Crisis Leads to ‘Permanently Bigger Government’
Article from For Liberty by Norm Leahy.
There are plenty of internet memes and somewhat serious articles about how there are no libertarians – nevermind free-market responses — during a pandemic.
Perhaps. But the more likely response from free-market advocates is to warn about the threat such events pose to liberty. As Reason Magazine’s J.D. Tuccille writes, crisis, like war, is often a health tonic for the state:
Politicians are human beings, too (allegedly so, anyway) and subject to fear, including fear of being voted out of office by panic-stricken constituents looking for officials to “do something.” So, their instinct to exploit a crisis complements their inclination to soothe the fearful by making efforts—even counterproductive ones—to assure the public that everything will be just fine.
That combination of calculation and fright gave us not only a proposal to stick the taxpayers with the medical bills of the uninsured, but also a seemingly pointless cut in the fed funds rate by the Federal Reserve, and proposals for massive federal spending to off-set economic disruptions by the spread of COVID-19.
This doesn’t diminish the severity of the current epidemic. But it does remind us that we are willing to give government powers in times of crisis we wouldn’t dream of doing in times of calm and prosperity.
And as for reclaiming those powers, or dialing them back a touch once the worst is over? Good luck with that:
…the COVID-19 pandemic will pass, hopefully with a minimum of illness and death. But it will leave behind a residue of laws, spending, and precedents for future government actions that won’t depart in its wake. That’s because of what [Robert] Higgs calls the “ratchet effect,” by which each crisis sees government shrink a little, but never back to its pre-crisis status. “Thus, crisis typically has produced not just a temporarily bigger government but also permanently bigger government,” he wrote.