The FDA and CDC's Coronavirus Response Is a 'Failure of Historic Proportions'

A Q&A with Alex Tabarrok, an economist at George Mason University and blogger at Marginal Revolution


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The U.S. government's response to the coronavirus has been nothing less than catastrophic, including weak, delayed, and incompetent actions by its two main public health agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Alex Tabarrok, a professor of economics at George Mason University and one of the co-founders of the popular blog and online university Marginal Revolution, is an outspoken critic of the government's actions, including the FDA's refusal to allow for home testing of the coronavirus. Reason spoke with him about official responses to past pandemics, which countries are doing things right, and how the government can get a better handle on stopping the spread of this novel coronavirus.

Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by John Osterhoudt.

Photo credits: Zach D Roberts/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Congressional Quarterly/CQ Roll Call/Newscom; Ryu Seung-Il/ZUMA Press/Newscom; John Nacion/ZUMA Press/Newscom

'Modum' by Kai Engel is licensed under CC BY 4.0

NEXT: China's Censorship Helped Start a Pandemic. Can Free Speech End It?

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  1. Shave it off, Nick. It's never going to beat Stossel's.

    1. Absolutely. I used to sport a magnificent porn stache but when it went mottled grey I shaved it off. Nick looks like an old wino.

      1. He should at least dye it so it matches his hair

        1. Or stop dyeing his hair.

    2. It's grotesque.

      I can't believe the Jacket lets him do this. Maybe Jacket is punishing him for poor behavior and won't *let* him shave.

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    5. Sadly, when you have the most incompetent person in charge of a complex issue you get failure across the board. The idiot trump has left many positions unfilled and filled positions with cronies, crooks, corruptors, grifters and clowns. The trump beast had two months to do sometihng and he did nothing. He disbands the pandemic response team and his CDC rejects testing kits because they didn't like them because they worked apparently. The fox news freak will continue to make a bad situation worse. That you can count on.

      1. And you are incompetent beyond comprehension, let alone not paying attention to what is really going on. Quit reading any news source and do real research.

      2. "...The idiot trump has left many positions unfilled and filled positions with cronies, crooks, corruptors, grifters and clowns..."

        Your TDS ate your cites, shitstain.

      3. I hope to God the DNC is at least paying you a living wage to post this drivel.

        1. Corona virus Is the Most Dangerous Virus in this world. may god save us from this virus

  2. I'm just glad you're not slagging that Dr. Fauci at the NIAI that I see on the TV all the time, he's only been on the job since 1984 and you can hardly expect somebody heading an agency charged with taking a lead position on responding to an epidemic to have the whole thing whipped into shape in a mere 35 years. I mean, after 9/11 there were big concerns about biological weapons being used in a terrorist attack to spread some sort of unknown virus across the country and I'm sure he's working on possible scenarios and responses to that, he hasn't had time to work on responses to various scenarios of an unknown viral epidemic spreading across the country that don't involve a terrorist attack. Those are two totally separate things and I'm sure there's no terrorist groups anywhere in the world looking at this bungled response and getting any ideas about how they might take advantage of our response system.

    1. Sounds like he and Trump are living rent free in your head, fool.

      1. Whooooooosh

    2. You mean like they have been studying the government's response to the SARS virus? That popped up in an election year also, when W was running for reelection. Or how about something more recent for them to study?

      Remember the farce that was the response to the swine flu in 2009-10 AND the Ebola outbreak in 2013-14? Let's see...hmmm...exactly WHO was president when both those "crises" blew in? Give me a's right at the tip of my tongue...THAT'S IT!! It was OBAMA!!

      Just out of curiosity, did you freak out about the response(s) then?

      Just askin'...

    3. I just don't see how you can say the US had a catastrophic, historic failure here when we are running about middle of the road when compared to the rest of the world.

      True, we didn't do as well as South Korea. They are great, and their model should be studied for future response. But compared to pretty much the rest of the world- Europe, Asia- the US is tracking about the same.

      This attempt to paint a mediocre response as a catastrophic failure is not going to serve the Libertarian cause of making people skeptical of the government. Instead it is going to make people double down on their preferred Top Men and it will encourage those Top Men to make as many drastic over-reactions as possible in an effort to look like they are Doing Something!

      1. I can't complain about Canada though. Well, Quebec specifically. The province has earned solid marks so far.

        The Feds led by Le Dauphin are just incompetent buffoons as we all know. Vote stupid people in get stupid results and prizes.

  3. "Senior officials contend that Azar is operating under fear of offending Trump or his allies, which has led him to keep Adams, Hahn and his other underlings on a tight leash, while jockeying for credit to stay in the president’s good graces." - Politico

    So no plaim on HHS, aka Trump dog and pony show? Sad, so sad!

    1. It should of been blame.

      1. It also should've been "have" not "of" you fn idiot

    2. Have you ever noticed, or do you CARE, that those "senior officials" are NEVER named but oft-quoted? Even when they have been proven to not exist, except in the reporters' mind?

      Let me long as "they" bash Trump, or any Republican, you couldn't care about the veracity of the reports, right?

      1. Ever notice that so many who have defied him, blown the whistle on him or questioned him have end up shit-canned? And don't give me the worn out response that "he can fire whomever he wants" bullshit!

        1. It seems you're talking about Obama, you know the guy who prosecuted those who blew the whistle on him (more than all presidents combined), "s***-canned" anyone in the government who said anything contrary to his narratives and who he had sign non-disclosure shut up or be prosecuted agreements.

          1. Yeah, him too.

        2. "...And don’t give me the worn out response that “he can fire whomever he wants” bullshit!"

          So you get called on your bullshit and therefore don't want to be called on it again.
          Fuck off, asshole.

  4. "The U.S. government's response"

    Why not call it the Trump administration?

    1. Because the CDC and FDA have been around decades longer and it's their actual job.

    2. Why not call it the #DeepState?

    3. Uh, perhaps because the CDC and DA are run and populated by career bureaucrats, just like every federal office? And everyone who knows even a modicum of how the US government operates understands that it is the BUREAUCRATS, not politicians, who actually run the country. The politicians pass a bill with a bare-bones skeleton of a plan and leave it to the various agencies to fill in the rest.

      And another thing anyone with the bare minimum of understanding knows, those bureaucrats, top to bottom, are overwhelmingly LIBERALS.

      Sad, but oh so true.

      1. +100000

      2. Exactly. It should be obvious.

      3. Right - which is why the bureaucracy keeps growing it's tentacles and control over businesses. Trump asks for deregulation via EO, but liberal career bureaucrats know the next president will likely want more regulations, so resist what Trump, their boss, tells them to do because they know their real boss are the liberals and statist politicians that dominate the government ranks. In other words, the political class against Trump and ordinary citizens.

        While Trump appears to be somewhat unanchored from foundational principles regarding government, his response seems reasonable to me. And IMHO, he seems to be the most libertarian president in our lifetimes even more so than Reagan, and I'm thankful Rand Paul has been friends with him and no doubt helping to educate him. Paul, after all, was Trump's first target in the GOP debates, because IMHO, he saw Paul as his biggest competition.

        1. Same problem in Canada. When Justin got elected bureaucrats lined up to suck his cock.

          Conservatives and libertarians don't stand a chance against the deep state and the bureaucracy which is infested and ruled by liberals and progressives.

          Conservatives aren't interested in a career in the government. They feel they have more to offer and have a freer mind. We haven't had true conservatism or conservative policies for over 100 years now. It's part of the reason why Republicans and the PCs in Canada voted for welfare at times. In principle they didn't like it but in order to gain and stay in power you have to feed Jaba the Hut.

          Progressives/liberals, I estimate, have held power at all levels of government in North America at least 65% (if not more) of the time.

          Maybe we're poised to reverse this state of affairs?

          Thus the friction we see.

  5. My question is why didn't our multibillion dollar spy apparatus sus out the virus when it first appeared?

    1. What makes you think they didn't?

  6. Can we have articles about something else now?

    1. No time for libertarian articles in a pandemic! All hands on deck!

    2. As much as I wish we could, now that Reason has finally started acting somewhat libertarian on the issue and questioning the narrative that most outlets are constantly spouting, I think it is important that they keep putting out as much contrarian information as possible. Hopefully some of these articles turn up in searches, etc. for people who aren't usual Reason readers, perhaps a few strike a chord and start to be shared on Facebook, etc., and maybe start to play a small part in turning around the insane panic we are seeing.

  7. Perhaps if the FDA and CDC weren’t so busy attacking the teen vaping epidemic, they would have had the resources and time to plan for an actual one.

    1. WHAT teen vaping epidemic?

    2. Bingo. Add the CDC taking in gun violence as a public health project.

      But even with this dud of a pandemic that only kills the very old and sick while virtually everyone else feels nothing or perhaps flu symptoms, it shows the entire public health apparatus is interested only in boogey men.

    3. Ironically, it may be that the vapor of e-cigarettes protects against Flu and Covid-19. (More adventurously, it may be that propylene glycol can be vaporaized in a humidifier and protect a room.) Here's a commont on this site on 3/16 that leads me to suspect this:

      "“lafe.long, March.16.2020 at 3:50 pm
      "The Protection of Mice against Infection with Air-borne Influenza Virus by Means of Propylene Glycol Vapor.
      "They have now extended their observations to the effect of propylene glycol vapour on influenza virus. Vapour was employed instead of an aerosol because it has been found that the glycols are much more active in this form, very much smaller amounts being required for effective air sterilization.

      "Preliminary experiments were made to determine the amount of atomized virus suspension required to produce regular infection of mice followed by extensive lung consolidation and death within 4 to 10 days. Mice were then exposed to this lethal concentration of virus in a chamber into which propylene glycol vapour had been introduced; they regularly failed to contract the infection."

    4. Here is where Trump failed: He did not fire the fools running these agencies long ago. He left in position bureaucrats that thought maligning gun rights, asserting their power (what else was the anti-vaping campaign?), and promoting other Regressive causes was more important than the jobs their agencies were funded to do.

      So we came into this crisis with ventilator stocks that were depleted 11 years ago and never replaced, etc. In the crunch, these bureaucrats rejected competition to produce tests for COVID-19 and allowed only one model to be produced, until it became obvious that their chosen producer had failed.

  8. In other useless appendage news, it appears the FBI has once again ferreted out and successfully foiled a bombing plot by the FBI. When's the last time anybody's heard of the FBI foiling a bombing plot they themselves didn't instigate and fund and supply?

    The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force kept close watch on Wilson and was prepared to arrest him when he tried to pick up what he thought was a bomb, although there was no bomb, the statement said. I don't suppose there's any use asking what happened to the guy he was supposed to be getting the bomb from, or whether or not this bomb supplier was arrested, and why there was no actual bomb. Kind of convenient that Mad Bomber Wilson isn't around to give any context to the story, like why it took the FBI several months to talk him into going along with the bombing plot.

    1. Does anyone care that these "stings" are basic examples of entrapment?

      FBI picks retard who talks to anyone who will listen about bombing such and such (covered by 1st Amendment). FBI convinces suspect to do something even more brazen like actually commit violence. FBI funds said conspiracy between suspect and agent(s). FBI gives suspect all equipment and know-how to do said bombing. FBI then swoops in to arrest suspect as BOMBER.

  9. "Let's buy from China"

    Are they offering? Isn't the whole problem that we made ourselves dependent on China for basic medical supplies, and they *naturally* choose #ChinaFirst in a pandemic?

    1. Hey, the Chinese are doing what their wannabe counterparts here (aka the Democrats and Liberals) all the time. After all, many a Democrat has openly stated that they should:

      "NEVER let a good crisis go to waste"!

      All you have to do is look at all the politically motivated, un-recovery related pork the "relief" bill is stuffed with to see they are doing just that. They have absolutely no problem with Communist China owning this country even more than it does.

      Just out of curiosity, has ANYONE said where this $2 TRILLION is coming from? Any bets China will finance the debt, again?

      1. "Money is just a promise made by one computer to another."—"Elizabeth Warren" on SNL

    2. Yes, my spouse and her Chinese business associate have already made sales of masks in the US. They just did a $600,000 order yesterday. According to her, there are plenty of masks, ventilators, etc. in warehouses in China and Hong Kong. Her problem is getting US hospitals and governments to make orders.

  10. He didn't talk for a moment about "bending the curve" with *treatment*.

    People all around the world find that hydroxychloroquine works, but the FDA is doing it's best to strangle usage when they should be seeing how best to apply it, and maybe have people use it prophylactically.

    1. The response to this is so similar to climate change. Let's work on the basis that we accept both climate change and coronavirus are worth worrying about and something needs to be done to counteract some of the negative effects. For climate change, progressives tell us that the ONLY possible and acceptable means of doing ANYTHING is to dramatically change our lifestyles, eliminate carbon emissions, accept that all the progress made possible by the use of fossil fuels (i.e. essentially all of modern life) has not been worth the cost and is worth undoing if that's what it takes. For coronavirus, progressives tell us that the ONLY possible and acceptable means of doing ANYTHING is to dramatically change our lifestyles and destroy the economy, individual autonomy, and our entire social structure if that's what it takes. In neither case is any discussion of cost/benefit permitted, nor is discussion of technological or engineering solutions that will allow society and the economy to proceed as normal. The only thing anyone should want to do is sacrifice for the collective. You don't have to be a psychologist to see how this ties to the progressives' self-loathing that is rooted in the knowledge of their decadent and largely meaningless existence- they need to get some sense of worth from somewhere.

  11. Since when did and ECONOMIST become an "ex-spurt" on government matters?

    1. An ex is a has been, a spurt is a drip under pressure.
      It fits.

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  15. you’re saying authoritarian regimes and/or monocultures have had more success with containing the disease? That doesn’t sound very woke.

    1. What? That sounds totally woke. Only unlimited government power can get things done.

    2. Or is it that authoritarian regimes have had more success in hiding the extent of the disease? "He didn't die of COVID-19, he died of a bullet in the head."

      1. Or, "There was never any such person."

  16. Two observations.....

    Why exactly would you select an economist to discuss epidemiology? How would he know if the response has been feckless? From reading Vox and The Atlantic?

    Second, by what possible measure are we saying these people have been afraid to implement policies? Fauci has been very explicit... he's gotten everything he asked for. So why include the third-hand rumor about people being afraid of offending Trump? We have a first-hand source that says that the lifetime pros are calling the shots and the politicians are doing what the pros are asking them to do.

  17. If the CDC was doing the job it was created for instead of using it's resources for things like gun control and bullying, they might have been out ahead on this.

  18. Coronavirus Is the Most Dangerous Virus.

  19. Why'd the CDC stop updating their data yesterday? Afraid people will find out the epidemic peaked 2 weeks ago?

  20. It's interesting the FDA has stopped home test kits from being sold and used. They have no evidence the tests don't work. Given what Trump has said, I'm sure he's not happy about it. That the FDA announced emergency exceptions to their normal policy, then reneged on that, is a good example of government. We'd be better off without the FDA, because they inhibit innovation, increase costs, and limit competition. That's a valid complaint.

    At least Tabarrock points out it isn't all Trump's fault. And Trump should get some credit for being the first person in government I heard discuss the trade off between more people dying from the virus, and the harm to people from shutting down much of the economy, especially from an economist like Tabarrock.

    If we assume 1% of covid infections result in death, and 80% of the people get it in the US (now the TV tells me 76,000 cases and 1000 deaths in the US - a 1.3% death rate), that's over 2.5 million deaths in the US: about 5X the number of US soldiers who died in the Vietnam war. Seems to me some sacrifice on our part to save a good number of these people is warranted. Though I'd like to see more articles from Reason, discussing how we can do better. Like many people criticizing Trump and his administration, I didn't see any recommendations from Tabarrock on how to do better, other than implying that the FDA stop inhibiting the sale of working test kits, and Tabarrock says they're following their procedures. He calls Trump's response "terrible" but doesn't say why - something I find too many people are doing. If you're going to call someone's actions terrible, you ought to explain what action was terrible and why.

    1. "If we assume...80% of the people get it in the US..."

      That's one hell of an assumption.

  21. More than likely that the Marxist organization WHO is calling the shots. This is an orchestrated take down of the world's economy so that a new world order based on Marxism can be established. These are people who hate everything and have a vindictive streak into eternity. The scum of the earth.

    The CDC and the FDA are pawns of Big Pharma who is desperate to have more sick people to give their drugs to and eventually make forced vaccinations the rule of law. Thus they can inject their poisons into everybody ensuring a steady supply of patients for the corrupt medical system to feed of off.

    All that money they tell you to save for retirement is so that when you get old and sick they can rape your wealth.

  22. so home test kits would have not made it the epic failure of all time (which it is not, clearly)?..really Nickie the black hair dye is screwing with your brain

  23. The WORST mistake has been and was to ALLOW Chinese people to enter the US. They practice a weird kind of culture called the "Chinese Wet Markets."

    This is a kind of "omnivore" approach that advertises ACRES of half dead, dehydrated creatures for sale to be slaughtered and consumed.

    The Chinese eat anything. Period. This has a history that dated from generations of starvation, mainly caused by Communists, who themselves ate well.



    Sanjosemike (no longer in CA)
    (Retired surgeon)

  24. Failure of historic proportions? Does anyone remember the launch of This is a failure more or less equal to the typical government boondoggle. And like every government boondoggle, the default answer is that the government needs more power and control.

  25. The FDA and CDC will make up for it by demolishing the economy.

  26. Two federal bureaucracies exercising unenumerated prohibitionist powers failed? Gidaddaheah!

  27. To be honest, I don't really see the failure here...

    Unless it's succumbing to panic mongering in the face of a seasonal, yet novel, cold bug

  28. From 30,000 feet, the Reason outlook on the virus is humorous. The unifying principle is hatred of government, which is great for all of us who hate government. What's humorous is that the commentaries are evenly split between people who think the government is doing too much and those who think the government is either doing too little or doing the wrong things.

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  31. Why are there less comments here by Libertarians and more by Republicrats? Is quarantine creating crossovers?

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  36. CDC should take strong responsibility on the COVID-19 spread.
    Around January and February, CDC downplayed the COVID-19 influence. At that time, CDC guidance only allow testing China travel related cases so that the cases are very low. Even though, it warned about the possible community spread, but it never allow community spread testing until UC Davis doctor kept asking for testing a community spread COVID-19 case several times. That's why we have so few cases then and everybody thought it is safe. That's also the reason that house speaker visit Chinatown of San Fransisco then. CDC doesn't recommend face mask until other country's research shows that no symptom COVID-19 infected can also spread virus ( Actually, those research was there for at least one month). US government does not have, also not willing to provide safe equipments being another important issue. FDA approve thing in very slow pace such as hand sanitizer etc. is another issue. Also, CDC's test device problem is another important issue. USA government doesn't care about virus testing, not care about ( actually, you can see its action) COVID-19 spread is also very obivious. Certainly, New York city's healthcare people's recommendation downplay COVD-19 spread earlier on is also a incredible mistake.

  37. Coronavirus Is the Most Dangerous Virus in this world.

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