Saturday, April 18, 2020

Would Freedom From COVID-19 Government Regulation Backfire?

By Robert Wenzel

I really don't have a lot of time to listen to podcasts.

Outside of Ron Paul's Liberty Report, there are only two hard leaning libertarian podcasts I listen to, the podcasts of historian Brion McClanahan and The Tom Woods Show.

The only other podcast I listen to is the more establishment interviews done by the Hoover Institution's  Peter Robinson.

I listen to all the McClanahan podcasts. He only puts out two a week, but even when I disagree with him (not very often) on a principle, they are so damn filled with historical information that I don't miss them.

The Tom Woods Show has a new episode every weekday so I don't listen to each episode, I pick and choose. I pick and choose with Robinson also because sometimes I am not interested in his guests, though he, himself, has a very strong libertarian streak and he is not afraid to call out guests who are advocating for more regulations.

This is a very roundabout way of coming to a discussion of something Tom Woods said on one of his recent podcasts, Ep. 1633 Trump, the Governors, and the Constitution.

It was not an episode that I had originally listened to but Michael Edelstein pointed out to me that Tom had mentioned in the episode a post I had written, Donald Trump vs. The Tenth Amendment and Why I Support Trump Today.

And I thank Tom for mentioning the post and my perspective. However, this did cause me to listen to that part of his broadcast (at the 20:30 mark) and I have to inject a comment about a point Tom was making. He was discussing Trump's inconsistent (surprise) attempt to declare he wanted to take charge and open up the country.

Tom stated that if Trump had opened up the country, himself, that it might have backfired on him. So what Tom was saying here is that if Trump did give us COVID-19 freedom it might backfire because COVID-19 might explode again.

In other words, Tom is subtly suggesting that governments might be an important player in making the right decisions about how to deal with COVID-19.

I simply reject this.

First, I reject this because most are now very aware of the dangers of the virus and will do what they need to on their own to protect themselves from exposure--no government role required.

I liken it to the Y2K panic when Harry Browne calmly wrote a number of essays on the topic. In one titled, I BELIEVE IN MIRACLES or Why I Have Faith in the Free Market, he summarised:
When the computer 2000 (Y2K) problem caught the public's attention a year or so ago, it didn't seem to be a libertarian issue. I saw it as a mundane problem (like trash disposal) that many companies would need to deal with, but I believed it had been puffed up by a few people who make their living writing about the apocalypse du jour.

But it is shaping up as an issue that illustrates the free market's superiority over government in responding to problems. Despite that superiority, however, the issue may expand government's control over our lives and enhance its ability to suppress economic growth.

As you most likely know by now, in the 1960s and 1970s computer programs that dealt with date information conserved computer memory by treating years as two-digit numbers. The year 1965, for example, would be stored as "65." Of course, such programs can't distinguish the year 1965 from the year 2065 — a distinction that becomes important as the millennium approaches.

The most dire expectations assume that there are too many large, old programs still in use for the problem to be solved in time — and that a few outdated computer systems will be sufficient to infect the data of other computers and cause them to crash when 2000 dates are entered, bringing on general chaos. Banks will close, stock markets will collapse, airplanes will fall out of the sky, elevators will crash at midnight on December 31, 1999, and on and on...

The reason some people expect certain disaster is that they have little faith in the market — even if they claim to prefer freedom to government. And because they lack faith, they don't expect miracles...
Everything I know about the world tells me to expect most Y2K problems outside of government to be solved in time. There is too much at stake for them not to be solved. Why should any business executive want his company to fail? And why should anyone with the talent and knowledge to solve the remaining problems miss the opportunity to benefit from them?

Of course, the Doomsayers tell us it doesn't matter how urgent the problem; there's no way it can be solved. But they mean that they don't know how to solve it.
For government, the chance of success is much slimmer — for precisely the same reason the market's chance is so great.

People will try very hard to solve the problem only if they can profit personally — and government employees don't have such an incentive.
Well, when it comes to COVID-19 and freedom, I also believe in miracles. Putting aside for a moment that the COVID-19 threat is likely a lot less dangerous than government officials are making it out to be, I just don't see how those most vulnerable, those with serious health conditions, aren't going to take measures on their own such as self-isolation if draconian government regulations are lifted.

Remember, when the virus first attacked, it was not clear how lethal it was, so few knew what precautions to take. That explains the early death toll. It is much different now.

But there is a second issue, and that is a libertarian should always be supporting liberty. Since you can protect yourself from the virus by self-isolation, it is an active choice for anyone who does not choose self-isolation. It perhaps may be an attitude of "I am going to live until I die."

Governments by their lockdown measures are taking this freedom of choice away. They are making risk-reward determinations for all of us. And not surprisingly these power freaks are determining that the risk-reward ratio for all of us is the risk-reward ratio that just happens to give them the most power.

They fail to recognize that risk-reward ratios are different for each and every one of us. I don't hang glide or skydive, the risk-reward ratio just isn't there for me to do such things. It is different for others. On the other hand, I do like to take leisurely strolls through the bad sides of towns. Even my friends think this is nuts, but for me it is a relaxing safari--and that doesn't mean it isn't dangerous,

I do occasionally hear gunshots around me and happen upon the occasional shooting in front of my eyes.

So for reasons of my fervent support for personal freedom, I want the regulations lifted and because I believe in free market "miracles," I do not fear that freedom will backfire.

The only place I see any backfire is the justifiable backfire protests developing around the country now against government lockdowns. This is as it should be.

Libertarians should never fear freedom. The great economist Ludwig Erhard via his German Economic Miracle taught us how to heroically ignore those who warn about too much freedom too soon (4 minutes 10 seconds).


To quote Leonard Read in a slightly different context, "I would push the button" if it would release us from government COVID-19 regulatory restrictions.

I trust free markets, free exchange and freedom for the people.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.comand Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bankand most recently Foundations of Private Property Society Theory: Anarchism for the Civilized Person Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. More about Wenzel here.


  1. I believe this same story was told in the documentary, Commanding Heights (the narrator sounds familiar, maybe the clip is from that?).

  2. Great post RW. I listened to the Tom Woods podcast that mentioned your post: "Donald Trump vs. The Tenth Amendment and Why I Support Trump Today." I found it particularly interesting that Tom made the point that several Democratic governors were embracing states' rights and citing the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. However, and this is a point Tom made, they are citing states' rights as a reason to continue their draconian control over the people in their states. Then you have Trump who wants to violate the Constitution by unilaterally re-opening the economy. What is a liberty lover/freedom lover/free market lover to do? I think the answer is to support the liberty/freedom/free market position. Besides, who cares about the Constitution anyway? I didn't sign it so I don't think I should have to submit to it. Leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone. Live and let live is what I say. Besides our elected officials don't follow the Constitution anyway. Why should I?