September 16, 2021

Opinion: Free-market economists’ incoherent argument gets the story of COVID completely backward

CHICAGO—A recent commentary in The Wall Street Journal exposes the dark hole into which conservative economic thinking has sunk since the pinnacle of its influence in the 1980s. Economists Casey B. Mulligan and Tomas J. Philipson of the University of Chicago, both of whom served in Donald Trump’s administration, have used the COVID-19 pandemic to make the case for abandoning what they see as the conventional wisdom among economists: “that the purpose of government policy is to correct market failures.”

Turning this dictum on its head, they argue that “government policy fails much more frequently” than markets do, and that markets correct government policy by rescuing citizens from the terrible decisions that governments routinely make.

Incoherent argument

It thus follows (they claim) that the COVID-19 pandemic was the result of government policy. Either the…

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