Is It Time to End the Coronavirus Lockdowns? A Soho Forum Debate

Economists David Henderson and Justin Wolfers debate whether the coronavirus lockdowns are doing more harm than good.


The US economy should be liberated from the governments' lockdowns right away.

That was the resolution of a virtual debate hosted by the Soho Forum via Zoom on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. Arguing for the affirmative was David Henderson, an economist and research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and for the negative Justin Wolfers, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan. Soho Forum Director Gene Epstein moderated.

The Soho Forum typically hosts Oxford-style debates, in which the live audience votes before and after the event, and the debater who swayed the most people wins the contest. Because this debate took place over Zoom, we did things a little differently: The online audience was asked to vote before the debate…if you did so, go to after you watch and cast your final vote. However, if you didn't register your initial vote before the debate started on Tuesday evening, your final vote won't be counted.

Henderson is also the author of the recent article, "Liberation from Lockdown Now." He was a senior economist for health policy with President Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers. Wolfers also serves as a member of the Congressional Budget Office Panel of Economic Advisers.

The Soho Forum, which is sponsored by the Reason Foundation, is a monthly debate series that's usually held at the SubCulture Theater in Manhattan's East Village. This debate, however, was conducted via Zoom.

Update: Voting on this debate ended on April 28, 2020. David Henderson won by convincing 12.7 percent of the audience to change their minds. Justin Wolfers lost support by 4.76 percent.

Audio production by John Osterhoudt.

Photo: Pacific Press/Sipa USA/Newscom

NEXT: Health Care Expert Avik Roy on Saving the Economy From COVID-19

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  1. Why do they always post these debates twice?

    1. Both sides, man. Both sides.

      1. NO! There is NO side for destroying businesses and people’s way to earn a living to provide for their families. That is a basic freedom. Destroy that and what’s left? Don’t think that this lesson is lost on these tyrants. They will try to use it again. Americans bash Germans for knuckling under to Hitler and look how many Americans are just like sheep. They would do the same thing if martial law were declared. Americans have virtually no backbone left.

    2. The first one was as a video and the second was as a podcast? I don’t know,

      Or maybe they just really want to drive the point home?

  2. Wow, what a nice and civil debate. Congratulations and a thank you to both of these gentlemen.

    1. What’s to be nice and civil about when people’s livelihoods are taken from them? That is pure evil. This is not the Black Plague. Trucks aren’t rolling around picking up people dying in the streets. This is massive government overreach and after this is over, governors should have this kind of power revoked.

  3. Twenty million unemployed is a compelling case for reopening the economy.

    1. How about a compromise?

      Open the economy until the number of COVID deaths surpasses the number of unemployed.

      Or, use some multiplicative factor (not infinity, one surmises) in the balancing.

      1. How about just not having an over-coercive government making damn fool decisions on a whim with no basis in fact or science?

    2. The entirely foreseeable consequences were compelling reason not to do it in the first place, yet here we are.

  4. Gov. “Fear and Panic” Whitmer just extended her lock down diktat to May 15, so not here.

    1. She is making herself real unpopular.

  5. “Is It Time to End the Coronavirus Lockdowns?”

    Next question.

    1. Amen!

  6. Governors should NEVER had this power. To deprive individuals and families from running their businesses or working at one to provide for themselves and families is the most evil imaginable. There is no provision for destroying people’s lives in the Constitution. The economic stupidity of politicians cannot be understated. They couldn’t run a lemonade stand and make a profit.

  7. The one thing neither of these gentlemen, and for that matter, the media, and politicians have been really willing to say, and I think it speaks directly to answer why we must ‘open things up’

    ‘Flatten the curve’ recognizes that we cannot eradicate this virus. Its here to stay.
    Given that reality (and that a vaccine is years away at best) almost everyone will get it at some point in the near future. Thus the number of people who will die with it is to some degree a fixed amount. Whether you shut down hard, or strategically open things up, or do nothing at all, those people whether from age, chronic illness or random flukes of genetics are incapable of conquering this thing even with medical assistance will eventually get it and they will die with it. Its tragic but its inevitable.

    That’s not to say people who are especially vulnerable by age or illness shouldn’t take precautions themselves, or that we shouldn’t take more stringent steps to protect nursing homes, prisons, and retirement communities. Absolutely do those things, and in doing those things we can maybe prevent some excess deaths among those who are at risk in the short term until the body of people has had it such that its spread will be considerably slower when it makes its rounds in future annual waves.

    The ultimate goal of ‘flatten the curve’ is to ensure that since everyone will get it that excess deaths do not happen due to an abundance of cases that overwhelm hospitals. We are of course nowhere near overwhelmed hospitals so opening things up smartly is the thing to do.

  8. Good thing nobody listens to libertarians.

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  10. May not end it but just some calculated ease.

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