Thomas Jefferson famously wrote, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” I think Rahm Emanuel’s corollary (“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.”) is that difficult circumstances make the best opportunities for government expansion. These will probably bear out as we witness the short-term and long-term responses to the coronavirus.
Government–which history has shown cannot keep us safe from war, terrorists, natural disasters, biological agents, malware, mass shootings, identity theft, or its own corrupt programs and actors–somehow always assumes more power and more influence when any situation arises of national concern.
Each such incident is followed with predictable government growth and each generates conspiracy theories along the lines that somebody planned this all out. With corona, one theory I heard among many was that this was a test run for a world-wide biological attack. Another, a more domestic and political conspiracy voiced by some Republicans, suggested the media and state actors were fanning the hysteria to damage Donald Trump and elevate Joe Biden.
It certainly seems that in the entire world, Joe Biden is the one beneficiary of the pandemic. The demands of campaigning for him have been alleviated. Those demands had pretty much revealed what a nasty goof he is. Trump has taken the brunt of the political toll of corona and we can at least be grateful he’ll stop taking credit for the economy and stock market success of recent years. Seems not much of an upside compared to thousands of dead, tens of thousands of sick people, and millions of people who lost their livelihoods.
As to the media’s willingness to sensationalize its coverage of corona and thereby damage Trump’s re-election effort, well, that’s not much of a conspiracy. Trump detests most of the media and the feeling is mutual. If either ever starts talking fairly about the other, then I’ll believe a conspiracy is afoot.
There are many more elaborate and preposterous conspiracy theories and I have my own, although it is rather simple and banal. Early in Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, he describes a pack of hounds chasing after a rabbit. Some of the hounds keep the rabbit from turning to the left while others keep it from turning to the right, and all the while they gain on the rabbit to encircle it. It looks as if the hounds had planned these tactics ahead of time and were a well-coordinated and much practiced team. In fact, as Smith pointed out, it was simply stimulus and instinct that caused the dogs to act in a way that gave the appearance of forethought.
That’s pretty much my view of the corona hysteria. It serves the interests of the media, not the least when it comes to growing an audience; it serves the interests of bureaucrats, keeping their jobs safe while private sector employees lose jobs and go without pay; it serves the interests of elected officials by justifying their un-Constitutional and illicit expansion of power and spending. But I don’t think anybody thought this through beforehand and nobody anticipated that this was going to be the way for those in the public sector to make their lives better. Nevertheless, it sure has been easy for those with political power to take unprecedented actions now and sets the table for future permanent power grabs that will diminish personal freedom.
My theory simply boils down to a non-conspiracy conspiracy; i.e., just as with the hounds in the Wealth of Nations, actions are driven by desire, not reason. Whether in the public sector or the media, power and influence are the rabbits that are chased without reason, generally as ends in themselves.
I’m a private sector guy who, as it turns out, doesn’t particularly like being ordered around even for my own good. “But we are trying to save lives, including yours,” goes the public sector chorus. To which I am reminded of the Revolutionary War hero, General John Stark, who famously wrote, “Death is the not worst of evils: live free or die.” I’d prefer to take my chances with corona and with everything else in this world without the government’s “help.” If that results in my demise–death by liberty–I can’t think of a more noble way to die or a better way to reconnect with all the hounds at the Rainbow Bridge, especially my borzoi.