Saturday, 27 February 2021: On Friday, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said that the travel ban between states and districts may go on until at least 70% of the population have been vaccinated for Covid-19. He added that the government may consider reopening borders once 70% of the population have been vaccinated. 

The Center for Market Education express the highest concerns for a way of policy making which is left in the hands of the so-called “experts”, while politics gave up its role of mediating between different interests and taking into account the complexity of the scenario. 

In observing that the Health DG looks only at one side of the coin (the attempt of containing the outbreak, with measures that are often far from being proven effective), Dr Carmelo Ferlito, CEO of the Center for Market Education, explained that “experts fail too and the monopoly of a group of experts over policy decisions can produce dangerous results, like we have indeed experienced with the pandemic management. Beginning in late January 2020, scientific expert committees in numerous democratic countries throughout the world essentially took over government without ever having fired a shot; and they did this in the name of data. This has had the effect of transforming countries that once deeply respected individual responsibility, liberty, and fundamental human rights into something closely resembling public health police states”.

What we urgently need to do, in order to extricate ourselves from the tyranny of expert failure (masked by trust in data or in science), is quite straightforward and easily to implement. We need to simulate a market for expert advice. Competing panels of experts, with a potentially different constitution of expertise in each panel (medical, economic, legal, social…), would put real decision-making power back in the hands of elected leadership and afford them a wider range of policy options without ever being accused of ignoring the “science”. They would still be following scientific advice. This approach would also allow for more accountability and transparency were the public allowed to review the various recommendations from the competing expert panels.

The risk of taking into account only one side of the story is to create disproportionately high damages from different perspective. “In example – added Dr Ferlito – what will happen to all the workers involved in aviation and hospitality if the industry is kept closed for six or nine months more? How many more jobs need to be sacrificed on the altar of Covid-19 prevention? Is the Health DG ready to take responsibility for this?”.

Under this perspective, the King’s decision to allow Parliament to sit again is crucial to restore the primacy of politics in policy making, against the tyranny of one-sided “expert” advices. 

Policy making is an art, not a science, and it is the crucial attempt to strike a balance with contending tensions at the light of a complicated trade-off analysis which implies to look closely at the unintended consequences of each regulation.

This is why it should be led by politicians, which are accountable in front of the public, and who have the delicate task of bringing complexity into their art. 

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About CME: The Center for Market Education (CME) is a boutique think-tank based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As an academic and educational institution, CME aims to promote a more pluralistic and multidisciplinary approach to economics and to spread the knowledge of a sounder economics, grounded in the understanding of market forces. In order to do so, CME is not only involved in academic initiatives, but it organizes seminars, webinars and tailor-made economics classes for students, journalists, businesspeople and professionals who wish to better understand the relevance of economics for their daily lives and activities. Economics matters and needs to be presented in a fashion in which the link with reality is clearly visible. In this sense, we look not only at theoretical economics but also at policy making, with an emphasis on the unintended consequences generated by political actions.