Every human being you encounter has the potential to harm you and therefore poses a risk, so does that mean you would be justified in holding a gun to the head of every person you meet and ordering them to move 500 yards away from you? Of course not. Managing risk is not the same as preventing an immediate and certain threat of harm or death.
This is why drastic measures like national quarantines or ‘lock-downs’ are unjust; they are a misuse and abuse of legal force. If many or most people choose to effectively quarantine themselves, then that’s their prerogative, but the point is individuals should be at liberty to make that decision for themselves. It’s also our right to decide what risks we expose ourselves to, and so the argument that national quarantines are for everyone’s own good doesn’t stand up. If society ‘shuts down’ in response to the pandemic, it should be as a consequence of the individual choices and actions of all of its members – it shouldn’t be a choice autocratically made by a few in government and imposed on the whole of society. Equality before the eyes of the law is nonsense as long as one group of people has such powers.
Sure, the authoritarian actions of governments around the world are mostly being done with good intentions, but so what? An altruistic motive was behind every great political evil of the 20th century. Hitler didn’t plan and execute the holocaust for his own sadistic pleasure. Stalin didn’t operate gulags for his own personal enjoyment. Pol Pot was trying to create a utopia. We forget that these men, whom it’s easy to assume were simply ‘evil’, were actually trying to serve the welfare of humanity.
The Coronavirus pandemic is showing how quickly today’s democratic states can morph into tyrannies and just how comfortable people in authority are with removing our liberties overnight. Many millions of people around the world who, only a few days ago thought they had rights, are now realising they in fact have permissions from the state which can be revoked at any time. How many people understood this? Hardly any, I’d bet. Some might be aghast at how swiftly their ‘rights’ were removed by people acting under state authority, but some others might, in a perverse way, find their government’s draconian actions reassuring.
During times of widespread fear and panic, many people may find themselves yearning for the false sense of safety and security of the centrally planned and imposed ‘order’ of totalitarian authority. I’ve seen people bemoaning the fact that the UK government has refrained (so far) from using the brute force of law to shut down society and highly restrict people’s movements. It’s disturbing to see that some people apparently have so much faith in the wisdom and virtue of people in state authority that they are content to be degraded and treated more like children or animals.
There’s one obvious political motivation for the draconian, drastic and desperate measures of governments in response to the pandemic. If socialised healthcare systems fail spectacularly to cope with the pandemic, and private hospitals and clinics cope much better, then public faith in government-run healthcare might just take a nosedive. And that would be bad news for politicians and countless government bureaucrats around the world.
Not only will faith in government-run healthcare be shaken by the pandemic, but faith in government regulation will be too. The New York Times recently reported on how federal regulations and the incompetence of federal agencies have severely hobbled efforts to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus in the U.S. at an early stage. That makes the regulatory state look cumbersome and stupid (which it is) rather than agile and intelligent.
One of the worst things to have during a pandemic is a highly regulated drug industry. The other is socialised healthcare systems. Sadly, the world has both. It could be that, once it’s all over, one of the most regrettable things about the world’s response to the pandemic will be how the efforts of society’s experts were hampered by webs of government regulations and how government-run healthcare systems failed miserably to cope.
Yes, there’s a pandemic happening and yes it’s serious, but that doesn’t mean it stops being true that people have rights. Nor does a public health crisis mean that people in government get to do whatever they want to citizens. We need to keep calm, carry on, and defend our rights. We should speak the truth to people in power that there is no justification for the sudden and drastic ramping up of state control over individuals under the guise of managing health risks.
Governments have already made the Coronavirus, which is a threat to the lives of less than 1% of the people it infects, a threat to every single person’s liberty, but they could also make it a threat to everyone’s general living standard if they start enacting emergency price controls or rationing.
People need markets to function freely during national emergencies more than any other time. Only profit-seekers and free-market capitalism are capable of supplying society with what it needs most urgently and enabling it to carry on, politicians and governments are not.
The best thing the government could do for society at this time is stay out of the way and let markets allocate resources according to what’s in most urgent demand, but there’s not a hope in hell’s chance that’s going to happen. And that’s because governments are crawling with overzealous and overconfident egotists who fancy themselves as humanitarian heroes (armed with guns and other people’s money). So as well as being prepared to deal with the potential financial consequences of the pandemic, we should also prepare to cope with the harm of government ‘help’, which will come by force and whether we want it or not.