Paul Krugman explains why Ayn Rand's libertarianism is absolutely deadly

Paul Krugman explains why Ayn Rand's libertarianism is absolutely deadly
Ayn Rand

During the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump and many of his Republican allies have not only downplayed the severity of the pandemic — they have also vehemently opposed social distancing restrictions, mask wearing and other measures meant to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Liberal economist Paul Krugman discusses that mindset this week in his New York Times column, slamming it as "libertarianism gone bad" and the toxic influence of the late right-wing author Ayn Rand.

"If you look at what Republican politicians are saying as the pandemic rips through their states," Krugman explains, "you see a lot of science denial. Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota has gone full Trump — questioning the usefulness of masks and encouraging potential superspreader events…. But you also see a lot of libertarian rhetoric — a lot of talk about 'freedom' and 'personal responsibility.'"

Noting the autumn surge in COVID-19 infections that is occurring across the U.S., Krugman writes, "Donald Trump's disastrous leadership is, of course, an important factor. But I also blame Ayn Rand — or, more generally, libertarianism gone bad, a misunderstanding of what freedom is all about."

Krugman agrees with libertarians that there are many times when the government needs to butt out and mind its own business. But when a pandemic poses so great a threat to public health, Krugman argues, it isn't government overreach to encourage social distancing or ask someone to wear a mask in public.

"Many things should be matters of individual choice," Krugman argues. "The government has no business dictating your cultural tastes, your faith or what you decide to do with other consenting adults. But refusing to wear a face covering during a pandemic, or insisting on mingling indoors with large groups, isn't like following the church of your choice. It's more like dumping raw sewage into a reservoir that supplies other people's drinking water."

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide and over 223,600 in the United States — and some health officials fear that the worst is yet to come if the pandemic follows a path similar to that of the 1918/1919 Spanish flu pandemic, which went from bad to worse during its second wave. Whatever happens this winter, COVID-19 has already killed a staggering number of people. And in light of all the misery the novel coronavirus has inflicted, Krugman stresses, it is hardly unreasonable to ask Americans to take precautions.

"Many prominent figures still don't seem to understand, or aren't willing to understand, why we should be practicing social distancing," Krugman explains. "It's not primarily about protecting ourselves — if it were, it would indeed be a personal choice. Instead, it's about not endangering others. Wearing a mask may provide some protection to the wearer, but mostly, it limits the chance that you'll infect other people…. Trump may complain that 'all you hear is COVID, COVID, COVID.' The fact, however, is that the current path of the pandemic is terrifying — and we desperately need leadership from politicians who will take it seriously."

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