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Lockdowns Destroyed the Democracy of the Marketplace

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By: Harald Eustachius Tomintz “We’re closed.” These are terrible words to see in front of your favorite small shops and services when you are in the mood to purchase something you desire, or ready to pay for something you wish to avail of. This feeling is made even worse emotionally when you know the closures are forced and permanent, and that you sadly and ultimately could not do anything about it. It may not be the case that these businesses were bad and died a natural death, and may in fact be quite the contrary. You are probably a dedicated customer, and one among many that happily voted to keep those enterprises running by paying for what they offered, because you and others genuinely liked them. These businesses could have thrived under normal circumstances. However, when a

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By: Harald Eustachius Tomintz

“We’re closed.”

These are terrible words to see in front of your favorite small shops and services when you are in the mood to purchase something you desire, or ready to pay for something you wish to avail of. This feeling is made even worse emotionally when you know the closures are forced and permanent, and that you sadly and ultimately could not do anything about it.

It may not be the case that these businesses were bad and died a natural death, and may in fact be quite the contrary. You are probably a dedicated customer, and one among many that happily voted to keep those enterprises running by paying for what they offered, because you and others genuinely liked them. These businesses could have thrived under normal circumstances.

However, when a business was one of the casualties of regulations that limited its ability to operate, and when you were forced to stay at home and became unable to spend on it as often as before, you were essentially denied the ability to vote for its continued existence.

A diverse and plentiful number of micro, small and medium enterprises makes up the bulk of any healthy economy. It is normal to see that such entities comprise the vast majority of business activities in countries around the world. The economy has to thrive at different levels to cater to the tastes and needs of people from all walks of life. This natural phenomenon has been demonstrated consistently over the course of human history.

These days, the depressing news that hits consumers around the world is that of the mass closure of smaller businesses. These would be last seen offering final services that could not even be given fully due to limitations imposed upon them. These are the stores that found themselves severely hampered by the policies governing the economy created in the wake of the pandemic, through no fault of their own. While some undoubtedly survived by adapting to circumstances, as competent entrepreneurial entities should, many did not.

If a business is limited, for example, to only be able to serve an arbitrarily small number of customers at any given time, how can it hope to get by as it normally would? Yet such limitations exist around the world, decreed in the name of stopping the spread of COVID-19. For example, shops that used to be able to tend to twenty customers at once could have had their maximum number of potential clients reduced to just five at a time.

What this does in practice for countries with large populations is that customers would sometimes have to line up outside shops or gather in large crowds for a long time anyway due to space limitations. In that case, was the objective of the policy, presumably to create social distancing, successfully met? That said, these cases are supposed to be the lucky ones. Some businesses could not even reopen at all due to other such restrictions that worked unfavorably against them.

Disasters and market fluctuations happen, sure, and these sometimes trigger the closure and death of certain businesses. Risk and uncertainty are always integral parts of lived experiences, and we make decisions and judgements based on our perception of them. But the very problem posed here is that closures enabled through harsh restrictions could have been avoided entirely. Some business deaths were preventable, and it would be a disservice to simply blame everything on the pandemic.

In these times, where consumers are stuck at home and unable to spend on the goods and services they would otherwise like to avail of, people are essentially barred from the democracy of markets. On the consumer side, it has become difficult to patronize favorite businesses as in pre-pandemic times. On the producer side, it has also become difficult to provide goods and services in a way that allows for continued and efficient operations in a “pandemic market”.

With many small businesses tragically and irreversibly gone —and more to follow suit as countries continue to scramble to get their acts together— we need to create a healthy and competitive global economy. We should start by remembering the importance of enabling market democracy.

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Mises Institute
The Mises Institute, founded in 1982, teaches the scholarship of Austrian economics, freedom, and peace. The liberal intellectual tradition of Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray N. Rothbard (1926-1995) guides us. Accordingly, we seek a profound and radical shift in the intellectual climate: away from statism and toward a private property order.

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