The Magness Horpedahl Convergence on Masks

Last week I posted on the lockdown debate between Phil Magness and Jeremy Horpedahl. I noted that Horpedahl and Magness were not very far apart on lockdowns. Magness opposes lockdowns and Horpedahl favors only very limited local lockdowns in response to local information about spikes in cases.

Today I watched the whole discussion over in order to focus on the extent to which they agreed or disagreed on mask mandates. There was more disagreement on mask mandates, with JH (I’ll use initials from now on instead of full names) favoring mandates more than PM. What was also interesting, though, is the extent to which they agreed. I’ll note some highlights and then briefly note other interesting parts of the discussion that didn’t relate to masks.


JH  argued (at about 15:10) that mask mandates are a small restriction on liberty. He also stated, though (at about 17:00), his strong objection to governors like South Dakota’s Kristi Noem telling that state’s residents that if they want to wear a mask, that’s fine, and if they don’t, that’s fine also. Politicians, he argued should be pushing personal responsibility.

Notice, though, that the mask messaging of politicians is different from the issue of mandating masks. Like JH, I would have preferred that Governor Noem strongly recommend masks. She could still say that it’s a personal choice but that in indoor situations with other people present, the wise choice is to wear them.

PM noted (45:40) that masks work indoors and that (46:40) 80% of the public wears masks when venturing out. Given that high percentage use, PM asked (54:10), what does a mask mandate achieve?

JH noted (56:10) that PM’s 80% figure is right but that in private indoor spaces (family gatherings, etc.) the percent is much lower. JH dd note that the mandate won’t get at that indoor behavior in people’s homes. He’s not quite right, by the way. Wc could have police patrolling houses to enforce a mandate. Fortunately, JH didn’t even countenance that; good for him. In short, both clearly opposed pushing enforcement into people’s homes.

JH later (1:08:30) pointed out that a lot of people comply with the mask mandate because it is the law. I agree. Which means that a mask mandate, even if not enforced strongly, will cause many people to wear masks.

I asked JH a question on line that they didn’t get to in Q&A. It was this: What is the extent of the mask mandate you favor. Do you favor it for indoors vs. outdoors, for example? (That wasn’t the exact wording but I don’t have the exact wording.) I was surprised that in 1.5 hours of discussion, at least 15 minutes of which were about masks, the question of indoor vs. outdoor didn’t come up. I still would like to know.

I want to know for two reasons: one intellectual and the other personal. When I walk around Monterey in pretty undense situations where I can walk by people quickly and stay at least 5 feet from them and usually 6 feet or more, I often get dirty looks (I think: it’s hard to tell whether the looks are dirty when people are wearing masks) and even critical and sometimes nasty comments from mask wearers. Does JH think that, if I were a carrier, I would be putting these people at much risk?

Vaccine Mandates

This was probably the area in which there was the biggest difference. JH said (1:09;20) that schools already have mandates for various vaccines so having a mandate for children to be vaccinated is not a large step. He also said that it’s reasonable to have a mandate for people who want to travel internationally or even on buses. He said that you could have a rule that if you aren’t vaccinated, then you would have to follow the other rules about masking and distancing. My question: How would an official know who was vaccinated? Wouldn’t it have to be something like “Show me your vaccine card.”

PM answered (1:11:00) that it’s premature even to consider a vaccine mandate when current demand vastly exceeds supply.

PM also made 2 other points. First, remember the infamous Supreme Court case of Buck v. Bell in which the Court found forced sterilization constitutional and cited as precedent the existing compulsory vaccination laws. (That was the case in which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., justifyng forced sterilization, stated “Three generations of imbeciles are enough” and leading me to wonder whether Mr. Holmes had grandchildren.)

Second, said PM, it doesn’t make sense to require the tens of millions of Americans who have had COVID-19 to get vaccinated.

Trading Off Lives and Mental Health

One questioner asked how lives saved from government interventions should be traded off against mental health. Both JH and PM gave thoughtful answers.

JH pointed out (1:23:00) that many people have a tendency to dismiss the value of the lives of the elderly because they have little of it left. But he noted that many of the elderly badly want to live and that one reason is to be around grandchildren. People in their 20s, on the other hand, often take big risks that suggest that they don’t necessarily value their lives very highly. He could have cited a study that I think was done by Robert Hall, Gary Becker, and another economist that found older people willing to pay a lot to live another few months. (My memory on this is vague.)

PM noted (1:25:00) that the question of the tradeoff between lives and mental health assumes the efficacy of interventions, which is something that has not been established. He noted also that the very lockdowns at issue often require the elderly to wither away in nursing homes, being able to visit their loved ones only through a window.

I have two personal stories that relate directly to PM’s point above. The father-in-law of a good friend of mine is about 95 years old. He was in a nursing home and was isolated by law even though he didn’t have the disease. My friend’s wife (the elderly man’s daughter) flew all the way from California to Pennsylvania so that she could take him to a doctor’s appointment. That was the only way she could actually visit him in person. This is insane. A few months ago, they decided to move him out of the nursing home and into the home of one of the elderly man’s daughters so she could take care of him.

Another friend in the Monterey area who’s quite wealthy had a mother-in-law stuck in a nursing home in Pennsylvania. She was stuck there because of the regulations and not doing well. My friend hired a jet to bring her out to Monterey, where she had a good last few months before dying late last year.


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The seen and the unseen

Here is someone arguing against loosening regulations to allow more home building, unless supported by the neighborhood in question:

I would only support upzoning in order to create affordable housing if the zoning changes were supported by the community that they would affect. Currently, our land use process provides inadequate opportunity for substantive community input. I oppose upzoning our City’s historic districts. We can address our city’s affordable housing needs without changing the character of our City’s neighborhoods.

Here’s another example:

Did you know that an advisory panel in San José has recommended the elimination of single-family home zoning on neighborhood streets away from major boulevards and transit? This betrayal of the families in those neighborhoods contravenes the Envision San José 2040 General Plan that was adopted after much civic input. This so-called “Opportunity Housing” concept also contravenes common sense. . . .

[It] is a recipe for neighborhood strife around parking, noise, and privacy. It also goes against the city’s pledge to protect the character of often-historic blocks not on major boulevards or adjacent to transit. Such a move would nuke the neighborhoods that give San José charm, character, and breathing room.

The first statement was made by Maya Wiley, a progressive running for mayor of New York.  The second comes from the Santa Clara California Republican Party.

We are frequently told that America is polarized between liberals and conservatives, and there is clearly some truth in that claim.  But perhaps we are missing an even bigger polarization, between those who focus on the seen and those who focus on the unseen.  (BTW, the title of this post comes from Frederic Bastiat’s brilliant essay on opportunity cost.)

Proponents of NIMBYism on both the left and the right are opposed by those who focus on the unseen effects of zoning restrictions, that is, all the anonymous people who will never be able to live in areas with lots of great jobs because the local residents refuse to allow new construction.

There are many proponents of protectionism in both political parties.  They focus on the easily seen impact of imported goods, which is a loss of jobs in import competing industries.  They are opposed by people on both sides of the ideological spectrum who  focus on the unseen effects of protectionism, such as a loss of jobs in export industries.

A few years ago, a bipartisan group of Congressmen successfully repealed the “Cadillac tax” on health insurance, which aimed to gradually phase out the heavy subsidy that the federal government currently provides to health expenditures made through company insurance plans.  They focused on the easily seen consequences on worker paychecks and health care jobs.  They were opposed by people on both sides of the ideological spectrum, who worried that the subsidy to health insurance causes costs to explode, thus reducing real wages for future generations.

People on both sides of the ideological spectrum often favor fiscal stimulus.  Other people on both sides of the ideological spectrum worry about its unseen effects, such as crowding out.

People on both sides of the political spectrum worry that immigration will reduce wages.  Others on both sides of the political spectrum think about future generations of people who are not now but will become American, and who will be better off because they were allowed to immigrate to America in the 2020s.

People on both sides of the political spectrum favor government deposit insurance to protect savers when a bank fails.  Other people (including FDR) worried about the less visible moral hazard thereby created, the tendency of insured banks to make riskier loans than uninsured banks.

People on both sides of the political spectrum have advocated that universities fire people who make offensive statements about Israel, or about minority groups.  Others worry about the chilling effects of moving away from a tradition of free speech.

Yes, in America we have the Democrats and the Republicans.  But perhaps at a deeper level the actual split is between the party of the seen and the party of the unseen.


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Diversity in policing

In the wake of high-profile police shootings of Black Americans, it is important to know whether the race and gender of officers and civilians affect their interactions. Ba et al.overcame previous data constraints and found that Hispanic and Black officers make far fewer stops and arrests and use force less than white officers, especially against Black […]

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