The case for covid agnosticism
By Walter E. Block - October 13, 2021

Are you a theist? Then you know that God exists. Are you an atheist? You are sure that God is not part of the real world. Are you an agnostic? Then, you are not sure about His existence.

Before we make the case for covid agnosticism, let us consider the other two alternatives.

First, let us take a peek at the covid theists, or the hawks. They know with absolute certainty that covid is very dangerous and highly contagious. They are equally sure that the approved vaccines prevent this dread disease from spreading with something of the order of 95% and that herd immunity is the long-term solution.

In the short run all we have are masks, six-foot social distancing and some sort of passport system, without which you will be precluded from a whole host of services such as restaurants, bars, entertainment, etc., and maybe even groceries. In this view the anti-vaxxers are a scourge, and the sooner they are stopped in their tracks, the better. In the meantime, let the government encourage vaccinations, with both carrots and sticks.

Second, there are the covid atheists, or the doves. They are equally certain that vaccine mandates are a violation of freedom. Nowhere in the Constitution is there any warrant for government to throw its weight around in any such manner. Nor is it at all clear that covid is much more dangerous that the common garden variety flu, nor more contagious, and that includes the Delta variant. Then there is the purposeful overcounting of covid deaths, which include those who die of motor vehicle fatalities who also had this disease.

Nor should we ignore the rank hypocrisy of the covid theists. Most famous is Congressman Nancy Pelosi traipsing around a beauty parlor sans mask, after demanding that us little people do what she says, not what she does. In the recent Canadian election, anti-vaxxers threw stones at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, since he is a hawk (doesn’t sound too dovish, does it?) More serious is the bullying of doctors and epidemiologists who disagree with the party line on this matter, and are accused of spreading “misinformation.”

My off the cuff guesstimate is that 99% of the world’s populace fall into one or the other of these two categories.

What then is the case for covid agnosticism; those who are unsure, and don’t adopt either position? It is predicated upon the economic concept of specialization and the division of labor. What is this? This is the idea that if we want to have a prosperous economy, we should not all become generalists, or jacks of all trade. Rather, we should specialize in a narrow rand of skills.

Only doctors and epidemiologists who specialize in infectious diseases have any chance whatsoever of knowing anything about this issue. All others who take strong positions on this matter, on either side, are, in the words of the John Stuart Mill of “On Liberty”: “…either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination.” Namely, strongly holding either positions, for “the generality of the world” is irrational.

Right now, there is a conflict brewing over whether Pluto is a planet or an asteroid or some other denizen of space. The proper attitude for those of us who are not astronomers is one of dignified silence, or, astronomical agnosticism. It ill behooves any of the rest of us to weigh in on this debate, let alone strongly. Ditto for covid.

But we have to have a policy on this matter, do we not? Yes, of course we must. My own inclination is to adopt covid agnosticism, but I lean in the direction of the doves. Why?

Suppose one side in the Pluto debate threatened the other side with job loss, cancellation of the equivalent of physicians’ licenses, etc. Then I would incline in the opposite direction. My thought would be that if they have to resort to such underhanded tactics, then, probably, truth is on the other side, even though I know nothing of substance about the matter.

Apart from the throwing a few pebbles, the pro vaxxers are guilty of this improper behavior.

Then, too, there is the issue of the burden of proof. Surely, it rests with those who are insisting that others change what was once normal behavior; namely, ignoring the new covid dispensations.

Have they come anywhere near meeting this burden of proof so far? It is difficult to assent to any such claim.

Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics, College of Business, Loyola University New Orleans, and senior fellow at the Mises Institute.

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