By Caleb Crosby, API President & CEO
When Georgia’s governor announced that the state would allow some non-essential businesses to reopen, everyone had an opinion. What I heard and read most often, however, was how his lifting of restrictions was, “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
I see a glimmer of hope in Governor Ivey’s recently issued “Safer at Home Order” as it lessens some restrictions on individuals, families, and businesses, but we must do more to quickly return to a sense of normalcy, normalcy which is rooted in individual liberty and free choice.
Friends, having the freedoms granted to us by our Creator, recognized by our founding fathers, and protected by our Constitution, is not irresponsible.
It’s not hard to see why people might think so, though. It seems that over time, culture has disconnected the relationships between freedom, safety and responsibility.
Freedom and safety are inversely related. The more choices you have the more likely you are to be impacted by the consequences of those choices. The consequences could be abundantly good or disastrously bad, but the freedom to make those choices is key.
Responsibility for consequences has to reside with the one making the choice.
If you have the freedom to make a financial, health or spiritual choice, you must be responsible and accountable for the consequences of those choices. You can’t make bad health choices and expect to be shielded from the impact of those decisions. Likewise, if you are an entrepreneur and your business does well, you should be the primary benefactor from that success.
Unfortunately, culture has ceded some freedoms in the quest for safety/security.
The government has become the one making more choices for us and now bears more of the responsibility for them. Think of the explosion in bureaucratic regulations over the last 50 plus years and the resultant need for more and more administrators to keep us in compliance by limiting our choices so we don’t “hurt ourselves.” With time this mindset becomes presumptive: “if the government still allows this choice, it must not be harmful, right?”
This is not how we should live.
The government does not and should not have the primary responsibility for your health. And that is a good thing. The more responsibility for our well-being that we sacrifice to the government, the less free we, the people, become.
And for what? At best, the illusion of safety?
The government does not infringe on our right to eat a dozen donuts every day. This is a freedom we have.
Soon enough, whether it is in two weeks or the month after next, the government will return our right to eat out at restaurants, go to the movies, and congregate in larger numbers again.
Allowing these things is not irresponsible.
In fact, the main duty of our government is to protect these fundamental rights.
The very fact we are depending on the government to “return” our rights is problematic. The government does not give us our rights, it only protects them; the government cannot “take” or “give back” that which doesn’t belong to it.
Governor Kemp and others are not forcing businesses to open and accept customers just as they do not force people to eat twelve Krispy Kremes. What the government of Georgia is saying, and what Governor Ivey is saying as well, although measured, is that the burden of responsibility should be back on the people where it belongs.
So, when our health and that of our family and friends is chiefly our responsibility again, how should we act? Should we do everything the government says is legal?
We must take our freedoms and actually be responsible with them.
Look at the data and infection rates in your county and city and determine what’s best for you. Maybe hold off on going to the gym for a bit? If you’re a small business owner, find creative ways to encourage social distancing in your store. If you’re a pastor, consider ways to start in smaller groups before congregating together fully as new cases continue to fall. In other circumstances, if you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, for example, this could be an opportunity to help stimulate the economy by getting back to work or by serving those in the community who are most vulnerable.
America is built on the idea that individuals, not the government, are best suited to determine which freedoms they should exercise and how, and in when to be cautious with those freedoms.
The truth is, regardless of what the government says, it is still up to us to make our own decisions of what is best for us, our families, and our communities as we look toward getting back to normal.
And we know that day is coming.
Things will be, in some fashion or another, normal again.
There is a lot at stake here. Thomas Jefferson may have said it best when he said, “We act not for ourselves but for the whole human race. The event of our experiment is to show whether man can be trusted with self-government.”
In that vein we must remember that during this interim it is our responsibility, not the government’s, to use our freedom in a way that is responsible and furthers the continued success of our state and nation.
Caleb Crosby, a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, including a stint at the White House, has been president of Alabama Policy Institute since 2013. API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to free markets, limited government, and strong families, learn more at www.alabamapolicy.org.