Spanish trade unions claim that they have to consult “the experts” before taking a position on the closure of non-essential companies. But who are “the experts”? Why are governments now turning to them? Why is there so much mistrust of them?
If we remember well, the “experts’ crisis” began during the Brexit referendum. The “remainer” campaign used all kinds of reports from institutions, university groups and organizations to predict the greatest evil should Britain leave the EU. An apocalyptic report from the Bank of England had just been made public when one of the spokesmen for “brexiter” conservatism, Michael Gove, claimed something that would be passed on to posterity:
The people of this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.
Since then, the discredit of experts among the population has been one of the favorite topics of the “big media” in their attempt to demonstrate that “populism” is pure irrationalism. Several people pointed out at the beginning of this crisis that one of the few positive things it was bringing about was “the return of the experts”. But have we already forgotten what role they played in the stages that turned the epidemic into what it is today?
“The experts” and the spread of the disease
Johnson’s first strategy towards the coronavirus basically consisted in leaving the population to its own devices . And while the Prime Minister lamented that “many families will lose their loved ones”, “renowned experts” in British epidemiology came out to say that the best thing to do was to seek “herd immunity” based on mass contagion . Of course, there also were epidemiologists who denounced that little act as a farce. It was actually the beginning of a tragedy. But was it different in the rest of the world?
Not really, ranging from Chile, which up until today did not decree confinement to Japan, countries were reaching critical masses of community contagion and yet experts kept saying what governments wanted to hear: that we had to maintain “serenity” and keep going to work.
Remember Spain? We even had a congress of “experts” whose public results were headlines as biased as «“The seasonal flu has more incidence and mortality than the coronavirus” (incidence part true yet irrelevant, mortality one misleading) or «. Never had so many virologists been so concerned about this «“scaremongering that makes the Wuhan pneunomia worse than it is”. But let’s be honest, “scaremongering” affects governments and in the context of an epidemic it affects production and therefore the profitability of capital, while viruses affect all those people and families, mostly retirees and working families, who are now dying in field beds. Under state capitalismthe first group is what defines a successful political-academic career, the second is not.
The “experts” performed so well that, Simón, the greatest expert of the kingdom, on the 7th of March and asked by the journalists what he recommended about the celebration of the following day, he answered : “If my son asks me if he can go, I will tell him to do what he wants”. The reality is that the figures of contagion in Madrid and Euskadi had been advising total confinement for days. But the priorities were different:
The March 8 demonstration has become an official liturgy in Spain, a way of implementing a new state ideology to which Sánchez’s “feminist government” is particularly committed. Last week it became obvious that the government’s so-called “containment phase” no longer contained anything, but they prioritized the demonstration over safety. The Health Minister urged the sick (!!) not to go to the demonstration. And the public television headlined the news with a triumphalist and ridiculous “Feminism resists the Coronavirus on the streets“, as if gathering masses of people in the middle of an airborne virus epidemic was nothing but recklessness.
The state, with the government at its head, set its priorities as expected in the face of the epidemic: “tranquility”, that is to say, in the first place giving media prominence to feminism and its pitiful petty fights imported from Yankee university debates, and once the state ritual was completed, keeping the productive apparatus up and running at all costs by minimizing losses, if necessary by increasing the budget and increasing the very deficit normally invoked to cut health spending.
“Coronavirus: lies and half-truths ” 10/3/2020
And we could go on country by country. Even in the last ones where the epidemic has arrived, like Argentina, there has been no lack of reassuring experts. Even in Mexico, an obvious candidate for health system overload, there were television experts to support AMLO’s show with his “detente-virus” good luck charms purportedly devisind “strategies” where there was only neglect.
What does the “crisis of the experts” mean?
The recourse to the expert is a self-vindication of the bourgeoisie as a ruling class. It is a way to reinforce in moments of crisis that only the bourgeoisie holds social knowledge and that it uses it for the benefit of all. Of all the branches of knowledge, it was surely the birth of Epidemiology which expressed most clearly the moment in which the bourgeoisie was capable of thinking the social as something that aligned with its own interests as the ruling class of society.
But just as with Economic Theory and its experts, social knowledge and the needs of capital diverge because human needs and capital accumulation are increasingly antagonistic. The “expert” then becomes a stuntman whose task is to justify policies and to reassure the population. The discourse can only fall in a situation where the class that runs society declares, at best, that its objective is to seek a “balance” when faced with the alternative between saving lives and investments. In practice, the bourgeoisie shows that its priority was, is and will be to maintain economic activity as much as possible, even to keep political ceremonies running… and only later, to stop the spread to avoid the hospital collapse and mass deaths that are already being experienced in Italy or Spain.