Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Mimsy Were the Technocrats: As long as we keep talking about it, it’s technology.

COVID Lessons: How can we respond to a disease before it spreads?

Jerry Stratton, October 21, 2020

Gilligan’s Island incentives: There’s a reason the professor didn’t fix that boat. Incentives matter.; Gilligan’s Island; incentives

There’s a reason bureaucrats prolong crises.

One of the biggest problems with our disease response plans is that they are responses. We can only implement them after we know about the disease. Once we know about the disease, the disease is already spreading. And that results in panicked and illogical responses that themselves kill people. Every action is a tradeoff between lives here and lives there. Expanding our flawed COVID-19 responses forever, even if they worked, would kill people for no purpose.

There are other options, however, and options that make life better even absent an epidemic. Much of the reason for diseases spreading rapidly is that so many of our government institutions are designed around turn-of-the-century theories about human resource management. They’re about herding people en masse into huge crowds at central locations.

So, we send all of our children to a massive central location every weekday during flu season; and our cities, the civil locations most vulnerable to epidemic spread, rely heavily on centralized mass transit systems to transport people throughout the city according to the needs of the system rather than the needs of the people. Everything is on a schedule to ensure huge crowds of people massing together at the specific, limited times when the train, metaphorical or literal, leaves the station.

We need to drastically decentralize these institutions. We’ve long known that monocultures among plants and animals invite deadly disease. We need to encourage pluralism over monolithic government programs.

Parents should have choices about where to send their children based on the needs and vulnerabilities of their own children rather than based on the needs of the system. Parents should be able to choose their own ratio of risk to reward. Further, parents should be able to switch rapidly between their choices, even the choice of keeping their children home, and still utilize the public education resources their tax dollars purchase.

As I write this, the evidence appears to be that COVID-19 doesn’t spread rapidly through children. But we can’t count on that for future diseases. Further, choice in education will provide a better education for every child, because their education will be specific to them. The action of choosing an education for their children will provide parents with more incentive to invest in their children’s educations.

The most important benefit of educational pluralism is better education. Drastically slowing the spread of diseases through children is, however, a very important and socially useful extra credit.

Education will be better before an epidemic, and safer during one.

Mass transit is nearly as old as government-run schools, and relies on just as outdated a model. And yet many states, even during the COVID-19 pandemic, tried to shut down the innovative ridesharing alternatives in favor of herding people into crowded government-run transit buses and trains.

We need to encourage innovation in mass transit. We need pluralistic transit instead of government-managed monopolies.

Like education, transportation is essential, but the way our mass transit systems work now is another relic of our industrial-era humans-as-resources mindset. It treats people as a mass of things needing to be warehoused and piped. Every subway car and bus is an incubator for spreading disease in or out of an epidemic.

Every rideshare or personally-driven motor vehicle, on the other hand, potentially blocks a disease that would have been spread to fellow travelers on some mass transit vehicle. Like educational pluralism, transit pluralism will provide better transit options tailored to every individual, and like educational pluralism, transit pluralism will drastically slow the spread of contagious diseases.

Village of the Damned classroom: The Midwich Cuckoos in Village of the Damned, in a classroom.; horror; movie

Some things you don’t want your kids bringing home…

Any laws or regulations that shut down ridesharing and private car ownership in favor of herding people together into buses and subway cars is a ridiculously outdated model, dangerous to public health.

Even our news media is designed around an outdated factory model: product piped from central media producers to masses of consumers. We desperately need a media that is responsive enough to know and learn the truth, and then provide a means of spreading the truth. Our mainstream media institutions completely failed to provide useful information and even truthful information during this pandemic. When the next virus comes, no one is going to believe them. The boy who cried wolf was a cautionary tale for children, not for the villagers. But when the news media cries wolf it isn’t the talking heads who die. It is the rest of us, who no longer have access to reliable information. If the next virus is another Spanish Flu, the media’s lies during this epidemic will have killed millions.

Too many people, on both sides of the aisle, wanted a one-site-fits-all response from the federal government. That, too, is a relic of the outdated factory model of government. Instead of expanding that outdated central government model, we need to be more accepting when different states do things differently. Doing things differently is how we find the best approach in a crisis. Mostly, this means not paying attention to the lies from the various media outlets that thrive on disaster, and so try to create disaster by setting us against each other.

The other side of preparing for a crisis before it happens is saving the resources necessary to respond to a crisis when we don’t even know what the crisis is. The most fluid of resources, the most easily translated to useful responses of both services and products, is money. Money saved means resources for emergencies. Every household budgeter knows this, and yet we all seem to forget it when it comes to spending money through government. We need to stop spending more than we make. We need that money for crises. Italy found that out. There were literally older people dying because Italy didn’t have enough resources to treat everyone and so had to ration health care.

Too often, politicians invent fake crises in order to justify wasting money. Wasting money on fake crises blunts our reaction to real crises. Our federal budget should be zero-based: start with how much money we have, and add the most important expenditures until we run out. Then stop spending money we don’t have.

That’s how to save for a crisis.

Even in the private sector, saving for the future is too often attacked as hoarding, during a crisis, and as greed absent a crisis. Saving for the future in order to be prepared for a crisis ought to be encouraged, not legislated against. We have to stop denigrating companies that save for the future. Insurance companies were banned from preparing for a crisis because the ACA mandated the elimination of profits. States penalize businesses for maintaining long-term inventory. The result of banning saving money and inventory is an inability to meet a crisis quickly.

Encourage ride-sharing. Encourage pluralistic education. Identify and end government programs that rely on massing people together in monolithic systems and we’ll have better service in times of health, and safer communities in times of crisis.

In response to COVID Lessons: The Health Care Shutdown: It’s fortunate that COVID-19 was not as bad as the experts said, because our response was almost entirely to make the problem worse. We shut down everything that could help, including health care for co-morbidities. We locked the healthy and the sick together, and cut people off from routine care. Most of the deaths “from” COVID-19 were probably due more to our response than to the virus itself.

  1. <- COVID Delusions
  2. COVID psychosis ->