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June 25, 2021

COVID-19 and the Tyranny of the Bureaucracy

Time after time, mandate after mandate, the government’s directives were misguided and misapplied.

There are many lessons to be drawn from our ongoing battle with COVID-19: Never ever trust the communist Chinese, for example. But one lesson that gets lost in all this is to be aware of the ever-encroaching, Liberty-sapping tyranny of the administrative state.

The administrative state: that multitude of executive branch agencies run by unelected bureaucrats who are vested with the power to create, adjudicate, and enforce their own rules without any legislative oversight. As Veronique de Rugy, senior research fellow at George Mason University’s market-oriented Mercatus Center, put it:

Americans would be horrified if they knew how much power thousands of unelected bureaucrats employed by federal agencies wield. These members of the “government within the government,” as The New York Times’ John Tierney describes them, produce one freedom-restricting, economy-hindering rule after another without much oversight. These rules take many forms, and few even realize they’re in the making — until, that is, they hit you square in the face.

Hindsight being what it is, de Rugy’s observation makes sense in the wake of one pandemic-related government misstep after another. But she wrote that in 2018. She had no idea what was coming, nor how many additional Americans were killed by the deadly decision-making in blue states like Andrew Cuomo’s New York and Gretchen Whitmer’s Michigan, where bureaucrats routinely returned elderly COVID-positive patients to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and thereby allowed the virus to spread like wildfire.

Nor do we know how many COVID-19 patients were denied hydroxychloroquine, a time-tested anti-malarial drug, because Donald Trump endorsed it. But we do know that Trump-deranged governors and state-level bureaucrats wouldn’t allow it — and, therefore, doctors wouldn’t prescribe it, and pharmacies wouldn’t carry it, and hospitals wouldn’t administer it. One infectious disease specialist, Dr. Stephen Smith, estimates that perhaps 100,000 lives were lost as a result.

Think about that.

As for the bureaucratically driven COVID-19 rules that ended up hitting us square in the face, two in particular have been in the news lately: the masking disaster and the stay-at-home disaster.

Pointing the finger at the demonstrably incompetent Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the past 36 years (and, remarkably, our nation’s highest paid federal employee), the Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins calls the mask mandate “a colossal disaster for public understanding.” He writes:

Until November, the official advice was the same that Dr. Fauci gave in a now infamous early email to a colleague — a store-bought mask may somewhat reduce your chance of spreading the disease if you happen to be infected. It will do little to prevent you from catching it if you’re breathing around someone who is exhaling the Covid virus.

Only in the fall did the U.S. government start claiming masks might protect the uninfected too. This appears to have been largely disinformation designed to get more unwitting carriers to wear masks. Even today, the CDC on its website stresses only one claim: “Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others.”

Fauci, you’ll recall, is the guy who told the nation in January that wearing two masks is “common sense.”

As for being a barrier against receiving the virus, wearing one of those ubiquitous masks was like trying to keep mosquitoes away from your back deck with a chain-link fence. And yet those who protested the mask mandate were demonized. President Joe Biden was the worst and most public symbol of this hysteria.

As the Washington Examiner reports: “When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican face of COVID reopening, lifted his state’s mask mandate in early March, Biden chastised him for ‘Neanderthal thinking.’ Within two months, however, Texas reported zero COVID deaths.”

And yet Joe Biden’s CDC was telling us that children as young as two were required to wear masks in public, despite the difficulty it caused in breathing and despite the very low risk of children spreading the disease. For a violation of this mandate, whole families were being kicked off passenger planes. Where was the science?

Worse than all of this, though, were the stay-at-home orders — both socially and economically. Numerous studies have shown how ruinous these lockdowns were, including a brand-new one, using data from 43 countries and all 50 US states. As Brad Polumbo writes at the Foundation for Economic Education, “Lockdown orders may have had lethal unintended consequences in their own right, such as increased drug overdoses, worsened mental health problems, increased child abuse, deadly delays in non-COVID medical care, and more.”

And yet the study’s authors found no evidence that the shelter-in-place orders saved lives. In fact, they report that mortality actually increased in the weeks following the lockdowns.

“The takeaway here,” as Polumbo concludes, “is not just that stay-at-home orders are an ineffective public policy. It’s that politicians will always claim they can solve our problems if just given enough centralized power.”

Put another way, our suspicions of government and of the administrative state are well-founded.

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