Martin Cowen is a candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 13th District
Under the pressures of the unprecedented-in-our-life-time COVID19 crisis, even libertarians are floundering philosophically. Some are willing to tolerate the wholesale “temporary” suspension of our inalienable rights. Others indeed relish the totalitarian response, because it gives them a (false) sense of safety. In this essay, I will provide a critique of the governmental response to the crisis on the basis of Libertarian theory, offering details of how property rights and free markets could guide response to our current challenges, better than any government can or will.
Property Rights: The Foundation
I start from the axiom that each of us owns her own body. Self-ownership is a natural right. By natural, I mean that we can all experience self-ownership instinctively. If a stranger were to pinch your buttocks, you would likely react in anger: “You have no right to pinch my butt!” We each own the product of our labor. If you spend months hand-making a beautiful guitar, and someone were to steal or even touch it, you would also likely react in anger: “You have no right to take or touch my guitar!” Should you trade your handcrafted guitar for a used car, you would likewise defend your car ownership by remonstration, physical violence, or appeal to law enforcement.
American public law (in theory) reflects your natural rights to your body, the product of your labor, and the product of your trades. These natural rights are often called property rights.
Freedom is the protection of property rights by the rule of law.
These principles are the foundations of Libertarian Theory.
Libertarian Utopia versus the Way Things Are
The subtitle of my book on Libertarian Theory is 100 Years to Freedom. This gloomy subtitle suggests that we are a century away from a Libertarian Utopia. In a Libertarian Utopia all property would be privately owned. There would be no “publicly” owned spaces. All roads, parks, and land would be privately held property. In the Libertarian Utopia, individual property owners would make the rules as conditions for use of their private property. “If you want to come into my beautiful shopping mall, then you must wear a protective mask and gloves.” Other property owners would have other rules.
Usage of “public” spaces is already governed by a certain set of rules, and your usage of the property – which you nominally co-own – is contingent on following those rules. Smoke in a “public” park and you may be asked or forced to leave.
Private property owners likewise set rules as conditions under which they grant to others a right to use their property. The owner of a road might require all drivers to wear seatbelts. Some roadway owners might not have a seatbelt requirement.
In the Libertarian Utopia the government would be limited to three functions: national defense, courts, and police. Only national defense would be the exclusive domain of government. Private dispute resolutions agencies and private security forces would abound. National defense (but not violent foreign ‘interventions’) would be exclusively the prerogative of our constitutional government.
Given the limited nature of government in the Libertarian Utopia, there would be no governmental response to the COVID19 crisis. Every free individual would decide for herself how best to protect her family.
Crisis Response in the Libertarian Utopia: The Way Things Could Be
In the Libertarian Utopia, private property owners can completely deny others access to their property. Therefore, any and all conditions up to and including total denial of access are available to the shopping mall owner.
Keep in mind the human interaction occurring here: Customer says to shopping mall owner: “May I come on your property to shop?” In normal circumstances the shopping mall owner responds: “Sure, but you have to wear pants.” In pandemic circumstances the shopping mall owner might respond: “You may come in but security will check your temperature and you must wear protective gloves and a mask.” Another shopping mall owner might have no extra restrictions. The customer is free to take the risk associated with going into an unprotected shopping mall or not.
In the Libertarian Utopia if a person contracts an illness, she is solely responsible to provide for her home treatment and, if necessary, treatment by medical care providers in the marketplace.
Medical care in a Libertarian Utopia would be lightyears different and better than under our present coercive government monopoly for health care. The supply of all services would be greatly expanded from the present system. Thousands of health care functions would be available on the Internet. Doctors could practice via telemedicine from anywhere in the world. Medicine would be available without prescription from vendors worldwide at very competitive prices.
An increase in demand (like a surge in demand for health care caused by a new virus) is not a problem in a free market. Increase in demand is an opportunity for entrepreneurs. Signaled by increasing prices for various items (like protective masks, gloves, Tylenol, hydroxychloroquine, hospital beds, and ventilators) millions of entrepreneurs would spring into action to provide the necessary supply to meet increased demand. Current restrictions on who may produce what, which have slowed the response of manufacturers to demand, would be gone. Millions, as they are in the present crisis, act from good will and a desire to help (Georgia received a gift of 200,000 hydroxychloroquine pills from a manufacturer this week.) Some will simply act hoping to profit from supplying the increasing demand, just like in non-crisis situations. Some eleven year old girls might sew up some facemasks and give them away in the neighborhood or sell them, lemonade-stand style, to recoup the cost of material.
Should a hotspot (focal point of high demand), like New York City in the time of COVID19, arise and demand for hospital beds exceed supply, then customers (patients) could choose to go to a private clinic in Montana for treatment, transported there in an air ambulance in less than three hours. There would be no barriers (e.g. “out of network”) to providers of medical services. Providers all across the world, including the private clinic in Montana, would welcome the new business. Entrepreneurs only very rarely decline new business in their own product line. Medical entrepreneurs are no exception.
What most Americans fail to grasp is that production is scalable. All entrepreneurs of new products pray for an outbreak of demand so that production surges from 1,000 units per year to 10 million units per year. Fortunes are made in this way. Only government regulations (and the powerful cartels who demand them) make it difficult for the American healthcare system to scale.
In these crisis times we see regulations that have a stranglehold on the healthcare system being suspended. Certificate of Need (CON) laws, which ordinarily restrict new competitors from entering the healthcare space, have been suspended in Georgia. Nurse licensing laws are being eased in many states. Doctors are being allowed to practice across state lines and via telemedicine. Just-graduated medical students are being allowed to practice medicine without jumping through the many remaining hoops. Regulations delaying the building of medical facilities are being waived. The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) drug rules are being streamlined to allow access to testing, treatments, and even cures for COVID19.
The uselessness and absolute evil of overregulation is highlighted by this crisis. Libertarians have an opportunity to point out this obvious fact, and when the crisis has passed, maybe get some of these regulations permanently repealed.
There is no problem that we see in our current COVID19 environment that would not be solved in a free market.
The Way Things Are
Currently we are living in a quasi-totalitarian state “justified” by the COVID19. Businesses have been ordered to close. Citizens are confined to their homes. Sole wind surfers are being arrested on the ocean. A dad was arrested and handcuffed in front of his children for the ‘crime’ of playing ball in a public park in violation of social distancing rules (which do not apply to cohabitating family members). Social distancing scofflaws are being charged with felonies; first amendment rights have been suspended as “non-essential.”
The government is spending trillions and printing money, adding to an already staggering national debt, with no clear idea of how these expensive ‘solutions’ will work.
We are witnessing mass hysteria. The response has been nothing short of tyranny.
In our current enslavement:
- Many are forbidden to leave their homes except under limited circumstances.
- All restaurants are closed except for takeout orders.
- All “non-essential” businesses are ordered closed. “Non-essential” is defined according to the whim of the bureaucrat in charge.
- Millions are out of work and seeking government assistance.
- All schools are ordered closed, including private schools and childcare.
- No government bureaucrats or no politicians in office have lost their jobs or paychecks.
- Government agencies are blocking imports of PPE, and restricting citizen-provided solutions.
- The FDA is interfering with the use of some safe and effective treatments, while waiving its own requirements for others.
- Token “relief funds” are being given to cope with economic devastation caused not by the virus, but by government’s fearful reaction.
The stated purpose of the government interventions is to “flatten the curve.” The bureaucrats expect that most people will contract COVID19, but the government prefers that the sickness occur over a longer, rather than a shorter, period of time. The government does not want its coercive, monopoly-controlled health care cartel to be overloaded by a demand spike.
The area under the steep curve and the flat curve are expected by the government to be the same. In other words, the same number of American citizens will get sick in either case.
Instead of relaxing authoritarian control over the supply of medical care, governments have chosen still-more authoritarian control aimed at spreading out demand.
To protect the cartel’s control, we are increasingly prisoners in our homes. Misinformation and fear run rampant. Daily life has been criminalized. Millions of small businesses have been bankrupted and tens of millions of livelihoods destroyed.
- The COVID19 threat will subside and the government will claim victory as a consequence of their social distancing rules in early May 2020.
- America will be back to work by June 1, 2020.
- We will learn that the COVID19 virus spread through California in late 2019 and early 2020 without having been noticed at all. That population achieved “herd” immunity with no governmental action.
- Hydroxychloroquine plus Z-Pak plus zinc (“the Zelenko protocol”) will prove to be a cure for most cases of COVID19.
- The government will never admit that thousands died because the FDA and politicians delayed treatments.
- The death rate from COVID19 will turn out to be less than 1%, once a general population, including asymptomatic carriers, can be tested.
- A vaccine will be created for COVID19 and the entire population will be ordered to take the vaccine. Thousands will suffer adverse reactions.
- The “preventative” shutting down the economy will trigger a Second Great Depression.
- The government will not be blamed for the Great Depression, though it will bear sole responsibility. Like the first Great Depression One, the second will last a decade because of government interference with necessary economic adjustments.
- The intrusions upon freedom by the government during that decade will exceed those we are seeing during the present COVID19 crisis.
- Millions of Americans will be reduced to poverty. Tens of thousands will die.
Like you, I am living in fear of COVID19. I, too, have succumbed to the pernicious, persistent, and pervasive propaganda. I am sheltering in place. I am wearing protective gloves in public. I have purchased handkerchiefs to make into protective masks.
Perhaps the only difference between me and the next person is that I know I am being hysterical. Even knowing what I have written above, I cannot help it.
Be Safe. And Be Warned.