Coming in the wake of 9/11 and its Patriot Act, and the 2008 financial meltdown, the pandemic marked the third major economic shock of the 21st Century met with a flash-policy stimulus response. This time, policymakers pursue and continue to pursue an even more aggressive and “transformational” agenda involving intergenerational debt and household dependency on government rather than fostering intergenerational wealth and self-determination.
Limited government cannot survive repeated experiments in debt finance and hyper-regulatory crisis interventions, but it is clear by now that the political class will not preserve limited government unless obliged in strict terms to do so.
Ready, Reset, Go. Books could be written over the reasons for shocking power grabs by the federal government, but at root is the presumed delegation by the public of boundless powers to coerce their own countrymen; powers which do not exist. The past two years have seen progressives worldwide regarding crisis as an “opportunity for a reset,” and in turn agitating for preexisting regime-change agendas and “new social contracts,” all of which translate into greatly enlarged government. The phenomenon is embodied domestically in Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, and there is no shyness about any of it as a glance at headlines confirms. Just this week House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi scolded reporters she thought “could do a better job of selling” the multi-trillion reconciliation package she’s trying to get to Biden’s desk.
If the moment demands that no crisis go to waste, classical liberals’ have a counter-obligation to reduce the contours of the state via an Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act (perhaps constitutional amendment) to restore the “silken bands of mild government”
The North Star of the “workforce, childcare and next generation” agenda embodied in Biden’s “human infrastructure” campaign appears to be the eventual attainment of able-bodied adult dependence on the state via a universal basic income (UBI). Philosophical precursors have included Obama-era medical care reforms, proposed free college and forgiveness of student loans, plus pandemic-era innovations like repetitive stimulus payments, rent moratoria and a drive to make refundable per-child tax credits permanent. Higher minimum wages, paid leave and additive federal unemployment entailed further federal support for individuals whose jobs such policies themselves tend to displace. Now that we have seemingly arrived on the tail end of the pandemic, it is today’s “meddle-class” interference in lives that needs quarantining.
Today’s Motto: Be Unprepared. Little was nor remains more inevitable than pandemic and unexpected economic shock; these are the lot of mankind. Even Republicans acquiesced early on to many questionable pandemic responses and stimuli, and this year compounded those moves by signing onto a debt-fueled “Endless Frontier Act” that will over-regulate the tech sector, plus lent their support to a similarly regulatory trillion-dollar infrastructure spending bill.
Glaringly absent in any of the 2020-21 legislative response to economic shock is a slate of reforms reflecting harsh lessons learned and reorienting the federal stance toward one of fostering household and private sector resilience, and forestalling overreaction to the next inevitable crisis. As it stands, there is a 100 percent chance of more bipartisan “spendulus” the moment the next crisis befalls us, and a repetition of population-softening policies and debt that undermine future generations’ ability to manage their own crises. Fact-checkers tend to defend the status-quo bailout-and-lockdown in narrative-affirmations that chastise critics of progressive policies rather than question conditions that foster reflexive flash policy in the first place. Transformative (that’s the politicians’ word) spending distorts, reshapes and advances interventionist ends well before downstream administrative careerists issuing thousands of annual rules and regulations to effectuate the “reset” or the “building back” appear on the scene.
An “AOC Prevention Act” to the Rescue. A new resilience, growth and preparedness agenda — an Abuse-of-Crisis Prevention Act — needs to recognize and accept the inevitability of future shocks, enable societal sectors to “pre-prepare” for them, and institute stabilizers to kneecap and punish political exploitation of misfortune and the erection of power centers to regulate and “fund” the ordinary ins and outs of adult and family lives. Non-exhaustive elements, each likely requiring dedicated congressional committees and extensive hearings and rigorous formulation of an entire suite of reforms, follow:
One: Continual Regulatory Liberalization Instead of Stimulus. Early in the pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration blocked sale of “unauthorized” home testing kits; the Centers for Disease Control interfered with researchers tracking viral spread without “proper certification”; and the Occupational Safety and Health got in the way of the production of N95 masks.
Getting rid of disruptive and inconsistent regulations that were never needed like these is a no-brainer with pro-health as well as economically beneficial effects. The same goes for longstanding proposals to reform administrative state processes by which regulations are created and overseen (but rarely eliminated) in the first place. The chronic non-pursuit of these is emblematic of the crisis-exploitation mindset preoccupied with government expansion via spending and mandates which are themselves sometimes directly harmful, such as the dangerous over-fixation on ventilators and intubation, and the wasteland and wasted year of remote learning. Yes, local governments need to pay attention to liberalization as well.
Two: Circumscribe Emergency Declarations. There is a tradeoff between shock-readiness and the ease and temptation of defaulting to emergency flash policy. Pandemic interventions ranged from distortionary seizure of corporate productive capacity via the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to create ultimately unneeded supplies like ventilators, to lockdowns’ destruction of the very businesses whose operations were necessary to spawn recovery and preserve employment on the other. Such responses undermine the institution of private property that undergirds resilience. Addressing it all will require Congress to sign off on emergency declarations, rather than allow a president to run wild with them. Sen. Mike Lee’s ARTICLE ONE Act, for example, would roll back legislative powers given to the executive branch by the National Emergencies Act of 1976, upon which today’s declarations are anchored, amending it to require Congress to vote to extend month-old emergency declarations. This is distinct from the current requirement that Congress vote to cancel a declaration. The change is important, since we never needed (see section above) centralization and permanence of so much crisis-response activity at the federal level. Since the Emergencies Act, however, crises now dangerously put the character of the country in play by deepening that very centralization. As Republicans themselves demonstrated in 2020, prescriptions for bigger government now meet little resistance since prior big government knocked down obstacles. Policymakers need to protect future generations from this deterioration.
Along with addressing the scope of emergency declarations, moral hazard concerns created and aggravated by large central government must be reviewed and addressed. Confronting societal non-preparation caused by the anticipation of government rescue (foregoing the motorcycle helmet, so to speak) is important. The perverse incentives permeating society created by large central government, mirroring those of subsidized flood insurance and unsustainable rebuilding, rise almost to the level of forcing a revisit of the social contract (yes, the same one noted above that progressives want to rewrite unilaterally in favor of government power). As the Covid emergency transitions to the climate one the left is teeing up, leadership will see nothing amiss in, for example, using emergency powers to destroy affordable fossil fuels in the transition to “clean” energy. “Green” energy will need permanent stimulus until the climate emergency is over, which it won’t be on the progressive watch. While there is no climate emergency, we do face the emergency created by the lust on the part of some to politically control economic activity. If you doubt that, try to get a member of the White House press corps to ask press secretary Jen Psaki or Joe Biden himself if he doesn’t scamper offstage to itemize the parts of the World Economic Forum’s Reset agenda with which they disagree.
Read the full article at Forbes.