This short post is a crowd-sourcing inquiry. In its story on the World Health Organization declaring Covid-19 a pandemic (“Coronavirus Declared Pandemic by the World Health Organization,” March 11, 2010), the Wall Street Journal, usually a serious, prudent, and skeptical newspaper, writes:

The WHO generally defines a pandemic as a disease that has become widespread around the world, with an impact on society. The term has been applied to only a few diseases in history—a deadly flu in 1918, the H1N1 flu in 2009 and HIV/AIDS among them.

Perhaps the Journal was just echoing some WHO apparatchik? The truth is that the WHO itself has been, and is currently, fighting another terrible pandemic. Its Thirty-Ninth World Health Assembly declared in 1985:

Deeply concerned by the current pandemic of smoking and other forms of tobacco use, which results in the loss of the lives of at least one million human beings. every year and in illness and suffering for many more …

[The Assembly] CALLS for a global public health approach and action now to combat the tobacco pandemic …

REQUESTS the Director-General:

(1) to strengthen the present programme on smoking and health without waiting for its official introduction in the Eighth General Programme of Work, as a visible and resolute attitude on the part of WHO would provide Member States with encouragement and support, which are necessary prerequisites to abating the smoking pandemic before the year 2000. …

That’s been a long, very long lifestyle pandemic. It was certainly still going strong in 2006 when Kenneth Warner, a well-known University of Michigan Professor of Public Health, together with WHO’s Judith Mackay, published an article titled “The Global Tobacco Disease Pandemic: Nature, Causes, and Cures.”

The question is, Why does the state—the assemblage of individuals and sub-institutions constituting the whole apparatus of modern government—need pandemics and wars so much? What incites individuals who run, or work for, the state to launch wars on drugs, on poverty, on lifestyle pandemics, and wage real wars and trade wars? Perhaps we can, despite some risk of methodological confusion, raise again the question in the incipit of Anthony de Jasay’s The State (Liberty Fund, 1997 [1985]):

What would you do if you were the state?

Moreover, can we find a relation between all that and how the state is so badly unprepared when a real pandemic appears on the horizon—badly unprepared and often ludicrous like when it creates shortages to help its subjects?