October 28, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Great Brain is an excellent collection of children’s books that was written by John D. Fitzgerald, and was said to be loosely based on his life growing up in Adenville, UT. Tom is the “Great Brain” in possession of remarkable skills when it comes to making money while helping out other kids in his somewhat idyllic, early 1900s world.

Early 1900s is instructive because in Tom’s family, illness is a family affair. If one brother gets sick, they all do. By design. Translated for readers who probably don’t need it, “herd immunity” is a very old strategy that’s been practiced by parents the world over for centuries. While medical doctors and medical schools are fairly modern concepts, the notion of achieving family immunity to illness by having healthy siblings sleep next to sick ones is rather timeless. 

It was practiced in my family. When my older sister got Chicken Pox, my parents didn’t keep me apart from her. Soon enough I had it, at which point I was immune. It’s better to get it out of the way when one is young.  

The Great Brain came to mind while reading Paul Krugman’s attempt to demonize the American Institute for Economic Research (full disclosure: I’m a research fellow at AIER). AIER has been crucial during the coronavirus crack-up when it’s come to pushing back against all the political hysteria about the virus. The view among those at this nearly 90-year old institution is that you don’t fight a virus with economic desperation, or the taking of individual freedom. It’s scary to think how meek the debate against the virus nail-biters would have been absent AIER, and the great Jeffrey Tucker most notably.

Tucker sensed early on that the hysterics were ready to fight the coronavirus with mass unemployment and bankruptcy, and was properly horrified. He’s been writing feverishly ever since, including an excellent new book titled Liberty or Lockdown.

Tucker also organized an early October gathering in Great Barrington, MA (AIER’s breathtaking headquarters) that included eminent doctors Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford), Sunetra Gupta (Oxford), and Martin Kulldorff (Harvard), and that resulted in The Great Barrington Declaration. The document calls for protection of those most vulnerable to the virus in concert with freedom to get on with their lives for the vast majority who aren’t vulnerable.

At risk of mangling the genius of the doctors, they don’t run from the “herd immunity” that is as old as the hills. There’s nothing outre about the concept. It occurs when enough people have immunity to a virus or disease so that most infected people cannot find new people to infect. To ask if “herd immunity” is a real concept is like asking if the world is round. Yes and Yes. Always. It doesn’t take a doctor to say this. It’s long been a known.

One gets the feeling New York Times columnist Paul Krugman knows this, but we live in a time when everything, including health, is political. As a consequence, Krugman attacked AIER in typical, unoriginal Krugman fashion. Readers can guess: mentions of AIER’s linkage to Charles Koch, “denial” of global warming rooted in a desire to placate the oil companies….Krugman doesn’t even try to be original anymore, assuming he ever did. He has a flock to feed, and his unsophisticated flock has let Charles Koch and skepticism about wrecking the economy to allegedly save the planet take enormous space inside its collective head.

In his witless attempt to take down AIER, Krugman additionally went after “herd immunity.” In Krugman’s telling, the latter is a heartless strategy that comes down to “basically letting the virus rip through most of the community.” Those AIER types must hate people, or life, or something like that. In truth, they’re just realists. Better yet, they actually read the New York Times beyond the alarmist headlines.

The Times has routinely reported that as opposed to the virus ripping through communities on the way to mass death, it’s largely visited death on the very old in nursing homes. Underneath headlines that would give those on other planets the impression of American streets filled with dead bodies, the actual truth is most who’ve died with the virus were very old, and in just about every instance had some other pre-existing condition.

It’s a reminder that AIER’s stance on “herd immunity” isn’t just evidence of common sense, it’s also a sign of compassion inside the research institute. Try to isolate those at risk, while allowing those not at risk to get on with their lives.

Along these lines, Holman Jenkins at the Wall Street Journal has reported that the CDC’s website has long indicated that everyone would eventually be infected. AIER’s researchers are merely acknowledging this known. Let people live freely so that the inevitable can be moved up on the way to immunity. If so, broad immunity will reduce the risk for the old who are seen as most at risk.

Crucial about this is that no one is forced to join the “herd.” Those fearful of coming into contact with the infected should be free to isolate themselves accordingly. This includes Krugman.  

Freedom is always the answer, including freedom to not join the herd. That’s the view of the great people at AIER. Unknown is why this bothers so many on the left, not to mention why what’s timeless bothers them. It seems they enjoy forcing their values on others, and more than that, they positively revel in being told what to do.

Reprinted from RealClearMarkets

John Tamny


John Tamny, research fellow of AIER, is editor of RealClearMarkets.

His book on current ideological trends is: They Are Both Wrong (AIER, 2019)

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