- Wherever one turns, whether it is on the broadcast news
or the Internet, we are bombarded with Swine Flu stories. Government tells
us not to "panic," while it simultaneously engages in activities
meant to spread widespread fear.
- Indeed, as Robert Higgs has written, the very basis of
government rests upon cultivating human fear:
- The people who have the effrontery to rule us, who call
themselves our government, understand this basic fact of human nature (about
fear). They exploit it, and they cultivate it. Whether they compose a warfare
state or a welfare state, they depend on it to secure popular submission,
compliance with official dictates, and, on some occasions, affirmative
cooperation with the state's enterprises and adventures. Without popular
fear, no government could endure more than twenty-four hours. David Hume
taught that all government rests on public opinion, but that opinion, I
maintain, is not the bedrock of government. Public opinion itself rests
on something deeper: fear.
- If one wishes to "test" Professor Higgs' proposition,
one needs to look no further than the actions of the Centers for Disease
Control, which claims to be in a constant state of readiness in order to
protect us from the next pandemic. At the CDC, it always is 1918, and an
outbreak of "Spanish Flu" or something like it is just around
- A visit to the CDC's website shows that the CDC has placed
the latest outbreak of Swine Flu front-and-center. News reports monitor
the every word of the CDC "experts" who are bombarded with questions
about whether or not this is the "Big One." My sense is that
the "experts," the media, and everyone else in the Flu chain
will be disappointed when this turns out to be another overblown "crisis"
that governments have foisted upon us right-and-left.
- One must remember that for many years, the CDC has been
creating vast emergency "plans" that are supposed to swing into
action the minute that a rumor is afloat that someone, somewhere, has the
flu. Politicians and media figures also want a cut of the action and make
sure that they keep the issue before us, telling us "what we need
- Actually, what we need to know is that government is
the last thing we need in our faces if there is a real pandemic. That is
because governments played a major role in creating the conditions that
turned the "Spanish Flu" situation of 1918 into a world-wide
tragedy that led to the death of millions. If government is to trot out
its "war emergency" model as the way to "protect" us
from the flu, perhaps we need to be reminded of how well that model works
- in making sure lots of people become sick and die.
- Most people don't remember 1918 as the year the flu pandemic
began; they remember it as the year that World War I ended. This was the
"War to End All Wars," or so it was called, when a more appropriate
title might have been the "War to Permanently Expand the State."
More than 10 million soldiers died on the battlefields of Europe and millions
of civilians died deaths of starvation or were killed in the crossfire.
- Since war is a tool of the state, we safely and honestly
can say that the calamities of World War I were state-created. Unfortunately,
people did not just die from bullets, artillery shells, bombs, and even
starvation. Across the globe, the war resulted in vast swaths of malnourishment
as crops were diverted from civilian populations to the huge armies strung
across Europe. At the same time, once-productive croplands in Europe were
reduced to moonscapes as the armies obliterated the land.
- But governments were not satisfied with the sheer amount
of physical and human destruction. Indeed, the government made things worse
through lies, and nowhere was that more apparent that the lies told by
state agents in order to "prevent panic" from the onrushing flu
epidemic. As Wikipedia points out:
- The Great Influenza was the source of much fear in citizens
around the world. Further inflaming that fear was the fact that governments
and health officials were downplaying the influenza. While the panic from
World War I was dwindling, governments attempted to keep morale up by spreading
lies and dismissing the influenza. On September 11, 1918, Washington officials
reported that the Spanish Influenza had arrived in the city. The following
day, roughly thirteen million men across the country lined up to register
for the war draft, providing the influenza with an efficient way to spread.
However, the influenza had little impact upon institutions and organizations.
While medical scientists did rapidly attempt to discover a cure or vaccine,
there were virtually no changes in the government or corporations. Additionally,
the political and military events were fairly unaffected due to the impartiality
of the disease, which affected both sides alike.
- Exacerbating the crisis in this country was the crowding
of American troops onto ships following the war's end, which was guaranteed
to spread the sickness and help it spread when the soldiers reached the
USA. On the home front, huge war bond rallies in large cities brought people
into very close proximity with each other, allowing the flu to spread rapidly.
On one end, the government helped to create the conditions that spread
the flu; on the other hand, agents representing the state lied about those
- By the war's end, Germany was near starvation (and many
people did starve to death during the British blockade that lasted well
into 1919), and about a half-million civilians succumbed to the sickness
in that country. It is estimated that 16 million people in India died of
- Yet, when it raises the prospect of a repeat of this
very horror, governments engage in more lies. We forget that life expectancy
in the United States was in the mid-50s for white males and less than 50
for black men. In countries elsewhere, and especially in Asia and Africa,
life expectancy was much shorter. Medical care at that time was primitive
compared to what we have today, even in poor countries, and it was not
uncommon in that era for people to be exposed to epidemics that pretty
much have disappeared today.
- Even with those odds, the mortality rate during the 1918-1920
pandemic was estimated at between 2.5 and 5 percent. We can be assured
today that not only would fewer people become sick, but even fewer people
would die. In other words, even at its worst, the current outbreak of Swine
Flu, while bad, is not going to turn into a pandemic no matter what CNN
and the CDC try to tell us.
- We supposedly live in an age of "enlightened"
government, yet governments in 1918 allegedly were "enlightened,"
too, and that was at the height of the "Progressive Era." The
real problem, however, was that those "enlightened" governments
had created the very conditions that served as the tinderbox to ignite
- If anything, governments today seek to restrict human
freedom even more so than did governments of that era, as bad as they were.
President Obama, like his predecessor, would have no problem grabbing "emergency"
powers in order to fight this supposed onslaught of disease. Emergency
plans hatched in the bowels of the CDC bureaucracy await implementation,
which would release the inner dictator that resides in the hearts of thousands
of bureaucrats across the country.
- I doubt seriously that any plan by government can or
will lessen the impact of this current "epidemic," if we can
call it that. However, I also have no doubt that if emergency plans are
kicked into place, it will be much easier for the government to call for
further states of emergency, with the threshold becoming lower and lower.
That we should fear much more than the Swine Flu.
- William L. Anderson, PhD, teaches economics at Frostburg
State University in Maryland, and is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von
Mises Institute. He also is a consultant with American Economic Services.
- Copyright © 2009 by LewRockwell.com. Permission
to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit