Tyler Cowen on the Great Barrington Declaration
By David Henderson
The most recent EconTalk with Russ Roberts interviewing Tyler Cowen is quite good. They cover a lot of territory and Tyler has a lot of insights about culture, among other things. Tyler also, to his credit, even points out predictions and thoughts on which, he realizes in retrospect, he was wrong.
There’s one issue, though, an important one, on which Tyler still has trouble admitting he’s wrong: the Great Barrington Declaration.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Russ Roberts: Should we have followed something akin to what the Great Barrington Declaration folks are suggesting: Extreme care with people over the age of 70 and 80 and letting other people mostly go about their business?
Tyler Cowen: That’s not my read of what the Great Barrington Declaration [GBD] actually called for.
Russ Roberts: That may not be fair to them. That’s my read. Yeah.
Tyler Cowen: A lot of the people connected with that institution [DRH note: by “that institution” Tyler means the American Institute for Economic Research] have made very dubious predictions and not backed down from them. They’ve told us that a lot of the cases are phony. It will all be over by–fill in the month. But, it’s typically some time that was a while ago. Very passive attitudes or even hostile attitudes toward vaccines. And, making lockdown the only issue.
I think when you look at the overall entire framing of Great Barrington, it’s been extremely harmful. It has led libertarian and conservative movements in the wrong direction.
The emphasis should have been, all along, deregulating the process of getting good vaccines out there quickly. And, if you look at what the Great Barrington people did on that it was remarkably little until very late in the process. And, you even have Jeffrey Tucker, well into fall, saying, ‘Vaccines, what vaccines? We need to let everyone get infected.’
Russ Roberts: I’m more interested–
Tyler Cowen: So, I’ve been very much opposed to their program as a whole. Though some parts of it, if you present in isolation, do in fact make good sense.
Russ Roberts: Yeah. I’m think of Jay Bhattacharya, who on this program I thought was quite sensible about the idea of locking down everyone seems remarkably inefficient and puts an enormous cost on people who are at relatively low risk.
Yeah, I have nothing to say about the more institutional implementation of that Declaration [GBD]. But, the original Declaration [GBD] and the epidemiologists and economists who were involved, the three people, made some sense to me. But, yeah, I’m not interested actually in those other side-agendas.
Tyler Cowen: It’s not independent from the other agendas. And they also systematically overestimate how many lockdowns are in operation.
So, past a certain point most parts of the United States, schools aside, have been mostly open. My state of Virginia, virtually all stores have been open for really a long time. One may or may not agree with that. But, there has not been a major lockdown for a long time in most of the Southeast, and indeed many other parts of the county.
Notice what happened. Russ tries as gently as he can to get Tyler to answer his question about the GBD. Russ summarizes the GBD in one sentence. And I think Russ does a great job of that. Tyler says that’s not his read of the GBD but doesn’t say how the GBD differs from what Russ has summarized.
Instead, Tyler engages in classic “guilt by association.” Tyler says, “A lot of people connected with that institution have made very dubious predictions.” But the issue Russ asked about was not “that institution” but the GBD. Then Tyler names someone: “And, you even have Jeffrey Tucker, well into fall, saying, ‘Vaccines, what vaccines? We need to let everyone get infected.'”
I don’t know if Jeff Tucker said exactly what Tyler said he said, but it doesn’t matter: Jeff Tucker is not one of the authors of the GBD. I had lunch with Jay Bhattacharya on Tuesday and asked him point blank: “Did Jeff Tucker write or edit any part of the GBD?” Jay’s answer: No.
This is not a small issue. Had we focused on protecting the vulnerable and n0t locking down the young and healthy and keeping children out of school, we would be in a lot better shape today, with fewer COVID deaths of the elderly and less destruction of the economy.
Here, by the way, is the Great Barrington Declaration. See if you think Russ did a good job of summarizing it.