What is to be Done? The Rise of Hygiene Socialism and the Prospects for Liberty

Source: American Institute for Economic Research.

I like this piece for its invention of the term hygiene socialism, which seems useful to me. The writer notes that the concept is not new. Herbert Spencer described the same threat to liberty using similar language in 1851. The new phrase, however, is instantly meaningful to today’s libertarians and conservatives.

The writer doesn’t answer his own question, What is to be done? He refers us instead to Murray Rothbard’s 1977 essay, “Toward a Strategy for Libertarian Social Change.”

A summary of Rothbard might have been helpful, but perhaps it is enough just to have the new coinage. Hygiene socialism is necessarily as bad as every other variety of socialism, and for all the same reasons. To the extent that fear of Covid-19 distracts us from the risks to our political economy, hygiene socialism restores the right focus.

29 thoughts on “What is to be Done? The Rise of Hygiene Socialism and the Prospects for Liberty

  1. Isn’t it amazing that with so many kinds of “socialists” nibbling away at our “Liberty” for so many decades that the actual liberty enjoyed by ordinary people in our society has never been more robust. Never.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. “I don’t think you even understand the concept of Liberty.”

        Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea. But I do wonder about your extremist and doctrinaire understanding. Your citing such a trivial example being a loss of “Liberty” sort of raises the question . . . Are you serious?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. If you don’t have liberty at the most basic level, can you expect to have it when things get complicated?

          What is the justification for employing the force of government to protect us from a bad haircut?


          1. The marketplace is fully qualified to enforce competence, especially in the age of internet reputation services. If you get a back haircut. say so on Yelp.

            Even for the more complex professions, professional liability insurers are a better protector of quality than government.

            The purpose of requiring licensing of barbers is to suppress competition so established barbers can charge $14 for a haircut. Even in health professional licensing, the purpose is really to keep professionals from relocating to follow demand in the marketplace.


          2. Somehow, you miss the bigger picture of the hundreds of millions of people who have GAINED “Liberty” through the efforts of progressive forces working through the government. African-Americans have gone from slavery through living under petty apartheid and on to leading roles in our society. Women have gone from second-class non-citizen status to – now – the second highest office in the land. Senior citizens have gone from lives constrained by poverty and utter dependency to lives of financial security and “Liberty” through Social Security and Medicare. The disabled no longer face impassable obstacles and overt discrimination giving them greater “Liberty” to lead fulfilling lives. More recently, the many millions of people in the LGBT community have gone from the darkness and into the light where they too can enjoy the blessings of “Liberty.” All of these gains have been made over the strenuous opposition of people a lot like you – supposed loves of “Liberty.”

            But, I grant you. Cutting hair for pay requires a license. Oh, The Humanity!

            Liked by 1 person

          3. “You’re confusing Liberty with access to other people’s money and labor”

            Uh, no. I am not confused. You apparently are. Read that list again. The progress of Liberty that I cited and that people like you have opposed was not about the money of other people. It has been about advancing Liberty for ALL people and not just the privileged few at the top. You may think your Liberty is diminished because “urban” people and “feminazis” get to vote, but you are wrong. It isn’t.


          4. When people vote to consume more than they produce, you have a death spiral that has repeated itself scores of times.

            It it almost always started as an effort toward democracy, leading to people trying to vote for a living rather than produce for it.


          5. Poor Johnny One Note . . .

            What has the advancement of the Liberty of African-Americans, Latinos, Women, the Gay community and the disabled got to do with this economic “death spiral” you speak of?

            But on the topic you really want to rail about, here is an economic lesson for you. The economy is NOT a zero sum game.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I find the term troubling, as it illustrates something that has been disappointing among many of my Libertarian Party members. Too many of them proved to be only half libertarian.

    The essence of libertarianism is the rejection of the use of force to accomplish your ends. But that doesn’t mean only rejecting the use of force against me, it also requires that I do not use force against others.

    The whole issue of hygiene should never have become political. A mask mandate should never have been necessary as in a truly libertarian society we would all live our lives with a respect for others.

    If I am ill, I have no right to pass the illness on to others, either deliberately nor through carelessness. Infecting a person when you can avoid doing so is a use of force against them. Most of the precautions necessary to prevent spreading the disease are things a decent person would do without being required to.

    The marketplace can enforce most of the community measures again without force simply by empowering property owners to control what happens on their property. That’s why calling a business a ‘public accommodation’ was a bad idea. The property owner should be able to exclude anyone he chooses for any reason, including the failure to exercise due regard for the health of others.

    But I have lost a lot of friends this year because they do not understand that concept, It’s not supposed to be “Don’t tread on me” it’s supposed to be “Don’t tread on anyone”


    1. Coalescing my thoughts on the “pure” Libertarian perspective you espouse I’d only say that there is finer line between it and anarchy than you may think.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Federalist 51

        But Libertarians recognize that men are not angels, so some government is necessary. But for the same reason, power must be limited for those who govern.

        So, while we aren’t angels, the closer we can come to that level of personal integrity, the less government we need. and the further we are from angels, the less we can trust those who govern with power.

        The harm an individual who falls short of divinity can do is limited, but a government of devils is truly terrible, Which is, of course, why we must maintain the means for an exorcism.


        1. “… but a government of devils is truly terrible, Which is, of course, why we must maintain the means for an exorcism.”

          And elections are how we perform that rite.

          Unfortunately we have a president who revels in the attention, and the millions in cash generated, of vomiting pea soup, turning his head 360 and levitating above his tweet couch. And for that reason, we are going through a political wringer in the midst of a pandemic and economic disaster.

          (If the reader hasn’t seen “The Exorcist” movie, demonic possession is the clue.)

          Liked by 1 person

          1. “And elections are how we perform that rite.”

            But, but, but elections are rigged. Our only hope of preserving our Liberty is guns. And lots of them. Just ask Dr. Tabor or any Proud Boy.

            Liked by 2 people

          2. Armed violence after an election is apparently lauded by conservatives so long as they are the instigators.

            Pandemic hasn’t killed enough folks, let’s start shooting.

            Liked by 2 people

    2. RE: “The whole issue of hygiene should never have become political.”

      That’s actually why I think the term is useful: If socialism is undesirable, then hygiene is no excuse for it.

      I don’t see protesting socialism as a valid reason to refuse to wear a mask during a pandemic, but neither are failures of “social responsibility” valid reasons for the use of force by the state.


      1. “. . . valid reasons for the use of force by the state”

        Uh, out of curiosity, just how many extra deaths per week would justify a government “socialist” mandate to wear a mask in public. The penalty (“force by the state”) could be a fine similar to the fine for endangering others by running a stop sign.

        3,000 doesn’t seem to work for you. How about 5,000? 10,000? 50,000?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. RE: “The penalty (‘force by the state’) could be a fine similar to the fine for endangering others by running a stop sign.”

        I wouldn’t describe running a stop sign as a failure of social responsibility. Nor would I describe refusing to wear a mask in those terms. That, in fact, is part of the point of having a phrase like hygiene socialism. It helps to show that the bad and fallacious arguments used to promote socialism do not apply to public policy affecting hygiene.


        1. I wouldn’t describe failing to wear a mask in public when a deadly pandemic is raging as a “failure of social responsibility” either. It is every bit as much of a crime as running a stop sign. Why? Because it is risking the lives of others for personal convenience. That is criminal.

          You obviously have a VERY broad definition of “socialism” if scientifically based public health measures in the midst of a deadly pandemic count as “socialism.”

          I notice that you did not even try to answer the question? Too difficult? Or is the answer that no amount of risk to other people would ever justify ANY inconvenience or the tiniest sacrifice imposed by the government being justified?

          Liked by 1 person

  3. What seems to be lost in these academic navel gazing articles regarding the oppression and control of people to wear masks, social distance, crowd limits indoors, etc., is that we are in a war.

    And if anyone thinks otherwise, they need up to wander into a hospital in one of the hotspots. Casualties are coming in at a clip we are struggling to handle. Nurses and doctors are burned out, quitting and some dying.

    It is not so much a matter of the state controlling behavior as it is trying to defend us against a very crafty, invisible enemy that is planted among us and killing us. And we had no weapons except trying to prevent the spread until we got a vaccine.

    But it is our choice and our government. But to call this messy handling of the virus “hygiene socialism” is just fanning flames for those who think their liberty to kill me is sacrosanct.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RE: “What seems to be lost in these academic navel gazing articles regarding the oppression and control of people to wear masks, social distance, crowd limits indoors, etc., is that we are in a war.”

      I don’t buy the premise. It’s like saying it doesn’t matter if the prisoner is guilty, the crime is so serious he must be executed.

      The same fallacious thinking is often applied to global warming. The science is clearly uncertain in many ways, but some people claim the risks are so great we must spend trillions of dollars to mitigate them.

      Also, I would say Covid-19 is obviously real and extremely dangerous to some people, but if it weren’t for media hyping corona fears, it would hardly be noticeable. Total deaths in the U.S. this year will be roughly the same as the 10-year average and very few hospitals are overburdened because of it;



        1. Shocking! The so-called American Thinker spreading misinformation to fool those eager to be fooled. Who would have ever guessed they would do such a thing. What is pretty funny is that such easily gulled people may actually believe that this kind of “analysis” from a source like this “Trumps” the reality that is right in front of us all.

          Liked by 2 people

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