Mises Wire

Covid: How the West Embraced Central Planning and Abandoned Human Rights

In January 2020, Hubei and more than a dozen other provinces in mainland China implemented totalitarian lockdown measures, such as the closure of schools and workplaces, and strict restrictions on travel and mobility, including the suspension of all public transport, the cancellation of flights, blocking train and bus routes, and closing highway entrances. Efforts to bring the outbreaks under control in these provinces also included mask mandates and strict stay-at-home orders. By the end of February 2020, the pandemic was largely under control in most Chinese provinces, which led the government to start easing many of the oppressive lockdown measures the following month. The lockdown was officially lifted on April 8, 2020, seventy-six days after it was initially implemented.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that the covid-19 outbreak was being upgraded from a public health emergency to a pandemic. In response, government officials in many liberal countries, along with a handful of unelected medical experts, did not hesitate to adopt containment measures similar to the ones imposed in China, including internal and external border closures, and “extremely coercive and restrictive lockdowns and physical distancing measures for the stated purpose of bringing the pandemic under control and preventing future outbreaks.” That means, instead of managing a situation that spontaneously emerged with the tools of spontaneous order (also known as free and open societies), which F.A. Hayek described as a self-generating, self-regulating, and self-correcting system, these politicians and their unelected medical experts consciously chose to implement an artificial order that was imported from China. This was done despite the fact that, historically, these countries have been persistently critical of artificial order (also known as designed, involuntary or exogenous order), which refers to the deliberate central planning of all aspects of a society by a head of state (or a group of people) for the purpose of attaining predetermined ends. Hayek warned that states that turned to artificial order in order to achieve their predetermined goals would inevitably resort to coercion and the imposition of a set of practical rules that would dictate the actions, conduct, and values of individuals in public, as well as in their private spheres. According to him, all totalitarian regimes, including Bolshevist Russia, Nazi German, and Fascist Italy, were artificially ordered societies. Contrary to a spontaneously ordered society, where there are no predetermined and intricately planned large-scale collective goals to be achieved by a superior authority, and each individual executes their own plans based on their own will, values, and choices, in an artificial order, “the planner’s own plan” replaces “the plans of his fellow-men.”1  In other words, the planner seeks to “deprive all other people of the power to plan and act according to their own plans. He aims at one thing only: the exclusive absolute pre-eminence of his own plan.”2

Even though artificial order is a novel system for formerly liberal countries, their governments have enthusiastically embraced their newly acquired totalitarian powers, as well as associated discourses, propaganda techniques, language, and oppressive, coercive, and dictatorial policies. They have also silenced and censured dissenting views, including those of many writers and credentialed scientists and doctors, who have been attacked and labeled “covidiots,” conspiracy theorists, and selfish. Perhaps most concerning is the way in which they have incessantly promoted the full vaccination of their populations with mRNA vaccines with unknown future side effects via highly sophisticated marketing and propaganda techniques designed to induce fear and paranoia. In recent weeks, many of these totalitarian regimes, which are still in their infancy, have stepped up their efforts to vaccinate those citizens who are proving to be more unwilling or hesitant to being injected with mRNA technology by turning to punitive measures like withholding “privileges” with vaccine passports and threatening their livelihoods through vaccine mandates. In fact, the introduction of vaccine passports is proceeding in a number of Western countries in spite of the fact that recent data from Israel, the UK, and many other nations with high vaccination rates suggest that the mRNA injections are of very limited effectiveness in preventing the spread of disease. The gradual imposition of various totalitarian measures aimed at coercing the masses into getting their injections should not be particularly surprising, given Hayek’s warning that the achievement of the ruler’s ends via artificial arrangements entailed continuous intervention, regulation, and coercion on the part of the ruling authority.

Thus far, the oppressive measures being adopted by the novice dictators of formerly liberal societies have created “a state of affairs which from the point of view of their advocates is worse than the previous state which they were designed to alter.”3  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to deter them from pressing forward and making things even worse. According to Ludwig von Mises, when faced with the failure of their “first intervention,” these dictators would not be “prepared to undo … [their] interference,” recommit to the forces of the spontaneous order, and return to a free society; instead, they would likely add to their “first measure more and more regulations and restrictions.” Mises further added that “proceeding step by step on this way it finally reaches a point in which all economic freedom of individuals” has disappeared, along with general freedom.4  This leaves the door open for the emergence of “socialism of the German pattern, the Zwangswirtschaft of the Nazis.”5

Hayek pointed out that supporters of artificial order are incapable of recognizing the diverse nature of human beings in terms of their will, goals, characteristics, beliefs, habits, customs, situations, and physical, intellectual, and psychological capacities. Accordingly, the rulers of the artificial order determine the daily activities of individuals, while totally stripping away their diversity. The rulers do this under the assumption that a mass majority of people are homogenous in nature, and that they are too mechanical, submissive, primitive, and selfish to distinguish between information and indoctrination through mass media, sophisticated advertising methods, and various propaganda techniques. At the same time, supporters of the artificial order are also conscious of the fact that they will not be able to reach the souls of the minority via their sophisticated propaganda techniques. Consequently, they will try to entice these individuals into compliance through various forms of incentives and bribes (e.g., offering vaccinated people lotteries, gift cards, jewelry, computers, phones, phone plans, discounts at various stores, cash, etc.). Finally, to deal with the most stubborn holdouts that do not submit to these incentives, they will implement increasingly coercive measures, including expensive fines, vilification, physical and mental abuse, termination of employment, and imprisonment. Through such policies and measures, the rulers of the artificial order are able to create a “state of affairs in which what structure society still possesses is imposed upon it by government and in which the individuals have become interchangeable units [like any object] with no other definite or durable relations to one another.”6

Contemporary practitioners of artificial order “pretend that their plans are scientific and that there cannot be disagreement with regard to them among well-intentioned and decent people,” not unlike the planners of various totalitarian regimes over the last century.7  However, Mises warned that “there is not such a thing as a scientific ought. Science is competent to establish what is. It can never dictate what ought to be and what ends people should aim at.”8  Since the importation of Chinese artificial order, novice dictators of formerly open societies have been imposing fixed values that not only lie well beyond the limits of a state’s action according to liberal thought, but also exceed the scope and purposes of science. Moreover, they refuse to accept that “men disagree in their value judgments.”9

The idea that Western countries could successfully import and apply an artificial order that took the People’s Republic of China more than seven decades to master was not only misguided, it also exposed the poverty in the thinking, judgment, knowledge, policymaking, caring, and imaginations of Western leaders and their handpicked medical experts, who have taken it upon themselves to violate the fundamental principles of liberalism, democracy, and human rights. After more than eighteen months, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that the artificial order imported from China has eliminated the virus, nor has it improved the social and economic conditions or the healthcare systems in formerly “open societies.”

Unfortunately, it appears as though the totalitarian strategies that have been embraced by formerly liberal governments will continue to persist for the foreseeable future in spite of their poverty. They are steadfast in their commitment to maintaining their artificial order, despite considerable evidence that it has already caused irreparable harm by contributing to the deaths of many people, depriving many others of healthy lifestyles, violating freedom, and facilitating economic damage and ruin. In fact, some experts believe that the physical, moral, intellectual and emotional damage that has been caused by lockdowns is worse than a quick death. Meanwhile, many economists are concerned about the effects of the massive job losses, higher inflation, reductions in earnings, growing gender gaps, rising extreme poverty, and large deficits that have been attributed to coercive lockdown measures. Moreover, by implementing Chinese artificial order, Western politicians and their handful of unelected medical experts have proven themselves to be ignorant of the fact that liberal thought and principles have been strongly and systematically opposed to artificial order on account of the danger that it poses for the advancement and progress of spontaneous order. That is to say, they failed to understand the premise that if men are “left free” to act spontaneously, they often achieve “more than individual human reason could design or foresee.”10  Consequently, the spontaneous actions of individuals often produce outcomes “which can be understood as if it were made according to a single plan, although nobody has planned it.”11

Mises would be very critical of the type of artificial order that is currently being implemented in liberal countries, as he argued that “it is insolent to arrogate to oneself the right to overrule the plans of other people and to force them to submit to the plan of the planner.”12  He questioned: “[W]hose plan should be executed? The plan of Trotsky or that of Stalin? The plan of Hitler or that of Strasser?”13  He further cautioned that “if one master plan is to be substituted for the plans of each citizen, endless fighting must emerge. Those who disagree with the dictator’s plan have no other means to carry on than to defeat the despot by force of arms.”14  Similarly, Alexis de Tocqueville warned that if freedom is ever lost as a consequence of despotism and people have been brought to despair, then they will inevitably “appeal to physical force,” leading to the emergence of anarchy.15  History has demonstrated that “when people were committed to the idea that in the field of religion only one plan must be adopted, bloody wars resulted. With the acknowledgment of the principle of religious freedom these wars ceased.”16

  • 1Ludwig von Mises, Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis, trans. J. Kahane (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1962), p. 538.
  • 2Mises, Socialism, p. 538.
  • 3Mises, Socialism, p. 533.
  • 4Mises, Socialism, p. 533.
  • 5Mises, Socialism, p. 533.
  • 6F.A. Hayek, “Individualism: True and False,” in Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), pp. 1–32, esp. p. 27.
  • 7Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
  • 8Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
  • 9Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
  • 10Hayek, “Individualism: True and False,” p. 11.
  • 11F.A. Hayek, “Economics and Knowledge,” in Individualism and Economic Order, pp. 33–56, esp. p. 54.
  • 12Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
  • 13Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
  • 14Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
  • 15Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America: Historical-Critical Edition of “De la démocratie en Amérique,” vol. 2, ed. Eduardo Nolla, trans. James T. Schleifer. French-English ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2010).
  • 16Mises, Socialism, p. 539.
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