Friday, December 04, 2020

Against Bad Government [Pandemic Edition]

Libertarians like to rail against "Big Government", but that often comes off as needlessly ideological and indiscriminate.  Governments are capable of doing good things, after all, and it's worth supporting them when they do.  (Granted, there are more sweeping arguments for why, say, a market-based economy is a better idea than communist central-planning, no matter how "good" the communist leaders might be.  But attacks against "big government" tend to have a wider target than just this.)

So I prefer to stake a claim against bad government.  When governments do bad things, it's the badness, not the mere fact of intervention, that I'm opposed to.  Framing it this way may help to make for a more receptive audience, too: few liberals are impressed by sweeping complaints about "big government", but nobody could deny that particular policies might be bad.  And from there we might even be able to identify systematic reasons why certain governments, at certain times, could be expected to generally do more harm than good, and hence why we might reasonably prefer that they had less power over us (at least if we're not able to remedy the deeper problem).

An example: Early in the pandemic, our local government in Miami closed all the parks, and even after general re-opening, for the longest time they kept closed the public playgrounds and outdoor gym equipment.  They did this even while re-opening indoor gyms and playgrounds.  This was clearly completely insane from a public health perspective.  But it reveals that the local government cannot be trusted to make even minimally defensible decisions in the public interest.  Business interests evidently weigh heavily on them, while the interests of children and families are neglected for the sake of security theatre.

Similar patterns seem to have been repeated throughout the country, with elementary schools often shut down while indoor restaurants, bars, and nightclubs rage on.  (I grant that schools are less covid-safe than parks and outdoor playgrounds, but they're surely of sufficient social importance that they should be the last thing we shut down, after all other measures have been exhausted.)

It can come off as misguided to complain about "big government" in this context, since a laissez-faire pandemic policy is obviously far from ideal.  The real problem is bad government. But while wishing for a rational and discerning lockdown policy, isn't it appalling that what we actually got in the end was possibly even worse than nothing at all?


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