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Covid Tyranny

Here’s a letter to a new correspondent:

Mr. A__ H__:

Reacting to this post of mine you write that I “lose credibility by labeling as ‘tyrants’ government officials acting under the belief that strong responses are necessary to protect the populace from covid.”

The person who in this instance I call a tyrant is a British MP who supports Boris Johnson’s harsh lockdowns but who would not answer a reasonable question about how far the number of Covid-19 cases or deaths in that country must fall before the government finally releases British citizens from their Draconian fetters. An implication of this MP’s failure to answer is that the government refuses to be held accountable to any standards. Maximum discretion to do as it pleases is how BoJo’s government has acted these past 12 months and how it wishes to continue to act.

A government that acts without rules, that consistently changes course in favor of exercising ever-more and longer-lasting power, and that now refuses to publicly state guidelines for ending its unprecedented assault on ordinary human liberties is tyrannical. I don’t see how this word fails to accurately describe today’s British government – as well as many other governments across the globe.

All tyrants claim that their harsh exercise of arbitrary power is necessary to protect the people from terrible evil. Some tyrants, I’m sure, even make these claims sincerely. Further, all tyrants’ claims to rule in the interest of The People are widely believed by The People. Tyrants who are popularly understood to be tyrants never actually become tyrants because their support remains too narrow.

In short, most victims of tyranny never recognize their fate until it’s too late.

Reasonable people can disagree on just where the exercise of arbitrary power turns from being merely unwise into being tyrannical. But given that we’re now more than a year into lockdowns – given that, over this time, the justification for lockdowns has changed repeatedly – given that we are given no firm guidance about what level of Covid cases or deaths would be sufficient for a return to normalcy – given that nearly all of the major actors ignore the costs of lockdowns and other restrictions, and they act as if no amount of precaution against Covid can be too much – given that these unprecedented responses to Covid run counter to all public-health guidelines issued through the end of 2019 – given the media’s appalling reporting on this disease – and given the fact that people scared out of their wits by the incessant peddling of unwarranted hysteria are too likely to mistake tyranny for salvation, I’m convinced that much of the world today is solidly caught in tyranny’s gory grip. And so I call it what I believe it to be.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030