(The Swim Alaska Pool Sits Empty Today)
The pool where my girls planned to take swim lessons this summer went out of business today.
It wasn’t a new business. This month marks their tenth year in the valley. Nor did it have trouble finding customers. Just pay a visit to their Facebook Page. In March, business was booming. Today its doors are closed, never to reopen. By scrolling through the Facebook entries for the last 12 weeks you can watch the death of the business unfold, blow after blow, in painful detail.
In my book, learning how to be safe around water isn’t just for some. Here in Alaska, kids need to know how to swim. Alaska has been listed as having the highest drowning rate in the nation. In Alaska, drowning has also been listed as the leading cause of unintentional injury death for children aged 0-9. In short, kids don’t float…unless they’ve been trained to.
When folks start talking about essential businesses, I put teaching kids how to swim pretty high on the list.
Probably like a lot of other parents, we chose Swim Alaska because all the friends we know whose kids have taken swim lessons there absolutely loved it. As a former lifeguard myself, we also wanted a program that works with infants and toddlers (our youngest daughter turns two this fall) as well as our older kids. You can teach kids how to survive falling into a pool at 6-months old now (yes, it’s actually a thing). Swim Alaska works with 6-month-olds and up, so they made the cut.
Plus, the owner of Swim Alaska has absolutely put her heart into the business over the last ten years. Even first time visitors to the Swim Alaska website can get a taste of that.
So you can imagine the sadness of those reading the message the owner sent out today:
Social distancing guidelines mean that instructors can no longer touch kids in the pool.
Now tell me, how are you supposed to teach a child how to swim without touching them?
I’ll let you chew on that one for a minute.
But it’s not just kids learning how to swim. CDC’s new social distancing standards make training new lifeguards just as impossible.
Once again we’re confronted with the reality that government is much better at killing things than it will ever be at giving them life.
This is not a function of power, as though by giving government officials more power, to implement more regulations, government will suddenly stop killing businesses and start creating them. It doesn’t work that way.
The idea of government bureaucracies choosing which businesses are “essential” and therefore worthy of surviving, and which legal businesses are “non-essential”, was bound to end badly from the get-go. And we see that it has.
Fundamentally, it isn’t any better than when the Obama Administration sought to mark gun and ammo shops as undesirable and drive them out of business by pressuring banks to close their accounts, or when the State of Vermont began declaring books and seeds “non-essential” and directing the big box stores not to sell them.
There are some questions government officials should never be empowered to ask. Which legal businesses are worth keeping around, is one of them. As has been pointed out by others, every single business is essential to someone. What of the restaurant owner whose family loses their livelihood when the restaurant closes, or the waitress who gets fired, or the property owner who can no longer afford the mortgage now that the restaurant is no longer paying rent? The business was certainly “essential” to each of their families.
Any attempt on the part of government agencies to mark some businesses essential and others, “optional”, is picking one group of people out to be the winners and another group to be the losers.
Yes, I personally would want to put swim schools in the essential category. I will never forget being dispatched to help recover a 5-year-old boy and his mother from the Matanuska River, or the day that one of the soldiers I served with in Afghanistan drowned in a lake on JBER, or the day my little brother had to be rescued from the bottom of a pool after taxing his body to the breaking point. But personal connections to a particular business or industry are no reason for policymakers to drive someone out of business so that someone else can maintain their livelihood.
In a free society, it’s the customer you should be chasing, not a bureaucrat or a politician. In the end, the customer will decide what is essential…and what’s not. And that happens a thousand times every single day. As the customer, you hold the power (or should). Those in government have a duty to honor that relationship.
So, amidst all the economic carnage playing out today, whose responsibility is it if my child doesn’t know how to swim?
As a parent who can teach them, it’s my responsibility. I can either teach them myself or find others who can. And it’s my government’s responsibility to stop asking whether my doing so is essential. That’s not a question I am willing to entrust to either bureaucrats or politicians.