– April 16, 2020
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For fun, let’s assume a mass declaration of freedom on local, state and national levels. If so, how many readers will immediately revert to the “old way” of doing things, including close-talking, packed bars, sold-out movie theaters, washing hands less than several times an hour, and biggest gasp of all, shaking hands? 

Just the same, how many businesses wouldn’t change a thing if free to operate again? The ability to adapt to change is such a known driver of long-term commercial success in good times that it’s almost a cliché. Figure that the good businesses nowadays disrupt themselves (think Netflix taking out Blockbuster DVDs by mail, only for Netflix to erase its old model of success for streaming) with survival in mind, so is it unreasonable to suggest that, if free to operate, they wouldn’t oversee all manner of changes meant to please and lead consumers who’ve changed?  

In his latest column, the Wall Street Journal’s excellent Holman Jenkins refers either sarcastically or critically to the “mythical ‘do nothing’ strategy” in response to the coronavirus, but it’s nice to imagine that he sarcastically means there’s literally no such thing as “do nothing.” There isn’t simply because humans have evolved as a species presumably because it’s in their DNA to do that which elongates their existence. And as evidenced by the copious savings that individuals and businesses are able to draw on in order to innovate, we humans are careful people. To varying degrees we save for the possibility of a “rainy day” without coercion, which is just more evidence that in a broad sense we the people get it. We don’t need a law to do what’s in our interest.

To which some will key on the “in a broad sense” line to point out that not everyone is as wise as the Covid-obsessed are, which means everyone must endure draconian, economy and freedom-crushing rules so that the few who need handholding can get it. But that’s not serious. As is, all-too-many of us will not limit ourselves to the mood-altering substances that politicians ‘allow’ us to consume, some of us are only interested in surfing and skiing when conditions are most life-threatening, and some us can’t stand the thought of not hugging, shaking hands, or missing the excitement of a loud – and very packed – party, bar, stadium or arena.

Just the same, some businesses won’t change either. Frustrating as they are, some will never rid bathrooms of the hand dryers that are said to spread germs, some will never demand that their customers maintain distance from other customers, or demand that they wait outside altogether, and some will refuse to refuse customers even if it means people aren’t SIX FEET APART. 

What cannot be stressed enough is that if the goal is figuring out the best way to combat a virus with no known cure, those who don’t follow norms are as crucial producers of information that will enable cures as those who do. Precisely because they don’t follow the unwritten societal rules, their contracting of the virus (or not), their sickness (or not) from ignoring broad convention, and their death rates relative to the Covid-obsessed will hopefully give those searching for solutions exponentially more to work with.

What applies to individual decisions also applies to businesses. At this point they really don’t know what customers want, and will want in the future. Trite as it sounds, and is, we’ll hear a lot now and in the future about how “Covid-19 changed everything.” Absolutely. And because it will, or did, it’s essential that there be a “do nothing” approach from politicians given the certainty that free businesses will do all manner of things in order to win back customers either shell-shocked a little, a lot, or not at all by the past. Some will perhaps even give the finger to illiterate rules against “price gouging” such that they institute surge-pricing at their businesses as a way of controlling crowds via market signals.

Stating what should be obvious, the one-size-fits-all lockdowns imposed on Americans by politicians are blinding those same Americans to the information necessary to successfully beat an unknown. Freedom isn’t some feel-good, amorphous chant. It’s in fact pro-life and pro-growth simply because free people acting without forced limits show us through their successes and failures how to get by, and thrive, in life.

Looking at all of this nationally, President Trump said about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that he’s been “calling daily, even hourly, begging for everything, most of which should have been the state’s responsibility…” Trump has a point, when he’s not making nonsensical claims about “absolute” power. “Do-nothing” on the state level is a myth too, and so long as we empower the federal government to oversee handouts, we needlessly install power centrally with those who think they have absolute power right at a time when cities and states should be innovating; their innovations including “doing nothing.” Lest we forget, Texas has a lower Covid death rate than California, even though it began its unfortunate lockdowns two weeks after the Golden State.

And while libertarians make compelling claims that states rule versus federal oversight in times like this, the simple truth is that local and state politicians have arrogated to themselves the power to take businesses and the right to work away from business owners and workers. Considering all this, do libertarians really believe the Constitution is wholly toothless against the local and state taking of so much property? Seeking an answer to this question, let’s at least have discussions, and hopefully lawsuits. Shouldn’t the Trump administration at least file lawsuits against cities and states who think so little of individual and property rights? We need more information right now, not less.

The biggest producer of information meant to beat the virus is freedom, including freedom from a government “plan to open the economy” that the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page is calling for. No. Plans just produce darkness. We need Jenkins’s “do nothing” so that we can see.

This is reprinted from RealClearMarkets

John Tamny

John-Tamny

John Tamny, research fellow of AIER, is editor of RealClearMarkets. His book on current ideological trends is: They Are Both Wrong (AIER, 2019)

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