New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has come under heavy criticism for his handling of COVID-19 since the pandemic’s very beginning.
After all, as National Review’s Kyle Smith details, “Cuomo failed to call for, and even actively discouraged, informal social-distancing measures in early March.” In a record few would be proud of, New York City became one of the world’s worst COVID-19 hotspots. And one simply can’t forget Cuomo’s deadly decision to order nursing homes to accept patients who had tested positive for COVID-19, putting those most vulnerable at risk.
The Associated Press estimates the ensuing death toll of New York nursing home residents at more than 11,000. The governor has even rejected bipartisan calls for an independent investigation into his handling of the issue.
Despite all this, Cuomo has evidently not learned from his earlier misjudgment. In fact, he is currently selling a new book about how supposedly brave and heroic his handling of the COVID-19 crisis has been. What’s more, the governor just unveiled a new batch of arbitrary and capricious COVID-19 restrictions to be imposed on New Yorkers.
One of these regulations is that restaurants, bars, and gyms must close at 10:00 pm.
New York follows the science.
We know indoor gatherings and parties are a major source of COVID spread.
To slow the spread, NYS will limit indoor gatherings at private residences to 10 people.
This limit takes effect Friday at 10pm.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) November 11, 2020
This doesn’t make much sense. What about 10:00 pm is so special? Does “the science” say that the virus turns into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 10:01?
Evidently, the governor gave no thought to the fact that this might simply encourage more crowding of these facilities prior to 10:00 pm rather than smaller crowds dispersed over more time. This is just one example of the many oversights plaguing the latest heavy-handed restrictions.
“At the time of the announcement, restaurants have not been provided important details by the State or City about the new restrictions on their businesses,” the NYC Hospitality Alliance said. “They don’t know if the restrictions apply to indoor and outdoor dining, and if customers need to leave the restaurant by 10:00 pm or if they can finish their meals, which is creating more confusion, so we hope that information is released immediately.”
“Today’s news is a huge blow to the restaurant industry that is desperately trying to stay afloat,” New York State Restaurant Association President Melissa Fleischut said.
This latest bout of restrictions makes about as much sense as when Cuomo said businesses could serve alcohol with some foods but not others.
But in an even more extreme twist, the governor’s new restrictions outlaw gatherings of more than 10 people in private residences (including for Thanksgiving).
Cuomo’s new 10 person edict is going to be a lot of fun. Too bad cops has been pulled from the airwaves or we could get some really good video of people being arrested at their Thanksgiving dinner tables. pic.twitter.com/mjvgzuD6Cj
— Cuomo Watch (@CuomoWatch) November 11, 2020
This imposition is nonsensical, as it completely disregards the size of the residence, ventilation, mask-wearing, or any other factor that would make a significant difference.
Can all the people who just “took down a dictator” maybe care a little bit about this tyrant? https://t.co/8d5euYTWgl
— Karol Markowicz (@karol) November 11, 2020
As if that makes sense, according to “the science.” Cuomo also seems to have no regard for the economic fallout of his latest restrictions.
“City restaurants already can’t survive with the 25 percent indoor-capacity limit,” the New York Post editorial board laments. “Gyms and bars will now be crushed. Post-COVID, New York may face a fiscal nightmare almost as bad as the virus.”
Other governors such as Charlie Baker of Massachusetts have also passed similarly dysfunctional and overbearing restrictions. The Hill reports that under Baker’s new rules, “residents over the age of 5 must wear a mask in all public places, even when social distancing is possible.” Even if mask-wearing helps slow the spread of COVID-19, forcing people to wear uncomfortable masks even when they’re 30 feet from the nearest person makes zero sense.
This example offers a reminder that while Governor Cuomo’s leadership may be especially poor, the failure of sweeping New York restrictions is not just due to his incompetence. Rather, all attempts at central planning by detached government bureaucrats are doomed to dysfunction.
Because of what economist F.A. Hayek dubbed the “knowledge problem.” The knowledge problem is the idea that only those closest to a given situation have sufficient knowledge and awareness to properly gauge the best outcome. As a result, highly centralized decision-making is doomed to failure.
For example, a planning committee of bureaucrats in Washington, DC that tries to set the prices for corn sales in Iowa is far less likely to set an efficient and realistic price than the buyers and sellers on the market who can respond to changes in their business and adjust their own prices accordingly.
However, when decision-making is left at the individual level, rather than superseded from above, this problem does not occur.
“In a market economy, it is not necessary that the innumerable decision-makers understand the costs entailed by their decisions,” economist Thomas Sowell explains in Basic Economics. “It is only necessary that they be confronted with those costs in the prices charged. In a ‘planned” economy, however, those who plan the production and distribution have to be able to understand and quantify the costs their decisions entail— a far more formidable task.”
And that’s how you end up with a world in which congregating in a bar is permissible at 9:59 pm but illegal at 10:01 pm, or where restaurants can serve you alcohol if you order chicken wings but not if you order chips and salsa. To avoid these kinds of arbitrary dictates, our leaders need to recognize the limits of what they can realistically control and adjust their efforts accordingly.
The key to successful governing is humility. Unfortunately for New Yorkers, this is a trait that Andrew Cuomo clearly does not possess.
This piece was originally published on FEE.org under the title Why Andrew Cuomo’s Latest New York COVID Restrictions Make Zero Sense