Hoppe on the Lockdowns!
Thomas Jacob: Professor Hoppe, you are known as a critic of the state and of political centralization. Doesn’t the coronavirus prove that central states and central government regulations are necessary?
Hans-Hermann Hoppe: On the contrary.
Of course, the various central states and international organizations, such as the EU or the World Health Organization (WHO), have tried to use the covid-19 pandemic to their own advantage, i.e., to expand their power over their respective subjects, to try out how far one can go with ordering other people around in the face of an initially vague and then systematically dramatized danger of a global epidemic. And the extent to which this has succeeded, up to and including a general house arrest, is frightening.
But if the course of current events has demonstrated anything, it is not how necessary or efficient central authorities and decisions are, but conversely how critically important decentralized decisions and decision-makers are.
The danger emanating from an epidemic is never the same everywhere, for everyone, at the same time. The situation in France is different than that in Germany or Congo, and conditions in China are not the same as in Japan. And within diverse countries the threat level differs from region to region, from one city to another, between urban and rural areas, depending on the demographic and cultural composition of the population. Moreover, there is a whole range of greatly differing assessments and proposals concerning what and what not to do in the face of this threat level, all put forward by equally “certified scientific experts.” Therefore, any centralized, nationwide (in extreme cases, worldwide) measure to avert danger—a “one-size-fits-all” model—must from the outset seem absurd and inappropriate.
In view of this situation, it was only natural that, in addition to the representatives of the central governments, various provincial and local leaders everywhere quickly and increasingly became involved in the business of danger prevention. The epidemic offered them the perfect opportunity to distinguish themselves from the central state and its representatives and to expand their own sphere of power. They ignored, exacerbated, mitigated, delayed, or otherwise modified their central government’s measures for their respective regions, always with an eye on public, or rather published, opinion, and often carried by the hope of eventually qualifying for the office of central dictator by becoming a popular regional dictator.
Notwithstanding some improvements in hazard control that such decentralized decision-making has brought about, and notwithstanding the fact that a variety of different and differently treated regions systematically supports learning from mistakes, the overall experience regarding states and state decision-makers in dealing with epidemics is shocking. As in all other areas, the state fails magnificently, especially in the area of public health and disease prevention. In fact, as current events make increasingly clear, the state kills or makes more people ill through its protective measures than it heals or protects from death.
TJ: Are politicians simply stupid?
Hoppe: Certainly, politicians as a whole do not have the brightest of minds. And the “do-gooding” that unites them all as politicians, i.e., their claim to want and be able to help other people (or even the whole of humanity) to greater happiness and prosperity through their own actions, should be regarded as suspect from the outset. But the real reason for the failure of politics in general, and especially in dealing with infectious diseases, lies deeper and is of a structural nature.
The deeper, structural reason is that policymakers, whether central or regional, have what is now casually called “no skin in the game” when making decisions. That is, they are largely freed from the risk of possible wrong decisions and possible losses and costs. They do not have to think long and hard about the consequences and side effects of their actions, but can instead make “spontaneous” decisions, as they are not personally liable for the consequences of their edicts. On the whole, they can burden other people with the costs of their actions. This is the deeper reason why and when stupidity and do-gooding—especially when combined—become a danger and then systematically promote irresponsibility, arbitrariness, and megalomania.
Take, as an example, the coronavirus: Why should one not, in the face of an infectious disease, resort to “bold” means, such as bans on going out and contact, house arrests, company closures, work and production bans, etc., if one does not suffer any direct loss of income as a result? The reason is, as in the case with all political decision-makers and so-called civil servants, one’s own income does not come from productive gainful employment, but is financed from taxes, i.e., by means of compulsory levies, and is therefore secured in the short and medium term. And why should one worry much about the indirect and long-term side effects and consequences of one’s own actions if one cannot be personally accused, held liable, and held responsible for damages? To justify one’s own “bold” actions, one can point to a small but creatively extrapolated number of people supposedly saved from serious illness or even death in comparison to the respective total population, while simply ignoring the consequences of a lockdown, i.e., the fact that a far larger number of people will fall into economic hardship as a result of these measures and will, as a result, indirectly and perhaps eventually fall ill or die.
In fact, at first it seemed as if the political decision-makers did not know at all (or did not want to know) that even “rescue operations,” however well intentioned, are not, and never are, free of charge. By virtue of being rescue operations, they were rather presented as “not having an alternative.” When the side effects became more obvious and could no longer be denied, they asserted that their decisions were about a tradeoff between “health” and “the economy” and that for them, being the do-gooders that they are, human life always has absolute priority over all economic considerations. There is an elementary insight that the “powers that be” showed themselves incapable of, or did not want to arrive at. And this is that such a dichotomy does not exist at all. On the contrary, a prospering economy is the basis for safeguarding humans and preserving their health in particular. It is therefore just the poorer regions, population segments, and people who are affected most severely by a lockdown (not least regarding their health). Only with difficulty could this elementary insight be reconciled with the stance taken by all political decision-makers of being the bold rescuer i
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