Applying Coase Theorem to Refute the Externality Argument Used to Defend Covid-19 Mandates and Lockdowns

(p. A17) The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “anti-vaxxer” as “a person who opposes the use of vaccines or regulations mandating vaccination.” Where does that leave us? We both strongly favor vaccination against Covid-19; one of us (Mr. Hooper) has spent years working and consulting for vaccine manufacturers. But we strongly oppose government vaccine mandates. If you’re crazy about Hondas but don’t think the government should force everyone to buy a Honda, are you “anti-Honda”?

. . .

. . ., early in the pandemic the Food and Drug Administration used its coercive power to discourage the development of diagnostic tests for Covid-19. The FDA required private labs wanting to develop tests to submit special paperwork to get approval that it had never required for other diagnostic tests. That, in combination with the CDC’s claims that it had enough testing capacity, meant that testing necessitated the use of a CDC test later determined to be so defective that it found the coronavirus in laboratory-grade water.

With voluntary approaches, we get the benefit of millions of people around the world actively trying to solve problems and make our lives better. We get high-quality vaccines from BioNTech/ Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, instead of the suspect vaccines from the governments of Cuba and Russia. We get good diagnostic tests from Thermo Fisher Scientific instead of the defective CDC one. We get promising therapeutics such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir.

. . .

The supposed trump card of those who favor coercion is externalities: One person’s behavior can put another at risk. But that’s only half the story. The other half is that we choose how much risk we accept. If some customers at a store exhibit risky behavior, then we can vaccinate, wear masks, keep our distance, shop at quieter times, or avoid the store.

Economists understand how one person can impose a cost on another. But it takes two to tango, and it’s generally more efficient if the person who can change his behavior with the lower cost changes how he behaves. In other words, to perform a proper evaluation of policies to deal with externalities, we must consider the responses available to both parties. Many people, including economists, ignore this insight.

For the full commentary, see:

David R. Henderson and Charles L. Hooper. “Coercion Made the Pandemic Worse.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 28, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

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