Mark Mullins

May 25, 2020

3 min read

Power of Man: Summary

How to stop pandemic policy from wrecking more of our future

A high level cost-benefit analysis of the pandemic response shows it to be the greatest public policy error ever.

It appears that 1,000 people have lost their jobs, over 5,000 are short money, and we are all poorer by at least $20 million, for every life lost.

There is a better way forward, combining open-minded decision-making, light touch policies, and sensible risk assessment.

The inhabitants of this planet are slowly emerging from cover this month, eyes adjusting to the dim light of our new safety-first world.

Having suffered through months of isolation, people are alternately anxious and bored, and so the social conversation is turning towards the next controversy: who is to blame?

On the disease side, we have a growing death toll of over 325,000 people world-wide. That’s an additional global mortality rate of .004%, compared to last year’s overall 0.754% rate, or one additional death for every 185 persons who died in 2019.

On the policy response to the disease, we see expected near term job losses of over 300 million and at least half of the 3 billion plus global workforce with impaired incomes, owing to the lockdown policies started in March.

Economic losses are also still mounting, with a short-term estimate of $6–9 trillion or up to 10% of the global economy.

On net then, public policy, by acting too late to stem the pandemic and also too forcefully in closing the economy and much of the health system, imparted too high a cost to pay for our societies.

Looking ahead, we should try to ensure that these policy mistakes are corrected and new ones are put in place to address our lives and our livelihoods in a more balanced way.

A starting point for that is to leave more of the response to civil society rather than to government direction.

Such a market-based approach of trial and error and light touch regulation will best represent how people want safety considerations to be incorporated into daily life.

Another way to avoid catastrophic policy decisions is to open up the political system to hear other voices, not just those with narrow public health credentials.

Continuous exposure to the public, the press and to sitting legislatures will expose policies to the hurly burly of democratic dissent. Viable policies will succeed on their merits in such an environment.

The last general approach to avoiding policy error is to set public expectations in accord with reality and social preferences.

There is no such thing as a completely risk-free activity and so social restrictions should be required to pass screens based on their absolute risk levels.

Those places with low and acceptable risk should be free of broad coercive restrictions, thus allowing them to find the right balance of safety measures that matches their community risk preferences.

The power of man may have been frustrated in the first round of this fight, and we certainly landed far too many blows to ourselves, but improved policy can tap the strengths of our open, integrated, and democratic societies to offer the potential of more wins going forward.

The full article is found here.