Welcome to the age of futile governance, where the common man’s liberty no longer matters. Look no further than the Partygate scandal, where British PM Boris Johnson and other leaders ignored the COVID restrictions they made. Furthermore, the same leaders who imposed COVID lockdowns in the United States persistently violated them. Unquestionably, futile governance is a trojan horse governments use to suppress liberty. By passing illogical laws and restrictions without proper evidence, governments have been unchecked in their efforts to suppress liberty.
In 2017, Austria passed the Anti-Face-Veiling Act which banned all full veils in public places. Critics have argued that the law was passed in an attempt to appease the demands of the Freedom Party, a party that has advocated for stricter immigration restrictions. Funny enough, the Freedom Party saw through the government’s attempt to appease its supporters, and did not support the law. The law was intended to “strengthen participation in society.” Thus far, the law has violated the civil liberties of 150 Muslim women who wear full veils, people dressing as clowns, a cyclist wearing a scarf, and a man wearing a shark costume. Why would these individuals desire to participate more in society if their civil liberties are violated?
In Vienna, animal rights groups are now attempting to get horse-drawn carriages banned from the Vienna streets, citing extreme heat as inhumane for the horses. This criticism of Vienna’s famous fiakers comes despite a 2008 study by the University of Vienna’s Veterinary School which found zero cases of heat stress in Vienna’s horses. Only time will tell if Austria sacrifices a tourist tradition, as Viennese as the Wiener Schnitzel, to fulfill the illogical demands of an emotional minority.
Futile governance is not a uniquely Austrian phenomenon. In 2019, the United States federal government passed the “T21” law which raised the minimum purchase age of tobacco to 21 with the intention of curbing tobacco usage amongst teenagers. For American teenagers, tobacco usage is on the rise with e-cigarettes to blame. It is a noble effort to stamp out e-cigarette usage in adolescents, given that e-cigarette usage has been linked to damaging teenage mental health. However, most American high school students obtain vapes illegally through a variety of efforts, as the minimum purchase age was 18 before the T21 law. Research has shown that e-cigarette usage has increased amongst teenagers after T21, making the law an administrative failure. The law restricts the liberty of 18-21 year-old adults while not reaching its intended solution of stopping underage tobacco use.
Raising a minimum age in the United States is nothing new. In 1984, the United States drinking age was raised to 21 through threatening to cut interstate funding for non-compliant states. Currently, American male legal adults can’t smoke or drink but are required to sign up for selective service for a potential military draft. American 18 year old’s are mature enough to vote, but not to have a beer or cigarette. Now, President Biden is calling for the minimum gun purchase age to be raised from 18 to 21.
American cities have followed the lead of the federal government in futile governance. Recently, the city of Chicago decided to move its curfew for minors from 11 pm to 10 pm citing the intent of reducing violent crime. There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of curfews, but Chicago still decided to take this course of action after a 17-year-old shot and killed 16-year-old Seandell Holloway at Chicago’s famous Millennium Park. With this curfew, Chicago is attempting to save face for its failure to bring an end to the city’s extensive history of gun violence. To do so, Chicago is levying restrictions on the liberty of minors, as if Chicagoans of all ages are not victims and perpetrators of gun violence. Instead, the city could have invested in after-school programs, sports leagues, and mental health for troubled teens, which have been proven to limit youth homicides. Instead of improving the lives of teenagers, the city has decided to restrict their liberty. This way, this liberty-restricting futile governance can bring an end to America’s reputation as the “land of the free,” while giving more restrictive powers to the federal government.
Recently, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau introduced a bill to ban the purchase and importation of handguns. Trudeau has justified this increased gun control after recent mass shootings in the United States, not Canada. Canada has only a fraction of the gun violence deaths the United States has, but Trudeau is trying to restrict the liberty of his residents in response to violence in the United States. If the new measures are passed, will they truly bring an end to gun violence in the nation? In Switzerland, there has not been a mass shooting in 21 years, despite high rates of private gun ownership. Switzerland has a culture of guns yet does not have the mass shooting epidemic persisting in the United States. Thus, the solution possibly lies in analyzing Switzerland’s gun culture, not the outright ban on guns. Trudeau has suppressed liberty in the past and is on track to do so again.
People are finally starting to wake up to futile governance, as trust in government institutions has fallen across Europe since 2020. Unfortunately, individual freedom is on the decline across the world, despite research supporting the notion that the happiest countries are the freest. Citizens are ultimately responsible for holding their elected officials responsible. Fortunately, citizens are starting to do so, as protests against COVID lockdowns became a worldwide phenomenon. Futile governance is masking liberty suppression across the world, and it is now in the hands of citizens to respond, as they did with COVID restrictions.
Kyle Fowler is an American university student pursuing a business degree at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, United States. He is passionate about discussions surrounding fiscal policy, monetary policy, and individual choice. Kyle is the spring 2022 intern with the Austrian Economics Center.
The AEC’s fundamental goal is to promote a free, responsible and prosperous society. Through education and improving public understanding of key economic questions, the AEC promotes the idea of a free market economy and the ideal of a free society.