A Bigger Threat Than COVID-19 Is Already Here

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Brian Phillips of the Texas Institute for Property Rights directly addresses a concern I have had ever since it became clear that we were heading for a global pandemic:

A teacher fell ill with the virus at work -- so they closed the entire system? (Image by Atlantacitizen, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
If government officials can confine -- i.e., quarantine -- individuals because they allegedly pose a threat to the "public health," then what is to stop those officials from confining anyone they deem a threat to "the public"? In principle, there is nothing to stop government officials from confining those who advocate ideas that they consider threatening.

If government officials can ban large gatherings in order to prevent the spread of a disease, what is to stop them from banning large gatherings to prevent the spread of ideas? In principle, there is nothing to stop them.

Governments often use crises, whether real or imagined, as a justification to expand their powers and control over the citizenry. And the citizenry often welcomes those measures because "something" is being done. [bold added]
This is a good, succinct, outline of why the government running this show is a bad idea -- even if some of the measures are what the public would (or should) voluntarily do out of self-preservation when left fully free to do so.

Take school closings, a measure some areas have already implemented, and which are being bandied about in my part of Florida. Set aside for the moment the propriety of the government running the education and medical sectors, and consider some of the arguments in a New York Times editorial against school closures as a measure of slowing the outbreak, so as to avoid straining hospital capacity when vulnerable patients begin falling ill. (What that capacity might have been -- or how rapidly it could be expanded -- in a free market is worth consideration.)

Jennifer Nuzzo of Johns Hopkins first notes that, "there is no clear evidence that such measures will slow this outbreak." She then outlines a few of the harmful consequences closings will visit on a public already dealing with the epidemic in other ways:
If schools close, child care programs will likely close too and working parents may have to stay home to watch their children. Health care and critical infrastructure workers would not be able to do their jobs for the same reason. Those parents may not be paid, which would be a tremendous hardship...
Nuzzo then outlines many knock-on effects of such closures, many due to the fact that the government has already assumed so many other responsibilities it also should not have.

The government should not be running the educational or medical sectors, but it is. And there is a range of things the government can do about the epidemic: from helping, by somewhat emulating what a freer, stronger medical sector would have done, anyway -- all the way to greatly compounding our troubles. It angers me to know that some government official can force so many of us to face weeks or months of tending to children -- instead of more productive pursuits -- just so he can say he "did something."

The fact that the government is so powerful, and politicians are so prone to responding to the loudest, most ignorant and most panic-driven demands, I don't see how our plans over the next few months aren't wildly disrupted. And I frankly have a hard time seeing how we won't end up in a deep recession when all is said and done. On top of that, we stand to have had some very bad precedents set for even more intrusive government in the future.

Brian Phillips indicates why it is immoral for the government to run our everyday lives. COVID-19 may show us on our own hides why it is also impractical for it to do so -- whether we need that lesson or not.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...


Not only am I concerned about ever more government encroachment, I have yet to see any news reports about cultural aspects of China that leads to viruses starting there. I just found out that all our pharmaceutical manufacturing is done in China. I'm appalled by this because of the medieval like hygienic practices of the country. If you want an honest take on this there is a YouTube video I came across from two men who lived in China for decades. One's an American and the other is a South African. Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk5XkhUKMDM.

Bookish Babe

Gus Van Horn said...


I probably won't be able to view the video today, but I suspect it jibes with other things I've seen about the topic (e.g., public indoor expectoration in restaurants, and lax sanitation regarding butchered animals). That could be good news insofar as many of our practices are better here.

The drug manufacturing is a concern, too, although it seems that anti-fever medications like Tylenol and ibuprofen that we need for home treatment remain in good supply. I would guess that the main impact will be for anything that was already in short supply. If I needed regular medication of any kind (which I do not), I'd try to stock up a bit in case of supply disruptions/look into more plentiful alternates.


Thomas M. Miovas Jr. said...

In The DIM Hypothesis, Leonard Peikoff discusses how philosophy -- the one being accepted in that era -- is the prime motivator of the culture at any given time epoch. He also mentioned the fact that sometimes a culture can change under the duress of what he calls "triggers" to the culture, which can be man-made or natural. An example would major storms, volcanoes, wars, plagues, and epidemics, and other life threatening events that might subdue a culture's self-esteem or sense of righteousness, in other words, in a way, their philosophical hold on the culture became tenuous enough that a disaster got the populous to doubt their own way of life indefinitely.

I'm also reminded of the environmentalists (the die hard ones) who hope for the perfect virus to come along and wipe out mankind because, to them, man is a plague onto the earth and the environment. Well, given the events unfolding before us, where it seems that no one can control or corner off the Corona virus until government steps in, we may be reaching such a state as a cultural trigger that Peikoff did not predict for us except in general terms (as a mere possibility).

But look how the USA Government is basically promising to throw $1.5 trillion dollars [?] at the problem -- which means more borrowing and more destruction of the dollar and more debt and more government interference, as if it takes government for us to live our lives rationally. Don't get me wrong, I think government are quite necessary to control the use of force, but not to combat natural or man-made disasters (if this virus was created in a lab and accidentally got released).

I'm hoping this is not the case, but as I understand what is going on with various countries and coming to America, is a total lock-down as an excuse to combat the virus when all they really want is to rule the people, like China and Italy, which mobilized the government to an almost total lock-down (and by the way, has anyone heard anything about the protests of Hong Kong?).

"At any rate, I do recommend reading the Dim Hypothesis in that it is one of the most well presented and thoroughly documented books on the applications of philosophy and specifically applied epistemology that has been written. It would be ironic, in a sense, if DIM propels Objectivists to fight that much harder, thus rendering the prediction of DIM incorrect; but historically, the Objectivist movement is still yet a tiny flicker in a struggle that has taken many millennia to develop. The only thing we can do is to continue to present the facts of Objectivism to the best of our abilities, make our case repeatedly, and live our lives the most rationally best we can in the mean time."


Gus Van Horn said...

I n the case of this pandemic, I think it will be the severity and duration of the very bad economic effects and loss of freedom that could worsen our culture.

The destruction the government has already done shows just how close to a dictatorship we already are.

To understate, I found the /DIM Hypothesis/ excellent: It manages to fascinate and stimulate thought while also making a solid argument that hope for saving the West from collapse is faint.