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Wisconsin Spotlight | Jan. 12, 2021

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong,” wrote the late journalist and professional cynic H.L. Mencken. In our modern world, the “answers” to our myriad and complex problems always seem to involve the use of government—through taxation, regulation, bureaucracy, and even military invasion.

As prevalent as that answer may be, it is usually—although not always—wrong, which is one lesson all Americans should learn from our unspeakably bad year. The pandemic has not only tragically killed more than 300,000 Americans, but has led to previously unimaginable restrictions on our freedom to live our lives as we choose.

We awake each morning pondering the terms upon which our leaders will even allow us to leave our homes. The COVID-19 restrictions keep changing and the goalposts keep moving. Perhaps we will one-day find out whether any of the governor’s oftentimes illogical and arbitrary edicts are working—but for now it’s on a need-to-know basis.

There’s no magic solution, but that’s the point. How many people think this not-particularly magical thing called “government” has calmly guided us through the coronavirus crisis? Although scholars dispute its authorship, this George Washington quotation is telling: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence—it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master; never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”

Sometimes there’s no choice but to use force, which is why we have a justice system based ultimately on compulsion. 

Our society, however, was founded on the idea that individuals generally know what’s best for themselves and they should be left alone to pursue their dreams free from unchecked dictates, albeit within a framework of checks and balances.

The founders knew the easy-button governmental solution often is worse than whatever problem it was trying to solve. With COVID-19, everyone is flying blind. We need some rules during unusual times, but when we transfer too many decisions from individuals to government, we give imperfect politicians and regulators power to make choices for us based on their limited insights and political interests.

Read more at Reason.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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