Bryan Caplan's Defective Demarcation of Libertarians on COVID
In a recent Substack post, George Mason University economist and former EconLog blogger Bryan Caplan attempts to distinguish between two different viewpoints of prominent libertarians about appropriate policy responses to COVID. He focuses fairly selectively on four economists at George Mason University–Tyler Cowen, Alex Tabarrok, Don Boudreaux, and Daniel Klein–and on Phil Magness of the American Institute for Economic Research.
His distinction doesn’t hold up.
Bryan sorts these five people into two competing viewpoints. He puts Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen into the category of people who “pushed for the freedom to fight COVID.” He puts Don Boudreaux, Dan Klein, and Phil Magness into the category of people who “pushed for freedom from the fight against COVID.”
I think Bryan’s categorization of Tabarrok and Cowen is roughly correct.
What’s off is his categorization of Boudreaux, Klein, and Magness. It’s true that they wanted people to have freedom from the government interventions that he specified. But in no way does that mean that they wanted people to be free from the fight against COVID. There were many ways to fight against COVID: allowing people to use Ivermectin, for example, or making sure that state governments didn’t put carriers of COVID into nursing homes where they would infect the most vulnerable. (Governors Cuomo of New York, Murphy of New Jersey, Wolf of Pennsylvania, and Whitmer of Michigan all did this.) I don’t recall how frequently these three denounced these governors’ measures but I’m pretty sure they did. Also, I think they denounced the absurd idea of giving the vaccine first to the politically powerful and not prioritizing the elderly.
And even if I’m wrong about this, there are libertarians who fit both categories. I’m one of them. I argued strongly against lockdowns, and not just late in the game but in March and April of 2020. I opposed the lockdowns in a March 22, 2020 radio interview, I wrote an April 13, 2020 article, “Liberation from Lockdown Now!” in which I advocated ending the lockdowns, and I debated University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers on the lockdowns in late April 2020.
I also argued strongly for the freedom to fight COVID with drugs. I was quite outspoken about Ivermectin, and political allocation of initial vaccine jabs. Charley Hooper and I argued for loosening the FDA requirement for efficacy in a March 25, 2020 Wall Street Journal article. Also, in December 2020, Charley Hooper and I denounced “The FDA’s Deadly Caution” in approving the COVID vaccine.
Maybe I’ve answered something I wondered about when I first read Bryan’s post: why he didn’t mention me. Could it be that I didn’t fit at all into one category but, instead, spanned both, and so it didn’t fit his dichotomy? I understand the temptation to set up dichotomies. But contradictory evidence can mess up many an hypothesis.