Government in a Pandemic

20 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2020

See all articles by Thomas Firey

Thomas Firey

Cato Institute; Maryland Public Policy Institute

Date Written: November 17, 2020


When the threat of COVID-19 became apparent, some political commentators began arguing that Americans must accept much greater governmental intervention in their lives if the United States were to respond effectively to the disease. This idea was soon distilled into a pithy slogan: “There are no libertarians in a pandemic.”

In fact, the government can respond effectively to the historic COVID-19 crisis while following the principles of limited government. However, federal, state, and local governments in the United States have done a poor job of identifying and implementing good policies for the pandemic that are compatible with those principles. Instead, policymakers have attempted interventions far beyond the powers of a properly limited government—with poor results.

Americans and their political leaders are understandably worried about COVID-19 and its effects, both on human health and the economy. That worry may indeed lead some people to reflexively demand broad government intervention. But if the United States follows the principles of limited government, those principles will help see us through this crisis.

Keywords: COVID-19, pandemic, coronavirus, COVID, libertarian, government intervention, limited government, epidemic, health restrictions

JEL Classification: H1, H10, H11, H12, H13, H19, H39, H40, H49, H51, H50, H53, H59

Suggested Citation

Firey, Thomas, Government in a Pandemic (November 17, 2020). Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No. 902, Available at SSRN:

Thomas Firey (Contact Author)

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Maryland Public Policy Institute ( email )

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