What Is the “Public Good” in a Pandemic? Who Decides?: Policy Makers and the Need for Leadership in Society's Perception of Medical Information

What Is the “Public Good” in a Pandemic? Who Decides?: Policy Makers and the Need for Leadership in Society's Perception of Medical Information

Diane M. Janosek
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-8630-3.ch001
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Governments in liberal democracies, such as the U.S. and in Europe, derive their authority from the consent of the people and exist for the “public good.” This chapter explores the proper role of government in communicating information and in enacting public health measures to prevent the spread of infection during a pandemic. This chapter includes historical context and exemplars of government policy makers' dissemination of COVID-19 health information, both accurate and inaccurate ones. Government officials have a responsibility to promote and support public policy initiatives that balance public safety with individual rights and self-determination. In some cases, citizens did not trust the government initiatives nor the associated misinformation or lockdowns. People reacted by exercising their right to protest. This chapter highlights government actions that were not based on accurate information and contributed to its spread and an increase of cyberchondria across the population, demonstrating the public good may not have been well served.
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Historical Context of the Public Good

What is the public good? History provides context to the term public good, its evolution, and ties to government action or control. For example, the U.S. Constitution, first signed on September 17, 1787, and brought into effect in 1789, reflected the common goals of national defense and a national banking structure, as evidenced later with the establishment of the Department of War and the creation of the U.S. Treasury, respectively. Individuals, early Americans, agreed to give up certain individual rights for the collective common good to be protected and to enjoy the freedom to contract, and in doing so, ceded some individual autonomy. This approach of balancing individual rights with nation-state interests has been a common theme in countries across multiple continents over centuries. This balancing act has created a natural tension or friction between individual rights and nation-states’ authorities. As the government has the police power and thus the authority to enforce law and order, citizens tend to resist, at times peacefully and at other times with force, when government overreach occurs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Lockdowns: Government-imposed shuttering of businesses and workplaces except for those providing essential goods or services to minimize the spread of infectious diseases.

Government: Institutions and organization formed by the population to provide for the common good. AU39: Reference appears to be out of alphabetical order. Please check

Societal Unrest: If not an expressed protest, societal unrest is a belief or feeling among a section of the population of dissatisfaction with government policies and resulting societal trends.

Public Safety: All actions taken and facilities set in place to protect the population from harm.

Protests: Individual or collective expression of disagreement with government policy or actions.

Common Good: Providing services to facilitate life and the pursuit of happiness and to maintain law and order, security, and protection.

Dissemination: Distributing or providing information through media platforms and mechanisms.

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