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Should Elderly Die For Social Justice?

The CDC, the Covid vaccine, and why Yascha Mounk no longer trusts American institutions
Coronavirus - Start of vaccination Baden-Württemberg

Because this essay by the Johns Hopkins political scientist Yascha Mounk appeared only two days before Christmas, you might have missed it. You really should read it. In it, Mounk, who is a liberal, confessed that he is “losing trust in the institutions,” and explained why. Here’s the core:

[T]here are also some bedrock principles on which virtually all moral philosophers have long agreed.

The first is that we should avoid “leveling down” everyone’s quality of life for the purpose of achieving equality. It is unjust when some people have plenty of food while others are starving. But alleviating that inequality by making sure that an even greater number of people starve is clearly wrong. The second is that we should not use ascriptive characteristics like race or ethnicity to allocate medical resources. To save one patient rather than another based on the color of their skin rightly strikes most philosophers—and most Americans—as barbaric. The Centers for Disease Control have just thrown both of these principles overboard in the name of social justice.

In one of the most shocking moral misjudgments by a public body I have ever seen, the CDC invoked considerations of “social justice” to recommend providing vaccinations to essential workers before older Americans even though this would, according to its own models, lead to a much greater death toll. After a massive public outcry, the agency has adopted revised recommendations. But though these are a clear improvement, they still violate the two bedrock principles of allocative justice—and are likely to cause unnecessary suffering on a significant scale.

Since states will now have to decide whether to follow the CDC’s recommendations, the fight for a just distribution of the vaccine is not yet over. At the same time, the past days have already taught us two lessons that sum up some of the most worrying developments of the past years: The attack on philosophically liberal principles has by now migrated from leafy college campuses to the most important and powerful organizations in the country. And, in part as a result, it is getting harder and harder to trust institutions from the CDC to the New York Times.

Mounk recounted the process within the CDC that led to its advisory opinion on vaccine prioritization. Kathleen Dooling gave the presentation:

As the presentation acknowledged, the likelihood of dying from Covid strongly depends on age. According to the CDC’s model, prioritizing essential workers over the elderly would therefore increase the overall number of deaths by between 0.5% and 6.5%. In other words, it would likely result in the preventable deaths of thousands of Americans.

And yet, the presentation concluded that science does not provide a reason to prioritize the elderly. For, as Kathleen Dooling wrote in one of the most jaw-dropping sentences I have ever seen in a document written by a public official, differences in expected consequences that could amount to thousands of additional deaths are “minimal.”

Minimal. Your grandmother. Your mom. You. All for the sake of “social justice.” More:

It is, all of us acknowledge, very important to ensure that members of ethnic minorities are not excluded from access to the vaccine on the basis of their race. But to prioritize a 23-year-old Latino Uber driver who is very likely to weather infection with Covid over an 80-year-old white retiree who is likely to die from it because the former is part of a group that includes marginally more brown people and the latter is part of a group that includes marginally more white people is to inscribe racial discrimination at the heart of American public policy in an astonishing manner.

It gets even more shocking. The difference in the percentage of white people across age groups is comparatively small. The difference in the percentage of infected people who succumb to Covid across all age groups is massive. Giving the vaccine to African-American essential workers before elderly African-Americans would likely raise the overall death toll of African-Americans even if a somewhat greater number of African-Americans were to receive the vaccine as a result.

In other words, the CDC was effectively about to recommend that a greater number of African-Americans die so that the share of African-Americans who receive the vaccine is slightly higher. In blatant violation of the “leveling down objection,” prioritizing essential workers in the name of equality would likely kill more people in all relevant demographic groups.

Read it all. I cannot urge you strongly enough to do so. Mounk concludes by saying that this should put away, once and for all, any claims that the social justice craziness is merely a fringe phenomenon. It very nearly resulted in the most important public health agency in the United States making a judgment that would have resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths, all because of progressive racism. Mounk says that he’s losing faith in the mainstream institutions of American life precisely because they are being overwhelmed by this same crackpot ideology. He writes, “I no longer trust any institution in American life to such an extent that I am willing to rely on its account of the world without looking into important matters on my own.”

He’s right. Pay special attention to the willingness of the woke to lie to cover up what they’re doing. Mounk points out that not even The New York Times reported on what the CDC came very close to doing. Of course not! If more people knew what these power-holders really thought, and were really doing, they would be outraged. Your white granny (and maybe even your black granny) needs to die for the cause of social justice. That was almost the official policy of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since the Tuskegee experiments were made public, black Americans have tended to distrust public health experts. Maybe whites are now learning that black folks were onto something.

In an infinitely less important, but still telling case, when the Wall Street Journal reported the other day that a teacher named Heather Levine bragged about getting “The Odyssey” cancelled in her school, because it’s white supremacist, Levine was indignant on social media:

Unfortunately for Levine, the Internet remembers what she said earlier this year:

I’ve had a couple of posts in this space recently (see here and here) about a quiet move afoot at my alma mater, Louisiana State University, to mandate a class in “antiracism” for all undergraduates, as a condition of earning their degree. The proposed class is described like this in a bill before the Faculty Senate:

The LSU administration supports this move, it was reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate. Note that the purpose of the class is to teach students how to “identify and combat anti-Blackness,” which is not defined in the bill, but certainly has a politically charged meaning. It is also a class to teach students how to identify and combat “the many forms of intersecting oppression” in American life. This sounds like a class in cultural Marxism, trying to fly below radar cloaked as a mere course on “the Black experience.” The authorities that the people of Louisiana trust to educate their children at LSU are planning to inflict this on them, unless they are stopped by the public and lawmakers. How many people in Louisiana — taxpayers who support the university, and tuition-payers — follow curriculum requirements at LSU? I’m pretty well-informed, but I knew nothing about it until a campus source tipped me off. It’s like Yascha Mounk (a liberal!) says: social justice ideology has so captured the institutions that we cannot rely on the judgments of those who run them.