– October 14, 2020

One especially comical feature of the accusation that AIER’s opposition to covid lockdowns springs from a 2018 contribution that AIER received from the Koch Foundation is that Tyler Cowen and the Mercatus Center this past Spring awarded funds to Imperial College modeler Neil Ferguson. The reason for this grant of funds was Tyler’s admiration of the fact that Dr. Ferguson’s model served as the spark for massive lockdowns in the U.K. and the U.S. But here’s the thing: Until last year, Charles Koch served on the board of Mercatus and has been, and continues to be, a contributor. Clearly, if the Koch Foundation is buying opposition to covid lockdowns, it’s doing a poor job!

And I myself am on the Mercatus board and have a deep, and proud, affiliation with Mercatus. I’m also a weekly – and proud – columnist for AIER. My position on covid and the lockdowns is quite different from that of Tyler; my position is much closer to that of Jeffrey Tucker and of AIER’s other writers. But I’m quite sure that Tyler and others who are more sympathetic to covid restrictions than I am hold their beliefs sincerely and for the best of motives. The notion that expressions of policy positions at odds with one’s own are mercenary is lazy and puerile. It’s a style of argument that one would not be surprised to find current during the dark ages, yet this style of argument – “argument” – remains quite in fashion in the 21st century, and not least among many people who believe themselves to be advanced thinkers.

Another lazy and puerile accusation against AIER’s Great Barrington Declaration comes from the Niskanen Center’s Sam Hammond. According to Mr. Hammond, writing at Twitter, AIER issued this declaration in order to goose-up the stock market! Mr. Hammond accuses AIER of having a “conflict of interest” in calling for an end to all covid lockdowns.

Well now. I suppose that everyone who, in addition to AIER, opposes the lockdowns can be found in some way to have material interests that might be served by ending the lockdowns. David Henderson, I’m certain, has investments in the stock market. Now we see why David opposes lockdowns! Lockdown skeptic Holman Jenkins writes a regular column for a publication titled, for heaven’s sake, The Wall Street Journal. Case closed! My friend Lyle Albaugh watched helplessly, almost in tears, as his and his wife’s, Betsy’s, small business of 32 years was destroyed by the lockdowns – and Lyle and Betsy have money in the stock market – so clearly Lyle’s opposition to the lockdowns is purely mercenary. J.D. Tuccille of Reason has been increasingly stern in criticizing the lockdowns; I don’t know him personally, but a good guess is that Mr. Tuccille has got some equity investments, so that explains that!

My dear friend and intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy has, I know, some of her wealth in the stock market – so, check, Vero’s skepticism of the lockdowns must also be mercenary and selfish rather than sincere and aimed at promoting the public good. Ditto for my friend and GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein.

And I, I here confess, have the bulk of my own modest wealth in the stock market. So I, too, am surely mercenary in opposing lockdowns. Or so must think Mr. Hammond.

What a convenient argument! No need for real thinking or actual argumentation. No need to deal with complexities and trade-offs. No need to understand that well-meaning people often differ sincerely in their understandings of reality. No need for any such civilized engagement with, and respect for, others. No! Simply find a single possible venal motive and, boom!, case closed. Brilliant! Twitter scholarship at its finest!

I do not believe that the identity of a person or organization that advances an argument is completely irrelevant. Knowing that identity is a piece of information with some relevance. It signals what perhaps might be genuine bias. But knowledge of a person’s or organization’s identity and source(s) of funding is hardly sufficient to carry the day. Ultimately, the merit of that person’s or organization’s argument must be assessed by the internal logic of the argument and its correspondence with empirical reality.

The fact that Nafeez Ahmed, Sam Hammond, and some others dismiss anti-lockdown arguments with ad hominem accusations is evidence as powerful as evidence gets that these people have no idea what an intellectually respectable argument is.

Donald J. Boudreaux

boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with American Institute for Economic Research and with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; a Mercatus Center Board Member; and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He is the author of the books The Essential Hayek, Globalization, Hypocrites and Half-Wits, and his articles appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US News & World Report as well as numerous scholarly journals. He writes a blog called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Boudreaux earned a PhD in economics from Auburn University and a law degree from the University of Virginia.

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