Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Have Faith

One of the interesting things about the actions that state governments are currently undertaking is the degree to which they rely on people having faith in them. For instance when Governor Inslee says "that health modeling will play a role in guiding decisions about lifting Washington's current emergency restrictions," there's no detail on what that actually means. What the models need to show, and for how long, et cetera is effectively a mystery.

So what remains to be seen is how well governments can maintain, live up to and potentially repay faith that is placed in them. The partisan aspect to this is already in play. While it would be a stretch (or simply inaccurate) to say that everyone who shows a certain level of suspicion in Governor Inslee is a Republican, or that all Republicans distrust him, the partisan divide is making itself know. And so is a general distrust of government. Conspiracy theories were rife from the start, but now there are more voices claiming that the "emergency restrictions" are simply a power grab, and concerns that today's emergency measures are tomorrow's status quo have been borne out time and again.

Former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna believes that governors have clear discretion to suspend the Constitutional rights of the public in cases "where the need is significant enough; when there's is a dire threat to the public." What tends to be lacking is any objective measures of significance of need or direness of threat; and for many people, this lack of objectivity is effectively a giant loophole. How does a government convince people that it will only use broad discretion in ways that a person finds appropriate?

In the end, it's unlikely that there will ever be enough generally-available information to adequately assess whether the response was justified by the situation. In the absence of controlled experimentation or broad differences in otherwise similar situations, this is usually the case. Therefore, this is going to remain a matter of faith, and thus if argument, as faith rarely provide the facts that a neutral starting place for a debate needs.

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