Preliminary Report on Debate with Justin Wolfers
I thought the debate went very well. Justin Wolfers is a nice guy with a sense of humor. I particularly liked his joking around before the debate when Gene Epstein asked him how he met his American wife. I also liked his Aussie humor about New Zealand. At one point in the debate, I almost summed up my case by saying “It’s the vibe.” Fans of the Australian movie The Castle would get the humor, and I’m guessing that Justin is a fan.
At the end of my rebuttal to Justin Wolfers, I said that one never knows what the tone of the person on the other side of the issue will be and I thought he was a perfect gentleman who didn’t pull any cheap or nasty debating tricks. So we really did have a contest of viewpoints.
The on-line version of the debate will be out next week and so I will have more to say about it then. I want to point out one thing that I mentioned but wish I had emphasized in my summary at the end.
Justin said that we should choose the least-cost way of getting a given amount of safety. Previous to that, I had focused on how incredibly costly the lockdowns are. One of the people on the chat room, Mark Bahner, who often posts comments on EconLog, asked “What if we could get the desired level of safety with everyone who works close to others wearing masks and gloves? Would that be acceptable.” I missed most of the chat comments but because I noticed Mark’s name, I read his comment and I asked his question of Justin. If I recall correctly, Justin answered that yes, that would do it, if we could trust people to comply, but he wasn’t confident that we could. I should have pushed him on his lack of confidence in people, especially compared to his overconfidence in government.
What I wish I had emphasized in my summary is that requiring gloves and masks, with substantial resources devoted to enforcement is way less costly than shutdowns. I might balk at the amount of enforcement required to get, say, 90% compliance. But my gut feel is that for the first two months, which seem to be the crucial time period in most people’s estimates, compliance would be above 70% without much enforcement.