The Ethical and Economic Case Against Lockdowns

Last Friday, February 19, I gave about a 1.6 hour Zoom talk to Ryan Sullivan’s class at the Naval Postgraduate School.

It was titled “Don’t Forget What We Know: The Ethical and Economic Case Against Lockdowns.”

Here it is.

By the way, the most surprising thing I heard from Jeremy Horpedahl in his debate/discussion with Phil Magness is that when there’s an externality, there’s a presumption in favor of government intervention. I disagree and I say why at about the 28:50 point.

The Commissar Komisar discussion at 54:27 is based on a short blog post I did here.

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The Game of Telephone: The Knowledge Problem in Regulation

Why do economists who accept a theory oppose putting it into practice?  For example, I believe global warming is a rather significant problem.  I agree that it is internally consistent that carbon taxes (or some other variation like cap & trade) can reduce carbon emissions to a socially optimal level.  So, why then do I oppose carbon tax regulation?

There are many reasons why I (and many other GMU-style economists) oppose regulation even though a logical argument can be made, it could improve a given situation.  We tend to focus on public choice reasons (such as rent-seeking and agency capture).  The knowledge problem, most famously discussed by F.A. Hayek, is also often cited: government agents can too seldom possess all information and knowledge necessary to regulate desirably and much less “optimally.”

There is an element of the knowledge problem that warrants further attention, an element highlighted by Don Lavoie in his 1985 book National Economic Planning: What is Left? In this book, Lavoie greatly expands our understanding of the knowledge problem and its relevance for assessing central planning and more mundane government regulation.  He discusses Hayek’s formulation of knowledge as mostly tacit, but Lavoie also emphasizes that knowledge is built upon inarticulable foundations.  Attempts to articulate the inarticulate foundations are doomed to fail as each person carries with him or her different nuanced understandings of the language used in legislation authorizing regulations.

Consider, for example, the phrase “2+2=4.”  Understanding the phrase’s meaning requires a tacit, inarticulable understanding of the elements: 2, +, =, and 4.  If one were to try to rigorously define every element in that phrase, he would eventually fall into a problem of recursivity.  As children, when we first encounter mathematics, it may seem weird and arbitrary.  We just learn that 2+2=4 by rote.  It is only through repeated interactions with mathematics do we start to understand it.  To paraphrase the great mathematician John von Neumann, you never really learn mathematics.  You just get used to it.

The problem of inarticulable understandings of knowledge comes into play in the field of regulation.  The economist has a foundation of knowledge.  When he tries to convert that knowledge into policy, we run into a game of telephone.  At each step along the way, the knowledge and information get a little distorted. Each person has different foundations from which they understand the message the economist is delivering.  As such, the end policy would deviate considerably from theory, even if we assume away public choice issues.  In other words, the policy will look considerably different from the theory because of a sort-of language barrier.

Consider, for example, the word “cost” in economics.  We define “cost” to mean what one gives up to take a particular action (it is sometimes called “opportunity cost” for this reason).  Cost is inseparable from choice.  Yet, “cost” takes on a very different meaning for the general public, as it usually refers to a negative consequence (“the cost of reading is a headache”) or the monetary price of something (“the coffee cost me $2”).  Thus, the economist already faces a problem communicating his theory to policymakers.  But even within the field of economics, “cost” has different understandings.  James Buchanan’s excellent short 1969 book, Cost and Choice, discusses how “cost” has changed understandings among the various schools of thought.

I oppose regulation even when I understand the argument because argument and policy are not the same things.  When communicating, experts run into the telephone problem: the theory is misunderstood, misapplied, or miscommunicated.  Competition among experts helps solve these problems, yes, as experts become incentivized to be less wizardly and more like teachers.  But the knowledge problem remains, and regulation can only enhance the communication problems.

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One hundred years of solitude

Rarely does one see such unambiguous good news as this:

The Berkeley City Council has unanimously voted to become the first Bay Area city to end single-family zoning. . . .

Berkeley was the first city in the country to enact single-family zoning more than 100 years ago.

Opponents of single-family zoning say it was used to exclude people of color from moving into certain neighborhoods.

Who wins?

1.  Conservatives that favor local control of zoning decisions.

2.  Conservatives that favor deregulation and free markets.

3.  Progressives worried about housing affordability for the poor and minorities.

4.  Urbanists worried that suburbia creates isolated, atomistic people, unconnected to their neighbors.

5.  Environmentalists worried about urban sprawl.

Congratulations to Berkeley for ending 100 years of solitude.

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The Mae West of energy sources

The New Yorker has a good article on nuclear power, which discusses the imminent shutdown of a nuclear power plant in California that produces 9% of their electricity, with zero carbon emissions:

Today, the looming disruptions of climate change have altered the risk calculus around nuclear energy. James Hansen, the nasa scientist credited with first bringing global warming to public attention, in 1988, has long advocated a vast expansion of nuclear power to replace fossil fuels. Even some environmental groups that have reservations about nuclear energy, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, have recognized that abruptly closing existing reactors would lead to a spike in emissions. But U.S. plants are aging and grappling with a variety of challenges. In recent years, their economic viability has been threatened by cheap, fracked natural gas. Safety regulations introduced after the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, in 2011, have increased costs, and, in states such as California, legislation prioritizes renewables (the costs of which have also fallen steeply). Since 2013, eleven American reactors have been retired; the lost electricity has largely been replaced through the burning of fossil fuels. At least eight more closures, including Diablo Canyon’s, are planned. In a 2018 report, the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that “closing the at-risk plants early could result in a cumulative 4 to 6 percent increase in US power sector carbon emissions by 2035.”

I’ve always found it to be ironic that environmentalists are often the ones that protest against nuclear power, given how good it is for the environment.  It would almost be like community housing advocates opposing new housing construction.  (Oh wait . . . )  Or public health experts opposing first-dose-first.

Some point to the risks of a catastrophic accident, such as occurred at Chernobyl.  In fact, while nuclear power is very good for the environment when working safely, it’s even better for the environment when there is a major disaster.  Chernobyl created a vast nature reserve in northern Ukraine, full of wild animals that have disappeared from much of Europe.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should be building more nuclear power plants—there may be sound economic or safety reasons for not doing so.  But we should not move away from nuclear for “environmental” reasons, as this energy source is extremely good for the environment.  And it seems rather foolish to shut down clean energy power plants that have operated safely for decades, and where the high construction costs have already been incurred.

PS.  The post title is a reference to one of the greatest actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age:

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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.

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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Ezra Klein on California Housing Restrictions

In much of San Francisco, you can’t walk 20 feet without seeing a multicolored sign declaring that Black lives matter, kindness is everything and no human being is illegal. Those signs sit in yards zoned for single families, in communities that organize against efforts to add the new homes that would bring those values closer to reality. Poorer families — disproportionately nonwhite and immigrant — are pushed into long commutes, overcrowded housing and homelessness. Those inequalities have turned deadly during the pandemic.

This is from Ezra Klein, “California Is Making Liberals Squirm,” New York Times, February 11, 2021.

I like large parts of this Klein article, which is unusual for me. One thing I’m seeing is that there seems to be an alliance among libertarians, liberals like Ezra, and a few others to reduce government restrictions on housing. Last month I finished a review of Conor Dougherty’s excellent book Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America. It will come out next month in the Spring edition of Regulation. Dougherty delves nicely into some of the somewhat hopeful signs for housing in America.

I don’t endorse everything Klein says in the op/ed, especially on the Central Valley’s middle-speed rail, euphemistically called high-speed rail. But there’s a lot of good stuff in the piece.

By the way, in Pacific Grove, where I live, you can walk 20 feet without seeing the sign he sees, but it’s hard to walk 200 feet without seeing such a sign.

HT2 Glenn Reynolds.

 

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Vaccine Adventures

Following up on information that Covid-19 vaccines were available there, I walked into the small Maine pharmacy. I saw nobody inside, not even at the cash register. I continued to the back of the store: nobody manned the two counters of the pharmacist’s hideout. I stood in front of one. After just a few minutes, an employee appeared on the other side.

“Could I see the pharmacist?” I asked.

The pharmacist came.

“I have been told that you have Covid vaccines,” I said.

“We have a waiting list,” she replied.

I asked to be put on it but she would not, or could not, tell me when they were likely to phone me for an appointment. I recognized something like the Canadian health system, under which I lived for decades.

“Is it a matter of days, weeks, months, or years,” I asked.

“Days. At least.”

That looked good, except for the “at least.” In some of the on-line and mortar-and-brick places, there is not even a queue you can get at the back of.

At this stage, the actual vaccines don’t seem to be the problem. In the United States, the manufacturers have delivered twice as many vaccines as have been administered. According to the Wall Street Journal (Jared S. Hopkins and Arian Camp-Flores, “Demand for Covid-19 Vaccines Overwhelms State Health Providers,” February 8, 2021),

[a]lthough state officials often cite limited vaccine supply, manufacturers are producing largely on schedule. Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. since December have supplied about 60 million doses, nearly one-third of the 200 million the companies together must deliver by the end of March.

State governments are supposed to distribute the vaccines that the federal government, after literally monopolizing the market, makes available to them. The length of the queues varies from place to place, perhaps depending partly on the success of whatever entrepreneurship can creep into what is basically a socialized distribution system. One Missouri hospital has a waiting list of 100,000 names and no vaccine left. Queues are not an efficient way to ration demand.

In the former Soviet Union, the government always had an excuse for shortages. The real problem was different: no private property, no market prices to signal scarcities, and no free entrepreneurship to respond to the signals.

In America, once the federal government has purchased them, the Covid vaccines are priced at zero, which implies that government allocation is required. At a zero price, demand is much larger than the quantity that bureaucrats can supply. The fee governments pay providers (hospitals, pharmacies, and such) for administering the vaccines may not be higher than the latter’s cost. For example, Medicare pays about $40 for administering the two doses of the currently available vaccines. In a flash of economic realism, Joe Biden has expressed some concern that this fee may not be sufficient.

It is no consolation that all governments in the “free” world have adopted similar policies. No “American exceptionalism” here.

For Soviet agricultural production, the weather was often the excuse. For Covid vaccines, we are told that “the supply chain” and logistics are the problem. The Wall Street Journal‘s Jennifer Smith reported (“Mass Vaccination Sites Will Mean Scaling Up Logistics Coordination,” January 30, 2021):

Other local health departments might need information technology help to cope with overwhelmed appointment systems, or assistance with planning and sourcing the labor, supplies and procedures needed to administer hundreds of shots a day. “People underestimate that this is a massive logistics operation,” Dr. Wen said. “That type of expertise is often missing in state and local public health.”

But except for governments—that is, political and bureaucratic processes—that should not be an unsurmountable logistics problem. Private businesses without central coordination produce and deliver the food, in innumerable configurations, for the daily meals of 320 million Americans. Recall the Russian official who, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, asked British economist Paul Seabright, “Who is in charge of the supply of bread to the population of London?”

In 2020, Amazon shipped 4.5 billion packages to American consumers—more than 12 million per day. The UPS hub in Louisville, Kentucky has a five-million-square-foot facility for sorting and treating more than 400,000 packages or documents per day. The hub sees 387 inbound or outbound flights daily from the company’s fleet of nearly 600 aircraft. What is more impressive is to think of the millions of individuals around the country and around the world who work in long and diverse supply chains to provide the equipment and inputs necessary for UPS’s operations. We are reminded of Leonard Read 1958 essay I, Pencil, which explains how the manufacture of a simple pencil requires the voluntary cooperation of a multitude of individuals producing, without a mastermind, the zinc, the copper, the graphite, and the equipment to make pencils out of that, and all the equipment for producing that equipment, and so on.

Although working under no central direction, these innumerable people who contribute to the production of pencils or UPS’s equipment and supplies are coordinated by markets (supply and demand) and the prices that signal what is needed where.

Compare this to the federal government’s “centralized system to order, distribute, and track COVID-19 vaccines” in which “all vaccines will be ordered through the CDC” (see the description by Anthony Fauci’s shop: COVID-19 Vaccine Questions and Answers, accessed February 10, 2021), the price for the final consumer is zero, and providers are paid fees determined by bureaucrats. No wonder the distribution runs into problems. The contrary would be surprising.

Note that the vaccine could still be free for the final customer if the federal government had simply subsidized consumers for their vaccine purchases (with vouchers, for example) and had let markets, entrepreneurship, competition, and prices distribute the stuff. And it wouldn’t take ages, luck, and some humility to put one’s hands on the thing—or one’s arm under the syringe.

The consumer who wants a vaccine gets a small taste of what French philosopher Raymond Ruyer, in his 1969 book Éloge de la société de consommation (In Praise of the Consumer Society), described as the difference between a market economy, where the consumer is sovereign, and a planned economy, where the producer runs the show (under government’s control):

In a market economy, demand gives orders and supply is supplicant . . . In a planned economy, supply give orders and demand is supplicant.

« Dans l’économie de marché, la demande est impérieuse, et l’offre suppliante (the supply is supplying). Dans l’économie planifiée, l’offre est impérieuse, et la demande suppliante. »

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Cost/Benefit Analysis or Rock, Paper, Scissors

President Reagan began regulatory reform with Executive Order 12291, titled simply “Federal Regulation”; President Clinton watered it down with EO 12866; and President Trump beefed it up with EO 13771 (“Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs”) and EO 13777 (“Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda.”) The executive orders required a cost/benefit analysis to assure that the costs of major regulations would be compared with their benefits. But on his first day in office, President Biden revoked those executive orders with his own memorandum titled “Modernizing Regulatory Review.” If you read the memorandum carefully, you’ll see that the word “modernizing” is inapt. Indeed, the memorandum would more accurately be labeled “Replacing Cost/Benefit Analysis with Rock, Paper, Scissors.”

This is from David R. Henderson, “Open Season For New Regulations,” Defining Ideas, February 4, 2021.

Another excerpt:

But even if that weren’t a problem, there are two other major problems. First, notice that the OMB is being put in a position not so much to screen regulations as to propose them. Does this mean the agencies will quit proposing regulations and passively await direction from the OMB? No way. Indeed, the memorandum reads as if President Biden is proposing that OMB be a cheerleader for new regulation. He states that he wants OIRA to “play a more proactive role in partnering with agencies to explore, promote, and undertake regulatory initiatives that are likely to yield significant benefits.” Rah, rah, sis boom bah.

The second major problem is one that anyone with much experience dealing with bureaucracy will probably notice: with so many possible criteria, regulators will have running room to implement regulations they like because those regulations pass some criteria even while they fail others. The regulators might, for example, choose a regulation that promotes public health and safety but at the expense of economic growth. Without cost/benefit analysis as a guide, how will they trade off between these two criteria? Any way they like.

Note also the disappointment I express with Cass Sunstein’s take. He should know better.

Read the whole thing.

 

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Nationalism, prejudice, and FDA regulation

President Trump was a forceful advocate of nationalism. Many intellectuals (myself included) are strong opponents of nationalism. Indeed I view nationalism and communism as the two great evils of the 20th century. Thus it’s ironic to find many proponents of government regulation making essentially nationalistic arguments.

Alex Tabarrok recently pointed to the FDA’s scandalous refusal to allow the manufacture and sale of AstraZenaca vaccine in America:

By the way, the US failure to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine in the midst of a pandemic when thousands are dying daily and a factory in Baltimore is warmed up and ready to run is a tragedy and dereliction of duty of epic proportions. The AZ vaccine should be given an EUA immediately and made available in pharmacies for anyone who wants it while continuing to prioritize Moderna and Pfizer for the elderly and essential workers.

When I advocate allowing people to be free to take a non-FDA approved drug or vaccine, the response is generally an argument relying on some form of paternalism. People are too poorly informed to be allowed to make these choices. They should not be allowed to take the drugs unless experts have verified that the drugs are safe and effective.

But that’s obviously not their actual motive. Experts in the UK have looked at the AstraZenaca vaccine and found it to be safe and effective. And yet Americans are still not allowed to use the product. So if paternalism is not the actual motive, why do progressives insist that Americans must not be allowed to buy products not approved by the FDA?  What is the actual motive?

The answer is nationalism. The experts who studied the AstraZenaca vaccine were not American experts, they were British experts. Can this form of prejudice be justified on scientific grounds? Obviously not. There has been no double blind, controlled study of comparative expert skill at evaluating vaccines. We have no way of knowing whether the UK decision is wiser than the FDA decision. Instead, the legal prohibition is being done on nationalistic grounds. We are told to blindly accept the incompetence of British experts, without any proof.  (And even if you believed there was solid evidence that one country’s experts were better than another, it would not explain why each developed countries relies on their own experts.  They can’t all be best!)

These debates always end up being like a game of whack-a-mole. Shoot down one argument and regulation proponents will simply put forth another. Their minds are made up.  You say people shouldn’t be allowed to take a vaccine unless experts find it to be safe and effective? OK, the UK experts did just that. You say that only the opinion of US experts counts because our experts are clearly the best? Really, where is the scientific study that shows that our experts are the best? I thought you said we needed to “trust the scientists”?  Now you are saying we must trust the nationalists?  Was Trump right about nationalism?

My dream of a completely free market in drugs will likely never happen. But what’s wrong with the following three-part system of regulation as a compromise solution:

1. FDA approved drugs can be consumed by anyone in America.

2. Drugs approved by any of the top 20 advanced countries (but not the FDA) can be consumed by anyone willing to sign a consent form indicating that they understand the FDA has not approved this product. I’ll sign for AstraZeneca.  (The US government puts together a list of 20 reputable countries.)

3. Drugs approved by none of the top 20 developed economies will still be banned.

This is what regulation would look like if paternalism actually were the motivating factor. But it’s not.  It’s Trump-style nationalism that motivates progressives to insist that only FDA approved drugs can be sold in America. They may look down their noses at Trump, but they implicitly share his nationalism.

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