Support for Lockdowns: A ‘Bootleggers and Baptists’ Phenomenon – AIER

By David McGrogan

As the bizarre world of the COVID19 pandemic manifested itself, I was repeatedly made aware of the odd bedfellows who collectively championed the virtuous benefits of the lock-downs (despite ever-mounting data to the contrary); though I couldn’t explain why the often unrelated motives of individuals or seemingly disparate groups would come down on the same side of the lock-down issue.

This essay reveals the “why” behind the odd coalitions – or at least like-minded on this one issue – which we witnessed during prolonged societal inversion we refer to as the COVID19 lock-down. ~ Forum for Healthcare Freedom, June 9, 2021

Lockdowns appear to suit those with self-consciously virtuous motives; they also very often suit those who want to make money.

It is just the straightforward application of one of the most fundamental lessons of classical economics: incentives matter, and the incentives of these actors just tend to point in the same direction. 

Yandle observed that political activism in favour of the prohibition of alcohol sales and Sunday closing laws in the US was often a combination of high and low motives. Baptists are in favor of restricting the selling of alcohol because it is ‘good for society.’ Bootleggers are in favor of it because, for their purposes, the less alcohol that is lawfully available the better. The two groups do not conspire with one another, openly or otherwise. But the alignment of their interests is a kind of pincer movement which regulators find difficult to resist.

It’s not that these businesses consciously support lockdowns due to a naked profit motive,it’s simply that their incentives to reject lockdownism are not strong, or are lacking entirely,

Our internal respective bootlegger, and Baptist, impulses are strong in their own right, and if they had been at odds during the pandemic, they would have tended to cancel each other out and there may have been more of a pushback against the restrictions. 

What has been less well-noticed is that there is something of a psychological bootlegger-and-Baptist phenomenon taking place within individuals’ minds as well – and that this has been particularly important in building support for lockdowns among the professional classes.

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