"Bootleggers and Baptists"

The below is taken from the Mises article The “Bootleggers and Baptists” of the Coronavirus Crisis by Darren Brady Nelson

—<Quote begins>—

Comparing the coronavirus’s death toll to that of related pandemics over the past one hundred years provides much-needed historical context for the outbreak. As of March 15, the death toll for coronavirus was 63 in the US and nearly 6,500 globally. However, death rates are unreliably high at 1.9 and 3.8 percent, respectively, because testing has so far been relatively low (and thus the denominator is unreliably small). By contrast, in America and the world the 2009 swine flu killed 12,000 and 300,000, respectively; the 1968 Hong Kong flu killed 100,000 and 1,000,000; and the 1918 Spanish Flu, 600,000 and 40,000,000. The dramatic decline in deaths over the past century is a very good reason for optimism.

<…snippo…>

In “Coronacrisis and Leviathan,” Austrian school economist Peter Klein recently referred to Robert Higgs’s seminal book Crisis and Leviathan, reminding us that:

The expanded role taken on by the state during [a crisis] remain[s] largely in place once the crisis passe[s], leading to a “ratchet effect.”

Only time will tell whether history will repeat itself here and to what extent. Before anything can get ratcheted up and locked in, the alarm must be sounded and a crisis sold to the public by what public choice school economist Bruce Yandle called the “Baptists and Bootleggers.” Yandle originally wrote about this in 1983 and then wrote a retrospect in 1999:

Bootleggers, you will remember, support Sunday closing laws that shut down all the local bars and liquor stores. Baptists support the same laws and lobby vigorously for them. Both parties gain, while the regulators are content because the law is easy to administer….Politicians need resources in order to get elected. Selected members of the public can gain resources through the political process, and highly organized groups can do that quite handily. The most successful ventures of this sort occur where there is an overarching public concern to be addressed (like the problem of alcohol) whose “solution” allows resources to be distributed from the public purse to particular groups or from one group to another (as from bartenders to bootleggers). (1983)

Baptists point to the moral high ground and give vital and vocal endorsement of laudable public benefits promised by a desired regulation. Baptists flourish when their moral message forms a visible foundation for political action. Bootleggers are much less visible but no less vital. Bootleggers, who expect to profit from the very regulatory restrictions desired by Baptists, grease the political machinery with some of their expected proceeds. (1999)

Conclusion

So, paraphrasing Yandle in the context of this “coronacrisis”:

1. The most successful ventures of this sort (i.e., this coronacrisis) occur where there is an overarching public concern to be addressed (like the problem of coronavirus pandemic), whose “solution” allows resources to be distributed from the public purse to particular groups, such as the public-private partnership, or P3, that was a large part of the announced Trump national emergency response, or from one group to another (e.g., profit opportunities from skeptical to alarmist media).

2. Baptists virtue signal and give vital and vocal endorsement (through traditional and social media) of the laudable public benefits promised by a desired government intervention. Baptists such as those in the mainstream media flourish when their moral message (against selfish individualism and choice) forms a visible foundation for political action (by allegedly unselfish and public-spirited officials and woke corporates).

3. Bootleggers are much less visible but no less vital (and often publicly play the part of Baptists as well, most notably in the media). Bootleggers expect to profit from the very restrictions (and favors or handouts) desired by Baptists both ex ante, as those in the media do, and ex post, as those in the health bureaucracy do. Those in the worlds of anticapitalistic academia, activism, elections, and politics will benefit handsomely as well.

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Well, the Baptists are powerless and irrelevant now — exactly the ‘place of safety’ where they always wanted to be — so we get these power-seeking secularist moralizing collectivists instead.

Distasteful and ugly, but not as repulsive to God as Christians posing as more righteous than the One who made wine to celebrate a wedding.

(No, I can’t believe it either.)

Also, the frantic reaction is rather understandable: Our Leaders can’t say anything to God – having despised Him so consistently, for decades now.

So now, full of fear and night terrors, they spook and scream and thrash at shadows, using all the Unquestioned Power of State Authority to kill the boogeyman… and causing far more economic damage than the virus alone would have.

Even when factoring in the older men actually killed by the virus — real lives, real deaths, real losses — the politicians merely make it much worse, all to reward the shadowy ‘bootleggers’ who are going to benefit handsomely by the flood of money and power coming their way.

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