"Equity" fails

Scarcity and vaccines...

Just a brief note here on Friday about David Leonhardt’s morning New York Times briefing. The headline today was in the form of a question: “Why aren’t progressive leaders doing a better job at mass vaccination?

International patterns are rarely perfect, and this one has plenty of exceptions (like Iowa and Idaho, two red-state laggards, or New Mexico, a blue state that’s above average). So far, though, it’s hard to find many progressive governments that are vaccination role models.

Why? A common problem seems to be a focus on process rather than on getting shots into arms. Some progressive leaders are effectively sacrificing efficiency for what they consider to be equity.

Before I even read it, I knew the answer was “equity.”

This is such a blazingly obvious answer to anyone who understands the economics of scarcity. Equity is a quality of outcomes - it fixes demand. Equality applies to the input - or supply side - of the equation. For a brief example: colleges. Equality of education demands that every student be given an equal opportunity to gain a good education, or attend a college based on the college’s academic acceptance criteria.

“Equity” of education means that the results of the educational system must produce a certain quality of outcomes based on the demographic, cultural, or other factors that the social engineers deem important to balance. Equity, by its nature, tramples on equality, because in order to force the demand side of a scarce resource (like college) to produce a certain output, some people, despite their qualifications, desire, and ability, must be denied access.

In dealing with a pandemic, an equity-based approach will allow thousands of doses of vaccine to sit unused, perhaps to expire and be thrown away, rather than be create an outcome that is not considered to match the quality of the results sought. Rather than inject every arm that shows up, the equity seeker spend an inordinate amount of time trampling on equality, and make a scarce resource even scarcer.

Leonhardt closes with this: “The most effective way to save lives is probably to vaccinate people as quickly as possible.”

The trade-offs between equity and efficiency are real: Rapid vaccination programs will first reach many relatively privileged people. But the trade-offs may be smaller than that sentence suggests. Covid has exacted a terribly unequal toll partly because people in vulnerable groups have suffered more severe versions of the disease, as a result of underlying health conditions.

The problem is that the Biden administration has made it a top priority to focus on “equity” in all things. (Just search the White House’s website for “equity” and see what turns up.) These moral busybodies will monkey with every process they can to achieve a social engineered paradise, except they forget that most of what government provides is in managing scarcity. They play like there’s unlimited amounts of everything, but in reality they are just trampling equality—or a better word: liberty—in their never-ending quest for utopia.

Just vaccinate everyone. Focus on the people who need it most, first. But don’t play equity games with vaccines, please. I know. They can’t help themselves. Which is why they are failing.

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