Opinions vary enormously about the merits of government-imposed lockdowns in response to the coronavirus. Some data gets flung here, other data is paraded there, all amidst fiery discussions of the reality and relative importance of concepts that most of us had never heard of until just a few months ago. And the conclusions differ with each ardent champion insisting that his or her stance is the one – the only one – justified by science.
By now, it’s become trite (but still true!) in the pages of sensible publications to note that the question of whether or not government should lock down the economy – and, if so, to what extent – is not one that can be answered by science. Nevertheless, government must do something regarding COVID and the economy, even if the ‘something’ done is nothing. I confess to strongly leaning in the direction of having government do nothing. And my reason for this strong leaning is summarized by the two words “These People” – as in “What good reason have we to believe that These People in high government positions will make sensible decision.
These People are politically driven. What reason do we have to believe that they are capable of finding that right course of action or of even understanding it? And even if they could find and understand this scientifically ‘best’ course of action, what reasons have we to believe that they possess the political fortitude to implement or stick to it?
These People regularly act as if reality is optional. When they raise minimum wages, they deny that low-skilled workers will suffer any negative consequences. When they raise tariffs, they proclaim that the resulting greater scarcities at home will bring about greater abundance. When they defend rent control, applauding themselves for helping poor families, remain oblivious to the resulting reduced availability and worsening quality of rental housing.
These People concoct in their political petri dishes the economic cancer of occupational licensing and then unleash it on society. In doing so, they see only the increased incomes of the monopolists whose competitors are killed off. These People are blind to the harm suffered both by consumers and by those producers denied the opportunity to offer their services to the public.
These People defend the government-school monster-monopoly. They pump ever-more taxpayer money into this monster’s maw and insist that the monster’s continuing failures justify not ridding it of its monopoly status but, instead, stuffing it with ever-more taxpayer money.
These People seem not to understand the first thing about incentives.
These People either actively support or do nothing to oppose the calamitous “war on drugs.” This fact shouldn’t surprise anyone, after all, they profit from the banana republic practice of civil asset forfeiture, a practice These People declare to be an important “tool” in fighting the “war on drugs.”
Very many of These People believe that adults are children who, absent the kindly intervention of These People, will guzzle too many sugary drinks, ingest too many Trans fats, and vape excessively.
These People insist that the typical American is too irresponsible to save for his or her own retirement. Yet many of These People cannot arrange for the government in which they serve to live within its own means.
These People spend borrowed money like mad today and, without shame or, maybe worse, without realizing it, pass the bill on to future generations. They clearly haven’t the backbone to deny the most frivolous and costly goodies to their constituents. These People, after all, won’t be in office when the bills come due so what do they care about what happens in the future?
These People incessantly display utter ignorance of, or contempt for, basic economic realities and have done so for generations. Much of what they say about economic matters is the economic equivalent of voodoo, and even more of what they do on the economic front is destructive.
These People are none too careful with facts frequently stoking fears, on the flimsiest of evidence, of looming calamities whenever doing so seems to justify their seizing more power.
What reason is there to trust that These People, whose incentives are never to look past the next election and to ignore consequences that are difficult to see if the consequences are spread over large numbers of individuals, are making a prudently considered trade-off between the lockdown’s costs and its benefits?
Why in the world should we trust These People with the power to lock down an economy?
Source: Who Is Making Decisions about Our Lives by Donald J. Boudreaux, American Institute for Economic Research