My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Go pick up a copy!
This week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether or not to end Governor Tony Evers’ dictatorial rule and re-establish the Legislature as a co-equal branch of government. Hopefully the court will side with self-governance and strike down Evers’ unconstitutional power grab. When they do, the governor and Legislature will be left to wrangle over the best plan to reopen the state’s economy. What should the plan be? Get out of the way and let Wisconsinites get to work.
As other states go about opening their economies, they are doing so with a variety of plans. Some are very detailed plans with a strict metrics. Some are looser plans with a schedule of gradual opening. Some, like Governor Evers’ plan, are utterly unworkable and rely on arbitrary decisions made in the governor’s mansion. All of them are based on the incorrect presumption that some politician sitting in a leather chair in a faraway capital is better informed on how to safely open factories, retail stores, processing plants, and offices than the people who own and work in them.
Wisconsin’s experience is the perfect example. Evers closed the state without much of a plan. From the first day, confusion reigned as people tried to comply with the rules, but since the rules were vague and incomplete, Evers resorted to issuing various clarifications every few days. There was never any way that Evers, or his staff of lifer government bureaucrats, were equipped to fully understand the full consequences of the orders they were issuing. They were never going to be able to anticipate and respond to the way their orders rolled through society.
While Evers and his staff may be uniquely and especially bad, no small group of politicians and advisers would be experienced and smart enough to micromanage something on the scale of stopping or restarting an entire state’s economy. The reason Evers failed so badly is the same reason that socialism fails: central planning does not work.
That is why Wisconsin should not go down the failed path of central planning when reopening the economy. Instead, our state and local governments should assume the role of a humble government that uses its granted powers to support the people — not oppress them.
When the coronavirus crisis began, we were facing a very scary unknown danger. The early projections showed that the virus may kill millions, incapacitate many more, and overwhelm our health care system. Based on those projections, our governments responded with draconian measures. With the benefit of hindsight, we can argue about whether that response was warranted, but we have more information as we move forward.
While we are a long way from completely controlling or stopping the spread of coronavirus, we know a lot more about it and its spread. It is not as deadly as we thought. We have plenty of capacity in our health care system. The spread can be greatly mitigated by social distancing, washing hands, covering coughs, sanitizing surfaces, and staying home if you are sick. And the people who are at most risk of serious complications or death are the elderly and those with serious underlying conditions.
We have spent weeks learning about this virus and how to protect against it. We have shifted from dealing with a scary unknown risk to a scary known risk. That is why our government should step back and let the citizens manage the risk for themselves. The people all know how dangerous this virus is now and are perfectly capable of managing the risk just like we do for every other risk that confronts each of us every day.
No business owner wants their customers, employees, or themselves to get sick. No customer wants to put himself or herself at undue risk while shopping. No employee wants to work in unsafe conditions. But it is up to each of these groups of people – employers, employees, and customers – to work out how to interact with each other where everybody is comfortable. Those billions of interactions take nuance and understanding to do correctly. Nuance and understanding are not government’s forte.
While government should step back and let a free, self-governing citizenry open their own economy, we do need our government to do what government does well. We need our government to pool resources to be available to swamp any potential outbreaks. We need our government to provide the latest guidance and recommendations. We need our government to provide legal reform to limit liability for people who might be sued because of the virus.
Other than that, we need our government to get out of the way.