Mises Wire

Exactly How Many Deaths Are Needed to Justify Giving Governments Control of Everything?

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The CDC estimates that 61,000 Americans died from the flu during the 2017–18 flu season (with a range of 46,000 to 95,000 deaths). Few of us even remember that event. Stores stayed open, folks met and worked, and everyone lived as normal.

Taking sixty-one thousand deaths as our baseline, how deadly does a virus have to be to justify the destruction of our livelihoods and economy in general?

Half as deadly? No that wouldn’t make sense. But neither would “as deadly,” either.

Would twice as deadly cross the panic threshold? But that would be just twice something we didn’t notice while it was happening. So maybe even double is not enough.

No one is ever safe, ever. But we all lived lives in a world of uncertainty. That is, until many panicked and allowed governments to drive us into our own caves, so to speak.

But who incited panic? Media and social media initially sounded the alarm, sparking fear. However, it was government that provided justification for that fear, wrapping dour pronouncements in a veneer of supposed science and truth. Soon the panic threshold was breached. While the various media live off provocative headlines, government lives off fear.

So we end up with this strange symbiotic relationship: with the aid of a friendly media, government justifies the fears it propagandizes; constituents panic and turn to both government for help and the media for information. Certainly, it has to be this way. Why? Because government rules through the consent of the governed.

As Mises noted:

Only a group that can count on the consent of the governed can establish a lasting regime. Whoever wants to see the world governed according to his own ideas must strive for domination over men’s minds. It is impossible, in the long run, to subject men against their will to a regime that they reject.

So, a government looking to extend its powers, to assume additional rights from its citizens, will need to manufacture consent, else rebellion with ensue. And there is no better opportunity to manufacture consent than during an existential crisis, whether it’s enemies massed at the gate or ones concealed within.

Obviously, if those enemies do not exist, they have to be invented. As Schumpeter stated:

There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest—why, then it was the national honor that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for a breathing space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs. They were enemies who only waited to fall on the Roman people.

Not too long ago, the devised enemy was ISIL—haunting the Levant in Toyota trucks. We were told daily that ISIL was readying a strike against the US some fifty-five hundred miles away. Plausible? Hardly. However, the propaganda machine was able to create some angst, for some time, anyway.

Today the enemy is through the gate unseen, infiltrating bodies and minds. COVID-19 is a government’s dream. Folks who just yesterday, or so it seems, said certain acts of government, such as closing churches, would ignite rebellion, gladly consent to authoritarian edicts. But why?

There is the manufactured fear, the product of the propaganda machine—the good doctors making dire predictions about likely death counts, surrounded by somber officials, all standing near a dais backed by the richly colored, acronymed logo of some official sounding agency. Great video, great propaganda.

But there is more. Government is blaming the virus, not itself. That serves several purposes. It allows government to employ a misdirect, pilfering the public purse and annulling rights while the masses concern themselves with social distancing.

It also provides personal cover to minor agents of the bureaucracy, who do not have to spend sleepless nights fretting about their role in the destruction of our economy.

Hannah Arendt wrote about the Eichmann trial and tried to answer the conscience question:

The trick used by Himmler…was very simple and probably very effective; it consisted in turning these instincts around, as it were, in directing them toward the self. So that instead of saying: What horrible things I did to people!, the murderers would be able to say: What horrible things I had to watch in the pursuance of my duties, how heavily the task weighed upon my shoulders! (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem)

So you hear statements that twist reality in this manner: “The virus will let us know when we can reopen the country.” As if the virus is dictating policy.

We are told that government officials are only reacting as the virus commands. And the enforcement agents spreading tickets and handcuffs are simply shouldering the horrible tasks that must be pursued.

Is this how we, the people, choose to live? In a world where government foments fear for its own purposes and then stands back, blaming its actions on an enemy of its own creation?

Once more, how deadly does a virus have to be to justify the destruction of our livelihoods and economy in general? Twice the usual? Three times? I can’t decide the issue for all. I simply ask you to consider first what we are allowing (crashed economy, record unemployment growth, exploding government debt, unconstitutional government edicts, well, you get the picture).

And I ask you to consider who, or what entities, are benefiting. It is true that some cui bono (to whom it is a benefit) arguments are fallacious, but not all. However, consider this: besides a shift of rights and power from the people to the state, there is that matter of trillions moving from our wallets to those of the friends and families of the politically connected.

As I wrote above, no one is ever safe, ever. But until a month ago, we all accepted a world of uncertainty and didn’t panic. What was true then is true today—to be free is not to be safe. However, to live free is to live. Period.

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