November 25, 2020 Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Centers for Disease Control warned us not to travel or meet in multigenerational gatherings during Thanksgiving. Which is to say: government tried to make Thanksgiving, probably the most iconic of all American holidays, practically disappear from the calendar this year. 

They didn’t put it that way exactly. Thanksgiving is not canceled but merely “postponed” — a strange thing to say about a holiday that has a fixed day of the year and surely the one that most means “family” to people. 

What they said was you need to go through a 7-point checklist that most everyone would fail. You have to check local cases (never mind that cases aren’t deaths and cases might not even be cases), check hospital capacity as if you will be stricken down like in the movie Contagion and thereby be turned away at the door, observe local quarantine rules that bespot the whole country, do not travel with someone not in your household, make sure no old people will be at the gathering, make sure never to get closer than 6 feet to another human being, and…ok this is all ridiculous. It’s fear porn, distributed by “science.”

And it’s true that our airports are getting scarier by the day with all the convoluted quarantine rules. Imagine showing up back home and knowing that you are barred from even so much as visiting a convenience store. Plus people really do not know the rules because they change by the day and hour. 

The governor of Washington State proclaimed that “Gatherings have grave consequences right now.” (He was obsequious and deferential toward mass protests in June: BLM = good; Thanksgiving = bad.) 

The governor of Vermont has pledged to interview any student coming back to school about whether they had gatherings outside their home. If so, they get thrown out for two weeks. Probably the track-and-trace machinery will go into place. 

In Texas, the health department ran ads all over radio claiming that something as innocent as a small birthday party will spread the coronavirus, based on a now-famous case in which no one was either hospitalized or died but all got immunities. 

The ads even deployed the voices of young children (“we feel guilty for gathering”) bemoaning that they got the dreaded disease which in fact has an infinitesimally small to nonexistent risk to children. 

And so on it goes, the entire country pounded with anti-Thanksgiving propaganda via every public messaging source. On an 80s-style radio station in Texas, one I heard while driving, the music all proclaimed the glories of parties, dancing, defying authority, standing up against evil, taking big risks, and living large. But the ad breaks hectored people to stay home and stay safe and not have any fun. The contrast was striking, to say the least. 

This bureaucratic hydra of federal, state, and local governments tried to delete Thanksgiving. And this is at a time of unprecedented sadness and depression when people are most in need of family and companionship. This is absolutely cruel. 

What the heck has become of us? Well, Americans being Americans, they rebelled. 

“According to the American Automobile Association,” writes Jason Riley, “there could be as many as 50 million Thanksgiving travelers this year, only 10% less than in 2019.” I saw the same at the two airports I visited. They were about 75% as busy as the old days but still bustling. Rental cars were in high demand. Americans will not be locked down on Thanksgiving. 

Riley further writes: 

This is a form of mass civil disobedience like nothing the country has seen since the 1960s. Some of it is born of Covid fatigue, to be sure. But the endless parade of politicians flouting their own rules surely has also played a role. It began shortly after the spring lockdowns and if anything has become more commonplace, even farcical.

Riley points out that the politicians themselves do not follow their own ridiculous rules. Like the Soviet apparatchiks of old, they believe that the theater of dictatorial compliance is for the worker and peasants but not for themselves. The “vanguard of the proletariat” has a special exemption from the rules they make for others. 

They live well. Everyone else: line up at the food bank. 

There is a reason why so many Americans are not buying it anymore. It’s become rather obvious that this is less about health and science than it is about social/economic/political control, regardless of the costs. 

This becomes obvious once you see through the incredibly foggy blizzard of data, studies, official pronouncements, and furrowed-browed scientists Skyping into network news shows. The real underlying story here is that lots of people in powerful positions believe that they should be in charge of your life and know better how to make choices over health and safety than you do. 

Once you see it this way, you stop being intimidated by their alleged authority and experience and start living your life again. After all, it is not the case that the governments have special access to health wisdom that is denied to you and yours. By now, you have read the risks, seen the problems with the posture of certainty of the supposed experts, and observed the way they utterly fail to consider the downsides of shutting businesses, schools, sports, and the arts. 

Consider the following editorial in one of three of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, the Lancet in the UK. The article pits Martin Kulldorff of the Great Barrington Declaration against Massachusetts General Hospital’s Rochelle Walensky. Martin points to the carnage of lockdowns and a more humane solution to the presence of disease. Walensky’s entire argument against basic exercise of public health of the past is as follows:

“The Great Barrington Declaration is predicated on the idea that you know who is going to get sick and you can somehow isolate and protect them, but there is absolutely no evidence that we can do this”, she said. She pointed out that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 40% of Americans have some kind of co-morbidity that makes them vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19. Identifying all these people is not straightforward. “No-one is suggesting that lockdowns should be the default position. They are a last resort. But if we just let the virus run free without mitigation strategies, such as masking, our hospitals will overflow and that would mean we would no longer be able to take care of the population’s health across the board.” 

Notice her insistence that “we” cannot achieve intelligent risk assessment of the population. By we, she means experts such as herself. And she is right! They cannot. And that’s the whole point. That needs to be left to individuals. Central planning does not work for all the reasons that F.A. Hayek explained: the necessary knowledge to make intelligent decisions is decentralized and not available in useful forms for elite overseers or anyone else. 

As for lockdowns as a last resort, please: they were used as a first resort in the presence of a virus that turned out to be far less severe than the models predicted. It is barely a disease at all for large swaths of the population. The fatality demographics are overwhelmingly concentrated on a low-life-expectancy population in a world where people are living longer than ever. The average age of death from Covid exceeds average life spans. 

Then finally we get the invocation of the overflow problem. Hospitals cannot scale, she alleges. Why? Restaurants, bars, stores, office buildings, and supply and demand for a billion other things scales just fine. It’s a matter of increasing supply to match increased demand – a core economic problem and answer. Why does this not apply to medical services too? 

Do you see what is going on here? We have a medical doctor who is pronouncing on economics and she doesn’t even know it. She sums up the problem we have had this entire year. Many health officials have stepped outside their role to become central planners of the entire society and economy. They never explained why people should grant them this power. They just took it for themselves by intimidating fearful and ignorant politicians to do their bidding. 

With all due respect to the good doctor, I would translate her statement to the Lancet as follows: “You people out there are too stupid, fat, and unhealthy to be in charge of your lives; that’s where I come in!”

And the carnage is everywhere. I had hoped when I came to Texas to find a society that had long ago gone back to normal. What I find instead is heartbreaking. In this town, half the local businesses seem to be boarded up. The one movie theater for the whole county is bankrupt and closed. Most of the independently owned shops are dead. The shopping mall is barely surviving, and the masked employees are demoralized and seeing their doom. 

Who survives? The big-box chain stores in town. Wal-Mart seems fine and so does Home Depot. These companies are well-capitalized enough to survive. I’m glad for them but there is something unjust about all of this. The lockdowns benefited elites at the expense of everyone else. 

This small and wonderful town is now sad and broken – thanks to people like Dr. Walensky who undoubtedly had the best of intentions. She lives in Boston. I’m right now in rural Texas. The people who surround me have had their lives shattered by her and her fellow intellectuals who bear no real consequence for being wrong. 

So, yes, she is correct that she does not have the capacity to know who is vulnerable and who is not. No one knows that with certainty. The solution is not to lock the whole of society down until the virus magically goes away. That is not public health. That is an unprecedented imposition of top-down brutalism

The battle over lockdowns and public health is the struggle of our lives, the greatest crisis in generations. But the problems and solutions are not different from the ones that have consumed intellectuals for centuries. What institutions better manage society in good times and in bad: governments (run by experts, with power and resources) or free people acting with intelligence and creativity as best they can? One might have supposed we had the answer to this question already. But human beings forget. Then the tragic lessons have to be learned all over again. 

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

Get notified of new articles from Jeffrey A. Tucker and AIER.