The fine folks over at Reason just rebutted the ‘snarky’ crisis-conclusion being peddled by left-leaning sources that there are no libertarians in a pandemic. They pointed out that we are witnessing the waiving of rules and regulations in order to facilitate the response to the Coronavirus matter, actions that suggest those rules and regs may not serve us well in non-crisis times either. There’s certainly debate there, but it’s the pro-regulation mindset that I want to explore today.

Another story, this one in the LA Times, informs us that gun sales are surging across the country due to Coronavirus concerns. This matches anecdotal evidence I’ve witnessed, and it reminded me of a story from ‘back in the day.’ Right around the time the 1990s Assault Weapons Ban was being debated and voted on, a friend of mine was advocating pretty strongly for its enactment, and I recall some heavy arguing. One day, I’m over his house, and he showed me the AR-15 he bought for himself ahead of the ban. I didn’t call him a hypocrite at the time, because civility and all that, and “cool toy!,” but it illustrates a truism about human nature.

People think and behave selfishly. It’s in our DNA. When it comes to regulations, your average citizen who isn’t of a libertarian bent will be cool with restrictions that keep other people from doing stuff that he doesn’t want them to do, but is far less likely to be thankful to the government when regs get in his way. This becomes even more obvious in times of fear or crisis, and we witness it in private-sector behaviors as well. Why are people hoarding toilet paper, of all things? Because others are, and that created a shortage (that I’ll bet will be a not-shortage before anyone’s gone through more than a quarter of the Costco ScottTissue 48-pack), and OMG I need more NOW! I heard a tale of someone who packed more than half a dozen 12-packs of Bounty paper towels into his garage out of panic, and more than a few people on social media advocating that anyone who has run out simply break into his garage and take some, because it’d be justified somehow.

We see it in social justice culture, where being offended (either verbally or by mere appearance e.g. a MAGA hat on someone’s head) is now sufficient justification to impose speech restrictions on others, or to actually commit violence against them in some cases.

We see it in business, where the list of regulations that serve no purpose other than to protect entrenched interests is long, and is often protected by well-funded lobbies and well-connected power players.

We see it in elections, in the demands that Citizens United and the Electoral College be repealed/undone, because the demanders see those working against their self-interests and desired outcomes.

We see it in health insurance, where people tell their politicians to force insurance providers to mandate coverage of this and that and the other thing, and simultaneously complain when these mandates drive premiums up.

We see it in the narratives of the current election, where countless people want more government because it’s promised to take from others and give to them. If Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism” actually followed the Nordic model whose results he promises, with plans to tax the working and middle classes heavily via a VAT or consumption tax, his support would crumble to dust.

We see it all over social media, where millions vent their outrage at a behavior they don’t like at strangers they know nothing about other than one (often biased or tendentious) anecdote or report, oblivious to the fact that, were the roles reversed, they’d be shocked at the unfairness of the treatment they receive.

It’s in our nature to bristle at being told “no.” Many (most?) of politicians get very cranky when the Supreme Court tells them they aren’t allowed to do X, Y, or Z. We don’t like it when we find out that we can’t grow vegetables in our front yards.

This should warn us off getting cranky when someone else does something we find objectionable. Of course there are limits, even in a wholly libertarian society (which ours is laughably far from being), and there are behaviors that should be restricted or banned by the government (start with any that violate others’ rights), and we aren’t even remotely in danger of deregulating ourselves into anarchy.

I offer two suggestions. Before you say “there oughta be a law!,” put yourself on the other side of the fence. Ask yourself why it’d be OK for someone else to be restricted, if you wouldn’t like those restrictions on yourself. And, when the Coronavirus crisis passes, ponder a bit before going along with politicians who want to restore the regulatory world to the pre-crisis state.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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