Libertarianism, not libertarians
By Scott Sumner
I’ve always considered myself to be a pragmatic libertarian, as I favor system with a small government and a high degree of freedom. But I don’t feel any special affinity toward other libertarians. It seems to me that their views on political issues are no better than the views on non-libertarians. I doubt whether Ron Paul would have been a better president that Reagan or Clinton, (although I voted for Paul in 1988.) One example of this phenomenon is the substantial support that Jair Bolsonaro received among libertarians when he ran for president of Brazil, despite being a pro-torture demagogue. Now we see the consequences of this Faustian bargain:
Brazil’s president has taken an approach that is strikingly similar to that of Mr Trump — but even more irresponsible and dangerous. Both leaders have become obsessed with the supposedly curative properties of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. But while Mr Trump is merely taking it himself, Mr Bolsonaro has forced the Brazilian health ministry to issue new guidelines, recommending the drug for coronavirus patients. The US president has squabbled with his scientific advisers. But Mr Bolsonaro has sacked one health minister and provoked his replacement to resign. Mr Trump has expressed sympathy for anti-lockdown protesters; Mr Bolsonaro has addressed their rallies.
. . . Coronavirus hit Brazil relatively late. But the country has the second-highest infection rate in the world and the sixth-highest recorded Covid-19 deaths. The number of deaths in Brazil . . . is now doubling every two weeks.
. . . The hospital system in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, is already close to collapse.
This is not to say that the President has caused the disaster, other factors also play a role:
But is it fair to blame Mr Bolsonaro? The president, who was sworn into office on January 1 2019, is obviously not responsible for the virus — nor for the poverty and overcrowding that make Covid-19 such a threat to the country. He has also not been able to prevent many of Brazil’s governors and mayors from imposing lockdowns in local areas. But by encouraging his followers to flout the lockdowns and undermining his own ministers, Mr Bolsonaro is responsible for the chaotic response that has allowed the pandemic to get out of hand.
It’s hard to say how different things would have been if someone else had been president. I am more confident in predicting that Bolsonaro’s performance will reduce the appeal of libertarianism among thoughtful young Brazilians that are just coming of age. What a pity.
Perhaps my motto might be described as, “Save libertarianism from the libertarians.”