Lessons from the plague year

Singapore, Taiwan, and New Zealand have implemented invasive and heavy-handed measures in response to the epidemic, but these are not authoritarian hellholes: Singapore and New Zealand are ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, on the Heritage Economic Freedom Index, with Taiwan at No. 11. (The United States is ranked No. 17, between Lithuania and the United Arab Emirates, with anti-trade measures and reckless federal spending pointing the vector of change in the wrong direction.) What distinguishes their epidemic response from ours is the ability to distinguish between emergency and non-emergency situations — and to behave accordingly.

Ironically, the United States is in a permanent state of emergency and had been for years before the coronavirus arrived on our shores. Congress has long abandoned the “regular order” of constitutional lawmaking, with Washington lurching from crisis to crisis on the support of a series of continuing resolutions, last-minute omnibus-spending slop buckets, and other ad hoc measures. We have seen a steady series of emergency economic-stimulus and -stabilization packages passed in the past 20 years — the post-9/11 airline bailout and New York–oriented stimulus measures, the 2008 Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (TARP), the subsequent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the unprecedented $2 trillion CARES Act, as well as a sustained Federal Reserve effort to keep interest rates in the neighborhood of 0.00 percent.

Having conducted itself as though in a state of emergency when it wasn’t, the U.S. government has shown itself unable to treat a genuine emergency as such. Instead, we have been carried forward on the shoulders of Amazon, FedEx, and UPS, as well as churches and community groups (the actual sources of resiliency in our country), and may yet be carried to safety by the hated pharmaceutical companies, with critical support from university-based researchers.