Lockdowns, State Governors, and Decentralization

On May 13, 2021, the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, announced that it would lifting its masking recommendations for both indoor and outdoor activities for those that have already received COVID-19 vaccines. As unassuming as this change in CDC guidelines may seem to anyone unacquainted with the context around this change, this shift in the CDC’s views on masking are very symbolic.

Previously, the CDC had remained obstinate that even those that had received vaccines still needed to wear masks, even though their risk for COVID-19 was very low and there was a correspondingly low likelihood that they would spread the disease. With this change of tune, the most visible aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the constant use of face masks, is now largely gone. For all intents and purposes, the pandemic is now over.

Why the change? Even through months of declining COVID infections and deaths, the CDC refused to budge on masking for those already vaccinated. Why the change now? During the announcement, CDC pointed to three studies in particular that they said convinced them to change their policies. All three of these studies were concerned with the efficaciousness of vaccines in halting both symptomatic and asymptomatic spread. However, multiple studies had already existed showing this to be the case from the US and Israel. Even more damning, CDC director Rochelle Walenksy admitted as much on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on March 29:

“And we have — we can kind of almost see the end. We`re vaccinating so very fast, our data from the CDC today suggests, you know, that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don`t get sick, and that it`s not just in the clinical trials but it`s also in real world data.”

So if the CDC already knew that those were vaccinated were not at any serious risk of spreading COVID-19, why were they still required to wear masks? The idea that this the CDC’s shift over masking is a result of new data is dubious at best.

If not a result of more information, what else might have motivated the CDC to finally free our faces? One convincing explanation is that the decision was a result of politics, and not of science. On September 25, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis lifted all COVID-related restrictions on businesses. Several months later, Texas Governor Greg Abbott followed suit. When both of these states reopened, predications of impending doom echoed throughout the media, prophesying huge spikes in COVID cases. Incontinently for the powers-that-be, this did not occur. COVID case numbers in both Florida and Texas stayed on course with ever other state, progressively trending downward over the course of several months.

Obviously, this presents a grave difficulty for the entire COVID narrative. Masks, social distancing, and lockdowns were all supposed to be necessary to keep COVID under control. However, both Florida and Texas appeared to be doing just fine in lieu of any of these measures. Even for the promulgators of this narrative, the continued normality of Texas and Florida were confusing. Anthony Fauci famously stated he “wasn’t sure” why cases hadn’t spike in Teas after the removal of the mask mandate.

How then, is this discrepancy between the COVID narrative and the facts on the ground to be explained? Predictably, it wasn’t. It was generally ignored, and whenever the issue was raised, the success was attributed to people still wearing masks even when not required to. Obviously, that explanation is quite unsatisfactory.

As Thomas Paine famously wrote in The Rights of Man, “Man can be kept ignorant, but he cannot be made ignorant.” In other words, you can keep information from people, but once they have it, you cannot tear it back from their grasp. This phenomenon directly applies to the cases of Texas and Florida; once people started to see that they were doing fine, they naturally started to question if any of these alleged necessary restrictions were actually necessary.

Obviously, we can’t know for certain why the CDC changed their policy on masks. The best we have, in absence of any direct source, is speculation. However, given the success stories of Texas and Florida in the absence of COVID lockdowns, combined with the resulting resentment around the idea of lockdowns growing the in minds of the American public, there is a strong case to be made that these factors played some sort of the role in the CDC’s policy changes.

If so, then Libertarians everywhere should take careful note. Here we have a concrete example of a blatant overreach of government authority being rebutted by state governors. The CDC recommended what policy states should follow, but did not directly force them to take their advice. States were left to decide their own policy on a state-by-state basis. It is only because of this model that lockdowns were probably ended sooner than would otherwise have been the case. If the CDC were directing policy from above in a centralized system, then this scenario would never have been possible in the first place.

In other words, liberty was restored as a result of political decentralization. In today’s world, Libertarians are often times desperate for any success at all in halting the predations of the state. Huge Federal budgets, endless wars overseas, and constant economic intervention make the Libertarian weary for any good news. Decentralization appears to be one of these precious few success stories.

This leads us to ask: should Libertarians embrace decentralization as a means to achieving a free society? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. Apart from the example of COVID restrictions, we have several other examples in recent memory of decentralization advancing the cause of human liberty.

The first such example is that of marijuana decriminalization. Libertarians recognize the damage that the “War on Drugs”, which is really just a war on drug-users, has done to countless communities across the country. As an extension of our belief in human liberty, Libertarians desire to see the usage of all drugs or narcotic substances legalized. Thankfully, we have seen progress on this front in the past few years, specifically as a result of states legalizing the recreational usage of marijuana. In 2012, both Colorado and Washington were famously the first states to legalize the drug, with many more states following over the years. As of the writing of this article, nineteen states have legalized its usage.

Even while this legalization process is slowly spreading throughout the nation, the DEA still recognizes marijuana to be a Schedule 1 drug, the highest such class a drug can be placed in. The Federal Government’s position on the usage of marijuana has not changed, even as states throughout the union begin to legalize its usage. This appears to be a clear-cut victory for decentralization. If states were dictated their drug policy from Washington D.C., there seems to be no chance any legalization would have taken place.

Another successful example of decentralization is that of “Right-to-Try” laws. As I have written previously, the FDA’s process of approving drugs for medical use is a very long and arduous journey. Any traveler wishing to traverse the entire process can expect anywhere from 7–12 years to be able to take a drug from concept to market. The FDA also had very strict protocols about drugs still in this process as well. If there was a drug in the approval process that had the potential to safe someone’s life, the FDA was very strict about whether or not that patient could receive that drug. More often than not, they would not receive it.

In 2014, Colorado was the first state to pass a “Right-to-Try” bill that recognized patients’ rights to try experimental drugs that could potentially be life-saving. Over the next few years, other states started to pass similar laws one-by-one. Eventually, a bill was passed on the Federal level and it was signed into law by President Trump in 2018.

Libertarians unreservedly support the right of self-ownership of each person’s body. If you wish to put a substance into your body, you should be able to do so. Thus, Libertarians should support any erosion of the FDA’s power of control over what people put into their own bodies. Given that this issue was first taken up by state legislatures, it is doubtful that action would have been taken on the Federal level. At the very least, it is likely it would have taken much longer.

While not an exhaustive examination, these two issues give us more evidence of decentralization’s success in advancing liberty. It should be noted that these examples are not trivial. For those affected by both the DEA’s “War on Drugs” and the FDA’s “War on Patients”, the extension of freedom to these individuals can be the difference between living a normal life or having it torn from them and placed in a cage by the state.

Decentralization is not an end-all be-all tool for Libertarians. However, it has a proven track record of success. Given the growth of the state over the last century, this is a rare and valuable quality. Libertarians have few strategies with any such track record. Decentralization has shown to work and efficacious in advancing liberty. Those results cannot be ignored. Decentralization looks to have helped to end the lockdowns. If properly used, who knows what else it may accomplish?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store