The Anti-Jerk Law

You’ve probably had a boss who was a jerk.  Indeed, you may be working under a jerk of a boss right now.  Question: Would it be a good idea to pass an Anti-Jerk Law to protect workers from these jerky employers?  Like existing employment discrimination laws, the Anti-Jerk Law would allow aggrieved employees to sue their employer for jerkiness – and received handsome compensation if they prove their charge in a court of law.

I doubt many people would endorse this Anti-Jerk Law.  On what basis, though, would they object?

Libertarians might stand up for the “right to be a jerk,” but few non-libertarians would find that convincing.

Economists might appeal to the standard economics textbook conclusion that mandated benefits – including the right to sue your employer for jerkiness – are inefficient.  But few non-economists would find that convincing.


Why, then, would normal people refuse to endorse an Anti-Jerk Law?  If pressed, the reason would probably be along the lines of, “Jerkiness is way too subjective.”  If you call your boss a jerk, he’s probably thinking, “No, you’re the jerk.”  Even if a large majority of the workers at a firm consider their boss a jerk, a contrarian might insist, “The boss is tough but fair.  You folks simply don’t measure up.”   Other people might muse: “Personality conflicts are a fact of life.  You can’t legislate them out of existence.”


What happens if you scoff at the subjectivity of jerkiness and pass your Anti-Jerk Law anyway?  All of the following:

1. Bosses try to avoid the appearance of jerkiness.  But bosses with poor social skills or bad luck still get sued.

2. Since bosses try to avoid the appearance of jerkiness, litigious employees don’t have a lot to work with.

3. As long as judges and juries are sympathetic, however, they lower the de facto burden of proof, allowing the war on jerks to continue indefinitely.

4. Bosses, in turn, defend themselves by trying to pre-emptively discredit litigious employees.

5. Cynical bosses go a step further by trying not to hire employees who are relatively likely to cry “jerk.”

6. Human resource departments institute Orwellian anti-jerk training, where participants get punished for pointing out that the HR folks are domineering and insulting.  I.e., jerks!

7. If so-called jerky managerial styles enhance productivity (think: athletic coaches), society forfeits major benefits.


As far as I know, no country has an Anti-Jerk Law in place.  But many countries ban “discrimination,” and the effects are much the same.  Once you pass discrimination laws…


1. Bosses try to avoid the appearance of discrimination.  But bosses with poor social skills or bad luck still get sued.

2. Since bosses try to avoid the appearance of discrimination, litigious employees don’t have a lot to work with.

3. As long as judges and juries are sympathetic, however, they lower the de facto burden of proof, allowing the war on discrimination to continue indefinitely.

4. Bosses, in turn, defend themselves by trying to pre-emptively discredit litigious employees.

5. Cynical bosses go a step further by trying not to hire employees who are relatively likely to cry “discrimination.”

6. Human resource departments institute Orwellian anti-discrimination training, where participants get punished for pointing out that the HR folks are hostile and bigoted.  I.e., discriminators!

7. If so-called discrimination enhances productivity (think: standardized testing), society forfeits major benefits.


Why do the same patterns emerge in both cases?  Because “he discriminated against me” is about as subjective as “he was a jerk to me.”  In both cases, they feel very real to the accuser.  In both cases, they feel very unfair to the accused.  If you knew neither party, you’d probably decline to even express an opinion.

And with good reason.


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The pervasive myth of the entrepreneurial state

Deirdre McCloskey and I recently published a book on The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State for AIER and the Adam Smith Institute (if you buy it, please review it on Amazon). On the AIER website, we have a short piece summarizing one of the book’s arguments.

A few friends asked us the reason why we spent so much time dealing with Mariana Mazzucato and other authors who are retrying to rejuvenate the fallacious ideas of “industrial policy”. Here’s our answer:

In a 1974 interview with Reason magazine, Milton Friedman noted that, “It’s fortunate that the capitalist society is more productive, because if it were not it would never be tolerated. The bias against it is so great that, as it is, it’s got to have a five-to-one advantage in order to survive.” (We would say more like thirty-to-one, the gain since the 18th century from the coming of liberalism.) It is why Mazzucato’s argument is so persuasive to so many. People in a primitive way distrust the price system, and distrust the impersonality of exchange among strangers. Better a sweet family of, say, 330 million people guided by a visible hand of government as a pater familias, advised in its coercions by Professor Mazzucato. If you can persuade people that the market economy does not innovate—no five or thirty to one—they will be happy to renounce it, as people have frequently since socialism was first imagined.

As a little evidence of the traction, these ideas are gaining. Consider this paragraph:

It is often said that every crisis is an opportunity for change and transformation. What we are experiencing is now the third crisis in the space of the last 15 years and this time Italy, Europe and the West have the opportunity to make a real breakthrough that, on the contrary, has been missing after previous episodes of crisis.
Europe has been able to take up this challenge in particular through the Next Generation EU program, through various other initiatives, to which Italy has made a decisive contribution and for which a new pact between public and private, as well as a new strategy for the organization of public presence in the economy, is needed…

This is the Italian prime minister talking to Parliament on November 2nd. Prime Minister Conte is advised by Mariana Mazzucato, who expressed the same views a number of times (see, for example, this blogpost of mine). Consider also Klaus Schwab’s “great reset” (I’ll write more on it in a later post). This rhetoric is very appealing for politicians and is a form of storytelling they envoy, as it boosts their role and importance. For this reason, we tried to contribute to dispel the “myth of the industrial state”.


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Madame de Staël on the Media and Liberty

Confronted with shockingly violent attacks to the free expression of opinions, as the massacre at Charlie Hebdo or the beheading of Professor Paty in France, anybody with a drop of liberalism in her blood will rally to defend the freedom of speech and the press. Everybody ought to be able to say things others do not necessarily agree with, that are deemed to be obscene by some, or that the majority may consider distasteful. Of course, others may decide not to buy your paper, not to dine at your table (where the dinner’s price is listening to your idiocy), to unfollow you on Twitter. My right not to listen to you is fundamentally different from making it impossible for others to listen to you if they saw it fit.

In her learned and thoughtful blog post at Centre Walras Pareto, Biancamaria Fontana does not question this tenet of liberal thinking. However, she poses a relevant question: what’s the effect of modern media on the quality of the political debate? Is broadening the audiences always good for modern public opinion?


The French Revolution, Fontana reminds us, lifted the Ancien Regime’s preventive censorship. Hooray! But consider what the greatest liberal intellectual of the time (my view), Germaine de Stael, thought.Consider social media: their development “carried the promise of an easier, more immediate and transparent way to inform citizens, encouraging their participation in discussions and consultations.” Yet they are commonly seen as key for the making of contemporary populism. Fontana cites the Five Stars Movement in Italy but I am sure other examples may come to mind. Demagogues are great at twisting the media. Consider Benito Mussolini, who was, after all, a journalist, and he understood one thing or two about how the masses could be mesmerized through the at the time unprecedented flow of information and opinions.

In 1800, at the beginning of the Consulate, Germaine de Staël published a work entitled: De la littérature, considérée dans ses relations avec les institutions sociales. The book was a pioneering comparative history of European literature, seen in the light of the different national traditions. In the second part, dedicated to the present and future prospects of the Enlightenment, the chapter “On eloquence” offered a retrospective assessment of political discourse during the Revolution: an object that the author had been able to observe very closely.

Like many intellectuals, Staël had believed initially that the freedom of the press would favour the circulation of information, bringing political issues closer to the general public. The reality had proved very different. Staël stressed in particular two dismal effects of the new “liberated” press. The first one was the lowering of the level of political rhetoric, through the endless repetition of empty formulas, meaningless catch-phrases and party slogans: “The time has come to reveal to you the whole truth…the People has risen…the Nation was plunged in a deadly slumber… etc.”. The second was the escalation of violence in language: faced with a public used to the most outrageous claims, speakers competed in adopting increasingly ferocious formulas to capture their attention. The result in the end had no political or ideological significance whatever, but carried a dangerous potential of hatred and aggression.

“Words (la parole) – Staël wrote – retain the power of a lethal weapon while having no residual intellectual strength.”

Fontana, and Staël, know well that “the media (“eloquence”) can only repeat, echo, amplify those beliefs and passions, virtues and vices, that are already present within society”. They would also agree that censorship is no answer to this problem. But isn’t it something to ponder that magnifying the audience of political media tends to lower the bar? Can we say that is only a kind of snobbery? Or, on the other hand, the trivialization of political matters, the reduction of political issues to slogans, the polarization of the debate has something to do with the fall of barriers and filters in the public debate? Consider what is happening today with Covid: are social media helping in sharing useful information and getting interesting and well-argued views into the debate, or are they fostering hysteria, to the advantage of those who will cynically build on it?

Fontana’s piece is fascinating and raises some uncomfortable questions. It is also an invitation to read Staël (I wish more of her writings would be available in English, besides the meritorious translation of the Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution published by the Liberty Fund) – what a remarkable woman and thinker. When it comes to possible answers, I have none and hope to stumble upon some persuasive (and reassuring) ones


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Italy’s second lockdown

This short piece by Vaclav Smil asks why we do talk so much about the Spanish flu, as a benchmark for Covid19, whereas we do not compare it with influenza pandemics after WWII. Smil’s crucial argument is that, if we do not have good numbers for the Spanish flu, we do have very good numbers for more recent pandemics. He points out that:

these more virulent pandemics had such evanescent economic consequences. The United Nations’ World Economic and Social Surveys from the late 1950s contain no references to a pandemic or a virus. Nor did the pandemics leave any deep, traumatic traces in memories. Even if one very conservatively assumes that lasting memories start only at 10 years of age, then 350 million of the people who are alive today ought to remember the three previous pandemics, and a billion people ought to remember the last two.

But I have yet to come across anybody who has vivid memories of the pandemics of 1957 or 1968. Countries did not resort to any mass-scale economic lockdowns, enforce any long-lasting school closures, ban sports events, or cut flight schedules deeply.

Today’s pandemic has led to a deep (50 to 90 percent) reduction in flights, but during the earlier pandemics, aviation was marked by notable advances. On 17 October 1958, half a year after the end of the second pandemic wave in the West and about a year before the pandemic ended (in Chile, the last holdout), PanAm inaugurated its Boeing 707 jet service to Europe. And the Boeing 747, the first wide-body jetliner, entered scheduled service months before the last wave of the contemporary pandemic ended, in March 1970.

Why were things so different back then? Was it because we had no ­fear-reinforcing 24/7 cable news, no Twitter, and no incessant and instant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens? Or is it we ourselves who have changed, by valuing recurrent but infrequent risks differently?

I am afraid that  24/7 cable news, Twitter and incessant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens will not only twist memory, but they are also having a strong impact over political decision making.

Take the Italian case. After a very severe lockdown (schools were kept closed for six months), we had more or less a good summer, with progressive reopening and small numbers of contagions, grave hospitalizations, and deaths. With the fall, we have been hit by the much-awaited “second wave”. The government’s preparations have been lacking if not altogether paradoxical: school hours have not been changed, and the supply of public transport has not been varied (in spite of the fact private bus companies are being kept idle, whereas they could have been contracted to help cope with the rush hour traffic). Swab tests were strictly monopolized by hospitals and pharmacists; doctors and private healthcare structures have not been mobilized in order to increase test capacity. Now, the numbers of contagions are rising sharply and doubling once every seven days. They will be around 30,000 a day by the end of the month. Alas, deaths seem to double every week, too.

What has the government done? At first, it went for a dripping of closures, with new measures coming up once a week: a couple of weeks ago it made wearing facemasks mandatory, then we introduced curfews. Now gyms and swimming pools and ski resorts have been closed and restaurants won’t be free to serve dinner. The country is entering a lockdown, though softer than the first one.

“There are no libertarians in a pandemic;” but somehow that is a problem. One of the key insights of modern libertarianism is that a complex society is a tangle of knowledge problems, which central authorities are not very good at unraveling. This has been lost on decision-makers, who think they can win the “war against the virus” with top-down decisions, irrespective of continuous and abrupt change. They are always lagging a step behind.

A few days ago Federico Giugliano has written that somehow, in this second wave, Europe has quietly “turned Swedish”: “Governments are happy to impose more stringent measures on cities and regions with bad outbreaks (as Sweden itself is starting to do) but they’re extremely reluctant to crack down too heavily on social interactions, as they did in the spring.”

That was hardly sustainable, politically speaking, with, as Smil put it, “24/7 cable news, Twitter and incessant case-and-death tickers on all our electronic screens”. With cases quickly rising, we see stronger pressure for a new lockdown: the media are breeding anxiety and anxiety elicits a call for political resolve.

When it comes to Italy, the numbers are way above Italy’s test and tracing capacity. The lockdown is an implicit admission of the inability of doing anything else. In an article on, I asked “Why did the Italian government, after navigating one of the first and fiercest coronavirus outbreaks earlier this year, not learn from the experience?” My answer is: ideology. The government spent lots of energy and political capital in negotiating European aid and has planned great advancement in its building of an “entrepreneurial state”.

I do hope that these new measures will be able to flatten the curve and reduce stress on the national health care service. But if the government is capable only of using the hammer, how can we expect it to be able to “dance” with the virus?


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The Unjoined Debate

As I noted earlier this week, Tyler Cowen wrote a blog post, “David Henderson needs a reboot,” October 27, in which he responded to my three critical pieces on his two Bloomberg articles. My pieces are, from earliest to latest, here, here, and here. Cowen’s articles (gated unless you look at only a few on Bloomberg) are here and here.

Here’s the problem: Other than on one issue where he did point to a serious problem in my argument, as I noted here, Cowen didn’t join the debate about lockdowns.

Instead, he made the following statements:

David is repeatedly writing critiques of my writings on Covid-19.  (Google to them if you wish, they are so off base and misrepresentative I don’t think they deserve a link, and furthermore I find it almost impossible to track down EconLog archives under their new system.)

Making it hard for your readers to even know what the person you’re arguing with is saying is not really a good way to carry on a debate. Fortunately, raja_r, one of Cowen’s commenters, was able, with apparently much less difficulty than Cowen had, to post the links in the comments section on Cowen’s site.

Virtually all of his points revolve around simple or it seems even willful misunderstandings.

Virtually all? Really? If it’s “virtually all,” then surely we’re going to see a few examples, right? I’ll save you the suspense: he names one (other than the Russian vaccine point, which I discuss later.)

Then he goes to the one in which, I did misunderstand him. I’ve noted that already. I have no idea why he thinks it might be willful. I will grant him good faith even though he doesn’t reciprocate.

That’s it. We don’t get more examples.

Later he writes:

I could point to numerous misunderstandings in David’s recent posts, pretty much in every paragraph.

Maybe he could. He’s a smart guy. Here’s the problem. He doesn’t.

He writes:

I also think he is quite wrong on substance, allying himself with a few eccentric thinkers that hardly anyone agrees with, and who have not acquitted themselves well in debate, or made good predictions as of late, but that is another matter for a different time.

He says I’m wrong on substance. Ok. Which substance? He says I’m allying myself with “a few eccentric thinkers that hardly anyone agrees with.” He doesn’t name them. But hardly anyone agrees with them? The horror. Is iconoclast Tyler Cowen really saying we should go with majority opinion? Is that how we get to the truth?

He should pay greater heed to say Scott Gottlieb, who knows what he is talking about.

I’ve read Gottlieb’s stuff. As my Hoover colleague George Shultz once said to me after telling me he had been reading my work (I had criticized him here), “I like some of it.” It would be nice to know which parts Cowen thinks are good. I hope he would agree with me that Gottlieb’s support, while at the Food and Drug Administration, for regulating e-cigarettes, making it harder for people to quit smoking real cigarettes, was a cruel and destructive move. I’m sure his co-blogger, Alex Tabarrok, could tell him about that.

I will grant him one more point. He writes:

David’s Russian vaccine post does not misunderstand me, but I don’t think it shows a very full grasp of the issue.  I very much favor regulatory reciprocity for pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and more, but I strongly believe adding Russia to the reciprocal list would “poison the well” and doom the whole idea.  In the meantime, they are not nearly as far along for a major vaccine rollout as they claim, so probably we are not missing out on very much, even if the quality were fine.  The slightest problem with the vaccine would be blown out of proportion, most of all with DT as president and Russian conspiracy theories circulating.  If your goal is to nudge and push the FDA to move more quickly across the board, starting them off with the approval of a Russian vaccine is bad tactics and is risking the entire apple cart.  Maybe try for Mother England first?  So I think David here is quite wrong, and applying market liberalization ideas in a knee-jerk rather than a sophisticated fashion.  He called the post “Tyler Cowen’s shocking post on the Russian vaccine,” but I wonder who he thinks is really supposed to be shocked by that one.  If you read David’s comment on his own post you will see he is genuinely unable to imagine that such an argument as I present above might exist.

I didn’t think of that and I do see his point. Score one for Cowen. I do object, though, to the statement, “he is genuinely unable to imagine that such an argument as I present above might exist.” I’m quite able.

By the way, if you want to see an even better argument than Cowen’s, check the numerate discussion of the Russian vaccine that my sometimes co-author Charley Hooper has posted on EconLog.

Back to whether I’m able to understand Cowen’s argument, here’s the problem. Tyler Cowen’s writing style is cryptic. He often writes conclusions without the reasons that lead to them and also writes things that leave readers wondering what he means. Read his post that I linked to in my critique of his view on the Russian vaccine and you will find no statement of the argument he gives above.

Which brings me to my second last point. In the comment section of his post criticizing me, Cowen writes:

David, if you can’t convince a very experienced author that you have come even close to his meaning, probably you haven’t. There has been a lot of other discussion of those pieces, and the other readers do seem to have understood them. You have not.

The test of whether I’ve come close to his meaning is whether I’ve convinced “a very experienced author” that I’ve come close to his meaning? But that depends on two things: (1) how good I am at understanding his meaning and (2) how open he is to being convinced that I understand his meaning. He focuses only on the first.

Then he adds:

I should also note that Bloomberg has a truly crack, first-rate team of editors, making sure that what goes out is clear.

They failed. Take a look at this paragraph from his second Bloomberg article:

Consider 9/11, when some 3,000 Americans died. The U.S. mounted a very activist response that included new security procedures at airports, crackdowns on money laundering, increased surveillance and two wars. Not all of those choices were prudent, but nonetheless they qualify as a very vigorous response.

Any editor worth his salt would have asked “which of those choices were prudent?”

It would actually be nice to have a debate about lockdowns without getting into 9/11 and other tangential issues. The debate should be about the costs and benefits of lockdowns and among the big costs is our huge loss of freedom. That’s a debate worth having. So far, Tyler Cowen has not joined. I wish he would.




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One of Tyler Cowen’s Points is Right


As noted earlier today, Tyler Cowen posted about my critiques of his views on lockdowns.

I don’t have time to answer thoroughly but I do think I did him an injustice on one issue.

Cowen writes:

And my remark about “It just doesn’t seem worth it”, cited by David as me dismissing school reopenings?  Here is what I actually wrote:

Indoor restaurant dining and drinking, for example, is probably not a good idea in most parts of the U.S. right now.

Yes, many of the Covid cases spread by such activity would be among the lower-risk young, rather than the higher-risk elderly. Still, practically speaking, given America’s current response capabilities, those cases will further paralyze schools and workplaces and entertainment venues. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

I am worried about reopening indoor bars and restaurants because I want to keep schools (and other venues) open.  At my own school, GMU, I very much argued for keeping it open, which indeed we have done with success but also with great effort.  My whole point is one about trade-offs.

The above three paragraphs are from Tyler.

Now the following is David R. Henderson:

I did misinterpret him. I thought he was throwing in schools with bars and restaurants and I see now that he wasn’t.

My apologies to Tyler Cowen and to my readers.

This post is titled “One of Tyler Cowen’s Points is Right.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t others. If I find them, I will post on them. But it won’t be today. I have deadlines.


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Tyler Cowen Doubles Down


I criticized (here and here) a recent article that Tyler Cowen wrote in Bloomberg about COVID-19 and lockdowns. Last week he doubled down by raising the issue of the elderly. The title fits his theme, is “Yes, Covid-19 Is More Serious for the Elderly. So What?

Cowen starts with an analogy to 9/11. (Everything in the shaded areas is a quote from his article.)

Consider 9/11, when some 3,000 Americans died. The U.S. mounted a very activist response that included new security procedures at airports, crackdowns on money laundering, increased surveillance and two wars. Not all of those choices were prudent, but nonetheless they qualify as a very vigorous response.

All true, but I wonder what point he is making. Then he gets to it.

The point is this: Had 3 Americans been killed rather than 3,000 — if, say, 9/11 was a U.S. holiday the hijackers didn’t know about, so fewer people were working — the optimal response would not have been all that different. There were a lot of casualties, but it is also significant that several airplanes were brazenly hijacked and flown into major iconic buildings, the Pentagon was hit, and Congress itself came under threat.

He says that “the optimal response” with 3 deaths plus the iconic destruction would not have been “all that different.” I gather he means that it would not be all that different from what would have been the optimal response with the actual 3,000 deaths. But he does not tell us what the optimal response to that was. Isn’t that the nub of the debate over lockdowns—what is the proper response?

I count Bush’s war on Iraq as one of the most evil government policies of this century. Even if you don’t agree, it was big. So if we got close to the optimal response, then Cowen is saying that the Iraq war was close to optimal. And, by the way, in case he or you need reminding, that war caused many thousands of deaths of young, old, and in-between. Almost all were relatively innocent.

Polities that do not respond to such attacks [as 9/11] soon find themselves out of business. Not only do they invite further intimidations, but their citizens lose faith in the government’s ability to maintain public order or shape the future of the nation. The entire U.S. system of government may well have been at stake in the decision to respond to 9/11 in a significant way.

Even for things like 9/11, we should reject Cowen’s argument. It would have to apply to every government whose country is attacked. Ethical principles generalize, or they are not principles. There’s nothing special about the United States is that respect. So, for instance, when the U.S. government attacked Iraq, Cowen’s recommendation would have had to be for the Iraqi government to attack the United States. That would likely have cost thousands of lives if they could have pulled it off. They probably couldn’t have, but then we’re stuck with the non-principle that might makes right.

But Covid is not like 9/11—unless Cowen wishes to suggest that the virus was biological warfare perpetrated by a foreign power. I don’t think that’s what he’s saying.

To be sure, the number of U.S. victims is high — 220,000 and counting, plus some number of excess deaths from broader causes. But the event itself is so cataclysmic that “downgrading” those deaths by saying many of the victims were elderly doesn’t make a big difference in terms of formulating an optimal response.

Cowen errs again in likening Covid to a military or terrorist attack. Yes, the murder of an ailing 80 year old is basically like the murder of a 20 year old. But succumbing to an illness does not involve the malicious conduct of a malefactors. That takes the moral and legal question of wrongdoing out of the matter. Now we are left with plain hardship: Succumbing to an illness is much more tragic in the case of an otherwise healthy 20 year old than an ailing 80 year old. Any reasonable ethical reckoning would agree.

The focus on protecting the elderly flows simply from two facts: (1) they’re (we’re–I turn 70 next month and my wife is 71) most at risk and (2) they’re often retired and, therefore, are better able to isolate.

So I think it makes a huge difference in an optimal response. Let the people who are lower risk be out in the world. As they spread the virus, we augment immunity. That doesn’t hurt the elderly. It helps us.

Furthermore, it is likely that coronaviruses will return, which is all the more reason to excel in response now. To consider another example, during the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS-1, 774 people died worldwide, none of them in America. The countries that took that virus seriously — Korea, Taiwan and Canada, to name a few — have performed much better during the current crisis. And many of the best biomedical responses, including vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, have evolved from very serious responses to previous pandemics.

I agree that we should excel. But how? Do you do it with lockdowns, or do you do it with deregulation, including allowing people to try various vaccines whatever stage they’re at, and allowing self-test kits for the virus to be sold, kits that could be available now for less than $10 a pop, but which the Food and Drug Administration won’t let us have?

And now Cowen’s pièce de résistance.

One final (rather outlandish) thought experiment: Imagine that an enemy of the U.S. demanded that 100 90-year-old Americans be handed over each year for execution. Of course America would refuse. The age of the victims would not be a factor in that decision.

Cowen persists in his false analogy of a terrorist or military attack.

As Ryan Sullivan, my co-author on my recent Wall Street Journal op/ed advocating that schools be opened, put it, millions of years of children’s lives are being robbed. Ryan has an autistic son in kindergarten and a daughter in first grade. Both, but especially the son, are losing a lot. Cowen’s policy is more analogous to the terrorist attack on 9/11 than the virus is.

Notice also, what’s missing in Cowen’s paragraph above: the idea of tradeoffs. Of course, we wouldn’t give over 90 to 100 year olds. But he’s willing to sacrifice the well-being of 50 million school-age children. Remember his  casual “It just doesn’t seem worth it” remark about allowing kids to go back to school. He handles the tradeoff by not mentioning it.

Both of Cowen’s pieces resemble the work of a mainstream journalist ignorant of market economics. The essence of economics is tradeoffs. Precious little in his two pieces talks seriously about tradeoffs.



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Illinois Restaurants Collude to Expand Output


Seventy local businesses met Thursday night, agreeing to keep serving customers indoors despite a new state order, a Bradley restaurant owner said.

Thomas Spellman, owner of Hoppy Pig, said his restaurant will continue serving patrons inside, defying Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s new order on some regions to cease indoor dining to lessen the spread of the coronavirus.

“We have families. I have forty employees, you know, they have families, they have houses and they have kids and they have to pay for school,” Spellman said. “The government’s not paying for them. We don’t want the government to pay for us. We just want to do business the way we do business.”

This is from Chris Coffey, “70 Suburban Businesses Meet, Agree to Continue Serving Customers Indoors Despite State Order,” nbc chicago, October 23, 2020.


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How Much Should Young People Be Punished?

Great debate on lockdowns.

I like what retired Professor John A. Lee has to say. Economist Dan O’Brien is also very succinct: How much punishment are we willing to inflict on young people?

The guy who put this together clearly doesn’t like the message of Professor Tomas Ryan, the advocate of lockdowns, as evidenced by the crawls he types on the screen as Ryan talks. I found this alternately amusing and annoying.

Trivia question: What is the number of people under age 25 who have died of COVID-19 in Ireland?

The answer is in the 16-minute video.

HT2 Don Boudreaux.


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Managing and Mismanaging the Covid Shock

An important lesson from both economic analysis and economic history is that when people are relatively unregulated and free to adjust, they can adjust quickly to various economic shocks, even large ones. But when governments heavily regulate people’s economic activities, these governments slow and often prevent adjustments. The good news is that in 2020, the federal government and many state and local governments have temporarily relaxed regulations to make adjustment easier. The bad news is that many of these same governments have added regulations that make adjustments difficult or impossible. And the further bad news is that many pre-existing regulations have not been loosened and, therefore, act to slow adjustment. One of the most extreme regulations is the Food and Drug Administration’s heavy requirements that limit testing for the Covid-19 disease.

This is from “Managing (and Mismanaging) the “Covid Shock,” my latest article on Defining Ideas, October 22, 2020.

Another excerpt:

However, there’s a responsible solution for restaurants and bars that want to serve drinks: insist that they serve people outside and insist that they require people to stay seated and socially distanced. But governments seem to have problems with letting people have fun. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control insists that bars may open only if they offer “bona fide meals.” Those meals cannot be pre-packaged sandwiches and salads, side dishes like fries and chicken wings, bagged pretzels or popcorn, or, the horror, dessert.

And then one of the worst:

In the midst of a pandemic, one of the things we would like most to know is whether we have the virus. Testing can tell us that. But existing tests are expensive. After recently traveling, I decided, at my wife’s urging, to get tested. I paid $180 for results within twenty-four hours and got them in six hours. I can afford that. But that’s a lot of money for many people, and six hours is still a lot of time. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have even cheaper tests that we can conduct on ourselves and get fast results? That way, each of us would know whether to isolate or go to work, bars, football games, or restaurants.

Actually, we can, but we may not, because the FDA stops us. These tests cost under $10 and give results within fifteen minutes. But the FDA won’t allow them because they’re not as accurate as tests it does allow.

Read the whole thing.


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