By Alberto Mingardi
On Coronavirus and ideology, I can’t but echo this reflection by Michael Huemer (on his Facebook page):
A few days ago, it looked like people’s opinions on the seriousness of the coronavirus were correlated with their political ideology. Like, Republicans were thinking it was overblown or a hoax, and Democrats thinking it was a disaster. I don’t know if that’s still true, or if people are moving toward consensus.
This is obvious, but maybe some of us forget it?: You can’t figure out something like that based on your political ideology. Your political ideology shouldn’t be telling you whether to worry about a new disease or not. Because your political ideology (unless it’s very strange) shouldn’t have unusual views about how bad death from disease is, nor will it contain scientific, medical beliefs.
E.g., if people have strong negative rights, or if government is untrustworthy, that tells us nothing about how contagious or how deadly some new virus is that we’ve never seen before. So please try not to form beliefs about stuff like the latter, based on stuff like the former.
Let’s face it, this is true of libertarians, too. Now, one thing libertarians know is that emergencies are the health of the State: Leviathan, indeed, is fed crisis after crisis (remember Robert Higgs’s enlightening book). But the fact that after a crisis we end up with more government than before, it does not necessarily mean that the crisis was not there.
I get plenty of e-mails from friends thorough the world, who are astonished by the measures, including semi-total lock down, taken by the Italian government. As they are friends of mine, they tend to be politically on the right, perhaps not the greatest fans of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, yet more sympathetic with them than with their opponents. Most of these friends of mine thought the Covid19 crisis was but a sign of irrational “scare” on the part of Italians. Alas, now they are gradually changing their mind. Libertarians who, on the other hand, did not underestimate the risk included IEA’s Christopher Snowdon, Steve Davies and Matt Ridley.
Now we need not to go to the other extreme: that is, assuming that because the crisis is real, it will not end up with a major increase of the size of the government. I think we will. The German Minister of the Economy suggested pharmaceutical industries could be nationalized, though he does not expect “many” if such nationalizations to happen. I think freedom of movement is and will be for the time being the first casualty of this crisis. We will see how the crisis is handled by the US authority – that will make a difference to the world more than anything else.
I have a nightmare, cyberpunk scenario.
The vaccine is not developed for 12-15 months, and even then, at the beginning, is in scarce supply. Such scarcity is worsened by trade barriers erected, for matters of “national safety”, in the meanwhile.
People keep being, therefore, effectively quarantined for months. This is a manageable situation for some people, but an impossible one for others. Large scale bankruptcies and mass unemployment bring governments to adopt some kind of universal income scheme. Such schemes allow a fair amount of people to continue to kick the can. Few business sectors are doing well: telcos, over-the-top companies, shops that provide home delivery. Drones become common, as to answer worries about hygiene and sanitation.
These new burdens to the taxpayers can’t be sustained even with a spiraling public deficit. Therefore we witness a growing taxation on those assets hold by the supposedly “wealthy” part of the population, if not outright nationalization of some of the hens lying golden eggs (beginning with telcos).
All of this changes our life so profoundly, that a burgeoning inequality between those who can work using the Internet, and those who cannot, make the latter a more or less a permanent burden on society: this breeds dependency and substantially weaken the entrepreneurial spirit, which is of course also wrecked by activities “in presence” becoming outlawed and thus making a bunch of kinds of small businesses impossible to start.
I am not saying that this will happen, neither I am saying this is likely to happen. This is a nightmare scenario. But it is kind of the first time in my life in which cyberpunk novels (full of similar stories) look not so detached from real world possibilities.
In short, I would advise libertarians not to be “minimizers” simply because they care about individual rights that will be effected by containment and mitigation strategies. The problem is real. Our worries have a sound bases too, and we will need to work to keep, preserve and get back to a more liberal normality as soon as possible. But denial won’t make us more credible nor more ideas stronger.