In my earlier post, I contemplated on how to move forward now in our response to COVID19.
COVID19 is a contagious disease with awful outcomes for many people who get infected. These fearsome consequences justify the prioritization of governments to focus on protecting people from getting this disease. The initial approach was to isolate the entire population in various degrees from voluntary social distancing to enforced house confinements lasting for several weeks. Both approaches involve hiding and waiting for the disease to disappear from human populations.
One of the consequences of this isolation is that we are isolating and constraining the population from doing anything meaningful to solve the problem. In particular, we are confining the potential heroes from exercising their inherent abilities.
Recent news has come out that various industries are rapidly retooling to produce much needed medical supplies. The companies doing this are large companies already deemed essential and they are using talents that are already in their payroll or those of their suppliers.
The government rules on isolating the presumed non-essential activities specifically confine people who are not employed in essential companies. The government-enforced social isolation effectively cuts them off from seeking jobs unless they can show that they are already qualified, for example, those with medical credentials.
Under current governing rules, a person with good potential ability that needs some training is unable to seek training. He can’t prove that his job seeking is an essential activity because he can’t prove he has the essential skills. He also can’t find a hiring company because the required hiring, training, and supervision of entry level positions has been cut off: they are not essential or the buildings for such activities are closed by government decree.
At this point in the progression of the COVID19, the presumption should be that we will need to deal with this disease for ever. COVID19 is similar to tuberculosis in being highly contagious and having awful outcomes. We have no reason to believe in our ability to conquer COVID19 when we cannot conquer tuberculosis.
COVID19 will become something that we as a society will have to live with, and that includes accepting that there will be people whose conditions reach the point of needing hospitalization and many of those will die. Beyond the individual grieving of lost loved ones, there will be collective grieving of people who are broadly admired for their recognition or sympathy. This disease will take from us those who die too young.
Governing a population through this pandemic is a challenge. It is inevitable that many more people will die. There already are enough deaths to start to become politically-charged statistics. Any person in a governing position will end up having these statistics associated with his name. That same person may be considered less responsible for unintended consequences such as depression, famine, or political unrest resulting from the isolation rules. The incentive is strongly in favor of continuing the social isolation in order to keep the casualties directly attributed to COVID19 to be as small as possible.
Watching the daily new cases and daily new deaths over the past months have shown multiple periods where there was a deceptive leveling-off from exponential growth. Each time, we had hopes that we may be days away from containing this disease. After waiting those couple days, we became disappointed with a new burst of growth for unexpected reasons. I think we are in a similar place right now with a hint of being at some apex of new case numbers. I expect to be disappointed again soon.
The point of this point is that the current heads of government appear incapable of leading their populations to adapt to this new threat. Leadership involves mobilizing the population through encouragement and empowerment.
Instead we see the opposite of spreading fear and recommending isolation down to the household level. There is even talk of separating individuals within a household if one of them either is infected or is especially vulnerable if infected later. This is not leadership.
Part of leadership is accepting that there will be casualties among those being led. Leadership is needed to educate the population that more hospitalizations and deaths will continue to happen. Leadership mobilizes the population despite this awful condition.
Modern western societies are not prepared for dealing with this type of reality. Many will need to be permitted to continue to withdraw and isolate. They may never be able to overcome their fears for themselves or their immediate networks of friends and family. We may need to continue the current policies of social distancing and isolation for the sake of these people.
On the other hand, the same societies have talented and eager men who are capable of contributing if given the opportunity to escape the isolation and pursue their individual initiatives. We have a population of men who can accept responsibility to take reasonable precautions to avoid spreading the disease and to avoid contracting it themselves while also doing as much as they can to contribute in the way they can.
Many of those initiatives may be to try new things seemingly completely unrelated to pandemic response. They include things like finding new business models that deliver consumer goods and services with less social contact than earlier models. To prepare for the expected long term persistence of this pandemic, we need these kind of innovations as much as we need medical equipment.
One governing model that may emerge is to continue the current social-distancing and social-isolation policies, and perhaps even make them even more restrictive in areas where they are currently more lax. However, we can start to allow extractions of responsible men to be free of these limitations to pursue their own initiatives, taking responsibility for their own fate and for taking precautions to continue to protect the isolated.
We may end up with a society of shut-ins who prefer to isolate themselves and the ones they admire from getting infected. Maybe even a majority of people will fall into that category. They will not only obediently follow the guidance and laws for social distancing, but they will also be alert to report any neighborhood violators of the same rules. The local police will respond and harass the violators.
Within this backdrop, there will be men who do go outside the majority isolation rules and pursue their interests. They may need leadership to tell them to tolerate the neighborhood harassment and proceed ahead any way.
The skillful leader will wink approval to the violators while vocally approving of the self-isolation that the rest of the population requires. Such leaders are rare, and given the global scale of this problem, most if not all leaders will not be able to do this. The fact that others do not wink will be evidence of corruption for those that do.
A dedomenocracy may offer a different way to achieve this. This concept is a government by data where the data is very exhaustive well past any concept of individual privacy. Such a government would have extensive information about each individual. That data can inform algorithms to identify those whose aptitudes and life circumstances suggest great future potential if given the chance.
Instead of winking approval to violators of a law no one is allowed to be above, this kind of government proactively extracts those individuals who offer potential and explicitly permits them freedom to pursue their own initiatives and offers them any training or entry-level opportunity they may need.
This type of government has the ability to know what individuals can do both in terms of capability and emotional readiness to face risks. With this knowledge, this government can seek these people out and grant them the presumption that anything they do is essential thus exempt from the default isolation rules.
In recent years there has been a renewed argument of capitalism versus socialism or communism. This discussion centers around the distribution of wealth.
I think there is room for criticizing our current economic system from the different perspective of efficient use of each individual’s potential. In particular, our current system divides the population into producers and consumers where the expectation is that everyone is a consumer and only some people are producers.
The consumers have employment but the primary reason is to enable their consumption. The wealth-distribution argument is to pay for more consumption.
The focus could instead be on the productive side of the equation. Our current system is very restrictive on who is allowed to be a producer. For products that require large scale operations, there are very restrictive barriers of entry even for people seeking employment. In particular, there are only a limited number of openings at any time and these openings may be be available when a person is able to be aware of the opportunity. Even if a person applies at the right time, that person has to already have the right skills, location, and life circumstances to join. The current system is very inefficient in that many capable people are left out because of luck of not applying at the right time.
When I mention capable people, I refer to the capabilities people have before they are trained within some specialization. Some people are more capable of being specialized into many things. Unfortunately, in the current system, to prove this capability they must specialize in one thing. Once specialized, they can only apply for openings asking for that specialization. If those openings do not exist, the entire economy ignores the signal that this person may be very helpful in other areas unrelated to his specialized training.
In the current environment of isolating non-essential people, we are taking this flaw to the next level by freezing these people into their non-essential status. People who specialize in some non-essential activity such as the hospitality industry, are considered non-essential people, period. This is clearly wrong and it is counter productive for what we have to do to manage this pandemic.
Some people may not have the potential capabilities to become essential, and others may not have the emotional strength to face the risks. We may need to have a society where a large portion are isolated, some able to work from home, and others may need some kind of government assistance. Within this kind of society, there is a need for an outlet for those who have the capabilities to become essential merely by the fact that they are pursuing their own initiatives.
Recent discussions about ways to open the economy to less essential businesses include proposals such as health passports where there is some kind of certification that the person is immune from the disease and currently healthy. I propose an alternative that instead certifies that the person is capable and self-disciplined (in terms of acting responsibly) enough to be qualified to be free to participate in any way he wishes.
The first proposal of a health passport is practical with current technology that can test a person for antibodies and lack of viral material. My proposal may be similarly practical but it requires much more intrusive information about the individual, about his past experiences including consequences of his actions. From this data, we can infer a status of essential worker by the evidence of his capabilities to take beneficial advantages of opportunities that appear.
A capability passport.