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And Here I Spread More “Terrible Misinformation”

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(Don Boudreaux)


Here’s a letter to a medical doctor who accuses me of spreading, on my blog, “terrible misinformation.”

Dr. M__:

You assert two “facts that discredit” my endorsement of the Great Barrington Declaration’s counsel to reject lockdowns and use instead Focused Protection. The first fact is that, unlike you, I “have no medical expertise.” The second is that I allegedly “ignore that focused protection unfairly loads the cost of covid protection to a subset of society when justice demands everybody share it.”

You’re correct that I have no medical expertise. But this fact carries little weight given that (1) two of the GBD’s authors (Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff) are on the faculties of prestigious medical schools (Stanford and Harvard), while the third author (Sunetra Gupta) is a world-renowned epidemiologist on the faculty of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford – each, in short, is a prominent and highly credentialed public-health expert; (2) the GBD is endorsed by many other persons who do have medical expertise; (3) just as I have no medical expertise, the same is true of many of the GBD’s detractors – including most of the government officials who reject this document; and (4) also relevant when evaluating the wisdom of the GBD’s counsel to use Focused Protection rather than lockdowns are political and economic consequences – about which (to play your game of ‘expertise trumps’) I have more expertise than you.

Your second claim that “justice demands everybody share” the cost of dealing with Covid features at least three flaws. The first is that it overlooks the fact that the key advantage of Focused Protection is that it would save more lives, and at a lower cost, than was achieved by lockdowns. Surely you’d not prefer what you call “equitable cost sharing” if among the consequences of achieving this ‘equity’ are more death and suffering.

The second flaw in your claim is that, contrary to your supposition, sharing the cost of dealing with Covid doesn’t require that everyone endure the same physical restrictions and mandates. For example, to acquire more resources for Covid mitigation everyone’s taxes can be raised without forcing the majority of persons – for whom Covid’s risks are small – to undergo whatever amount of quarantining, masking, and medicating are advisable for vulnerable groups.

The third flaw in your claim is revealed when it’s generalized. For example, according to your logic for rejecting Focused Protection, because it’s advisable to deal with dementia or extreme frailty by putting afflicted elderly people into nursing homes, we must not focus protection on members of this vulnerable group, but instead – to ensure that “everybody share” this cost – we must also put into nursing homes not only all elderly people, regardless of health, but everyone, including young adults and children. Clearly, such a policy would be madness.

Although we don’t name it such, we use various forms of Focused Protection, in lieu of general lockdowns and mandates, to treat all other diseases, including contagious ones such as flu, norovirus, meningitis, tuberculosis, and HIV. I see no good reason why this wisdom of the ages – which was, until early last year, reflected in the consensus among public-health experts – should be abandoned for Covid-19.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030


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