My grandparents and parents experienced two great wars, an economic depression, and several tragic global pandemics. No wonder, they treated their children like children. Something about enduring calamitous ordeals, toughens the strong or destroys the weak. My parents were among the strong ones who survived and even prospered. They definitely did not spare the rod with my sisters and me, but we knew they loved us and only wished to prepare us to be successful adults. As my father spoke to me on his death bed many years ago, he felt a need to explain his reasons for being strict and sometimes even harsh. He didn’t need to explain because I already knew. He was preparing me for life in a sometimes tough and often chaotic world. He said he wanted me to be independent and courageous. Others may judge the results.
A Freudian consequence of my early childhood manifests in my loathing of authoritarian mandates, particularly when issued by utter fools for self-serving and even dishonest reasons. Government mandates almost always fit this characterization.
There exists a general hierarchy of mandates which earn my disgust. Federal government mandates are the worst of all, followed by state and local government orders. I have less difficulty with rules issued by private entities such as businesses, stores, and others. If we don’t like the rules, we can go somewhere else. And when they issue non-sensical rules, they usually go out of business. When it’s Uncle Sam or the state, we have few options.
The current collection of mandates address masks, vaccines, and closings, but throughout history, we’ve suffered gazillions of equally problematic examples. Bad or unnecessary mandates almost never result from any cost-benefit analysis or any valid effort to anticipate the unintended consequences. It’s the “BECAUSE I SAID SO!” justification which causes the most push-back and non-compliance.
Here are several reasons why we object to government mandates, federal, state, or local.
- They ignore individual differences. Mandates often result in harming some people while protecting others. Giving us information to make individual decisions allows us to decide what is best for each of us given our individual circumstances. Allowing us the freedom to evaluate what is best makes us responsible for our own actions, as long as our actions do not harm others.
- They often result from partisan motivations. Governments are usually controlled by political partisans who have vested interests in maintaining their power and often their wealth. They may choose mandates that are popular with their constituents, their stakeholders, or their donors. Even worse, unelected officials, such as many judges and administrative bureaucrats are not as easily held accountable for their actions. They may issue rules and regulations out of ignorance or even because of special influences such as bribes, payoffs, promises, and even loyalty to their affiliations.
- They can be illegal or unconstitutional. When executives at any level of government use the excuse of an emergency to dictate behavior or non-behavior, they often stray over the line and issue orders that are of questionable legal or constitutional authority. Unfortunately, our system provides very little timely protection against this intrusion into our freedoms.
- Government officials are not smarter than the people. They can call on experts, but which experts do they call? When they are wrong, can they admit their mistakes without political consequences? In complex circumstances, such as a pandemic, the government should call on the expertise of citizens, but differences of opinion must be acknowledged and described. Bureaucrats are not necessarily qualified to choose between expert opinions, and conflicts of interest may interfere with their judgment. Make the information available and let the people make their own decisions. In the case of conflicting expert opinion, give us all rational sides of the argument and let us decide for ourselves. Government control of messaging is never trustworthy, and government influence of social media and corporate news organization is contrary to our constitutional guarantees.
- They create an inclination for disobedience. An order from any partisan controlled government is often suspect for partisan motivations. This is especially true when the justification is not visible to the people or is an abstraction, never let a crisis go to waste. When government officials quote numbers that are suspicious, inconsistent, or even self-contradictory, many people rebel against their authority. Why are they doing this? Is it justified? Will it benefit us or do us harm? These are the honest questions that people ask, especially when the orders seem to be unreasonable or when there is a pattern of irrational, self-serving, or hysterical orders.
- Sometimes they do more harm than good. The law of unintended consequences often exerts its punishment. Sometimes adverse consequences remain unimagined for months or even years. Fortunately, when we discover a long-term negative, we have time to prevent it. When it is sudden or undiscovered, we may suffer greatly.
- They may result in an escalating zero-point. When the public gets used to some inconvenient order, then the next order may be easier to tolerate. The government is slowly warming the water intending to slowly boil us frogs. We get used to wearing a cloth mask, then they say wear two, then they say it must be a surgical mask, then it must be indoors and outdoors, then maybe we should all wear gloves and disposable shoes, perhaps shaving our heads is necessary. Every order from on high becomes the new base of acceptable orders and eventually we find a raging dictatorship, with governors and presidents deciding what we can buy in the grocery or home improvement store. Give a control freak authority, and you will never satisfy that control freak.
It would be easy to illustrate each of these reasons with numerous examples from the past year or years. It seems to me that the governments grow more involved in our lives in ways that restrict our freedoms. When states become intolerable, some of us can move to other states. Moving to another country is very difficult for most of us, and where would we go? When a town or county gets too big for its britches, we can move to another town, or we can choose to fight city hall. Fighting the state or the federal government is not so easy. We shouldn’t have to fight them. They should respect We the people, and just tell us what they know, allowing us to decide what is best. The only mandate should be: do no harm to others.