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One Simple Statistic Shows Cuomo Is Destroying NYC’s Restaurant Industry for No Reason at All

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By Brad Polumbo:

At least 4,500 restaurants in New York City have permanently closed their doors in the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns. Thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s latest dictate, that number looks sure to surge.

Amid rising COVID-19 cases, the Democrat ordered an end to all indoor dining in New York City starting on Monday. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has fully supported this mandate.

“The hospitalizations have continued to increase in New York City,” Cuomo said. “We said that we would watch for stabilization, if the hospital rate didn’t stabilize we would close indoor dining. The time is now. We’re gonna close indoor dining in the city on Monday.” 

Cuomo’s decision to follow through on his threat to shut down restaurants has received enormous backlash, in part because its very basis is undercut by the governor’s own data. Restaurants and bars have driven only 1.4 percent of New York’s COVID-19 cases, according to the state’s contact tracing program. Meanwhile, private personal gatherings have driven nearly 75 percent of the state’s COVID-19 spread.

So Cuomo is shutting down an industry —crushing small businesses and putting service workers out of a job— that is only making a minuscule contribution to the spread of COVID-19. (After all, restaurants have operated at reduced capacity, required mask-wearing, heightened sanitization protocols, and more.) 

Understandably, restaurateurs were infuriated by the governor’s arbitrary and baseless order.

“We’ve been following everything that they gave us — the guidelines, we changed our air filter systems, we do the protocols of taking temperatures, getting people to sign the [contact tracing] papers, everything from A to Z,” one restaurant owner told the New York Post. “It’s just not right, you have small businesses that are surviving day to day, and day to day they’re trying to pay the bills and day to day trying to feed their staff who are trying to feed their kids.”

“The government is shutting us down without actually justifying it with hardcore facts,” another restaurateur added. “We didn’t do anything to deserve a complete destruction of our business.”

The toll this dictate will have on small business and the New York economy is beyond our ability to fully measure. However, according to Eater, 54 percent of New York restaurateurs said in a late November survey they may have to close down in the next six months. That was before this shutdown order.

In light of this fallout, the New York Post editorial board rendered a scathing verdict on the governor’s decision, writing that “[Cuomo is] ignoring the science as he puts even more New Yorkers out of work in a dismal economy just two weeks before Christmas.”

This criticism is harsh but not at all unwarranted. Cuomo’s decision is callous, arbitrary, and baseless, as evidenced by the fact that only 1.4 percent of cases can be traced to restaurants. 

The mandate is also likely to backfire due to its unintended consequences.

Think about it like this: The spike in COVID-19 cases is being driven by large household gatherings without social distancing or mask-wearing. Closing restaurants down removes one of the only options New Yorkers have left to socialize in a public, well-spaced, ventilated setting. It will almost certainly prompt more people to shift their gatherings to private settings that are actually less safe from a COVID-19 perspective.

So all the economic destruction and pain being imposed comes from a policy that will likely only make the virus’s spread worse. This from the same Governor Cuomo who wrote a book about how excellently he handled the COVID-19 pandemic before it was even close to over.

Many people might find the depths of Cuomo’s incompetence and arrogance shocking. But it actually shouldn’t be. As Nobel-Prize-winning economist Friedrich Hayek famously explained in “Why the Worst Get on Top” high political office self-selects for, with rare exceptions, people who are shamelessly ambitious and addicted to power.

“[Hayek] argued with great insightfulness that ‘the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful’ in any society in which government is seen as the answer to most problems,” FEE President Emeritus Lawrence W. Reed explained. “They are precisely the kind of people who elevate power over persuasion, force over cooperation. Government, possessing by definition a legal and political monopoly of the use of force, attracts them just as surely as dung draws flies.”

So, Cuomo is not an anomaly. The governor’s cruel and arbitrary mismanagement of New York’s restaurant industry is just the latest example of Hayek’s timeless principle.

Foundation for Economic Education (FEE)

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