Categories
analogies

Analogies: Better Pocket Protectors

This is a general analogy. It can apply to police reform, but it’s generally applicable.

The basic analogy is that people used to wear shirts with breast pockets and keep pens in them. Those pens would leak, and it would ruin the shirts. So some people took to wearing pocket protectors—small containers that would be inserted into the pocket and if a pen leaked, it would catch the ink and keep the shirt safe.

The analogy is is for a policy deficiency, where rather than fixing the problem of the leaky pens, there’s a call by some for better pocket protectors. That is, the source of the problem, leaky pens, is not addressed. What are the conditions that lead to leaks in pens? Shoddy manufacturing, poor storage conditions, whatever. But these things, prevention of the conditions that lead to ink being spilled, are left alone. The focus is placed on better pocket protectors.

So, for climate change, for example, the pocket protector might be things like doing geographic surveys to figure out what land will be inhabitable and arable in the future and relocating people, but otherwise not doing anything about carbon pollution.

Or, for police and justice reform, it’s calling for more police and police militarization, rather than redevelopment of distressed areas, better social policies, etc.

Or for wildfire policy, it’s moving mountains to fight fires rather than doing controlled burns and groundfuel management.

For immigration policy, the wall is a very expensive and mostly useless pocket protector. Lacking policies that both encourage orderly immigration and economic stability in other parts of the world is a good way to find out exactly how useless a pocket protector it is.

For pandemic policy, containment was supposed to be the strategy to get control over the caseload while alternatives became available, including testing and tracing. That’s right—sometimes, and usually for a limited time, a pocket protector does make sense. We put a hardcore pocket protector in place to give time to work on tracking leaky pens. But many of the governors and president never actually worked on tracking leaky pens. They removed the pocket protector anyway, and now we see ink running over much of the nation.

We’re also not too picky when it comes to pandemic pocket protectors—we would love to cease every case and be free of this plague, but honestly if a combinations of masks and scheduling and tracing, or a vaccine, or whatever reasonable and practicable policy combination can simply lower the rate of transmission so that it is stopped, that’s what any reasonable government should be working toward.

Or consider the problem of nuclear waste. It is currently stored in what was intended as temporary storage at the power facilities, and a permanent storage was planned, but has never opened. Given the nature and longevity of that particular sort of pen, a pocket protector might be the only viable solution for long-term protection.


The main purpose of this post is to highlight the connection between disparate policy areas. That the same patterns exist in various policies is worth understanding. When possible, common principles should be brought to bear in policy matters and therefore more consistency can be had in regulation and governance.

The particular choice of a pocket protector, instead of, say, tupperware or antimatter containment units, is not particularly important. Depending on the policy area, a different container might be more appropriate.

The characteristics of a containment policy are necessary for the application of the analogy. Taxes and spending policies are seldom meant to be outright containment, and so are ill suited to this analogy.


On an unrelated note, the term reopened early is incorrect. The timing of their opening is not at issue, but the condition in which they did so. Reopened unready would be more apt. The main point here is that these places delaying their opening wasn’t going to magically prepare them any more than they were, and their lack of preparation is the flaw, not how soon or late they took an unprepared action.

Categories
society

On the Mirror of Infectious Disease

We are potential vectors. We are potential patients.

That’s true of us as individuals, and it’s true of our various social spheres: home and workplace, town and city, county, state, and nation.

Just as the infected individual has an immune response, so do our social collectives. We limit contact, we increase awareness.

COVID-19 is a danger because it is novel to our bodies. If we’d seen it before, we would be far less susceptible. But as society, we have seen infection before. We could choose to be far more prepared. Preparedness is a vaccine for the unknown.

Just as the individual’s circumstances prior to infection make a difference, so do the community’s. States that expanded Medicaid are more prepared than those who did not. States with large populations tend to have more experience with public health out of necessity that large numbers brings.

But state-prior-to-infection is only one part. How the body reacts, the circumstances of convalescence, is another. Again, we could be prepared, having more thorough plans, but we have a mixed bag. We don’t have a plan for the uninsured. We don’t have a plan for the wage worker. Maybe we’ll get one.

The main thing about infectious disease is that it can be planned for. It is messy either way, but it doesn’t have to be too messy. It is among the predictable disasters. We tend to do poorly with them all, only because we have not chosen to prioritize them, to practice them.

Most of that is the monetary decision, which the market has been correcting for. That, as a society, not as individuals, the choices were made. Build bombs, not hospitals. Build tax cuts, not infrastructure. Build oil rigs, not wind turbines. Build cars, not trains.

Each choice society makes has a consequence. Each individual in a society makes a choice, to go to a crowd in the midst of a plague or not. To isolate if they believe themselves exposed, or not.

Each society that makes a choice has a consequence. The town that gets sick or doesn’t. The county that funded its hospitals or didn’t. The state that expanded Medicaid or didn’t.

The bottom line: if you don’t like how this turns out in your neck of the woods, you should go vote in 33 weeks for other people who (maybe) will improve things for the next time around.