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Lockdowns and Political Realignment

Summary:
A few days ago the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed of mine, on the new Christmas restrictions that the Italian government passed for coping with Covid19. Here’s a link (gated). I am not a fan of the restrictions. Italians are no longer free to move through the country; they may travel only within their respective regions or between regions rated as having a similar risk status. Regions are classified according a “color code”, depending from their infection rate and an assessment for their healthcare capabilities and response. On the webpage of Istituto Bruno Leoni, you can see the “barometer of liberty”: how constitutional rights are curtailed in different areas, and how the situation has changed over time. No region is free of restrictions and we have a national

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A few days ago the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed of mine, on the new Christmas restrictions that the Italian government passed for coping with Covid19. Here’s a link (gated).

I am not a fan of the restrictions. Italians are no longer free to move through the country; they may travel only within their respective regions or between regions rated as having a similar risk status. Regions are classified according a “color code”, depending from their infection rate and an assessment for their healthcare capabilities and response. On the webpage of Istituto Bruno Leoni, you can see the “barometer of liberty”: how constitutional rights are curtailed in different areas, and how the situation has changed over time. No region is free of restrictions and we have a national curfew. Movie theaters, theaters, and gyms are closed everywhere; most schools and all universities have adopted a regime of remote teaching.

The government is forecasting that in a matter of days, since the contagion situation is improving, all regions will be “yellow” (the lower level or risk) but they’ll be all treated as red (the higher level of risk). Between December 20th and January 6th nobody will be able to leave their own regional territory. On top of that, on December 25th and 26th and on January 1st, regardless of the level of risk in their region, Italians will be confined to their respective municipalities.

Lockdowns and Political Realignment

I was impressed by the comments by WSJ readers, and found rather amusing the one that pointed out it was clear I wasn’t a good Catholic, since I did not figure out that Midnight Mess should end 3,5 hours ahead of the usual time and not 2 (indeed, I did not account for people going back to their places). More generally speaking, however, from comments and Twitter I got the impression that the people sympathizing with my irritation were more right-leaning.

For once, I do not think that this has to do with the WSJ readership. In the last few months, people critical of lockdowns and many other Covid19 restrictions tended to be mostly from the right. The left has been generally supporting restrictions. Perhaps some left-wingers (the cosmopolitan or “well-read” left?) are more confident in expert judgment than conservatives are, re perhaps because the discussion has been framed as a conflict between “health and the economy” and do-gooders of all persuasions couldn’t possibly side with the economy.

Before Covid19, I was beginning to believe those who were foretelling a political realignment (for example, the always insightful Steve Davies) were right. The old coalition between conservative leaning and  libertarian leaning people was about to collapse, after Trumpism and Brexit. Many distinguished between “anywheres” and “somewheres-” people with roots and people with cosmopolitan attitudes, country and city. Identity politics was also making things more complicated, but seemed a force to reckon with – and, for the few libertarians, to compromise with.

Has the pandemic changed that? Will Covid19 be a defining moment, politically speaking? If so, what about political realignment? Will lockdowns and restrictions become the defining issues, dividing us politically according to our degree of enthusiasm for them? It seems to me that people on the conservative side were both more skeptical of experts and more hostile to restrictions to their own personal liberty. Is this an attitude libertarians share? Will it affect the way in which any of us sees herself politically? Or we will all be so eager to forget about Covid19 that we will go back to the same old political agreements and disagreements we had before.

Alberto Mingardi
Mingardi, one of the rising stars of European libertarianism, is the founder and Director General of the Italian free-market think tank, Instituto Bruno Leoni. His areas of interest include the history of economic thought and antitrust and healthcare systems. He is particularly well known for popularizing the work of past scholars under-appreciated by today’s libertarians. Currently an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, Mingardi has also worked with the Heritage Foundation, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Acton Institute, and the Centre for a New Europe.

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