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COVID-19 Exposes Rift Between Doctors and the Public

Written by Luke Burgess
Posted August 24, 2020

An article published by The Associated Press over the weekend claims there is good evidence that businesses influenced state reopening plans. It reads:

Thousands of pages of emails provided to The Associated Press under open-records laws show that governors across the U.S. were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries — from campgrounds in New Hampshire to car washes in Washington. Some governors put economic interests ahead of public health guidance, and certain businesses were allowed to write the rules that would govern their own operations.

Although it's not explicitly stated in the piece, I think it's clear the AP is condemning state and local governments for prioritizing economic interests over official health guidance. But I'm not so sure that deserves reproach.

One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has absolutely exposed is a rift between the medical community and the public. That rift is a divide over their respective priorities.

The medical community's priorities can be basically summed up in a few words: to promote health. Everything else comes second.

The public, on the other hand, has priorities that are altogether different. A person's health might become his top priority when he loses it. But up until that point, everyone takes risks (big or small) with their health. Smoking, speeding, sleeping with the wrong people... 100% of the population does something unhealthy.

And here's where we find our rift: The public is willing to take way more risks than the medical community would ever recommend.

Consider one of the fundamental precepts of health care: Primum non nocere. You probably know this better as the Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm.” Harm generally begins with taking risks.

Now, consider how many extremely dumb risks people take every day. I'm only going to give one example of this: There's an entire genre of YouTube videos featuring Russian guys hanging off of buildings.

How many people in the medical community would ever recommend dangling from a building for fun and YouTube views? What percentage?

Well, someone — no, a bunch of people — are already doing it.

The public takes risks the medical community would never recommend. I think that's clear. But now, living in the time of COVID, this raises serious policy questions: Should the government bend to the will of official health guidance or to the public? Which will take more risks?

On one hand, the government should listen to the experts because they know what's best in terms of public health.

But on the other hand, the government doesn't work for the medical community as much as it does the public. Public approval is the thing that gives a republic its political legitimacy. In other words, the public is the government's boss, not the medical community. So who should the government take directions from when the next viral outbreak occurs? The health experts? Or the public, which pays their salary?

I guessing half the population would say the government should listen to the experts while the other half would say it should listen to the public. But we also need to consider that the public is not aligned with its priorities either. And with states reopening, the country is almost split right down the middle.

Approximately half of those polled believe their respective home state is moving in the right direction with reopening while the other half believe otherwise. So I think the government's only good move is to prioritize health guidelines over reopening — even though the capitalist in me says otherwise.

No matter what, the government is in a no-win situation here. It's damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. And in these cases, you just try to minimize the damage. But damage there will be. And it will all play into what everyone is calling the "New Normal."

This "New Normal" is bigger than face masks and social distancing. In the same way that both September 11 and the financial crisis of 2007–08 changed America forever, COVID-19 has already made a permanent impression on our society.

The game is changing, friends. You've got to change with it. Take a look at what my colleague Christian DeHaemer is saying about the "New Normal."

Until next time,
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Luke Burgess

As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bull and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.

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