Opinion

The Biggest Covid Mistake Was Avoidable

Mervyn King

By Mervyn King

By Mervyn King

No sensible person should envy politicians having to decide how best to combat Covid-19. Confronted with a new virus, errors and missteps were inevitable. But their biggest mistake was unnecessary — they pretended to know more than they did.

From the start, under relentless pressure from the media, governments expressed unwarranted certainty about the merits of their policies. Then, when circumstances suggested a change of course, they explained the new direction with equal certainty. After a few such reversals, trust declines. And trust in political leadership is crucial — especially now, with people beginning to be asked to get vaccinated.

Many governments cast their false certainties as a matter of deferring to experts or trusting “the science.” (Sadly, many scientists were only too happy to be co-opted in this way.) Six days before the election, President-elect Joe Biden said: “I believe in science. Donald Trump doesn’t. It’s that simple, folks.” No, it isn’t. The science of the new coronavirus and the conditions it causes is anything but settled. And the question of how best to contain infections wouldn’t be exclusively scientific even if everything about the virus was understood. This question is, in fact, unavoidably political. Pretending otherwise doesn’t work. It erodes trust and, as a result, only makes the policy challenge even harder.

Read the full Bloomberg article.

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Lord Mervyn King is the Alan Greenspan Professor of Economics and a professor of Economics and Law, a joint appointment with New York University School of Law.