March 31, 2020 4:58PM

Do Crises Foster Authoritarianism?

By Jeffrey Miron and Erin Partin

Times of uncertainty and fear often provide the opportunities for authoritarian governments to consolidate their powers. From the New York Times:

“As the coronavirus pandemic brings the world to a juddering halt and anxious citizens demand action, leaders across the globe are invoking executive powers and seizing virtually dictatorial authority with scant resistance.

Governments and rights groups agree that these extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. States need new powers to shut their borders, enforce quarantines and track infected people. Many of these actions are protected under international rules, constitutional lawyers say.

But critics say some governments are using the public health crisis as cover to seize new powers that have little to do with the outbreak, with few safeguards to ensure that their new authority will not be abused.”

Hungary, whose Prime Minister was granted the authority to rule by decree, Israel, where intrusive cell phone surveillance is being imposed, and Chile, where the military has been granted nearly boundless control and ordered protesters off the streets, are some of the starkest examples. But they are far from the only offenders.

In the U.S., bans on travel and other daily activities are becoming the new normal. Florida, Rhode Island, and Oklahoma are among 15 states that have issued orders restricting interstate travel.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether particular emergency powers are worth the risks they entail. But we should all recognize the risks.