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COVID-19 is being used as a cover to constrict freedom across the world

Across the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen a staggering expansion in government power over the individual. Here are a couple of examples:

A recent report by Freedom House, a think tank that “conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights” paints the big picture. “Based on a survey of 398 journalists, civil society workers, activists, and other experts as well as research on 192 countries by Freedom House’s global network of analysts”, the report, titled ‘Democracy under Lockdown: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Global Struggle for Freedom‘ says:

The COVID-19 pandemic has fueled a crisis for democracy around the world. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, the condition of democracy and human rights has grown worse in 80 countries. Governments have responded by engaging in abuses of power, silencing their critics, and weakening or shuttering important institutions, often undermining the very systems of accountability needed to protect public health.

The research strongly supports the hypothesis that the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the 14 years of consecutive decline in freedom…

Sadly, the United States is one of those countries where the condition of democracy and human rights has grown worse, as the figure below shows.

The report has some strong criticism for the Trump administration. But, going through the report’s “five aspects of accountability that have been weakened: checks against abuses of power, protection of vulnerable groups, transparency and anti-corruption, free media and expression, and credible elections”, we can find reason to be concerned about Minnesota specifically.

Under ‘Abuse of Power’, the report’s authors note:

Governments are also using the pandemic as a justification to grant themselves special powers beyond what is reasonably necessary to protect public health. They have then exploited these emergency powers to interfere in the justice system, impose unprecedented restrictions on political opponents, and undermine crucial legislative functions.

Much of this is true in Minnesota. Gov. Walz declared a state of emergency on March 13th, 225 days ago, which permits him to rule by decree. This is despite the fact that the goal he set out to accomplish at the start of that period was achieved in April.

On March 25th, Gov. Walz said:

The objective of everything we’re doing here is, it’s too late to flatten the curve as we talked about, the testing regimen was not in place soon enough for us to be able to do that, or expand it enough. So what our objective is now is to move the infection rate out, slow it down, and buy time so that the resources of the ICU and the hospitals and the things that we’re going to talk about today can be stood up to address that.

On April 29th, he reported:

I today can comfortably tell you that, when we hit our peak — and it’s still projected to be about a month away — if you need an ICU bed and you need a ventilator, you will get it in Minnesota.

That was at a time when the surge was forecast to come on June 29th with 3,397 Minnesotans needing ICU treatment for Covid-19. The state currently has 163 Covid-19 patients requiring ICU treatment. Yet the state of emergency goes on.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a bleak medical episode. It is also turning out to be a bleak episode for freedom.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 

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