Consistency: What Everyone Needs to Know

In a recent post at 200ProofLiberals, Jason Brennan issues the following challenge to defenders of COVID-19 lockdowns:

Did the Lockdowns Work?

Here’s a new paper by the excellent Christian Bjornskov arguing that they did not reduce mortality:

Note that the defender of the lockdowns bears the burden of proof demonstrating otherwise. Simple post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning will not do. Do some social science, please. Also, when you try to justify them, please be sure to do a full cost-benefit analysis, taking into account lost schooling, the massive drop in GDP, lost jobs, increased suicides, reduced treatment for other diseases, increased child hunger, the re-emergence of tuberculosis, and so on.

There’s a lot wrong here, including the fact that the link Brennan cites doesn’t work.* But I was curious to see Brennan’s insistence that a response to “increased suicide” be included in any full-fledged defense of lockdowns.

The enthymematic quasi-argument seems to be: lockdowns caused suicides, but good government policy should prevent suicides. If a government policy causes suicides, it’s a bad policy. So lockdowns are bad policy.

The causation here is a little obscure–how exactly does a government policy cause a suicide?–but let it go. There are too many obscurities in this post to chase them all down, including the perplexing question of who it is that Brennan takes himself to be yelling at throughout.

The strange thing is that in Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, Brennan says exactly the reverse about suicide. There, the topic is gun control.

Some critics object that for every intruder killed in self-defense, 43 people die from gun-related homicide or suicide or from a gun-related accident. Yet, [Michael] Huemer says,this statistic is misleading. First, 37 out of those 43 deaths are suicides (Libertarianism, p. 99).

I take it that in citing Huemer (or alluding to him without citing him), Brennan means to endorse Huemer’s conclusion about suicides. Huemer’s conclusion is: “suicides should be omitted from the figures” cited by advocates of gun control (Michael Huemer, “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?” Social Theory & Practice [2003], p. 311 of original, p. 13 of online version). In other words, defenders of the right to own firearms need not–should not– include suicides in any cost-benefit accounting.

Brennan asks his would-be interlocutors to please do some social science. I’d ask him to please do some logic. What position does he want to take on suicides attributable to government policy? Should government policy discourage suicide, or remain neutral on suicide? The first approach requires us to regard suicides-consequent-on-government-policies to be costs of the policy. The second tells us to ignore these same suicides as irrelevant to policy. (And this is bracketing the issue of causality.) Huemer, at least, is consistent: he takes the latter, “ignore them” position. Brennan isn’t consistent: he seems to be taking both positions at once.

So which is it? Should we include suicides as adverse consequences of government policies? Or should we ignore them as irrelevant to government policy? Or is there a good reason to do one thing sometimes, and the other thing at other times? It may be an exaggeration on my part to say that “everyone” needs to know the answer. But to put the point more modestly, I do.

*I actually got the link to work through PoT, but not through 200ProofLiberals.

4 thoughts on “Consistency: What Everyone Needs to Know

  1. Maybe he’s trying to say that (the relevance of) suicide brings on many changes, he can take or leave it as he pleases, and oh why ask him?


  2. Pingback: Nightcap | Notes On Liberty

  3. Pingback: Mask Up or Drop Dead | Policy of Truth

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