Friedrich von Hayek warned us in The Road to Serfdom that if we continue on the socialist path in the West, the day is not far off when “the whole apparatus for disseminating knowledge: schools and the press, radio and cinema will be used exclusively to propagate those opinions which, true or false, reinforce the belief in the correctness of decisions made by authority, all information which may engender doubt or hesitation will be forbidden.”
His keen understanding of the totalitarianism of the defeated German National Socialism made him see that from democracy one can arrive, almost inadvertently, at totalitarianism with broad social support, which would include that of large private corporations. This revelation was the extraordinary -and intolerable for the socialists of the West- of that great book.
Today we live in panic, not entirely unjustified, because the pandemic is a reality that has shaken a world mistakenly confident and ill-prepared to face it. The virus that has spread rapidly since Wuhan -mainly due to the disinformation and irresponsibility of Beijing’s totalitarianism, supported by the early complicity of a World Health Organization (WHO) that legitimized that disinformation in the critical initial moments- will almost certainly cause fewer deaths than the policies with which it was confronted.
It was easy to predict. During the ebola crisis in 2014 there was the same pattern of misinformation and irresponsibility, poor capacity and dangerous politicization in multilaterals such as the WHO. Denial and minimization in the bulk of politicians and governments in the developed world, followed by the contradictory messy and dangerous over-reaction a little later. Indeed, there was no reason to expect that a pandemic would be any different. And so far, it has not.
Today we are told to trust certain experts handpicked by rulers, large transnational bureaucracies and big media, the same ones who at first ridiculed and attacked the first measures – unfortunately belated – such as the closure of flights from China. Today, these big media censor and cancel anyone who dares to question the effectiveness of prolonged mass confinement or anyone who dares to consider its consequences, not only economic -which are already costing lives, especially among the most vulnerable populations- but also on the rest of the pathologies. And on the pandemic itself.
If there is one thing that should alert us, it is that they try to force us to repeat ideas that contradict each other and that clash with factual reality. With a high rate of contagion and a very low mortality rate, what the virus really endangered was the very limited response capacity of the globally state-run or over-regulated health systems -fertile ground for rent-seeking by special interest groups-.
Health professionals have fought -and even died as heroes, let us not forget that one of the first was Li Wenliang- but the systems in which they work have failed, especially with the weakest, in the name of which their nationalization and/or over-regulation was justified. And the more extensive, centralized and multinational the planning, the worse the outcome. In vaccinations the United Kingdom -whose disaster was prophesied by the mainstream media after Brexit- turned out to be much faster and more efficient than the European Union it left.
The rapid and extreme curtailment of liberties and the certain attack on prosperity is something that, fear permitting, the majorities have meekly -and in not a few cases euphorically- consented to, it is good to remember that this and no other was Hayek’s theme in The Road to Serfdom. The only hope for reason, science and the civilization of freedom are the great dissidents.
The ones they cannot quash by stigmatizing them as conspiracy denialists, because they are in positions of power and wield it against the consensus of would-be tyrants. Like the Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who demonstrated that there was a better solution than the draconian mass shutdowns, applied with acrimony in Democratic states. Especially in those where the Woke cancellation culture prevails.
Thus, for the mainstream press in the United States -and the world-, DeSantis was until recently a “madman” who put the inhabitants of Florida in mortal danger. He was labeled an enemy of science for opposing draconian closures, allowing beaches and businesses to remain open and even refusing to impose mandatory facemasks in public places.
In the face of fierce opposition from the mainstream press -and the teachers’ union- he opened schools before any other governor. Journalists -quoting scientific experts who said only what they wanted to quote- prophesied that Florida would be the Peninsula of Death in a few weeks. Today, six months have passed and the apocalypse prophesied in their headlines has not arrived.
Of course, there were many hospital admissions and also deaths from the virus in Florida. And obviously DeSantis applied restrictive containment measures, but shorter, milder and concentrated on at-risk populations. The health outcomes were no worse than in states that had imposed extreme restrictions and the economic impact was minimal and the freedoms of Floridians were the least disrupted.
Orlando-based attorney John Morgan, a longtime Democratic donor, said De Santis: “He has managed the pandemic better than any other governor in the country. Right now, on the pandemic front, DeSantis has won.” That is now indisputable.
It is time to do the math and ask whether massive and prolonged shutdowns, along with maximum restrictions on freedoms, censorship and disinformation by the mainstream media, were the answer. Or, we must be held accountable for the economic desolation and unwarranted assault on Americans’ freedoms in the name of an emergency that the facts -and real science, not big media- show could be better dealt with by other means.