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Coronavirus lockdown: we need our freedom now more than ever

By Edmund Shieh - posted Tuesday, 12 May 2020


In the past few weeks, all around the world, governments have held their own citizens hostage in the name of “protecting the people”. What they failed to understand is that, every restriction they put in place comes at a cost. By forcing the lockdown on its private citizens, the government has taken away the ability for private individuals to assess that cost for themselves.

The wounds inflicted to society by coronavirus will only be deepened by the unheralded amounts of government intervention. Governments have given the people one more foe to battle with in this war against the coronavirus. Those who argue that the measures taken are necessary to prevent unnecessary death are unable to see that these same measures will no doubt cost lives and livelihoods of a great many in the future. Too often it seems that only one side of the equation is taken under consideration during this crisis. The U.N. had recently released a report stating that due to the economic downturn caused by the lockdown, hundreds of thousands of children could die just this year. They also estimate 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty in the coming years. While these figures are estimates, it does raise the question for authorities, how much is too much?

The government does not have a good track record of providing an answer to this question. In even attempting to answer the question, they’ve already set themselves up to fail. We have seen time and time again throughout history that central planning does not work. Limits like 30 people to a funeral and 10 at weddings are examples of arbitrary restrictions that come as a result of a small number of bureaucrats trying to centrally plan an optimal solution. A government attempting to organise society in this way, is no different to the then Soviet Union’s command economy trying to figure out how many potatoes to produce for the year. While the consequence in that scenario would only be a shortage in supply of potatoes, the ramifications of having a sub-optimal reaction to this virus could lead to harm that could haunt us for generations to come. The only solution is to allow individuals to freely decide their own actions based on their own risk preferences.

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While the coronavirus is indeed a pandemic, it is not different to any other scenario in which an individual must act. The individual must decide based on their own calculation of their cost versus benefit. The key point here is, only each individual can know for themselves what decision is optimal for their risk preference and personal situation, not the government.

The concern that is raised is the capacity of the medical system and its ability to handle the overload of patients, to the point where “Flatten the curve” has become chic. The optimal societal decision may well be to limit risk to the point that the curve is flattened. However, using that as a reason to impose restrictions is unjustified. Government’s handling of these so-called externalities has been dismal at best looking back through history. The reason being is that these bureaucrats that we are trusting to do these calculations to “optimise” social benefit are in fact just humans like us. They are subject to bias, influence and human error.

Never mind the fact that in situations like these, the government’s interests are rarely aligned with those of the people. Our interests last longer than their term in office. When the time has come to pay back the debts of lockdown, these bureaucrats who have kept us locked inside our homes will long be gone. Their interests rely on them being able to fool you into thinking they are keeping you safe. This will involve their use of Orwellian language on an emotionally charged country in the spirit of “never letting a good crisis go to waste”. They will claim how many lives they’ve saved in the short term without any consideration to any long-term harm done by the lockdown. You will not hear any leaders on television speak about the economic cost of the lockdown because it is not politically favourable to “put a price on life”. Yet individuals do so everyday in all aspects of their lives. An individual understands the risk they put themselves at while driving on the road yet persist to drive because the risk reward trade-off is worth it to them. It is this freedom of choice that must be protected, especially in times like these. The coronavirus will undoubtedly have negative affects on the welfare of people, and so taking away this freedom of choice further paralyses an already crippled society.

In a recent article posted at The Lancet Swedish infectious disease clinician Johan Gieseck writes how lockdowns don’t reduce overall total deaths, and claims when it’s all over, non-lockdown jurisdictions will likely have similar death rates to lockdown areas. He believes that it is inevitable that the entire population will be exposed to the coronavirus at some point and that the lockdown will only delay the severe cases for a while. Whether this is true is yet to be seen, but it shows blindly sacrificing one’s liberties in the name of safety would be naïve. If it is true that governments have just delayed the inevitable while summoning forth a tsunami of economic hardship, will the government stand up and take responsibility? Unlikely. The coronavirus while being the initial cause of the pain, will be used as a scapegoat for ensuing illness caused by the government. The point is that forced strategies like “flatten the curve” or “lockdown until vaccine” are justified based on the advice of health experts which themselves are inconsistent depending on who you ask. The true optimal strategy will be one borne out through the actions of free individuals like it always has.

In light of this it seems reckless to hand our fate over to the government and trust them to do their calculations on how many people can attend a boot camp or tell us which four reasons are worth the risk of leaving isolation for. With the new information released by the U.N. it is obvious that governments around the world are incapable to evaluate trade-offs in society’s best interest. As tempting as it may be to believe that the government is protecting us with the lockdown, like all other forced regulations, they harm society more than they help. At a time when a misstep by the government is costlier than ever, maintaining our individual freedoms is paramount.

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About the Author

Edmund Shieh is an actuary based in Melbourne. He is a student of the Austrian School of Economics and a proponent of libertarianism.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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