One of the more interesting facets of the coronavirus is that some people seem to have temporarily put off their ideological blinders and aren’t opposing policies and practices they would normally oppose. Right now, as I see it, libertarians, conservatives, and progressives/egalitarians advocate the following policies and practices meant to combat the virus:
- Libertarians: deregulate medical testing and information-sharing in the medical profession and private sector generally.
- Progressives: increase confidence in public health institutions and expand the social safety net.
- Conservatives: increase personal virtue in the form of better personal habits.
Right now, the wisdom of all three viewpoints is clearer than usual.
US labs now have limited permission to engage in new experimentation, and it looks like FDA regulation and controls will slow down the proliferation of effective testing. Libertarians have a point in stressing the ways in which regulation slow innovation and the spread of those benefits to the general public. Moreover, libertarians are generating new ideas, like awarding huge prizes for innovation related to stopping the virus.
The US is increasing public health spending and relying more on government agencies for social order, and we are suffering from a lack of trust in public institutions like the CDC, especially because it appears that the Trump administration slashed funding for the CDC’s pandemic response team, a grave error. Progressives are right to complain. And proposals to expand and strengthen the social safety net are currently far more bipartisan than they were just a few weeks ago.
US elites are also massively stressing the importance of personal virtue in the form of responsible personal habits as a way to secure the public good and make government more effective. Indeed, unless the public is prepared to exercise personal virtue in activities like washing their hands and engaging in social distancing, no amount of government policy is going to matter. This is a central insight of traditional “character counts” conservatism.
In my view, the coronavirus suggests that traditional conservatism is the most underrated of the three systems of thought at the moment.
Everyone is going to respond that their particular ideology has exceptions built in, so there’s no need for progressives to like deregulation generally, or for libertarians to like high state capacity generally. But the coronavirus reveals what we’re ready to tolerate under emergency conditions, and this suggests at least a partial rationale for adopting these policies after the virus subsides.
But the most important point is that we can see the need for different ideologies and diverse perspectives both in times of crisis and in ordinary daily life. Adherents of different perspectives can learn from each other. We are better when we can work as a diverse team.
The coronavirus has helped many of us remove our ideological blinders for a moment. Let’s use that opportunity to see further, together. Let’s beat this thing.