The drastic measures elected and unelected officials are taking to stem coronavirus (COVID-19) contagion reached new heights when President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act on March 18, 2020. The Korean War–era law grants the executive branch emergency powers to require American companies to increase production to combat shortages. Meanwhile, at the state level, governors have prohibited people from making purchases by closing bars, restaurants, spas, and salons.
Officials speculate the pandemic may overwhelm our limited medical resources. But as long as their data remains woefully incomplete, we must remember Newton’s Third Law of Physics: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” The draconian restrictions officials are imposing could spark an economic catastrophe more disruptive to American life than the coronavirus itself. So, officials should restrain themselves from depriving people of their freedom to transact unless or until irrefutably necessary.