Moralistic political thinking

I have a post up at Science-Based Medicine about the pitfalls and dangers of moralistic political thinking. The focus is on COVID, but the lessons are much more broadly relevant. Here’s the lede:

The American policy response to COVID left a great deal to be desired. Figuring out what went wrong and how to do better next time should be at the top of our list going forward. But getting reform right will be difficult if we succumb to the temptation to substitute the false clarity of moral outrage for the murkiness and ambiguity of careful policy analysis.

Vinay Prasad has an essay up on his substack and at the Brownstone Institute that illustrates the challenges here. I do not think all of his criticisms of COVID policy are wrong. But I do think he is led astray by moralistic wishful thinking about politics and policy. He swings back and forth between assuming everyone will agree with him about what should be done, and assuming that legalistic restrictions can magically prevent people from doing things that he thinks are wrong. His moral certainty prevents him from thinking about how to make progress in an imperfect world and how to deal constructively with people who disagree with him. More ominously, his disappointment that the world does not live up to his standards leads him to use rhetoric that encourages polarization and dissatisfaction with democratic political institutions. Prasad’s essay is worth examining closely for what it can teach us about COVID policy, and because it illuminates the dangers posed by moralistic political thinking more generally.

Take a look!