Market Thinking

making sense of the narrative

Has the WHO just given politicians a way out?

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The heavy politicisation of Covid in the US Elections is a key reason why we have our fingers crossed that things will calm down after November 3rd, whoever wins. It is clear that the Democrats see it as their best line of attack against Donald Trump, which is almost certainly why Trump’s messaging has been along the lines of ‘Yes it’s bad, but we can survive. Don’t let the virus dominate your lives’ (or more importantly your voting). Whether or not it will succeed for his purposes remains to be seen, but this week he received ‘help’ from an unexpected quarter; the WHO has basically said that lockdowns are not the answer. On the one hand this should not be surprising, no contingency planning for a pandemic has ever included this level and duration of lockdown, but on the other we have recently seen the WHO change guidance (on masks for example) under political pressure to ex-post validate politicians’ actions. (To be clear, this is not a judgement on masks, it is an observation of a reversal in policy with no additional scientific evidence provided).

Perhaps in the same way that asset allocators are shifting to a market neutral position, so the WHO are de-politicising and positioning themselves for a post Election analysis.

This presents an interesting dilemma for those politicians who have used ‘the science’ and a tactic of appealing to scientific authority to justify extreme lockdown. Do they now say we should ignore the science? What of YouTube, who have a policy of removing any videos that go against WHO guidance? Will they now re-instate them? Or indeed remove ones that advocate lockdown. Hmm.

Equally it presents an opportunity for the lockdown sceptics – the Great Barrington Declaration is gaining more and more momentum – to co-opt ‘the science’ to their side of the argument. With almost 9000 scientists and 23,000 medical practitioners having signed the declaration, adding the WHO should swing things further in their favour. The reality is that forcing people to admit they are wrong usually leads to them doubling down, whereas giving them a way out and a plausible excuse – as in the WHO have changed their view so we are following them – is likely to be far more effective.

Post November 3rd, even while we are likely waiting for the ‘final result’ to come in thanks to the postal ballots, the power of the “Trump failed on Covid” narrative will be spent. The need to prolong the ’emergency’ will be over and cautious ‘victory’ can be declared. At the very least, to continue the War analogy so beloved of politicians, a Negotiated Ceasefire can be declared.

Perhaps.

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