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Coase and Covid: The Spectrum

Summary:
Here’s the third and final installment in my and Lyle Albaugh’s series, for AIER, on Coase and covid. Here are our closing paragraphs: Is it plausible that government officials have sufficiently accurate and detailed knowledge about how mandated restrictions on socializing will affect the economy, especially over time, such that these officials can be trusted to mandate only those restrictions that produce benefits greater than their costs? Is it plausible that, even if lockdowns in the specific case of Covid-19 pass some cost-benefit test today, the resulting expansion of governments’ powers will not be abused tomorrow? And is it plausible that a people bridled, broken in, and subjugated as never before by the Covid-19 lockdowns will retain enough of a sense of personal

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Here’s the third and final installment in my and Lyle Albaugh’s series, for AIER, on Coase and covid. Here are our closing paragraphs:

Is it plausible that government officials have sufficiently accurate and detailed knowledge about how mandated restrictions on socializing will affect the economy, especially over time, such that these officials can be trusted to mandate only those restrictions that produce benefits greater than their costs? Is it plausible that, even if lockdowns in the specific case of Covid-19 pass some cost-benefit test today, the resulting expansion of governments’ powers will not be abused tomorrow? And is it plausible that a people bridled, broken in, and subjugated as never before by the Covid-19 lockdowns will retain enough of a sense of personal responsibility and desire for freedom that they will resist government overreach in the future?

We’re confident that the answer to each of these questions is an emphatic ‘No!’ We can find no plausible reason to believe that the same government officials who routinely refuse to look beyond the next election – who regularly display utter ignorance of the most basic economic realities – who habitually sacrifice the public welfare on the altar of special-interest groups – and who are known often to lie and dissemble are, in any real-world situation, likely to use the terrifying power to lock down in ways that pass a cost-benefit test. When we take account of the full costs of lockdowns and related mandates, including the pernicious precedents these inevitably set, it’s clear that the lowest-cost – the best – source of protection against disease such as Covid-19 is personal responsibility.

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Don Boudreaux
He is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

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