What can quarantine teach us about coercion?
In some Brazilian states such as Minas Gerais and Paraná, military police cars and fire brigades are patrolling the streets of their cities to ensure that people) do not leave their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Never has the right to come and go been so valued. People who were used to spending most weekends at home watching Netflix are intensively manifesting on social media their wish to have a party with their friends during a quarantine. The difference between choice and obligation has never been more evident. But, in spite of what the intolerants are saying, these claims are not just for the sake of willing “to be against the rules”, but actually because coercion hurts.
We were born with natural rights and freedoms, whose existence is threatened by other people’s invasions and impediments invested. Yet, freedom is not power. It is possible to be free and at the same time unable to achieve a certain goal. Faced with this, attempt and failure are guaranteed.
However, at the risk of sounding like a romantic, the disappointment of not trying is the gall of life. This idea can be summed up in a widely known expression: the pursuit of happiness. Once we are prevented from doing this, what do we have left?
Imagine that you are a dissident of the government and two years ago, since the collapse of the institutions of your country, you have not had the courage to go out on the streets. This is the scenario present in Nicaragua since 2018.
Now, imagine that you are a young teenager who is “visibly pregnant” and for that reason is prevented from attending school. The Minister of Education of Sierra Leone issued a decree imposing this in 2015.
Or imagine that your country is immersed in a civil war. This is the scenario that has been faced by thousands of Syrians for almost 10 years.
Finally, imagine living under a dictatorship that imposes curfews, considers emigration illegal and all trips abroad are strictly controlled by the government. This is what happened in Egypt to the residents of Sinai in 2016 and still happens in North Korea.
The mobility rights of these people were curtailed a long time ago, but the crucial point of thinking through this is understanding that when the state’s level of intervention is able to displace individuals, it means many other rights have been already taken by assault.
All the countries mentioned are among the 65 most “closed” economies and with the biggest legal uncertainty. Institutions do not guarantee equal treatment under the law and still prevent the generation of jobs on a large scale, making it harder for individuals and corporations to operate in the market.
For this reason, it is important to remember that there is a profound interdependence between the Human Development Index (HDI) and a country’s level of economic freedom. The freer the market, the better the population’s living conditions.
For example, Australia is the 4th freest economy in the world and 6th HDI, because of its stable growth that has been sustained for 30 years. In addition, Sweden is 12th and 8th respectively with its success seen in Johan Norberg’s documentary.
These measurements of people’s lives according to their country’s rules are connected at various points, including violence, which is also directly related to the full exercise of freedom of mobility.
However, it is not only through taxes that the government takes away personal wealth but also through regulations and bureaucracies – which is a prominent component of the Brazilian political system.
One of the worst government regulations are upon the Brazilian private healthcare system as Raphaël Lima explains in this video. Brazil is 144th out of 180 countries in economic freedom and has the 76th largest HDI.
Freedom of movement and other rights are still at stake. At the core of this is the feeling of coercion by the state. The economic crisis that is already beginning to appear on the horizon will bring challenges never seen before.
Thousands of Brazilians were proactive, isolated themselves, and sought to raise awareness among friends and family, while the president insisted (and still insists) on saying that the Coronavirus was “just another little flu”. This is the result of being free to take action and being responsible for the health and safety of our communities. In this scenario, the attempt and success are guaranteed.
Perhaps this will all bring the valuable lesson that we are able to take care of each other. But, please, don’t understand this as “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I strongly disagree with that.
Finally, in relation to my earlier question: “What remains when we are prevented from pursuing our happiness?” Absolutely nothing. However, I believe that happiness is something made, not found. There are as many ways to build happiness as there are constellations in the infinite sky that covers us, but within each of them there is an inevitable core premise: the exercise of freedom. It is essential to know how to detect the political policies that violate this principle but may be invisible.
When you hear a proposal that will curtail the right to property, protest it. Protest it with the very basic freedom to defend your rights .. When you hear a proposal that condemns behaviour that does not harm any individual other than the agent himself, oppose it, , in the name of personal freedoms and the defense of the individual.
These are the rights inherent in maintaining human life and it is with protection of these rights that will dictate the speed with which we will recover from this Pandemic and other challenges to come.