So what would the COVID-19 pandemic have looked like with a Libertarian government? In the first place, the government would have been prepared and made plans for emergencies in advance. That is one responsibility of government, and our government failed badly. Of course, no one can know what, when or where emergencies might strike, be they earthquakes, hurricanes or pandemics, but if we don’t have plans in place when they do, it is too late. That is what we recently experienced with COVID-19. Next, federal agencies like the FDA and CDC would have already had their regulations streamlined so that the free enterprise system could have been able to respond to the emergency – which is what the free enterprise system is best equipped to do. But instead, although about 50 companies had testing kits ready to be marketed, only two were originally approved by the FDA. Similarly, although many companies were ready to manufacture ventilators, they were prohibited from doing so because they had no permits. A few valuable lost weeks later the processes for permitting were “fast-tracked,” but that only proves that the regulations foster unnecessary delays and should not have been there in the first place.
And then the politicians acted to protect themselves politically. “I will do everything in my power to keep you healthy” was what we continually heard from many mayors and governors. So if you stayed healthy: “It worked! I’m a hero!” is the message. And if you actually get sick, “Well, you can’t blame me because I did everything I could” is the political fallback position. In the meantime the economy was throttled, thus unnecessarily closing hundreds of thousands of companies, many which will never re-open, and putting literally tens of millions of people unnecessarily out of work! Of course those huge problems of the economy were not even a part of the political equation! Thus few politicians demonstrated Libertarian courage and many, like New York Governor Cuomo, made stupid comments like “If the shutdown saves even one life, it will be worth it,” which were transparently pandering to the voters.
So what would have been the Libertarian response? Let individual shop and business owners make adjustments and then advertise them. For example, “Please continue to come to my clothing or hardware store. We have installed a new air filtration system that removes 98.7% of all particles from the air every 30 minutes. We require all who enter, whether employees or customers, to wear masks and to socially distance themselves. We are a small store, so we only allow ten customers to be inside at any one time. And we will have an employee at the door taking the temperature non-invasively of all who enter, and no one with a temperature above 99.4 will be allowed to come in,” etc. Then let the customers and employees decide using a risk/gain analysis which responsibly keeps in mind external risks to themselves and others. If the customers are healthy, most will likely continue to shop at those stores, but if they are 80 years old with diabetes or pneumonia they will almost certainly choose to stay away. On the other hand, government approaches to decide which stores are “non-essential” are arbitrary by their very nature. And, naturally, when many of those small stores are closed down it directly results in customers going to large “essential” box stores where they could buy lots of products, including clothing and hardware. So not only did government close the small stores and help their large competitors, it also put into effect a program that probably exposed the customers to greater risks by placing them into an environment with larger groups of people!
Bottom line: governments cannot centrally plan an economy, and certainly cannot effectively “re-open” one. That can only be done in a Libertarian system where myriads of small decisions are made quickly by both buyers and sellers. If the sellers make good choices, they profit from them. But if they make poor ones, they quickly start losing their market share, so they look around at their successful competitors and adjust accordingly. Governments, on the other hand, act in arbitrary fashions – as we have seen. No, Libertarians might be misunderstood because they often go against the “common wisdom,” and are not elected because they don’t project or protect themselves politically, but Libertarian courage would have vastly reduced the damages that have been and still are being caused by OVID-19! Please keep that in mind in the upcoming November elections.
And one last thought: even if you agree that being quarantined and ordered to wear a mask in public by the government are good ideas, what if next time you don’t? It is a fact of life that once governments gain power and control over “We the People” they almost never give it up. In situations like the OVID-19, governments can fill some positive roles in gathering and disseminating accurate information and making recommendations about how we best can remain healthy. But we should never allow governments to keep us in “jail” in our homes without the due process of law for each one of us on and individual basis. Do you think that the so-called “War on Terror” will ever be declared to be over so that we can get our lost freedoms and liberties back? How about the OVID-19 crisis?
Quote of the week: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Anatole France
Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) Superior Court of Orange County, California 2012 Libertarian Candidate for Vice President
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