An ‘abundance of caution’ mentality leads to tyranny
This week, governments around the globe spun into full-scale panic thanks to the revelation of the so-called omicron variant of COVID-19. As of this writing, we know that omicron is likely more transmissible than prior variants. We have no evidence, however, that omicron is more deadly. To the contrary, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, explained that the symptoms associated with omicron were “mild,” explaining, “we don’t see severely ill patients.”
Were that true, that would make omicron a cause for optimism. That’s because delta is already highly infectious and herd immunity seems to be a pipe dream — which means that if someone has the choice between an omicron infection and a delta infection, one would wish for the omicron infection. If omicron was to crowd out a deadlier variant, that would be a positive development for global health.
Yet the reaction from our institutional leaders has been completely unhinged. We have been told by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that every American above the age of 18 ought to get a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite scant evidence that boosters lower the hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 for the young (they certainly do for those over age 60). Dr. Anthony Fauci has emerged to nod gravely at the possibility of vaccine mandates for air travel and new mask mandates. Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York announced a state of emergency allowing for the suspension of elective surgeries.
The predictable result: markets have plunged. They’ve plunged not because of omicron itself, but because the private sector knows that the public sector may hammer away at economic freedom again. Our political class has failed throughout the pandemic; perhaps their only real success was in assigning a grab bag of cash for pharmaceutical companies that developed vaccines. Other than that, nearly all public policy measures have been ineffective.
The same will hold true of omicron. Omicron is already present in nations around the world. Lockdown policies were ineffective in curbing the pandemic outside of isolated countries around the globe; the return of lockdown won’t be any more successful. Mask mandates have been markedly disassociated from actual disease replication rates. And vaccines are already widely available; those who are afraid of omicron will get vaccinated, and those who aren’t won’t.
Now would be a good time to take a breath.
And yet our public officials are pathologically incapable of humility. This time, they suggest, will be different; this time, they’ll prevent disease from spreading. It seems that the most powerful in our society have a vested interest in the lie that they can stop disease, death and privation. They won’t let go of that lie, lest citizens see through the veil and seize back power over their own lives.
Instead, we’re told that we must hand over more control to our authoritarian-minded leaders, to the self-appointed Scientific Experts (TM) — all out of an “abundance of caution,” of course. Strangely, that abundance of caution never seems to extend to unprecedented interventions in everyday life or the global economy. In those areas, our elites throw caution to the wind.
A true “abundance of caution” mentality would suggest that before we destroy our institutions again — before we overthrow free markets in the name of welfarism, checks and balances in the name of health authoritarianism, and individual liberty in the name of safety — we see some data. Otherwise, heavy-handed “solutions” will always be the measure of first resort, long before we even know whether a crisis has materialized.
Ben Shapiro is a nationally syndicated columnist.