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The coronavirus crisis is a story of wasted resources

From public health priorities, to foreign aid, to academic bailouts, the amount of tax-funded cash wasted in the last few months amount to billions.
Sumantra Maitra Nottingham, UK

From public health priorities, to foreign aid, to academic bailouts, the amount of tax-funded cash wasted in the last few months amounts to billions, and should prompt a rethink and reckoning.

Every social upheaval changes society permanently, from the Athenian plague during the times of Thucydides to a windy New York autumn morning in 2001. The current crisis is no different, as Niall Ferguson writes more eloquently than I can ever do. But nowhere has that change been more visible, than on the question of how one should view expertise and governance.

This coronavirus has seen some startling changes in people who were otherwise thought very different. From Helen Andrews to Peter Hitchens, conservatives who are traditionally a big-state Gaullists, have turned to borderline libertarian. And given the amount of wasted resources from public health, to academic bailouts, to tax-funded wars and foreign aids, it is justified.

Consider a recent report on Public Health finance in the UK. Liberals across the US have consistently portrayed the British (and European) healthcare model as one which needs to be emulated. In the UK, the National Health Service is regarded as a religion, no criticism is allowed. The reality however is different. "In 2018/19, £220 million of the public health budget was spent on anti-obesity schemes—more than twice the budget for infectious diseases. More was spent on 'tobacco control' than on infectious diseases. One of Public Health England's big-ticket projects has been its quixotic, multi-million pound attempt to take sugar, fat and calories out of food."

The coronavirus has shown the depths to which the bureaucracy is responsible for all the problems we are facing. Around £400,000 were given to academics to study football fans drinking, and around £795,463 to train Imams in Bangladesh about second-hand smoke in mosques. Most of the public health budgets went to local councils, manned by career bureaucrats lobbying for higher alcohol taxes, and fizzy drinks. Everyone remembers London mayoralty's bizarre crusade against "beach body ready" commercials. Money is likewise usually spent on idiotic hairbrained schemes, thought out by social-justice warrior "experts".

Anyone asking for more tax-and-spend model on healthcare, from now on should remember that all those tax-dollars would be spent on such schemes. You'd see more "solidarity" or anti-obesity campaigns or such nonsense instead of grants to sew masks for seamstresses.

The lack of accountability isn't any better in the US. To give just one example, field hospitals were constructed all over the country, which cost over $660 million. Many of these had to stand down "without treating a single patient."

In the education reform sector, it is even worse. Ever since the crisis started, I tried to keep a track on how much cash is being wasted on the higher-ed sector, and have written about how to stop that. Unfortunately without any federal oversight the cash spigot was opened. And only 8 out of the top 100 wealthy universities have refused any cash bailout. The total amount of endowment of these top hundred wealthy colleges receiving the tax-funded relief is over $600 million, more than the GDP of the majority of African and Asian countries.

In foreign aid and funding, the US and the UK tops the donors in the entire planet. The 2020 budget of total US foreign aid (after cuts) was around $40 billion. Around 40 percent of that budget goes to just ten countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Aside from the US, the UK is the largest funder of the WHO, with Washington spending $436.8 million followed by London standing at $318.7 million. Meanwhile, around 400,000 Turkish gowns ordered for the NHS in UK was found out to be "useless" and below the safety standards, while the FDA had to ban the Chinese masks being sold by over 65 Chinese designated manufacturers as they were sub-par.

Ever since the crisis started, there were paeans written about "expertise" and tweets about how one should revere "SCIENCE!!!" in capital letters, as if science is some sort of religion to be revered. While talks of holding the government accountable is often heard, no one actually holds the people accountable, those same people who are actually responsible for glibly perpetuating the same craven arguments. The only lesson from this crisis is not simply one about diversifying supply-chains from a Chinese monopoly, but also about not letting government agencies monopolize on spending, given that they have been responsible for such criminal mismanagement in the last few months.

A "faith" in "expertise" is about as destructive as any other faith in anything which requires evidence, and evidence suggests that the story of this crisis is a story of wastage of public funds, by those who consistently appealed to such authorities. History, economics, are also important not just a blind obedience to science and expertise. Context is needed, not just raw data dump. Politics is about tough choices, and prioritization. Most people blathering about "science" on twitter are practically dumb about those. The smug sense of superiority about "believing in science and expertise" has led to an enormously flawed deferential treatment of one, and only one narrow ideological section of experts, while ignoring everyone else.

Experts have been replaced by bureaucrats and career social-justice academics. While for those whose social-conservative credentials are as robust as the next man, these fiascoes should be enough to turn anyone sympathetic about more libertarian warnings against mega-government agencies leading such efforts. A certain section of conservatives lately seemed enamored with more government intervention. They are yet to provide answers on what they propose to do, to avoid such massive waste.

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Sumantra Maitra
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