The battle against Covid-19 has provided all governments with a reason to indulge in their central planning, authoritarian tendencies. Along with brutal infractions on civil liberties and economic freedoms, the SA government banned the sale of certain items of clothing and rotisserie chicken, suspended e-commerce, and imposed bans on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol.  

The latest National Income Dynamics-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) data indicate that about 85% of smokers continued smoking through the government’s lockdown-linked ban on the sale of cigarettes, and only about 8% of smokers quit during the ban. About 50% of those who said they quit indicated that they resumed smoking once the ban was lifted.

For any politician or bureaucrat in Tshwane, Bloemfontein or Cape Town to presume they have the intimate knowledge and insight into every citizen’s life to make all manner of decisions “for their own good” opens the door to destructive, far-reaching consequences. No matter the level of technical expertise of government officials they cannot predict with certainty how people are going to act tomorrow, never mind how one government action will in turn affect millions of interconnected actions between people going about their daily lives.

Perhaps, for a fixed moment in time, it will appear as though people have profoundly changed their behaviour. But viewed over the long term, one sees the various ways in which people circumvent arbitrary, authoritarian state edicts to continue as they have before.

The government’s campaign to eliminate what it considers “unhealthy” habits has taken on various forms over the years and the results are always the same; increased prices of goods, and people changing not their fundamental behaviour but simply the form in which they fulfil their desire, often through illicit networks.

The overall result is lost tax revenue — which could be used for service delivery for poorer citizens — and people simply finding other avenues to fulfil their desires.

Chris Hattingh, Free Market Foundation

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