The Economic Fallout of COVID-19: Could We Have Avoided This Disaster?
When Politicians Panicked, John Tamny’s new book about the political response to the coronavirus pandemic, is a shocking read. Tamny, a political theorist at Freedom Works, editor of the Real Clear Markets website, economic advisor to a mutual fund and author of several books on economics, lives near Washington, D.C. He is also a Libertarian’s Libertarian.
When Politicians Panicked (pictured below) is two books in one.
The first, interspersed throughout, is a primer on Libertarian economics. Tamny has little to no faith that economists acting under government directives can generate wealth. Regulations, taxes, policymakers (especially the Fed) and government spending is, according to him, counterproductive. It robs the capital needed for growth from the productive economy, creating something not stimulative but regressive. He writes, “Economic growth is a consequence of economic freedom. When people are broadly free to produce sans overbearing barriers of the tax, regulation, trade and floating money variety, they prosper.” Tamny’s intellectual heroes are “the father of economics” Adam Smith and political theorist John Stuart Mill.
In the “second book,” Tamny argues that the COVID-19 lockdowns were fiscally ruinous without accomplishing their public health goal. When Worth spoke to Tamny he made the following analogy: “I compare the lockdowns to a medically induced coma that later requires another medical intervention, including stimulants and shocks, to revive the patient. In this case, the coma was induced by a paranoid government now struggling to revive what it broke.”
Tamny (pictured right) starts with the premise that adults should be free to make their own decisions. This goes for private enterprises as well. Thus, if a person is afraid of contracting COVID-19 at a Disney park, sports arena or restaurant, they should avoid going. Conversely, if these establishments, for reputational, liability or personal reasons, do not want to open, no one should force them to. Not only that, but via people and venues making individual decisions as to virus avoidance, much could be learned about best safety practices. As he put it on page 65, “In short, the policy theorists on the left and right were the crisis. They were substituting their limited knowledge for that of the marketplace.”
In the book’s early pages, the author states he is not going to engage in medical second-guessing about the lethality of the virus, but his personal viewpoint is clear. (He does not think it is highly lethal as its mortality was primarily limited to the elderly and those with co-morbidities.) He believes if the virus had been far more deadly, rational people would have stayed home and the business world would have taken enhanced precautions. “Forced lockdowns would have been superfluous. It cannot be stressed enough that people do not need a law to avoid that which might kill them.”
The micromanaging of the shutdowns was, as so many have pointed out, often irrational. You could buy flowers at an “essential” Walmart but not at your local florist.
The irrationality was not the only thing contagious. Gyms, when they reopened, eliminated all grooming aids like Aqua Velva and deodorant…both well-known virus vectors! School openings and closings were not only chaotic but logic-free. In NYC, restaurants were heavily fined if inspectors found an open wine bottle after the 10 p.m. alcohol curfew.
Tamny finds all this not only maddening but an absurdity born not out of science but “panic.” He has some serious scientific company in this belief. His friend, journalist John Tierney, believes the same thing.
Is Tamny hard-hearted? Is he a social Darwinist? Not at all. As he told Worth, “By and large, this pandemic was an inconvenience at worst, or a vacation to the wealthy, Zoom-enabled, or those with Wolf stoves for baking. To the working class, to those who were laid off because they needed to physically be at their jobs, the economic suffering and dislocation were devastating.” This tragedy is emphasized in his book.
Tamny doesn’t believe this aspect of the pandemic’s lockdowns will see the true light of day because writers and editors do not live in the world of the poor. While Tamny doesn’t either, he seems more sympathetic to the plight of those not able to keep their paychecks going. He cites credible forecasts that hundreds of millions will starve globally. We know in America hunger is real with the Brookings Institute stating that food insecurity has doubled due to COVID-19.
Ironically, “one-size-fits-all” lockdowns did not affect all the same way. This truth seems undeniable. Why else would we need trillions in relief packages? Certainly not for those with stock portfolios or homes in the Hamptons or Palm Beach.
So, what is the “shocking” part of When Politicians Panicked? The realization that Tamny is half or even a quarter right in believing the government’s response to the pandemic made it worse. If each person, each business and school was able to make decisions based on their assessment of risk to reward, would we have been better off? Would the economic disaster that befell so many have been lessened?
When Politicians Panicked is the Libertarian answer to these questions.