Monday, October 19, 2020

Tyler Cowen's Bizarre Attack on the Great Barrington Declaration

 This is very difficult to understand.

Recently, three top epidemiologists,  Harvard Professor Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Oxford Professor Dr. Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford Professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, called for a new approach to COVID-19.

The approach appears entirely sound. They argue for protecting the elderly and others who might be vulnerable to the virus, and allow the rest of the population to acquire herd immunity.

Their policy perspective was put into written word in what is now known as The Great Barrington Declaration.

It reads in part:

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.

 Ethan Yang notes:

Such a policy is grounded in the traditional response to pandemics emulated by countries such as Sweden rather than the experimental lockdown approach that has characterized much of the world’s response to Covid-19. It takes a more realistic approach to the pandemic, understanding that there are certain tradeoffs that must be weighed and affirms the necessity of preserving to the best extent possible the normal functioning of society.

Tyler Cowen in his Bloomberg column went on a 1,400-word screed against the declaration. The essay is titled A Dangerous Libertarian Strategy for Herd Immunity.

Here are some quick takeaways from a reading of Cowen's piece.

He writes:

[T]he declaration does not present the most important point right now, which is to say October 2020: By the middle of next year, and quite possibly sooner, the world will be in a much better position to combat Covid-19. The arrival of some mix of vaccines and therapeutics will improve the situation, so it makes sense to shift cases and infection risks into the future while being somewhat protective now. 

How does Cowen know this?

It is possible that new therapeutics and vaccines may arrive on the scene by early 2021 but there is certainly no scientific rigor in this claim. But more significant, Cowen has a hidden assumption that a vaccine is necessary for a virus that is not a significant threat to most.

He ignores the death profile of those that are vulnerable (extremely elderly with comorbidities) and should be protected (if they want) and makes this entirely misleading follow-up point which implies but does not state outright that the greater population is at risk:

To allow large numbers of people today to die of Covid, in wealthy countries, is akin to charging the hill and taking casualties two days before the end of World War I.

No, it is not. It is not about taking casualties but about stopping the lockdown wealth destruction and suicides when there is no war to fight. It is allowing a hike on a hill where butterflies flutter and no machine guns are present.

Cowen the writes:

The health problems are very real, but in most of the U.S., the lockdowns are not severe. In my home state of Virginia, there are relatively few commercial activities I cannot partake in, were I so inclined. I even can go see a live bluegrass concert in a nightclub (I won’t, not yet).

What an anecdotal absurdity. He should visit California where, in the major cities, a good portion of restaurants and shops remain boarded up. (California population 39 million, Virginia population 8 million). A live bluegrass concert in a nightclub in San Francisco? Give me a break. I still can't sit down in my favorite bagel shop for a weekend bagel and coffee.

And then this:

The problem is that most people don’t want to go out to...concerts, and indeed probably should not. 

Here is Cowen hiding again his real position that the virus is a significant threat to the general population. Where does he get this position from? Does he seriously think that concert-goers face a life-threatening event if they catch the virus at the concert?

And then he goes totalitarian:

 The more useful question is whether the list of prohibited activities should be expanded or contracted. In some cases, surely, it should be expanded. Indoor restaurant dining and drinking, for example, is probably not a good idea in most parts of the U.S. right now.

Again the hidden implication that the virus is a life-threatening event for the general population--and further ignoring that different people have different risk profiles. Why can't those willing to "risk it" be allowed to go to bars and restaurants, and those who don't can stay home? Cowen is really proposing blunt instrument central planning here.

And then he tries to hedge himself with a logical progression that is something along the lines of:: If the virus is not a serious threat to As, then if a bunch of As get together, all hell is going to break loose:

Yes, many of the Covid cases spread by such activity would be among the lower-risk young, rather than the higher-risk elderly. Still, practically speaking, given America’s current response capabilities, those cases will further paralyze schools and workplaces and entertainment venues. It just doesn’t seem worth it.


And the hidden implication again that the virus is a serious threat to most who are infected:

  Amid high levels of Covid-19, a successful reopening very often will require social distancing, masks and a good system for testing and tracing. It would be better to focus on what needs to be done to make school reopenings work.

Cowen then finds a way to slip Ayn Rand in to his commentary in his attack on the Declaration:

[A]s if humans should just line up in the proper order of virus exposure and submit to nature’s will. How about instead we channel our inner Ayn Rand and stress the role of human agency? Something like: “Herd immunity will come from a combination of exposure to the virus through natural infection and the widespread use of vaccines. Here are some ways to maximize the role of vaccines in that process.”

But this is just Cowen just with all his foundational claims hidden, coupled in a strange Randian sandwich.

He's got the hidden serious threat to the entire population in the sandwich along with the non-knowable claim that vaccines are right on their way.

And, he is a little weak on Ayn Rand. It is doubtful she would have been a mask-wearing advocate for lockdowns. In her day, she refused to recognize that cigarettes caused cancer, as she puffed away.

Then  Cowen shows he can think with the best of those who fail to understand how free markets work:

In most parts of the Western world, normal openings for restaurants, sporting events and workplaces are likely to lead to spiraling caseloads and overloaded hospitals, as is already a risk in some of the harder-hit parts of Europe. 

Hospitals are only overladed becasue they are run by governments or are heavily regulated by governments. It would take me about one hour and 15 minutes of deep thought to figure out how hospitals could resolve the "overloaded" problem if they were allowed to do so.

He then ironically add this sentence to his paragraph above: 

There is no ideal of liberty at the end of the tunnel here.

Well, yeah, that is true because of government extreme involvement in the hospital sector. The solution is to allow liberty. 

I must add one tangential note. Some critics of the Declaration have claimed that the funding for it has come from Charles Koch. While Koch does support some efforts of AIER affiliated scholars, there is no direct connection to the Declaration.

And Phil Magness notes:

The lockdowners' current conspiracy theory entails claiming some non-existent Koch grant was behind the Great Barrington Declaration while remaining willfully oblivious to the actual Koch grant that financed Imperial College's COVID model. It's very strange to observe.

And now we must add that the most mainstream attack on the Declaration is coming from Cowen via his Bloomberg column. And it is not unreasonable to suspect that Cowen has been the most heavily Koch funded scholar of all time.

So much for the Koch forces promoting the pro-herd immunity position.



  1. I am to the point where I am just going to ignore the virus news.

    No one is going to admit the lock downs were a mistake to begin with. As you point out California is pretty much locked down as it is. Purely no benefit after 8 months of non pharmaceutical intervention.

    They are already positioning the data so that the deaths that occurred as a result of government interventions will just get rolled up into Covid deaths. Under the term Covid related deaths.

    No one will be held accountable. No one will take responsibility. I often find myself thinking about what it must have been like to know and understand that the Iraq war was completely based on BS while trying to speak out against it. Only to have to witness months of ridiculous propaganda before the inevitable invasion. Then for it to take 3 years before some people started seeing thru the lies.

    And now? Has anyone been held responsible for the Iraq war? Mueller just got a big pay day. People still think Powell is a good guy. Hell even democrats like GWB now. All the media stars are still getting paid. And one of the worst torture people is in charge of the CIA.

    That’s the Template I think this whole “pandemic” follows. Maybe an alien invasion can be faked and they can provide us with a ray gun that gives the population instantaneous herd immunity. There are still troops in Iraq 17 years later. That’s how slow people in the government are. So the Covid crisis can continue for 20 years East since it is an invisible Enemy World wide.

    This war on actual science has ripped my heart out completely.

  2. If it is not clear to you and your reader that Cowen is compromised and his endless pro-establishment policy cheerleadeing is suspect, we’ve got big problems.

  3. I don't know that Cowen is compromised. He's just a sleazy lying douchebag. He gets to pose as the "thoughtful mainstream libertarian" and can be published in Bloomberg and the New York Times. He writes mostly garbage to protect the establishment narrative. Not that hard to understand.

  4. This declaration supports state narratives on vaccines, government schools, etc. It's the "middle ground" that we liberty lovers often die on. Once we agree to meet their we realize our prison walls moved in a little closer.