George Melloan, who died last week at the age of 92, wrote his last column for the Wall Street Journal in June 2020. I was absolutely thrilled when at this time, he dropped me a note and said that he wanted to hang his hat at the American Institute for Economic Research.
Because he has long had such a profound influence on me, and really the entire world during his 54 years of writing for the Journal, I was thrilled and deeply honored.
His first, and sadly his last, column for AIER was How We Got Into this Mess, a very satisfying blast against the lockdowns.
We don’t know if the ultimate death toll would have been lower if states had used lighter measures and allowed the infections to bring about herd immunity, through which viruses normally play themselves out.
What we do know is that many states, especially highly populated ones like California and New York, put heavy constraints on individual freedom, destroying productive activities and causing havoc. By one estimate, lockdowns are costing the nation some $80 billion a week in lost production….
As the lockdown costs mount, restless and angry people riot in the streets without social distancing, and a broad public continues to be blocked by regulations and their own fears from resuming productive lives, perhaps another movie would be a more appropriate allusion. How about the title of that film classic about alcoholism, “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”?
It didn’t surprise me at all that Melloan was an anti-lockdowner. He was an old-school liberal who believed “markets are like Mother Nature, not to be messed with.” He was a solid free trader (remember those?), a proponent of tax cuts and fiscal restraint, an advocate of sound money, and a genuine humanitarian who believed that wealth creation through free enterprise is the best path forward for all societies.
His views shaped the editorial direction of the Wall Street Journal for half a century, and his spirit there has been evident in the lockdowns, which the Journal has marvelously and consistently opposed from March onward. Indeed, so far as I know, the Journal is the only mainstream news outlet that has been speaking sense on this topic from the beginning.
Melloan wrote with calm and elegant prose but underneath that smooth easy-reading style was a wonderful warrior for truth, a man with a passion for improving the world through freedom and ever evolving cascades of human achievement and dignity. How I long for that vision to come back! It seems almost extinct today on both the right and the left, and tragically so.
Still, as with all brilliant writers and intellectuals, his legacy lives on in his work. According to John Tamny, his best manifesto is Free Markets, Free People (1997). John writes:
Free People, Free Markets is endlessly interesting and informative such that readers will be taking copious notes. And hopefully learning from what they’re reading and noting. What a dream if every Congressmen were required to read Melloan’s excellent book. If so, the market rally would make the present one look meek by comparison as investors priced in a much better, much more prosperous future. To learn about why people prosper, read Melloan’s latest. And read it again.
Sometimes we read, experience, and learn from mighty thinkers and doers like George Melloan and still forget just how important people with the moral courage to tell the truth are to the functioning and free society. He made a massive difference, and we are all in his debt.
I do not think he would mind if I share with you his last email to me from June:
Jeffrey, I think that is an excellent editorial, although perhaps because it mirrors so well my own thoughts on the matter. I will pass it along to some of my friends who may not have seen it. I was happy to see that Holman Jenkins wrote something along the same lines in his WSJ column today. A lot of conservative and libertarian writers have steered away from this [lockdown] issue for fear of being accused of not taking the “pandemic” seriously enough. There has been a lot of fear and panic in our society and that is difficult to deal with. I strongly believe that a free press is a vital safeguard of our liberties but the press is at its worst in this kind of situation as media outlets compete for public attention with exaggerated or sometimes inaccurate accounts of the dangers that confront us. From the start of the coronavirus scare I have worried that the cure would be worse than the disease and I now know that I underestimated the degree to which that would be true. I find that all the postings on your site (AIER) engage with the issues of the day and provide excellent analysis. Keep up the good work. All best, George
He is exactly right. Consider too that he was 92 at the time, so certainly among the vulnerable. His principles did not change. The shocking silence from too many who absolutely know better has been a disappointment, even a scandal. So far as I can tell, that they made the decision to shut up or even invent ridiculous rationales for the lockdown was entirely careerism. The whole world is burning outside their window and they care only about staying on the right side of elite opinion, and then add the appalling gloss that their staying home is keeping people safe.
That was not George Melloan. He spent his whole career on the firing line, telling what’s true. God bless this man. We desperately need more like him.