Joakim Book is a deep, nuanced, and wise thinker who, with every essay that he writes, earns more of my respect. His latest essay for AIER is a heart-rending must-read. Like him, I hope – oh do I hope! – that he’s mistaken. But I fear that his fears – his Robert Higgsian fears – are warranted. Humanity’s insane overreaction to covid-19 is an epic tragedy, perhaps one of the greatest errors in all of human history. Here’s a slice from Mr. Book’s essay:
It’s not about what works and what doesn’t, a disease or how best to combat it. It’s not even about weighing one set of ills against another. It’s about feeling good and about being in it together – suppressing everyone’s rights and freedoms together.
Air travel won’t return to its 2019 peak. Fewer people will fly, eschewing the wonders of Elsewhere for the safety of Somewhere. The prospects of mandatory quarantines, sometimes in both directions of travel, will sway all but the most dedicated people from traveling. Those who venture into these remarkably safe wonders of civilization will find themselves going through an additional ordeal – not unlike what happened after 9/11 (another set of freedoms never returned to us). We’ll be wearing masks for many years to come, possibly forever; food and drinks will not be served; hand sanitizers and wipers ensure that nothing ever touches your skin. The slight silver lining is some extra space as under no circumstances will seat neighbors be permitted – which means that airlines will struggle with profitability, see more future bailouts, and some of them probably nationalized.
The comparatively harmless plexiglass will be everywhere, as will the masks that make it impossible to read others’ facial expressions and on occasion hear what they’re saying. Social interaction will be inhibited, and not just physically. We’ll all make our purchases behind protective veils – or through the pseudo-anonymity of being online – losing the affectionate interactions that make market participants friendlier. Say goodbye to late-night rumblings through the streets – nightclubs and bars will stay closed, permanently, as such frivolity is most certainly not “essential.” If you’re even allowed outside, that is – which you won’t be – there will be few reasons for you to leave the safety of your home.
Vaccines will arrive, faster than ever before in human history, but the combination of not providing enough protection and a sizable portion of the population refusing to take them, will mean that corona restrictions remain in place.
The madness of 2020 has had a lot of extraordinary firsts: lines in the sand we never thought politicians would cross. We thought they’d never infringe on people’s freedom to walk outside, meet others, trade in perfectly harmless and mutually beneficial exchange. We were wrong: at the first sight of (slight) danger, we handed over freedoms left and right – and nobody really cared. Higgs’ thirty-year-old words are more relevant than ever.
When even free-marketeers like Tyler Cowen say that opening schools “just doesn’t seem worth it,” we don’t want to know what he thinks about other activities. In the early days of the pandemic, opponents of freedom said smugly that “There are no libertarians in a pandemic.” Perhaps, we reluctantly conceded as we all feared what we didn’t know, before we retorted that there would be no statists coming out of one. Liberty’s proponents seem to be losing that one too.