Get Real About Covid-19 – and About Government

by Don Boudreaux on October 27, 2020

in Archived writings, Current Affairs, Reality Is Not Optional, Risk and Safety

In my latest article for AIER I express genuine mystification at many people’s gullibility for the use of unprecedented government powers to combat Covid-19. A slice:

Why this faith? The proffered answer, of course, is that Covid-19 is unusually dangerous and, therefore, we have no choice but to put faith in government officials. This answer is bizarre, for it insists that we must now trust with unprecedented power people who regularly act in ways that prove them to be unworthy to hold lesser amounts of power. My head explodes….

Moving on, and without pausing to explore just what is meant here by “unusually,” let’s grant that Covid-19 is indeed unusually dangerous. But also unusually dangerous is arbitrary government power. Is it unreasonable for those of us who fear this power to require that proponents of lockdowns meet a higher standard of persuasion before we accede to the exercise of such power? Given that the initial spark for the lockdowns, at least in the United Kingdom and the United States, was Neil Ferguson’s suspect and widely criticized Imperial Model – a model, recall, offered by a man with an awful record of dramatically exaggerating the likely mortality rates of diseases – is it unreasonable to demand that much stronger evidence be offered before we turn silent as governments continue massively to interrupt normal life?

If you’re tempted to answer these questions in the affirmative, recognize that there’s at least one important difference between pathogens and power – a difference that should be, but isn’t, taken into consideration by pro-lockdowners. The difference is this: Population immunity, either through a pathogen’s natural spread or through a vaccine, will at some point significantly reduce that pathogen’s danger; in contrast, for protection against government power there is no population immunity or vaccine. When such power expands, the ratchet effect documented by Robert Higgs ensures that that power remains more elevated and widespread than before.

Unlike pathogens, government power continues to nourish itself as it grows into an ever-greater danger. Quaking at the very thought of Covid while discounting the danger that lurks in the immense expansions of government power done in the name of fighting Covid is wholly unreasonable.


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