True to form, governments at all levels responded to the virus by distorting our lives, our rights and our activities.
Economists often use the term “distortions” to suggest the influence of governments on otherwise free market prices, inventories, allocation of capital, location, rents, etc. But the term distortion more widely applies to nearly everything that a government does. It’s always distorting. When the U.S. attacked Iraq, it caused huge shifts in people’s lives. The distorting ramifications were huge. When Bush began his War on Terror, immense changes began that deformed the American ways of life into unrecognizable shapes.
Distortion by one definition is “the act of twisting or altering something out of its true, natural, or original state.” Audio and video distortion refer to “falsified reproduction of an audio or video signal”. Government power does not simply transform, it deforms. It distorts. The results are typically ugly. The results make a lot of people unhappy.
Distortion is a deformity or falsification of shape, form, activity, thought, idea or action.
To make the charge that governments cause distortions in a wide and broad sense is to charge them with routinely causing motions away from “true, natural or original state[s]”. This charge assumes that such a condition as true, natural and original exists. It assumes that without the government interventions, a system comes to a state that is natural or original. The idea is that government does not allow a natural reality to occur. That would demand a matrix of freedoms that the government undercuts. The government-distorted result is no less a reality, but it is a false and distorted reality. It is false against the standard of freedom, of our being a free country, of our activities being done freely, of our having free markets.
Evidently, the government’s exercise of power in improper (i.e., forcible) ways is what is essential to the unnatural or false outcomes.
To put it another way, free actions of individuals and organizations are what produce natural and true results or conditions. Free decisions do not use government force (power) to make hoped-for results occur. Free decisions operate in a very different set of ways than by government rules, laws, and regulations.
There are reasons why power distorts and free decisions do not, why the one is false and the other is true. The fundamental reason is that power is concentrated in a few heads, and these heads do not know what’s going on in the heads of millions of others. They cannot know. What these few heads with huge powers then do is to decide based upon their own limited knowledge and by bringing to bear their own values. The powerful heads are bound to cause outcomes that are distorted as compared with what would have prevailed had their powers gone unexercised.
Unexercised powers of government mean that freedoms have instead prevailed, and that in turn means that people have retained their natural rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee that they’ll produce results superior to what the government powers produce. Nonetheless, the odds far favor a free system because of its superior incentives.
The virus case presents us with huge distortions in economic and social activities that governments have directly caused. The natural state of affairs that would have occurred had governments not instituted their anti-virus activities would have been very different. If we had not centralized and nationalized health institutions for decades, our preparations for an epidemic would have been entirely different. Our information and health practices would have been very different. The distortions caused by decades of government-controlled medicine produced a very different result than what free markets in health would have produced.
If nature had been allowed to take its course, it would have involved numerous reactions and innovations of individuals and their non-government organizations. Instead, our society’s structure funneled reactions through governments.
Our overall social systems show a heavy dependence on governments using their powers to address problem areas. This means that distortions are a way of life. We have built up a system of social-political responses that necessarily cause distortions. If governments distort and we rely heavily upon governments, then we are necessarily going to see distortions occurring the moment that governments act to address problems.
This dependence on governments has to change if the American people is to avoid the consequences of its heavy dependence on government powers to make decisions. Those powers are producing immense distortions in everyone’s lives. Those powers are undercutting our freedoms, and this was the case well before COVID-19. The changes that have to occur are to remove government from our lives to the maximum extent possible. The virus case exemplifies what happens when we do not do this. Further traps lay in wait. Far from cutting and limiting governments at all levels, many Americans want all sorts of expansions in government. If enacted for any reason, be it climate, health, charity, defense or warfare, larger government will kill us just as surely as big governments have killed other societies. We should be learning from this virus episode that we should go in exactly the opposite direction, toward far smaller governments.9:41 pm on May 3, 2020