People of good faith can certainly disagree over the proper role of the government during a pandemic. But it’s hard to imagine how anyone could defend the overzealous and arbitrary restrictions included in Los Angeles’s new lockdown order.
“My message couldn’t be simpler,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said on Wednesday. “It’s time to hunker down. It’s time to cancel everything. And if it isn’t essential, don’t do it.”
The new year brings hope –– for vaccines and for stopping this pandemic.— MayorOfLA (@MayorOfLA) December 3, 2020
But here's the truth: we're in for a long, hard winter.
As the worst hits us, stay home as much as you can. Cancel any non-essential activities.
Hunker down, L.A. We'll get through this together. pic.twitter.com/6TkVsTfPzP
The mayor’s order institutes some of the most severe restrictions we’ve seen to date during this crisis. It orders people to stay in their homes, with a list of exceptions.
It bans “all public and private gatherings of any number of people from more than one household,” except for outdoor religious service and outdoor protests. This literally means that if you wanted to have a socially-distanced picnic with your mother (assuming you no longer live in her basement) that would be a crime.
The order also prohibits “all travel, including, without limitation, travel on foot, bicycle, scooter, motorcycle, automobile, or public transit is prohibited,” except for the listed exceptions. This has created some serious confusion. Reading this portion of the order literally would suggest that going for a walk, outside of some essential capacity, is now illegal. Yet, other parts of the order identify certain parks and trails as open for recreational exercise.
Many Los Angeles residents are confused as to whether their afternoon stroll is now a criminal offense.
Adding to the chaos, the sweeping order contains a lengthy list of exceptions that seem inconsistent, to say the least. It includes in its definition of essential activities straightforward exemptions for healthcare services, grocery stores, and the like. Yet the order also allows hair salons and malls to remain open while playgrounds are closed. It allows childcare services and “day camps” but leaves both public and private schools shuttered for in-person education.
And, of course, it includes an extremely broad exception for all government employees.
Eric Garcetti: “My message couldn’t be simpler”— Bri (@beenanuh) December 3, 2020
Me reading the “new/revised” stay at home orders: pic.twitter.com/UJUDZovz5R
The result is an untenable patchwork of restrictions that would prove difficult to comply with and aren't scientific or evidence-based.
If anything, the overzealous restrictions might backfire. Many people may, understandably enough, shrug their shoulders in the face of restrictions that seem so arbitrary and impossible to follow and stop taking other common-sense safety measures they would have otherwise taken of their own initiative.
But to be clear, the problem here is not some unique incompetence or malice on Garcetti’s part. Any government official who tries to dictate the inner minutiae of peoples’ lives from the detached offices of City Hall is doomed to create dysfunction.Any government official who tries to dictate the inner minutiae of peoples’ lives from the detached offices of City Hall is doomed to create dysfunction.
Why? Centralized decision-making doesn’t work, because only those closest to a given situation have the relevant knowledge and awareness to properly gauge the best outcome.
For example, a parent can certainly decide for themselves whether letting their child (kids are at almost zero risk from COVID-19) play on an empty playground during the pandemic is safe or not. When the government supersedes this decision making, you get dysfunctional and arbitrary results that would be comical if their consequences were not so destructive.
The fiasco in Los Angeles offers a painful reminder of the dysfunction and inconsistency that are sure to follow any attempt by government planners to strip individuals of their personal agency and liberty.