Selective outrage

Back in 2019, there was outrage among the public that Boeing had built an dangerous airplane that in 500,000 flights had killed precisely . . . (checks notes) . . . precisely zero Americans.  (Two international crashes.)

Matt Yglesias has some interesting comments on the lack of outrage over the botched vaccine rollout:

What’s striking to me, however, is that not only hasn’t the AstraZeneca vaccine been approved for use even on a special “right to try” basis, but that there is absolutely no movement in favor of such approval. And that’s not because Americans lack the know-how or will to protest things. Just during the past twelve months, we’ve seen big stop-the-steal rallies, huge anti-racism protests, and several rounds of protests against non-pharmaceutical interventions. The takeaway from the anti-lockdown protests was that Americans are too individualistic to abide by prolonged business closures. The takeaway from all three rounds of protests is that Americans of diverse ideological backgrounds have profound mistrust of America’s governing institutions. This is a country so taken with the spirit of liberty that we can’t get people to endure the relatively minor inconvenience of wearing a mask while out and about.

The minority of libertarians who aren’t deeply invested in being Covid denialists would like you to believe that the fussbudget FDA is standing between you and the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it’s clear that the American people are absolutely not prepared to let public health experts tell them what they can and can’t do. If people were clamoring for faster approvals, we’d get them. But there’s no Covid Era version of ActUp demanding access. If public health bureaucracies ask people to change, a large share of the population declines to do it. If they try to force people to change, you get significant resistance. But if they block change, then the public is fine with that.

Even if you are not convinced on the AstraZeneca issue, there are many other areas where outrage is the appropriate response.  Why didn’t the federal government go all out subsidizing the manufacturing of vaccines in case they work?  Alternatively, why not encourage production using free market price signals.  We did neither.

Why wasn’t there a plan for distributing the vaccines?  Israel had a plan; why didn’t we develop one over the past 10 months?  Alternatively, why not use market incentives to speed up delivery of the vaccines?  We did neither.

Again and again, we see failures that cannot be justified from either a libertarian or a statist perspective.  And yet there are no street protests.  Why not?

You might say the issue is complex, hard to understand.  But Boeing jets are complex machines, hard to understand.  Statistics are hard to understand—do two crashes out of 500,000 flights represent a good or bad safety record?

I suspect the actual explanation lies elsewhere.  The experts told the public to be outraged over the Boeing 737 Max.  The experts did not tell the public to be outraged over the vaccine fiasco.  Instead we were told that “Operation Warp Speed” was a huge success.  In one respect it was—the vaccine was developed rapidly.  But experts also needed to point out that once the vaccine was invented back in January, we’ve stumbled from one fiasco after another.  The experts did not do so (with a few exceptions in the blogosphere) and hence most Americas don’t even know that it’s been a huge mess.  At least this is what I find when I speak with average people.

I’m outraged that experts are not whipping up outrage among the general public.