by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The last three months in America provide a taste of life in a socialist economy. State governments have restricted businesses operations — often arbitrarily — while Congress cobbled together bills authorizing nearly $3 trillion in new spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these actions have eroded private property rights and disrupted the function of markets. This unwitting socialistic experiment has damaged the American economy.
Beginning in March, markets ceased to function as government “experts” took over. They categorized businesses and workers as “essential” or “nonessential” — permitting the former to remain open and forcing the latter to operate from home, or shutter and hope for government assistance. These restrictions aimed to prevent the virus from spreading and overwhelming the healthcare system. However, many business designations seem completely arbitrary and detached from the goal of controlling the virus spread.
Who would have guessed that lawn care workers are essential and allowed to work while dentists are nonessential and required to stay home? What makes home improvement and lawn equipment retailers essential while clothing stores are non-essential? Why are doctors prohibited from performing elective surgeries, like knee replacements, when hospitals and surgery clinics are massively underutilized? Many of these designations appear arbitrary and capricious, and yet they will determine which businesses survive the pandemic and which ones fail.
As lockdowns subside, governors are imposing new “public safety” rules on businesses as a condition for reopening. In many cases, these new rules determine whether a business is viable. Take, as an example, a hair salon with three stylists. Should a governor decree that salons can only open at 50 percent capacity with time-consuming “deep cleaning” between appointments, this salon is effectively restricted to one stylist and a reduced number of appointments.
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