Mask Mandates: Pope Joe versus “The Science”

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

“Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference,” said President Joe Biden in response to the lifting of mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi.  “[T]he last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that [as vaccines roll out], everything’s fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters.”

Biden’s statement abandons “the science” in at least two ways.

Firstly, Neanderthals appear to have been about as smart as their Cro-Magnon counterparts (our most direct ancestors, although many humans have some Neanderthal ancestry as well).

More importantly, published, peer-reviewed scientific studies have yet to demonstrate any significant impact of masks on the spread of viral disease. “The science” doesn’t say that “masks make a difference.”

It’s important to remember that correlation and causation are not the same thing and that there can be many factors involved, but let’s look at some raw information:

America’s two  most “locked-down and masked-up” states — New Jersey  and New York — are also the two hardest-hit. They’ve  suffered, respectively, 264 and 245 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 population.

Meanwhile, Florida — where there’s no statewide mask mandate and where local authorities are forbidden by state law to enforce mandates on individuals with arrests and fines — is in far better shape at 146 deaths per 100,000 population.

Texas, which has been slightly more authoritarian on COVID-19 than Florida, is also in slightly worse shape than Florida (but in far better shape than New York or New Jersey) at 155 deaths per 100,000 population.

Missouri, which seemed ultra-casual about masking when I visited last August for my mother’s funeral (she caught COVID-19 in a locked-down, masked-up nursing home) is doing even better than Florida at 140 deaths per 100,000 population.

Like I said, correlation is not causation. There could be many reasons for those differences, including but not limited to climate, population density, prevalent disease strain, etc.

But for the same reason, what there is NOT is anything approaching certainty that masks in general, or mask mandates in particular, save lives. If there’s a plausible conclusion to be drawn at all, it’s that they don’t.

This time last year, the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams was scolding Americans to stop buying up masks, while National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci was telling 60 Minutes, “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask …. wearing a mask might make people feel a little bit better, and it might even block a droplet. But it’s not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is.”

Adams and Fauci were right back then, before politics pushed them away from the truth.

In the future, the most interesting topic related to COVID-19 will probably be not the disease itself, but the question of how an initially voluntary and seemingly commonsense measure snowballed  into a fad driven by politically cultivated mass hysteria, then into what can only be described as a government establishment of religion.

The Cult of the Sacred Mask is disintegrating. Joe Biden should resign its ceremonial papacy and focus on merely being president.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Not Free Enough to Choose

Reagan gave Milton Friedman a Medal of Freedom, but didn’t say yes to allowing Americans the freedom to choose what to put in their bodies. Public domain.

Paul Krugman believes he’s discovered a flaw in the work of a fellow Nobel laureate economist. The late Milton Friedman, Krugman writes, was under the mistaken impression “that more choice is always a good thing” due to taking for granted that “people have more or less unlimited capacity to do due diligence on every aspect of their lives,” but was unaware that “in the real world, too much choice can be a big problem” (“Too Much Choice Is Hurting America,” New York Times, March 1).

A closer look at Free to Choose makes clear that Friedman’s take on The Power of Choice (another Friedman title) is more sophisticated than the sheer boosterism suggested by a cursory name-check. Friedman contends that the free-market price of a commodity “transmits only the important information and only to the people who need to know.” It is precisely because it avoids “clogging the ‘in’ baskets” of producers that it allows them to focus on satisfying consumer needs.

Krugman implies that the author of Free to Choose would have no problem with people being forced to choose between flavors of mandatory programs such as Medicare Advantage. The real Milton Friedman’s argument for a negative income tax as an alternative to welfare bureaucracies was that “replacing the ragbag of specific programs with a single comprehensive program” would be more effective.

Meanwhile, if you’re among the employees who “have to decide how to invest your 401(k)” pensions, or micromanage your health insurance, you lack access to options crowded out by government policies discouraging the creation of simpler programs not tied to employers.

As Roderick Long noted in 1994, “the market creates uniformity when customers need it, and diversity when they need that instead,” not foreseeing how quickly DVDs would date his example of how “video cassettes come with lots of different kinds of movies” but not “in fifty different shapes and sizes.”

Long suggests that free competition might bring similar innovation in areas where legal monopolies are deemed inevitable or “natural” (Friedman himself wasn’t confident enough in the power of choice to fully endorse “[Friedrich] Hayek’s proposals for removing any legal obstacles to the development of private competitive money”). That approach could send waste and confusion in political economy to join Betamax — and subsequent also-ran home video formats such as Digital Video Express and HD DVD — into the dustbin of history.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a contributing editor at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


Biden’s Foreign Policy: No Joy in Mudville

1913 baseball photo. Public domain.
1913 baseball photo. Public domain.

Well, at least he hasn’t started any NEW wars!

For four years, that was the excuse I got from anti-war Donald Trump supporters every time he escalated one of the several wars he inherited from George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

I expect to start hearing it from anti-war Joseph Biden supporters soon.

Trump was Schrodinger’s President. He campaigned as simultaneously opposed to “endless wars” and “the most militaristic” president in history.  He presided as mostly the latter, while continuing to campaign as the former.

Exiting stage right, he left Joe Biden teed up for a foreign policy grand slam, with three easy, peasy, no-brainer foreign policy base hits and two chances at a home run.

Potential base hit #1: Holding up the US end of the Afghanistan peace deal Trump negotiated with the Taliban. America’s second-longest war could be ending, but Biden’s still dithering.

Potential base hit #2: Restoring and building on Obama’s attempt at a relationship change with Cuba, which Trump dismantled. Instead of taking the hit, then stealing second base by unilaterally ending more than 60 years of meddling and embargo, Biden’s just quacking about lifting some of Trump’s reimposed restrictions and pitching “talks” about the rest.

Potential base hit #3: Replacing Trump’s fake “withdrawal” of US forces from Syria with a real one (Trump massively escalated the Syria conflict, then drew troops back down to Obama-era levels and pretended that was “withdrawing”). Instead, in late February, Biden authorized US airstrikes in Syria, supposedly to retaliate for an attack on US contractors and troops in Iraq (where they shouldn’t have even been) but more likely to prove his belligerence to doubters in the military-industrial complex’s amen corner.

The grand slam home run: Bringing the US back into compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aka the “Iran nuclear deal,” which Trump violated (he didn’t “withdraw” from it — it’s a UN Security Council resolution and legally binding on all UN member states).

Biden campaigned on resuscitating the deal, and could have done so on his first day in office by simply bringing the US back into compliance. Instead, he’s hemming and hawing, offering “talks” the Iranians aren’t interested in and trial-ballooning new “conditions” he expects them to agree to before he’ll commit to obeying the law.

That’s four slow, fat pitches right across the plate, and Joe Biden seemingly can’t seem to bring himself to take a swat at them.

On foreign policy, Joe Biden’s presidency is shaping up a lot like Donald Trump’s and Barack Obama’s — lots of promises, with mostly only the bad ones likely to be delivered on.

If you were expecting something different, it looks like you got conned. And the worst is probably yet to come.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.