Thursday, May 14, 2020


Last night I read Matthew Yglesias's "Experts’ 7 Best Ideas on How to Beat Covid-19 and Save the Economy." It's exactly what you'd expect from him -- it's long, it's detailed, it's full of technocratic solutions from people who, I assume, have multiple degrees obtained at very elite schools.

I devoured it. Even though it's about dealing with the coronavirus in the months or years when it will continue to spread unchecked by a vaccine, reading it was almost an escapist experience.

A sample:
Wearing masks is really important for reducing coronavirus transmission. A study by a team of five researchers out of Hong Kong and several European universities calculates that if 80 percent of a population can be persuaded to don masks, that would cut transmission levels to one-twelfth of what you’d have in a mask-less society. Widespread use of masks is likely part of the reason Japan’s coronavirus outbreak has been mild thus far, and grassroots mobilization starting with masks is almost universally seen as part of the Hong Kong success story.

For the broad population, the key fact is that while wearing a mask does little to protect the wearer from the risk of getting infected, it does a lot to prevent the risk that the wearer spreads the virus to other people....

A huge barrier to increasing production of either kind of mask [for ordinary citizens or health professionals] is that nobody knows how long high levels of demand will last....

Caleb Watney from the R Street Institute and Alec Stapp from the Progressive Policy Institute suggest avoiding this situation with an idea that will recur several times on this list: The federal government should agree to pay above the pre-crisis market rate and guarantee that it will buy lots of masks and lots of respirators for an extended period. That gives business owners confidence to invest. The risk is that the country ends up “wasting” money on unneeded equipment if things end up going better than expected. But surplus equipment can be stockpiled so the US doesn’t get caught short in the next pandemic, or can be donated to lower-income countries....
Yglesias offers ideas for speeding up vaccine development, for ways to prioritize testing, for distribution of economic aid, and so on. In every case, smart nerds offer smart proposals that would make this crisis less terrifying and less deadly.

Reading it was an escapist experience for me because I know that smart people with deep wells of knowledge live in America, or communicate their knowledge to Americans from overseas, and I know that they continue to have some influence on how America handles serious problems like the coronavirus crisis -- but I also know that our government is run by people who are not smart, don't have expert knowledge about anything, and, more significantly, disdain smartness and knowledge, regarding it them as un-American, liberal, and Democratic. I know that our politics has been dominated for forty years by a party that regards well-educated experts as arrogant elitists who deploy their knowledge only to repress ordinary Americans or make them feel inferior. I know that nearly half of all American voters, including a majority of white voters, prefer a country run by people who treat experts with contempt.

I don't think experts have all the answers. But this is the worst possible time to reject what they're telling us. In this crisis, I'm horrified that I have to live in the Republican Party's America. I'd much rather live in Matt Yglesias's America.

Joe Biden isn't a nerd. However, I'm certain that he's very receptive to the best ideas nerds have to offer. If he's elected president, I'm sure he'll be eager to hear the coronavirus recommendations of smart nerds, and he'll want to implement many of those ideas.

I hope we all live long enough to escape into President Joe Biden's America, which I hope will be a safe space for smart nerds. Right now, we really need them.

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