the highways in South Florida, the speed limit is generally 55 mph. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t matter: Everyone blows right through going 80 or 90, and I’ve yet to see anyone get a ticket. When the speed limit is set so preposterously low that nobody bothers to abide by or even enforce it, it is the same as having no speed limit.
That is how the new mandates should be viewed — and resisted — until sanity comes back to the setting of Covid-19 policy. I come to this conclusion reluctantly, because democracy depends on people’s allegiance to the rule of law. We have an obligation to follow rules that have been duly enacted — whether or not we like them, whether or not they comport with our understanding of the Constitution.
Moreover, there are no absolute rights at stake here. There is no absolute right to personal freedom, no absolute “right to choose,” just as there is no absolute right to public safety. Those rights must be balanced against each other, and sometimes sweeping mandates and lockdowns are warranted.
“Hard cases make bad law,” the saying goes, and there’s no denying that Covid presented a hard case.
Covid-19 is clearly several times more deadly than the common flu. And the common flu is a prolific killer — normally the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. And yet, to prevent some of the 40,000 flu deaths that can occur in a typical year, people who know they’re sick don’t even stay home from work or wash their hands, much less wear masks. There has never been a vaccine mandate for the flu, nor could such a mandate ever be implemented.
On the other hand, Covid-19 is not nearly as deadly as, say, the virus in Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), which spreads like the flu but causes severe encephalitis, with a case fatality rate of 20 percent, about 100 times more lethal than the flu. As the movie plausibly dramatizes, such a pandemic could bring about a total collapse of social order in a matter of weeks, with the possibility of leaving tens of millions dead in just a few months. To stop the spread of a virus like that, it might be necessary to impose martial law, complete with military cordons around outbreak areas and shoot-on-sight curfews.
In other words, Covid sits somewhere between the two extremes where either personal liberty (in the case of the flu) or public safety (in the case of Contagion) must carry the day. Hence, arguments that treat either personal freedom or public safety as absolute priorities are of no help here.
The right policies depend on a rational balancing of the costs and benefits of various courses of action, based on what we know about the risks — and when we know it.
At the start of the pandemic, when little was known about the terrifying new virus, and it was still theoretically possible to stop its spread, sweeping lockdowns were justifiable, at least for a short while.
But it became clear quite early on that the people who are really at risk of severe disease from Covid are highly concentrated in a few relatively small groups: the elderly and those with other serious health conditions. Hence, just weeks into the pandemic, health measures should already have been focused on protecting those specific populations and letting everyone else go back to normal as quickly as possible.
Instead, most Western democracies — outside Scandinavia at least — insisted on pervasive lockdowns. In some places, governments seemed to lose their minds, throwing the full weight of the law, with its monopoly on violence, against people who strayed far from home or tried to engage in “nonessential” activities. The images from Australia have been simply terrifying.
In the United States, schools remained closed through the summer of 2020 and into the new school year, as health officials and public-school teachers’ unions ignored the overwhelming evidence that children have little to fear from Covid-19 and insisted on lockdown measures with far greater risks to the health and welfare of children. The emergency temporary measures, it seemed, might not be so temporary.
Read the full article at National Review.