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Monday, March 16, 2020

Fear Is the Gateway to Tyranny

A temporary crisis merits temporary measures. It does not merit permanent, irreversible changes to our country.

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The coronavirus is neither the first nor the last epidemic in human history. Regardless of the origin of the virus, it is and should first and foremost be an issue of public health and medical professionalism. It is a temporary epidemic that, at most, requires a temporary response from government.

Increasingly, though, fear merchants are beginning to utilize the crisis for far more sinister purposes than the often misguided benevolence we are seeing now. Politicians with ulterior motives are showing their true colors in efforts to capitalize on merited - if exaggerated - worries about the virus.

It is one thing to close down schools; it is debatable to what extent it is even merited, but it is nevertheless a temporary measure. It is quite another thing to use this epidemic as a springboard for systemic changes to our political and economic system. Yet we have already seen two leading Democrat politicians do just that. 

Socialist presidential contender, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was quick to suggest that if only government ran the entire health care system everyone would be so much safer:
Sanders spent the majority of his speech calling on Americans to unite with their neighbors and for the government to protect people from price-gouging for medical treatment. And he pushed further for Medicare for All, the signature issue that has propelled his presidential campaigns, saying that the United States is at a "severe disadvantage" when it comes to treating people for COVID-19 ... because the country doesn't provide health care to all citizens.
Based on numbers from the CDC, the coronavirus death toll is just over 2.5 percent. Other, unconfirmed numbers suggest a death toll of less than two percent. Nowhere is it being reported that the death toll is even marginally higher. Furthermore, some reports suggest that the majority of the deaths happened at two elderly-care facilities in Washington state. This is relevant when we consider the statistics on this epidemic. 

If we take a deep breath and assume that there is some substance to these numbers it becomes clear that any reaction beyond pure public-health responses is thoroughly unmerited. It is also worth noting that the places that had early experiences with the virus seem to be at or even past the peak of the outbreak, suggesting we are not far from that point either. 

However, even if we take the worst-case scenario and assume that both the number of cases and the death toll will continue to rise for some time, it is worth discussing if the public measures being taken are proportionate. The public-health responses to previous, and more lethal outbreaks were far more muted, sometimes barely even noticeable. That aside, though, it is frankly disturbing to see Senator Sanders rush a bulldozer through the legitimate - if again exaggerated - concerns that many Americans have over this epidemic. The virus is not spreading because of the structure of our health system; if anything, an epidemic like this is best met with a health care system that if decentralized, flexible, adaptable and responsive to nobody else but the patient. 

A government-run system answers first and foremost to the central planners at its top. The very idea that it is the appropriate response to a temporary epidemic is a reprehensible case of crisis exploitation. In fact, one does not have to scrape much veneer off the surface of the Sanders single-payer pitch to find its true, cynical purpose. A socialized health-care system is not better at managing an epidemic: the spread of the virus in China is a case in point. Italy is another exhibit, with a health care system that is now at the point of shutting down treatment for elderly patients. This practice, however, is not unique to one country under one epidemic: the discarding of patients is standard procedure under socialized medicine. I elaborated on this issue in the chapter Fiscal Eugenics in my book The Rise of Big Government, explaining how so-called QALY calculations are used by government-run health care systems in many countries to determine whether or not it is worth treating a patient. 

In its most precise application, QALY gives an estimate of how much taxes a person will be likely to pay over the course of his remaining life, with and without the treatment. If the difference is substantial enough that the patient will pay for his own tax-paid treatment, he will get it. Not all countries use QALY to this level, but every single-payer system has some version of this method for allocating health care. 

The common denominator is that they never provide health care based exclusively on the patient's need. There is always an estimate attached of how those resources could be put to work for another patient, either generally against statistical averages, or individually against a specific example. 

Elderly patients practically always come in short in QALY assessments, which is why a government-run system can put a practice to work where those patients are systematically disposed of. This practice, however, is not limited to the elderly: in my book I give examples (p. 71) of how the British health care system puts children on its so-called Liverpool Pathway - a method for euthanizing patients that doctors have determined are no longer worth treating.

I also explain how this passive form of euthanasia is only a short step away from its active form (p. 72). Another practice that belongs under the same banner is abortions for cost-saving purposes. Babies who have what is deemed to be a "defect", such as spina bifida, Downs Syndrome or cleft palate, are killed off before they can potentially become a cost item in the government health-care budget. 

None of this is shocking or even surprising. The demotion of the individual to instrumental status for the greater good is an essential element of socialism in practice. It is also the most tyrannical component of that ideology, one that is often overlooked in the ideological exchange over whether or not America should become a socialist country.

The second Democrat in the crisis exploitation business is the mayor of New York City. In what must be deemed the most blatant usurpation idea thus far, Mr. de Blasio goes far beyond Senator Sanders' Medicaid-for-All pitch. In an all-out assault on our economic freedom, Hizzoner
is arguing that the best way to tackle the coronavirus outbreak is for the federal government to take over critical private companies in the medical field and have them running 24 hours a day. The mayor, who made multiple media appearances over the weekend, said that the current situation calls for drastic measures which include nationalizing certain industries. ... He specified the need for companies that make ventilators, surgical masks, and hand sanitizers to be taken over and made to work around the clock.
Again: an epidemic is a temporary event. It merits, at most, temporary responses from government. To permanently alter the conditions of people's lives; to let government usurp the power to confiscate private property; all in response to a temporary event; is to open a path straight into the belly of totalitarianism. It is possible, of course, if a politician can exploit fear to a high enough level; if the fear of dying from a disease - even if the lethality of the disease is no more dramatic than a regular flu - is like clay in the hands of the sculptor. A politician with enough cynicism in his veins will not hesitate to go to work on it.

To further underscore the totalitarian potential behind the Sanders-de Blasio efforts, the mayor is ready to forcefully keep government-seized factories open around the clock. To do so, forcefully as he suggests, he would have to force workers into those night shifts. 

There are only two ways to do this: either he would have to force current employees to work double or triple shifts, or he would have to get workers from somewhere else - anywhere else - and force them into those factories. 

Yes, this is literally what Mayor de Blasio is suggesting. He would have to reduce people to instruments for his central-planning effort. Then, as those patients are worked to their bones under a forced-labor regime and their health is deteriorating, he can send them off into the Medicaid-for-All system where government can calculate if it is worth the while to treat them, or if they should simply be discarded after having served government's greater good.

There are, of course, ancillary problems to de Blasio's master-plan confiscation idea. He cannot force his factories to stay open without forcing people to work there, but he also cannot keep them open without supplies and raw materials. How is he going to obtain that? Obviously by means of the same totalitarian measures: he will have to seize the supply chains, and in order to increase production there, to fill the needs for his 24/7 production plan, he will have to extend his slave-labor practice all the way down to the natural resources going into the operation. 

He is also going to need energy for his centrally planned production. Since de Blasio is a socialist, we have to assume it can't come from fossil fuels. How is he going to obtain the "green" energy he needs? By confiscation, of course. Other customers will be shut out of the market and have to increase their demand for the type of energy that de Blasio thinks destroys the planet. 

The totalitarian chain reaction continues: he will need to force truck drivers to deliver his goods, he has to confiscate diesel fuel to keep the trucks running...

For those who wish to end liberty, fear is a convenient state of mind. It provides them with a powerful pretext to speed up their quest for a tyrannical takeover. A crisis is never solved by government expanding its powers, but it can easily be made to look like the sword that cuts the Gordian knot. Once wielded, its steel will not be measured against some seemingly insoluble problem in our society; its cold, hard edge will be placed against anyone who is no longer deemed to fill a meaningful function in the socialist masterplan.

Don't let fear be the gateway to tyranny.

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