“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” –Benjamin Franklin
In my latest book, To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk, I make a startling but—I hope—entirely defensible claim. The pythia of Delphi, the priestesses that were the mouthpieces for Apollo, the Greek god of prophecy—were actually the world’s first political risk analysts.
If the supplicant left enough gold (or say, a goat), the oracles would work themselves into trances (which were undoubtedly real as the vapours which arose from Mount Parnassus were hallucinogenic in nature) and then with characteristic bluntness tell the clients what to do. Meekly, as they were well aware they did not possess divine knowledge, those who made the pilgrimage tended to do exactly what they were told, however drug-induced were the prophecies.
We like to think ourselves better, more modern, more sophisticated than the ancients, but frankly, I simply do not see that much difference between a visit to the Oracle and what is going on now, with our leaders utterly caving into medical experts during this crisis.
Let me be clear just now, in order to avoid the predictable hate mail. Yes, obviously I do want our response to the coronavirus to be facts-based. However, the pandemic is only one of two equally serious problems, the other being a global depression that will blight all of our futures indelibly, particularly the basic prospects of our children.
Steering by the Scylla of the pandemic by closing down our society until the scientists are satisfied not a single person is sick does us absolutely no good at all if as a result we sail directly into the Charybdis of Global Depression. In fact, I’d argue the greater of the two monsters that needs slaying is a depression that affects every single person on the planet, even above a horrendous plague that destroys hundreds of thousands of lives.
Policy analysts, and the leaders they advise, are paid to think this way, in aggregate, which means making a series of dreadful decisions affecting their countries, knowing that whatever they do (or do not do) some very good people will be hurt. My blunt answer is: Get over it, you have been put in power to think bravely, of doing the most good for the most people, most of the time.
That means our leaders must absolutely level with the public about the absolutely horrendous choices ahead. At present in the UK, all I see is a Churchill tribute-act at best (without the real inner steel of the man) and embarrassing cluelessness at worst. It’s time to get real and not outsource these terrible decisions to the one-sided views of medical experts who know absolutely nothing about running countries or macroeconomics.
The two key policy compass points must be clear by now to the Western political establishment. On the one hand, avoid a great pandemic like the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, which killed over 50 million people.
On the other, do not so put our economies into a long-lasting deep freeze that we visit a self-induced Depression upon our suffering publics. Success is simply measured; any policies and strategies which avoid this have worked. Those that do not have failed.
The medical experts are paid to think about only one of these two points; that is their proper job. Yet their recommendations affect both basic points. It is up to the elected leaders, rather than one-sided medical professionals, not to abdicate responsibility by hiding behind ‘the experts.’
Instead, leadership is about amalgamating the views of the doctors and the economists, and once all the expert inputs are given; make a decision. To do otherwise, and only listen to the doctors, is to close society for too long, and doom us to economic penury the likes of which none of us has ever known.
A last point. Let’s remember many of the medical experts have been badly wrong. Despite their undoubted expertise, it is folly to expect them to be right all the time, as they are human. Leaders must always take expert advice with a grain of salt.
For example, the well-regarded American expert Dr. Fauci told us earlier this year not to worry about the coronavirus. Some of the modelling of the British medical experts has been way off. This is normal. But to make such experts into Olympian Gods is the fault of the political establishment, not the doctors. What is required is some balance and some backbone by our leaders.
Dr. John C. Hulsman is senior columnist at CityA.M., a life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and president of John C. Hulsman Enterprises. He can be reached for corporate speaking and private briefings at https://www.chartwellspeakers.com.