A Virus Worse Than the One from Wuhan

FREEDOM / Monday, March 30th, 2020

The need to stuff the statist genie back in the bottle when this is over will be existentially urgent, or the long-term cost to our lives could outweigh any short-term victories.

By Lawrence W. Reed on Fee.org

The Wuhan virus pandemic may teach us many new lessons before it’s over—in science, hygiene, interpersonal relations, economics, and more—but one thing is plainly evident already. Socialists need to self-isolate.

They are learning nothing from the crisis. Indeed, these righteous opponents of exploitation are exploiting it to promote their stale, toxic brew of concentrated state power as the solution to every problem—even when the state itself is complicit in the problem’s severity.

For example: “In pandemics, we are all socialists,” declares Ross Barkan in City and State magazine. Sorry, Ross, but you don’t speak for me. I’m not about to shun one virus and embrace an even worse one. Barkan thinks profit is the problem in health care and if we just turn the whole thing over to the federal government, we can eliminate profit and all get better health care for “free.”

But wait, there’s more! Just when you thought a virus calls for maybe medication or face masks, doctor-wannabe Barkan says it cries out for “rent stabilization available to anyone” and government ownership of utilities. That’s right. Illness in the land? Seize the power company!

Former bartender, now expert-on-everything Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declares that measures to combat the virus must include “making moves on paid leave, debt relief, waiving work req’s (requirements), guaranteeing healthcare, UBI (Universal Basic Income), detention relief,” etc. You’d think the federal government must be stricken with a bad case of a budget surplus and disappearing debt.

The amazingly accomplished problem-fixer Bernie Sanders took time out from selfless public service to claim that the pandemic is proof we have too many competing insurance companies. (Do you follow that?) Replace them, he says, with just one big one in Washington that dispenses Medicare for All. He freely admits he neither knows nor cares how many tens of trillions of dollars that might cost. Coincidentally, that’s precisely the same attitude my rat terriers take regarding their vet bills.

Boasting a resume no more complicated than “social activist,” Alexis Isabel shamelessly pronounces over her avocado toast that “this pandemic is showing how the US has failed by promoting individualism instead of collectivism.” Somebody please inform her that the virus originated in one-party, collectivist China, whose regime lied about it and jailed individual dissidents who tried to warn us about it.

Yes, these reactions to the pandemic confirm my worst fears about socialists. They are quacks, snake-oil salesmen, con men, shysters. While others are pouring out their hearts and treasures to actually help suffering people and solve a calamity, these pontificating mountebanks are proposing remedies akin to medieval blood-letting.

To socialists, I say: Here’s the kind of emergency in which you can shine. No need to wait for government action. In this panic environment, you can show the way! All you have to do is get your virus-free comrades together, sell your possessions and share the proceeds communally. If this form of “brotherhood” ever had a chance of success, surely it’s now. In a disaster scenario, people are willing to give just about anything a whirl.

Once you’ve assembled, then you can tax each other to your heart’s content. You can impose regulations on yourselves, the more the merrier. If you catch anybody getting rich by creating wealth for somebody without permission, you can vilify and expel them. You can even write personal checks to the government; indeed, send them everything you’ve got, if you want. The country will marvel at the example you’ll set.

Nothing prevents socialists from doing any of these things by voluntary agreement amongst themselves. That’s one of the great advantages of capitalism: You and your willing friends can practice socialism if you so desire, whereas a great disadvantage of socialism is that you can’t practice capitalism until socialism fails so miserably that even its sycophants throw in the towel.

But a safe bet is that in a world of some eight billion people, not a single socialist will make the slightest attempt to do any of these things. The whole idea of socialism—which explains the inherent hypocrisy of its advocates—is not to freely practice what you preach. It’s to use power to force others to practice what you preach.

No doubt that extraordinary moments require extraordinary responses, even from government. A case can be made that at least some measures to combat an invasive virus is a matter of national defense, the most legitimate purpose of government and the one that socialists are usually the most reluctant to support. The point of this article is not to offer all the right answers even if I knew what they were, but rather, to warn us all not to lose our heads, or inflate the capabilities of the state, or welcome a heap of new problems by drawing the wrong conclusions and imposing non-sequiturs as long-term policy.

In a powerful commentary in the March 20 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel puts it bluntly:

Here’s the lesson of the virus so far: Relying solely on government bureaucracy is insane. To the extent America is weathering this moment, it is in enormous part thanks to the strength, ingenuity and flexibility of our thriving, competitive capitalist players.

“Drug companies,” notes Strassel, “will save lives, even as Bernie Sanders is denouncing them.”

If the pandemic truly argues for a short-term boost in government spending, let’s remember that near-record peacetime deficits in a booming economy (mostly for stuff socialists favor and demand more of) put us in a terrible financial position to afford new spending. For its fiscal insanity, the federal government deserves not more power, money, and cult-like worship but the harshest calumny for its hopeless mismanagement.

Before we embrace more government to bail out a sinking private sector, let’s pause and appreciate that it’s the private sector—even in a crisis—that bails out the government sector every day of the week. Where would government be if there wasn’t a private sector to pay its taxes and buy its burgeoning debt? How much could it spend if private people and businesses didn’t earn it in the first place?

We should be naturally suspicious of any ideology that requires a deadly, worldwide pandemic to make its case superficially viable, if only for the short-term. Surely, the need to stuff the statist genie back in the bottle when this is over will be existentially urgent, or the long-term cost to our liberties and economy could outweigh any short-term victories against the virus. Yet, the collectivists are telling us that they want pandemic-like behavior from government now and forever, crisis or no crisis.

In the 14th Century, the Black Death wiped out about a third of the European population. In those superstitious times, governments responded in many counterproductive ways. But fortunately, the world did not descend into a permanent Dark Age. Centers of power and coercion actually began to break down as early as the Renaissance of the 15th Century, followed by the Reformation of the 16th and the Enlightenment of the 18th. The world was unimaginably freer in the 19th than it ever was before, and more prosperous by many orders of magnitude because of it. Socialism could have institutionalized the misery of the Black Death but fortunately the world was smart enough to move in other directions.

Socialism is an intellectual virus, and it’s more deadly than the one from Wuhan. There are hordes of Venezuelans, Cubans, North Koreans and former East-bloc citizens who attest to that. If anyone needs a short refresher course on the topic, here’s a list of recent articles that raise questions about government’s role in the present emergency instead of blindly endorsing its dubious and massive expansion:

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