Is Government Doing Too Much or Too Little With Coronavirus?

How do libertarians react to a pandemic? It depends, judging by the Reason Roundtable podcast.


Sure, people say sometimes that the past is a different planet. But the past week?

Yet here are, the world shutting down all around us, anxiously comparing coronavirus growth curves to Italy and South Korea, retreating to four-way remote podcasting set-ups, trying to make sense of a story that changes seemingly by the hour. On today's Reason Roundtable, Peter Suderman, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, and Matt Welch offer different perspectives in the teeth of a pandemic.

What part of today's clampdown is with us for the long haul? What does this once-a-century challenge tell us about comparative health policies? Are we comfortable with mayors and governors shutting down entire swaths of the economy? Did Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders recalibrate their presidential pitches even a little bit? And how will Nick tie this all back in to some 1970s Charlton Heston movie? These are among the questions that you can listen being addressed right here.

Audio production by Ian Keyser and Regan Taylor.

Music credit: 'Ninja Tortoise' by Verified Picasso

Relevant links from the show:

"Coronavirus Is the Health of the State," by J.D. Tuccille

"COVID-19 Reminds Us: Social Media Is Good, Actually," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown

"Coronavirus Epidemic May Be Slowed by Warm and Humid Weather," by Ronald Bailey

"The Coronavirus Debate Was Bernie Sanders' Last Chance. He Blew It," by Robby Soave

"Price-Gouging Laws Will Do More Harm Than Good During the Coronavirus Pandemic," by J.D. Tuccille

"Biden Promises 'Major, Major, Major Bailouts' in Response to Coronavirus," by Eric Boehm

"Trump Gets What He Wants as Federal Reserve Interest Rate Target Drops to Zero," by Brian Doherty

"Tired: There Are No Libertarians in a Pandemic. Wired: There Are Only Libertarians in a Pandemic," by Nick Gillespie

"Coronavirus Is Going To Be Expensive. Too Bad the Government Is Already in Massive Debt," by Eric Boehm

"America Doesn't Have Enough Hospital Beds To Fight the Coronavirus. Protectionist Health Care Regulations Are One Reason Why," by Eric Boehm

"St. Phineas: How P.T. Barnum helped invent business ethics," by John Mueller

NEXT: Balaji Srinivasan: The Coronavirus Might Eat the World

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  1. >>Are we comfortable with mayors and governors shutting down entire swaths of the economy?

    they’ll shut down your bar but won’t shut down the tax collections.

    1. A better question is under what authority can they shut down entire swaths of the economy, even if it were a preferred solution?

      Don’t worry. When all is said and done, you, the taxpayer, will get to bail out all of the businesses that you didn’t want to close in the first place.

      1. Police powers. Volokh had a nice commentary on that.

  2. What part of today’s clampdown is with us for the long haul?

    Oh, you guys are so *funny*!

    1. No man born with a livin’ soul
      Can be workin’ for the clampdown

    2. I think that particular discussion missed the mark. The only way you can really say something done today will persist tomorrow is to not give a shit about it anyway. To adopt a basically fatalistic hipster pose for the audience.

      If you see the ACTUAL problem (meaning in this case the virus and the accompanying corpses) at issue, then being part of the discussion about how to solve that problem also means you are part of the discussion that always occurs then where other agendas get added or moats get added to pre-existing bureaucratic fiefdoms or somesuch. So at that moment you can reduce the chances that dumb/irrelevant slippery slopes get added. And even if you can’t get that done then, you earn the credibility to raise that later when the problem is over in order to get it reversed.

      If instead you stand outside the window yapping about liberty and slippery slopes, you will be ignored then – and later.

      The same problem I see with ‘non-interventionism’. When the problem at hand is about Iran or AlQaeda or Shining Path – the only ‘non-interventionists’ who will ever be worth a shit are those who know something about whatever problem it is that involves Iran or AlQaeda or Shining Path. Not someone who waxes philosophical about non-interventionism.

      Be the expert on – or at least the focuser on – the problem at hand and you get the seat at the table. Because you actually add value and Hayekian knowledge – which leads to better decisions.

      1. “If instead you stand outside the window yapping about liberty and slippery slopes, you will be ignored then – and later.”

        I can only hope they take you and the other raging idiots first; you deserve nothing less.

      2. Being an expert gets you a seat at the government trough? You can’t be this dumb.

        1. I think it does help. A lot. There may be a lot of experts on the Internet. Typing from their parent’s basement. In the bars after a few beers. But I seriously doubt there’s a huge number of people who died and left evidence of their knoweldge behind where people (not govt – but anyone) later look and say OMG why didn’t we talk to this guy? He really knew what he was talking about. Anyone who really does know about say AlQaeda is hardly likely to make no use of it whatsoever after they presumably invested time in acquiring it.

          Personally I think the libertarian approach to governance/community should be to find ways to gather information for governance via as crowdsourced and open content and transparent and wiki a way as possible. To try to make the decisions that government does make as Hayekian as possible. And I do think that would tend to reduce the scale/scope of govt a lot.

          But that does conflict with a stronger tendency that is anarcho/egoist/performance. To believe that government is by definition always evil or alien. To instead try to exert ‘power’ via the heckler’s veto in order to provoke a reaction – Dennis – Elp elp I’m being repressed..

          1. I’d suggest you read the U.S. Constitution. Surely those who put their own life’s on-the-line instead of making online commentary would be far more careful about what philosophy they want to entertain.

  3. Agree with Nick 100%

    1. Yeah, I don’t really get Peter’s stance here. The meteor example he used is fantastically instructive here, but it points pretty clearly to Nick’s idea: the government doesn’t have to airlift people out, all they have to do is give them sufficient warning on the degree and extent of the expected damage, and people will make their own decisions (to get the hell out of the way). There’s no reason that can’t be done here. People are better informed about their own personal risk factors and preferences than any set of bureaucrat could be, so why not let the customers and the bars (and the rest) make their own decisions about how they want to modify their behavior in the face of this information.

      1. K-12 schools are similar — government funding does not go hand-in-hand with government running. That they are tied together shows the true purpose — indoctrination and control.

  4. I just found out 30 minutes ago that my brewery, located in suburban Kansas City, along with every bar and restaurant in 2 counties, is now illegal to operate for 2 weeks.

    These motherfuckers do not have the constitutional authority to rule by decree. I have employees that depend on this job, and a fridge full of perishable food that will spoil by April 1. Even if the taxpayers pony up some money to make them whole again, I’d rather just sell the beer and food…

    1. Appropriately called the Wuhan Virus because it causes our government to suddenly act like theirs.

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  6. How do libertarians react to a pandemic?

    You wont find out from unreason staff.

    The 2017-18 Influenza infected an estimated 45 million Americans and killed 79,000.

    Hysteria is our worst enemy at this point because the Lefty media have an agenda and its not good for Americans.

  7. Thank you for the outstanding production quality, remarkable for four people in four locations. Many podcasts struggle with two people in one location. Now, if we could only get MW to maintain a fixed distance from his mic. I imagine him bobbing and weaving in his chair throughout the podcast as his voice goes in and out.

    Is NG the only one of you willing to seriously discuss cost/benefit? The timidity was striking. Granted there is a lot of uncertainty at this point. Maybe we get lucky and R0 decreases more quickly than expected as a result of herd immunity or warm weather or other factors. But maybe we are unlucky and this gets dragged out for years, as imagined by several credible sources at this point, including the recent Imperial College of London report.

    When do the costs outweigh the benefits? Loss of 1 million jobs to save 1 million lives? Seems reasonable. 10 million jobs? 30% increase in homelessness? 1 million more foreclosures? Loss of income resulting in poorer nutrition, decreased ability to pay for heating/cooling – which also kills old people. Insolvent pension funds?

    Where is the line? Will countries that are willing to “take the hit” emerge in a stronger position? With an improved demographic profile, lower costs due to fewer old people, and a resistant population. As this goes on hopefully this gets discussed.

  8. I would say definitely too much. I’ve tried to just follow CDC guidelines, which are very thorough and specific, looking at 4 risk levels and responses for each. They give clear guidelines for groups from individuals to families to workplaces, schools, and large events. After studying them closely, it’s clear that a lot of the shutdowns and panic we see now would have been avoided had clear guidance from the top been calmly relayed through media. Instead, it’s the Wild West, with every entity trying to avoid social shaming by following its own rules.

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  11. I would say that the government is doing their best.

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