For Immediate Release
Libertarian Prescription for Coronavirus
AUSTIN – March 18, 2020
True, most Libertarians aren’t doctors. Our remedies are for the government.
People are rightly concerned about the current coronavirus outbreak. A March 13, 2020 New York Times article quoting the CDC says that, in the worst-case scenario, as many as 214 million Americans might get infected and 1.7 million could die. Other experts expect far fewer infections and deaths once better data on infection rates becomes available, and as people change their behaviors to prevent the spread of the virus.
Wes Benedict, founder of the Libertarian Booster PAC, commented, “In times of crisis, Americans are too quick to reach for the government as a default solver of problems. Politicians wanting to appear to be ‘doing something’ are all too eager to act, but they have a long history of doing things that make situations worse, both in the short term and the long term.
“Libertarians believe that free people and free markets are best equipped to respond to crisis situations. Often government remedies, which might make us feel good, get us hooked and cause long-term damage. The war on poverty, war on terror, war on drugs, and other government responses to perceived threats have given us restrictions and programs that rarely get revoked. We don’t need a new expensive freedom-killing war on viruses which may kill more people than it helps by reducing economic development worldwide.”
Benedict added, "Instead of asking what new program or law is needed in response to every problem like the coronavirus, we should be asking, 'What existing laws are adding to the problem?'"
Below are activities the government should avoid, followed by prescriptions for activities the government should take.
Governments should avoid the following:
Mandatory restaurant and other business closings. People should be free to decide for themselves what risks they are willing to take. I’d highly recommend most senior citizens and those with weakened immune systems do their best to stay away from restaurants and stores. Many already do that during flu outbreaks. But it’s wrong for the government to force businesses to close, and doing that now sets a dangerous precedent.
Quarantines and limits on public assembly. Quarantines can backfire. People who might be sick may avoid getting tested for fear of being held against their will. At-risk individuals have the choice to isolate themselves and use extra caution as they do during flu outbreaks. Healthy individuals are free to avoid public gatherings as well, but they should not be able to prevent others from assembling.
Carriers of the disease can create risks for vulnerable individuals. However, Libertarian tenets of personal freedom and personal responsibility put the onus on the at-risk individual to stay isolated, rather than demand that the rest of the world change their behavior.
The power to quarantine is very dangerous, because it amounts to imprisonment without a crime. That same power could be used in the future by government officials who want to get dissidents out of the way. The First Amendment protects people’s right to assemble, for good reason.
As an example, the City of Austin has banned gatherings of more than 10 people. That’s wrong, violates the Constitution, should be reversed immediately, and should never be done again.
Bailouts and other financial rescues. Government should avoid causing a financial pandemic on top of the disease pandemic. Forcing businesses to close, monkeying with interest rates, quantitative easing, promising bailouts, and other subsidies only make the financial problems worse in the short and long run. The world has suffered disease outbreaks in recent years such as Ebola, SARS, MERS, and swine flu. A new contagious disease outbreak should be a surprise to no one. It’s the responsibility of individuals and businesses to be prepared for occurrences like this. We should not punish prudent businesses by taxing them and giving that money to businesses that might otherwise fail.
Things government should do:
Although Libertarians are famous for complaining about what government does wrong, there’s one area where the government is performing pretty well: free speech.
Free speech is critical. We don’t want a situation like China where people who contradict the government are subject to threats, censorship, or perhaps even worse.
While it’s possible the media has created more panic than we need, or failed to warn us quickly enough, press freedom is crucial. And freedom of the press means the freedom to be wrong. Our free media has grabbed America’s attention and has helped individuals stay informed so they can take voluntary action.
Freedom of speech for every individual shall not be infringed. Free speech means the right to criticize the president, Congress, and all government officials. Free speech also means the right to question experts, to disagree, and to debate and argue on social media without interference from the government. Except for some defamation lawsuits and speech codes on campuses, America mostly does well respecting free speech.
Benedict reaffirmed, “I know people are scared. Government reaction scares me more than the virus itself. Now is not the time to panic and throw out our principles. Instead, now is the time to stand firmly on principle, and remind ourselves what makes America great. Now is the time for us to take responsibility for our own health, and to voluntarily lend a hand to a neighbor. Free people, voluntary persuasion, and free markets are the surest, quickest, cheapest, and safest way for humanity to fight the coronavirus—not government coercion.”
Wes Benedict is Founder of the Libertarian Booster PAC (libertarianboosterpac.org) and former Executive Director of the Libertarian National Committee.
Wes Benedict, Libertarian Booster PAC president