Tyler Cowen Thinks Coronavirus Could Be This Generation's World War II

The Mercatus economist on why the private sector could provide the best response to the coronavirus, why the government should go big anyway, and how the current crisis could help America reinvent itself.


How exactly should we respond to the threat of COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has, in a matter of weeks, upended much of daily life across America and the world? In many ways, the answer to that question depends on just how big of a threat you think it is. And George Mason University Economist Tyler Cowen thinks it's a very big threat indeed.

"I think there's a good chance…that this becomes like this generation's World War II," he tells Reason, "a totally formative event that shapes how people see the world." This is a once-in-a-lifetime emergency, and Americans need to be "prepared for it being very serious." Cowen, for his part, has been "devoting pretty much all of my efforts every day to putting the United States in the best possible position to respond."

For Cowen, that means a two-track approach—one private, one public. First, through the Mercatus Center, the libertarian think tank he chairs, he's sponsoring the Emergent Ventures Prizes, an extensive set of financial rewards for innovators, explainers, and responders whose work helps to combat the virus. There are prizes for journalism, for social media analysis, for policy, for social distancing innovations, and for rapid treatment plans. The prize pool starts at $1 million, and he's soliciting donations to make it even larger. 

"The purpose of the prize is to incentivize and also get money to people who are solving the problem, and in fact they're doing so well or they're so busy they wouldn't have time to apply for a grant or even know that it existed." With a rapidly spreading virus, time is of the essence, which makes prizes a particularly valuable form of incentive. 

"By some estimates," Cowen says, "the number of actual cases [of COVID-19] could be doubling every five to seven days. The longer we wait, the harder it gets to address the issue. So the nice thing about prizes is their start-up costs are very low—you just announce the prize."

Cowen says he's already given out at least one of those prizes, and although he wouldn't provide a name, he said it was to "people who just literally needed money to make a purchase transaction so they could start building testing kits."

For Cowen, the prizes are an important extension of his belief that the private sector has a substantial role to play in responding to the crisis. What's more, he argues, is that it already is.

"I think big business has actually done phenomenally well," he says. "If you look at Amazon, Walmart, many other American businesses, they were not necessarily expecting this to be as dramatic as it was. But they had the size, the scope, the scale, the talent to pull off provisioning Americans in a major way. Internet providers, Zoom or Skype, which is now owned by Microsoft. Those have been the essential backbone of our adaptation." 

That's the first track. But Cowen is an economist and a studious analyst of American politics and policy. And he's trying to make a difference there as well. 

Cowen recently released a brief outlining what he calls "the best economic plan against the coronavirus." In it, Cowen calls for a package of measures, from expanding unemployment insurance to reducing tariffs to loosening labor rules to sending every American a check for $1,000—a giant fiscal stimulus that Cowen acknowledges would "mean a much higher budget deficit and higher inflation rate." 

Cowen doesn't relish this outcome. With deficits already set to run more than $1 trillion annually for the foreseeable future, he says "we were already taking a big chance, which made me nervous. We're now taking a much bigger chance in what is a more fragile global economy. But I think you have to ask what are the relevant alternatives." The goal, he says, is "to do those things that infringe upon liberties the least" and to avoid even worse policies down the road. Spending that results in tax hikes, or that somewhat increases the existing risk of a debt crisis, he argues, presents "a relatively low degree of harm." 

"We already have taxes," he says. "It's bad if they're higher in the future. But we're not locking people up, we're not nationalizing sectors of the economy. We're not ruining that much." Without an infusion of cash into the economy, there's a risk of systemic meltdown: large numbers of people who can't pay their rent, who can't get food, and resulting problems with the court system. And that, in turn, could result in policy responses that are even worse. "I think you would end up with a lot more government than if you just send people some amount of money now."

And yet, the recent history of emergency policy interventions, from 9/11 to the financial crisis, suggests that rapidly introduced, large scale interventions often have significant drawbacks—at best, as with the stimulus plan passed under President Barack Obama, they work less well than intended. But in many cases, as with the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, they leave legacies of dysfunction that can linger on for years. 

Cowen doesn't disagree. And he doesn't necessarily think that this time will be different. "I think it's absolutely fair to expect policy will get worse and that will be with us for a long time," he says—under any scenario.

And yet he sees a glimmer of hope. For even if much of the response to the current crisis is flawed or misguided, it might also help wipe away some of the policy detritus of decades past. As an example, he points to the Trump administration's recent announcement that doctors would be freer to conduct patient visits online, over internet video services. "In essence, telemedicine is being deregulated," Cowen says, and as a product of the current sense of urgency, "it can just happen. I think it's possible, probably even likely, it just stays that way forever." 

Beyond that, he points to universities that are doing more of their classes online. A substantial reform of the Food and Drug Administration, whose old regulations and procedures gummed up initial efforts to develop testing for the coronavirus, is now likely. "I don't know how far that will go, but I would say there's at least a scenario where we reinvent ourselves. And at least in some areas, but certainly biomedicine, I think we'll be freer and more able to do things than we would have been without this crisis." 

Once again, Cowen brings up World War II as the precedent. America faced a "very difficult, very tragic, pretty terrible set of choices with different details, different tradeoffs." The war, he says, "did restrict liberties in significant ways. I don't just mean people fighting, but just Americans at home having their consumption restricted or their opportunities limited. But nonetheless, America in the 1950s was a much freer place in the world as a whole, was much freer than if we had done nothing."

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  2. Someone needs to explain to Cowen not everything offers bigger lessons or is a justification for whatever your hobby horse is. Now, it isn’t World War II. World War II lasted over six years and killed 40 million people and left large parts of the world in ruin. This is going to last a couple of months, will kill less than a million, and cause people to spend more time at home with their pets. It is not going to shape how they see the world except maybe to decide China sucks and we are better off not trading with them. And I don’t think Tyler is going to like that very much.

    1. Note the URL

      Coronavirus Is China’s Chance to Weaken the Liberal Order

      Only a few weeks ago, when the impact of the coronavirus was still heavily concentrated in China, the dominant narrative was that Beijing was once again the new “sick man of Asia.” Now, the theme seems to be that the coronavirus shows just how badly America’s relative power and prestige have fallen. After 2008, this perception led to a surge in China’s willingness to defy the U.S. and its friends and allies in the South China Sea, in international institutions, and in negotiations on global responses to climate change. No doubt the coronavirus will stimulate new Chinese efforts to displace and discredit American leadership in global affairs.

      1. That no doubt came directly from the Chinese government. I mean literally word for word. The major media in this country is almost entirely on the Chinese payroll. One of the upshots of all this is that people are finally noticing.

        And the US is coming out of this just fine. The ironic thing is that propaganda like this hurts the Chinese cause. This just pisses people off and makes them trust China less and more receptive to ending our economic ties to them. But the Chinese government is so insecure right now and its people so disgusted with them and close to revolt, that China has no choice but to get it’s media agents to publish puff pieces like this that can then be fed back to their own population as proof of the government’s strength and the futility of resisting it. Like all totalitarian governments, the Chinese are more afraid of their own people than they are of us.

        1. You didn’t mention the worst of it – the author is a resident scholar at AEI. The American Enterprise Institute is now plumping for communism. What bizzaro world did I wake up in this morning?

          1. IT is not bizzaro world. It is the same world it has always been where money talks. How much money are the Chinese giving to AEI?

            1. More or less than what they give the rest of NeverTrump?

            2. apparently the Chinese has bought and paid for our media class many times over. It’s been instructive.

            3. In this bizarro world, Moroni lost his trumpet!

        2. The major media in this country is almost entirely on the Chinese payroll. One of the upshots of all this is that people are finally noticing.

          Isn’t it all astonishing really.
          Like I said yesterday, the media called it the Wuhan virus until the moment the Chinese government began their big propaganda push, then it instantly became racist.
          ​This is so much worse than just being biased.

          1. They’ve peddled their asses to the DNC, and their peddling them to China. Literally whores.

        3. I don’t know John I saw a show this week with that black science dude and he mentioned how the Irish famine was actually Brittans fault, mostly true, but the Millions of deaths in China was purely a natural made famine not the fault of the communist government actions. there are also plenty of Americans who claim far more would have died in China if china hadn’t starved the millions to death. there are fools among us.

        4. I find the racism here appalling!

          Belvedere! My ascot!

    2. We’re witnessing Beijing’s attempt to scrub its culpability for the pandemic from the world’s memory. Chinese Communist propagandists declare, “China is owed a thank you for buying the world time” and the New York Times dutifully repeats it.

      After covering up the novel infection and unleashing it on the world, Beijing’s rulers bought up the world’s supply of protective gear and respirators. Then they sell these critical goods to Italy while portraying themselves as the heroic humanitarian savior of the world, not unlike a pyromaniac who takes credit for calling the fire department…

      …Beijing has a plan to gain ground after the setback it experienced from the Wuhan virus. It is deploying all its resources – industrial, economic, and information – to achieve its goal. Remember that when you hear “respected voices” such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers or the Peterson Institute for International Economics call for lifting tariffs on China…

      1. That Times article was by some guy that no one can find anywhere else on the internet and had never heard of who claims to be “a writer living in Beijing”. If we had an honest Department of Justice, they would be opening investigations of the Times and the Atlantic as well as various pundits like Anne Applebaum for being unregistered agents of the Chinese government. They are not shilling for the Chinese for free. They are being paid. And if they are being paid, they are agents of a foreign government and are required by law to register as such.

      2. They literally had Chinese people go around Italy hugging people

        1. On the mayor of Florence’s instructions. This was unbelievable:

          People are dead because globalist progs wanted to virtue signal… but hey, at least they aren’t racist!

          1. “Gabriella Flag of Italy #VOGLIAMOVOTARE
            Feb 1
            Replying to
            Voi siete peggio del virus.
            Pussa via!!!!”

            Translation: You’re worse than the virus!


    3. These people have already caused more economic damage they know. We’ll be lucky if we aren’t at 20% unemployment by the end of the month. This is not a matter of turning a switch back on either. they’ve wrecked it over what will be a slightly higher than average flu season.

      1. You have very little faith in markets. First, it is not damaging the economy that much to cause 20% unemployment. Second, to the extent it has, it is mostly just creating pent up demand. Lots of people are working from home or on leave and getting paid and have no where to spend their money. When this ends in a few weeks, and it will, they will immediately run out and spend all the money they hadn’t over the previous weeks. It will be a mini version of what happened at the end of World War II when all of the “experts” were convinced the end of the war was going to wreck the economy and instead there was a boom.

        1. Your underestimating how much businesses exist on the margins and how many people exist on hourly wages. Not everyone works a gov job or one they can do at home. I own a construction firm that mostly all we do is build outs those projects have all been delayed two months, no restaurants impact food suppliers and alcohol sales and their employees aren’t getting paid. The ripple effects are just starting. The hospitality industry is wrecked it’s going to take months to recover if not a year. That is just due to the gov. actions I’m not even talking about the panic the press and gov have worked people into to convince them to stay home that’s not going away over night either.

          1. I think maybe you’re just scared and panicked.


            We’ll be lucky if we aren’t at 20% unemployment

            We won’t even come close to half that, 20% is the most outrageous chicken little syndrome I’ve ever seen

            1. it’s not panic it’s pessimism, how much of the economy is hospitality or servicing/supplying the hospitality industry. How much money do you think businesses carry on hand? I just think a ton of people are completely ignorant to how small businesses work, there’s not just a pot of money somewhere.

              1. You say potato, I say panic. Because let’s be real, it looks like panic.

                And not to be rude, but please stop assuming that because people disagree with you that they are ignorant. I’m a small business owner, and I’m well aware of the conditions you mention, I simply disagree with your prognostication.

                1. okay. Good I hope your right. I just don’t see any of the politicians or chattering class doing anything to stand up for us or using the slightest bit of caution for some of the draconian measures they are banding a round with no clear end dates in sight. It seems like a giant dick measuring contest to see who can look like they are handling this the best as opposed to any kind of sensible strategies or long term thinking of what kind of economy is going to emerge out of this.

          2. I fully understand that businesses exist on the margins. But the ripple effects that you talk about go both ways. When things go up the ripple effects reverse. This is why the business cycle never ends in permanent or even long term depression unless the government steps in and makes it that way.

            And where I live at least people don’t seem to be staying home that much. The streets are still pretty busy. And people will go out as soon as the restrictions are lifted because they want to and the lifting of the restrictions will give them a rationalization for doing it.

            Until the coming of antibiotics in the 1940s, things like strep throat were untreatable. Yet, we managed to build modern civilization in spite of this. The reason is that people adjust to whatever the risk is and get on with their lives. They have to. There is no other choice. They are not going to stay in their houses forever and give up their way of life. They are not going to do so over a flu that has at most a 5% fatality rate.

            1. okay. I hope your right. I’m not worried about the flu. I’m worried about the lather and draconian measure the gov has taken and everyone is just alright with for something that is not going to kill more people than a regular flu season.

            2. “And where I live at least people don’t seem to be staying home that much. The streets are still pretty busy. And people will go out as soon as the restrictions are lifted because they want to and the lifting of the restrictions will give them a rationalization for doing it.”

              Are you in one of the states where the governor has ordered shut downs?

              Here in Orange County, CA the third largest mall in the US has shut down. The strip malls where business people normally eat are empty. There is decidedly less traffic everywhere, except oddly enough at the boba restaurants, that have 20-deep lines of 20-somethings standing and waiting for their milk tea.

              1. I am in one of those states. The governor here ordered all the malls and restaurants shut down.

          3. idlehands – How quickly can you repurpose to address something else?

            If you are denying that the Covid19 issue is real, well then all I can say is – all of your customers who’ve been hoarding TP and ammo and canned lima beans disagree most heartily.

            If you admit it is real – and can repurpose to accomplish something needed locally – like field quarantine facilities or logistics supply or somesuch – then this is not a crisis, it is an opportunity.

            And if you choose to sit it out – well that’s your choice too

            1. WTF are you talking about?

              1. I don’t know the answer to those questions, of course Covid 19 is a threat the question is how large a threat or how small. You don’t know, I don’t know and the federal/state gov doesn’t know. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous. There are still vast pockets of this country who can’t get tested because we don’t have enough tests so we have absolutely no idea how lethal this is because we will probably never know how widespread this is or how long it’s been here. I’ve seen multiple studies suggesting this thing is asymptomatic in like 50% of people which means even if you could get tested, you wouldn’t.

                1. You don’t know, I don’t know and the federal/state gov doesn’t know. To pretend otherwise is ridiculous.

                  Fatalism is an odd trait for an entrepreneur. As for me. I knew nothing about this a couple months ago. But when Wuhan shut down and started mass building hospitals. Well that certainly is an unusual thing to do don’t you think? Well maybe not. But I did. Which is why I learned more – quickly – and have wasted time here for the last month thinking that there might be some actual pragmatic libertarians here. And apparently scaring the bejesus out of a little coterie of dingleberry-munching beetles claiming the comments here as their private shooting range who accuse me of spreading panic cuz this isn’t even the flu.

            2. Free are you talking about profiteering during a crisis?

              1. No. I am talking about actually solving problems. Gouging batteries/plywood is actually quite different than constructing facilities fast or arranging logistics. Idle does construction. That can solve local problems if the local issue is some unanticipated demand (and a complete disappearance of previously expected demand).

                Way too much emphasis now among ‘free market’ folks about financing/etc – the medium of exchange – as the kickstart for markets. The pricing signal is a SIGNAL. It is not the actual market of goods/services. The medium of exchange rather than the objects of exchange.

                I blame neoclassical/marginal/Austrian for this. Money is not capital. Capital is not land (resources). Forget that and the solution for everything at the margin seems to be ‘throw money at problems’ and problems will go away. Doesn’t actually work that way. Not for govt and not for markets. And with debt-based money it creates a HUGE problem over time.

              2. To clarify – profiteering or price gouging is only about solving problems related to overall supply/demand if it actually results in increased supply moving to that location. Lots of reasons though why that might not happen until quite a bit later – after the cause for that demand spike is gone and the thing no longer sells for that spiked price.

                If it doesn’t result in that consequence, it’s really a form of rent-seeking. Rewarding someone who had that resource (land) in inventory at that moment and place. The ‘solution’ proposed by govt to ban it is almost always wrong. The solution for govt is to create that supply there – after the current emergency – and hold it in inventory there – until the next emergency. But those who benefit from the lack of supply in an emergency always oppose that action.

    4. It’s more like the Great Depression in character (not duration) since we aren’t mobilizing troops and building tanks. People are being forced by circumstances to work to keep their shit together. Lots of people are going to find themselves with little to eat and no money to go anywhere – of course anywhere is closed.

      It’s a character-building exercise.

      1. Lots of people are going to find themselves with little to eat and no money to go anywhere

        No they are not.

        1. You appear to believe that people are prepared for the long haul. They are not prepared. Recent surveys show that up to 40% of households would have trouble scraping together $400 for an emergency. We are relatively wealthy and thoughtful compared to a great many people. Don’t use your peer group as the basis – you will be fooled.

          “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” H. L. Mencken

          1. You appear to think that this will last for months and people will just stay in their homes and starve. THat is not going to happen.

            1. The first NYT story is likely already written, just waiting for the right moment to drop. No one will be starving, but ‘food deserts’ will be expanding. There are people who barely get by as it is. Get out in the world and see for yourself someday.

              What do you think will happen to kids who already live w grandma because mom died of an overdose will do when grandma dies from the bug? Dad ain’t coming from jail anytime soon.

    5. Last time I checked, WW II killed 75 – 80 million folks, the the paltry 40 million previously mentioned.

  3. When will we stop acting crazy about this?

    1. In a week or two when it warms up and people realize that the world isn’t ending.

      1. I hope your right if this goes longer than a month were looking at another great depression.

        1. I don’t think it is going to go that long. In two weeks the CDC is going to revise its guidelines. When that happens most things will return to normal. The one thing about something that grows exponentially; you know fairly quickly whether you have contained it. If people are not overwhelming the emergency rooms in two weeks, the thing is largely contained.

          1. this thing has been here for months, it was already too late, what your seeing is a spike in testing for this thing that was already here and probably just disregarded by most as the regular flu. What people die if we didn’t know or classify this corona virus would have been considered just part of a regular flu season but a larger than average one .

            1. Exactly. Maybe we’d be better off if we didn’t know about this thing. People would just get pneumonia, as there are always people doing.

              2 years ago at about this time I got a pneumonia from what turned out to be parainfluenza B. Did knowing that (via serology) make any difference as to treatment? No. The only thing was, I nearly died from congestive heart failure from the treatment (the mineralocorticoid action of the anti-inflammatory steroids) that I was on too long, combined with atrial fibrillation (which I’m prone to) brought on by the chest infection itself. Once the drugs were stopped and I was shocked back into normal rhythm, I lost 10 kg of water and was OK.

              1. Actually more a bronchiolitis than pneumonia.

          2. John, this is going to be around for at least 4-5 months. We have to social distance until it dies out, not until the rate slows. Otherwise it pops up again in a more damaging way since all of our guards are down. My guess is that we will be wondering if schools will be starting in August.

            1. The warm weather will slow it down and stop it. And people are not going to lock themselves in their homes for three months. They just won’t do it. They will assume the risk and go out within a couple of weeks regardless of what the government tells them.

              1. Flattening the curve also extends the timeline. You are right that people will get cabin fever and this will cause problems. If we are successful in flattening, and then people drop their guards, the 2nd wave is almost certain to be worse. At least that’s the track record of these things.

        2. Another great depression is the entire goal for the anti-Trump left. Which unfortunately describes about 90% of the governement-media complex that is now virtually imprisoning us in a totalitarian death grip.

          And it’s really pathetic when smart people who should (or do) know better are contributing to the mass hysteria. A substantial percentage of people who get this virus show no symptoms whatsoever. The virus is already massively more widespread than we’re being led to believe, and the true mortality rate is WAY lower than we’re being led to believe.

          1. I honestly can’t believe how many people seem to be so gungho for what is basically martial law. All I can think of is the journalistic class all work from home and don’t go out anyway so their lifestyles and living are largely unaffected.

            1. It is because they see what is happening in Italy and don’t want it to happen here. But that enthusiasm is as easily ended as it was started. Every day that things go on as normal people will be less supportive of these things.

              The danger isn’t that the country will lock itself in their homes forever. The danger is that this thing really is a threat and they will lose interest in controlling it in a couple of weeks and just go back to normal before it is contained. I think that is a small danger but it is a bigger danger than everyone deciding to live in a police state where all social gatherings are illegal.

              1. I understand the political class, they don’t want to even appear to make the sofies choice of having to choose who lives and who dies in what would be a worst case scenario. My question is why isn’t the chattering class asking any of these people pertinent questions about this virus at all and picking apart the horrible economic repercussions of those decisions they are making?

              2. Some of us have close relatives with compromised immune systems. Both my wife and daughter (38 yrs old) have this problem so we are being super careful. I can’t imagine we will get back to normal for a long, long time.

                1. Your caution is prudent.
                  Destroying the economy/society isn’t

                2. “…I can’t imagine we will get back to normal for a long, long time…”

                  I have a spare copy of Chicken Little if you need it.

    2. The left instinctively knows to hunker down, because they believe DT is a threat to their very existence. The right is trying to be as “woke” as they possibly can. It’s all nonsense. I’m going to my favorite bar, bicycling and cross-country skiing, as I normally would, and trying to laugh and have fun. This is like a serious flu, it’s not the end of the world. Personally, I’m fucking sick and tired of hearing about it.

  4. “How exactly should we respond to the threat of COVID-19”

    By allowing unlimited, unrestricted immigration, of course!


    1. Satire, yes.

      Saying that, if Mexico goes to C19 Hell, good luck running Democrats on an “open border/’free’ healthcare for all” platform. We’re all staying home to avoid flooding the US healthcare system. Dems want to import a flood?

      1. Exactly that. And that is why the Democrats creating panic over this is going to blow up in their faces. All people being panicked over this is accomplishing is getting people to realize how insane open borders actually are. Moreover, by making it sound worse than it is, they are giving Trump a free pass. No matter what happens, it is almost certainly not going to be as bad as Democrats and the media have gaslighted people into expecting, which guarantees that Trump’s performance as President will exceed expectations.

        I think that is why Trump is being so over the top in his response. Like Democrats he too sees an opportunity in a crisis. If the Democrats want to panic the public over this, let them. Then act like it is a crisis and go to 11 in the response. And when it turns out not to be a crisis, Trump can then take credit for solving it.

        The Democrats really are Wiley E. Coyote when it comes to Trump.

        1. The left’s emotionally and physically abusive relationship with the rest of us (walk on eggshells or we lose our s*it/don’t make us – Antifa – hit you) has given them no reverse gear. The have whipped up an army of kids who know basically nothing (an educated population would have laughed at the NY Time’s “Red Century” series) and have lost control of the monster they made.

          The Dem establishment is going to get eaten first. Hopefully that warns the rest of the country what the left wing mob is really like.

          1. Worse than that, the kids don’t vote. So they really don’t help the left politically anywhere outside of localities they already control. And Antifa exists in places that are largely leftist and outside of a view right wing media figures terrorize mostly other leftists. Most of the country doesn’t even know who Antifa is or give a shit what it says or does. If Antifa ever were dumb enough to venture out into big Red America, they would get their asses kicked. So, they just stay in leftist enclaves and terrorize other leftists.

      2. Dems want to import a flood?

        This was the case without C19. The ACA was a highly tuned instrument balanced on a knife’s edge getting the right number of citizens of the right age and health status into the right bins. Pointing out that immigration, legal or illegal, sets fire to all of that planning and fucks everyone in the system made one a racist who hated brown people. Even if your explicit intent since before the ACA was passed was that it was a fucked up system that shouldn’t have passed and since should be repealed.

    2. DRINK! Only half a drink. No mention of Koch 🙁

  5. The goal, he says, is “to do those things that infringe upon liberties the least” and to avoid even worse policies down the road.

    IOW, do nothing?

  6. “Tyler Cowen Thinks”

    Don’t care.

    1. I challenge the assertion that he thinks.

  7. James Lileks on how desperate urbanists are to pretend that the suburbs and the country are not safer from pandemics.

    If you are in a first-ring rambler with a lawn, are you as likely to get COVAD from a neighbor who lives next door on the other side of the fence, or a neighbor who touches the elevator buttons, the communal washing machine, the door handles in the lobby? Are you less likely to get the bug if you drive in your car to a large grocery store once a week and stock up because you have extra room, or take a subway to a small, crowded store daily because you haven’t room to store things, and don’t have a freezer?

    There are all sorts of advantages to the things they don’t like. It’s okay to admit it. I’m not expecting they will.

    Urbanism is just a variety of the leftist religion that has taken over the fields of city management, planning and architecture. Facts don’t matter when weighed against faith.

    1. I love James Lileks, he’s a reminder that there is still some sanity left in my hometown

      1. also, he’s written some very funny stuff

      2. Yeah, I follow the Daily Bleat too. To be honest I enjoy the Diary entries the most though.

  8. If this virus is this generation’s anything, it may be this generation’s drug war.

    It took decades for average Americans to realize that there is precious little they can do to stop people from consuming cannabis. It doesn’t matter how much money the government spends. It doesn’t matter how much law enforcement gets involved. It doesn’t matter how harsh you make the criminal penalties. There isn’t anything the government can do to stop people from consuming cannabis.

    The coronavirus will be like that. There isn’t anything we can do stop novel viruses from emerging in various parts of the world and making their way to the USA, and if it’s sufficiently novel and contagious, there’s precious little the government can do to stop the spread once it arrives–except get out of the way of private actors creating and distributing a vaccine.

    Plenty of people already know there isn’t much that the government can do to solve these kinds of problems, and those of us who already know this are less likely to be the cause of additional problems caused by government actions that don’t do anything about the virus itself. This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back on nationalized healthcare. It shouldn’t be.

    1. That is not true. Not every outbreak is this one. The government has stopped the spread of many pandemic threats. Ebola for example. They didn’t stop this one because it has a low mortality rate and often shows no or few symptoms in carriers. It is impossible to stop a virus like that. Not every virus or pandemic threat is like that.

      Second, the lesson of this is that in an emergency you cannot count on other countries to trade with you for emergency supplies. No country is going to sacrifice their own people to trade with you to save yours. So, you better be able to produce some things domestically when something like this happens.

      Like Cowen you are convinced every event supports your ideology and biases. Sadly, they don’t. This one in fact undercuts nearly all of your assumptions about there being no downside to international trade under any conditions.

      1. “There isn’t anything we can do stop novel viruses from emerging in various parts of the world and making their way to the USA, and if it’s sufficiently novel and contagious, there’s precious little the government can do to stop the spread once it arrives”

        —-Ken Shultz

        No doubt, the government has done things to stop some viruses in the past, but, as you said, that was because of the nature of the viruses. There isn’t anything about the way the coronavirus has spread that would have been different if the government had done things properly or differently. The Biden campaign will say otherwise, but they’ll be wrong. The virus is spreading world wide.

        1. Yes there absolutely is. Had the government not banned flights from China and not quarantined early, this would have spread much more quickly and it would have been took late for the measures being taken now to have any effect.

          Basically, you are saying quarantining doesn’t work. And all of human history shows that it does.

          1. And in spite of those travel bans, which were entirely rational, all of us may eventually be exposed anyway. That’s the point.

            I’m not saying Trump did anything wrong. I think he did things right! . . . and it probably make a difference in terms of whether everyone gets exposed before we’re all vaccinated.

            I’m all on board with the flattening the curve strategy, but understand the point of that strategy. The same number of people get infected regardless of quarantines and social distancing.

            The only difference is that the virus takes longer to spread, so the peak is, hopefully, below the level at which the number of cases at the same time would overwhelm the number of ventilators and ICU beds.

            That is not stopping the spread of the virus. That is coming to terms with the fact that the virus will infect maybe all of us–and trying to slow the spread down so the quantity of ventilators demanded at any given time doesn’t overwhelm the supply of ventilators.

            They’ve basically given up on stopping the virus. The virus is already all over the country and all over the world. Cases are doubling every few days. The government can’t stop that. They can only slow it down. And that may be the source of our misunderstanding here.

            What Trump is doing is the right thing to do–to slow the virus down. Whether I’m exposed, however, is a function of whether it gets to me first or whether a vaccine gets to me first. The vaccine is months away, and the number of cases keeps doubling every few days. “If” we’re going to be exposed isn’t really the question anymore. The question is , “When?”.

            1. Well put, Ken. We need to just go on living our lives. This will pass soon and we will then move on to the next big crisis, whatever that is. We live in an age of perpetual “trauma.” We put “impeachment” behind us and now we can look forward to some different thing that will soon become apparent. This is as close as we’ve been to mass hysteria since the Japanese were rounded up and put in concentration camps, post Pearl Harbor. In the midst of it, everyone seems so “rational,” but afterwards, folks look back and say, “they all went nuts.” My left wing friends came undone about a week after the election and they haven’t recovered yet. They’d be taking it all in stride were Hillary president.

        2. Um…the government could have done more to develop vaccines.

          Tevi Troy in 2016: ‘One Specific Area that Could Stand Improvement Is the Development of Coronavirus Countermeasures.’

          A Public Service Announcement: Tevi Troy is a farshtunken oracle and everyone should read everything he writes. This on page 25 of Troy’s book, Shall We Wake the President? Two Centuries of Disaster Management from the Oval Office, written in 2016:

          Government can harm, as well as help, technological development. At the same time that the government is working to develop new technologies, the president needs to keep careful watch to ensure that other arms of the government are not getting in the way of technological progress. The president should have an office under his own purview tasked with removing bureaucratic barriers and identifying liability concerns that threaten effective preparation, and designed to leverage our federal system to pull the best ideas from every part of the nation to ensure our government is equipped and equipping every part of society to anticipate and respond to potential health issues. This office could be in the White House, or in the Office of Management and Budget, but should be within the domain of the executive office of the president. It does our nation little good to have BARDA work with industry to create a new cure, only to have the FDA unnecessarily delay its approval. Too often, different arms of the government work at cross-purposes with one another, creating what could be termed the “pushmi-pullyu” effect, after the Dr. Doolittle creature with two heads going off in different directions.

          Once government bureaucracies are at war with each other, it’s very hard to stop them from feuding. In circumstances where thousands of lives could be on the line, the president cannot just shrug his shoulders and grumble about bureaucratic infighting. Presidential leadership is required to make sure that internal policy disagreements do not get in the way of life-saving technological advancements.

          One specific area that could stand improvement is the development of coronavirus countermeasures. Both MERS and SARS were worrisome pathogens, and the world lacked the countermeasures to combat them. Fortunately, science has advanced to the point where effective vaccine platforms will typically allow us to develop vaccines for new strains of an existing disease. With respect to flu, for example, we have the ability to develop new vaccines to inoculate against rapidly evolving new strains. With coronaviruses, we do not yet have those platforms. National Institutes of Health (NIH) has started down this path, but we also need HHS’s BARDA to spur private-sector development of a MERS countermeasure. The next president should put this effort on his or her to-do list.

          Developing countermeasures is important, but so is taking care of them. A recent Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s report was headlined, “DHS Has Not Effectively Managed Pandemic Personal Protective Equipment and Antiviral Medical Countermeasures.” Somewhat disturbingly, the report found that even though Congress had appropriated finds for DHS to “plan, train, and prepare for a potential pandemic,” the department was not ready to respond appropriately if a pandemic took place. According to the report, DHS had not sufficiently assessed its needs or managed the countermeasures in its own stockpile. The report included eleven specific recommendations that DHS needed to follow. DHS agreed with all eleven recommendations, which indicated there was internal knowledge of the agency’s failings on this front.

          The proposed solution to slow-moving, contradictory, and red-tape-laden federal bureaucracy almost always turns out to be more slow-moving, contradictory, and red-tape-laden federal bureaucracy.

          1. I appreciate that knowing what we know now, if we could go back in time and do things differently, we might have a different outcome.

            I hope you appreciate that from where we are right now, there is little or nothing the government can do to stop this viral outbreak.

            Whatever the government tries to do in the coming months, from spending, nationalizing healthcare, etc., none of it is likely to make any difference in terms of who is and isn’t infected.

            Average people are imaging that government policies are meant to stop them from getting infected, and that makes these people highly vulnerable to supporting draconian and authoritarian policies.

            Getting people to understand that the government is incapable of keeping them from getting infected, therefore, makes them less susceptible to draconian and authoritarian policies.

            1. Social distancing can have an impact, but this will all depend on how disciplined Americans are. Not optimistic.

              I hope you are in for the long haul, this will likely last into and beyond the summer. Our efforts to flatten the curve make the time to zero longer.

              1. It makes a difference in the rate that the fire is burning the building down, but the building will eventually burn to the ground anyway.

  9. If coronavirus is the worst thing to happen to this generation, then dammit…Nick Gillespie would be right. The virus will usher in an age of decadent internet loafing

    1. “the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus that has, in a matter of weeks, upended much of daily life across America and the world”

      The “disease” is not particularly deadly and it has not upended daily life. Dumbfuckery has upended daily life.

  10. we’re not nationalizing sectors of the economy

    Just education, healthcare, housing…

    1. I don’t see how housing is nationalized. Education has been. Healthcare to a greater degree than housing but less than education.

  11. More like the welfare/warfare state’s version of St. Vitus’s Dance.

  12. Where’s the bottom on the Dow? 15,000? I predicted 20,000 back when it had sunk to 26,000. We are there and the panic hasn’t ramped up yet to the point where the school year is deemed over and all businesses shut down because too many key workers have been “exposed” to someone who tested positive.

    1. I hope it is 15,000. That will create a tremendous buying opportunity for when it comes back this summer.

      1. Back to where? I don’t see it climbing back to 29,000 for years.
        Companies will be emerging a lot weaker and sales won’t zoom back enough to make up for all the lost revenue. For example, I won’t go eat out seven nights a week just because I couldn’t eat out once a week for seven weeks. I won’t take two vacations because I cancelled this summer’s vacation. I won’t buy that new refrig because the Bank of Dad is already getting loan applications from the laid-off kids in the hospitality industry.

        1. That is not how it works. You are basically giving the Keynsian liquidity trap. And that is just garbage. People go back to work, they spend money and the business cycle goes back up. That is how markets work. They don’t stay depressed forever or even that long unless the government steps in an makes them that way.

          1. The DOW rises on ‘a wall of worry’, so it will take quite a while to get back to 29,000. But it is likely a long steady climb.

  13. This isn’t this generation’s WWII, it’s not even this generation’s AIDS crisis. Remember the AIDS? An incurable, untreatable, 100% fatal disease that was projected to kill 114 billion people by the year 2000? The coronavirus is going to infect tens of millions of people and they’re all going to be expecting their own ICU room and their own ventilator and the doctor is going to laugh and hand them a bottle of Nyquil and tell them to go home and spend a few days in bed.

    Coronavirus is not a death sentence, people. It’s not even smallpox or malaria or dysentery. I think humanity will survive and someday in retrospect, there’s going to be a big argument over whether the cure was worse than the disease to rival the argument over whether FDR’s actions made the Great Depression better or worse. Personally, I suspect I’m going to be on the side of the ” ‘we had to destroy the village in order to save the village’ is an insane argument” folks.

    But I could be wrong. I’m no expert, I only know a little about history and probabilities. Specifically, the probability that we are living in an extraordinarily unique moment of history. Unless you were around when the meteor strike killed off the dinosaurs and triggered the rise of the mammals, I don’t think anybody’s ever seen a literally world-changing event and I doubt we’re seeing one now.

    1. It took 30,000 years for the dinosaurs to die off after the meteor strike according to the latest thinking.

      “extraordinarily unique”
      Unique means one of a kind. It can take no modifiers. You can’t be more or less one of a kind. Like pregnant, you either is or you ain’t.

    2. Correct.

    3. Yep. But if you believe progressives, and much of society at large, we are living in one massive, civilization-altering event after another that only government, in the hands of right-thinking progressives of course, can solve. Climate change, the rise of the machines, coronavirus, access to healthcare, literally a billion children being shot to death in their schools every day with fully automatic AK17s bought at the gas station on the corner… all things that are without precedent ever before in history, but yet here we are. What are the odds? Of course, if our forefathers were around, they obviously would tell us that they never intended the constitution to apply in times like these. These are extraordinary times, and demand that TOP MEN be given the latitude to do what needs to be done in order to avert impending catastrophe.

  14. Thanks to his form of economic neoliberalism creating wage stagnation, massive wealth and income inequality and massive public, private and corporate debt only to shove trillions of dollars off shore in shell companies of the super rich and out of our economy. Yep… it’s 1929 again.

    1. wage stagnation, massive wealth and income inequality and massive public, private and corporate debt only to shove trillions of dollars off shore in shell companies of the super rich and out of our economy.

      This well describes the policies in place from 2008-2017. Tariffs do not shove dollars offshore, and wages are rising now.

    2. “Thanks to…”

      Thanks to you for posting lefty drivel, shitbag.

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  16. First, through the Mercatus Center, the libertarian think tank he chairs

    These must be uncommon meanings of the words “libertarian” and “think”

  17. is there ever an Economist who is also an Optimist?

  18. Tyler Cowen Thinks Coronavirus Could Be This Generation’s World War II

    This generation?

    WHICH generation? Silents? Greatest? Boomers? GenX? Milennials? Zoomers? Whatever the new generation that’s just toddling now will be called?

    Which one?

    Because the people who lived through WW2 and Korea, and Vietnam, and the Cold War, and the first, second, and third(?) Gulf Wars, and 9/11, and the Global War on Terror, and The Great recession ARE STILL HERE, experiencing this, too.

    And remember, the folks who experienced WW2, a lot of them experienced the Spanish American War, WW1, The Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, Prohibition.

    So can we shitcan the whole ‘X could be THIS generation’s Y’ stupidity already?

  19. The coronavirus will be this generations 1919 Spanish Flu — Frightening and disruptive at the time, possibly killing hundreds of thousands or millions globally, and then forgotten within a generation or two.

  20. “I think there’s a good chance…that this becomes like this generation’s World War II,”

    Assuming “this generation” is a cohort of snowflakes whining for mommy every time someone says something they don’t like, he’s probably on to something.

  21. This generation’s WW2? I bet David Brooks has a woody.

    1. Just the fact that people are framing the Coronavirus in the same category as WW2 shows how “soft” this generation has become. Let’s see …. hmm …. how does 70 to 85 million dead in WW2 stack up to the dead from Coronavirus? At the time, that was about 3% of the world’s population.

      1. Mao was deadlier than the Wuhan flu, Chinese too.

        1. Hell, dysentery kills more people than this measly little virus.

  22. Some good news from Italy. The little town of Vo was the first place where Covid19 showed up in Italy – two cases with one dead next day. Lombardy – a couple hundred miles away – – was a cluster with separate origins around the same time. Vo however did things a bit differently. Locked down immediately following that first death (Feb 21). Tested everyone in town – 3% or 70 people tested positive by then – half of them asymptomatic. After two weeks, they retested – down to about 7 people positive. Kept those folks in isolation and have now reopened the town – zero cases in the last week – probably only internally since like China their biggest threat now is from outside reinfection.

    Lessons I take from this:
    Yeah testing works assuming you make good decisions based on that info. Duh.

    Public health and a preventative mindset works. They can now start to argue about why this or that leech shouldn’t be getting preventive care and should pay for it themselves. Better IMO than some of them arguing over the dead.

    Local can work – and probably much better than a rather artificial ‘state’ level here. Act faster. Presumably more consent. Higher levels of govt are better left to focus on logistics, interlocal rules/standards, and much bigger threats. And Vo can now get back to work – and presumably make some of the stuff its neighbors need

    Glad to see some positive news from Italy

    1. These asymptomatic cases are tough. Typhoid Mary was also asymptomatic. When someone is infected without even knowing they are infected and therefore refusing to either believe they are infected or to change their behavior and certainly outraged at being constrained in their liberty on what appears to be no basis whatsoever.

      In the case of Typhoid Mary, it took an autopsy after her death – after 29 years in isolation – to discover that yes she did carry typhoid.

  23. It’s more like the invasion of Grenada. It will be over quickly.

    Why does everyone want to make everything into a catclysmic threat? What happened to global warming?

    1. Global warming will swoop into the country in May, kill all the Chinese virus, and be proclaimed a hero.

  24. Famous quotes, famous leadership, is what we as a political nation need to consider as WWII is evoked.
    FDR, like or dislike, calmed a nation with his fireside chats and such “nothing to fear…” etc, savvy behavior that worked and kept him in office.
    Likewise with Churchill and a myriad group of leaders from the war.
    Who is moving up into the limelight now?
    Andy Beshear, the young governor of Kentucky, a moderate democrat, is doing a splendid job.
    I expect him to reach greatness from the war, and barring too many skeletons, a moderate choice who could find himself on a winning White House run in 4, 8, or 12 years.
    Cultivate savvy politicians, work with them now to encourage liberty.
    A tired nation is ready.
    I bet there are more to be rescued from the major party management molding processes. They can stay R or D, just keep them independent from the cookie cutters.
    The Trump era pendulum is going to swing and now is the time to make sure we don’t get more of the same from the other end of the spectrum.

  25. Cowen seems to have missed his history class.

    The Great Influenza of a century ago did NOT overshadow WWI, even though it killed so many. It was hardly a footnote in the texts, remembered mostly when each new pandemic came along, such as the Hong Kong flu 40 years later.

    Likewise, the effects of the Wu Flu itself will be less than the effects of the reaction (and overreaction).

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