You might guess from the description that the columnist in question is the eminent Paul Krugman, but you’d be wrong. The reference is to Justin Wolfers, another Keynsian economist, who teaches at the University of Michigan. Imagine that: The New York Times managed to dig up another Krugman!
Like Krugman, Wolfers is an ideas man. On Monday, he shared one of his brainstorms on Twitter. The subject was the potentially high cost of treating COVID vaccine skeptics in the event they become infected with the virus and who should foot the bill. Here is what he wrote:
When anti-vaxxers rack up tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills, who pays?
Think about it, and you'll realize that their political positions are effectively being subsidized by members of insurance pools, taxpayers, and the vaccinated.
— Justin Wolfers (@JustinWolfers) August 10, 2021
Notice first of all that Wolfers’s reference to subsidizing “their political positions.” Presumably, he is laboring under the misapprehension that all vaccine skeptics are Republicans. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 29% of the unvaccinated population are Democrats. And among the remainder, only 49% identify their party affiliation as Republican.
Second the idea he is advocating has been bandied about before. The argument has been made that smokers who develop lung cancer should be forced to cover the costs of their treatment, and some have even suggested that smokers should be denied health care altogether. Similar debates have arisen over the care of the morbidly obese and other health problems.
In a free market society, it is difficult both ethically and practically to decide who should and shouldn’t be denied any service that has historically been available to all. But I wouldn’t expect a Keynsian economist to understand this.