Whatever your feelings about the right response to the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are that what you're actually doing was dictated to you by government officials at one level or another. It's equally likely that you have no idea what costs you'll ultimately face as a result of those mandates from above or because of promised subsidies and economic interventions.
Across the country, political figures are racing to do somethinganything!so long as it's mandatory for you and your neighbors. And they're pleased to offer showers of magic money borrowed from the future to pick up some or all of the costs.
Who knew that a virus would threaten to turn the Land of the Free into a command society where what we do is directed and paid for by the state?
"I'm calling on the Federal Government to nationalize the medical supply chain," Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced on Sunday. "The Federal Government should immediately use the Defense Production Act to order companies to make gowns, masks and gloves."
Cuomo joined a chorus of voices including CNN's Jake Tapper and MSNBC's Kyle Griffin asking President Trump to follow up on his invocation of the dusty, Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which gave the government Soviet-style power over the economy in order to fight communism.
But why should the government start bossing private businesses around when these businesses are already scrambling to meet the massive demand for medical equipment driven by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Industrial giant 3M, which makes much-sought N95 masks, has already doubled output to 100 million units per month. Its efforts are being supplemented by fashion industry designers and manufacturers switching from fashion-forward clothes to medical supplies to meet massive demand.
Distillers, who have alcohol to spare, are stepping step into the gap to manufacture hand sanitizer, which is disappearing from shelves as fast as it's restocked (the only help they seem to need is regulators getting out of the way).
Ford and General Motors have announced plans to reopen car factories currently closed by the pandemic in order to manufacture ventilators to help critical-care COVID-19 patients. They're working with existing manufacturers to increase capacity using existing designs.
Some of the more interesting responses are the decentralized ones meeting peculiar local needs. That includes the hospitals and clinics working with their communities to share plans for masks that people can sew at home. It also means the Italian 3D-printer companyone of many such small, responsive firms responding to the crisisthat stepped up to supply components when a local hospital ran short of valves for connecting respirators to oxygen masks.
Nationalization of the medical supply chain, as Governor Cuomo demands, would replace a normal marketplace (well, normal-ish, considering the already considerable government intervention in medicine) of shifting incentives, responsive prices and supplies, and unplanned innovation with a single purchaser. That purchaserthe governmentwill also decide which lucky recipients get what, and the cost to the end user.