Law Enforcement Breakdown

By: 
Al Jacobs

Since mid-March of 2020, the major preoccupation of Americans centered on the coronavirus pandemic. With the nationwide lockdowns, the massive unemployment, the business closings and the widespread fear of illness and death by all segments of the populace, virtually no one is unaffected by the deleterious effects. If there’s a single feature this ongoing tragedy illustrates, it’s how laws can be perversely enacted and enforced.

Early in this continuing epidemic, when it appeared the federal government intended to pay only scant attention to the matter, many of the states’ governors took it upon themselves to take action. In my state of California, Governor Gavin Newsom declared himself to be operating under executive authority and, with a recess of the state legislature, proclaimed rules binding to a 2½-month lockdown to their homes all persons not determined to be essential. In addition, millions of businesses summarily closed.

As a result of this ruling, millions of individuals became instantaneously unemployed and much of the state’s activities ceased to operate. The official word promulgated at virtually every level was that the virus was unbelievably perilous. The vast majority of citizens adhered to the rules, many of them literally fearing for their lives. As a result, self-enforcement of the rules was common and enforcement by the authorities not a major concern.

Over the next several months, as the adverse economic effects of the inactivity became more pronounced, the call for an easing of the rules induced the authorities to rescind many of the restrictions. The lockdowns ended and businesses once again began to function, though often only marginally so. In addition, evidence began to emerge that the potency of the virus had been vastly overstated and that the rules being enforced were inimical to both ending of the pandemic and a return to normalcy.

Nonetheless, it became clear the officials’ authority to rule by decree became something they chose not to voluntarily relinquish, regardless of the events actually occurring. Power of this sort can become addictive; the pandemic continued to be fully operational, irrespective of the actual circumstances. By summer, the sole emphasis became slowing the virus’ spread. Therefore, as the number of reported cases began to climb – and a second wave of the virus became publicized – the previous rules inactivating the economy were reinstated.

For the first time, the general public began to express its dissatisfaction. With unemployment at astronomical levels and millions of persons facing insolvency, the authorities were induced to respond. They began issuing daily reports describing massive numbers of persons becoming diseased and dying from the virus. In addition, with a compliant media, they increasingly stressed the necessity of the perpetual donning of face masks, social distancing, avoidance of contact with other humans, 14-day periods of voluntary quarantine and the advisability of continuous testing and retesting … though scant advice existed as to what each test determined or what should be done after receiving test results.

Apparently enough people still appeared sufficiently intimidated by the belief the virus replicated the mid-14th Century bubonic plague, that the rules laid down were marginally complied with. No massive disobedience by the public as yet became threatened. So for the remainder of the summer and early autumn, while the reported number of new cases remained low, the public tolerated a somewhat relaxed set of rules.

As might be expected, social life began to return somewhat to normal. And with this, the coronavirus did what a virus is designed to do: to seek previously unaffected hosts to infect. Although the vast majority of persons so selected rarely experienced symptoms of consequence … this because of the innocuous nature of the virus, whose mortality rate had been determined to be only one in 10,000 … the testing assiduously promoted by epidemiological interests, reported an appreciable increase in cases – exactly what the authorities professed they wished to prevent.

By mid-autumn, daily reports of ever more infected hosts poured out through the media. Numbers of cases, meaningless to a mostly naive public, were formulated in a way to portray an image of an overwhelming viral deluge. Amplifying comments as to resultant illnesses or fatalities barely surfaced … the only constant referral to numbers of deaths was the steadily increasing national figure, now past 300,000, which is mostly the result of causes barely related to covid-19. In any event, the reporting takes on a life of its own; America is depicted as in the throes of the Black Death. With this, the predicted devastation to be thrust upon America by the coming third wave will require additional sacrifices by an already overwhelmed and incredulous society.

I’ll now pose a question: What may we expect from citizens being obviously and flagrantly misgoverned? The lessons of history reveal that when their level of patience is reached, they become defiant. Apparently the tolerance of many Americans has now reached this level.

In areas throughout the nation, demonstrations are surfacing. Anti-lockdown protestors gather on the capitol steps in Columbus, Ohio and Lancing, Michigan; Stay-at-home orders are criticized by crowds at Capitol Square in Richmond, Virginia; Signs demanding that businesses be allowed to reopen are waved at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri; Hundreds of people gather at the State Capitol in Denver, Colorado, to demand quarantine orders be lifted.

The anger is not limited to nameless and faceless persons. Don Wagner, a County Supervisor in Orange County, Calif., addressed a crowd of 200 in Newport Beach and said: “Science says we can open safely. The order banning outdoor dining must end. We don’t have enough money to shut everything down.” And throughout California, in a state particularly overregulated by an overbearing administration, public rage is becoming the operative mood. In the counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and Placer, sheriffs and police departments reject the covid ordinances and express reluctance to enforce them.

And in the San Joaquin Valley, desperation and defiance is now the order of the day. Newsom’s order banning outdoor dining is regularly ignored. The restaurants are continuing to serve; the local authorities are turning a blind eye; and the patrons are attending as though it’s perfectly permissible. Although the Fresno City Council just approved an order intended to clamp down on backyard parties, the city police chief issued a statement saying his officers refuse to enforce it.

And while I’m on this subject, I’ll add that I’m having an outdoor dinner this evening with several friends at our favorite Italian restaurant … despite our governor’s executive order prohibiting such an activity. How do I justify this? Very simply. When laws become so inane they’re unenforceable, they no longer deserve to be honored.

A final thought: Over the past full century the United States encountered an epidemic of one sort or another each year. Some seemed fairly injurious while others proved benign. But why this year’s relatively harmless coronavirus induced the authorities to decimate the nation in combating it mystifies me. In all prior years the virus was permitted to simply run its course while protecting those most susceptible to it. There’s not a single valid reason why they failed to let this organism be treated the same way.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. Al may be contacted at al@abjacobs.com

 

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