Coronavirus

Even With a Good Excuse for Government Action, the State Bungled 12 Months of the Pandemic

Much of the government response to COVID-19 has had little or negative impact on the public.

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Let's start with some standard classical liberal theory about public health. 

A contagious virus is a matter of public health in its narrower and better definition. It's not about whether people eat well, exercise, avoid smoking, or otherwise pursue personal health. In a pandemic, our habits have spillover effects—externalities—that can bring catastrophic results for others.

Economists know that negative externalities often get discounted by people who inflict them but don't suffer from them. That's why, even for a classical liberal, public health might be a matter for state intervention: Individuals should internalize the costs they inflict on others, and if they don't, it may be acceptable to compel them to.

Thus classical liberal accounts of state action have often supported the idea that the state should act to prevent contagious disease. And the details? These, purportedly, are a matter for medical science to figure out, and it should go without saying that balancing and judgment will be necessary along the way to preserve a decent quality of life. After all, we're trying to minimize externalities in aggregate, not just trying to minimize the one externality that we're newly worried about.

Unfortunately, much action has been well characterized by the old saw, "Something must be done. This is something. We must do it." The Twitter account @YearCovid, which is doing a one-year retrospective of news about the pandemic, has just helpfully reminded me that at this time last year, the U.K. government was banning private advertisements that urged individuals to buy and use cloth face masks.

That was a terrible idea. But it was something, and something had to be done. The U.K. wasn't alone; "don't wear a mask" was also the government-issued message in the U.S., at least at first. And long after it ceased being the message, the fact that it had been the message continued to serve as an excuse to go about life as normal. Which, I hate to say it, was not a good idea either.

Yes, wearing masks became compulsory, and compulsion is bad. But wearing masks in a dangerous respiratory pandemic is good. It remains good even if the government is for it, and even if the government was against it before they were for it. (Libertarians: If the government prohibited farting in a crowded elevator, would you go out of your way to fart in a crowded elevator? To extol the virtues of the elevator fart? To insist on it as a First Amendment right?)

The bungling didn't end there. The popularity of lockdowns in the West seems to have been inspired by China's initial efforts to contain and eliminate the virus. Those efforts were futile, and we now know that they were almost certainly doomed to fail. The only countries that have kept the virus out have been islands—which China is not—and they've only been able to do so for a limited time.

The fallback strategy of "two weeks to flatten the curve" at best bought a little time while easing the public into lockdowns, and business and school closures, of indefinite length. We were told that a test-and-trace system was in the works, though I doubt it ever really had a chance either. Delays in supplying effective, government-approved tests hurt from the start, and frequent asymptomatic transmission made contact tracing a fool's errand.

A lot of state action has had little or no net benefit. Some of it has made effective private action much harder; some, as we have seen, has put well-intentioned people in a really awkward dilemma: Do we prefer disease or servitude? And some of it has been deadly—including unconscionable foot-dragging on vaccine approval while over a thousand people a day were dying. Perhaps, in an even better world than ours, the government would just let people medicate as they think best.

From early in the spring of last year, I have held onto two basic ideas: First, the pandemic is real, and it calls for a real response. And second, the most important part of that response, the part that will matter when it's all over, will be the part that we did voluntarily. I am both pleased and appalled to say I think those views held up pretty well, and next time I hope we can let the more successful part of society, the private sector, take the lead more often.

NEXT: Why Dr. Seuss Is Worth Defending

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  1. It is nice to read a libertarian perspective once in a while.

    1. I’m sorry but public health trumps individual liberty. Healthy citizens are more important than your “right” to not wear a mask, smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, or eat fast food. Progressive libertarians, like Mike Bloomberg, recognize that the people have to be protected from their own decisions. We’ve banned large sodas in NYC. We can do more nationally to protect people from the scourge of poor diets provided cheaply by the free market.

      1. I just wish that the virus killed more Congressmen, Senators, and Governors. The ones left alive would make better decisions.

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      2. How many parody accounts do we have here now?

        1. Counting the writers?

          1. they *wish* they could parody

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          2. “Cringe” is not “parody”

        2. Who isn’t a parody account?

      3. Restore the 18th!

      4. “The people have to be protected from their own decisions.”

        I agree. Public health trumps individual liberty. If only the people were protected from the unhealthy decisions that George Floyd made. The politicians LOVED the decisions that Saint George Floyd made. They defended him vigorously. Especially Obama, Harris, and Biden. As the red-headed White House cunt likes to say, “we can circle back” to the obese shits and their McDonald’s addiction after the coming race war, that is, if all the fast food joints aren’t burned to the ground.

      5. Bullshit!

        Saying that this is a proper area for government intervention does not in any way shape or form mean that the government should be allowed to act free of any of the normal limits on governmental authority/power.

      6. I know RHW is a parody account but please stop. It’s not good parody when it’s indistinguishable from the sincerely held beliefs of the people you oppose. Nor is it especially funny. Please give up this account and just write sincerely.

      7. No actual libertarian would ever want to protect people from their own decisions.

    2. Too bad this isn’t it. To pretend that compulsory mask wearing is an unalloyed good, ignoring all the studies showing no or negative benefit, is not libertarian, it is the very definition of statist.

      1. “To pretend that compulsory mask wearing is an unalloyed good.”

        That was not a point made in the article at all. The argument made by Kuznicki is that overzealous government mandates created confusion and inefficiency because, among other things, the mandates were contradictory and inconsistently applied. The article argues that people should have been free to choose one way or the other from the very beginning.

        1. Are you fucking serious?

          But wearing masks in a dangerous respiratory pandemic is good.

          The column is a good one, and as you say refreshing from a libertarian standpoint– but the quoted statement was its one howler.

          1. Good, bad. It does not matter. Opinions on the issue differ. The entire point of the article, notwithstanding your position on masks, is that compulsory mask wearing via government diktat was never a good idea.

            Criticizing the article for endorsing compulsory mask wearing, especially when the article does the exact opposite, it a failure of reading comprehension. You are conflating an endorsement of mask wearing, with an endorsement of compulsory mask wearing.

            1. I am making no such conflation; I understand the author’s point and appreciate it, as I appreciate the column as a whole.

              But the assertion that mask wearing is unassailably beneficial is made without backing– and that assertion is used to make the case that there is even a debate to be had here.

              If one makes the argument that mask wearing has not been shown to be *unassailably* beneficial, then we don’t even have a debate, and the state’s actions look even dumber and more ham-fisted than the author is making them out to be.

              1. I’m not talking about you. That was Á àß äẞç ãþÇđ âÞ¢Đæ ǎB€Ðëf ảhf’s point, and he got it wrong. That’s all.

                1. Apologies– thought you were addressing me. I think we agree that it’s a good piece, and I’m nitpicking.

                  1. No problem.

              2. “But the assertion that mask wearing is unassailably beneficial is made without backing ….”

                Kuznicki did not make that assertion.

                1. But wearing masks in a dangerous respiratory pandemic is good.

                  1. Are you using this quote to show the writers support for mandatory mask wearing?

                  2. “Good” is not the same as “unassailably beneficial.” I think having a glass of wine with dinner is “good,” but if you take that generalized proposition to conclude that my personal stance is that having a glass of wine with dinner is “unassailably beneficial,” then — as I alluded to above — you have problems with reading comprehension and making unwarranted assumptions.

                    It is okay to make a mistake. It happens to everyone, especially at Reason where the general tendency is to skip straight to the comments. You do not have to double down on the mistake, however.

                    1. When “good” is not accompanied by any mention of the disputes over how good it is, and when its only use is to chide libertarians that compulsion does not make it bad, that “unassailably beneficial” is entirely accurate.

                      So go ahead, admit you made a mistake, admit the author is wrong. Go ahead.

                    2. “[W]hen its only use is to chide libertarians ….”

                      A lack of reading comprehension, coupled with paranoia, is a bad formula. I did not realize we were operating in a universe where words can mean anything you want them to mean.

                      In that case, I apologize. And, by “apologize,” I mean go fuck yourself. Idiot.

                    3. Compulsion doesn’t make mask wearing bad, it makes compulsive mask wearing bad. Yeah, he may be wrong about masks, the public maybe paranoid about them, and the lockdowns are just the govt taking advantage off a crisis. But that is an argument for mask wearing, not mandatory masks wearing

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    4. Then don’t read Reason, which abandoned Libertarianism in its zeal to destroy Trump and COVID. Masks don’t work, but the idiot who wrote this article still endorses the idea. (Even CDC has conceded they don’t work – at best, it’s a 1 to 3% benefit, which anyone who isn’t innumerate would know is well within the margin of error.) Masks are dangerous for many people, perhaps all. The evidence on that is still out. Masks contributed to hysteria, which was very dangerous.

      Libertarians should have opposed compulsion as a matter of principle, and we’d have been right AGAIN.

      The problem, even in theory, is the compulsion rarely achieves higher compliance than voluntary action, so compulsion is useless. That is, compulsion doesn’t get 100% compliance; it’s only slightly higher compliance at a great price, which is why it should be opposed in principle.

      Compliance really only works (even in theory) when you are eliminating free riders or other situations where my compliance depends upon your compliance. If I can wear a mask w or w/o you and if I can readily ascertain whether or not you have a mask (I can), then there’s no need for compulsion.

      That is, externalities alone are NOT a market failure that government can solve, which libertarians should know.

      Also, they should know that market failure doesn’t prove government will be better. Thus, externalities are NOT enough.

  2. Let’s start with your basic fucking nonsense premise, that there was a good excuse for government intervention: no, not anywhere close. The only reason all the Democrats piled in was in frustration at Trump being pretty much immune to their usual political hackery. They never did understand he won in 2016 by not being the standard politician, they never did understand how pissed off people are abut political correctness run amok, and wokism is just political correctness squared.

    The lockdowns have never been necessary. Even the initial “flatten the curve” excuse turned out to be false. The lockdowns have trashed the economy, provided excuses for doubling or tripling the federal budget for all sorts of ridiculous spending, and killed people themselves. The COVID death totals are simultaneously exaggerated and covered up.

    Here is an interesting comparison with the 1918 Spanish Flu which compares lockdowns with trench warfare, isolating the mild cases and sending the lethal ones out in public with transportation and hospitals, thus enhancing the virus lethality. All the reverse of normal flu, where mild cases go to work and school and out and about in general, while the severe cases stay home or isolate in hospitals.

    Fuck the lockdowns, fuck the government.

      1. I never agreed with McVeigh’s actions, but I am warming to them now.

        1. I’d strongly advise against blowing up children, no matter what your principles or politics are.

          He fucked up for all time.

          1. No legal children in the Capitol.

    1. Deaths due to COVID are exaggerated because deaths due to government intervention are covered up… as COVID deaths.

      The media still reports the “with COVID” numbers as “of COVID” numbers even though the CDC is actually honest about what those numbers are. So the media has been amplifying the problems when it is supposed to be acting as a damper on the government.

      1. This article is far too both sides.

    2. Thank you for calling bs on the premise of the article. That jumped out at me too

    3. People who think that the entire world overreacted to a pandemic simply to make Donald Trump look bad has got to be the most American-centric piece of stupidity ever conceived by man.

      1. Cuomo, Newsom and whittmer all stated that part of the purpose of their lock downs was to tank the economy before the election. Shockingly the Wuhan flu rate that required a lock down was always just above the rate of the county that Newsom winery was in

      2. “American-centric piece of stupidity” or not. It is what happened.

    4. Well, are we going to argue this from a libertarian perspective, or from an anarchist perspective?

      If we’re gonna go totally anarchist, then yeah, no government action at all is tolerable.

      But if we’re gonna go libertarian, then we have to recognize that there ARE some – very few, but some – legitimate uses for government. One of those is, as the article mentioned, dealing with negative externalities.

      From the article:

      Economists know that negative externalities often get discounted by people who inflict them but don’t suffer from them. That’s why, even for a classical liberal, public health might be a matter for state intervention: Individuals should internalize the costs they inflict on others, and if they don’t, it may be acceptable to compel them to.

      For example, if we lived in Libertopia and I dumped toxic waste in the river which ended up polluting your land, should I not be compelled to pay for the cost of that? That is, if you can show that I was the culprit and you can show tangible harm to your property.

      In grayer areas, where it is less clear who was the polluter and the scope of damage to your property is less clear, the case for action from the government is weaker. But I don’t think it’s the case that the case for government action is zero in an absolute sense.

      1. Breathing freely is not a negative externality. And, if you ever studied Coase or Calabresi, you would understand that, in the case of the toxic polluter, another solution, apart from government intervention, is for the polluter and landowner to come to a private agreement. There need not be any government compulsion at all. The landowner can name his price for letting the polluter continue to pollute his land.

        Indeed, the entire discussion of externalities in the context of broad government mandates is misplaced since the concept is employed as a basis for private dispute resolution in tort and contract law. It leads to absurd results in the context of regulatory law. An example of an absurd result? Labelling the act of fucking breathing an externality.

        1. Yes there are completely private ways to deal with the problem of negative externalities. That is the anarchist way or the anarcho-capitalist way. If you want to go down that road, fine. But that is not the libertarian way. Dealing with negative externalities is one of the classic rationales for government action even within a libertarian framework.

          An example of an absurd result? Labelling the act of fucking breathing an externality.

          Why is it absurd per se, especially in the context of a pandemic? Air pollution is a well-known example of a negative externality. How would the breath of a person infected with an air-transmissible disease not constitute a type of air pollution, at least from a negative externality point of view?

          The argument for government action in this case is more pragmatic than ideological. Trying to rely on torts every time someone got sick as a result of someone else’s behavior – especially when it is almost impossible to prove who precisely was the disease vector for any particular person’s illness – would be a logistical nightmare. Where would one even start?

          1. “That is the anarchist way or the anarcho-capitalist way.”

            It is not anarchist at all. Contract law — and generally, the notion of enforceable contracts, implies that there is a government, limited as it may otherwise be, to enforce those contracts in the event of a breach. The point is that government compulsion is not needed to force the parties into an agreement. Externalities can be resolved through straightforward economics.

            “How would the breath of a person infected with an air-transmissible disease not constitute a type of air pollution, at least from a negative externality point of view?”

            If you are going to go down that road, then all of human existence is a negative externality. If we are going to follow this line of thinking then living, breathing, and shitting (excreting nasty and infectious particles) automatically subjects one to government regulation. The absurdity of such an approach is self-evident, unless of course one is an authoritarian.

            “Trying to rely on torts every time someone got sick as a result of someone else’s behavior – especially when it is almost impossible to prove who precisely was the disease vector for any particular person’s illness – would be a logistical nightmare.”

            Indeed. But that does not mean we need to proceed to the other end of the extreme and presume everyone is a vector for infectious disease. It is also a logistical nightmare to have a criminal justice system. Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just threw everyone in prison?

            1. If you are going to go down that road, then all of human existence is a negative externality.

              Not at all. There has to be some measure of tangible harm suffered by some third party in order for something to count as a negative externality. So me sitting alone in a room isn’t a negative externality against anyone. However, if you are “living, breathing and shitting” in a way that causes tangible nonconsensual harm to a third party, why shouldn’t that be considered a negative externality?

              Indeed. But that does not mean we need to proceed to the other end of the extreme and presume everyone is a vector for infectious disease. It is also a logistical nightmare to have a criminal justice system. Wouldn’t it be much easier if we just threw everyone in prison?

              That is a complete strawman. There is a vast gulf between “treat everything as a tort” and “throw everyone in prison”. Again the libertarian argument in this area is a pragmatic one. Will the cause of liberty be better served if most instances of harm go unpunished because it is effectively impossible to prove who is the culprit for a particular harmful result as a result of a negative externality? Or will it be better served if, yes, a minimal government regulation is introduced to forestall most instances of harm from occurring in the first place? Either way there is a loss of liberty; the question is which is the more tolerable loss of liberty resulting in the most preservation of liberty overall.

              Of course it is possible to go way too far in government regulation, we all know that. Of course there are many people who use government regulations for reasons other than this very narrow rationale, they use regulations for purposes that have very little to do with negative externalities and have a great deal to do with changing otherwise innocuous behavior in the first place. I get that. But their bad examples should not be used as arguments against good and justifiable examples.

              1. “However, if you are “living, breathing and shitting” in a way that causes tangible nonconsensual harm to a third party, why shouldn’t that be considered a negative externality?”

                Because that is how you end up in North Korea, which I am certain you would not mind one bit.

        2. That is not what Coase actually wrote as a real response to that situation. He wrote it as a hypothetical. And in qualifying the hypothetical, indicated that in the real world it wouldn’t happen that way. which of course is why it HASN’T happened.

          But there’s a ton of people who want to pretend they actually read Coase in order to pretend that he said what they wanted him to say.

      2. To use a more comparable example to the current pandemic, the implication of suggesting that government should have no authority to require masks and social distancing need to be taken to its logical conclusion. Suppose a virus exists that kills 10% of those infected and spreads 10x more than the coronavirus, should government do nothing then? What about killing 50% and spreading 50x more? Should the government just let half the population die in order to preserve an abstract ideal of individual autonomy? The libertarian answer to this is, “no,” government does have an appropriate role here. Whether the coronavirus is severe enough to justify these measures is a matter scientific data, not political philosophy.

        In other words, libertarians can reasonably disagree on the extent to which masks and social distancing should be required because this is not a political question. It is wrong to claim that mask requirements and lockdowns are necessarily anti-libertarian. This kind of resembles how libertarians can reasonably disagree on abortion because the definition of “fetus” is not a political question.

        1. If individual autonomy is an abstraction, so too is the notion of a government. In which case, by elevating the government over the individual at some arbitrary point, based upon the concomitant existence of a set of undefined metrics, you are choosing one abstraction over the other based on a personal preference. The libertarian solution would be real people (not abstractions) making real decisions about their well-being and the well-being of others. If you do not believe that people should be free to make those kinds of choices, you may just be an authoritarian.

        2. The other questionable notion in your analysis is the notion that “scientific data” points the way toward a “correct” course of action on the part of the government and that any measure in pursuit of this course, provided the data is sufficiently compelling, should be imposed over the objections of individuals. That is a value judgment; a philosophical judgment, to use your words. Science, when used this way, is nothing more than a cudgel with which to beat dissenters for not accepting one’s preferences. Again, this is not libertarian.

          1. That is fair, the notion of government may equally be an abstraction. The question here is what defines the appropriate scope of government? If the answer is that government should fill the role of addressing an predetermined set of social problems that cannot be efficiently solved voluntarily, then you are taking a libertarian approach to the pandemic. If the answer is that government should do nothing because individual autonomy has moral priority, then you are taking an anarchist approach to the pandemic.

            My point is that think this case cannot be evaluated in terms of libertarianism because it is not a political question. If, under the premises of libertarianism, the government has a role to address public health, then one’s political values have nothing to say about whether the current pandemic happens to be severe enough to justify a coercive response.

            1. “If the answer is that government should fill the role of addressing an predetermined set of social problems that cannot be efficiently solved voluntarily, then you are taking a libertarian approach to the pandemic.”

              I respectfully disagree. I do not think it is accurate to state that libertarianism posits the necessity of government intervention in circumstances where voluntary choices are not sufficient to address a particular “societal” problem.

              As an initial matter, the existence of the “problem” at hand (whatever it may be) is itself a value judgment rooted, as it often is, in distinct political preferences and ideals.

              Second, presupposing the existence of a distinct and correct “solution” to the “problem” is also a value judgment. Some “problems” have multiple “solutions,” one of which is always “to do nothing.” This does not necessarily transform the analysis from a libertarian one into an anarchist one.

              Third, given the variety of considerations at play, the government is not in the best position to make such assessments because it cannot account for the preferences of all people. Individuals, on the other hand, are more than capable of making these decisions for themselves. Therefore, even if there is a “correct” solution to a so-called “problem,” it does not mean that the choice in the solution should be made by the government or enforced against individual objectors.

              “If, under the premises of libertarianism, the government has a role to address public health, then one’s political values have nothing to say about whether the current pandemic happens to be severe enough to justify a coercive response.”

              The politics are still relevant. Those that are inclined toward authoritarianism will set a lower threshold for government intervention. Those inclined more toward liberty will set a much higher threshold for government intervention. Scientific data may be objective in principle (in practice, it is often questionable) but it neither mandates nor points to a “correct” solution. How to act upon scientific data is a political question through and through.

              1. I don’t think the existence of people dying is a value judgment, this is about as universal of a concern that one can experience. Of course, I agree that under normal circumstances, individuals are best equipped to make their own decisions.

                If we are looking through a history of libertarian thought, the major thinkers like Mises, Hayek, and Friedman all express that this is a valuable insight that supports libertarian policy recommendations. They also acknowledge the limits of this insight. None of these great leaders of modern libertarianism denied the existence of market failure, and believed that government coercion is needed under specific circumstances. For circumstances in which social costs are so great, and people have no incentive to acknowledge these social costs because they are not responsible for the risks of their own actions, government likely has a role to act even under libertarian premises. I see no reason why, under this framework, contagious disease in which people who are exposed to others are at risk of death or of long-term injury does not apply under the scope set by libertarians for the role of government.

                On your last point I think you are right, interpretation of the data is more a matter of degrees than I initially made it sound. I am not thinking that science by itself would determine what should be done, rather, that it would decide the yes/no question of whether government should do something (doing nothing should always be considered as an option). In the current pandemic, I may agree that social distancing should be required to exist in some capacity, though I may not agree with the exact form that it has taken in many states.

                I still think it makes sense to say that libertarianism by itself does not suggest a particular threshold at which government action is inappropriate, and what matters more is one’s personal sense of risk. Thinking back to my hypothetical example before, a virus that has an equally distributed 10% death rate and spreads 10x faster than the coronavirus, ideology is not going to be the factor in deciding whether the government should act. Politics may be a factor in deciding how the government should act, but libertarians should have no problem agreeing that something must be done in this case. Rather than being a matter of political ideology, those who I imagine will be least interested in accepting government rules in such a case would be those who are personally very careless or those who do not have much to lose by getting sick, not those of libertarian preferences.

                1. “Thinking back to my hypothetical example before, a virus that has an equally distributed 10% death rate and spreads 10x faster than the coronavirus, ideology is not going to be the factor in deciding whether the government should act.”

                  I will challenge you to explain why you believe that is the case.

                  1. The average person values a human life. When existing within the proximity of others creates such an externality that it endangers the lives of others, the libertarian would say that government has role in ensuring that the threat to life is minimal.

                    1. “When existing within the proximity of others creates such an externality that it endangers the lives of others ….”

                      Those whose lives are so fragile that they are endangered by the mere existence of others can stay home.

                    2. Ok, so now I need to ask you to justify this a bit. Now that we have established that even the protection of life does not fall within the scope of government, what exactly is your vision of a libertarian government’s role, and why does it not include the protection of life?

                    3. “Now that we have established that even the protection of life does not fall within the scope of government, what exactly is your vision of a libertarian government’s role, and why does it not include the protection of life?”

                      I do not typically answer questions with questions, but in this case I think it is warranted because there are quite a few assumptions being baked into the pie.

                      So, my questions would be, to ensure that we are having a discussion within the same universe of definitions:

                      1. What do you mean by “protection of life”?
                      2. Who gets to decide whose life is protected and under what circumstances, and why?

                      The reason I ask is because blindly affirming or rejecting the government’s role in “protecting life,” without defining the term, can lead to us very quickly down the path to justifying, just by way of example, (i) absolute prohibitions on abortion, (ii) forcibly barricading people inside their homes to prevent viral transmission (as they did in China), (iii) preemptively killing innocent people, and — quite frankly — everything in between.

                      I understand the answers to these questions are not be simple, but I think we have to at least start with agreed upon parameters before proceeding deeper into the discussion.

                    4. I agree, no problem with answering a question with a question. Its better to have clarity.

                      1. That if people’s lives are threatened by an externality to the extent that one does not bear the cost of threatening others then government may intervene.

                      2. It should be a general role, so everyone, under circumstances of imminent danger.

                      As to what the government may do, the libertarian presumption of individual autonomy and the least restrictive means of coercion should apply. As I said before, just because I agree that the government may have a role in doing something does not mean that I agree with everything they do as a result. Forcibly barricading and killing innocent people is unlikely to ever be ok.

                      See the quotes I posted below for more on what I consider to be the general libertarian approach to when limitations on liberty are permissible.

                    5. 1. That if people’s lives are threatened by an externality to the extent that one does not bear the cost of threatening others then government may intervene.

                      2. It should be a general role, so everyone, under circumstances of imminent danger.

                      I am not sure I understand the first premise. How attenuated must the threat to someone’s life be? The problem that I see with this formulation is that virtually every human activity imaginable can be tied to some sort of externality that can be defined as “threatening” the life of another person.

                      Since I do not quite understand the answer to the first question, I do not know how to proceed to assess the second answer.

                2. “Rather than being a matter of political ideology, those who I imagine will be least interested in accepting government rules in such a case would be those who are personally very careless or those who do not have much to lose by getting sick, not those of libertarian preferences.”

                  Not sure why this matters. Careless people have a right to be careless. Many people with many different preferences have the right to pursue their preferences and make free choices. Libertarianism and its benefits are for everyone, not just libertarians.

                  1. Do they have a right to be careless at the risk of injuring others? As a libertarian, I have no problem with laws regarding drunk driving, public defecation, and pollution for this same reason. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything the government does in response, but I concede that government does have a role to some degree.

                    1. “As a libertarian, I have no problem with laws regarding drunk driving, public defecation, and pollution for this same reason.”

                      You are free to accept all of these things, or any other number of regulatory intrusions to which most people have grown accustomed, while holding a perception of yourself “as a libertarian.” But, that perception does not ipso facto transform these intrusions into examples of libertarian governance. In other words, your willingness to accept government control over certain matters does not, by definition, render the control a proper exercise of government power under a libertarian framework.

                    2. I’m going to drop a few quotes from some generally accepted libertarians about the appropriate scope of government and a permission use of force from a libertarian perspective.

                      “Liberalism [ie: libertarianism] … does not follow in the footsteps of those romantics who defend the antisocial behavior of the lawbreaker and condemn …the social order … Liberalism neither wishes to nor can deny that the coercive power of the state and the lawful punishment of criminals are institutions that society could never, under any circumstances, do without. However, the liberal believes that the purpose of punishment is solely to rule out, as far as possible, behavior dangerous to the state and antisocial conduct to society. Punishment should not be vindictive or retaliatory.” – Ludwig von Mises

                      “We have … represented guaranties of individual freedom as if they were absolute rights which could never be infringed. In actual fact they cannot mean more than that the normal running of society is based on them and that any departure from them requires special justification. Even the most fundamental principles of a free society, however, may have to be temporarily sacrificed when, but only when, it is a question of preserving liberty [ie: life, liberty, and property] in the long run, as in the case of war… That even such fundamental rights as freedom of speech may have to be curtailed in situations of “clear and present danger,” or that the government may have to exercise the right of eminent domain for the compulsory purchase of land, can hardly be disputed.” – F.A. Hayek

                      Do you disagree that these examples, contagious disease, drunk driving, pollution, correspond to these quotes? Or do you disagree with the quoted premises entirely? If so, on what basis would you develop a libertarian role of government and how would you distinguish it from anarchism?

                    3. The quotations are rather generalized, but some things that I definitely disagree with are:

                      “However, the liberal believes that the purpose of punishment is solely to rule out, as far as possible, behavior dangerous to the state and antisocial conduct to society.”

                      The reason I disagree is because this formulation is far too broad. “Behavior dangerous to the state” is, in my view, a dangerous formulation in itself since the state, broadly speaking, can readily define even the most minor perceived infractions (i.e. using drugs) as dangerous behavior. As a general principle, this may make sense, but I am very uncomfortable with it as written.

                      “Even the most fundamental principles of a free society, however, may have to be temporarily sacrificed when, but only when, it is a question of preserving liberty [ie: life, liberty, and property] in the long run, as in the case of war… That even such fundamental rights as freedom of speech may have to be curtailed in situations of “clear and present danger,” or that the government may have to exercise the right of eminent domain for the compulsory purchase of land, can hardly be disputed.”

                      Again, I disagree with almost everything here, as it is written. I am a free speech absolutist. I also disagree strongly with the notion of eminent domain. I think it is far too susceptible to abuse. I also disagree with the notion of sacrificing liberty to protect liberty. Again, this all on a broad level.

                      My personal view is that government should be as limited as possible. I suppose that makes me, in formal terms, a minarchist. For example, I do not believe that the state has the right to prohibit drunk driving (though there should be consequences, criminal and civil, if you end up killing someone as a result). I do not believe the government should have the right to “regulate” pollution since, in practice, voluntary solutions are far more efficient and less susceptible to corruption. The same for contagious diseases. Voluntary choices yield the best results, at a fraction of the cost.

                    4. I share your preference for a reactive rather than a proactive government. On drunk driving I agree that only actual damages should be addressed; those who are simply caught driving drunk and not actively causing damage should not be charged with a crime. Though maybe they should be fined. At least, I say this much is because the government does own the roads and has legitimate jurisdiction over their usage. Maybe this means I am not a free speech absolutist, but I would say something similar for speech that meets the clear and present danger like assault, threatening, or libel for cases in which actual damages can be proven.

                      The pandemic has similar risks of people making decisions that have a disproportionately high cost. What I see as a proactive overreach would be a government imposing a general quarantine, assuming without basis that all people are infected. While a reactive, mandatory quarantine of those who tested positive for the virus is something that I am ok with.

                      Regarding your thoughts on the two quotes, I do see how they can be interpreted as overly broad. In a room full of libertarians I think there would be a reasonable agreement about what is meant, but I think you are correct that these words in the wrong hands will end up doing things like censoring the press and banning gun ownership. I think where Hayek and Mises are most instructive is the recommendation that legislation should be general and predictable, so violations of rights can be justified in specific, predetermined cases but should be equally applied to everyone. As for what should justify a violation of rights, I have failed to figure out where to draw that line. I do appreciate your thoughts and thank you for helping me sort this out in my own head.

            2. In short:

              No amount of scientific data or analysis will ever yield an adequate explanation for what “must be done” in response or provide any greater justification that the thing that “must be done,” however defined and understood, should be done by the government.

              To argue otherwise is simply to state a preference; a preference for authoritarianism.

        3. Problem… The mask policy is required in this instance whether or not someone is symptomatic or even has the disease. CDC itself has said transmission for asymptomatic people is near zero.

          1. Absolutely, I agree completely that this is a problem. However, this is a problem regardless of one’s political preferences, not from a specifically libertarian perspective. The point I wish to make is that theoretically, if a disease was bad enough, a mask policy is compatible with libertarianism. This particular virus may not qualify because of what we now know about its severity, but those who are framing mask requirements as necessarily incompatible with libertarianism are doing a great disservice to libertarians.

            1. “The point I wish to make is that theoretically, if a disease was bad enough, a mask policy is compatible with libertarianism.”

              This is just another way of restating the notion that any perceived “emergency” warrants the imposition of boundless government mandates and the suppression of individual liberties — provided, of course, that it is “bad” enough. Well, I must ask, who gets to make these proclamations that an emergency has befallen us? And, more to the point, why? Why not someone else?

              Frankly, I do not think the position you are advocating is a libertarian position at all. I think it is precisely this kind of authoritarian thinking that has spawned an endless cavalcade of proclaimed “emergencies” by government over the past several decades, with the result being the inevitable dissolution of individual rights and liberty.

        4. People social distanced voluntarily before any lockdown orders were issued in the US, and lockdown orders did not increase compliance.

          Regardless of whether the government could theoretically be justified if necessary to solve a particular class of problem, whether or not it was *actually necessary* is a pretty important question.

          (That’s before getting into all the unintended consequences of the necessarily hamfisted government approach to intervention).

      3. Your obesity causes me negative externalities through higher medical care costs that get subsidized by government and group plans.

        1. Crickets, of course. You see, when people spout off about externalities, it is always in the context of other people imposing upon them. Shift the conversation to the externalities they impose on others, and it’s crickets all night.

  3. Amazing how “we’re going to lockdown for a couple of weeks to flatten the curve” becames “We’re going to lockdown until virtually everyone is immune”. Also insane that this happened.

    And why does anyone still quote or cite the CDC after all its lies and baseless speculation? Or the FDA after all its foot-dragging? Or …

    This past year has been especially infuriating for anyone who loves liberty and personal responsibility.

    1. It always annoys me when people cite The New York Times or CNN or other sources who they usually sneer at; if they are unreliable in areas you know something about, they are probably just as unreliable in those areas you know nothing about.

      The CDC and FAA fiascos regarding COVID-19 are much worse. They changed sides faster than a TDS victim, had more differing opinions in more press releases than Suderman has anti-Trump articles. To pretend that anything they say is reasonable is worse than relying on a broken clock.

      1. Does it also annoy you when people like Jeff will only accept those sources so you have to use them or deal with the idiocy of ‘nuh uh, faux news!!’?

    2. Who is still in lockdown? My state ended lockdown in May. I’ve heard of crazy stuff happening California but that’s about it. Being required to wear a mask in public and to reduce building occupancy is not a lockdown.

      1. Washington Oregon California Michigan to name a few.

        Actually it’s faster to name the four or five that aren’t locked down.

      2. If your definition of “lockdown” is being welded into your home, nobody in the USA was ever in lockdown. My definition is any restriction on your freedom. lockdowns come in varying degrees.

        1. In other words, the entire history of the world has been eternal lockdown.

          1. To varying degrees.

          2. Tree of Liberty something something blood of tyrants

      3. As long as social distancing protocols are in place, we may as well be locked down. There’s very little worth doing in a world of pervasive social distancing requirements.

        1. Someone last year was whining about how lockdowns were affecting their sex life. I recommended they get married.

          Boom. Partner for the rest of your life – because that’s how long lockdown will last.

  4. I just wish that the virus killed more Congressmen, Senators, and Governors. The ones left alive would make better decisions.

    1. “The ones left alive would make better decisions.”

      Questionable, at best.

    2. Their response to the Capitol “insurrection” leads me to believe you are being facetious.

      1. But it would be a worthy experiment.

  5. Stick your masks up your asses. They will be just as effective.

    1. Especially if your head is already up there.

  6. Do we prefer disease or servitude?

    If you claim to be libertarian, the disease IS servitude.

  7. As a libertarian who spent four years studying public health in graduate school and who has been a public health activist for the past 35 years (reducing cigarette smoking), although the evidence clearly warranted Trump’s 1/31/2020 air travel ban to/from China, I’ve adamantly opposed (due to lack a of evidence) all government imposed business and school lockdowns ever since they were conspired, announced and imposed (on the same week) by 5 left wing totalitarian Democrat governors (in order to destroy America’s economy as a campaign tactic to sabotage Trump’s reelection.

    But according to the latest projections by the lockdown lovers at worldometers, 37 states will experience 50% or greater declines in new covid cases during the next month, while another 12 states (CO, DE, GA, IL, MT, MN, NV, OR, PA, SC, TX, WA) will experience declines of 25% – 50%.

    The other two states (MD, VT) are projected to experience declines of less than 25% during the next month.

    This is clear evidence that natural herd immunity (aided by vaccinations) has been occurring in dozens of states, and is very will to occur nationwide by April (although it could take longer in states have had very few covid cases).

    1. The left wing news media perpetuated much of its covid public panic, lock downs and mask mandates campaign by falsely equating covid to the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed 5,300 Pittsburghers, the vast majority of whom were healthy teens and adults (including many WWI soldiers).

      In sharp contrast, covid has caused deaths of 330 Pittsburghers, 85% of whom were over the age of 70, while most other deaths occurred in people who were severely obese or had another serious health problem.

      So why did Democrats and the US news media falsely equate covid with the far far worse Spanish flu pandemic for many months (to support their lockdowns and mask mandates)?

      The correct answer is the news media hated Trump so much that they knowingly and intentionally lied, and continue to lie, about covid.

      But the worst lie is that vaccines are the only way to become immune to covid, even though CDC now estimates that 41% have had a covid infection (and are still immune).

      Vaccines have only conferred immunity to 10% of Americans so far, as most doses of vaccines have been wasted on people who were/are already immune.

  8. “Some of it has made effective private action much harder; some, as we have seen, has put well-intentioned people in a really awkward dilemma: Do we prefer disease or servitude?”

    Laughable when you espouse the idea that capitalist oligarchs should be free to do as they see fit and crush you under their might. I’m sure all the people normally employed at minimum wage don’t feel at all like they’re bound to a life of “servitude” and survival do they?

    In any case, it’s fun to think of how great your plan would’ve been. Maybe there would’ve been 1 million+ deaths but hey, at least some people would’ve kept their jobs right?

    1. And think of the jobs we would have with the million dead! Enough to open the borders at both ends. Good thing we will all be inoculated soon but still not able to fully live our lives. Go big Pharma!

    2. Many white collar executives and professionals with exorbitant salaries also feel like they are bound to a life of “servitude.”

      What of it?

  9. “The fallback strategy of ‘two weeks to flatten the curve’ at best bought a little time…”

    You misspelled “lie.”

  10. Does anyone else get the feeling that left-of-center state governments are in a desperate foot race to open their economies last?

    1. Hard to make the case for more bailouts if your economy is running again.

    2. The blue state retirement fund bailouts have been confirmed. Full steam ahead with the New Normal now.

    3. Totally unrelated to the fact that the general public wants the governors of California and New York tarred and feathered.

  11. Exactly correct we here pretty much ignored the whiny federal government recommendations. I respect the property owner not the far flung federal totalitarian diktats.

  12. >>First, the pandemic is real, and it calls for a real response. And second, the most important part of that response, the part that will matter when it’s all over, will be the part that we did voluntarily.

    twenty minutes in the universe where it was just a nasty 2020 cold/flu season would be fun, just to see where it went

  13. Disaffected, right-wing, anti-government cranks are among my favorite culture war casualties.

    Carry on, clingers . . . but only so far and so long as your betters permit, as always.

    1. Get bent, fuckface.

  14. Worse than the compelled mask wearing was the social media refusal to allow any debate on the effectiveness of masks. If you honestly wanted to find out under what circumstances masks are effective, you were shut out from the information. If you relied on public health officials, you faced information that mutated faster than the virus, yet anyone who questioned the policy of the moment found himself banned on Twitter, Facebook etc.

    People can’t make decisions without access to all the data unless, of course, they’re politicians. Those decisions are always the same… MORE POWER.

  15. This is actually both a good article and comment section. Color me gobsmacked.

    And second, the most important part of that response, the part that will matter when it’s all over, will be the part that we did voluntarily.

    I would have liked to believe that we would have gone down that path – of doing something together because that is what was necessary in this case and doing it voluntarily because that’s the only way it can work. But honestly I don’t think I ever thought that was what would happen.

    We long ago lost the prerequisites of any of that happening. And more recently lost the willingness to even listen to anyone who is not in 100% agreement with what we already believe. Not as extreme in the real world as in social media space (like this comment section) but still.

    One of the first conversations I had about this coronavirus was with an old friend. Happened to see each other again for the first time in decades. The thing I remember most about that conversation was wondering whether the pandemic (we both knew that was the outcome) would reorder people’s priorities. Whether we could still agree on what might be a common enemy.

    Turns out – we can’t.

    1. This is actually both a good article and comment section

      Hopefully Reason’s editors take note of that, but the Hawley piece has 5x the comments so not bloody likely.

  16. Maskholes obviously wrote this sloppy piece of fiction.

  17. Remember, in the beginning, a year ago, the CDC claimed responsibility for producing the one and only test kit allowed in the US. It was infuriating watching institutions around the country sit and twiddle their thumbs waiting. University-based hospitals could have whipped up kits in a day. I believe U of Washington did just that. They had the capacity to test 1k people before an federally-acceptable kit was approved. I assume they decided to just get it done and stop waiting.

    Americans aren’t supposed to meekly sit around waiting for the government to help. We’re supposed to roll up our sleeves and get moving.

  18. The article dismisses “lockdowns” too easily. Lockdowns worked extremely well in China, when combined with massive testing. They have also worked will in Australia and New Zealand.

    If the article is to talk sense about masks – and it does – it should not lie about lockdowns.

    Would lockdowns have worked in the US? Yes, but it would have taken dictatorial measures to do it. Plus, unlike China, the disease was widespread before we had the testing capability to know it, so we’d have had to lock down the whole country. That would have also locked down our food production and transportation capability (among other things), with obvious deadly consequences.

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