In defense of government restraint

Posted 4/16/20

Wyoming remains one of eight states that currently does not have state-level “shelter in place” orders. Some people are criticizing Gov. Mark Gordon for not enacting more stringent …

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In defense of government restraint


Wyoming remains one of eight states that currently does not have state-level “shelter in place” orders. Some people are criticizing Gov. Mark Gordon for not enacting more stringent restrictions. President Donald Trump has faced similar criticism for not enacting a national-level order. What a strange time we live in that Trump’s critics, many of whom deride Trump as a rabid authoritarian, now criticize him for not being more authoritarian.

Considering the many examples of how this pandemic was made worse by the actions of government officials, it’s good that no federal orders exist and the governor is exercising restraint.

Americans with 3D printers and sewing machines have mobilized their resources to produce masks. Without any government directive, these citizens are acting to solve a supply problem. The strain on supplies has grown exponentially after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its previous advice that citizens didn’t need to wear masks in public and buying them would deplete sources needed for healthcare workers.

Based on a number of studies, it was clear by the end of February that asymptomatic people — those carrying the virus but showing no symptoms — were playing a key role in the virus’s spread. Yet it wasn’t until nearly the start of April before the CDC stopped advising people to forego such facial protections.

Hospitals can now purchase KN95 masks, which is an alternative to the highly protective N95 mask. The designation is a Chinese government standard, which American manufacturer 3M has found to be a reasonable N95 equivalent. On March 24, the FDA granted emergency permission for healthcare facilities to buy the masks, which were previously off limits.

The FDA continues to enforce other regulations, such as those concerning hand sanitizer, which is making it much harder for distilleries to produce it. With bars and restaurants closed, this is squandering a huge manufacturing resource.

Many countries, such as South Korea and Germany, have rolled out extensive testing of the population, which makes it easier for people who don’t have the virus to carry on with their lives without risking spreading the disease. Testing in the U.S. has so far been scarce, forcing us to enact much broader restrictions. This is largely due to FDA and CDC restrictions placed on the development and deployment of tests. While private research labs and universities were ready to roll out testing, the CDC insisted its own test be used, which later turned out to be flawed. The agencies are now relaxing some of those restrictions, but it’s going to take a long time before we’re caught up.

There are many other federal and state regulations that have been lifted in response to the pandemic. Some states lifted restrictions on alcohol delivery services so people can still get booze and not leave their home. The feds lifted limits on the hours truckers can drive, which has made it easier to keep grocery stores stocked.

It’s a sad state of affairs in this country that only in crisis will the government grant us certain freedoms. If these liberties are acceptable and even beneficial now, why wouldn’t they be even more so in safer and more prosperous times?

From these many examples is a pattern of the government exerting ever increasing amounts of interventions over our lives, on the argument it’s for our own good. Yet, centralized control rarely delivers on the security it promises. Gordon has shown some wisdom in his restraint and leaving more stringent restrictions to local governments.

Given the freedom to do so, some people will act foolishly. But they shouldn’t worry us nearly as much as the same fool given the authority to make his or her foolishness public policy.