The Law Of Diminishing Returns
The American education system has been criticized for many shortcomings. None could be any more important that the short shrift of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Said crudely, if a little is good, a lot more must be much better. Hmmm.
How many times have we heard our political leaders recommend a solution for a problem for which there were no symptoms? Remember the voter photo ID laws or the increased regulatory controls for abortion clinics? Both of these situations could not be described as a defect where the recommended solution could be applied and its impact measured for efficacy. (In these cases, of course, the recommended solutions were for a totally different problem than advertised, voter discrimination and eliminating abortions.
America is now facing a situation where logic and scientific ignorance may lead to severe danger from unexpected consequences. Ebola is coming. What should America do?
Thanks to TV news coverage, Americans have seen the failure of a major Dallas hospital while PR spokespersons have valiantly tried to shift the responsibility somewheres else. The Dallas hospital is a large facility which apparently makes money and attracts a lot of affluent people. The hospital had structured itself to deal with a array of normal illnesses at a profit. Life was good.
Then along came Thomas Eric Duncan and life changed. The PR people knew what to do. Show confidence and keep everyone calm. Unfortunately Mr Duncan succumbed to Ebola, and even worse, apparently his care infected two other healthcare workers. Thankfully, the CDC transferred both patients to other more specialized facilities and saved the Dallas hospital from further embarrassment.
So where does the law of diminishing returns come it?
Check out the Congressional hearings. For Congress members, the possibility that some day we may look back and say we could have done more is something that’s not going to happen on their watch. If science says exposed individuals should be isolated for 21 days, then lets increase that number “to be sure”. If someone enters the country and had originally departed from one of the Ebola infected African countries, lets put those people in quarantine. And while we are at it, lets include a wide range of African countries just to be sure.
But what if the person who departed, say Liberia, in January and has been living in Paris flies to JFK (New York)? Lets quarantine that person too. Why?
We want NO cases that could have been prevented.
The law of diminishing returns tells us that getting to zero (NO cases), will cost exorbitant amounts of money and still may not be possible. Does this mean do nothing?
Quite the opposite. What we need is for Congress members to ask the scientific community and agencies like the CDC how they can help, not what outcomes they want. If political leaders insist upon trying to play the role of “boss”, they are in way over their heads and good things are not likely in the outcomes.
Serious members of Congress as well as similar White House members must recognize that Ebola is a test run for what might happen if the US suffered a germ warfare attack. The public cannot be expected to understand the specifics or what to do to avoid or prevent the spread of illness. The role of government is make sure the best people are in charge and then to provide whatever support they may need.
Somehow I am not confident the current Congressional crowd is up to that challenge.