.

On top of that, getting the vaccines out was slowed down, again by government regulations. People were prevented from volunteering for challenge testing, to take vaccines ahead of federal approval, or (since their distribution was controlled by the government from Day One) bid on doses. Rapid tests were held up even longer.

The last two paragraphs are hardly exhaustive, but they should at least raise the possibility that ongoing government interference with the rights of doctors, patients, and everyone else involved in the medical sector -- in the form of regulatory central planning -- can be just as injurious to the public, and, although not because of the faults of a single individual, slow to change in the face of evidence of failure.

Government is the one social institution that can legally wield physical force against individuals. When it does so for any reason other than protecting their right to act on their own conclusions, it prevents people from exercising their own judgement. An entrepreneur who sees opportunity in building a new hospital can't do so. A business willing to open to people not worried about a disease can't (per California) -- or one wishing to have vaccination as a condition of employment can't (per Florida).

Autocracy is only the most dramatic form of central planning, and all central planning thwarts individuals from acting on their best judgement of reality, including weighing evidence and making up their minds.

It is not just autocracy -- inflexible or not -- Krugman should warn us about, but central planning as such.

-- CAV

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