Four things only libertarians can see about COVID-19

Four things only libertarians can see about COVID-19

A new form of political correctness has spread, like a virus, across the fruited plain. Libertarians are taking heat – getting angry responses for criticizing governors who have used the spread of COVID-19 to issue edicts that shutter businesses and impose martial law-like schemes.

coronavirus covid-19 libertarians politics

Still, libertarians find they cannot keep quiet. Their philosophy of self-government is forged in an understanding of consequences. Libertarians are the only members of society who can see – even foresee – the following four things about the State’s edicts and regulations…

The seen and the unseen

First, libertarians can visualize the Unseen.

What is seen is that which is obvious to us. In the present case, it’s easy for us to see the way the virus is spreading and how the healthcare system is overrun in Italy.

What is unseen are the variety of harms that occur because people have been denied freedom of association and movement. Politicians are using wartime powers and preening before TV cameras. There will be short-term and long-term effects stemming from their actions. Nearly everyone, especially the regime media, is overlooking these costs.

The proper way to analyze this situation is to take all of the effects into account.

Libertarians are just like you; they’re sheltering and practicing physical distance. But let’s be clear, not everyone has that luxury. There’s no way that a governor could anticipate, let alone solve all of these sticky issues. Edicts are “one size fits all.” Each person understands their unique situation better than a politician in a distant capitol could. There are many scenarios to consider. Here’s a sampling…

  • Right now, families are trapped in a home with an abuser. Perhaps the abuser’s workday was a time of relief, or the victim’s school or work was an escape path to safety.
  • Suicides will increase during the crisis.
  • Addiction will worsen because the sense of purpose or even mere interruption that occupational work provides has been stolen away.
  • Businesses that were operating on a thin margin will fold, crushing dreams, resulting in unemployment, and even reducing supply. Supply reductions will fuel price increases for all of us.

Notice State failures

Second, don’t overlook the harm caused by government actors. For example, Donald Trump’s aides were afraid to give their reelection-minded boss any bad news until it was too late. And the sudden, jarring, gubernatorial edicts have caused fear, uncertainty, and doubt – provoking shortages.

In a libertarian world, reliable tests would already be for sale! And if the tests were universally available, the crisis would’ve been far smaller and Americans would be back to work.

There are two reasons tests are not already on the market.

  1. Political suppression of information. If they had gotten the signal earlier, then entrepreneurs, inventors, and existing businesses would’ve started delivering tests by now. We know there was sufficient time because a handful of U.S. Senators were briefed in January. After seeing the impending crisis, they sold off their stocks.
  2. Ironically, regulations are supposed to make us safer. What they do instead is create barriers which increase delays and costs. Frequently, the innovator realizes that no action is profitable, choosing not to invent (another unseen effect). The FDA has been in the way of tests getting to market.

Wisdom of the crowd

Third, self-government is the best solution to the Knowledge Problem. No matter the doomsday scenario, it’s hard to imagine a single governor (or president) outsmarting millions of people.

No matter how brilliant the governor and his or her advisors are, he or she lacks the capacity to win a problem-solving contest against tens of millions of people.

Worse, political acts are prone to cause injuries (which tend to be unseen and unreported). The miracle of “stuff” arriving on our store shelves involves millions of micro-decisions. Sudden edicts have replaced that. Shortages result because the governor deploys unanticipated force. Consider…

Restaurants who planned menus suddenly have too much food. Grocery stores, who thought people would be at restaurants, find that they have new customers instead. The restaurant owner takes a bath.

Even with nearly-empty shelves, stores need to make sure they don’t over-order in response. Grocers know these effects are temporary, but they don’t know when they will end. They don’t want to end up like the restaurants, stuck with too much stock on hand. Uncertainty prevails. Shortages will remain a problem until governors back out of the equation.

Human respect

Fourth and most important of all, is the matter of Human Respect. The libertarian uniquely recognizes that everyone seeks happiness and that no one person can make everyone happy.

The Principle of Human Respect is a natural, cause-and-effect relationship. If I rob you at gunpoint, your happiness decreases. Social harmony and prosperity are diminished too.

Since this is a principle, even governors cannot violate it. Bans and edicts are ultimately enforced by armed men and women. These are not acts of persuasion; they are threats to achieve a desired result. When anyone, be they a criminal or your governor, coerces another human being, they never increase happiness. And in the present situation, the bans have obviously decreased social peace and material prosperity.

The damage to prosperity is already so obvious that no one is contesting it.

And before the governors started acting, we had peaceful cooperation. Most people were already practicing physical distancing. We also witnessed allegedly greedy corporations voluntarily sacrificing many millions of dollars. To prevent the spread of COVID-19 the NCAA closed events to the public. Then, the NBA suspended its season and Disney closed its parks. Like falling dominoes, tons of businesses followed.

AFTER that, governors forced the holdouts to close. Libertarians began raising important questions like the four you’ve just reviewed. They’re getting accused of wanting to clog hospitals and increase the death toll. Therefore, consider the role politicians are playing. Are their acts increasing harmony or did they introduce new divisions into our society?

Jim Babka is the Editor-at-Large for Advocates for Self-Government and the co-creator of the Zero Aggression Project.

Comment section

17 thoughts on “Four things only libertarians can see about COVID-19

  1. You bet.

    Libertarians in Hunan were saying there was a virus problem a year ago. South Korea is having half the problem thanks to improvements by a libertarian management team 5 years ago. Libertarians urge people and communities to ‘prep’ for such emergencies, and were telling people to consider masks and social distancing and consider leaving the market in January!

    OP, check out the good work at Libertarian Poll Data on Facebook which is a clearinghouse for libertarian action right now of the Libertarian International.

  2. I believe that we should add the death toll, not of the virus itself, but as a consequence of government force. As Americans, we were lucky enough to see the virus coming before it hit us. We knew the death tolls, and could take action, and as mentioned in this article… did take action. But thanks to government mandate, we are on a steam train toward the depression, the inevitable destiny of which was laid out back when FDR started, and Nixon completed, removing the country from the Gold-Standard. So with our house of cards built ever higher, it just needed a spark. That spark has lit the house on fire, and Washington DC, and Trump-Pelosi are happily pouring on the gas with their ‘stimulus’ packages.
    In an article in the Atlantic, 40,000 people took their lives during the depression. How many does that equate to in today’s terms when this depression that is beginning – DIRECTLY resultant to government interference in the economy – gets to full-ramp?
    And this is to say nothing of the already rising death-toll in America as a result of domestic violence DIRECTLY related to locking people in their homes together.

    If the experts are correct, there may be as many as 30 million people infected who are and will remain asymptomatic, if this is true, then the eventual death-toll from the virus will land WELL below .01%, and below that of the flu. But what will the death-toll be as a result of the aforementioned government force into our lives, our economy, and our relationships??? The possibilities are frightening to be sure.

  3. Libertarianism, like other religions, offers very little for real world problems.

    If this article were measured for clarity of thought and proper support of its arguments, it would at best reach a D+ as a high school paper.

    Please stop.

  4. Four things ONLY libertarians can see about COVID-19.

    Can libertarians see how hard I rolled my eyes when I read this title?

  5. What a self congratulatory piece of nonsense. Tell the Bundy clan about how well libertarians do social distancing. The hair on fire rhetoric is only fueling that sad portion of society who live only in service to fear. That way only helps gun sales and the virus itself by driving the scared out in public to gun stores. Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, you are just as much of a trainwreck as any other right wing ” movement “.

  6. There are two tolls that will be higher than any COVID-19-illness casualty toll:

    –The economic toll – businesses lost, personal poverty, supply depletion in the market. People will die because shippers will be diverted from delivering food and other necessary goods to delivering hospital supplies, often at gunpoint (or its legal equivalent). Many small and mid-sized businesses will NOT survive closure, despite government aid. What will survive? Amazon and Walmart, as the equivalent of Soviet-era State Stores…
    –The liberty toll – personal liberty, increased government force, increased government power over individuals and groups. Countries, provinces, counties, and towns have trampled wholesale over any civil liberties their citizens have had, all in the name of “flattening the curve”. Whether the post-virus result will appear as WWII-era fascism, Cold War Marxism, or something else remains to be seen.
    — Another factor to consider is the casualty toll from people afraid to access healthcare services, or for whom health services are now unavailable as non-hospital practitioners are told to social distance, and/or are drafted into COVID-19 service.

    That said, some of the industries I’ve mentioned have been at the cusp of revolution; the pandemic will hasten the changeover:
    Retailers have been under pressure to provide quick-turnaround Buy Online Pickup In Store (BOPIS) and same-day delivery services for the past few years; the lockdown is hastening that turnaround for larger-scale stores able to deliver to those requirements;
    Gourmet eating at home has been on the upswing with services such as Blue Apron and Hello Fresh. Local restaurants, faced with excesses of food and food delivery, have been preparing similarly-styled meal kits as well as ready-to-serve meals;
    AI-based virtual dressing rooms will make it easier to shop for clothes at home, and get the correct size the first time;
    Virtual convention spaces and virtual meetings, which have been replacing in-person conventions for nearly two decades, will continue to grow thanks to platforms such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, and so on.

  7. You nay sayers above are idiots. I’m not an anarchist, I’m a real world libertarian… But the fact is that libertarian principles work better than any others. The USA up until a few decades into the 20th century was an almost entirely libertarian nation, and the most successful in the world. Countries today are successful or not mostly along the lines of how libertarian their governments are. Those that are freer and have less government in their lives are wealthier and happier.

    I do think there are limits to how far you can go, as I said I’m not an anarchist… But every day life shows all the many stupid things government screws up. This pandemic is another. I could be ordering an antibody test off Amazon right now for $10 if the FDA wasn’t blocking the sale of tests that have already been approved for sale in other 1st world countries! What purpose does that serve?

    And when you start digging into it, you realize 90% of what government does is JUST as useful as that. AKA worthless. You ever wonder why governments won’t allow a SINGLE truly free nation to exist on earth? It’s because it would make the rest of them look so awful that they’d have to change. That’s what the USA itself did back in the 1800s and early 20th century. We were so awesome that Europe changed their system to emulate ours to stop even more of their people from leaving!

    Unfortunately idiots ruined the USA, and now there really isn’t a shining example for the world. I hope that someday there will be again.

  8. Libertarians always apply the “qui bona” principle to political analysis. Who benefits from shutting down those parts of society that politicians deem nonessential? Who benefits from preventing natural herd immunity from developing in society, by demanding that we all become prisoners in our own homes? It may take a while to figure that out. It may take a while to understand the difference between dying “with” COVID and dying “from” COVID.

    The first problem, however, is whether the civil authorities have the power to lockdown private economic activity. My 36 years practicing law convince me that neither the states nor the federal authorities have that power. Read my argument here:

    And before you start telling me about Jacobson vs Massachusetts, please read my analysis of Informed Consent law here:

  9. “Right now, families are trapped in a home with an abuser. Perhaps the abuser’s workday was a time of relief, or the victim’s school or work was an escape path to safety.”

    That’s not an argument, because family members who have been spent too little time with their relatives now get a chance to fill the gap.

    “Shortages will remain a problem until governors back out of the equation.”

    You seriously downplay this. Millions of people loosing their jobs constantly, while the government increase its bureaucRAT capacity, which is worse than unemployments.

    We most likely facing a that huge recession which has never been before.

    In every other aspect: great article.

  10. “But let’s be clear, not everyone has that luxury. There’s no way that a governor could anticipate, let alone solve all of these sticky issues.” Yes, there’s NO WAY that anybody could have thought about a global pandemic occurring. Oh wait, they did, and that’s the government created a pandemic response team and wrote a playbook for handling pandemics in US. We also have the CDC which has been warning us about this possibility for a long time.

    Also, there’s “no way” the government could be handing out PPE, hand sanitizer, soap, MREs, and other essentials during this crisis. That’s just *impossible*.

  11. “Those that are freer and have less government in their lives are wealthier and happier.”

    Actually, the evidence does not show that. The nations ranked highest in the World Happiness Index tend to be social democracies that have several government programs to improve the quality of life for their citizens.

    The United States has also *never* been a libertarian nation. We were founded as a democratic republic with a representative form of government. The Constitution also allows for the government to do things to promote the general welfare of our citizens.

  12. Unfortunately, the representatives have learned to stay in power, to represent their best interests, and mostly give mouth service to their half-blinded constituents, who vote for “ideas” instead of demanding “action”.
    (Yeah; that sounds about right.)

  13. As a former libertarian, I won’t lie, I scoffed at the title.

    I think an Unseen part of this whole dilemma is that the countries that handled the pandemic well, generally did not have a libertarian system or anything remotely looking libertarian. Hell, I’ve heard several people say that we can’t implement those nation’s solutions here, because of our inherent cultural libertarianism.

    The general problem I see is one of inefficient interdependence, a big way of saying, that our private sector, public sector, bureaucracies, federal, state and local governments do not work well with each other. This is far less a problem of size of government as much as a poisoned relationship between such parties.

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