The big question ahead of us, post-pandemic, is how we regard governmental actions during the crisis. Here are a few possibilities:
“My God, we were so scared, we cooperated with a proto-police state.”
“Thank God, we had a caring government that – despite missteps – took decisive action to save us.”
“By God, I just want to forget the whole thing happened. I’m just glad I’m alive.”
“What have we done?”
The question is not, “Did we over-react?” The question is, “Why did we let the state assume so much power, with no complaint?” In fact, many wanted the state to take even more power than it did. Only contagious fear can account for a population that would relinquish its liberties so willingly. Only local, voluntary action – effected without state coercion – would have been effective to contain both fear and infection, and less damaging for millions of people left isolated and jobless.
Supporters of state coercion will say, “The number of deaths would have been far higher if we had relied only on voluntary action and social organization.” Everyone knows, including those who speak those words, that you cannot substantiate that statement. Comparative data do not exist, and never will. As advocates of state coercion said from the start, “We can’t run this thing as an experiment. We have to follow the example of other countries, where the state shuts everything down. We risk even more deaths than they have had if we go our own way.”
Even as governments remove people’s livelihoods, the FDA finds more ways to restrict testing.
Even as governments remove people’s livelihoods, the FDA finds more ways to restrict testing, which is the only effective way to bring the pandemic under control. Even as states impose de facto quarantines on millions of people, Congress proposes to hand out two trillion dollars to favored recipients, with no memory at all for how utterly this idea failed just over a decade ago, after the Great Recession. These are guilt payments to politicians’ cronies. Even as it spouts the most cynical propaganda – “We take these necessary actions out of love and responsibility” – government puts already precarious families in extremis.
Why tolerate costs this extreme? Deployment of any tool that increases the state’s power looks attractive, no matter what impact it might have on actual transmission of the disease, or on the number of people who do not recover from it. Again, the only effective way to prevent transmission, and therefore reduce the number who die, is to identify who has the disease, and who does not. Without that information, everything else you do is just panic, and submission to fear. Yet the central government has done everything in its power to restrict our ability to gain that information.
Even as states impose de facto quarantines on millions of people, Congress proposes to hand out two trillion dollars to favored recipients.
In fact, its beating heart knows that the more it controls information, the more it controls everything else. What other rationale can there be for holding classified briefings on the pandemic? What other rationale can you possibly devise for interference in every phase of the testing process? Government’s only rationale, “We have always regulated medical tests this way,” says nothing more than, “We control information to control what you do. You know what happens if you disobey.”
Meanwhile, workers just want to earn enough to pay rent and buy food, an instinct for survival far stronger than the desire to avoid illness. When you remove a person’s livelihood, you remove a lot more than income to pay bills. You force the person into positions of dependence and despair. You cannot readily recover from these feelings and predicaments. You cannot start over as if nothing happened. The damage government causes in these situations far exceeds what it claims on the other side, a statistical formulation that says it must do everything it can to ‘flatten the curve.’
Meanwhile, workers just want to earn enough to pay rent and buy food, an instinct for survival far stronger than the desire to avoid illness.
Workers need to support their families. They are willing to take risks in order to do that. They will do everything they can to protect their families from illness, but first you have to eat. You cannot stay healthy if you do not have enough to eat. Yet they have lost their jobs in order to keep hospitals from becoming overcrowded. Flatten the curve to prevent triage in hospitals become watchwords that justify the worst kind of coercion, the kind that forces workers into a desperate, helpless condition.
Do politicians like Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, seem to care all that much? Well of course they care, but in public you see them complain that three billion from the feds is not nearly enough to cover the state’s pandemic related costs. Give us some more, man. We have losses well over twelve billiion, and all you give us is three?
Restaurant workers know they won’t see a penny. If you get sick with some unidentified bug, no one will offer to test you. We don’t have enough tests. If fluid begins to collect in your lungs, no one will offer you a respirator. We don’t have enough respirators. If you die because your lungs no longer deliver oxygen, few will remember, nor will public money pay for burial. We ran out of money a long time ago. Too bad this mandatory shutdown didn’t work for you.