Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once wrote in a letter on behalf of the Pennsylvania General Assembly which had one of his most famous quotes: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Nowadays, we see that quote applies to much that we face. Currently, given the COVID-19 fears, the government sacrifices the liberty of the people in order to provide them with temporary safety.
Governor Newsom has forced the shutdown of numerous businesses and ordered people to stay at home except when engaging in “permitted work, local shopping or other permitted errands.” Further, he ordered all Californians to wear face masks in public. This executive order has been challenged by many public officials as an abuse of power.
A common catchphrase for Libertarians is that “good ideas don’t require force.” Yet, when the government, whose enforcement powers are based entirely on use of force, demands that people engage in otherwise “good ideas” it has been seen that many people who may have otherwise worn the mask, stayed at home, or engaged in social distancing, end up rebelling against government dictates.
Now we must ask ourselves how much safety the government is really offering us in exchange for our freedom. In the process of trying to save lives, the government is costing people their livelihoods. The argument that people are more important than money is absolutely an important one and can’t be cast aside. However, the fact is that money, or at least the economic health of the people, impacts directly the lives of those people.
Every social species of animal lives in a social structure built largely around the management of resources. Humans are no different. The social structure of humans is built around management of resources. While capitalism has increased the availability of resources to the masses, there is still scarcity. The reaction of the government to save lives is resulting in economic disaster which will likely impact society for more than ten years.
Not only is money being impacted, but production is being driven down and resources are becoming more scarce. Supply is decreasing while demand remains high for basic essentials such as food. With people either getting sick or staying home from work, food production has been heavily impacted. Food shortages are inevitable if these circumstances continue as they are. Production is being impacted in other sectors of the market as well as manufacturing dropped.
Additionally, people are out of work and therefore not getting paid. This means the government is receiving less tax revenue. Yet, the government has decided to give economic stimulus relief to the people and to businesses. Businesses have received the lion’s share of that relief. Businesses are closing, people are out of work and losing their jobs, production is down, and costs will be increasing. The government is increasing spending while their revenue decreases. This is a recipe for an economic disaster.
On top of all of this, a study published in 2016 shows that there is a positive correlation between economic recession, alcohol consumption and suicide rates. Additionally, the government is telling people to socially isolate themselves. Yet, social isolation and loneliness are widely known to heavily influence the suicide rate. It is reaching a point where many people who are at a higher risk for mortality by COVID-19 would prefer risking exposure than continue to live in solitude.
So my question is this: Does the government’s response to COVID-19 actually save lives? It is hard to measure. But surely we can agree that we are giving up “essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety.” Even with all of the government mandates and restrictions people are still at risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Sure, the risks are higher when people don’t follow the government’s requirements. But that doesn’t mean that the government should force people to adhere to them, nor does it mean that people are actually better off adhering to them.
It seems to me that Benjamin Franklin’s words ring true. As a people, if we are willing to sacrifice our freedom in exchange for “a little temporary safety” we really do deserve neither, as we receive neither.