Family & Community, Good Government
Overreaching politicians and shared sacrifice
March 25, 2020
The COVID-19/coronavirus is a global crisis and a very dangerous illness. But that does not justify any and every response to try to stop it. We could have nuked Wuhan in early January—that might have put an end to it right there, but no moral person would do anything like that.
“We don’t even forcibly remove a single kidney from a healthy person with two kidneys to save life—even when doing so will likely have no effects on the compelled donor,” writes Robin Koerner, academic dean at the John Locke Institute. “So why is it okay to forcibly remove a job and a home and a livelihood from anyone to save the life of another unknown—especially when that other is not the victim of a malign act and is free to take action to avoid potential harm?”
The harm caused by politicians’ overreaching shutdowns will be extreme—and unequally shared.
Consider how many ordinary Oklahomans will lose pay, and even their livelihoods, during this shutdown. At least tens of thousands.
And then consider how many politicians and government employees will lose anything at all during this shutdown. None.
How’s that for shared sacrifice?
This helps explain why it’s easy for politicians to put their boot heels onto the necks of hourly workers and small businesses. These politicians’ courage on the cheap is really self-interest. “When there is uncertainty, government officials generally will make the safest decision,” economist William L. Anderson explains. “Politicians are rationally risk-averse, and when they shift the costs of their decisions upon the people they ostensibly wish to protect, they are not acting out of character, either of themselves or of the political system. That they wreck the livelihoods of millions of people in the process is of no concern to them and their adoring media.”
Indeed, their adoring media will provide them a platform for self-congratulatory preening.
One last little story: Yesterday, my daughter’s last good clarinet reed stopped playing. My wife called our neighborhood music store here in Oklahoma City. She was able to pay by phone and pick up the package of reeds at the door of the store. People were working and staying safe. Today, that store is closed by order of the state. The politicians decided they are not essential, and so all those superfluous Oklahomans are out of work.
Closing the music store did not make us safer, but it did make us poorer—and it allowed politicians to flex their muscles and claim to be “doing something.”