Swine Flu and Government Power

Anthony Gregory at The Beacon sees the current panic over swine flu as reinforcing government power.

Statists across the spectrum are playing up the swine flu as more evidence that we need more state action and government power. Liberals see it as an excuse for more public health programs. Conservatives see it as a reason for clamping down on the border (not just conservatives — a Democratic Congresswoman has called for a total border shutdown, to the cheers of rightwing radio), and for more government quarantine powers. I even heard one commentator warning about how people might spread the swine flu through sharing drugs.

I think that’s basically right, and the ratchet effect means any new powers granted to government are likely to remain after the crisis has passed. I think, though, that there is another aspect of such public health scares which works in the opposite direction and which libertarians should be pleased with. Concerns over swine flu is currently soaking up much of the time of public health researchers and practitioners. Any time they spend worrying about contagious disease – i.e. genuine public health problems – they are not worrying about claptrap like obesogenic environments and coercively promoting health at the expense of individual choice. If swine flu is keeping the paternalists busy, they’re less likely to take my sweet, sweet Port Royal.

2 Responses

  1. Tullock had quarantine as one of the very few true public goods and proper remits for government. It’s something it’s easy to imagine private defense agencies requiring in their contracts, with sidepayments from health insurance agencies.

    • Agreed: contagious disease can have some pretty severe negative externalities and voluntary coordination is difficult. I still worry that the new powers government grants itself in genuine crises will be abused after. We could see more airport security as a result of swine flu, for example.

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