No, the Politicians Didn’t Save Us From COVID-19

Writing at Reason magazine, Eric Boehm notes two trends revealed in data released by Apple and Foursquare.

Trend One: Americans began reducing their outings and social interactions before, not because of, “shelter in place” orders issued by grandstanding, opportunistic politicians.

Trend  Two: Americans started coming back out and resuming something like normal life before, not because, those politicians started lifting those orders.

In other words, with COVID-19 as with everything else, government policy is a trailing, rather than leading, indicator.

Politicians don’t start parades. They notice parades that we regular people have spontaneously organized, then run as fast as they can to the front of those parades, hoping to be seen “taking charge.”

And yet, for some reason, large numbers of Americans remain devout congregants of what Libertarians call the Cult of the Omnipotent State.

At the beginning of every perceived crisis or emergency, the priests and parishioners of the Cult of the Omnipotent State assert that the only way society will survive is if we all act in lockstep obedience to the commands of the politicians.

And after every perceived crisis or emergency, those same priests and parishioners assert that the only reason society survived is that we all DID act in lockstep obedience to the commands of the politicians.

They’re always wrong, of course. In fact, it invariably turns out that the politicians and their strutting authoritarian commands made the crisis or emergency worse rather than better — sometimes in a big way, sometimes just at the margins, but at least a little, always and every time.

For some reason, though, we always let the Cultists of the Omnipotent State re-write history with the politicians as the heroes. That’s a mistake that costs lives.

As America “re-opens,” we should put our minds to avoiding that mistake in the future.

Open This Content

On Pandemics

96% of positive coronavirus cases were asymptomatic across 4 US state prisons, according to research by Reuters. I’d heard previously that asymptomatic persons numbered 50-70% of positive coronavirus cases. If most people who get the virus never show any symptoms, and if total case mortality is well below 1%, is COVID-19 really a pandemic? A better question: is something a “pandemic” just because some people who call themselves “government” say its a pandemic? Hardly. Governments make up names for things all the time, and then use those made up names to justify their authoritarian behavior. Such is Standard Operating Procedure for legal mafias the world over. And that’s today’s two cents.

Open This Content

“Essential”: What’s in a Word?

Are you an “essential worker” who needs to be on the job? Do you run a “non-essential business” that’s required to close and isn’t eligible for a government bailout? When you leave your home is it for “essential travel” or are you engaging in “non-essential activity?”

“Essential” versus “non-essential” may be the single most significant word pairing that’s come out of the COVID-19 panic and its associated shutdowns, lockdowns, and shakedowns.

But I haven’t seen many attempts to actually define the words (laundry lists of activities the issuing authority approves or disapproves of aren’t definitions). What do they actually mean?

Among the definitions offered in the 1913 edition of Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, I suspect this is the definition of “essential” we’re looking for:

“Important in the highest degree; indispensable to the attainment of an object; indispensably necessary.”

But that definition raises more questions than it answers: Important to whom? Indispensable to the attainment of what object? Necessary why?

Those same questions, of course, are also relevant to what makes an activity unimportant, dispensable, and unnecessary, i.e. “non-essential.”

I can’t really answer those questions, but I have a good idea how, and by whom, they can and can’t be answered.

The best mechanism for answering questions pertaining to how essential a business or a job might be is called “the market.”

If customers consider a business “essential,” they’ll do business with it. If not, they won’t.

If employers consider a job “essential,” they’ll pay what it takes to convince someone to do that job. If not, they won’t.

Yes, it really is that simple. Those judgments may change over time and for different situations, but the aggregate judgments of billions of customers and millions of business owners constitute a pretty reliable indicator of what is or isn’t important, indispensable, and necessary.

The judgments of politicians and bureaucrats, on the other hand, are only a reliable indicator of one thing: What serves or doesn’t serve the desire of politicians and bureaucrats to order the rest of us around and run our lives.

The “shutdown, lockdown, shakedown” response to COVID-19 wasn’t just unnecessary: It will almost certainly turn out to have killed more people than COVID-19 itself.

Patients with non-COVID-19 illnesses have had procedures pushed back as “non-essential.” Some of them are going to unnecessarily die.

Crops are rotting in the fields. Some people are going to starve. Maybe even in America.

People with debilitating mental conditions already pushing them toward suicidal thoughts are locked in their homes. Some of them are going to surrender to those thoughts.

Businesses, workers and customers were far more competent than politicians and bureaucrats to decide what needed to shut down or be re-arranged. They should have been left free to make those decisions instead of being brought under absolute despotism.

As the panic winds down and the world gets back to work, our top political priority must be to deprive politicians and bureaucrats of  power to ever pull this kind of authoritarian con on us again.

Open This Content

On Authority

Our society has a sickness. No, not COVID-19, but a lack of real authority. I’m not talking about the chattering heads in State and national capitals, the authoritarians. Those people won a popularity contest by making impossible promises and emotional pleas with a complete disregard for economics and ethics. I’m talking about the authority that comes from experience and wisdom. Leaders, the kind that have earned their station by consistently demonstrating to others the ability to do what’s right and needed in the face of serious challenges to both the protection of life and the preservation of liberty, not rulers, are totally absent in our society at this crucial time. I think that people are only spreading misinformation on the one hand and propaganda on the other because they recognize that the people who call themselves “the authorities” are totally false. They haven’t earned it the only way it can be earned, and so our society’s prognosis is possibly quite grave. Statism has that effect. And that’s today’s two cents.

Open This Content

Will We Learn COVID-19’s Most Important Lesson?

On February 29th, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams took to Twitter to admonish Americans:  “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus …”

A little over a month later, Adams finally got around to asking the Centers for Disease Control if perhaps he’d been talking through his hat when talking through a mask might have been smarter.

City governments from Miami to Los Angeles gave themselves whiplash as mask-wearing went from “officially discouraged” to “mandatory” virtually overnight. Philadelphia’s city bus system adopted the new policy so enthusiastically that masked cops were summoned to violently drag non-masked riders off of buses.

The Parable of Mask Idiocy’s lessons extend, like those of most parables, far beyond the specifics of the story itself.

If general lessons can be drawn from our experience of COVID-19 so far, here are three of them:

First, never expect government to be prepared to respond to a pandemic.

Second, never expect government’s ad hoc responses to a pandemic to be the correct responses.

And third, never expect government to admit its errors.

The sequel to the Parable of Mask Idiocy is the “Saved You From Apocalypse” Claim.

You’ve heard that story in its mocking primitive form before:

Villagers cower in fear as the sun begins to disappear behind a black spot. It’s the end of the world, their witch doctor informs them. Follow my instructions to appease the gods or you will all be consumed! Then the eclipse ends and the witch doctor takes credit. The world WOULD have ended if it hadn’t been for him and his wisdom, see?

At this very moment, herds of government officials and “public health” bureaucrats are stampeding away from their initial predictions of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of American deaths from COVID-19. Latest guesstimate: “Substantially under” 100,000.

They know you won’t forget those early predictions, so their task is to con you into believing that the lower numbers are a function of you having obeyed their orders.

One problem with that is that so far the death tolls seem to be worst in areas where draconian orders were most strictly enforced. And that seems to be true globally, not just in the US (see the responses and outcomes in Italy versus South Korea, for example).

While there are certainly other factors involved — population density being a big one — it’s at least plausible that the authoritarian responses of governors like New York’s Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey’s Phil Murphy increased, rather than decreased, the death tolls in their states.

As with so many other jobs, the state is neither competent nor trustworthy when it comes to protecting us from contagion. Let’s never again forget that.

Open This Content

How Freedom Can Survive This Pandemic – With Your Help

There are not many possible outcomes in which humans become freer after the COVID-19 pandemic. Already Western governments (see: United States) are taking unprecedented powers and violating civil liberties on a mass scale, despite farcical mismanagement of the crisis. Countries already well along the authoritarian road are openly embracing dictatorship (see: Hungary) or violent suppression (see: the Philippines, China).

The stay-at-home orders and lockdowns have probably made you feel powerless to help fight either this pandemic or the emerging fascistic orders. But there is plenty we can do. This list is just a start:

Make yourself more resilient

Are you isolated? Very well. Become a stronger individual. Do things which will reduce your dependence on the people who would run your life.

  • Wear masks in public (and practice physical distancing): Protect other people from transmission of the virus by wearing a mask. You may be a carrier without having any symptoms. Stay at least 6 ft. away from others, and limit unnecessary travel. All the basics: don’t make things worse for yourself or others.
  • Stay fit: Eat well and exercise and monitor your own health.
  • Prepare for shortages: It’s a bit late in the game to “stock up”, but supplies of some things are still plentiful relative to supplies in a few weeks. Don’t hoard, but at least make sure you have enough for yourself and your family to avoid the bread lines.
  • Keep some cash: Having cash (rather than debt) right now will be a source of optionality. The more cash you have, the longer you can resist the dole.
  • Get good at doing things yourself: Whether you’re making a mask or raising chickens or building a home gym, you’re going to have to do a lot of things yourself, or else do without. You’ll have to fix a lot of things.
  • Learn self-defense, and get the tools for it: This virus will be making traditional police forces both weaker (due to sickness) and more dangerous (due to new levels of power and nosiness). You would be well advised to learn gun safety, get a gun, and maybe acquire some other self-defense skills (such as a martial art).

Strengthen voluntary communities

Even strong individuals will look outward for help. We can let them turn to dictators and/or bureaucrats, or we can make voluntary associations and the voluntary institutions of civil society strong enough to meet the demand.

  • Help your neighbors: Your neighbors will be suffering too, whether from loneliness or from actual need. Donate to your food bank, send food or supplies to your local medical workers, volunteer if you can do so safely, and bring groceries for your older neighbors.
  • Support small businesses: The more independent entrepreneurs survive this crisis, the fewer the people forced toward welfare-dependency, government work, or employment for the crony corporations.
  • Create value: Entrepreneurs who can build new technologies and businesses to help during this pandemic will be doing a great deal for freedom, even if they don’t speak about politics at all. Growth and innovation are their own arguments for liberty, and private initiative to solve social problems will be a clear counter-example to the corruption and incompetence of bureaucracy.
  • Make churches and community groups work well remotely: You must find a way to transition traditional mass gatherings into forms of peer to peer connections. Livestreams won’t be enough. People need interaction. Consider group video calls, group chats, email threads, etc. for the communities you care about, and keep interaction going.

Organize and foster dissenting voices

Shutdowns and lockdowns create perfect opportunities for petty tyrants to rule isolated individuals – unless we find each other online. We will have to organize regardless of the distance:

  • Connect with fellow freedom-lovers: Reach out to your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who are likely to share a concern for political liberty. Find people you can trust and people who will be willing to stand alongside you in protest and even disobedience. There may be differing levels of interest or commitment as well as different ideological orientations – that’s fine. Work with people where they are, and build a coalition of people who care.
  • Share information: Watch and share important news about the pandemic and government overreach. Curate from many sources. Take the pandemic seriously and avoid fake news.
  • Speak out: I’m generally cynical on the value of political speech, but you never know how you might shift what someone else is willing to accept from their government. Say something. Share why bailouts are destructive of economic welfare, criticize police harassment of solo beach walkers, point out the illegality of business shutdown by state fiat, etc. Share how deregulation of a choked medical industry is helping, and how free people working together have often bested government solutions.

Prepare for active dissent and disobedience

More steps toward tyranny have happened in the past few weeks than have happened in a year, or so it seems. As economies quickly degrade and social unrest rises, governments will claim more power which they may use against dissidents in the name of safety. And if lockdowns on travel, free assembly, and free enterprise continue, civil disobedience will be both just and necessary (if more dangerous). So it’s not a bad idea to be prepared for further crackdowns by paranoid governments, as well as the risk of being libertarian in that eventuality:

  • Do the anti-surveillance basics: The surveillance state will probably take this opportunity to reveal itself fully. Make things harder for it, at least. Encrypt your chats using an app like Signal, encrypt your emails using PGP, and remember that your devices’ microphones and cameras might be watching/listening to you (block them if you can).
  • Reduce dependence on anti-privacy platforms: Platforms like Google, however well-intentioned, seem to have no qualms about making your data (location, etc) available to governments. Facebook certainly won’t mind turning over your communications if doing so can be justified by “the emergency.”
  • Reduce dependence on censorship-oriented platforms: Twitter recently announced its intention to remove tweets contradicting “expert” information about COVID-19, at a time when “experts” were still claiming that masks were ineffective (they now acknowledge masks’ usefulness). These platforms may continue to make terrible editorial/censorial decisions as economies .
  • Learn your legal rights: It has become a meme, but you should know how to challenge police officers for violation of the 4th amendment (and other rights). Consider the possibility that you may be arrested either for something as silly as going outside or for deliberate disobedience of business shut-down orders.

This pandemic will pass. The authoritarian gains made now will remain for a long time. But if we act early and often, we can thwart a lot of it, give the state some black eyes and PR nightmares, and maybe even eke out some victories for freedom.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

Open This Content