Bryan Griffin: Coronavirus Has Shown Us Again That Big Government Isn't The Answer | WAMC

Bryan Griffin: Coronavirus Has Shown Us Again That Big Government Isn't The Answer

Apr 1, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has once again shown the world the failures of big government. I hope people take notice.

No people or government can ever be fully prepared for a natural disaster like this virus. And there is a role for government in this crisis. But government that is so big it blocks enterprise and individuals from contributing to the solution is a problem.

Big government in a free society, like America, can’t keep up with the dynamic demands of a crisis because of its own red tape and bureaucratic hurdles. When it gets in the way of the power of free enterprise to innovate solutions, it delays progress.

Big government in an autocratic society, like China, is much worse. China’s government, arguably the biggest government in the world, acted to preserve their image instead of helping their people. Their actions have been harmful and irresponsible.

From the first discovery of the virus in December, all the way until mid-January, China insisted that the virus could not be spread from human to human contact, despite 739 people becoming infected during this time (including 419 medical providers). Chinese doctors who tried to raise the alarm about the potential dangers of the virus were jailed and charged with crimes like “severely disturbing social order” or labeled as societal “rumormongers.”

The Chinese government insisted they had everything under control all the way through January 20th, and at the time the World Health Organization was still praising their actions. This is all too reminiscent of the Chinese government’s response to the SARS crisis and other similar pandemics that have come out of China.

“Why do the Chinese rulers keep making the same mistake over and over again?” asks Shikha Dalmia of Reason Magazine, “because authoritarian regimes care about the survival of their people only to the extent that it ensures their own survival.”

Once the Chinese government was forced to publicly take the Coronavirus seriously, it acted with all of its authoritarian might--not to treat people--but to contain them. Sixty million were forcibly locked down, invasive digital and physical monitoring was vastly ramped up, and streets became packed with Chinese police and military. People were forcibly shut in their homes or removed from them and relocated into hastily built quarantine hospitals and shelters.

Dalmia writes, “As an authoritarian country, China could single-mindedly focus on one goal—containing the spread of the disease. Its primary purpose in building hospitals and quarantine shelters was separating and isolating patients, not necessarily treating them or helping them.” Later, one of their quick-built shelters collapsed, killing 10 patients.

The Chinese government deserves no praise for their response. They are an example of extreme big government making a bad situation worse.

Though China is not comparable to Europe or America, free countries still experience harmful elements of government that tries to be every answer to every problem.

European socialized healthcare infrastructure was not equipped to face Coronavirus. Italy is completely overwhelmed; they were wholly unprepared to manage healthcare needs on this scale. Spain is close behind them.

America still has a market-based healthcare infrastructure, which makes it situationally best-equipped to respond to the pandemic through innovation and dynamic response. However, government regulation has prevented the market from using its full capabilities to battle the Coronavirus.

The federal CDC prevented private entities from supplying and innovating new testing procedures that severely crippled early COVID-19 testing capabilities. Other federal regulations prevented early telehealth care alternatives to in person doctor’s visits and prevented hospitals from adding more beds. Businesses have, where they can, made incredible donations to the Coronavirus response effort. Some are even converting their production lines to provide much needed medical supplies. Private individuals are donating supplies. Still, private solutions to testing, treatment, and manufacturing provisions are behind a bulwark of months if not years of federally required bureaucracy.

President Trump is taking a lot of heat for the pandemic in America, from various angles. Everyone has an opinion about what he should or shouldn’t have done, said, or not said. Regardless, his administration should be commended for its most important action: eventually waiving much of the abovementioned red tape and bad law. Where it was state law that was inhibitive, some states have recognized this and deserve credit for removing rules as well.

In the midst of this crisis, and in light of China’s particularly horrific example, we should be especially attentive to the topic of how big and how far-reaching the government becomes in its response. In the last couple of months, we’ve seen legislatures suggest unilaterally canceling rent. We’ve heard Bill de Blasio of New York City strongly suggest the nationalization of healthcare industries. This is the rhetoric of government-only solution seekers. Some people never learn.

Of course, the government has a role in enacting safety measures. But the consequences range from short term bureaucratic inefficiencies to long-term rights abuses. The nation would benefit from a thorough national conversation about the right balance between government safety measures and the irreparable damage done by government overreach.

Big government, unquestioned in its size and role, is harmful. At its worst, deadly.

This crisis is serious, but we will overcome. I hope everyone stays safe.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.