Interview with Dr. Tom G. Palmer – Students for Liberty Germany

Governments around the world are taking several measures to tackle the pandemic and ensure the safety of their citizens. But what is the impact of these controversial measures on our individual freedom? How should libertarians and liberals act during these hard times? Dr. Tom G. Palmer, Executive Vice President for International Programs at the Atlas Network and senior fellow at the Cato Institute discussed the aftermath of the pandemic in an interview with SFL Germany’s Regional Director Adam Mazik.

During this ongoing crisis, both, the left and the right have demonized globalism and labeled capitalism as a failed system. To Dr. Palmer this is only ideological overreach, with actors on both sides trying to justify their prior beliefs. Pandemics used to be regular events in human history, but as we have become wealthier, our economies freer and more intertwined with fading travel and trade barriers, pandemics have become a less frequent concern for human survival. 

Dr. Palmer explains that many of the difficulties that the USA is facing right now, are due to poor public health policy and incompetent government management, and not so because of market failures; unlike the cases of Germany or South Korea, the private sector has been deliberately forbidden to develop testing for Covid-19. The FDA and CDC have created a state monopoly that couldn’t cope with the demand. The government-imposed impediments to private product providers and private laboratories have just slowed down innovation. The fact that there are four government agencies regulating respirators creates a bureaucratic nightmare for private providers.

But for Dr. Palmer not all of the decisions taken by the government were counterproductive, during extraordinary conditions, extraordinary measures can apply. But it is essential that these measures still follow the rule of law. Dr. Palmer states that quarantine during these times is not a ‘nanny state’ regulation since it is not about protecting you from yourself but rather protecting more vulnerable individuals and stopping people from being vectors for the contagious disease. These decisions entail certain risks themselves, since we can’t be certain that once the pandemic is over, the government will repeal all these measures. This is the reason why we, as liberals, should stay vigilant for the even more dangerous pandemic that will follow: the pandemic of authoritarianism.  We can’t be certain yet about which measures implemented around the globe have been the most efficient to fight back the pandemic. But we can surely discuss what fuelled it: Chinese authoritarianism. For Dr. Palmer, the oppressive Chinese regime deserves some blame, it oppressed information and punished doctors that tried to spread the severity of the disease. But it is important to differentiate between criticism towards the Chinese government and racism against the Chinese population. The attempt to demonize a whole culture is not only a wrong way to respond to the pandemic, but it is simply disgusting, states Dr. Palmer.

While populists in all countries fed from people’s fear in order to gain more power (i.e. Orban in Hungary), it’s our duty as libertarians and liberals to be on watch and become more active in our civil society. Liberals should be the ones that provide constructive solutions to the debate, the ones that fight back the growing forms of collectivism. Dr. Palmer appeals to the younger generations to take the lead and demonstrate that without government intrusion the civil society can care for the more vulnerable and ones in need. 

Watch the entire interview on Youtube: https://youtu.be/k-l1gPndN14 

The article was first published in German at PEACE LOVE LIBERTY.

About the Author

Juan D. Estevez

Juan D. Estevez is a Local Coordinator of European Students for Liberty, a FEE Campus Ambassador, and studies political sciences and business administration at the Goethe University in Frankfurt.

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