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Open Letter to Matt Yglesias

Mr. Yglesias:

You recently tweeted:

I guess if you have the Brussels/Frankfurt aversion to fiscal stimulus you end up in the same place as the Republicans and forced into the view that people need to die for “the economy.”

I can’t speak for Republicans, for I’m not (and never have been) one. But I can speak for myself, and I think also for many other lockdown opponents, when I decry your thoughtless mischaracterization of the motives and understanding of many of us who oppose continuation of the coercive suspensions of regular human commerce and engagement.

Specifically, we take offense at the impression you convey when you accuse us of believing that “people need to die for ‘the economy.’”

The economy is people – people producing, trading, cooperating, and consuming. Yet your wording conveys the impression that lockdown opponents wish to sacrifice lives to a non-sentient entity that is separate from people. In fact, however, to worry about the condition of the economy is to worry about the ability of people – actual flesh-and-blood-and-bone human beings – to continue to meet their basic needs, including putting food on their tables, roofs over their heads, winter coats on their backs, and knowledge into their children’s minds. To worry about the economy is also to understand that people are not provided for simply by being handed government checks. And it is further to realize that economic output – output of real goods and services – is not miraculously maintained by “stimulus” funds if workers are locked out of their places of employment.

To the extent that productive activity is obstructed by lockdown orders and threats of such – as well as by the context-free and irresponsible fear-mongering that’s gone viral – people will suffer and many will die as a consequence. Indeed, depending on the extent and precedents set by these orders, the result over the next few decades might very well be net loss of life as the economy is shorn of much of the flexibility and dynamism necessary to sustain economic growth – economic growth that alone brings better health care and enhanced ability of ordinary people to protect themselves from life’s hazards.

Reasonable people disagree over what are the best policies to deal with Covid-19. But contrary to the impression conveyed by your tweet, no serious person argues for sacrificing lives to “the economy” as a lifeless abstraction.

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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