Public health authorities in California have unveiled a “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” that requires counties to meet new “health equity metrics” in order to emerge from the current Covid-19 lockdowns. It’s a broad experiment in social justice. Under the plan, counties must reduce “disparities in levels of transmission” in “low-income, Black, Latino, [and] Pacific Islander” communities before they can move forward with reopening. In effect, local businesses must remain closed until local bureaucrats are satisfied that ill-defined racial quotas have been met.
The underlying assumption of the blueprint is that race-based coronavirus disparities are the result of “systemic racism,” despite zero evidence that the state’s coronavirus policies have been discriminatory. The plan ignores potential differences in culture, behavior, and underlying health, resting instead on the premise that racism is the driving force behind every disparate outcome. The blueprint also subverts the democratic process. Unelected public health officials are restricting essential freedoms, including mobility, worship, and economic activity, without deliberation by the state legislature or the possibility of review or appeal.
Unfortunately, the California blueprint is just part of a broader pattern of state governments using public health as a rationale for seizing power. Throughout the pandemic, blue-state politicians have appealed to science as justification for long-term economic lockdowns, mask mandates, and other emergency measures, regardless of whether these policies have been sanctioned by state legislatures or voters. Science becomes the highest authority; citizens must obey.
Yet progressive leaders have been willing immediately to jettison science when it conflicts with their pre-existing political priorities. Earlier this summer, leading epidemiologists pilloried conservative lockdown protestors—declaring them a threat to public health—but then endorsed the much larger Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in May. In short, they created a policy of “science for thee, but not for me.”
The disproportionate victims of any attempt to race-code the criteria for reopening in California will be the poor, the marginalized, and the nonwhite—the very people whom the equity policies are supposed to help. If, that is, Los Angeles County fails to reopen because it falls short of its “health equity metrics,” the Zoom class of intellectuals, public health officials, and progressive politicians will celebrate its own good intentions, even as bartenders, waitresses, taxi drivers, and small shopkeepers—many of them minorities—find themselves out of work.
The public should be on alert. If the progressive-scientific establishment can simply dictate policy outside the democratic process by appealing to “public health equity”—a vague concept that can extend to almost every facet of human life—voters may soon find themselves at the mercy of a new “soft totalitarianism,” as author Rod Dreher has characterized it. Citizens with a basic respect for freedom should resist this new encroachment. It degrades science, language, and democracy all at once, and acknowledges no natural limit to its power. Tyranny in a lab coat would still be tyranny.
Originally published by City Journal on October 8th, 2020.