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Hygiene Socialism Isn’t “Authoritarian Capitalism”

Here’s a letter to the Guardian:


You deserve credit for publishing Larry Elliott’s acknowledgement that the costs of covid lockdowns increasingly appear to be greater than whatever benefits were wrung from that unprecedented, repressive policy (“The price Britain paid for lockdown was colossal. Was there an alternative?” Feb. 12). And Mr Elliott rightly supports his case by citing the important work of Toby Green and Thomas Fazi, two men of the left who from early on wisely warned of lockdowns’ economic and social harms.

But I must protest Green’s and Fazi’s description, as quoted by Mr Elliott, of lockdowns as “authoritarian capitalism.” “Capitalism” refers to an economic system in which individuals as consumers and as producers are free of state interference to buy, invest, produce, and sell – using only their own money – as they choose. People on the left believe that such freedom too seldom leads to outcomes that are acceptable, while Thatcherite conservatives and libertarians believe that attempts to correct or to override market processes with government intervention too often make matters worse.

Regardless of who on this score is correct, when government coercively shuts businesses down, orders people to remain at home, and – as the British government did – induces compliance with its draconian measures by intentionally filling the public with exaggerated fear, it brutally tramples on the private property rights, and obstructs the voluntary exchanges, that are at the heart of capitalism. That it did these deeds in pursuit of a higher ‘social’ good doesn’t change these deeds’ awful reality.

Far from being “authoritarian capitalism” – an oxymoron – lockdowns are, as described by the Australian historian David Hart, hygiene socialism.

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