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John Livingston

The Political Economy of Mass Hysteria

Never underestimate the power of peer pressure or the power of the mind. Mass hysteria or technically Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI) is defined as the spread of symptoms either psychological or physiological that have no bases or environmental or pathologic causes. When I was the Medical Officer on the USS Virginia our Nuclear reactors were fired up 24 hours before the ship got underway. Sailors and Officers working in the engineering spaces would come to me retching and vomiting with all the symptoms of acute motion sickness—sea sickness, and our ship was still tied to the pier and was hours away from getting “underway”—(MPI). The three common characteristics of individuals or groups that suffer from (MPI) are isolation, hyper-anxiety, and the symptoms are without an anatomic or physiologic cause. It’s all in the minds.

We are all familiar with “placebo” effects where there is an expectation to get better, but there is also a “nocebo” effect where there is an expectation to become ill. Mass hysteria may develop when people believe they will become ill—just like the sailors in the engineering spaces. In the Wake of World War I, panic contributed to mass hysteria during the Spanish Flue Pandemic and many deaths occurred in people who had not contracted the virus demonstrating that panic and fear—no matter how rational or irrational can have a negative impact on individuals and populations. Just like a real virus, fear and anxiety can spread through a population with deleterious effects.

Philip Bagus a Fellow of the Mises Institute reporting on studies on risk perception has found that “that mental rules that some people apply in an uncertain world create important and persistent biases. Biased media coverage, incomplete and asymmetric information, personal experiences, fear and inability to understand statistics, and other cognitive biases lead to distorted risk judgements” Peter Bernstein in his classic book published thirty years ago—AGAINST THE GODS (The history of Risk) devotes several pages to the impact that ingrained biases have on our ability to perceive real risk.

 I have written of my esteem and support of Dr. Hahn as she advised our Governor and those at the Department of Health and Welfare during the pandemic. But starting with our Governor’s Advisory Board made up of special interest agents of industry and lobbyists, without even the thought of having an ER or ICU nurse on the Board and moving onto hospital administrators and medical directors of hospitals, and professional organizations like the IMA/IHA and even IACI, the people of Idaho have not been well served. Along with an uncurious media, the information and professional assessment of risk has been skewed not toward patient care, but toward securing a narrative to support a political agenda and ill prepared provider health care systems that benefited from a Covid revenue stream.

Starting with the impact that Obama Care initiatives had on the health care industry that have resulted in Command and control strategies for distributing scarce resources and personnel; (labor—doctors, nurses and techs) and the negative implications that they have had on the doctor patient relationship, and carried through to public health strategies that put “the commons” ahead of the individual patient, our health care system was made more vulnerable to “Black Swan” events. The social contract between hospitals and health care providers and citizens who are their patients emphasized the duty to care for sick patients and was incorporated into professional codes of conduct have all but been abandoned .. Even before the political pandemic staffing and procurement policies were being implemented with an emphasis on “wellness programs” Hospital beds in our country have gone down 15% since 2000, while health care spending has gone up 7% per year during the same time. The percentage of health care paid for or subsidized by government transfer payments has increased from 35% to 55%. As more people become eligible for “free” medical care the cost of care to society has exploded. Most importantly the “soul of medicine” has been sucked dry by corporate executives who are focused on profits and their own bloated salaries—the last CEO at Luke’s made $8.2million and $10million his last two years at the helm. Probably more than many of his predecessors made in their lifetimes.”Primmum non nacre” (first do no harm) has been replaced with “no margin no mission”. Incompetence, lack of experience, or corruption have paralyzed a health care system that at every opportunity tried to leverage a pandemic for profit and at the same time acted as though they were being victimized by circumstances beyond their control. The more the narrative of “new variants” and inadequate herd immunities was promulgated by a lethargic and lazy media, the more government bureaucrats-initiated mandates for masks, and isolating well people. In our State a TEMPORARY ORDER that was supposed to be approved by the legislature after 60 days (two concurrent 30 day asks) has continued for over two years. Crises Standards of Care (CSC) orders implemented emergency protocols that limited options for caring for patients to preset algorithms and tied the hands of doctors and nurses in ICUs and on medical wards. These same orders have provided limited liability to government bureaucrats and providers working under such orders. The diagnosis of Covid on a medical chart allowed for coding and billing for services many times greater than what could be charged for patients who had been admitted for other reasons. Hundreds of years of law and tradition were thrown by the wayside and living wills, and powers of attorney were cast aside. Many patients died without loved ones at the bedside. In my honest and I hope humble opinion the greatest loss to the medical profession was our humanity and compassion. Neither of these can be secularized or corporatized. Many in our profession have lost our souls and our patients’ sense and know this. We must regain our sense of purpose and what I once knew and was proud of our shared Christian virtue. It will be a long uphill battle.

During the past 3 years most of these heroes proceeded to do their jobs with integrity and courage and a sense of duty and “service before self”. Those middle managers and administrators who never spent time with a dying patient in an ICU or in an ER have tainted the reputations of the 99% they were entrusted to lead. And there will in the end be no accountability. They will be given the task of performing their own out briefs. And the Governor and his “team” will take a victory lap without ever being held accountable—just like what happened with Governor Cuomo in New York—limited liability is a great thing unless you were the one that was hurt.

It didn’t have to be this way. The Covid pandemic was challenging but just look to Florida or Texas to see how it could have been handled better. The Christian values of the sanctity of life could have been respected along with the Doctor patient relationship. Please look at the information below and ask yourself if the created utility of a political economy was the cause or the effect of our MASS HYSTERIA.

Age                      Survivor Rate

0-19 years                     99.997%

20-49 years                    99.98%

50-69 years                    99.5%

70+ years                     94.6%

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

On February 2nd, a report—met analyses was published from John Hopkins with the following conclusions:

Compared to a policy based solely on recommendations, we find little evidence that lockdowns had a noticeable impact on COVID-19 mortality … Indeed, according to stringency index studies, lockdowns in Europe and the United States reduced only COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average.”

The arithmetic number was around a 2% difference. Here is the most important point mentioned by the authors and one that the “experts” in our State completely forgot. “What was the impact of being mandated vs recommended voluntary compliance?” The actions of my family wouldn’t have changed one bit. The effect of voluntary change on an individual bases cannot be appreciated by a government edict, law, or executive order. The exact same argument can be applied to the logic of school shutdowns—look at the numbers.

In my family we chose to isolate those near my daughter in law who was treated for diffuse histiocytic lymphoma with chemotherapy and a splenectomy—the very definition of an immune compromised host. We are all vaccinated and boosted in our immediate family. Those who were antivaxxers have not been in close contact with my daughter in law. That is how we chose to handle our unique situation.

We are more able to make critical decisions for ourselves and our families than any government agency or politician. When we make bad decisions, we hold ourselves and each other accountable. When governments make bad decisions who holds them accountable? Isn’t that precisely the point?

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