11 November 2005

Bush's Fowl Play - Mises Institute

Perhaps Curious George is turning into Chicken Little, what a miserable failure...


Bush's Fowl Play
Bush's Fowl Play

by Jeffrey Tucker
[Posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2005]

In a classic case of News of the Weird, President Bush
gave a press conference
the other day to announce yet another central plan to
deal with yet another disaster — this time an
impending disaster, or so he claimed. It seems that
some birds are catching a flu called Avian Influenza
or, more commonly, the bird flu. It causes ruffled
feathers and a drop in egg production. It can kill a
chicken in two days flat. Scary.

The Chicken Littles at the White House got wind of
this and decided to hatch a plan for dealing with the
eventuality that it will wipe out whole cities
inhabited by people. That's people, not birds. He
wants $7.1 billion from you and me, in emergency
funding no less, to protect us from the wrath of this
disease, which, he says, could sweep the country and
kill 1.9 million people and hospitalize another 9.9
million. Part of the money will go for "pandemic
preparedness," and part will go to individual states
so they can cobble together their own plans for our
health and well being.

As part of this plan, there is a website,
pandemicflu.gov, which is also a helpful link if you
haven't so far believed a word you have read. Here you
can click around and find the Mother of All Flu
Reports: The National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.
Be assured that "the federal government will use all
instruments of national power to address the pandemic
threat." That includes FEMA, the Department of
Homeland Security, and a hundred other concrete
palaces in DC.

In this report you will find what you must do: be
"prepared to follow public health guidance that may
include limitation of attendance at public gatherings
and non-essential travel for several days or weeks."
The government, meanwhile, will establish "contingency
systems to maintain delivery of essential goods and
services during times of significant and sustained
worker absenteeism."

Yes, we are really supposed to believe that the
government will "maintain delivery" of "essential
goods and services." Your job is to sit in your house
and wait. Let's just say that government has a
credibility problem here.

Also, the Bush administration has a role for the
military to do for the flu what it did for terrorism
in Iraq: "Determine the spectrum of public health,
medical and veterinary surge capacity activities that
the U.S. military and other government entities may be
able to support during a pandemic." Remarkable what
the military can do, from spreading democracy to
liberating the oppressed to curing the sick — that is,
when it is not making people sick or killing them for
their own good.

Just to show that this isn't merely a perfunctory
line, Bush went out of his way to defend the role of
the military in his press conference. "One option is
the use of a military that's able to plan and move,"
he said. "So that's why I put it on the table. I think
it's an important debate for Congress to have."

Now, should this mass-death come about, our future
would be rife with many uncertainties. But one thing
we can know for sure: any attempt by government to
manage the crisis will add calamity to disaster. It
will be 9-11 plus New Orleans plus a few other amazing
failures all rolled into one.

And the worst part of government failure will present
itself: rather than make a mess of its own
responsibilities, the government acts to prevent
people from doing what they should be doing to deal
with the crisis. "Stop in the name of the law" isn't
just a slogan from cop shows; it is the sum total of
everything the government does.

The Bush administration, however — which is supposedly
staffed by people learned in the wisdom of classical-
conservative thought and informed by revelation from
America's traditional religious heritage — is just
darn sure that the government is the best and only
means to handle a crisis such as this.

A dazzling display of absurdity and chutzpah — that's
what the Bush press conference on the flu was. Even if
the flu does come, and taxpayers have coughed up, the
government will surely have a ball imposing travel
restrictions, shutting down schools and businesses,
quarantining cities, and banning public gatherings.

It's a bureaucrat's dream! Whether it will make us
well again is another matter. And why should
individuals on their own have no incentive to deal
with disease? Why should the private sector have no
reason to make cures available if they exist? Why are
we to believe that the government would somehow do a
better job at this level of crisis management than the
private sector?

None of these questions have been asked much less

So I'm reading along in The New York Times, and it
casually says this: "This bird flu has infected about
120 people and killed 60. But the virus has yet to
pass easily among humans, as is necessary to create a
pandemic. Experts debate whether it ever will, but
most believe that a pandemic flu is inevitable

Well, as Roderick Long often says about such
contingencies, anything can happen. Men from Mars
could land in capsules and plant red weed all over the
world. The question we need to ask is how likely is it
and who or what should address the problem should it

The World Health Organization provides a link to data
about human infection. It says the following:
"Although avian influenza A viruses usually do not
infect humans, several instances of human infections
have been reported since 1997."

So we've gone from hundreds of infections to
"several." And when you look at the specifics, most
were not human-to-human infections but people in
closer contact with sick birds than most anyone ever
is. And even among them, most patients recovered. For
example: "A (H9N2) infection was confirmed in a child
in Hong Kong. The child was hospitalized and
recovered." In another case in Canada, infections
resulted in "eye infections." Among those who did die,
it was not a clear case of Avian, though the site
offers the following odd phrasing: "the possibility of
person-to-person transmission could not be ruled out."

For this, we get a presidential news conference? As
far as I can tell, the prospect of millions dying from
bird flu is pretty remote. If it does happen—and
anything canhappen—why must government be involved at
all? Economists might invoke a public-goods rationale:
pandemic disease protection is a service that can be
consumed by additional consumers at no additional cost
and the beneficiaries cannot be excluded from the good
once produced, and thus this service will not be
produced in sufficient quantity in the private sector.

The point is so far flung that it makes a case for
Randall Holcombe's theory of the theory of public
: "it is in the best interest of the those who
run the government to promote public goods theory" and
so the best way to understand the theory is as a
justification for the legitimacy of the programs the
government wants for itself. It is a tool the
government uses for its own benefit.

What about the private-sector alternative? It will
manage it as well as can be expected. The price of
vaccines will rise and draw more producers into the
market. Businesses will establish their own rules
about who can come and go. Private charities will deal
with sickness. It isn't a perfect solution but it is
an improvement on dispatching the Marines or having
the government provide "essential goods and services."

What's more, the problem of the bird flu isn't even
news, since the incidents of human infection are
several years old. Why does the Bush administration
choose right now to make such a big showing of its
preparations for mass death by bird?

Could it be that it is running out of other pretexts
for expanding power? Terrorism is getting boring,
floods come only rarely, communism is long gone, the
China "threat" is no longer selling, the Middle East
is dull, Global Warming is just too silly, and people
have gone back to ignoring most anything that comes
out of Washington. Meanwhile, the regime is desperate
to be liked again, and forever relive its salad days
after 9-11.

That still leaves the question of why so many public
health officials seem so hopped up about the bird flu,
even though the data doesn't come anywhere near
supporting their frenzy. The answer is buried
somewhere in those gargantuan budget numbers. Someone
somewhere is going to get that $8 billion, and it is
not going to be you or me.

What's remarkable is how little comment the bird flu
plan provoked. We seem to have reached the stage in
American public opinion where hysterical frenzies by
government and totalitarian plans to take away all
liberties are treated as just another day. We see the
president telling us to fork over billions, and we
turn the channel. Was it this way in the old Soviet
Union or East Germany when the state newscasts went on
every night about the march of socialism? Has crisis
management become the great white noise of American

It is a serious matter when the government purports to
plan to abolish all liberty and nationalize all
economic life and put every business under the control
of the military, especially in the name of a bug that
seems largely restricted to the bird population.
Perhaps we should pay more attention. Perhaps such
plans for the total state ought to even ruffle our
feathers a bit.

Jeffrey Tucker is editor of Mises.org.


Post a Comment

<< Home