The government has not been an efficient or competent dispenser of the masks so vital to protecting health care workers and patients from COVID-19.
As of mid-April, The Wall Street Journal reports, the federal government had for whatever reason dedicated millions in contracts, involving at least 80 percent of the 20 million N95 masks it was trying to procure, from "suppliers that either had never done business with the federal government or had only taken on small prior contracts that didn't include medical supplies." Predictably, some of those vendors"missed delivery deadlines or have backed out because of supply problems. The parent company of one supplier is in bankruptcy and its owners have been accused of fraud in lawsuits by multiple business partners."
One contractor, who usually works in hospital renovation for the government, told the Journal he just figured he'd be able to find the masks somehow through suppliers he typically worked with. After he agreed to a $5.5 million contract, the paper says, he was "stymied by sellers that don't really have high-quality masks or who jack up the price."
At least one would-be contractor has now been nabbed for fraud on such a mask deal.
ProPublicatagged along with what theJournalcalled the "largest N95 mask contract given out by the VA [Veterans Administration], for an initial $35.4 million." The company, Federal Government Experts, "agreed to provide the VA six million masks for $5.90 apiece by April 25, with potential for another five million masks at the same price at a later date, for a total of $64.9 million, according to federal contracting data."
It didn't work out. As Robert Stewartthe boss at Federal Government Expertswondered to the ProPublica reporter himself, "Awarding a $34.5 million contract to a small company without any supply chain experience.Why would you do that?"
Stewart let that reporter tag along on fruitless (and expensive) private jet rides (including picking up what Stewart hoped would be his proud parents) on his way to cities where he didn't know he'd find any masks, and in general to witness him get jerked around by other unreliable potential sources for the masks he promised to deliver.
The fiasco ended with no masks deliveredbut at least, according to the VA, no money paid either. (This contract paid only on delivery.) Despite months of scrambling, the Veterans Administration was not prepared to keep its hospitals equipped with masks. As of now over 2,000 V.A. employees have tested positive.
Stewart's absurd deal is only the tip of the iceberg in questionable procurement practices. ProPublica notes that the administration "has handed out at least $5.1 billion in no-bid contracts to address the pandemic."
The feds aren't the only ones making bad mask decisions. California is currently trying to get a refund on a $456.9 million wire transfer it sent as a down payment on a $600 million contract for 110 million N95 masks. It paid the money to a firm called Blue Flame Medical, which, The Wall Street Journalinforms us, was "founded days earlier by former Republican fundraiser Mike Gula.Blue Flame struck a flurry of deals with states looking for medical supplies in late March and the first weeks of April, most of which have unraveled." Maryland and Alabama are also cancelling orders with the company, having decided that they are unlikely to be fulfilled.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Timesreports that Gov. Gavin Newsom of California is refusing "to reveal the contents of a $990-million contract for purchasing protective masks from a Chinese electric car manufacturer." All the state would cough up was that they committed to buying 200 million masks a month for two months, of which 150 million were N95, but "all other details, including the price paid per mask, have been kept confidential." Even the state's legislators are being blocked from learning details of the deal. Such secrecy is not comforting when such enormous amounts of public funds are being spent.
When it does have the masks, the government hasn't been a great or intelligent caretaker or distributor of them. The Transportation Security Agency decided to hoard more than 1.3 million N95 respirator masks (which it received from Customs and Border Protection) rather than distribute them to hospitals or agencies or people who might lack themeven, as ProPublica reported, "as the number of people coming through U.S. airports dropped by 95% and the TSA instructed many employees to stay home to avoid being infected."
Other wasteful, clumsy, or even macabre stories have arisen from government attempts to help with or procure medical equipment. In Seattle, the county Public Health Department sent a Native American community health board body bags instead of requested medical supplies.
Before COVID-19 hit, certain pundits were promoting "state capacity libertarianism"the idea that it is silly to focus on how much government spends or taxes, or the ways it dictates how people live, buy, sell, or behave, or the breadth and width of tasks it takes upon itself: What's important, this argument holds, is how effective and smart government is at doing what it tries to do.
The idea was, at best, an attempt to turn libertarian energies toward making government better at what it does. But these not-at-all-shocking snafus show no obvious way the concept could help, other than hand-waving calls to have better people making better decisions.
Mask procurement is not going awry because government lacks the capacity to do anything. They have plenty of money, essentially as much as they want to have, and they have plenty of staff. It's not because they don't have professional experts and bureaucrats trying to manage things, and it's not because Republicans hate government and want it to fail.
Even in a relatively free market, fraud and incompetence exist. The government in its mask decisions have shown a keen ability to find market actors who are very bad (deliberately or not) at what they do and offer them ungodly amounts of money. But government's unique combination of endless money and impunity for messing things up mean that the state is going to get things more wrong, more often. And that's true even, or perhaps especially, when it's urgent that the state get things right. The evidence is in the news every day, even if ideological blinders prevent non-libertarians from acknowledging it.
- Libertarian Free Will and the Kalam, Revisited | Jonathan MS Pearce - Patheos - August 17th, 2020
- Floating Cities and Sea-Level Rise - an unsinkable idea - Anthropoce - August 17th, 2020
- When Joe Biden Tried To Paint Clarence Thomas as a Crazy Libertarian - Reason - July 31st, 2020
- Libertarian Assembly candidate calls for line item veto to rein in spending, elimination of property taxes and more to get rid of 'tyranny' and bloat... - July 31st, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | The last days of the tech emperors? - Minneapolis Star Tribune - July 31st, 2020
- Buchanan and Anarchism | Mises Wire - The Shepherd of the Hills Gazette - July 31st, 2020
- Trump Wanted To 'Throw Massie Out of Republican Party!' but the Libertarian-Leaning Congressman Just Won His Primary Anyway - Reason - June 24th, 2020
- Google's warning against the Federalist is why libertarians will lose fight over Big Tech - Washington Examiner - June 24th, 2020
- Texas-based conservative group funding 'green' PAC in MT - KTVH - June 24th, 2020
- Non-mask wearing fools - The Real Nurse Jackie - McKnight's Long Term Care News - June 24th, 2020
- Morelle with big lead over Wilt but absentee votes still to be tallied - WXXI News - June 24th, 2020
- Lockdown easing analysis: Boris Johnson's libertarian instincts returned... and he went further than anyone really expected - Evening Standard - June 24th, 2020
- How a fringe sect from the 1980s influenced No 10's attitude to racism - The Guardian - June 24th, 2020
- Radley Balko on George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the Libertarian Case for Criminal Justice Reform - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- While pro-marijuana parties thrive, other minor parties struggle - Southernminn.com - June 17th, 2020
- Letters: 'It is suggested that Boris's Libertarian beliefs were the reasons for delayed Lockdown' - The Northern Echo - June 17th, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | At the center of that Supreme Court ruling were people - Minneapolis Star Tribune - June 17th, 2020
- The other Jo, wants your 2020 vote, if youre fed up with the two-party system or if youre not - WIZM NEWS - June 17th, 2020
- 'Where Are Libertarians on Police Reform?' Right Where We've Always Been. - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Protests: Meet the Romney-Gary Johnson-Bloomberg voter embracing Black Lives Matter - Vox.com - June 13th, 2020
- What the Pandemic Revealed - Niskanen Center - June 13th, 2020
- Santa Cruz Shooting Suspect Preached Libertarian Ideals, Was Pushed Over the Edge By Police Actions Against Protesters, Friends Say - SFist - June 13th, 2020
- Libertarian Think Tank Praises Pelosis Call to Remove Confederate Statues from Capitol: Slavery is The Least Libertarian Thing Imaginable - Mediaite - June 13th, 2020
- How Not To Build a Transpartisan Coalition for Police Reform - Reason - June 13th, 2020
- Primary Election ballots are in the mail | YourHub - The Know - June 13th, 2020
- Scared for their jobs, Iowa Republicans are gaming the democratic process - The Gazette - June 13th, 2020
- 61 Quick Facts and Observations on Socialism, Jesus, and Wealth | Jon Miltimore - Foundation for Economic Education - June 13th, 2020
- Nelson lead up to 23 votes over Tarkanian - The Record-Courier - June 13th, 2020
- Amash decides against Libertarian campaign for president | TheHill - The Hill - May 19th, 2020
- Libertarian Group Sues Ohio Again On Behalf Of Closed Gyms - WOSU - May 14th, 2020
- The Libertarian Party Critique of Justin Amash - Reason - May 14th, 2020
- Third Parties Unlikely to Wreak Havoc in 2020 Election - New York Magazine - May 14th, 2020
- Modest meat reforms would help Americans stay fed during the pandemic - The Maine Wire - May 14th, 2020
- Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections | TheHill - The Hill - May 14th, 2020
- Drop off or in person, 8 p.m. is deadline to cast your vote in the primary election - North Platte Telegraph - May 14th, 2020
- Another ludicrous Thought of the Day from the BBC: The Bishop of Manchester assures us that we have libertarian free will - stopthefud - May 14th, 2020
- Live Blog: Nebraska 2020 Primary Election Results | netnebraska.org - NET Nebraska - May 14th, 2020
- Will COVID-19 block third-party ballot access? - The Aggie - May 14th, 2020
- Michigan Rep. Justin Amash on Why Hed Run for President as a Libertarian and the Culture of the GOP - TIME - May 9th, 2020
- We Need Economists, Civil Libertarians, and Epidemiologists in the COVID-19 Discussion - Reason - May 9th, 2020
- Is the Chinese Communist Party Really Trying To Take Over the World? - The National Interest - May 9th, 2020
- 600K primary election ballots are in the mail to Montana voters - Missoula Current - May 9th, 2020
- The Coronavirus Might Force Minor Parties Off the 2020 Ballot - New York Magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Who should be included in the libertarian canon - UConn Daily Campus - April 21st, 2020
- The Government Has a Lot More Emergency Powers Than Libertarians Like, but It Still Can't Control Everything - Cato Institute - April 21st, 2020
- Opinion | A new populist revolution is here. Don't buy in. - The Daily Northwestern - April 21st, 2020
- COVID-19 is killing minor parties' ability to get candidates on the ballot in Minnesota - MinnPost - April 21st, 2020
- Why You Should Be a Socialist and a Marxist - Jacobin magazine - April 21st, 2020
- Mark Cuban To Run For President? Billionaire Dallas Mavericks Owner Does Not Rule Out 2020 White House Bid - International Business Times - April 21st, 2020
- Berkeley institution Top Dog is on the ropes. But they still wont take federal aid. - SFGate - April 21st, 2020
- No One Is Coming - Tom Webster - Elemental - April 21st, 2020
- Briefs filed in case over whether NM will move to vote-by-mail primaries during coronavirus emergency - New Mexico Political Report - April 9th, 2020
- Construction Accidents and Personal Injuries, Everything You Ought To Know - The Libertarian Republic - March 24th, 2020
- 'Tiger King' is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - WICZ - March 24th, 2020
- As Science And Business Go To War With Each Other, President Trump Pours Fuel On The Fire - Forbes - March 24th, 2020
- Vermin Supreme's quest to win hearts, minds and the Libertarian primaries - The Spectator USA - March 22nd, 2020
- Where the 2020 Libertarian candidates stand on Jewish issues? - The Times of Israel - March 22nd, 2020
- COVID-19 and . . . 2024? - National Review - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul Proves He Is Too Good For Us, As He Upsets the Right People - The Liberator Online - March 22nd, 2020
- Tiger King is the weird docu-series distraction we can use right now - Q13 News Seattle - March 22nd, 2020
- Campaign Beat: The Pandemic, The Primary And Third Parties - MTPR - March 22nd, 2020
- The Right to Assemble Not Erased By Government Emergency Libertarians to Continue Meeting in Keene Sundays at 5pm - Free Keene - March 22nd, 2020
- Just Send the Checks - Reason - March 22nd, 2020
- Opinion | Rufus Woods, Art of Community: Now is the time to sacrifice for elders and the vulnerable - wenatcheeworld.com - March 22nd, 2020
- OPINION EXCHANGE | Amid the outbreak, Minnesota's minor political parties will struggle to get on the ballot - Minneapolis Star Tribune - March 22nd, 2020
- The small-government case for giving everyone a big check - The Week Magazine - March 22nd, 2020
- Armstrong: Liberty in the midst of a pandemic - Complete Colorado - March 22nd, 2020
- At war, Britons can be trusted to do the right thing - Telegraph.co.uk - March 22nd, 2020
- Rand Paul looms as wild card in surveillance fight | TheHill - The Hill - March 8th, 2020
- Our Standards on Civility are Trash - The Libertarian Republic - March 8th, 2020
- Freelancers Shouldn't Betray Other Gig Workers By Allying with Anti-Union Opponents of AB5 - Common Dreams - March 8th, 2020
- Schiff says Democrats are negotiating to include more privacy protections in key surveillance bill | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Senate passes $8.3 billion coronavirus bill, sending it to Trump | TheHill - The Hill - March 5th, 2020
- Civility and pleas to be heard mark debate among 18 marginal candidates - The Fulcrum - March 5th, 2020
- Talking about a revolution - The Economist - March 5th, 2020
- Plenty of contested races on the ballot this year - Norfolk Daily News - March 5th, 2020
- CA Voters Asked To Approve $17B In School Construction Bonds; Much Of It Unneeded (Opinion) - Patch.com - February 3rd, 2020
- Ahead of polls, New Zealand's opposition party rules out deal with kingmaker Peters - Midwest Communication - February 3rd, 2020
- Will SCOTUS Hearing on Ballot Position Apply to Minor Political Parties? - The Libertarian Republic - February 3rd, 2020
- Fire Wipes Out OC Nonprofit That Helps People Get Back Into The Workforce - LAist - February 3rd, 2020