Coronavirus highlights the power of the market


March 24, 2020 10:50AM

In times of fear and uncertainty, all people crave is answers and some sense of control. You can see it in the reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic, with people rushing to the store to buy toilet paper and face masks. Also, does anyone else find our sudden obsession with raw chicken and ground beef strange? The worker at my local Kroger meat counter told me, “Man, fresh chicken is as rare as gold right now. And it’s not like it stays fresh that long.” Agreed.

Sadly, advocates for bigger government are waiting in the wings to give you that sense of security, but only if you give them control first. In fact, my former mayor from my time in Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel, once famously quipped, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The quote has become synonymous with governments using the fears and uncertainty of people to grant themselves extraordinary power.

Certainly, there have been examples of big government responses to COVID-19, many of which are wholly unrelated to any public health concerns. Some localities have stomped on the 2nd Amendment by banning new concealed carry permits or have given themselves the power to stop gun sales altogether. Perhaps the craziest example is the state of New York using prison labor to compete with private companies by manufacturing hand sanitizer, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo decrying “Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay.” 

The good news is we’re seeing many governments take the opposite approach by slashing regulation and economic protectionism, allowing the free market to do what it always does: adapt and innovate. At the federal level, the FDA has allowed states to take responsibility for testing kits developed and distributed within their borders; testing kits no longer have to be solely sent to the CDC; and time limits for truck drivers have been relaxed if delivering medical supplies. 

At the state level, multiple states have issued executive orders cutting regulations around telemedicine relaxing certificate of need (CON) laws that restrict access to beds and services that are needed now more than ever, and expediting licensing applications or even recognizing out-of-state license holders.

In fact, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee recently signed an executive order that does several of these very things: 

  • It allows out of state licensed medical professionals to come here and operate without a Tennessee license if treating COVID-19;
  • It gives nurse practitioners and physician assistants who are already qualified to prescribe medications more flexibility and less oversight for quicker response times;
  • It waives CONs that limit the number of hospital beds in the state; and
  • It relaxes regulations on trucking for transporting medical supplies and testing centers.

If most of these regulations are designed for “public health and safety” and we temporarily repeal them to help fight a health epidemic, what’s the rationale for keeping them in “healthy” and normal times?

We’re also seeing innovative ways that private companies are responding to help stop the pandemic that most of us would never would of thought. Distilleries and perfume manufacturers retooled existing capital to manufacture hand sanitizer.  Auto manufactures have done the same with ventilators. How could any bureaucrat be able to come up with these ideas and implement them so quickly? The answer is they couldn’t and they shouldn’t.

In unusual times like today, it is refreshing to see some leaders use this opportunity to lean on the power of the free market to solve this crisis and highlight how many of our laws don’t protect the public. Perhaps Rahm Emmanuel wasn’t so wrong after all, at least as far as using opportunities, just in this case using freedom and free markets to quell this pandemic.