The healthcare system is one of several function systems, but it has taken precedence over other systems, thanks to COVID-19. Public health has been deemed more important than anything else. On-campus schooling was cancelled and is still not back to normal, despite the toll this takes on families and students without adequate internet access or who don’t learn well online. Millions of people have lost jobs, many of which will never return, due to closure or restrictions on certain businesses. Youth sports and recreation have been cancelled. Suicide, major depression, and anxiety (which are also public health issues) have increased, but about the only thing that gets media coverage is the death count, as photos of bodies covered in white sheets automatically attract viewers. The US government has spent (actually borrowed from future generations) 2.59 trillion dollars propping up the economy due to the shutdown and partial shutdown, and most of that money has been poorly allocated, going to families and businesses that don’t even need it and are not spending it. But it’s almost taboo to even to raise these concerns because the preeminence of public health has become “common sense.” Anyone who questions these policies is automatically morally suspect. If we actually cared about things like climate change, how many windmills, solar panels, or hydropower plants could have been constructed with $2.59 trillion? Or that money could have been used to address inequities in public school funding. The list is endless.
But today (Feb 26, 2021) a federal judge ruled that the moratorium on evictions is unconstitutional. In other words, the ruling said that public health does not necessarily trump the economic concerns of landlords. The moratorium was put in place in the name of public health, initially under the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and then extended by Congress. What else can the CDC do in the name of public health? The judge said that public health is clearly important but it doesn’t trump the Constitution. I agree. But this isn’t because I love landlords; it’s a question of functional differentiation.
Functional differentiation is essential to modern society; however, as Steffen Roth argues in a forthcoming journal article, public health has come to dominate contemporary society in the way religion dominated medieval society.