Bill Muehlenberg: Corona, the Expansive State, and Shrinking Liberties

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 We of course had the recent case of the Aussie teen learner driver fined $1700 (but it was later thankfully withdrawn).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”.

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.

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.

Others, of course, are sounding the alarm, such as Dr. Augusto Zimmermann, a Perth-based law professor. In a recent article he writes:

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’?

Bill Muehlenberg is a Melbourne based social commentator.

This entry was posted in COVID-19, Guest Post, Oppressive government. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Bill Muehlenberg: Corona, the Expansive State, and Shrinking Liberties

  1. Tim Neilson

    We’re meant to cower inside on a day of bright sunshine instead of sitting in a park, going for a surf, playing ball with family or friends….

    And then the government expresses cant-ridden “concern” about people’s mental health, and refers them to BeyondBlue’s hotline.

  2. Can you imagine what it would be like if the Federal government was under Shorten, or the US under Clinton?

  3. Natural Instinct

    Why can’t all the legislation and regulations have sunset clauses for 90 days that force them to be re-evaluated, and if our political leaders are too busy, then they lapse – not the other way around of staying on the books forever.

  4. duncanm

    The price of liberty is eternal vigilance

    That’s the short version.

    Original, which is more precise about those (indolent) who allow it to occur, and their punishment (servitude).

    It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

    John Philpot Curran

  5. Natural Instinct

    Elizabeth New Jersey Police Department.

    During Mayor Chris Bollwage daily COVID-19 Updates, he mentioned the Elizabeth Police Department implementing drones around the City of Elizabeth to help combat people not following social distancing.
    .
    We have been using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones) since 2018, however, the new models are equipped with voice capabilities….
    These drones will be around the City with an automated message from the Mayor telling you to STOP gathering, disperse and go home.
    Summonses HAVE AND WILL CONTINUE to be issued to those found in violation.
    Fines are up to $1000.
    .
    You have been advised.

  6. Great article, Bill.

    As to what Time Nielson said – I sincerely believe the desire of the public service us to have us as clients or property.

  7. duncanm

    These drones will be around the City

    sounds like the beginnings of a new sport to me.

  8. Cynic of Ayr

    Here’s one I didn’t t think of, and I bet no “Economist” or “Government Adviser” thought of it either.
    The Dry Cleaners and Laundry are working half days.
    Why?
    No Motel business. People aren’t allowed to travel.
    No “good” clothes cleaned, because restaurants are forced to close.
    No restaurant business itself, like napkins and table cloths.
    So, close a restaurant and you affect the Dry Cleaning business.
    Stop people from travelling and you affect the Laundry business, as well as the Motel business.
    Whoda thunk it?
    Whoda cared?
    This is going to cost Morisson and his merry band of drongos, a hell of a lot more than they ever imagined.

  9. Ellen of Tasmania

    And a completely useless – worse yet, complicit – MSM.

    On ABCnews and BBCworld overnight:

    When they reported that Boris was doing well and ‘responding to treatment’, no one bothered to ask just what that treatment was. Inquiring minds want to know.

    Quite a long segment this morning about new orders and arrivals of PPE. No question about how the shortage of such equipment may have influenced the actions of our government, or why such a shortage. Seems a pretty obvious question.

    Repeating myself, I know, but we understand all about quarantine on our island home. We’ve been quarantining incoming problems for a long time. Why, suddenly, do we seem to forget all we know and lock up the healthy while letting in the sick? I’d love to be able to ‘follow the money’ on that.

  10. This is going to cost Morisson and his merry band of drongos, a hell of a lot more than they ever imagined.

    This isn’t just Morrison, it’s all the state Premiers as well, some of whom are going way beyond the reasonable, as in Victoristan. But I won’t imagine for one minute that Labor will suffer at the next election. I haven’t heard a peep out of the opposition, at least nothing seems to penetrate the rock they are hiding under.

  11. Mak Siccar

    Another excellent article from James Allan at the Spectator Online.

    https://www.spectator.com.au/2020/04/were-all-in-this-together-and-other-myths-of-the-corona-crisis/

    ‘We’re all in this together’ and other myths of the corona crisis
    James Allan
    8 April 2020

    Here are a couple of the myths, the untruths, we are being told about this coronavirus crisis.

    Firstly, ‘We are all in this together, public sector versus private sector.’ When the Prime Minister tells us that we are all in this together, that may be true in some sort of metaphorical, rally-the-troops sense. But in more down-to-earth ways it is a myth. Those in the public sector will come out of this with their jobs, their homes, their children able to go to the same schools, just about everything. Many, many, many of those in the private sector – the sector that ultimately determines a country’s standard of living, its productivity, and so even what sort of health service it can afford – will be crushed.

    All the government largesse will help delay the reckoning, sure. But for many, that’s all it will do. Their businesses will be gone. The personal guarantee on their family homes will be called in. The monies they saved to put their kids in the good private school having now evaporated, change will come there too. And this in a country, Australia, where our top-level public servants are amongst the highest paid in the world. The PM and some of the Premiers talk of freezing pay rises for the public sector. Give me a break!

    These people have been creaming it for years. I say again, person for person, position for position, they get paid more than any of their contemporaries in similar countries around the world. But in this crisis, they will pay virtually none of the costs of this destruction of our economy. And yet, perhaps not surprisingly, most of those calling for ever more heavy-handed limits on what people can do, limits that encroach ever more on the private sector’s ability to function, well those demanding this are overwhelmingly in the public sector.

    They won’t be ruined. That mostly explains why those in the private sector are much more sympathetic to the more relaxed Swedish approach to this crisis, one that sees a lot more of the private sector up and running and the economy not destroyed.

    And just to be clear, I include those working for the ABC and all our politicians in the privileged class. They, too, are not bearing anything like the costs that those in the private sector are. Our politicians might at least on occasion try to recall this fact when they moot yet another intrusion on our civil liberties, yet another inroad on our freedoms. Meanwhile, it’s patently time to cut public service pay, politicians’ pay, and ABC staff pay (not to mention its overall budget) and do so by at least 25 per cent. Now! Heck, disband the Remuneration Commissions and the Human Rights Commissions.

    And for all politicians and senior public servants suspend the business class air travel and end the travel allowances. Frankly, these things are the very least that should be done. Who knows? They might make our heavy-handed politicos a little more open to less draconian remedies for a viral disease that is looking unlikely to kill even twice the number that die in a regular flu season. (PS Can we please start seeing published statistics outlining the deaths per week this year from coronavirus versus deaths for the same week last year from the flu? Andn likewise, total deaths for the week from all causes last year versus total deaths for the week this year? Because I’m reading that outside Italy there is no statistical difference as regards year v. year total deaths; they’re about the same from all causes. Is that true?)

    Oh, and for all those big government, statist, pseudo-socialists now revelling in what this Coalition government is doing, let me remind you that countries where most workers are in the public sector do badly, very badly over time. The money won’t long be there to do all the social engineering you all love. Just sayin’.

    Secondly, ‘We are all in this together, young and fit versus old and unfit.’ This too is pure myth. The young are bearing grossly more of the costs. So stop telling young people they’re being selfish. As a generalisation, they are looking at lost career prospects, lost opportunities, and a diminished future. And their chances of dying from this disease – those in their teens, twenties and even thirties – is pretty much insignificant. Go and look it up yourself.

    Sure, an n=1 youngster here and another over there will die; the press certainly does its best to find them. A handful of them might not even have any underlying conditions. But that’s just sleight of hand cherry-picking disguising the truth that for all intents and purposes coronavirus is a killer of the old and infirm. Almost all the costs we are paying as a society is to save the old, infirm and already ailing and those costs are falling incredibly disproportionately on the young and fit.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t pay some of the costs and take measures, such as isolate the old and the vulnerable. But it goes some way to telling against these Morrison government heavy-handed, crush the economy measures we are seeing. When you weigh up the costs where is the consideration of the ruined and lost lives because of the crippled economy?

    And where is the calculation of quality-adjusted life years in play here, all costs considered, for the overall society by going down the route we’ve been forced onto as opposed to the Swedish one that keeps the economy open? I ask because it seems to me that the young are being hammered right now, and they’d be better off under Swedish-type rules. At the very least we might stop with all the virtue-signalling and hand-ringing about how thoughtless the young are being. No. They’re taking it on the chin for us oldies. Big time. And when we’re out of this they’ll be the ones, for decades, who will have to continue to take it on the chin.

    If, like me, you believe that the best long-term future for our young is to live in a country with a thriving private sector, comparatively small government, and something less than overwhelming levels of public debt then the future for the young is a good deal less rosy than it was before this virus. Bear that in mind.

    Last word. The frontline doctors and nurses are exempted from all the above criticisms. They do bear greater personal risks. They do deserve their public sector pay. They deserve a clap. Not our politicians, whose current notion of ‘we’re all in this together’ is of the porcine Animal Farm variety.

  12. The BigBlueCat

    Beware – Dan Andrews and his Red Shirts are out there, watching and waiting for any citizen to step out of line. VicPol Senior Command stand ready to do his bidding.

    H.L Menken also said: “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos.”

  13. egg_

    When they reported that Boris was doing well and ‘responding to treatment’

    I heard a report he was put on Oxygen.
    One unfit fvck IMHO.

  14. davo the spy

    Every time i now go to the shops or have something delivered lately, my tiny mind goes to, “gee those single use disposable and biodegradable plastic bags would be handy now”

  15. Iampeter

    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.”

    Yea but individual liberties were eroding quite well without the help of any emergency in the lead up to this anyway.
    Most of the people having a cry now are the very same that were advocating for all sorts of arbitrary violations of liberty just the day before.
    Not to mention that the vast majority of posters here do not support individual liberty and are pretty explicit about it.

  16. Kneel

    Not to mention that the vast majority of posters here do not support individual liberty and are pretty explicit about it.

    That includes you, BTW.

  17. Beachcomber

    When they reported that Boris was doing well and ‘responding to treatment’

    Johnson has been wearing himself out trying to deal with the disastrous consequences of making the immensely stupid mistake of accepting the counsel of the Imperial College of London “experts”. Instead of responding to the flu season with the usual reasonable and sensible measures, which have been shown to be effective in the past, he has foolishly allowed the nation to be plunged into a self-destructive, hysterical frenzy.

  18. egg_

    “Not to mention that the vast majority of posters here do not support individual liberty and are pretty explicit about it.”

    That includes you, BTW.

    One of the local dimwits’ parody socks.
    Banal.

  19. The BigBlueCat

    Well, I think there are certain posters who believe that their liberties somehow trump the liberties of others. Dan Andrews certainly believes that our liberty to be free of death and disease trumps the liberty to move freely about the place. He may very well extend restrictions to influenza and the common cold ….

  20. Kneel

    Banal.

    Perhaps, but factual none-the-less.

  21. Iampeter

    “Not to mention that the vast majority of posters here do not support individual liberty and are pretty explicit about it.”
    That includes you, BTW.

    Sure buddy. I mean, you don’t know what a single word in the sentence I wrote even means, but sure.

  22. Nighthawk the Elder

    Name the dobbers. You have the right to know your accuser.

    That will make for fun in the neighbourhood when this is over.

  23. Crossie

    (PS Can we please start seeing published statistics outlining the deaths per week this year from coronavirus versus deaths for the same week last year from the flu? Andn likewise, total deaths for the week from all causes last year versus total deaths for the week this year? Because I’m reading that outside Italy there is no statistical difference as regards year v. year total deaths; they’re about the same from all causes. Is that true?)

    Ha! Not on your Nelly. Showing the real figures would reveal the experts for the frauds they are. This is their heyday and they will make the most of it, our economy be damned. To paraphrase James Allen, when this is over and the economy in ruins with millions unemployed the experts will still have their very well paid cushy jobs.

  24. Nick

    I would like to share some figures on the current infection rate of Covid-19 in Australia. For the last 4 days new infections have averaged about 110/day, at this rate to reach a “heard immunity” level of 60%(aprox 15million) it will take over 373 years. Do we seriously think this level of lockdown is reasonable? At 10,000 new cases per day it will take 4.1 years to reach 60% of the Australian population, and that is without allowing for the slowing effect -as more people get infected there are less to infect. 10,000 new cases daily would rightly scare the hell out of any health professional. If we can’t find a vaccine, as some experts are warning us that this is a strong possibility then maybe nature has to run it’s course as brutal as that may be.

  25. Nick

    Just realised my poor spelling should be “herd immunity”

  26. Andre Lewis

    Herd immunity, if this concept has credibility, is the only way this virus outbreak can be dealt with in the medium to long term as a targeted vaccine is 12 to 18 months away and like other vaccines will be 40% effective at best. If the COVID 19 virus mutates as readily as the flu does on occasion the vaccine will be next to useless in certain years like the local flu vaccine was in 2019.
    The data we are being fed with by governments is as flawed as the model projections the ‘experts’ they listen to rely upon.
    We, and other countries such as the US and UK, are being led into penury based on a hysterical reaction to a grossly exaggerated problem.

  27. John A

    Ellen of Tasmania #3402357, posted on April 9, 2020, at 2:39 pm

    Repeating myself, I know, but we understand all about quarantine on our island home. We’ve been quarantining incoming problems for a long time. Why, suddenly, do we seem to forget all we know and lock up the healthy while letting in the sick? I’d love to be able to ‘follow the money’ on that.

    The decline began with the policy travesty called “Multiculturalism.” Instead of a mental process of defending ourselves with all manner of scientifically-based quarantine (plant, animal and people), and preferring our Australian way of life, we turned around to a mental process of accepting everything that came our way as being equally valid – we even apologised for being Australian, as if our way of life was second- or third-rate.

    We are a multi-ethnic society, not a multi-cultural one. Let’s hope and pray that we the people, can wake up to this distinction, vote out the policy and enjoy the multiple ethnicities we have here.

Comments are closed.