As the nation gradually exits COVID and heads back into regular operations, the climate is ripe with opportunity to consider questions regarding the merits of regulatory freedom. Throughout the country, states have taken different stances on how to best approach the pandemic.

Some, such as New York and California, instituted a strong lockdown policy that vastly expanded government control over social and economic activities, while others, such as Florida and South Dakota, took a more hands-off approach, ensuring that the principle of individual autonomy drove good social and economic policy. These differing approaches offer a unique opportunity to evaluate whether the government is necessary to solve all of society’s problems. History, free-market principles, and experience would certainly say that it is not.

For example, Brad Polumbo of the Foundation for Economic Education asserts the data is overwhelmingly in favor of free states over those states that locked down completely. For one, studies by The Lancet in July of 2020 and the Frontiers for Health in November of 2020 demonstrated that the stringency of COVID regulations showed no correlation with the numbers of COVID deaths within those states that promoted lockdowns. 

Instead, studies indicated that the stringency of COVID regulations led to great economic cost as businesses took significant financial hits. Social consequences have included an increase in suicides, domestic violence, and drug overdoses.

Meanwhile, when comparing lockdown states to those that took a more relaxed approach, the result is quite telling. In terms of unemployment, those states that have prioritized lockdowns have taken longer to return to normal than those that took a more relaxed position. On top of that, most states that took the hands-off approach are much better positioned with unemployment (about 3 percent) than those that took a strict lockdown approach.

On a practical level, the pandemic offered the opportunity to really put various philosophical and economic principles to the test. As the pandemic comes to a close, it is evident that mistakes were made. Not adhering to principles of economic and social freedom may have been one of those mistakes.  When making this kind of evaluation, hindsight is, of course, always going to be 20/20. However, the data demonstrates that moving forward, the best policy is that which adheres to limited government and prioritizes individual autonomy.

The Covid experience has only further demonstrated that there is no reason, pandemic or otherwise, that justifies government shutting down people’s lives and taking away their freedoms. As Mississippi and the nation at large return back to normal, it is critical that the protection of individual freedom and establishment of limited government ought to be the priority.