… is from page 174 of Bas Van Der Vossen’s and Jason Brennan’s excellent 2018 book, In Defense of Openness:
When free people choose to interact in mutually advantageous ways, justice demands that we leave them be.
DBx: Van Der Vossen and Brennan had in mind when they wrote these words – which appear in the Postscript of their book – mostly trade and immigration. They obviously were not writing in response to the Covid-19 lockdowns. Yet many of the lessons from their book apply to the state of our world today.
Lockdown proponents and tolerators will immediately assert that many of Van Der Vossen’s and Brennan’s lessons don’t apply when a contagious pathogen that is lethal to many people is on the loose. But I caution against such a hasty conclusion.
While the costs of openness might rise in the face of such a pathogen, the benefits of openness don’t disappear or even diminish. Indeed, these benefits might even rise as there is a more-urgent need for cooperation to find cures and vaccines.
Yet what reason have political “leaders” and public-health “experts” given you to believe that they take the loss of such benefits of openness adequately into account when proposing and implementing lockdowns? The correct answer isn’t “none,” but it surely is “far too little.” Politicians and pundits are unusually attuned, always, to opennesses’s costs; they are almost universally blind to the full range of opennesses’s benefits.
The benefits of openness on the international front – that is, mostly involving trade and immigration – were, before the pandemic, inadequately appreciated by most people regardless of ideology or political affiliation. The benefits of openness internally were simply taken for granted; very few people thought about these benefits. And so at least I am not surprised at the widespread failure to comprehend the huge losses that humanity is now suffering because the world today, internationally and domestically, is far less open than it was at 2020’s dawn.
The juvenile simplicity of most intellectuals’ and politicians’ view of modern reality – their easy talk of the likes of “supply chains,” “the American economy,” “aggregate demand,” “strategic industries,” and “unfair trade” – both revealed and furthered their pre-pandemic blindness to the benefits of greater openness. This same juvenile simplicity blinds them now to the costs of closing open societies in the name of fighting Covid.
As an empirical matter in this complex reality of ours, one cannot rule out the theoretical possibility of a threat so great and sure that draconian restrictions on openness might find legitimate justification both economically and ethically. But if we are to preserve the free society, the burden of persuasion must rest squarely and heavily upon those who propose even temporary restrictions on that openness.
Was such a burden met in the case of Covid-19? No. Hell, there wasn’t even the recognition that those who proposed Covid restrictions even have a burden to meet beyond simply saying “It’s contagious!” (or, in econospeak, “It’s an externality!”). But because the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is hardly the only contagious pathogen among humans – and, more generally, because nearly every action in society has unintended consequences that spillover onto others – surely the burden of persuasion that must be met by those who would close our open society must involve something more than their having to shout “It’s contagious!”