More Bureaucracy Is Not the Answer to COVID-19

The private sector has proven to be more resilient and flexible than the government.


In times of crisis like the one we are now going through, calls to grow an already-bloated bureaucracy abound. Whether it's through more centralization, more powers to the federal government, or the creation of new bureaucracy to address the pandemic, the hope is that next time around, a new arrangement will allow for a better and faster response. Not likely.

Yet, it happens each time there's a crisis. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the federal government created the Department of Homeland Security and a centralized airport security agency, the Transportation Security Administration. Oh, and don't forget about the Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, which expanded many other government powers.

Similar growth in government occurred after the Great Recession. For instance, the federal government created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, the Federal Insurance Office, and many other bureaucracies and programs meant to prevent the next financial crisis. Uncle Sam also accumulated more control over the extension of credit, both mortgage and personal.

This crisis is no different. For instance, former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently called for the creation of another program or cabinet-level department to prepare for, and fight, the next pandemic.

Please don't.

First, even if one assumes that the problem with our lack of preparedness was excessive government decentralization, I'm curious as to whether Emanuel would agree to get rid of the many agencies and programs that already exist, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that would become redundant under his plan. The only thing this new growth would do is add another agency to interfere with the others already charged with doing the same tasks.

Second, a lack of preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic is a government failure of epic proportions and has nothing to do with an inadequate budget or a lack of programs and agencies supposedly charged with preparing for such a risk. This failure is the product of the well-documented and terrible incentives that exist in government. These disincentives spring from the absence of market discipline that each private-sector business faces if it doesn't perform. And these perverse incentives within government are enhanced by the fact that bureaucrats and politicians carelessly spend other people's money. The product is a slew of dysfunctional agencies and programs that often focus on goals that have nothing to do with what the agencies and programs were created for.

Consider the CDC. Preparing for a pandemic like COVID-19 should have been at the forefront of what it does. But instead, bureaucrats there waste most of their resources on fighting things like teen vaping. Create a new department and we'll soon see its original intent buried underneath many other new and politically shiny priorities. And like all bureaucracies, it would find a way to continually expand its purpose and budget.

So, the creation of a new agency would not make us more prepared for the next pandemic. Any new bureaucracy would be part of the same unwieldy government that failed us during this pandemic, botched the launch of the Affordable Care Act website, and pushed us into a 17-year war in Iraq under the notion that it threatened us with weapons of mass destruction. Why would we believe that a government that fails repeatedly will somehow suddenly perform better if only we add another agency?

A better alternative is to continue the deregulatory trend that is helping combat this pandemic. The private sector has proven to be more resilient and flexible than the government. The private sector is far better at delivering solutions for this crisis.

My Mercatus Center colleagues Matthew Mitchell, Adam Thierer, and Patrick McLaughlin have proposed what they call the "Fresh Start Initiative," modeled after the Department of Defense's Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, Commission. Their proposed commission would identify and study all the rules revised or suspended during the current crisis and then make recommendations for each rule to be terminated or reformed, thereby crafting "a plan and timetable for automatically sunsetting or comprehensively reforming those policies or programs as part of a single reform package."

If it works as well as BRAC did, many of these useless rules will be permanently terminated. That beats creating more bureaucracies.


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  1. Off topic, but I would appreciate if someone might address the call for “immunity certificates” for people to present when they’re out in public. The doctor in Ohio stated she was for that type of program.

    My understanding would be that those people who have already had the virus would be able to move about freely because of their supposed immunity… but people who don’t have the virus will be locked down to prevent them from getting the virus.

    In other words, if you value freedom, your incentive is to get the virus, but the government will be actively trying to prevent you from getting the virus.

    1. Bullshit. Another government certificate requiring an intrusive bureaucracy to detect forgeries. A national ID to verify you are who your paper says you are.

      No, fuck no, and fuck off, slaver. Stop falling for their nonsense, for their excuses, for their rationalizations.

      This virus is nothing like the buobonic plague, it isn’t going to kill even 1% of the population, and it doesn’t justify any kind of national registration bureaucracy any more than the flu does, or SARS did, or MERS did, or Ebola did.

      No nono. Just fuck off, slave.

      1. Trust me, I’m not falling for it. I’m just wondering if any of these politicians calling for it understand that the incentive will be to catch the virus, so that people can “earn” their freedom back.

      2. Facebook is paying $530 Per day. Be a part of Facebook and start getting Extra Dollars every week from your home. xzs..I just got paid $8590 in my previous month……….,Visit Site

    2. Biggest problem with this plan. Just because you’re immune doesn’t mean you can’t carry and spread the disease.

    3. >> “immunity certificates”

      no, gracias.

    4. wow another dud of an article.

      “…17-year war in Iraq under the notion that it threatened us with weapons of mass destruction”.

      Not one person during the lead up to the war on Iraq claimed or implied that they “threatened” us with anything. Once again twisting history to support a current premise you are trying to push. Another dishonest author from reason magazine.

      Not arguing the point of the article but when you have to try to rewrite history to make your point you are not a journalist you are a propagandist. You also have zero credibility.

    5. sorry but this isn’t nazi germany. There will be no papers. There will be no forced vaccines. Sorry sunshine. if you are that scared. Stay home. We can’t shut the entire planet down for something that is being used solely as a political ploy for a government power grab. We don’t need anymore nitwits encouraging stupid ideas like this. We had a pandemic in the 50’s. We had 3 months notice it was coming and it killed 3 times more people than coronavirus has at this point. It’s also likely that coronavirus won’t exceed those deaths. No social distancing. No shutting the entire country down. No destroying the entire economy which will result in probably at least double the deaths from the coronavirus. If Obama had been in office there wouldn’t have been social distancing, we wouldn’t be destroying the economy and none of this would be happening. How do i know. Oh that’s right because we had a pandemic under Obama. When it happened we didn’t know how bad it would get yet we didn’t implement ANY of these draconian measures. We didn’t have the media contradicting every single thing he said. Trump says stop travel and Tedros says that’s not going to help. Trump is a racist. Trump stops travel after Bill Gates tells Tedros it’s OK, Then Trump waited to long. Trump says he decides when to open the states. the Governors and liberal rags say it’s not his decision. States open early and it’s Trumps fault. So lets be clear what’s happening here. This is simply lets contradict everything Trump says or does and then lie about it. We will get every half wit moron sycophant to come on forums like this and push forth all their liberal hypocrisy hatred and stupidity for their dullard audience.

      Never has a President been undermined with such blatant dishonesty from the media which makes no effort to even appear objective anymore. And the morons in this country are being fed a line of bullshit and they are lapping it up.

    6. Oh, come on now, Ajsloss! Even if an when a person recovers from the Covid-19 virus and presumably develops an immunity to it (which there’s no evidence of), and even if someone, regardless of age gets a mild case of it and recovers from it, they don’t really recover from the Covid-19 virus, because this particular virus permanently damages the body by killing off lung tissue outright.

    7. To address the topic of “immunity certificates” it’s useful to look at a) what’s already in place as existing international standards and b) what happened during the AIDS epidemic, based on stories from that era.
      a) existing international standards: health care workers are required to be vaccinated against some common contagious diseases. First they are tested; often at a lab associated with the hospital. If they have immunity above a certain level, they’re good to go; signed off. If they don’t show immunity, under best practices they are not allowed to work until they are vaccinated. The hospital has a vested interest in the workers not contracting or spreading contagious diseases. As a caveat, long-term workers might lose their immunity and not be re-tested; so the system isn’t watertight.
      b) during the AIDS epidemic, there were people who were infected who no longer had an incentive to practice safe sex. While it is mentioned that people would have an incentive to catch COVID – the incentive would be even greater to create fake “certificates”. The general public and maybe even the government wouldn’t have the same incentives as hospital workers. Corrupt governments have an incentive to hide the problem.

  2. Has anyone done a welfare check on Hihn? He’s either a goner or he wore out his caps lock key.

    1. He posted just above you actually.

      1. Either that’s not Hihn, or he wore out his caps lock key.

        1. Alphabet isn’t hinh. I haven’t seen him post in at least a year

          1. Hihn’s been posting up until about 3 weeks ago when his ALL CAPS ‘THIS VIRUS IS GONNA KILL US ALL LET’S TORN OVER EVERYTHING TO THE GOVERNMENT!!!!!’ prediction fell flat on its face.
            Unlike JFree, he might be embarrassed enough to STFU.

    2. significant lack of bold lately.


    4. DOL has taken to posting in all caps. Maybe Hihn passed on and his spirit/demon has possessed DOL.

  3. “Second, a lack of preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic is a government failure of epic proportions and has nothing to do with an inadequate budget or a lack of programs and agencies supposedly charged with preparing for such a risk.”

    Well that is cute. As if government could perform during a crisis without abusing its citizens. I had assumed a libertarian magazine would never succumb to pimping government as a solution.

    I was wrong.

    1. You are a pessimist and still wrong. Describing an epic failure of government as an epic failure is by no means a plea for more government. You would treat a description of the Holocaust as an epic failure as meaning it should have been done better.

      1. There is no conceivable way to prepare for human irrationality.

        1. Darwin?

  4. Stay home and visit AO Huren for relaxing chat

  5. Yet, Reason continues to advocate for the continued invasion of tens of millions of low skilled, low IQ, third worlders, which require and justify more and more social and welfare programs, more police, more jails, more ESL teachers, etc, which in turn, requires more money be taken from taxpayers by threat of force and/or imprisonment.

  6. Remember there are two levels of citizen, ruling class and rabble.
    And there is a hierarchy within the ruling class, Align yourself with the D-team and you can act with impunity.
    Exhibit A

  7. A better alternative is to continue the deregulatory trend that is helping combat this pandemic. The private sector has proven to be more resilient and flexible than the government.

    I can’t imagine what you’re thinking of here. I suppose that the private sector has proven “resilient,” in the sense of, “laying off millions of people who rely on their jobs for health insurance in order to survive.” It has proven “flexible,” in the sense of, “threatening deeper cuts and a broader financial crisis in order to obtain massive government spending to prop up the private sector.”

    Or perhaps you mean that the “private sector” has moved quickly to supply the market with faulty and unreliable tests, unproven “cures,” and supply chain bottlenecks that cannot seem to be resolved without federal coercion.

    I mean, who knows? This piece doesn’t seem to be particularly factual. Nothing is really asserted about the private sector’s ability to save lives when there’s a novel virus sweeping the globe, overwhelming our healthcare system. I’d love to see some stories about how good old-fashioned capitalist derring-do has built more healthcare facilities, produced more ventilators and PPE, and given us more hospital beds, and how none of that would have been possible if it weren’t for that reliable old stand-by, “profit.” But instead all of that seems to be coming from charities and governments that are more-or-less interested in saving lives. If I’ve read anything about the “private sector”‘s stepping up to the plate, during this crisis, it’s been about a grudging agreement by health insurers to waive co-pays for COVID treatments (limited time only!) or by some manufacturers to do their level best to increase supplies required for PPE and testing.

    Cynical libertarians are using this crisis to attack regulations and administrative agencies wholesale. That’s fine. I don’t expect any more of them. But specious bullshit like this piece should go straight in the trash. Come back when you have real solutions.

    1. Come back when you have real solutions.

      You know, that request can be broadly applied.

    2. So why is the private sector laying off millions o people? Oh yeah, because the government forced them to close. Why does the private sector need a bailout? Because the government forced them to close. Who produced the faulty tests? The CDC. Why did supply chains bottleneck? Because of government regulations (the “coercion” that fixed them was actually the removal of regulations)

      1. So, you’re saying the private sector is neither flexible nor resilient?

    3. I had no idea businesses were charities now.

      1. I never said they were.

        I’m just saying, if you think the private sector could have dealt with the coronavirus, make that argument. Don’t reheat your usual anti-regulatory rhetoric and wave your hands at increased production of tests as your “proof.”

        Libertarians don’t seem to want to make the argument they should be making, which is that: in a libertarian economy, something like the coronavirus will kill millions of people. It just will, and you accept that as a consequence of your beliefs.

    4. Been readin the underground right wing press again….

      the “private sector” has moved quickly to supply the market with faulty and unreliable tests, unproven “cures,” and supply chain bottlenecks that cannot seem to be resolved

      dontchya member it were or illustrious CDC presented the botched tests, in microscopic quantities. then INSISTED the ONLY place they could be processed is THEIR small overworked lab….. real testing did not begin until your despised private sector. have brought forward not only cheap and reliable tests, but have been ready to process them as soon as Uncle Stoopud got out of the way….. which he dreary lout as yet have not yet done.
      And the ONLY effective modalities of treatment I’ve read about are NOT what has been standard protocol “approved” by CDC and FDA and pals….. these have brought people scheduled for the dreaded death sentence of the “respirators” from allbut certain death within days to fully restored and functional, with NO lasting resudual effects.

      Yet you tout FedGov and their abysmal trackk record?

      Nice work if you can get it.

  8. Rahm Emanuel recently called for the creation of another program or cabinet-level department to prepare for, and fight, the next pandemic.

    I predicted this some time ago. And don’t forget to include a “Czar of Nursing Homes”!

  9. Here’s a slightly different take that isn’t in bed with the civil rights lobby.

    1. Found the complete text.

      Yet if we are to beat a path out of this pandemic without destroying our economy, overblown concerns about threats to our liberties must be countered by pragmatism. To recover some semblance of normality before a vaccine is found, we must accept the need for the state to access more information about ourselves, our health and our whereabouts — and not waste precious weeks arguing about it.

      Don’t waste precious weeks. Submit and comply and we might let you get back to earning a paycheck.

      1. in the name of Pragmatism!

    2. What a socialist hellhole the UK is.

  10. While I agree that more bureaucracy is not the answer, I can not say that less is any more the answer. The problem is that we do not always use bureaucracy well. What we need smart government and that can be difficult in such partisan times. The temptation will be to redo everything. A better approach is to find where problems exist and correct those problems within the existing structure. The private sector is important but in many cases in emergencies they require government to set priorities and in many cases provide funding. It was not the private sectors job to figure out that Covid 19 was going to be a problem or to set goals for addressing the pandemic.

    1. You know, my experience is that the aphorism ‘less is more’ has applicability here. In private industry, many times we run into redundant processes, or redundant reporting. Oftentimes we ask, “Who the hell gets this report, and what do they do with it?” and there is silence around the table.

      Then we decide to just stop producing the report, or doing the process….and see who squeals in pain. Perhaps this is a case where we can do the same. Just a thought.

    2. Moderation4ever
      April.23.2020 at 12:47 pm
      “…I can not say that less is any more the answer…”

      Yes, we understand that you’re a closet statist; you’ve made that quite clear.
      Fuck off, slaver.

  11. A trip to the market shows CA’s ‘planned economy’ following a predictable trajectory:
    1) TP disappears. Why? Well, it always does under government control of the economy, better get it now before it’s gone.
    2) Milk is being rationed, while it’s being dumped at the farms. Why? Who knows, except the government has fucked the price signals somewhere in the chain.
    3) Butter ditto and ditto.
    Meat counter’s looking a bit thin; I wouldn’t be surprised.

    1. Not @ Target and even my local liquor store here in Fremont has TP

      Some places no restriction on milk (grocery outlet)

      Plenty of butter

      However….meat….WTF on the prices. I was at a Safeway in Lafayette and a pack of 3 steaks which used to be $25 was now $50 and a pack of chicken breasts was $45

      1. Meat is similar to milk. The decrease in restaurant business, decreases exports drove down prices for feedlots. However, the slow down and or shutdown at some of the major packing plants has resulted in decreased supply of finished product. Five companies own almost all the packing houses in the US. A decade ago that number was a lot larger, i.e. more packing houses and more companies running them. The 2008 recession, increased cattle prices and overregulation led to a consolidation of the industry. Overregulation may have been the biggest factor. Ironically, but not surprising, the regulations were passed to keep the “big guys” in line and allow competition. Instead, as almost always, it ended up hurting the small guy and led to more consolidation.

    2. Milk is being dumped because government regulations aimed at helping small creameries compete against the bigger guys didn’t work and they closed. Now, there is limited creameries. And they are running at full capacity for consumes. However, the creameries that supply restaurants and schools are virtually shutdown, again thanks to the government. So there is a huge oversupply and no room to process it (the commercial lines can’t produce process milk into containers that consumers can routinely use, and regulations also make it difficult to sell consumers products in the sizes they can). Since fresh milk cannot be stored for lengthy periods of time, and you can’t sell milk directly to the consumer in most states and milk cows can’t just stop being milked, well you have an oversupply with no place to sell it.

  12. Government has already been captured by the private sector. So this is really about how the private sector runs governments into the ground.

  13. Governments, politicians, and bureaucrats don’t solve problems the manage and monetize them. For politicians, a problem represents an opportunity for money, votes, and power. For bureaucrats problems represent full employment, a chance for advancement, and an opportunity to write rules and regulations, a chance to issue licenses, fines, and charge fees. Solving a problem erases all that. COVID-19 is a goldmine for both politicians, bureaucrats, and government in general.

    1. Private enterprise sees profit. How is that better?

      1. Private enterprise needs customers to _choose_ them. Government collects money at gun point, and does not need to serve or please the people, it only has to fool 51% of them at election time – or not, if it manages to restrict the choices to two candidates who are both corrupt.

  14. The simplest explanation is the question: who has skin in the game? Bureaucrats don’t. Period.

  15. Please explain how the private sector has handled this better?!? Or how they were any better prepared?!?

  16. Private business did a bang-up job distributing those small business loans…

    1. Theft is still illegal for “productive” members of society… It takes a politician to steal without any criminal consequences.

  17. I still haven’t yet seen any arguments that States competing both with each other and internationally for a limited supply of life-saving equipment is a good thing.

    Also, it seems that idealistic libertarians have little interest in a well thought-out course towards reducing government, and are instead settling for theoretical reduction via the installation of incompetent and inexperienced leaders who render bureaucracies dysfunctional. Because of the incompetence, these appointees don’t pursue legitimate paths to actual reduction, they merely preside over still-existing, non-functioning bureaucracy.

    1. The election of Trump was the result of – “well thought-out course towards reducing government”…

      What sucks is when Trump does a 180 and supports the biggest communistic bailout ever to hit congress.

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