Repubs retreating from anti-vaxerism

A funny thing happened in the culture wars the other day. After taking steadily more extreme anti-vaccination positions over many months, leading rightwing commentators and Republican politicanss suddenly jumped ship, announcing that everyone should be vaccinated as soon as possible.

It would be encouraging to imagine that this shift was the result of a recognition of the surge in cases and deaths among the (predominantly Republican) unvaccinated population, and of the dangers posed by the Delta variant. But that explanation seems implausible, given that the same politicians and commentators watched half a million Americans die and opposed every conceivable measure that might reduce the death toll.

It seems even more unlikely that this shift is a response to the efforts of the Biden Administration to pressure organizations like Fox News into a more sensible position. The whole raison d’etre of the rightwing media is to ‘own the libs’. Rejecting such pressure and boasting about it would be par for the course.

A more plausible explanation is that Republicans have realised that, at least at the national level, this is a culture war that they can’t win, or even play out long enough to mobilise voters for an election win. The critical problem is that the vaccination debate no longer fits the standard culture war playbook in which an easily demonised outgroup is imposing their way of life on ordinary (that is, white, heterosexual and Christian) decent Americans.

Campaigns of this kind can naturally be presented in terms of the preservation of liberty not liberty in any abstract or universal sense, but the specific liberties of the dominant group to do things as they have always done them, whatever the effects on others.


As the proportion of American adults who have received at least one shot creeps towards 70 per cent, the proportion likely to join a fight against vaccine mandates declines.In particular, the old, who are normally the most reliable recruits for the culture war, are also the most vulnerable to Covid-19, with the result that their vaccination rates are close to 100 per cent

A final, but essential, factor is that Donald Trump has stayed on the sidelines. The development of vaccines was one of the few genuine success stories of his Administration, and he has shown himself unwilling to undermine it. As a result, Republicans who break ranks with the dominant anti-vax position are unlikely to suffer the consequences that would result from appearing on Trump’s list of enemies.

9 thoughts on “Repubs retreating from anti-vaxerism

  1. Great insights as usual. Prof.

    Now, if only we could get the anti-vaxxers of northern New South Wales to join the US Republican movement.

  2. It would be encouraging to imagine that this shift was the result of a recognition of the surge in cases and deaths among the (predominantly Republican) unvaccinated population, and of the dangers posed by the Delta variant. But that explanation seems implausible, given that the same politicians and commentators watched half a million Americans die and opposed every conceivable measure that might reduce the death toll.

    Well said. The REP Inc cares only about asset values in equity, security and property markets. It is dead to me, and has been ever since Newt Gingrich and his gang of Right-wing globalists took over in 1994. They care next to nothing about the well being of their citizens or the care and of the USs sea-to-shining-sea environment. They are just in it for the money.

  3. Yes and yes. But let’s not kid ourselves. Australia’s failure on vax has nothing to do with the cultural wars except only obliquely. It is a consequence of the skepticism that all Australian governments have towards (big) pharma and pricing and a spillover effect of day to day attitudes towards drugs. The Australian governments wants to pay the lowest price in the OECD for all drugs (NZ does not count) and we are seeing the consequences of this.
    Btw. Will our WTP for QALY gained or life year saved for new drugs for say cancer be adjusted for the revealed preferences for life year saved under COVID or life year saved by avoiding the AZ vax ( maybe the new gov of QLD can answer that)
    Is consistency too much to ask

  4. My (non US) impression is that many who do get vaccinated themselves without hesitation still harbour a large amount of hardcore individualistic, each to his own delusions about vaccinations. Those threat anti-vaxxers as if they were some weak ethical minority that needs to be defended against unfair stigma. But not getting vaccinated is a destructive choice, and in contrast to getting over many other health issues (addictions, overweight etc.) it takes zero effort. So I strongly disagree with all parts of that position. Anti-vaxers do deserve to be stigmatized and worse. The oh let each do his own position does not only vastly underestimate the risk the unvaccinated pose to other, it also gives people a lot more leeway to act self-destructive than even the most individualistic societies do give to people on just about any other occasions without consequences.

  5. Eradication dominated every other policy. If nations had locked down their international borders effectively then SARSCoV-2 would have been a relative footnote in epidemiological history to date, like SARS and MERS to date. One has to add the phrase “to date” because re-outbreaks are always possible. Effective eradication is not usually equal to outright extinction. It is interesting to note that a re-outbreak, after effective eradication, would then have been an alternative history with a different evolutionary path.

    But coming back to the main point, globalized capitalist economic policy did not possess a lock-down option (as the ring-fencing of nations against non-essential travel and the riskier forms of trade and labor movement with respect to halting serious pandemic disease). That is to say, the extant prescriptions of globalized capital did not possess or did not countenance such a policy choice in its repertoire. Kind of like trying to play tennis without a backhand. On the contrary, keeping the economy open at all costs was the prescription (of dominant capital). That failed everywhere as we have seen; rolling lock-downs now being the continuing order of the day for the global economy. In contrast, the discipline of epidemiology did possess a lock-down contingency as did economists like J.Q. who recognized why and how eradication would dominate every other policy choice. That last ought to impress on me, as Ernestine Gross urges, the clear differences between bowdlerized economics for furthering special interests and public discourse control and the genuine insights of academic or proper (for want of better terms) economics.

    The WHO was criticized a lot early on for failing to recommend an early lock-down and ring-fencing of jurisdictions. Jurisdictions, if functional, have the resources to lock down national borders. But the WHO had already been pressured and pilloried over earlier lock-down-style advice in relation to serious and potentially pandemic influenza outbreaks and this pressure came from the neoliberal market fundamentalists in control of US policy and strongly influencing global economics. What I am saying is that the conformation and interests of dominant capital ARE the problem and why we cannot get good economic policy.

    The “conformation” of dominant capital comes back to too much capital in too few private hands; and thus too much power in those too few hands to influence the order of things against majority wishes and genuine majority needs. Possibly where I lose patience with conventional economics of even the academic and enlightened kind is the apparent willingness to continue countenancing and working with the current prescriptions of economic ownership and reward and to only recommend redistribution by taxes and welfare after the fact of initial maldistribution. Perhaps this is a straw man attack. Politics and effective advocacy are the arts of the possible. Global pandemic, climate change and limits to growth are already moving, and will rapidly move much further, the Overton Window of what is considered possible and advisable. The Repubs retreating from anti-vaxerism is an example. Politics is almost certain to be revolutionized (or reactionized) this decade. Nothing can or will be the same or “normal” ever again.

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-28/fire-thunderstorms-may-cause-nuclear-winter-scientists-say/100323566

    Also;

    “Update to Limits to Growth: Comparing the World3 Model with Empirical Data” – Author: Gaya Herrington

    I will add a link for the latter in a subsequent post.

  6. Generalized Expected Utility (GEU)

    I refer here to a Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article called, “Normative Theories of Rational Choice: Expected Utility”. It states early on that:

    “This article discusses expected utility theory as a normative theory—that is, a theory of how people should make decisions. In classical economics, expected utility theory is often used as a descriptive theory—that is, a theory of how people do make decisions—or as a predictive theory—that is, a theory that, while it may not accurately model the psychological mechanisms of decision-making, correctly predicts people’s choices. Expected utility theory makes faulty predictions about people’s decisions in many real-life choice situations (see Kahneman & Tversky 1982); however, this does not settle whether people should make decisions on the basis of expected utility considerations.”

    This makes sense to me. It is eminently possible and feasible that GEU could be developed as a normative theory, a theory of how people should make decisions. Specifically, one can envisage this as happening in the macro policy space. That makes sense to me.

    I will use the example of person A, a person from a COVID-19 ravaged country, non-citizen, non-resident of Australia, who is permitted to travel to Australia on a work visa to perform work of economic benefit or dubious economic benefit. Thus A could be a fruit picker or A could be a ratbag media opinionator with strong science-denialist leanings. Both of these cases are cases we have seen recently, albeit they have not necessarily actually been COVID-19 carriers. But I think we have also seen such cases where such people have turned out to be COVID-19 carriers infected in their country of origin country or infected on the plane to Australia.

    The issue is this. What is the GEU of a fruit picker or a shock-jock style opinionator? What is the negative GEU of a delta strain outbreak like the one in progress in Sydney? It has to be noted that the one in Sydney was started by a flight crew member of a Fedex flight. Again, what is the GEU of the Fedex plane’s contents or all Fedex plane contents? That will certainly be larger of course.

    Let us run through them.

    (a) The GEU of shock-jock style opinionator = – x (such a person is a saboteur of science based policy and hence of the people, economy and nation).

    (b) The GEU of all fruit pickers on visas = y

    (c) The GEU of all air cargo into Australia = Z (clearly a high value this time).

    Would not GEU, calculated according to the best theory and mathematics, permit an assessment that;

    (1) The shock-jock style media opinionator should not get a visa.
    (2) The fruit-pickers should not get visas. Instead, subsidized ways should be found to give Australian unemployed, including foreign students stuck in Australia, sufficient incentives to fruit-pick.
    (3) Exclusive purpose-built quarantine or re-purposed quarantine for cargo flight crew should be paid for and set up. Limos with hermetic air-con sealing of driver from passengers and the wearing of masked etc. should be strictly enforced.

    Surely, GEU applied to macro policy settings and regulations would tell us to do something very much like the above? While we could not hope to act like a GEU powered decision maker as a consumer at the local supermarket, we surely could hope that the governments and authorities would take economic GEU advice for macro-economic decisions as well as taking full epidemiological advice from the start of the pandemic? To date, both hopes have been in vain.

    NOTE: I have taken the liberty of posting this on the latest Sandpit thread as well. Perhaps GEU can be pursued there.

  7. @Ikon As it happens, most of my reputation as an economic theorists rests on my contributions to GEU, mainly about how to treat low-probability extreme-outcome events. You can easily find more on the Internetz. I might write something here when I get a bit of time.

  8. J.Q.,

    I am not unaware of that. 😉 In the Sandpit I have played devil’s advocate about descriptive GEU theory. But when I read and thought about prescriptive GEU theory for macro policy it seemed to make a lot more sense to me. I run with the heterodox economists, Marxians and “CasP-ians” quite a lot in a few blogs. They critique GEU severely but it always seems to be on the basis of assuming it’s all bound up with micro, homo economicus and the general imputed non-scientific nature of orthodox economics. I’ve tended to get carried along in the past, and I am still basically a Marxian, Veblenian, CasP (Capital as Power) style thinker; seeking to synthesize their disagreements and then that synthesis with a Priority Monist, Complex Systems empirical ontology.

    Ernestine Gross has blogged very effectively at times to get me to take more seriously the difference between academic economics and bowdlerized conventioanl economics and how the latter might in some ways be the straw-man target of the heterodox. I have strong but not unchangeable opinions on these matters. Ernestine has certainly caused me to re-think at times and modify my position.

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