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August 13, 2021 Reading Time: 2 minutes

I am a faculty member at Florida State University, and for several months we have been told that the fall semester would be a return to normal campus operation. Last year, I taught in-person classes all year, wearing a mask, and was looking forward to teaching without one.

The university’s announced policy was that masks were recommended, but it was up to individuals to make that decision. That is in keeping with Governor Ron DeSantis’s executive order that bans mask mandates. My decision was not to wear one. I’m vaccinated, healthy, and willing to take that risk. I’m aware of the argument that I may increase the risk to others, who in this case are all college students. I am a senior citizen, so presumably more at risk than my students.

Yesterday I received an email signed by four high FSU officials, including outgoing President John Thrasher. Among other things, it says in bold type, We expect everyone to wear a face-covering or mask at all times when inside any FSU facility, even if you are vaccinated. My question is: should I wear a mask?

One interesting thing about the email is its authoritarian tone. It also expects other actions, including the expectation that everyone gets vaccinated. It’s not exactly a mandate, because that would directly violate the governor’s executive order, but it’s interesting that the message would be written in such an authoritarian tone when that message itself is anti-authoritarian by resisting the governor’s policy of letting individuals decide for themselves.

Some will be tempted to say I should follow the science, typically followed by a statement that the science says to wear a mask. But this is not a question for science, it is a public policy question. Science can provide information about the consequences of various actions but is insufficient to determine public policy.

For example, science can tell us that driving faster is more likely to result in accidents, serious injury, and death, but science cannot determine what is the optimal speed limit. Similarly, optimal policy to respond to COVID is not a question for science, even though science can provide information about the consequences of various policies.

The policy of the state of Florida is that whether to wear a mask is my personal choice. I work at a state university that is actively opposing the policy of those above them in the hierarchy of state government.

Should I yield to these anti-authoritarian authoritarians and wear a mask?

Reprinted from the Independent Institute

Randall G. Holcombe

Randall G. Holcombe

Randall G. Holcombe is DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. He received his Ph.D. in economics from Virginia Tech, and taught at Texas A&M University and at Auburn University prior to coming to Florida State in 1988. Dr. Holcombe is also Senior Fellow at the James Madison Institute and is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California.

Dr. Holcombe is the author of twenty books and more than 200 articles published in academic and professional journals. His books include Political Capitalism: How Economic and Political Power Is Made and Maintained (2018) and Coordination, Cooperation, and Control: The Evolution of Economic and Political Power (2020).

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