Regulatory power, political power and lockdowns
2 min read

Regulatory power, political power and lockdowns

No matter which team you think is right, both have a lot of work to do if they want their approach locked in for the longer term.
Towels, 2007.

Let's start with the obvious: The end-the-lockdown folks will win. Not all at once and not consistently. But eventually? Things open back up because enough people decide we're over the worst of it or because most people didn't agree to a public-health suicide pact.

The lockdown runs on regulatory power -- rules built up over decades. Politicians like regulatory power -- it can be turned on like a light switch with little or no democratic feedback in the moment. And bureaucrats love it because it gives them authority we once only invested in elected representatives.

The open-up movement runs on political power. Make enough noise and get enough politicians nervous? Shit gets done. Political power is more transient, fickle and opaque than regulatory power, but it's also a bigger threat to those it's wielded against. Most politicians may be scared of 'Rona and their wrecked economies, but they're *existentially* scared of angry voters.

If the virus returns seasonally or another threat rises in the future? Both sides need a long-game plan.

Those brandishing regulatory power need plans to pay (financially and socially) for their decisions. If the next outbreak occurs during a deep recession? The helicopter money and low interest rates we're relying on right now might not be available.

Can you press an authoritarian public-safety regime without providing economic relief? What happens to your regulatory framework when large swaths of the country openly rebel against it? No one in favor of the lockdown (or lockdown-related regulatory power) should hope we have to find out.

And those fighting to open things up? They need to stay engaged and more permanently rein in the regulatory power of the state at every level. Government is always going to have broad powers in the name of public health. But powers without a plan and without the imminent threat of political pain if that plan overreaches is a recipe for overreach.

No matter which team you think is right, both have a lot of work to do if they want their approach locked in for the longer term.