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BALANCING PANDEMIC CONTROL

The table attached compares central and devolved responses. 

Some individuals would be better off under the devolved strategy but others could regard it as creating unacceptable risk. Devolvers must obey the centralists’ laws without access to exemption by conscientious objection. By contrast, devolvers do not make any demands of centralists. Separate arrangements for centralists cannot be made by devolvers, nor can they compensate centralisers.

The centralists enforce a model of human behaviour that devolvers could find inconvenient and pessimistic. The centralists do not have evidence that their strategy does more public good. It can create more economic and educative harm. The centralist case is predicated on the disease being transmitted to more people by devolution because spreaders would be controlled by regulations. In the same way that government welfare reduces some peoples’ donations to needy people, social control of spreaders by friends, neighbours and strangers could be more effective than official regimes of isolation and social distancing. The centralist strategy discourages individuals from social responsibility and allows excessive arbitrary control over behaviour against peoples’ economic interests.

To portray humans as either social animals or as individualists reveals both have limitations. Responses should draw on both strategies. Centralism rolls up a snowball of regulations, when behaviours might be better dealt with by voluntary action. The onus is on vulnerable and infected people to limit their sociality and take care of themselves, before demanding others be constrained.

Accepting voluntarism by others requires trust, but so does observance of regulations. Many people prefer intervention by authorities to imposing their concerns on others who threaten. Trust of others has been lost at great cost, perhaps because the exercise of civility has been delegated to authorities to resolve, as has happened with road rage. When I went to work or a party with flu symptoms, some good person would remind me to go home. Could a pandemic be controlled like this?

Question: What if it would take only one miscreant to infect my loved ones?

Answer: Irresponsible behaviour is unlikely to be prevented by any regulations. They might reduce awareness of clear and present dangers.

My writing on Covid-19, trust, performance, government and economic growth is at: https://martinknox.com 

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