The State Has Seized Many New Powers. It Won’t Let Go of Them Easily.
“Restaurants sit empty in Chinatowns. Parents keep children home from school in Toronto. Asian hotels and airlines reel at dramatic drops in bookings. Just as the media recently gave us a new and particularly intimate experience of war, we’re now getting a new and particularly fearsome experience of a public health crisis….It is one of a large number of viruses that suddenly infect the human population….Given what’s happened thus far, the appropriate response is to pursue targeted and aggressive public health measures, while the 99.9% of us not conceivably at risk go on with our lives. This is where China’s shocking cover-up has proven so costly. In any viral outbreak, early identification and containment is essential.” If you think that this is the news from the trenches of the unfolding coronavirus warfare, you will be mistaken. This is an excerpt from a 2003 Wall Street Journal article by David Baltimore, one of the leading American epidemiologists and a Nobel laurate.1 His paper deals with the contemporary SARS epidemic (who remembers it now?) and the short-term panic it unleashed.2
Baltimore “diagnosed” the government and popular response to the then unknown “beast” as a “media-transmitted epidemic” that outpaced the risk to public health from the actual virus. Just like the present coronavirus, the SARS virus (along with many other earlier brands) originated in the “unsafe space” where humans were butchering, eating, and closely interacting with exotic animals. In fact, as early as 2007 a group of immunology scientists from the Hong Kong University warned, “The presence of a large reservoir of SARS-CoV-like viruses in horseshoe bats, together with the culture of eating exotic mammals in southern China, is a time bomb.” Just like any other virus, SARS infected the human population and, just like others, it eventually burned itself out. In daily news we see running lines with the numbers infected (353,692 confirmed) and dead (15,429 as of March 23).3 Unfortunately, the news hardly provides us with the number who have recovered.4 You need to do a special search to find out the number of people who have recovered, which is 100,443 people as of March 23. Neither does the news tell you the health state of the deceased or their ages.
What is clear now is that the “media-transmitted epidemic” has severely infected us with another powerful “time bomb” of statism. Peter Klein and Darren Nelson stressed this last week.5 In the present hysteria environment, any government is naturally prompted to act or show that it is doing something. Many probably know that coronavirus literally means “crown virus.” And that is exactly what we are witnessing now in real time: the epidemic empowers the governmental crown. One trillion dollars in financial injections, including the useless inflation-boosting $1000 cash allowance to each family (which the White House has recently increased to $1,200), are expected to bring the economy to where it was prior to the panic. The notorious “deep state” has been progressively flexing its muscles.6 Trump already treats the epidemic as a war. Sounds familiar? Yes, it is a rerun of the 1933 Great Depression rhetoric; I have no doubt that when the self-inflicted economic damage kicks in, the same government will again step in to “save” us from the crisis. No wonder such leftist congresspeople as Ilhan Omar have begun to praise Trump for finally acting presidential, especially praising his cash payments and regulation of private businesses.7
We are seeing now how the activities of governmental bureaucrats are taking us down the path of economic self-destruction. Self-quarantines or similar precautions are understandable during an unfolding pandemic. What is hard to understand is shutting down businesses and penalizing them with fines, as has been done in California, New Jersey, and New York City. For example, California prescribed all working people to stay at home.8 I wonder how Amazon, which cheerily hired one hundred thousand more people to counterbalance the suppression of retail trade and restaurant business,9 will be able to organize delivery service under these draconian conditions. Informed people know that during the peak of flu season they need to wash their hands often, gargle with alcohol, keep distance, and avoid crowded places. We continue doing these things each year wit
Article from Mises Wire