• Tom Cleary

The Cost of Panic








I hope that it is becoming apparent to those who remain rational that the main problem in our current panic state is the government. “Panic” buying of toilet paper and other shelf stable products to stock up the pantries of America is actually a rational response to a government that threatens and, in some cases, has actually locked down much of society. If you are about to be forcibly homebound you tend to stock up on necessities.


Similarly, the obvious and painful drop in economic activity is a result of the near total forcible shutdown of huge chunks of the economy, especially the food and entertainment sectors. The “cure” is quickly becoming worse than the disease. More than that it should be clear that the truly threatening disease is the government itself.


True, the government did not create Covid-19. Also, true, it is a real threat and a potentially deadly one. This is especially so among the vulnerable population; the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and those with other underlying health issues. Real hardship is being visited upon these people as well as those tasked with caring for them. We should be continually lifting them up in our prayers, as they are truly doing God’s work.


The problem comes, not with a sensible and sober reaction to a real and very serious problem but with an overreaction driven by a near worshipful desire by large parts of the population to turn over our lives completely to the government. Of course, the government itself is at the head of this mob. As Robert Higgs explained government always takes advantage of a crisis to expand its powers; powers that never fully return to their previous level. Even more disturbing is the reaction of supposedly wise people in our society as can be seen here and here. They are literally advocating panic as a response.


These advocates for panic are clearly leaning on a worst-case scenario of what might happen, not what is likely to happen. A more sober analysis can be found here and here and here. What the fearmongers are really saying is that it is not permissible to ask about the costs of a policy response and that it is not allowed to discuss tradeoffs. The explicit point of view is that there is no cost too high to protect a human life and further how dare anyone suggest otherwise. This is nonsense and you can see that it is nonsense every time you drive past a speed limit sign on the interstate. 55mph kills less than 75mph, but we made a choice. For that matter, banning cars eliminates vehicular deaths, but we made a choice. Never leaving our houses means less deaths due to a whole range of events, but we made a choice. The essence of our humanity is tradeoffs. There are scarce means to achieve all that we want, therefore we make choices. We call these choices costs. If there were no costs or tradeoffs then we would have much less choices to make, although we still have a limited amount of time, so we can never really escape the rules of costs, tradeoffs and choices. This is what it means to be human; we can make intentional choices based upon our values. So, quickly lay aside the notion that it is somehow inhuman to discuss choices; it is inhuman not to.


In assessing the costs, we have to consider the financial costs to the extreme policy response offered by the statists. They have chosen as one columnist outlined, to suppress the 83% of the economy that is not health care in order to possibly, maybe save the 17% from being overwhelmed. Few have even considered whether the strain and pain of a depression might kill more that the virus itself. Even fewer have considered what the government’s fiscal response will do to the economy; an economy already straining under an unsustainable government debt load and irresponsible monetary policies. It seems to be an opportunity to lard up a bunch of pork for the politically connected.


More darkly, few of the fearmongers have considered what all of this authoritarian response does to our civil liberties. Already there has been discussion of expanding law enforcement powers and suspending our legal rights and protections. If you think that the ease by which government has already truncated our freedom has been lost on the power structure you need only to take a cursory review of history to disabuse you of this notion. That power structure now knows how easy it is to cow a population and turn them into dependent livestock. What will be the next contagion, a bad idea? I said it last week and I will say it again: government feeds on fear and feasts on panic. The math is simple: more government = less freedom.


As I discussed last week the government with a centralized command and control response made this whole situation worse. It will get even worse still if we continue down this centralized path. There is some hope, as there always is. Even some politicians are voicing opposition. There has been some streamlining of red tape and regulatory overreach. It is also possible that due to the deep need for human connection a prolonged lockdown will weary the populace to the point that they will ignore the government’s purported authority over our lives in acts of non-violent civil disobedience.


What is needed is a multitude of diverse responses that try out different solutions. Like ecological diversity; socio-economic diversity strengthens the whole system and produces better outcomes. This is also consistent with our stated values of human freedom and the dignity of all God’s people. It is not too late to make this awful event a turning point in the struggle for human freedom. Do not be intimidated by the extremists that wish to “pay any price or bear any burden” (not sorry JFK). Question how sure they are that their one size fits all top down “solution” is the right one. Mostly, insist on asking the true cost to our human rights, our economic well-being and to our status as social creatures. It is the human thing to do and God always wants us to remain fully human.


Praise Be to God




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