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If only the Italian government had not so much else to do and can defer none of it

To add to the burden, hospitals in Italy depend on medical personnel to try to trace the contacts that people who test positive have had with others. One doctor in Bologna, who asked not to be named, said he had spent a 12-hour day tracing people who had been in contact with just one positive patient, to ensure those who next need testing are found.

(from this interesting comparison of Italy with South Korea, h/t instapundit.)

How very sad that Italy evidently lacks any pool of state employees whose ordinary tasks could be deferred or done with fewer people, so they could be used to trace contacts while doctors treated patients.

How very fortunate that in the UK, we have an overstaffed bureaucracy in many offices of the administration. As doctors will be very busy in coming months on tasks that need their skills, and police busy enough (to defer policing speech? – if only!) and the army perhaps busy if new facilities must be quickly built, the government should immediately give itself the power to allocate up to half the bureaucrats in any state office to the task of tracing the contacts of the infected, requiring the others to step up as needed to keep any essential tasks going (some offices of course, like cruise liners, could go into mothballs pro tem).

I despise PC talking heads who demonstrate (yet again) that they see a crisis as just a terrible thing to waste, so would not wish us to imitate them. Does anyone see a problem with my suggestion, considered strictly as a way of addressing the upcoming issue better than Italy has?

(Alas, I can see one – and will be interested to see who else has the same thought. 🙂 )

21 comments to If only the Italian government had not so much else to do and can defer none of it

  • llamas

    And here it is:


    Never let a good crisis go to waste. If necessary, manufacture one.

    As said below, the disease doesn’t scare me at all. What now scares me is the possibility of scared people with few choices doing stupid things in response to this almost-entirely-ginned-up ‘crisis’.



  • FrankH

    One problem I can see is that the country might function a whole lot better if half the bureaucrats were to do something useful, the people might notice, and what would we do with an army of otherwise unemployable ex-uncivil servants?

  • Surellin

    Good point. I notice that, if my university’s experiment in online education for the remainder of the semester is successful, someone might discover that one can learn online faster and cheaper than the traditional university can offer, and therefore the traditional university model might be in trouble.

  • Tim the Coder

    If you have the bureaucrats chasing up contacts, this creates an enormous database of who everyone knows, meets and does business with.
    Won’t that be useful!

  • bobby

    Niall, your proposal comes too close to “let’s give our government added powers and flexibility during this crisis.”

    We’ve already seen our Speaker of the House trying to shoehorn new pro-abortion guarantee language into our ever-growing Wuhan-virus funding bill. (It’ll be a monster, one of those 1000-page dense and self-referential things that contain provisions we won’t even discover until it’s too late.)

    So, while I wouldn’t hesitate to give smart, unselfish people additional powers in a crisis, I wouldn’t give them to government. They wouldn’t re-assign people to track contacts. They’d instead all be assigned to write reports about how this is effecting minority communities disproportionately, or recommending the proper pronoun for the virus.

  • bobby

    “It’s a fate the parasitic Boomers very richly deserve.”

    Your boomer daddy probably bought you your computer.

  • Paul Marks

    When I was born Italy was actually a smaller government country than the United Kingdom – hard to believe but it is true.

    Sadly Italy has become a high government spending country (where the state tries to pay for everything) and a high regulation country – where the Labour Market (and everything else) is saturated with counter productive regulations.

    Already before the C virus, few Italians were being born (far less than replacement level) – because families could not see a reasonable chance of homes and real jobs for their children (so they do not have children).

    The demographic decline of the late Roman Empire (which was also crushed by government spending and regulations) appears to be repeating itself in modern Europe – NOT just in Italy, but in many nations.

    Thisis disguised by mass migration into Europe – as if this mass migration is some sort of boon, rather than a terrible burden (for welfare and “public services”) and as if the mass migration was of people eager to become part of the cultures they find, rather than the truth which is that they (mostly) wish to replace these existing cultures with their own. Which is not an unnatural desire – and I do NOT blame them for it.

    This has happened before in European history – for example with the collapse of the Roman Empire (which led to a demographic transformation of the eastern part of this island – sorry “late antiquity” fantasists, but DNA does not lie), but also before that.

    For example the coming of the “Beaker Folk” (Indo Europeans) led to a population replacement (at least on the male side) of some 90% (or more) of the population of many parts of Europe – including what is now the United Kingdom.

    When a culture fails fundamentally (or is faced by an incoming aggressive culture) there is indeed sometimes a peaceful “cultural transformation” – BUT there is also sometimes a demographic replacement, with one population being replaced by another population.

    After all who want to assimilate into a failed culture – a culture that (in the case of Italy, Germany, Spain and on and on) is not even having enough children to sustain itself?

    Even in the United States the fertility rate is now below 2 (that happened under the Obama Administration and went largely unnoticed at the time) – the culture is failing, or is being murdered by a vast government that has (to a great extent) replaced civil society.

    The transformation of Western, including American, culture and society since about 1960 has been truly horrific – I repeat I do not blame incoming populations for not wanting to assimilate into cultures that are clearly falling apart.

    The murder of the West is INTERNAL – the West is being murdered by its own establishment elite.

  • Paul Marks

    It truly is astonishing – for as recently as 1960 most Western societies appeared basically sound.

    No doubt the evil was already being spread by the “educated” establishment elite, but ordinary society in Britain, Italy, Germany, and so on, seemed fine – as did the United States (the keystone of the West – for without America the West would collapse, that was already clear by 1960).

    I repeat the West is NOT being destroyed by the mass migration (hostile though this is), it is being murdered by its own establishment elite.

  • Ferox

    It’s a truism in software engineering that even a poorly designed system can work if the load is low enough.

    In order to test a system properly, you have to put it under stress. Then all the inadequate buffers and poorly scaling algorithms and just plain bad designs will show themselves.

    I suspect that COVID-19 will serve this purpose for the system of Western civilization in the 21st century. And then, if we are wise and have the will to do it, we can make improvements.

  • Mr Black

    Even better, they should ask for volunteers to do this work. Let’s see who believes in their fellow man and who believes in talk without action.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul Marks wrote:

    When I was born Italy was actually a smaller government country than the United Kingdom – hard to believe but it is true.

    This might have been true in terms of government spending, but in terms of economic freedom, it seems that the UK was more free than Italy all the way from 1950 to 1965. Germany was about as free as the UK in this period. I suppose that the German and Italian economic miracles were due more to catching up than to economic freedom — but i did not read the article at the link: i only looked at the tables!

    Even in the United States the fertility rate is now below 2

    I suspect that is due to married couples looking at what it would cost to put a child through college. And of course the government is the main cause of the problem, by offering loans whose main result is tuition fees going up.

  • As I expect this thread is coming to an end, I’ll mention the disadvantage I saw to my proposal. Unlike Tim the Coder (March 13, 2020 at 12:29 pm) or bobby (March 14, 2020 at 1:53 am), I was not directly concerned with the government’s tracing whom I was near in my last visit to the gym, or having the power to do so – I don’t talk much politics while working the machines and even less when swimming anaerobically – and likewise as regards which seat I sat in on my last train journey or whatever.

    However, while this particular exercise and resultant database struck me as not that useful to big brother’s tracking of our politics, it occurred to me that training civil servants to become skilled in tracking contacts might equip them with skills that could later be retargeted. But maybe I worry too much – maybe they would soon lose such skills again, or barely acquire them in the first place. Maybe the people themselves would do all the work and the civil servants merely enter data gathered by the public.

    Of course, it is all too likely that civil servants – especially the more objectionable of them – will continue to warm chairs. There are other resources to draw on. Hotels that lack guests may become temporary care facilities and their staff may be glad to tide themselves over by being paid to assist a sparse set of medically-trained people. We’ll soon enough be seeing whether the load is better spread here than in Italy.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “However, while this particular exercise and resultant database struck me as not that useful to big brother’s tracking of our politics, it occurred to me that training civil servants to become skilled in tracking contacts might equip them with skills that could later be retargeted.”

    GCHQ already have, and routinely use, those skills.

    I doubt it’s a particularly hard skill to acquire, and I doubt that in the brief few months this is likely to last, they’ll get much practice. I also doubt they’d be able to keep it quiet if they suddenly redeployed thousands of civil servants to GCHQ or an equivalent.

    If you want to worry, you might note that they’re talking about taking on ’emergency powers’, including the power of detention. Any possibility for abuse, do you think?

  • Paul Marks

    I do not agree Snorri – I accept that there is a case that Italy was less free than Britain in the 1950s and that Germany was only just about as free, but I do not agree with it.

    I believe that Italy was, basically, a reasonable restrained government country till the “turn to the left” in the early 1960s. And, whilst less big than today, Britain was already a big government country in the 1950s – it was at least as regulated as Italy (such things as the Town and Country Planning Acts are examples of this) and much more highly taxed. The Pound was also over valued (the attempt to rig, “fix” the exchange rate at a much to high a rate), British manufacturing was in RELATIVE decline in the 1950s – and in the 1960s and 1970s taxes on investment were pushed to over 90%, much of British manufacturing was a museum piece by 1979 (a lot of British industrial plant was actually 1930s vintage) – Mrs Thatcher got the blame for its collapse, but the true cause was DECADES of insane taxes, regulations and inflation.

    As for Germany – such things as Minimum Wage Laws (Britain had “Wages Councils” before we had a Minimum Wage Law – there was a period of a few years where these were abolished and the Minimum Wage Law had not been passed, but it did not last long) and Inheritance Tax (on family business enterprises) did not exist in Germany – and the “inflation tax” was far less.

    The honest finances of Germany were far better than Britain in the 1950s and 1960s (and 1970s) – and it must be admitted that they were. And high government spending (as a proportion of the economy), perversely high tax RATES and endless inflation (the “inflation tax”) destroy industry over time.

    Of course Britain in (say) 1960 was a much freer and better country than Britain is now (I do NOT deny that) – but both Germany and Italy had (at-that-time) less Big Government than we did. Today Italy is worse than Britain – and Germany is going down a bad road also.

    As for a time when the United Kingdom was massively freer economically (and in every other way) than Italy or Germany – the 1930s.

    Yes the much denounced 1930s – where (contrary to what the education system and the media teach) the United Kingdom was doing relatively well economically – compared to virtually any other country.

    British industry was a Potemkin village in 1979 (bound to collapse), but British industry in 1939 was actually basically sound.

  • Paul Marks

    It occurs to me that some people might deny that the establishment elite in the West are constantly campaigning to destroy liberty.

    Fortunately for my argument (although most certainly not fortunately for the world) the Economist magazine, house journal of the establishment, exists to give me fresh examples of mind churning evil – every week.

    In this week’s issue of the Economist magazine…….

    There is account of how government in Chile is growing (lots of new government spending over the last few years) and a demand for a new Constitution for Chile….

    “See Paul you are REFUTED! The Economist magazine sees the growth of government in Chile – and wants a stricter Constitution in order to stop it!”

    Sadly no gentle reader. In reality the Economist magazine wants a new Constitution for Chile because it wants to remove the restrictions on the growth of the size and scope of government that already exist – it wants government to grow MORE that it already is.

    Then we have “Lexington” (surely, as L.S. Lewis points out in his Letters from Screwtape, a devil such as “Lexington” should not use capital letters, so it should be “lexington”, but I will leave that to his infernal superiors to decide) – in this weeks issue, Lexington is talking about…..

    Mrs Clinton’s e.mails (yes Lexington is still in 2016 – even though for most of us it is 2020) – and, NO, Lexington is not saying that it was outrageous that Mrs Clinton was not prosecuted for her crimes. Lexington actually says that it was terrible that Donald Trump “libeled” Mrs Clinton by pointing to her crimes, and that it was terrible (indeed criminal) for some of the media to allow Mr Trump Freedom of Speech to present his case.

    One must NOT have Freedom of Speech, and one must NOT call the “liberal” elite to account for their crimes.

    Conservative Party Central Office would love “Lexington” and the rest of the Economist magazine – they are very much on the same page with their hatred of ordinary (actual) Conservatives.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul: you might very well be right that Italy & Germany were more free than the UK in the 1950s. I certainly thought the same as you, until i read the article at the link in my comment … except that i did not read it: as i said, i only looked at the tables. Maybe there are flaws in their analysis.

    All what I know for a fact is that there were quite a few upper-middle class people in Italy, in the 1970s and 1980s, who looked at the 1950s and 1960s as a golden age.

  • Paul Marks

    As Central Office would point out with one of their charmingly snide “sic” s – the above should read C.S. Lewis (Clive Staples Lewis), not L.S. Lewis.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes “beautiful age” of Italy Snorri. Totally unlike the massive government dominance that there was under the leftist (vile creature) Mussolini before the war, that Progressive swine even entertained paving the canals of Venice.

    Although, there was a “turn to the left” in Italy in the early 1960s – when the Christian Democrats turned away from the Liberal Party (in Italy in 1962 the local Liberal Party actually was Liberal).

    But then things were just as bad, indeed WORSE, in Britain – government was much bigger (and more intrusive) in 1970 than it had been in 1960.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Doesn’t really matter how big the government is if it can’t do its key job!

    You could say the East Asian nations have pretty overbearing governments, but our contact tracing has been effective and local cases are going down.

    In Singapore, we just enlisted our police and Home Affairs personnel to help with contact tracing. Good thing local crime rates are quite low.

  • Mr Ecks

    It is a bad idea Mr Kilmartin.

    However –such a trained bureaucracy COULD–with a good govt–be set to hunting down illegal alien invaders–don’t call them migrants.

    2/3 of the bureaucracy (at least) doesn’t have any reason to exist. They could be got rid of. But since we have a problem why not use them to solve it before redundancy calls. Indeed many older civil servants could finish out their career on such work and avoid redundancy altogether.

  • APL

    Paul Marks: “It truly is astonishing – for as recently as 1960 most Western societies appeared basically sound.”