To mask or not to mask

Tocqueville’s Democracy in America famously anticipates the suppression of minority interests and individual liberties by the “tyranny of the majority”, but a delectable subtlety of his diagnosis of American democracy was his fear that the majority may in fact tyrannize society into an individualist and selfish culture. He recognized that associations, which reminds citizens of their social responsibilties, were needed to moderate this tendency of American democracy to prioritize the individual above the common good. I think one such association he identified was the local church.

I find it fascinating how incredibly relevant this is today. Americans are vociferous in their opposition to masks, despite an unambiguous social benefit to using them. Does this mean that mediating institutions are weaker than they should be? I suspect they were not always so; the success of the New Deal and progress on racial equality must have been contingent on the ameliorating influence of institutions.

My current understanding is that the study of how institutions evolve as functions of their environment is inadequate in Economics. But then maybe that’s because this problem is intractable in the way we do Economics today, and we might need a revolution, in line with say Newton’s calculus, in order to be able to handle complex questions like this.

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