The Grave Disorder in Regards to Democracy
We are living in the age of Aesculapian politics and even morality, when our leaders fear to appear in public without a physician in tow or scientist at his back.
Even President Trump will not make a decision that is not valorized by Dr. Anthony Fauci, standing by his side with a furrowed brow and medical diagnosis. As Trump speaks, Fauci allows his drifting eyebrow to convey the supercilious superiority of the scientist over the former real estate tycoon turned politician.
Fauci permits Trump to speak, to offer optimistic prognosis — “Aw shucks, it would be great to open for Easter.” But everyone knows that the real decision is being made by the experts based on “science.”
Former President Barack Obama declares that this priority is correct. He asserts the coronavirus is directly comparable to “climate change.” “Science” should rule. Politics is nearly irrelevant. There is no higher order of values than is wielded by a doctor at the bedside of a particular patient or precarious planet.
Just as the so-called climate experts call on us to suppress the world economy in the name of a climate disaster, the medical experts call on us to close down the US economy in order to prevent a healthcare disaster.
This is not an acceptable argument. The healthcare system is not separate from the economy but a crucial part of it. The socialization of healthcare, as if it can function without a free economy, is already a major error.
The economy is what keeps us alive. It is what sustains the nation and the world. If it fails, billions will starve or die early of other preventable afflictions. If the medical diagnosis declares that the economy must be suspended to uphold medical priorities, then political leadership must assert the larger public interest.
Science Versus Leadership
As the supreme Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises wrote, economics “did more to transform human thinking than any other scientific theory before or since,” because “with good men and strong governments, everything was considered feasible… [But with the advent of economics] now it was learned that in the social realm too there is something operative which power and force are unable to alter and to which they must adjust themselves if they hope to achieve success, in precisely the same way as they must take in to account the laws of nature.”
The prevailing ideology defies this Misesian wisdom. It holds that in this plague year, politicians have no real role. Democracy must stand down. The constitution must be suspended. Political leaders must defer to doctors. The coronaviral threat is addressable only through medical expertise.
This is a grave disorder of democracy, a usurpation of politics by diagnosis, an abdication of leadership to scientific prescriptions that do not apply. Science is about the past. Leadership is about the future, which is not implicit in the past or determined by what we already know. The future is shaped by human choices.
According to a probably apocryphal but enduring story that teaches a vital truth, Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the night of the 14-15th of November 1940 left Coventry to burn under the bombing of the German Luftwaffe.
The wartime Prime Minister allegedly believed that alerting the people of Coventry would reveal British success in breaking the German codes. Better to leave the people of Coventry to their fate, then to give up the huge advantage in intelligence earned by the codebreakers at Bletchley Palace.
This Churchillian decision epitomizes the tragic burden of leadership in extreme times. Churchill did not summon his doctor, Lord Moran, or cite him to increase his authority.
In the sovereign decisions of government, you do not call the doctor for a peremptory prescription. You do not consult Pew for the latest poll results, which allegedly informed Trump that a large majority believed in a full lockdown as a response to the coronavirus.
You do not assert some spurious Andrew Cuomo-calculus, justifying surrender “if just one life is saved.”
You do not offer a military exoneration: “We had to destroy the city to save it.”
You do not try to escape the onus of decision making altogether and replace it with the holy writ of diagnosis and remedy.
If there were scientific answers to all public problems, we should elect Marxists and give them power. It is because some problems rise above the expertise of physicians, professors, meteorologists, and pharmacologists that we hold elections and award the winners with the burden and glory of providing leadership.
Sometimes it is necessary to allow Coventry to burn to save the country. No physician has any role in that fateful order.
Today, we are being told that to halt the spread of a flu virus, which in some apocalyptic predictions might kill millions, we have to close down most of the world economy. But closing down the world economy will surely kill millions or so impoverish their lives that they might wish to die.
Thus, the decision requires judgement. As my friend and colleague Bruce Chapman’s book on Politicians: The Worst Kind of People to Run the Government, Except All the Others eloquently maintains, there is an order of decision making that cannot be subsumed by expertise alone. Politicians have the burden of free will and responsibility.
Philip Howard, the eminent lawyer and author of a luminous series of books, most recently Try Common Sense, explains that the effort to reduce thought to algorithms impoverishes both. “Try common sense,” he says, “assign responsibility and accountability.” Do not imagine that all decisions can be reduced to scientific expertise and specialization.
If Adam Smith’s “division of labor,” whereby all issues are ultimately treated as issues of efficiency and specialization, did not face limits, there would be no need for politics or politicians. We could assign all authority to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), which in turn would cede actual power to bureaucracies of science.
Our system is based on the assumption of human agency, free will, and choice. Even if humans could live longest and most happily in the pods of the “matrix,” with every need and sense optimally gratified, we would spurn this utilitarian nirvana. We would seek freedom. We would assert common sense.
Common sense says that if a disease poses the threat of killing millions of elderly people already afflicted by medical conditions, those people should be sequestered and protected. But the rest of us should proceed with our work, taking prudent precautions, even if, amazingly, some of us will die anyway.
Adults in free nations should respect the facts of life and the hierarchies of the universe. We all ultimately live in Coventry.
If we are going to succeed as investors, we must assert the significance of our free will and domain. Whatever Trump does, we cannot defer to Dr. Fauci in shaping the future of the economy.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy