Stupid Corona Rules and some Public Choice Questions #1

Alright it is time to write about some stupid Corona rules and answer some public choice questions. Yes the pandemic is quite concerning and some action is certainly necessary but nevertheless those measures need to be discussed and they are definitely not above criticism. Because we can not just do everything and argue it with “it is about life and death”. In fact many decisions (like do I drive a car today or the bike) are somewhere about life and death.

Stupid Corona Rules Example #1

I live in Germany right next to the capital Berlin, which is considered a pandemic hotspot. The cause for most cases are private gatherings (like parties, family celebrations and so on) and young people going out to bars or the parks flouting the distancing and mask rules. To combat further infections the authorities have mandated mask-wearing in offices. Although no one needs to wear a mask at their desk. People are effectively wearing masks while walking to the copier or in the bathroom but they can still infect their coworkers with whom they share a room or a table in the cafeteria. Does this sound useful?

The young people or the families gathering now are not really the demographic that works a lot in offices. I know because I do. And offices are not really the places where a lot of virus transmission happens in the first place. It is at private gatherings and in bars (also it seems church choirs). So why did they implement this rule? Because they could and not because it is useful.

Imagine you are a young person right now. If you are a student your whole education is messed up at the moment, you probably lost your part time job in retail or hospitality (where many young people work) and you are not allowed to meet your friends. If you do not live together with your girl- or boyfriend you are not even allowed to touch each other. On the other hand you have almost no risk of dying from COVID19. Sure some young people have died but young people can also die from pneumonia or influenza and one keeps their social life on ice because of it. Those cases are very rare.

But as a young person you carry many of the costs. It is understandable that after a while it is very difficult to convince young people to continue following the rules. It is near impossible to enforce them outside of an authoritarian surveillance state.

An office block near Berlin Alexanderplatz shot with the Olympus PEN E-P1
Need to wear a mask inside…maybe it helps against pollution
Olympus PEN E-P1 M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8@4.5 1/640s ISO 200

Some Public Choice or why the office rule?

There is one thing politicians and officials can not do and that is not doing anything at all. There is this mantra “Something needs to be done, this is something therefore we are doing it”. In this case mandating masks in offices is something that can be done, it is easily visible, easier to enforce (because enforcement is delegated to employers) and it makes officials look like they are doing something to address a situation. It is also rather useless in the grander scheme of things.

But hospitality is one of Berlins bigger industries and the city still has this cachet of being a liberal, open and tolerant cities that never sleeps and where you can always find a party. Despite public displays if puritan outrage Politicians were loath to depress the city’s economy further.

Add to that the uncomfortable truth that many cities are most likely unable to change their young citizens’ behavior anymore. But for a politician to say that they can’t really do much is almost political suicide. Because a lot of scared people (i.e. voters) demand action…some kind of action.

I wrote this draft earlier meanwhile the city has implemented a curfew after all. You are not even allowed to buy alcohol after 11 pm. No one of course of stops people from buying alcohol a few hours earlier and just party at home. Seems like office mask wearing did not have much of an effect on infection numbers. Who would have thought.

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