In the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic I blogged about how the crisis was proving to be a “tempering test of the market state.” What I mean by “market state” is this concept by legal scholar Philip Bobbitt of a newly evolving constitutional order. It’s an order where government has less power and instead markets provide the decision-making and regulation. It’s also been called the “informational market-state” or the “neoliberal market-state.” More and more I’ve become convinced that while Bobbitt is correct in his broader theory of periodic changes in the constitutional order, with the “market state” he has really just identified the priorities of the market-driven social era of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. In the new era, I would expect faith in markets to collapse and a return to government regulation to be in demand.
But let’s grant that the market state premise is correct. We are now in an individualistic, market-regulated constitutional order. In the earlier blog post, I framed the Covid-19 tempering test in these terms:
The Covid dilemma as it relates to this constitutional order is this: if the market state is supposed to protect the citizen while maximizing opportunities, what does it do when these goals are mutually exclusive? Simply put, an endemic disease that is highly infectious and lethal entails restricting economic activity in order to save lives, but that necessarily reduces economic opportunity
It would seem, based on the experience of the past year, that the market state’s resolution to the dilemma is simply to accept the loss of life. A premium in human lives must be paid in order to maintain the open society so vital to sustaining economic opportunity and generating financial wealth. The latest guidance from the CDC puts the onus on individuals to mitigate against the coronavirus as they see fit, certainly in keeping with the logic of the market state.
Some individuals have more leeway to make these choices than others, a fact not lost to many on social media.
I’ve seen a ton of posts like the one above, about how the CDC, and our society as a whole, have abandoned the vulnerable. It’s a brutal truth about our current state, where the government has essentially given up on the pandemic. It was just too big a creative leap to get out of our “normal” mode of an open society. And since we couldn’t get to herd immunity, we’re settling for herd culling.
How sustainable this will be, I do not know. Covid-19 is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, well ahead of vehicular accidents. And it’s even worse for certain age groups, and presumably also for the immunocompromised. It’s just a cold fact that if we keep going the way we’re going, then one fallout of this crisis era will be significant population loss. It wouldn’t be unprecedented in the grand scheme of things.