From early in 2020 until well into 2022, government officials in most countries imposed an array of draconian policies that were said to be necessary to protect the populace against COVID-19. In supposedly democratic nations like the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, officials didn’t bother with legislation – they just decreed that schools must close, masks must be worn, people must submit to vaccine jabs, non-essential businesses must close, and other mandates. They also imposed numerous prohibitions, such as gatherings for religious, sporting, or cultural events, and even enjoying a day at the beach. Enforcement of all their dictates was vigorous, occasionally brutal.
When a few people dared to question the need for or legality of the COVID policies, officials replied that they were only doing what “the science” said was the right response, usually followed by the insinuation that doubters were dangerous, retrograde people who didn’t care about putting lives at risk. Even infectious disease experts who disagreed that there was any scientific justification for the panoply of rules were ridiculed, smeared, and “deplatformed.” The last time there was such a concerted attack on freedom of speech in the US was during World War I, when the Wilson Administration pulled out all the stops in an effort to silence critics of the war.
The COVID response led to a huge contraction of liberty. But officials and their many allies scoffed: “So what? Foolish people shouldn’t be allowed to make up their own minds when experts know what’s best.”
But now, despite efforts to suppress it, information has leaked out, showing that the COVID policies were a great mistake, imposed by arrogant officials who were not following science, but rather were following their own authoritarian instincts. They were not telling people the truth about COVID, but lying to justify their assertion of power. They weren’t doing what was in the public interest, but rather what was in the interest of certain pressure groups.
Many people are angry over the harm that has been done by the tyrants who made the COVID decisions.
One of them is James Allan, a professor of law at Queensland University in Australia. In his recent article “I Am Still Seething Mad at What the Political Class Did to Us,” he explains why the politicians and their allies are utterly contemptible. He writes of their heavy-handed approach:
It was despotic, thuggish and overwhelmingly flew in the face of the data – data we had at the time, to be clear. Also culpable were the preponderance of the doctorly caste and the vast majority of journalists who exhibited zero skepticism and became barely better than PR fearmongering agents for the Government, not too unlike Pravda in that regard.
Professor Allan is particularly incensed over the revelations in Great Britain that Health Minister Matt Hancock chose to use his position to ratchet up the level of anxiety over the disease as much as possible, in order to maximize compliance. We know that because he gave journalist Isabel Oakeshott access to his texts so she could write a book about the government’s handling of COVID. She was expected to write a fawning book and keep the texts secret, but when she read them, she was just appalled and made them public. (That look behind the curtain is similar to the disclosure here of the nefarious relationship between Democrats and Twitter in promoting information they wanted people to believe, while suppressing information they didn’t want us to know.)
It was in the public interest for people to see these texts and know that their political class was comprised of charlatans and heartless zealots fired by self-interest, making things up on the fly and continually mouthing ‘this is the Science’ when they knew it was simply guesses and cover to look good politically.
Correct, and officials in the US did the same things.
As Dr. Scott Atlas points out in Newsweek, “America’s COVID Response Was Based on Lies.” He writes,
The tragic failure of reckless, unprecedented lockdowns that were contrary to established pandemic science, and the added massive harms of those policies on children, the elderly, and lower-income families, are indisputable and well-documented in numerous studies. This was the biggest, the most tragic, and the most unethical breakdown of public health leadership in modern history.
Atlas points out that even though there was little or no evidence to support the dictates of the authorities and – even early on – much evidence against them, we were told over and over again that (I’ll list only some of the lies he discusses): COVID had a far higher mortality rate than the flu, that everyone was at significant risk of death from it, that asymptomatic people were major drivers of the disease, that masks gave protection and would stop the spread, and that vaccines would stop the disease.
And instead of listening to and debating different points of view, officials did their utmost to silence and discredit critics. The authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, three esteemed professionals, were called “fringe epidemiologists” by National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins. The approach these scientists advocated would do the most good for vulnerable people, with the least damage to the rest of us – but it didn’t involve massive government intervention. That idea had to be trashed!
Collins and his ilk didn’t behave like scientists looking for truth, but instead like defenders of an ideology who cannot abide any disagreement. The people ought to be angry over that.
Another medical expert who has sought to enlighten the public on the appalling behavior of government officials during COVID is Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins. He points out in this article that:
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weaponized research itself by putting out its own flawed studies in its own non-peer-reviewed medical journal, MMWR. In the final analysis, public health officials actively propagated misinformation that ruined lives and forever damaged public trust in the medical profession.
Indeed, we shouldn’t trust the medical profession, nor the “public servants” who shoved their knee-jerk authoritarian “solutions” to COVID down our throats, nor the journalists who were accomplices in the disaster.
But we shouldn’t stop there.
The government’s authoritarian COVID policies are just the most visible proof that it’s a terrible idea to turn anything of importance over to government control.
Here’s the huge lesson in the terrible COVID response: public officials are just as self-interested as any other human beings. That doesn’t always mean lining their pockets at the expense of the rest of us; it also means savoring the power to direct other people’s behavior. It means the ability to do things that inflict damage on great numbers of ordinary people, while enjoying accolades from special interest groups and the press.
If people learn those lessons, they’re well on their way to understanding Public Choice Theory. Public Choice teaches that government “solutions” to problems often make things worse because the people who are in charge are flawed, fallible, corruptible human beings just like everyone else. Moreover, they are usually insulated from the adverse consequences of their decisions, so they have little incentive to correct their mistakes.
Public Choice is the antidote for the romantic view of government – that it uses power carefully to make things better for society. That’s hardly ever true.
If people are now skeptical about allowing government officials to dictate how we must behave during an outbreak of disease, they can also be persuaded to be skeptical about allowing government officials to run education, energy policy, and much more.
Government schools do a poor job of educating their students. Why? Because the education bureaucracy is in league with teachers’ unions and doesn’t suffer in the least if students graduate from high school lacking even the skills that nearly all fourth graders used to have.
Government energy officials are mostly crusaders for “green” energy sources. They’re eager to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar generation as fast as possible, lest Earth overheat. They’re in league with certain interest groups and don’t listen to people who advocate a free market in energy, any more than the lockdowners listened to those who disagreed with them.
How bad could things get?
Have you ever heard of The Year Without a Summer? It was 1816, and in the US, the weather was so bad that crops failed. The cause was a volcanic eruption that blanketed the atmosphere with so much dust and ash that far less sunlight reached Earth’s surface than usual. Our population is now much larger than in 1816, and very dependent on electrical energy. What would happen if we had another major volcanic eruption after government has switched us away from fossil fuels? The answer is that great numbers of people would freeze and starve.
If you dig into almost any governmental bureaucracy, you find that the officials in charge aren’t experts dedicated to the public welfare, but instead are ordinary people who happen to have known the right people to land comfy jobs where they get to boss others around. They always cause a lot of unforeseen harm.
Maybe there is a silver lining in the COVID disaster. The control freaks who grabbed power might have so overplayed their hand that the result will be widespread revulsion against putting so much trust in government.
Think of the situation in America as a chess game where one side has a great superiority on the board and is thinking “Mate in 3,” but then makes an overly aggressive move that loses its queen. That’s what may have happened the way the COVID authoritarians (or as I call them in my novel, Takers) have so alienated vast numbers of Americans with their brazen assaults on freedom since early 2020. We have a “teachable moment” in the country when the people can see how bad government control truly is.
So our task ahead is to make the most of this opening, to throw the forces of statism on the defensive.'
George Leef is director of editorial content for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Carroll College (Waukesha, WI) and a juris doctor from Duke University School of Law. He was a vice president of the John Locke Foundation until 2003.
A regular columnist for Forbes.com, Leef was book review editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education, from 1996 to 2012. He has published numerous articles in The Freeman, Reason, The Free Market, Cato Journal, The Detroit News, Independent Review, and Regulation. He writes regularly for the National Review’s The Corner blog and for EdWatchDaily.
He recently authored the novel, The Awakening of Jennifer Van Arsdale (Bombardier Books, 2022).