The EU disaster over Covid vaccines comes down to a common error of authorities generally: neglecting the profound difference between an emergency and routine conditions. By arguing over matters like cost of compensation if vaccines proved unsafe, EU regulators were drawn into treating the Covid crisis like routine vaccine development instead of a public emergency where speed was of the essence.

At the same time, anti-lockdown campaigners in Britain who claim the government restrictions deny basic freedoms are in danger of making the same blunder in reverse. (This is a case where the converse does hold). Were the British government to draw the conclusion from the EU failure that we can ignore European sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) checks on animals, plants, and food for sake of fast innovation, they might risk allowing some dangers as a matter of routine. Gene editing has potential to save poor people from hunger, but when the benefits come down to taste or appearance of food, for instance, they are hardly worth routine danger.

Curiously, the experience of Covid - like that of war in earlier generations - shows that the common people understand the distinction between emergency and routine situations quite well. It is certain members of the elites, including those who imagine that people have shown themselves happy to be ordered about, who do not.

Blog home Next Previous