Covid and the political economy of mass hysteria

This is the best single article on the Chinese flu I have seen from anywhere and from anyone, and here it is by Adam Creighton in The Australian: Coronavirus lockdown lunacy is frying our minds. I hope my saying so doesn’t put the moz on him,* but let me take you to the text.

The west, and Australia and New Zealand in particular, are suffering mass psychogenic illness, where only sociology, psychology and the perverse incentives of large welfare states, can explain the ongoing obsession with COVID-19 and our medieval responses to it after almost a year of improved treatments and new information.

Great start, but it gets even better.

For three German and Spanish economists, it’s time to ask this question: have we forgotten the rationality that’s meant to define policymaking in advanced liberal democracies? Their new research paper, COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria, lays out how our biological tendency to overreact coupled with a social and mass media that profit from panic, plus powerful welfare states, make mass psychosis likely, and hard to reverse.

It does seem that we are locked in with the lockdown mentality and the probability of reversal in the short-term seems very unlikely. We are in the grip of mass lunacy. To continue:

Some seriously weird behaviours have emerged…. Australia and New Zealand have incurred costs equivalent to a world war — and more than any other nation has — fighting a pandemic that has killed not even 1000 people, with a median age in the mid-80s, between them. And this is widely seen as brilliant.

What he means, of course, is that in reality we are collectively speaking utter fools.

Having insisted early last year that lockdowns were necessary to “flatten the curve”, rolling capital city “snap” lockdowns of millions of people have become the norm, at extraordinary economic, psychological and social cost, without a single person in ICU across either country.

Yet the hysteria goes on, and on.

The venerable Economist magazine even wrote last week that 150 million people would die (three times the number killed by the Spanish flu) from COVID-19 without strong government action, a claim breathtaking in its absurdity. Globally, 2.4 million people have died from or with COVID-19, yet every year other communicable diseases kill more. A death is a death, whatever its cause, yet the world is not shut down. It’s time our leaders started pouring cold water over an electorate that’s worked itself into a lather. Our leaders should level with voters that we can’t remain an open liberal society without incurring further deaths and cases from COVID-19. Let vulnerable groups be vaccinated, and let everyone else get on with their life. The three authors, at universities in Spain and Chile, argue that hysteria dissipates more quickly in nations that respect civil liberties, where the minority who wish to behave rationally “can just ignore the collective panic and continue to live their normal lives”, illustrating to the hysterical majority that they too can safely return to normal.

And if you are interested in the paper Adam cites, you can find it here: COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria. This is the abstract. “Nocebo” means “detrimental effect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis”.

In this article, we aim to develop a political economy of mass hysteria. Using the background of COVID-19, we study past mass hysteria. Negative information which is spread through mass media repetitively can affect public health negatively in the form of nocebo effects and mass hysteria. We argue that mass and digital media in connection with the state may have had adverse consequences during the COVID-19 crisis. The resulting collective hysteria may have contributed to policy errors by governments not in line with health recommendations. While mass hysteria can occur in societies with a minimal state, we show that there exist certain self-corrective mechanisms and limits to the harm inflicted, such as sacrosanct private property rights. However, mass hysteria can be exacerbated and self-reinforcing when the negative information comes from an authoritative source, when the media are politicized, and social networks make the negative information omnipresent. We conclude that the negative long-term effects of mass hysteria are exacerbated by the size of the state.

There will come a time when our generation will be seen as the biggest bunch of fools in the history of the world, even more inane than the folks who used to burn witches at the stake.

* For our non-Australian readers, “to put the moz on someone” is to jinx them. But here is the origin of which I had no idea. According to Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms:

moz: put the moz on

To exert a malign influence upon (a person), to jinx. Moz is an abbreviated form of mozzle, which is derived from the Hebrew word mazzal meaning ‘luck’. It probably came into Australian English via German Yiddish speakers. Put the moz on is recorded from the 1920s.

1 thought on “Covid and the political economy of mass hysteria

  1. Pingback: Covid and the political economy of mass hysteria - The Rabbit Hole

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