The Libertarian Party of Massachusetts (lpmass.org) adopted a resolution calling for the protection of Civil Rights during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and for an end to the Government-forced shutdown.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a serious crisis and is threatening lives, especially of those with a weakened immune response and of the elderly. In addition, the reaction to the crisis has created a significant economic problem, putting the livelihood and, in some cases, the lives of many more at risk. On top of these issues, people are dealing with the sheer human impact of uncertainty, fear, and the loss of the ability to move freely or even see family, as well as the loss of loved ones. For some this is leading to some level of mental health challenges. Government regulation in general and the government response to the crisis in specific has in multiple ways contributed to worsening the situation. It will take a tremendous effort to overcome this challenge.
Voluntary social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations for those who have that option, as well as closure of schools and cancellations of mass-events have probably been effective tools in slowing the further spread of COVID-19 and the resulting potential overload of the health care system.
However, the COVID-19 crisis has also led to another push for more executive power on every level of government. The fear of the pandemic has also paved the way for an unprecedented support for even blatantly unconstitutional measures. The lockdown and the practice of government officials making arbitrary decisions on ‘essential’ businesses - sometimes as in the example of firearms retailers driven by an ulterior political agenda -, or the attempt by the Department of Justice to allow unlimited detention are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The fining - and in some cases apparently arrest - of citizens for alleged violations of distancing or stay-at-home orders without a concrete risk to others, are an unacceptable government overreach - they are just more victimless ‘crimes’.
This is happening after the failure of government to address the problem before it became a crisis and even its direct contribution to the problem. Examples are government red tape preventing private initiative to develop appropriate testing capabilities, or the now rescinded guidance to not wear masks in public. Bureaucratic control and mismanagement has hampered progress, limited individual initiative, and caused suffering beyond the government apparatus. The many cases of medical workers being punished for taking initiative to mitigate the shortage of protective equipment are a saddening example of that. However, only the government is claiming a monopoly to actively prevent others from solving problems. And government measures of expanding reach and undermining civil rights in a crisis have a habit of sticking around and developing a life of its own. The fact that the Patriot Act was just renewed in Congress almost two decades after the horrific terrorist attack of September 11 can serve as a reminder of that.
Any infringements on individual rights need to have a solid reason. However, there is an increasing amount of data suggesting that voluntary social distancing, cancellation of mass events, and enabling the vulnerable to self-protect has been effective to slow the spread of COVID-19, while the government forced lockdown of the economy has likely contributed little beyond those effects - at tremendous cost. The Robert Koch Institute (roughly the German equivalent to the CDC) has pre-published a study that visualizes that clearly:
This shows that new infections dropped significantly after cancellation of mass events and social distancing recommendations 03/09, continued to fall after cross-state guidelines were agreed in Germany on 03/16, but that it leveled out even before the economic shutdown was put in place for Germany on 03/23. This study is likely suffering from the same challenges of incomplete data as most, and there are significant regional and local differences calling for local decision making based on the concrete situation in a specific area.
The public is well advised to be wary of the expanding government reach, surveillance, and erosion of civil rights, as well as the long-term impact of the unprecedented forced lock-down orders.
Many are taking a moralistic approach to the debate, citing the Pandemic of 1918 as an example to warn against relaxing successful measures too early. While that Pandemic indeed should serve as a warning, at the same time, the Great Depression and its contribution to the Rise of Fascism and World War II should also serve as a reminder that an extreme economic downturn has a very real human cost. And the effects of the full shutdown are already being compared to the Great Depression by economists, putting lives at risk in 2020 and beyond.
Individual responsibility is the basis of any successful effort to address this crisis. Libertarians support voluntary social distancing to ‘flatten the curve’ of the COVID-19 spread and mitigate its potential to overwhelm the healthcare infrastructure. The position of the Libertarian Party is that any response must be scientifically justified and not based on speculation; that the response must respect and protect civil liberties and balance its long-term effects.
Overall, the urgently needed improvement of the situation can best be achieved by removing bureaucratic hurdles and supporting local and private initiative in combination with a focused containment and protection strategy. Most importantly it must be focused on voluntary compliance with social distancing and self-isolation based on a positive test or on proven exposure to the infection.
The Libertarian Party of Massachusetts calls for an end to the government mandated shutdown of the economy and to the curtailing of civil liberties, as well as and the discriminatory treatment of businesses that might not be politically in favor. This should be replaced with a more efficient and just approach, that builds on voluntary social distancing, targeted isolation of the infected, as well as on enabling the vulnerable to self-protect. Key to that is broad availability of testing to the general population in order to identify the infected and the part of the population that has had previous exposure and, based on the current scientific consensus, is likely to have at least temporary immunity. This also implies the continued cancellation of mass events and mandatory government programs such as schools, or for example signature petition requirements for elections.
The Libertarian Policy Institute has put together a deeper exploration of these options.
LAMA Resolution on freedom in the Covid crisis.