Reason Roundup

It Figures That Michigan Is Among the First States To See Protests Against Social Distancing

Plus: Puerto Rico criminalizes fake news about COVID-19, wide geographic disparity in U.S. income growth, and more...


Protesters take over streets around Michigan State Capitol. Even as polls show a majority of Americans are reluctant to resume business as usual, residents of some states have started publicly pushing back against stay-at-home and social-distancing orders. Cities in Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio have all seen organized protests in the past week.

In Michiganwhere state leaders aren't just determining which businesses can stay open but what particular goods they can sell, and where some sheriffs have declared that they won't enforce the rules—people participated yesterday in an "Operation Gridlock" protest organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund. The organizers stressed to protesters (which Politico puts in the "hundreds" and NBC News in the "thousands") that they should remain in their cars, but many didn't listen.

The demonstration may have backfired if the goal was actually getting the state government to reconsider its rules. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a TV interview afterward that "this is the kind of behavior that extends the needs for stay-at-home orders."

Then again, a substantial number of Michigan residents had no problem defying that order yesterday.

That Michigan is one of the first places seeing substantial pushback against state stay-at-home orders is no random occurrence. Whitmer has instituted one of the nation's most severe stay-at-home policies, banning everything from the sale of paint to the use of motor-powered boats (but not canoes) while the state-run lottery remains "essential." The whole mess highlights the sadly symbiotic relationship between authorities taking things too far and people (some reasonably and strategically, some carelessly and imprudently) reacting in ways that provoke more draconian policies.

Americans have proven quite willing to play along with social-distancing directives when these directives are narrowly tailored to stopping the spread of COVID-19. If there's a lesson from Michigan for other states, it's that imposing overly-strict rules or trying to sneak pet policy transformations into precautionary measures will provoke backlash that makes public health goals even more difficult to reach. If state and local leaders want their people to consent to COVID-19 emergency measures and be partners in public health, rather than antagonists, they should look to Whitmer's examples as what not to do.

"The absolutist nature of the country's shutdown and the economic rescue package have democratic consent—enacted by a bipartisan roster of governors and overwhelming votes in Congress—but it was the kind of consent achieved by warning would-be dissenters, Are you serious? There is no choice!" writes John F. Harris at Politico today. "Many people concluded that for now there is nothing to do but suck it up. It won't be surprising if some of those people eventually have an intense desire to spit out."


Puerto Rico criminalizes misinformation. A new law makes it a crime "to transmit or allow the transmission" of any "false information with the intention of creating confusion, panic, or public hysteria, with regards to any proclamation or executive order declaring an emergency, disaster or curfew." Breaking the law can lead to six months in jail and a fine of $5,000.

"This doesn't just violate the Constitution, it makes it more difficult for journalists to cover the pandemic as it unfolds," points out Tim Cushing at Techdirt.

A lack of solid information isn't the same thing as misinformation, but criminalizing speech the government feels is inaccurate (and costs money to respond to) is only going to result in less information being spread. "Fake news" laws tend to do collateral damage to non-fake news reporting as reporters in the middle of unfolding events opt to self-censor, rather than run the risk of being prosecuted. This won't withstand a Constitutional challenge, but until the law is blocked, everyone in Puerto Rico will have to make do with a little less First Amendment.


Do you make more money now than you did 10 years ago? The average answer to that depends on where you live, according to a new analysis from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. Using IRS data, TRAC found that "some counties saw a doubling of average adjusted gross incomes while taxpayers in other counties experienced" sharped decreases:

For the U.S. as a whole, the average adjusted gross income (AGI) reported on a return grew by $16,735, from $55,361 for returns filed during 2008 to $72,096 for those filed in 2018. This translates into a growth rate, not adjusting for inflation, of 30.2 percent.

Individual counties, however, often experienced quite different changes during this same period. The range in dollar change in a county's respective AGI was as high as $123,096 all the way down to a decline in AGI of -$71,059. In fact, 69 out of the 3,146 counties in the nation experienced a decline in reported AGI. The change in percentage terms in AGI ranged from a low of -93.7 percent to an increase of 290.4 percent…

More here.


  • If states don't start taking measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails, "worst-case model estimates predict that almost two-thirds of hospital beds in Louisiana (8,000 of 12,000) and Georgia (14,000 of 23,000), two-fifths in California (28,000 of 65,000), and more than three-quarters in the most vulnerable state, Arkansas (7,000 of 9,000), will be required by prisoners between 14 and 22 days from now," reports The Appeal.
  • "It's not the politicians who have the power to reopen America, or at least the parts that are now closed. It's individuals, families, businesses, and religious congregations," writes Ira Stoll.
  • For COVID-19 patients, "the chronic condition with the strongest association with critical illness was obesity," according to a new draft paper.
  • New York has made wearing masks in public mandatory:

  • A Liberty University student is suing the school for its response to COVID-19, alleging that Liberty U. President Jerry Falwell only kept it "open" so as not to have to refund student fees for housing, meals, and amenities. "The university's statement that it is 'open' is an illusion being put forth to try to keep money that should be returned to students and their families," the lawsuit says.
  • "If we are going to have 60,000 deaths with people not leaving their homes for more than a month, the number of deaths obviously would have been higher—much higher—if everyone had gone about business as usual," writes Rich Lowry in "The Absurd Case Against the Coronavirus Lockdown."