You Will Respect My Authoritah!

My wife and I are big fans of the PBS series “Call the Midwife.” She also gets a kick out of how teary-eyed I get watching some of the episodes. Season 12, Episode 4, which aired last Sunday on KQED, was no exception.

Something else happened on it, though, that I found particularly interesting given the implicit position that the show takes on Britain’s expanded welfare state. We’re, of course, meant to believe that the National Health Service is great. Also, in various episodes, this or that nurse reminds a low-income Brit about various subsidies that are available for a wide range of services.

So it was interesting that the latest episode dealt with one of the downsides of having centralized government control. There’s an outbreak of E. Coli in one of the facilities that the Nonnatus House runs and Dr. Turner and various nurses hop to it, moving quickly to quarantine the patients and nurses who are in there and to prevent other people from entering.

Then someone from the London Board of Health shows up, and he is pissed. Here’s the dialogue, which takes place at around the 30:30 point:

Threapwood: My name is Threapwood. I’m the new chairman of the [London] Board of Health.

Doctor Turner: I informed the board, as soon as the outbreak [of E. coli] became apparent.

Threapwood: You also “informed” us of the measures you’d be taking. That is not for you to do in a situation of this magnitude.

Sister Julienne: Dr. Turner acted very swiftly. I, for one, was extremely grateful to him.

Threapwood: And, as is so often the case, it is not the opinion of the Nonnatus House that matters. (Pause.) There’s nothing wrong with your policies, Turner. It’s the assumption of autonomy the board doesn’t care for.

Note what he’s saying. Dr. Turner was wrong to do what he did so quickly, not because he made the wrong move, but because he assumed he could do it without consulting the Board. Turner had, in Hayekian terms, “local knowledge.” Of course, if he had consulted the Board, it would have taken at least a while for the Board to get back to him, which might have cost lives. (The little newborns were losing weight.) So what mattered to Threapwood (what a great name for a villain) was not saving lives, but losing control. This happens when you centralize power in government.

I noticed something similar, by the way, in the U.S. government’s reaction to peace breaking out in the Middle East. Here’s Ron Paul, noting the U.S. government’s upset that peace is being achieved without the U.S. government’s input:

Take, for example, the recent mending of relations between Saudi Arabia and formerly bitter adversaries Iran and Syria. A China-brokered deal between the Saudis and Iran has them re-establishing full diplomatic relations, with the foreign ministers of both countries meeting in Beijing last week. It is the highest level meeting between the two countries in seven years.

Additionally, Riyadh is expected to invite Syria back into the Arab League and Syrian president Assad may attend the next Arab League summit. Syria was suspended from the Arab League 12 years ago when then-US allies in the Middle East signed on to Washington’s “Assad must go” policy that wreaked havoc across the region.

And the nearly decade-long war in Yemen, which has devastated that population, appears to finally be ending, as Saudi Arabia is expected to announce an end to its US-backed war on that country. Troops from the United Arab Emirates are leaving Yemen and a Saudi delegation is arriving to negotiate a peace deal. [DRH note: That is no small deal; according to the UN, 150,000 people in Yemen have been killed by the war and another 227,000 have died due to the resulting famine.]

To normal people the idea of peace breaking out in the Middle East is a wonderful thing. But Washington is anything but normal. President Biden dispatched his CIA Director, William Burns, to Saudi Arabia in a surprise visit last week. According to press reports, Burns was sent to express Washington’s surprise and frustration over the peace deals going through. Biden’s foreign policy team “has felt blindsided” by Saudi Arabia’s sudden move to get along with its neighbors.