“and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.” — Matthew 26:15
Greg Abbott was determined yesterday to keep Texas in the national news cycle. He announced that the mandatory mask order would be lifted next week. Naturally, individual businesses can continue to mandate masks and individual counties can as well (for now). At the same time, he lifted restrictions on the amount of people businesses can accommodate.
At first glance, it seems this was a knee-jerk reaction in the Trumpian tradition. Why allow yourself to be the butt of jokes for something that happened last week when you can create a whole new situation out of whole cloth? The upside is that some people forget about last week’s scandal. The downside is that now there’s a whole new scandal to consider.
That being said, this isn’t really a scandal. It’s just bad judgment and it’s the same bad judgment we have been dealing with throughout his tenure as governor. People have been doing this for thousands of years. We referenced the Judas story above. The story of Faust is not quite as old, but it’s similar just the same. We are willing to make sacrifices for the things we want.
We lost 80 people in the freeze and those deaths were mostly preventable. Blame it on windmills if you want, but it mostly goes back to unchecked capitalism. ErDot could have weatherized the grid, but that costs money and that would eat into profits. There wasn’t enough government regulation to force them to that. If we’ve learned anything, we’ve learned that most businesses will not always do the right thing unless they are forced to. This is especially true if the right thing runs counter to profit motive.
So, the decision to lift the mask mandate is not necessarily a direct reaction to the freeze. It’s an extension of that mode of thinking. It will open the state for Spring Break and will certainly make baseball fans happy that they can attend Astros and Rangers games. Great. So, tourism dollars will roll in and businesses will do better in general. We also will see a spike in positive tests, spikes in hospitalizations, and spikes in deaths.
The numbers won’t be as neat as the numbers on freeze deaths. After all, we could predict a change in numbers as holidays approach like St. Patrick’s Day and Spring Break. We are also seeing more and more people being vaccinated. So, the statistical models of positives, hospitalizations, and deaths would have fluctuated one way or another anyway.
Libertarians (which modern Republicans are a lot closer to) view the world as a world where government has little role. The market can decide what’s right and wrong. Government is ineffective at making our lives better. When you put a Libertarian in charge they make both of these visions happen. Government becomes ineffective because we don’t prioritize making it effective. We don’t hire good people. We don’t invest in it. It becomes an afterthought.
The sordid underbelly of this ideology is the thinking behind how we regulate (or don’t regulate) private business. The public face calls for the invisible hand of the market to keep unbridled avarice in check. The private face knows that will never really happen. Depending on the optimism of the person, they may believe that most will benefit anyway or they simply don’t care.
The Declaration of Independence begins by asserting that governments are instituted among men (and women) to protect everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (or property if you are a John Locke fan). The constitution provides that government is there to provide for the common defense of its citizens. Sometimes that means protecting citizens from enemies foreign and domestic. Sometimes that means protecting citizens from themselves.
Some people may think it’s a good thing if we descend into an Ayn Rand dystopian future, but that’s not who we were called to be. If public health takes a back seat to profit motive then you end up like Judas holding your 30 pieces of silver. Sure, you’re 30 silver pieces richer, but at what cost? It sure wasn’t worth it for him and it won’t be worth it now either.