Free Market

COVID-19’s Prompt for Deregulation and Innovation

As people around the world are hunkered down waiting for the Coronavirus to blow over, there are pockets of hope and silver linings to be found.

From the spontaneous acts of community service to the neighbors rallying together to support each other through a time of crisis, there are many praiseworthy things that could be highlighted—among them, the benefits that can come from letting the market adapt to changing needs.

For example:

  • Delays from the FDA for approval stalled the market’s ability to produce COVID-19 tests, but once the red tape was cleared up, the market responded—including a company that is creating home-test kits that can yield results in 48 hours.
  • Increased telehealth opportunities have come about through suspension of federal restrictions on Medicare reimbursement for those who want to access a doctor remotely.
  • The Feds are also waiving the in-state licensure requirements for physicians as a temporary measure, easing the ability of medical providers to serve people in a neighboring state, rather than being restricted by arbitrary license regimes. This relates to a new bill passed in Utah to recognize out of state licenses (not just for medical providers).
  • Restaurants subject to shutdown orders are able, in addition to providing carryout, to deliver to the community using Uber Eats, GrubHub, DoorDash — which also creates economic opportunity for drivers whose other forms of employment may be reduced or lost as a result of the economic impact.
  • Grocery stores are also hiring people to shop for and deliver to customers, bringing the requested goods directly to people and creating employment opportunities for more people.
  • With millions of children staying home from school, parents are experimenting with alternative education methods for their children, which provides a compelling contrast against status quo systems that are resistant to innovation. 
  • Employees working remotely are utilizing technology to remain connected to co-workers and clients; many industries not typically used to employees working from home are now being forced to explore what this dynamic might look like.
  • Non-violent criminals in some locales aren’t being incarcerated, calling into question a criminal justice system that warehouses people unnecessarily. 
  • Drones are being enlisted for various tasks, including medical deliveries, suggesting the urgent need to further deregulate air space to open up this emerging market for more efficiency and individual response.
  • 3D printers are being used to create respirator parts to fill a medical need, showing the viability of rapid prototyping and open source solutions to create needed items.

There are surely stories that haven’t hit our radar, and more to come. Even in times of crisis, creative people solve problems in unique ways if left free to do so. 

Government regulations can often restrict dynamic market behavior, so the suspensions of these regulations can be helpful in circumstances where waiting for regulatory approval is a matter of life or death. Of course, this then calls into question why we should tolerate a status quo after crisis that doesn’t provide similar dynamism for people in general, even if there is no imminent threat.

Just as it’s hard to put toothpaste back in the tube, markets that experience and acclimatize to a lower regulatory burden are going to want to maintain their flexibility and opportunity. And rightly so, since it enables them to more efficiently and cost-effectively serve their customers’ needs.

When the urgency of COVID-19 passes and society stabilizes, millions of people will have experienced alternatives from their norm that will prompt reconsideration of “the way things are done.” And in sectors of the economy regulated or controlled by the government, this lasting impact is all the more important. For example, a parent whose child thrives in a home environment learning at their own pace, with support from the school system, might rightly question why that child needs to sit in a government school classroom and learn at a slower speed dictated by a teacher. 

The market can respond quickly and efficiently when allowed to do so. Creative people can unleash innovative ways of solving problems, and we should let them—both in times of crisis and stability.