Sutherland joins KSL’s Lee Lonsberry to talk coronavirus and whether the government can force you to stay at home

Written by Derek Monson

March 20, 2020

Earlier this week, KSL NewsRadio Live Mic host Lee Lonsberry had Sutherland Institute’s VP of policy, Derek Monson, on his radio show for a brief discussion about the government response to the coronavirus pandemic. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation. You can also click here to listen to the interview.


Now let’s take a step backwards and look at some of the advice that’s been handed down. And I use that word intentionally – advice – for the most part it is government that is heading up these task forces; for the overwhelming majority of instances around the country, it is government who is suggesting that schools close down, recommending that restaurants limit access to their dining areas. And if you pay close attention to the language, everything is being done in terms of recommendations and suggestions and advice and advisories. In fact, most recently in here this morning, we learned that Uintah County has advised a travel limitation that if you don’t need to leave or enter the county that you don’t do so.

That was an advice – or an advisory, rather. Nowhere have we yet seen the compulsory quarantine of individuals. We have not yet seen mandated, government-mandated curfews. And I’ve been keeping my ears open for that. I’ve been keeping my ears open in particular last week when the president declared a national emergency, I wondered if you’d call upon any of his executive authorities, or if he would make any of them known, I’m not aware of any, but where we would in a compulsory sense, have to get back in our homes at a certain hour of the day, or limit our movements. Or very essentially have some of our rights restricted. That question got me talking to some folks here in the newsroom.

Ultimately I made a phone call over to my friends at the Sutherland Institute, that’s a think tank down the street, real smart folks over there, and Derek Monson, vice president of policy responded, and he and I got chatting back and forth a little bit by email. I’d like to continue that conversation now with Mr. Monson, who joins us on the line. Derek, sir, how you doing?


I’m doing good, Lee. Thanks for having me.


You staying healthy, washing your hands, you taking all the advice?


Yeah, we actually implemented a temporary working at home situation, and obviously if there’s something really critical we can go to the office and that’s okay; we’re a small organization. But yeah, we’re doing what we can.


Outstanding. Kind of continuing the little rant I just went on there talking about some of the advice that’s been handed down by the government at various levels, and you compare that advice to, say, our rights. What thoughts jump to mind, how do you respond to that? What do you think of along those lines?


It’s kind of a hopeful sign is that our system is working, right? I mean, we’re not China, where it’s expected that the government’s going to come in and just take over everything. It’s America, where we actually like to work with each other and cooperate in the private voluntary way. And so our system is set up to look at situations like this, empower the government to take action when it’s urgent in the case of coronavirus, but still work with people rather than, if not against them, imposing our will upon them, to help people figure this out in a voluntary way that actually leads to the kinds of solutions we need.

Because oftentimes when you impose something on them, people might respond that, “you know, I just don’t like that feeling of being told what to do,” and then they can do things you don’t want them to do. Whereas if it’s a voluntary thing people tend to be good, want to cooperate and help each other out.


I agree 100% and that sense of community and being a partner and not an adversary to these various task forces. I think it gives us a little bit of ownership for the success if you are told to do something and there eventually is some sort of outcome because you felt compelled to take the action, you don’t have responsibility for the outcome.

And if we maintain this, if we keep doing our part, and taking the advice, not necessarily the mandated decisions of the government, we take the good advice and trust where it’s coming from or at least trust the rationale behind it, if it makes good common sense to us, then I think the ultimately the outcome will be one where we can take some responsibility and we can feel proud of our behavior having contributed to ultimately a good outcome here.


That’s right. And I think it actually also creates the hope that we can actually do things above and beyond what the bare minimum might be. So, just hypothetically to illustrate, if the government came in and said to a family or an individual, you cannot leave your home and broadcasted that because that’s what the government decision is, who’s going to be willing to go and step into that home to help out when say, they might need some food, they might need something?

It sends a stigma around that person or that house to stay away from them. Whereas on the other hand if it’s a voluntary situation – and I’m not saying in the other situation that nobody would help; I think people probably would. But the number of people I think will be less than if it was a voluntary situation, and you know somebody who’s self-quarantining. And so you step up to help your neighbor because that’s what we do and I don’t feel this, “Oh, am I breaking some law because the government said this person is supposed to be in quarantine…”

I mean it just is the thought process, and really is a reflection of what America and the state of Utah is at its best, which is voluntarily doing things in a community. That includes the government, but it’s not primarily driven by the government and allows us to accomplish things that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.


Yeah. We’re speaking with Derek Monson, vice president of policy at the Sutherland Institute, talking very basically about this, the types of advice and the bits of recommendations handed down by the various task forces, put together by various governmental entities at numerous levels right now. There’s a press conference, being hosted by the president, he is flanked by the various members of this task force, and we have gotten certain directives from the president. Here in the state of Utah we’ve gotten that type of stuff as well.

All of it though, thus far has been handed down and disseminated by mode of advice or recommendation or advisory, not yet compulsory; we haven’t committed any crimes if we go against some of this advice quite yet. And for me, that feels good. I am pleased that that is the case and I am pleased and encouraged by my fellow Utahns and fellow Americans, for taking this seriously, taking this advice seriously, and sharing in the responsibility for bringing this coronavirus threat at least to an end here in the state. Derek Monson, grateful to you for your time.

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