COVID19: policy options to follow the first policy of social isolation

As of today, April 11, new hospitalizations for COVID19 have leveled off or are approaching an apex that is below the capacity for handling these patients.   We are approaching a time when it is time to reassess the situation and decide on new governing policies and recommendations to apply for the next period.

In a prior post, I described a game I called fantasy government where I apply a made-up government’s doctrines to a current issue.  My fantasy government is one where humans have no role in making policies, but instead all policies are decided from algorithms that consider the full breadth of data available.    People remain important for this government because people provide the additional data sources and checks of that data, and people provide the urgency trigger that activates the generation of a new policy.   The resulting policy is short lived and would need to be renewed by on going sense of urgency.

I imagine such a government would have a very small number of enforced policies.   One reason is that new policies are needed to replace the expiring one, but it requires a consensus of urgency to trigger a new policy.

By the time a policy expires, several things can happen to convince the population that it is no longer an urgency.   More data may arrive to show that the original fears were not going to happen.   Perhaps, the first policy was successful in resolving the crisis so there is no longer a need for a replacement policy.   Alternatively, the problem was as bad as predicted but the population learns to accept it as a new normal and thus no longer being an urgent issue.

In the case of COVID19, I see evidence for each of these outcomes.   The disease is not as bad as first feared so we may have over-reacted.   There is a flattening of the curve for new hospital admissions that suggests the current policies of social isolation is work so we might need to continue that policy.    There is a growing comfort that we can live with the reality of this disease and adjust our practices to resume normal social and economic lives with some voluntary precautions.

If the current policies and recommendations of social isolation or distancing had come from a dedomenocracy, that policy may be near expiration date by now.

For such a scenario of an expiring policy, all prior policy and guidance would be lifted and people could return to their own voluntary choices.   There is a lot of expert advice about the dangers of removing government coercion of social distancing rules now, but that guidance assumes the population is in capable of learning about the present dangers.

Such thinking assumes that humans are more stupid than lower animals that are readily conditioned with just a short period of training.   The shock of the severity of recent policies and guidance must have a lasting effect on everyone.   People are now more aware of the problem and the precautions than they would have been if there were only printed or video reports.   Their lives have been affected and they have adjusted.   I trust that most will behave in a way that makes the spread of the disease more difficult.

The government guidance that restrictions cannot be relaxed also assumes people’s fears remain as high as they were at first.   Even as the threat remains and the outcomes remain tragic, I think people are learning that this is something we can live with, just as we learn to live with consequences of automobile accidents, obesity, and unhealthy lifestyles.    There are lots of threats in our modern world that have tragic outcomes that can inflict any individual, yet we learn to continue our lives with the acceptance that these are normal aspect of living.

COVID19 is new and it is unlikely to ever go away.   It has become a new normal, just like we accepted the normal form of death from airliner crashes.   Our approaches to normal risks is to take steps to minimize the risks while also accepting that occasionally we’ll be heartbroken by new tragedies, only to move on afterwards.

Airliner crashes have occurred many times over the age of aviation.   We adapted by learning from the evidence of the crash.   We never seriously considered eliminating airline travel for the sake of avoiding their occasionally causing large numbers of horrific deaths.

So in a dedomenocracy, the initial policy would be near expiration.   I presume that the initial policy would be consistent with what most human governments have enacted.   The difference is that in a dedomenocracy, the initial policy has an expiration date with the specific goal of reassessing everything.

First to be reassessed is whether this remains an urgent issue that needs to be addressed at all.   In a dedomenocracy, the determination of urgency itself is a democratic process: people have a say as to whether the problem requires a policy solution at all.  If we were to have a popular election on this topic right now, we may see there is no majority support for the notion that this problem rises to level of urgency that demands a policy solution.

We know more about this threat and how to deal with it.   Many people are thinking “thank you very much for bring this to our attention, we now now what to do, now leave us alone”.

The vote easily could go the other way and demand a new policy because the problem remains an urgency.

However, that is the difference between my fantasy government and our current governments.    In our current democratic representative government, our representatives decide what qualifies as an urgency as well as deciding what policies are needed to address that self-determined urgency.   In my fantasy government, the urgency itself would be brought to a vote, and if it does not receive majority support, there would be no further policies enforced on this matter.

In my fantasy government, the problem is not ignored.   People are now well educated about the problem.   In addition, the data documenting the continued progress of the problem continue to accumulate in the data stores.  Future policies, when they are needed, will consider this data along with data more relevant to the future urgency.

For example, consider a future urgency related to the already broken economy especially at the small business level.  Many small businesses were lost as a direct result of the initial policy.   In addition, the example set by that policy proves that future policies can suddenly destroy any future small business.   There will be fewer entrepreneurs would would be willing to take the risk of staring new businesses.   The new urgency may be a problem of massive unemployment.   A policy that addresses that problem would take into account the then-current evidence of this pandemic and come up with some policy that balances the new urgency with the remaining risks of the old urgency.

The nature of policy making algorithms is to optimize the entirety of human life and it would at least try to avoid reintroducing an old problem in order to solve a more current problem.

I don’t see this happening with democratic republics.   They will eventually focus on the excess unemployment and introduce some type of enticement to start new businesses to employ new people in such as way that will risk reconditioning people to ignore their past lessons about the pandemic.   Democratic republics tend to bounce from one problem to the next, each time prioritizing the new problem as if all other problems are irrelevant.

A good example is the recent passages of expensive compensation packages as if there are no longer any crises in funding our debt and existing entitlement obligations.   In the USA, the bill was passed with very little deliberation and with near unanimity.   The passage considered only the one topic of the economic hardships resulting directly from the government’s policies.

The current situation is that the democratic republican governments will continue to extend the current social distancing and isolation policies and guidance proclamations.  I argue that such governments have no other choice.   These governments are based on enlightenment philosophy of there being a knowable absolute truth and that policies are based on that knowledge.   As a result, the default position of democratic republics is that past policies become the presumed superior position that requires extraordinary evidence to overthrow.

This is summarized among many different leaders that the current policies must remain in place indefinitely until there are no new deaths and no new hospital admissions.   The presumption of excellence belongs to the now enacted policies of isolation and the now stated objective of complete elimination of the virus from the entire human population.   Such governments have only one option and that is to wait for that outcome, as long as it takes.

Conceding that there remains a public consensus of urgency on this matter, the public would trigger the need for my fantasy government of dedomenocracy to generate a new policy to replace the now expired policy of social isolation through shutdown of economy.

Unlike democratic republican governments, my fantasy government is not constrained by precedence of its prior decisions.   The foundation of dedomenocracy is that new data is always needed to make new decisions.   This foundation directly opposes the enlightenment thinking that there is a chance for us to ever know the full truth, thus our laws are always tentative and limited in duration.

This foundation relies on taking into account new data collected since the enactment of the prior policy.

  1. We have more data about the disease itself, how well it spreads, how it affects different populations, and how best to manage the patient’s conditions.
  2. We have new data about how the public is responding to the new information and how well they have been adjusting their behaviors in a way favorable to meeting the objectives of slowing the spread.
  3. We have new data about the economic impact of the current policies, including the magnitude of unemployment, and the cascading failures of our supply chains.   These supply chains are collapsing from both ends: the retail side no longer consuming the products, and the producer side that are prevented from exporting their products as it occurring in China.
  4. We have new data about impact to other healthcare topics such as treatment for non-COVID19 patients and the increasing number of new health issues resulting from isolation including mental health degradation (depression and suicide) and physical health deprived of social interactions such as good nutrition and adequate exercise
  5. We have new data about the impact to social structure including the rising rebellion sentiment especially among the younger people who are unlikely to continue to cooperate much longer.   Given the introduction into the warmer months with longer days, there is an increasing likelihood of social unrest and revolt that could by its very nature be uncontrollable and would exacerbate the pandemic containment problem.

A dedomenocracy is not constrained to invoke a policy that is consistent with the last policy.   Inherent in any dedomenocracy policy is that this is a temporary measure to influence the public to behave in a manner that helps some situation.   The goal is never to solve the problem, but instead it is to influence the overall population to change behavior most likely to benefit everyone as a whole.    Once the policy meets that goal of influence, the policy has fully met its purpose, the policy has no further need to exist.

Again, in contrast, the democratic republican governments are stuck with the Truth underlying their policies.   Because that Truth never changes, the policies can never be rolled backward.   The foundation of enlightenment government is that laws reflect Truth.  The foundation of dedomenocracy is that policies influence the population based on current data that likely will be contraindicated with future data.

The current data confirms that the population is adequately influenced by the past past policies.   In addition, the current data shows competing concerns of equal importance: concerns about health issues not related to COVID19, about supply chains needed to avert future shortages or even famines, and about rapidly escalating risks of social unrest and rebellion.

A dedomenocracy has the freedom to invoke a completely new policy that may even contradict the earlier policy because that earlier policy was meant for influence.  Even assuming that COVID19 concerns are the source of urgency that triggers a new policy, the new policy would consider all the above data to perhaps conclude to remove all enforcement of social distancing and isolation and instead focus on reassuring people to resume their businesses (eliminating the distinction of essential and non-essential) and to foster more freedom.

If it were to come up with such a policy, that policy has justification in that the population is now educated and conditioned to behave appropriately for the lingering risks of the pandemic.   The naysayer’s predication that people will return to old behaviors seems very unlikely.   Even as certain people would try to do so, their peers will demand cooperation to some extent.   Perhaps that voluntary extent is not as restrictive as our current governments demand, but that extent may be just enough to keep things from going out of control.

The dedomenocracy has another advantage over democratic republics in that a dedomenocracy can optimize the response to the pandemic under the presumption that the virus will not be eliminated for the foreseeable future.   Democratic republics are currently obsessed with the daily numbers of new cases and new deaths in such a way that they see the ideal being that both of these numbers go to zero.  The pandemic is global and outbreaks will move from region to region to follow locations of optimal seasonal conditions, eventually and inevitably returning in periodic waves.   Unrealistic goals such as zero new cases and zero new deaths lead to very inefficient policies.

In contrast, a dedomenocracy can observe that there is an optimal range of hospital utilization.   Instead of a goal of getting the utilization to zero, a dedomenocracy could consider an optimization to keep the utilization constant at a high level but below the capacity.   This results in a steady stream of new cases and new deaths.   The steadiness itself will improve the population’s confidence that this is manageable.   But more importantly, it efficiently maintains the rates of recovered patients who will become immune or at least better prepares for a reinfection.

I recognize that some recovered patients end up with compromised organs and immune systems, but I assume that a sizable majority of survivors will be stronger against future infections.   If that is not the case, then dedomenocracy is free to pursue different directions as new data comes in about that survivor’s resilience to reinfections.

In the fantasy government game, we are not at a point where we can compare outcomes of the fantasy government.   My assessment is that in the short run, a fantasy government will declare success on its earlier policies and return full liberties to the population with an expectation the people are now well conditioned to behave appropriately for the new reality.   During this same period, I would expect that the democratic republican governments to begin to count fewer new cases and new deaths than those counted under dedomenocracy.   A dedomenocracy will keep a constant rate at about the current levels and as a result the totals will continue to rise.

In the long run, the dedomenocracy will come out ahead with fewer total deaths from other causes including those induced by the excessive restrictions: shortages, famines, declining health due to isolation, and social unrest leading to rebellion and possibly even overthrow of governments leading to even more tyrannical governments.

The question is how long it will take to reach the point where subsequently the dedomenocracy approach of immediate relaxation of enforced social isolation will result in better overall numbers (fewer deaths and suffering) compared to the current policies of democratic republics.

I predict that point will occur well before the end of this calendar year.

One thought on “COVID19: policy options to follow the first policy of social isolation

  1. Pingback: Govern based on knowing capable people exist | Hypothesis Discovery

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