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The Libertarian Approach to Coronavirus


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What is the libertarian approach to coronavirus? Like the libertarian approach to many things, the libertarian approach to coronavirus can be summed up in the French phrase laissez-faire.

Several decades back, Ayn Rand told an illustrative story about the laissez-faire answer to intervention-happy bureaucrats and politicians in her essay “Let Us Alone!” in the book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. The story Rand told involves Colbert, the “chief adviser” to French King Louis XIV. Colbert was also, in Rand’s description, “one of the early modern statists.”

Rand wrote:
Colbert was not an enemy of business; no more than is our present Administration. Colbert was eager to help fatten the sacrificial victims — and on one historic occasion, he asked a group of manufacturers what he could do for industry. A manufacturer named Legendre answered: “Laissez-nous faire!” (“Let us alone!”)

Apparently, the French businessmen of the seventeenth century had more courage than their American counterparts of the twentieth, and a better understanding of economics. They knew that government “help” to business is just as disastrous as government persecution, and that the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.
Indeed, “let us alone” and “keep your hands off” are core libertarian answers to politicians and bureaucrats supposedly trying to help the people deal with coronavirus.

However, this month, the Libertarian Party of the United States advocated in a post at its website a much different government approach to coronavirus. The party’s advocated approach is more in line with the thinking of Colbert, the villain, than with the thinking of Legendre, the hero.

The March 2 Libertarian Party post proclaimed:
A Libertarian approach would be for government to be transparent and honest about what is known and what is not known, to give the best possible suggestions and advice based on the scientific evidence, and to urge individuals to consider their safety and that of their fellow Americans in every decision they make. The focus of action would be on ensuring that tests were readily available and not held up in bureaucratic red tape, and to provide necessary support for hospitals caring for the sick and scientists working on a vaccine.
That sure is strange — a “Libertarian approach” that calls for government to be a health buttinski. In fact, there is nothing in this description of a so-called Libertarian approach to coronavirus with which American national, state, and local politicians and bureaucrats who have imposed months on end of coronavirus crackdowns would disagree.

Sure, many current-day Colberts would add various actions to the Libertarian Party’s coronavirus-related government to-do list, and the party’s post takes issue with some of these actions (based on an assertion that, looking back, the actions appear to have been ineffective in countering coronavirus). But, when you concede that the government should be intervening and present no principled opposition to intervention, then you just become another participant in the technocratic debate over which government actions are pursued, and when, in contravention of liberty.

Maybe the key to understanding why the Libertarian Party is advocating this interventionist approach as the “Libertarian approach” is the capitalization of the first letter in “Libertarian.” The capitalized word can refer to whatever the party presents itself as supporting, irrespective of whether or not what is supported is consistent with libertarianism. Be warned, “Libertarian” does not equal “libertarian.”


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