Monday, 20 April 2020

But how does a government official decide what's essential?

When a government official can determine how essential someone’s livelihood is, then everyone is vulnerable. A government's job is to protect rights: it does have a role in a pandemic. And this is a serious virus. The problem here is due process -- specifically, the lack thereof.

It's said that only essential businesses and organisations may be allowed by officials to re-open under Level 3. But how does a government official decide what's essential

Given that a supply chain these days can take in the entire globe, how is the official to know whose making "essential" parts and who's not? How, even, are manufacturer's to know, if the screws they're making are just the ones that are needed to hold together this machine that when running properly makes that machine, and that machine is the one that makes ventilators, say? 

And basing the decision on what's "essential" has nothing to do with safety. Last week's announcements, for instance, suggested that staff at early childhood centres should go back to work (which are all but impossible to keep safe), whereas golf club greenkeepers, for example, should not -- which is all but impossible not to do safely. (And those greens aren't going to mow themselves!) Staff at takeaway bars may be able to go back to work, but staff at bottle stores may not. Staff at supermarkets should continue to work, but staff at local butchers and green-grocers should not even think about it.

There's a lack of objectivity here, which is a problem. If it's the government's job to protect rights, which it is, then the principle of due process demands that rules that were written to protect you-from-me and me-from-you are widely understood, have strong public support, and are objectively applied. Rules and standards written clearly and precisely so that anyone -- anyone at all -- can objectively determine for themselves whether their activity, or one they contemplate, can be done safely or not by those standards.

But it's not even clear that the officials drawing up these lists are applying any such rules or standards. Or else, how do early childhood centres make the cut? (Yes, yes, we know they're only discussing these being re-opened because "essential" workers need somewhere to park their children while doing essential work. But that just gets us back to that first point: that the proper standard should not be "essential." It should be safety.)

Back in Shakespeare's time, the theatres were regularly closed due to plague. Plague would sweep through London, the Master of Revels would announce theatres in the city were closed, and the three or four theatre companies would repair to the countryside (if they were lucky), or simply hunker down and wait for plague to pass. This was "back in plague times" -- a sentence we used to use about the past, not the present -- and this would be a semi-regular thing. But those decisions to close were as often as not based on whim as much as they were on hard a sense -- and the more puritan Masters were more eager to close down the revels than others, and were often eager to grab the opportunity. (Perhaps the same thing applies here with those bans on green-keeping, and surfing, and hunting ... )

We need to have whim removed from any decision like this that affects people's lives and livelihoods -- or else everyone's lives and livelihoods "is vulnerable to the whims of politicians and their lack of economic understanding." We need to see consistently applied the sound standard of safety rather than the bogus and unworkable standard of "essentiality." And we need to see objective rules by which all of us can decide how to make our businesses and workplaces and activities actually and objectively safe, and therefore whether or not they can and should safely re-open.

We need due process.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Follow the money: large corporates make political donations in return for favours. Beneficiaries, existing and newly created, vote Labour. Small business owners almost never vote Labour, therefore they are screwed.