In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a “strongly suggested” statewide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was …
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a “strongly suggested” statewide curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was considering something similar for the Big Apple. The 7 million residents of the San Francisco Bay Area are ordered to stay in their homes except for “essential activities.” Several cities and states have ordered all bars and restaurants to close to eat-in patrons.
Meanwhile in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon issued a recommendation that schools close until April. The decision whether or not to do so was left up to local superintendents and school boards based on what they knew of local circumstances. Districts in Park County, as well as Northwest College, took a look at the situation and decided it was best to follow the advice. That was a smart choice.
Before Park County health officials began urging non-essential businesses to close, many took it upon themsleves to take action to protect their customers. They are sanitizing surfaces more aggressively. Restaurants are offering delivery and take-out options, and grocery stores are putting purchasing limits on some items. Where possible, many businesses, the Powell Tribune included, are having their employees work from home and using teleconferencing to hold meetings. All these actions have been voluntary to date, despite being likely to hurt the bottom line of the business.
If you ignore all these sane and voluntary actions and look only at empty shelves at the grocery store, you might conclude that people are far too irrational to be left to their own devices. Yet, it’s not like when people are put into power they automatically become altruistic and reasonable. The same shortsightedness that fuels toilet paper hoarding can drive leaders’ decisions. Then we have no choice but to comply no matter the costs or individual circumstances.
There is a real concern with this highly contagious disease, and we are not saying every government action is harmful or should be ignored. When it comes to controlling the spread of a contagious disease, government has a very legitimate role to play and can be beneficial. However, in the course of making decisions, especially ones enforced by law, leaders should remember the unavoidable law of unintended consequences.
Locking people up in their homes will break down supply chains and create more shortages for longer periods, and it’s not just toilet paper. If stores don’t have food and medicine, and if people are out of work for possibly months, we’ll have problems just as threatening to the public’s health and safety as the coronavirus.
Curfews limit hours people can shop, and that means more people shopping together at the same time. When law enforcement is spending its time controlling the movements of peaceful people, they have less time to respond to real emergencies — not to mention they’ll have a lot more contact with people who might be contagious. There’s probably a lot more we haven’t even thought of.
The State of Wyoming has shown some wisdom in leaving a lot of room for local and individual decisions. This is not to say every decision made at the local level will be better, nor does it mean there will never be a time when government may need to enforce more extreme measures. It means individuals often coordinate effective and efficient actions without a central planner, and people who have the authority to impose decisions upon others with the force of law may also have 100 rolls of toilet paper in their garages.