HOW AND WHY GOVERNMENT CREATES DISEASE PANIC

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by Barry Brownstein, via The Waking Times:

Famed Johns Hopkins doctor Marty Makary recently wondered why “amid the dire Covid warnings, one crucial fact has been largely ignored: Cases are down 77% over the past six weeks.”

He points out that “If a medication slashed cases by 77%, we’d call it a miracle pill.” The number of cases is “plummeting much faster than experts predicted” because Makary writes, “natural immunity from prior infection is far more common than can be measured by testing.”

Makary has this good news: “Covid will be mostly gone by April, allowing Americans to resume normal life.”

Most Americans haven’t heard Makary’s forecast. While he was sharing good news, Anthony Fauci moved the goal line further back, saying it will not be until 2022 when life will “approximate the kind of normality we’ve been used to.”

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Makary observes, “Many experts, along with politicians and journalists, are afraid to talk about herd immunity.” He rebukes those who mislead the public saying, “Scientists shouldn’t try to manipulate the public by hiding the truth.”

Efforts to hide the truth won’t end soon. It’s been almost one year since Covid-19 lockdowns began in America. Yet, many days still bring evidence of ongoing, out-of-proportion reactions to the virus. Teachers’ unions refuse to go back to work. Nursing homes extend cruel policies isolating elders from loved ones.

Like many of us, Don Boudreaux wants to know “What’s so special about this communicable and dangerous disease that causes humanity to treat it as differing categorically from the countless other communicable and dangerous diseases that we regard with utter blasé-ness?”

Philipp Bagus, José Antonio Peña-Ramos, and Antonio Sánchez-Bayón (subsequently referred to as Bagus) in their journal article “COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria” provide comprehensive answers to Professor Boudreaux’s question. They argue that “people have been scared by SARS-CoV-2 to an extent not easily explainable by their own minuscule risk of death from it.” The article exposes causes of widespread “irrational behavior.”

Bagus considers “how the modern state influences the development and extension of mass hysteria” and creates “adverse consequences for public health.” It’s easy to manipulate risk perceptions, they write, “when risks are viewed as unfair, uncontrollable, unknown, frightening, potentially catastrophic, and impacting future generations.”

You don’t have to deny Covid-19 or its terrible consequences to consider why good news like Makary’s is largely ignored. Bagus points to “biased media coverage, incomplete and asymmetric information, personal experiences, fears, inability to understand and interpret statistics, and other cognitive biases” as factors that “lead to distorted risk judgments.”

To be sure, the human brain is wired for negativity bias, so mass hysteria can occur without government manipulation. Bagus explains:

“There can certainly be mass hysteria without the state in a private law society or within the context of a minimal state. This possibility exists due to the negativity bias of the human brain which makes people vulnerable to delusions. Due to biological evolution, we focus on bad news as it may represent a possible threat. Focusing on negative news and feeling a loss of control may cause psychological stress that can develop into a hysteria and propagate to a larger group.”

Anxiety and fear can spread through a social process of conformity:

“Once anxiety has spread and the majority of a group behaves in a certain way, there is the phenomenon of conformity, i.e., social pressure makes individuals behave in the same way as other members of the group. In the end, there may be a phenomenon that has been called emergent norms: when a group establishes a norm, everyone ends up following that norm. For example, if a group decides to wear masks, everyone agrees to that norm. Emergent norms may explain the later stages of contagion. Contagion by fear can lead people to overreact strongly in a situation, even in a minimal state.” 

How Private Property Reduces Hysteria

Crucially Bagus points out that without a strong government reaction, “there exist certain self-corrective mechanisms and limits that make it less likely for a mass hysteria to run out of control.”

When even a minority exercise their property rights and ignore collective panic, hysteria is undermined:

“While anyone in a hysteria related to public health may voluntarily close their own business, wear a mask, or stay at home, in a minimal state, no one can use coercion to force others who are healthy and do not succumb to the hysteria to close their businesses, wear masks, or quarantine. A minority can just ignore the collective panic and continue to live their normal lives, because they are free to do so. Such a minority can be an example and a wake-up call to those that do succumb to the collective hysteria or are close to doing so. This minority may be especially attractive to borderline cases.”

Bagus explains how the example of others limits hysteria: “Suppose that a small group of people during a collective health hysteria continues to go shopping, to work, to socialize, and breathe freely and does not fall ill (massively and fatally). Having this example, the anxiety of observers may fall. Observers may follow the example, and the group of hysterics shrinks.”

Bagus catalogs the ways governments increased hysteria and inflicted harm.

First, governments diminished and prohibited “those activities that do reduce fear and anxiety, such as sports, diversion, and socializing. During the Covid-19 crisis, states used their coercive power to impose social isolation, thereby contributing to anxiety and psychological strain, both ingredients that spur mass hysteria.” They explain further:

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