April 10, 2020 9:02AM

Pandemics and Power Notebook, II

Second in a series (first is here):

* For me, the week’s high and low morale‐​wise came on the same day in contrasting stories from stricken New York City. The high came with reports of how an estimated 500 EMS crew members from around the country and their vehicles have converged on Gotham from points including Kalamazoo, Mich., Fergus Falls, Minn., and Florida to help the city handle an emergency medical call volume running far above normal. As one who’s lived much of my life in the greater New York area and remembers similar help in the days after 9/11, it means a lot to me to see these heroes taking real risks to come to the aid of the city, not because they have to but because they want to.

The low point came the same day when I read that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in an official statement had “called on the federal government to institute an essential draft of all private medical personnel to help in the fight against COVID-19.” The mayor’s office later confirmed to J.D. Tuccille of Reason that he had conscription in mind. Happily, de Blasio’s call for the use of coercion found few echoes, perhaps because it would be such a brutal assault on individual liberty, perhaps because the mayor’s own reputation for handling the virus stands so very low that hardly anyone is looking to take advice from him. (De Blasio also figured in last week’s notebook when he threatened to close down rule‐​breaking synagogues “permanently.”)

* Chris Edwards wrote Wednesday about the battles in which the federal government (as well as some state governments, like those of New Jersey and New York) have stepped in to intercept and requisition supplies of key medical supplies needed in the crisis, from ventilators to personal protective equipment (PPE) to testing supplies. The phenomenon here — local hospitals, businesses, and communities trying to do the right thing for their patients and employees, then finding their carefully developed lines of supply commandeered — reminds me of a famous passage from Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action, about how central planning is inconsistent with the capacity of smaller entities and individuals to plan out their own futures. “The alternative is not plan or no plan. The question is whose planning? Should each member of society plan for himself, or should a benevolent government alone plan for them all?”

* Last week I mentioned a seemingly wacky idea about using the crisis as an excuse to ban tobacco and vape devices. Now the New York Times is promoting that idea, in a discussion that makes zero mention of the implications of creating a gigantic new covert black market as well as, of course, zero mention of the concept of freedom.

* I’ll end on a more positive note with an anecdote from the serious 1957 Asian flu outbreak about vaccinologist Maurice Hilleman, who per his compelling Wikipedia biography “is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century.” Per a Tyler Cowen commenter, “Hilleman took a step that seems unbelievable in the bureaucratically hardened, litigious society of today. He bypassed [the federal department that is now HHS] and contacted the heads of the 6 U.S. vaccine manufacturers directly. His message was simple. ‘Don’t kill your roosters.’” Why were the roosters important? Follow the link and see.