Lockdowns Are Having Real Effects
By David Henderson
I’m normally a fan of writing by Reason writer Eric Boehm. On his latest post, I’m not.
In Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court last week struck down a statewide stay-at-home order, counties are lifting their own lockdown orders due to “mounting confusion” over their legality. But the bigger question, again, might be their enforcability. I’ve seen a lot of coverage of Wisconsinites heading to bars in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling; I haven’t seen much evidence that people are getting arrested for violating local shutdown orders.
He writes this to buttress his overall point that compliance with the lockdown orders is largely voluntary. He writes:
The government’s role in all of this has always been more limited than either the bureaucrats drafting stay-at-home orders imagine or the protesters shouting about tyranny fear. Since forcibly quarantining 330 million people was never really possible, the lockdowns that have wrecked the economy and slowed the spread of COVID-19 over the past two months were ultimately based on voluntary compliance.
No, they’re not based on voluntary compliance, unless you stretch the word “voluntary.” They’re based on fear. And the Wisconsin paragraph at the top makes the point that it’s not. When did Wisconsinites head to bars? When they opened. And why did they open? Because the Supreme Court struck down the lockdown order. The vast majority of them were not open before. (Nothing in this post is meant to imply that it’s a good idea to mill in close quarters in bars. I would be nervous about doing so.)
Boehm is absolutely right that mass civil disobedience would badly undercut the lockdown orders, making it hard to enforce. But that doesn’t mean that everyone would engage in civil disobedience. A large number of people would not.
I talked to a woman, a hairdresser who owns her own business, who was at the first anti-lockdown demonstration I helped organize. I offered to give her a few hundred dollars and she accepted. Along the way, though, I asked her if she thought she couldn’t get her most loyal customers to come in, ignore the order, and practice social distancing. She wouldn’t be comfortable doing it, she said. She didn’t want to be a law breaker. Maybe Eric Boehm would say that she’s voluntarily complying. I don’t think of it that way. She’s looking at the law and getting somewhat afraid to break the law.
I talked to another hairdresser who opened for a day until the cops came around. That was enough to scare her for a few days. I don’t know if she tried again.
In April, my own hairdresser canceled my late April haircut and rescheduled for mid-May. In early May, we talked on the phone about how we would proceed. I would wear a mask and so would she. While washing my hair at the start, she would have me hold the mask on with my hands. We agreed. The point is that she was ready and I was ready to take reasonable risks.
But a few days after that, our local health official extended the local lockdown through May. She then called to propose a date in June. This time I asked her if she would be willing to open up for me. She wasn’t. She said she feared losing her license.
I wondered how general this was in my town of Pacific Grove. So I called the head of the local Chamber of Commerce, whom I’ve gotten to know over the years when I give speeches to the local Rotary Club. I asked him if he knew many businesses that were willing to open despite the lockdown. He told me he had talked to many and that they would open if it were legal but were very afraid to do so while the lockdown order is in place.
The bottom line: The fact that you observe lots of people breaking the law doesn’t mean there aren’t an even greater number of people who are afraid of breaking the law or who don’t want to see themselves as lawbreakers. The lockdowns are having real effects.