Rights, Constraints, and Offsets in Handling the COVID-19 Pandemic
The binomial freedom – safety within the society
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, among other things, that the development of human knowledge can entail a series of risks that can endanger both the existence of the individual and of the society in which we live. In this time of crisis, an important concern is to achieve an appropriate balance between freedom and safety both at the level of the individual and at the level of society.
Some opinions on the concepts of freedom and safety will be presented below. Thus, for Hayek, freedom is that state in which the coercion to which some individuals subject their fellows is reduced as much as possible in society. Referring to the concept of individual freedom, Rawls states that it is determined by the rights and duties established by the significant institutions of society; this freedom, in his opinion, also representing a model of social forms. A few years later, Marta C. Nussbaum, with her theory of human capabilities (what people are able to do or to be) proposes a new conception of the concept of freedom, namely apophatic freedom (freedom ensured by abstention), but it also looks at this concept in terms of the opportunities that individuals have to obtain their fundamental liberties (religious liberty, liberty of expression, liberty of association, etc.), and to be in perfect harmony with their values. She argues that all individuals should have the chance to develop the full range of human powers, at any level their condition allows (including people with disabilities and non-human animals) and to enjoy that kind of freedom and independence that their condition allows.
When defining the concept of freedom, 21st century economists refer both to the degree to which individuals can use their own free will (it means the capacity, ability, and desire of individuals to oppose or reject decisions or actions — more precisely, to hold back or to refuse decisions/actions), and to the absence of private coercion on the establishment of the individual purpose.
The second concept considered in this intervention, the concept of safety, refers to the state in which the dangers and conditions that can cause physical, psychological or material damage are monitored and controlled to ensure the well-being of individuals and of society. Safety is considered an essential resource, necessary to achieve the aspirations of both individuals and society.
The mutual opportunity cost of the binomial freedom – safety
The magnitude of the measures taken in response to the current threat of COVID-19 makes us wonder which are the effects on the freedom-safety binomial. We are in the situation in which individuals seek to obtain a mutual advantage in society by bearing the opportunity cost of their decisions, of a moral nature, to lose certain liberties (liberty of movement, liberty of association, religious liberty) in exchange for gaining the safety offered by actions that belong in particular to the field of public health. We can start, in understanding the present situation, from the utilitarian point of view of Bentham who stated that the utility or interest of an individual is an element that can belong to a social calculation, individual freedom being a branch of safety against certain injustices of public authorities that may affect the individuals. Individuals who have chosen to submit themselves to the recommendations of scientific experts and public authorities naturally have expectations from those who have benefited from their submission. It is noteworthy in the analysis of the two concepts and the existence of substitutability between freedom (or some concrete liberties) and safety (as the case at the current time of the COVID-19 pandemic) but, of course, it has a very narrow margin of manoeuvre (citizens who demonstrate against the restrictions imposed by authorities consider that the two elements are completely substitutable).
Concerning legality vs. legitimacy in the government’s handling of the pandemic
The legality of government measures was achieved by adopting the necessary rules to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and, as we know, both during the state of emergency and during the state of alert, military ordinances, ordinary laws, and emergency governmental ordinances were adopted enabling the government and other public authorities to effectively intervene in crisis management and ensure the protection of all individuals against the disease. Temporary measures to protect the right to life and physical integrity have been taken in almost all areas of the economy. By adopting three categories of measures, the government aimed to increase the response capacity of affected communities, ensure the community resilience, and reduce the impact of risk.
The legitimacy of government measures was aimed at protecting the values of individuals with an emphasis on their safety by adopting temporary measures necessary to remove threats to the life, health of individuals, material and cultural values or, in some cases, of the property.
Where and why should the government pay for causing damaging through its handling of the pandemic
The government’s intervention measures in the labour market during the periods covered by the state of emergency and the state of alert had the role of mitigating the negative effects on the living standard of the people and on the economy. The elimination of existing pay inequities during the alert period for the categories of health personnel involved in the management of cases infected with the SARS-CoV-2 was considered to ensure their preparedness for an adequate response in the next period.
The fiscal measures were aimed at creating the legislative framework (by issuing emergency ordinances) for the payment of unemployment and technical unemployment benefits for individuals who have suffered losses caused by restrictions on carrying out economic activities. Other government costs included supporting small and medium-sized enterprises, grants and loans to young entrepreneurs, strengthening public employment services and using rural development funds to compensate people and small businesses in the agri-food sector.
The latest ordinance adopted by the government (on support measures for employees and employers in the context of the epidemiological situation caused by the spread of SARS-CoV-2, as well as to stimulate the workforce) regulates kurzarbeit – a mixed measure of technical unemployment and effective work, and facilities for other salaried categories: day laborers, teleworkers and seasonal workers.
With all of these efforts, the loss of 628 thousand jobs in the last three months, in Romania, requires certain measures from the public authorities, namely the increase of unemployment benefits, the modernization of the labour market management system, social safety for atypical workers, etc.