… in four bullet points.
• Institutional failure.
Chinese officials suppressed early information about the virus. The WHO and the US CDC consistently spread misinformation and shoddy science throughout the course of the pandemic, and showed a shocking inability to understand and communicate basic distinctions like ‘we don’t know whether X’ versus ‘we know that not-X’.
World governments banned challenge trials for a full year based on imagined fears that they might prove unpopular, only to learn that they were very popular with the public once we bothered to check.
The US FDA banned COVID-19 testing and research during the critical early days of the pandemic in the US, and caused tens of thousands of deaths by refusing to approve well-tested vaccines in wide usage in the rest of the world. The developed world (and especially the European Union) massively under-invested in vaccines, spending thousands of dollars in human life and welfare to save pennies.
Most remarkably, many of these errors recur across many different countries, suggesting deep dysfunction in the way global elites generate, evaluate, and propagate ideas.
• Paranoid passivity.
A common theme in many of the above dysfunctions is a willingness to kill hundreds of thousands of people through inaction, before decisionmakers are willing to risk taking any unpopular action.
The Copenhagen Interpretation of Ethics points to one possible explanation, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that leaders are to a large extent giving the public what they want in all of this — it’s just that the public has pathologically low standards and a bizarre level of change aversion.
… But all of that may turn out to be a footnote in light of recent events in India. History may instead remember COVID-19 as a pandemic whose death toll largely occurred after vaccines were widely available, and one that mostly afflicted the poorest parts of the world.
The story of the pandemic may be: ‘The developed world made the strategic decision to prioritize themselves over the developing world. An effective genocide ensued. Crematoria spit their smoke into the sky while tens of millions of unused vaccines sat where they had been for months, gathering dust in storage in the US, useless even to Americans because their FDA refuses to approve the vaccines for domestic use too. They just sat there.’
• Biotech revolution.
… Or even that may turn out to be a footnote. History may remember COVID-19 like this:
‘By spurring the world to experiment with new vaccine tech, the COVID-19 pandemic ended up saving vastly more lives than it cost.’
This is even more uncertain, but if true, it raises major questions about why we couldn’t act sooner. Illnesses that kill millions of people don’t become less deadly just because we’re used to them. Yet somehow, it took a pandemic for human civilization to start taking human death and disease seriously to this degree.