It was the Austrian-English economist and philosopher F. A. Hayek who once rightly noted, “‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded.” With the growing list of statist corona horror stories, his words take on a renewed sense of urgency.
These stories, from here and overseas, include some real shockers. We of course had the recent case of the Aussie teen learner driver fined $1700 (but it was later thankfully withdrawn). And in the US we had this frightening case:
Colorado father, 33, is handcuffed in front of his six-year-old daughter for breaking social distancing guidelines by playing tee-ball with his wife and kid in an empty park.
It seems that I must now start a daily list of corona horror stories – not of the disease itself and its impact, but of government overreactions and Big Brother madness. Yes, there is a place for sensible and measured government intervention during times of national emergency. But if the cure becomes worse than the disease, then we must call it out.
Consider a few more recent Australian examples. I will simply offer the headline, opening paragraph(s), and source of each.
- Victoria Police fine group of friends playing cricket for breaching social distancing rules
A group of mates have played probably their most expensive game of cricket after Victoria Police fined each of them for breaching the state’s social distancing rules. Video footage shows the officers writing up the group of five for “having a game of backyard cricket”.
- Police hotline swamped with COVID-19 calls as Victorians dob in neighbours
More than 600 calls a day are flooding into the state’s crime reporting hotline, as Victorians rush to dob in neighbours who flout COVID-19 social-distancing rules. Victoria Police has seen calls to the relatively new police assistance line spike by 50 per cent in recent weeks, with people increasingly phoning to report mass gatherings and isolation breaches.
- Extra 1.4 million Australians out of work in wake of COVID-19 pandemic – 3.92 million (27.4% of workforce) now unemployed or under-employed
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic hit the Australian economy hard in mid-March when Australia’s Federal, State and Territory Governments began introducing restrictive social distancing and self-isolation rules to stop the spread of the infectious virus. The early signs on the new restrictions are good from a public health perspective as the rate of new cases has substantially reduced over since restrictions began to be introduced in mid-March. However, the restrictions have also had a huge impact on the employment situation of many Australians – particularly in customer focused industries such as hospitality and retail businesses that have largely shut-down.
My state, Western Australia, has just recorded its fourth death attributed to the Wuhan virus — another elderly man, like so many other casualties, already inflicted with chronic illness when infected. Surely such an “enormous” death toll justifies dramatic measures to curtail fundamental rights, as well as the Morrison’s government spending $320 billion — 16.4 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product — to combat the virus’ health and economic effects caused by the same measures imposed by the government itself.
Because these extreme measures are dictated by the executive and have no deadline to expire, we are effectively experiencing government by executive decree. This is something akin to the actions of deeply authoritarian regimes, in particular when such executive measures are not properly scrutinised.
That a time of crisis can become an excuse for the ever-expanding state has long been warned against. For example, Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” And George Washington reminded us of this truth: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
And we must beware of good intentions. As H. L. Menken stated: “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false-front for the urge to rule it.” And Milton Friedman once said this: “Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.” Or as C. S. Lewis rightly stated:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
What was that line about ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’?