Mandated Shutdowns, the Ratchet Effect, and The Barstool Fund
Perhaps the most contentious part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been the decision by governments to mandate—or effectively mandate—the shutdown of certain businesses. The justification for doing so is broadly consequentialist. The public health costs of not shutting down are so great that potential benefits from allowing businesses to open are dwarfed. Operating within this consequentialist framework, this paper identifies an underappreciated set of social costs that are a product of the present public policy that pairs mandated shutdowns with government subsidies. Such policy is prone to being an instance of what Robert Higgs calls the ratchet effect. Given that ratchets tend to be both costly and sticky, it is best to avoid allowing them to come into existence. This paper identifies a way of circumventing this particular ratchet; namely, by replacing governmental subsidies with support from private charitable funds like The Barstool Fund.