Should the Coronavirus Lockdowns End Immediately? A Soho Forum Debate

Hoover Institution's David Henderson vs. University of Michigan's Justin Wolfers


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The U.S. economy should be liberated from 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 a 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 voted before the debate, please go to after you watch the video 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 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 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.

Produced by John Osterhoudt.

Photo credit: Joe Burbank/TNS/Newscom; Pacific Press/Sipa USA/Newscom; Lannis Waters/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Karen Focht/ZUMA Press/Newscom

NEXT: How To Save the Economy From COVID-19

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  1. If the term gutless coward wasn’t used in the debate in pro motion side it’s not worth our time. Hospitals aren’t being overwhelmed most places people need to go out and get exposed so we can work our way to herd immunity. Waiting for a goddamn vaccine or magical cure that may never come and if it does won’t for another 8 months at least is pure untenable lunacy has been since the begining.

    1. How about You and your family go first.

      1. Many already have.

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      2. Ya know …. you are being a bit short-sighted here. Socialism only works as long as it has capitalist money to plunder. I’d think you’d want as many capitalists as possible to die intestate so the almighty State can gets its hands on their leftover riches.

      3. Already do fucktard I’m essential. Why don’t you continue to cower under a rock till all this blows over, I really hope you don’t have a wife and child that look to you to provide you fucking pussy.

        1. Why don’t you continue to cower under a rock till all this blows over

          That’s the plan. You think I’m going to endanger my life by going to one of these “Let’s Open Up The Country In The Middle of A Pandemic Rally”? No thanks. That’s for you guys.

          1. “That’s the plan.”
            Please stay there until you die; the world needs fewer cowardly pieces of shit.

          2. Do you drive a car? If you do, you’re a hypocrite. The risk of dying from a car accident dwarfs that of dying from the coronavirus. So to be logically consistent, in your world I guess we should all ban cars. It’s just ridiculously risky behavior.

            I think the thing that seems to elude you cowards is that this virus is almost exclusively killing 80 year olds who are already knocking on death’s door. If you fall into that category, it’s your own personal responsibility to take precautions if you want to live. The rest of us can accept the risks that come with life and that you clearly haven’t calculated.

            BTW, at this moment I have two close family members, one 87 and one 92 in nursing homes, and to be honest I suspect they both would welcome becoming infected with the virus. Being old and in pain and suffering from dementia is torture (according to them) and as a society, we’ve deemed their suffering a moral good and provide no alternative.

            1. “Do you drive a car? If you do, you’re a hypocrite.”

              Scumbag lefty is a hypocrite many times over and quite proud of being so, along with a piece of shit who is more than willing to let honest people pay for his assholery.

        2. Stay safe out there. And thanks for providing an essential service for the rest of us!

      4. “How about You and your family go first.”

        Aww, poor widdle lefty scumbag! Is the mortgage collector under your bed? Did mommy promise you’d never be sick and now you might catch a cold?
        Poor, widdle cowardly piece of shit.

        1. I mean his life really hasn’t changed. AS probably lives in his mother’s basement eating the chicken tenders his mother cooked him and blogging about how only smart people like him get the humor on Rick and Morty.

      5. Am I allowed? Officer, am I free to gambol?

      6. I already have. I’m a nurse and I go to work every day and the moment I’m not longer with a patient that mask comes off because it’s ridiculous. I have something called T cells. Guess that topic is off limits when government controls the narrative and all of the debates are had by laypersons quoting the “science” of talking heads.

      7. How about You and your family go first.

        I’m heartened to see that you support those brave. liberty-loving protestors who have stormed capitals in MI, TX, VA, OH, and elsewhere. They are going first. Heroes all!

    2. Idle hands- if you only listened to Justin’s final 5 minutes, I don’t know how you could make the comments you did. He did not say another 8 months of lockdown, or wait for a vaccine. He said asking the government to impose extreme measures is a bitter pill But he doesn’t trust others to do the right thing. I think he made the case Covid is a lot more dangerous than the flu. For one thing,and this was not stressed enough – you can be asymptomatic for 2 weeks and are infecting others.

  2. I sometimes wonder at the number of people whose minds are changed by debates such as this. Basic principles of liberty don’t allow such massive government intrusion into lives and the economy. Do these fence-sitters actually put so much weight on nebulous “facts” into whether governments should have so much power to disrupt and destroy?

    I don’t wonder at those who think that of course government should lock down society whenever they want to; there are a lot of lickspittles in the world. It’s the wafflers that puzzle me, the ones who can change their mind after a debate like this. Be an authoritarian lover of jackbooted thugs, or don’t; but to ponder it in each individual case strikes me as ripe for Monty Python.

    1. “This isn’t an argument.”

      1. Just about!

        1. No it isn’t.

    2. It has nothing to do with anything but social signalling and rice bowls. If your rice bowls are full and you’re friend group is unaffected but you still see the carnage and tyranny you shut up and waffle. If the first two are the same but you don’t see the carnage you signal. The people I don’t get are the ones that have neither and aren’t screaming because of how it would look.

      1. Is this an example of social signalling?

        Already do fucktard I’m essential.

        1. Is you expressly telling me to go die a social signal?

    3. People may change their mind, but they don’t do it because of facts. They do it because they make an emotional connection to the presenter. There are studies where they image the brain while people are given presentations on issues like these. They see in the images when the “Switch is Flipped” in the brain. People then come out and say “I need to go out and do some more research”, and inevitably come back with a decision that matches what the original brain scans showed.

      You can see this even in current discourse. One day a leader is saying “Ah this is no big deal, you are overreacting!” and everyone who identifies with that leader cheers. A month later when that leader is saying the opposite, those same people are cheering.

    4. I sometimes wonder at the number of people whose minds are changed by debates such as this.

      Well, they take a poll before and another one after to determine that. Might not be completely truthful, but it’s still a good gauge.

      1. Where are the before and after vote percentages?

  3. Theoretically, a lockdown to keep the hospitals from being overwhelmed all at once – “flattening the curve” as they say – might be arguably tolerable as “you don’t have an absolute right to infect other people willy-nilly and until we can get an idea of just how infectious you might be, and not a moment longer, we’ll have to take some defensive measures against you”. The problem is that they violated that deal by moving the goalposts long ago, so fuck ’em. The hospitals in most places are and never have been anywhere near overwhelmed and they’ve known for a long time that the lockdown was stricter than it needed to be for the purposes of “flattening the curve”.

    It’s like there’s a fire in a crowded theater and rather than having people trampled in a mad rush toward the exit, we want a calm and orderly evacuation. So first we’re going to form a commission to determine just what a calm and orderly evacuation of a flaming theater should look like and once they deliver their report in a month or two, a year at the latest, maybe 18 months worst-case scenario, we’ll start letting you out of your seats. Well, hell, mad rush toward the exits it is then and too bad about all the trampling.

    1. This shit about the fears of a “second spike” are the worst – the “flattening the curve” chart was never going to be the smooth rise and plateau like they showed, it was going to be a series of spikes. You open the economy bit by bit until you see hospital admissions spike and then you stop, wait until they die down and resume opening bit by bit until the numbers spike again, and you keep doing this until everybody’s able to move about as freely as they feel comfortable doing. As long as most of them are maintaining the social distancing, the masks, the frequent hand washing and wiping down surfaces, staying at home more – which most of them will tend to do because they’re not stupid – we can get through this with a tolerable level of infections. Well, not tolerable to some people perhaps, but fuck you, you’re not the one who gets to decide what’s tolerable to everybody else. If you think even one death is an intolerable risk, well, you’re free to go lock yourself in your closet and stay there but you don’t have the right to tell everybody else what risk they must find intolerable.

      1. There won’t be a “second spike” because viruses mutate becoming less virulent as they make their way through populations, not more so. Soon everyone will have been exposed and the death rate will drop after the first wave of immunocompromised people bite the dust. Nothing new here. Just new to people who aren’t familiar with death, dying and disease.

        1. Wrong. A virus dies out when about 60% of the population has had it and are immune so that the odds of infecting another person drop, whether it mutates or not. If we completely open up when only 10% of the people have immunity, the virus will be able to come back in a terrible second wave. The question is: How many people have had it and are immune? This is where testing is key.

          Nevertheless, we do NOT need the complete lockdown we have in place today. For 85% of the population the virus is a non-event, so let those people get back to work and suffer the consequences if they so desire. This can be done in measured steps. Those with compromised immune systems or over 65 should continue to isolate and social distance until herd immunity or a vaccine is achieved. (This is what my family MUST DO, btw).

      2. Why would I want to invest in a business if the government can shut me down by decree?

  4. As usual, the government is the only thing standing between us and mass extinction. If not allowing people to work or grow vegetables in their backyard saves just one life….

  5. This literally would all be over by now if we had not closed the economy. We’d be well on our way to herd immunity. We’d be miserable and there’d be more dead but at least we’d have an economy.

    If there is a real 2nd wave we’re almost certainly fucked. If the response is to lockdown again that is it.

    We were so close to being a multi-planet species too…

    1. It already is all over the world- that’s why it’s called a pandemic

  6. I thought this was a really good debate and I came away more informed. I would have sided with the affirmative before listening and certainly changed my views a little.
    You’d have to have been screaming at your computer rather than listening to not have thought the negative won, though. Justin not only answered all points but made a libertarian case for government action as his closing point.

  7. Nice civil debate you’ve got here.

  8. It’s not a debate at all. It’s one political argument against another quoting “science” without any science involved. The curve is flat. It’s done.

  9. The issue I’ve been having with this whole thing is that we’re getting a lot of “one size fits all” suggestions. The city where I live, should probably hold onto social distancing and some lock downs for a bit longer than the state recommended mandate.

    Then we have our governor stating that businesses can only open if they can show they can keep people safe… dude, you don’t even know how to keep people safe, so what are you talking about?

    1. You should listen to the debate! That is not what he is suggesting, at all. He specifically says that measures taken should be highly variable. Just listen to it

  10. Yes, they should be ended immediately. The data are becoming overwhelming, even for the sky is falling types hiding under their beds. They never should have been enacted, but governors wanted to be seen as “doing something”. Hopefully they’ll be the last to lose their jobs over this.

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  13. The reason for the lockdown was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. That has turned out to be a red herring.

  14. Lock-down is not the solution to prevent or corona, its only the pause button. As there no adequate solution to check the severity of corona or way to identify the corona infected peoples. Lock-down givens the time to the health authorities work with available resources without handling the burden of corona infected masses. If you are seeking for appliance repair solution then …………Click here

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