Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Editor:

Writing about the off-the-charts fraud and abuse of Covid “relief” programs, James Freeman homes in nicely on a key point (“The Great American Rip-Off,” June 12):

For that matter perhaps the people who endorsed the idea of shuttering much of the U.S. economy in response to Covid-19, expanding the Federal Reserve balance sheet by nearly $4 trillion and adding more than $4 trillion to the nation’s publicly held debt can explain if their strategy depends on whether the recipients of cash are lawful or law-abiding. When one is dumping money out of a helicopter it’s not so easy to dictate who catches it.

That Bernie Bros, New York Times staffers, CNN reporters, and other Progressives – along with power-drunk government officials of diverse persuasions – urged that Covid be fought with unprecedented, act-now-ask-questions-later expansions of government power isn’t surprising. What is surprising is the silence over the past 18 months – your pages being an admirable exception – of so many wise voices upon which we usually depend to check the presumptions and dangerous schemes of those who treat government as able to act with the benevolence, knowledge, and abilities of God.

With so many otherwise dependable voices rendered mute by fear of Covid, we lost a far more justified and productive fear – to wit, fear of unchecked government power. We’ll live for years with the economic and fiscal carnage. Worse, we’ll live for generations with the terrible precedent that treats an encounter with any unusually high risk as justification for disproportionate – indeed, unrestrained – assaults on human freedom.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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Despite the protests of some, the man of straw looks increasingly as if he’ll extend his tyrannical stay in Britain…. And Janet Daley is understandably fed up. Two slices from Daley:

Every statement by a government official – from the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary on down – over the past month has given hope and assurance on the one hand only to contradict it with the other. (“Nothing in the data suggests that we need to delay lifting restrictions” but “growth of the new variant is cause for concern”, etc etc.) Presumably these self-cancelling non-judgements were specifically designed to cover all contingencies and, possibly more important, to create so much confusion that none of the obvious criticisms of proposed policies needed to be addressed.

The broadcast media have apparently been so befuddled by the avalanche of expert opinion mongers queueing up for their fifteen minutes of fame that they forgot to ask the most fundamental questions. For example, doesn’t the fact that the discrepancy between the number of cases and the number of deaths is becoming greater (cases rising, deaths falling) mean that the risk of serious illness from Covid has been enormously reduced? And therefore, shouldn’t the increase in cases of mild illness be seen as good news since large numbers of people will now become naturally immune to the virus through infection without becoming dangerously sick?

…..

The Government is not “following the science” so much as using the scientists in a mass mind-bending initiative which could preclude the need for legal enforcement (and therefore not require the permission of parliament) because it achieves its ends through psychological manipulation and moral coercion. Perhaps ministers are only pretending to be scientific illiterates who believe that The Science is a body of theological absolutes rather than a means of inquiry to which disputation and debate are essential and the understanding of evidence must always be provisional. Maybe this is all part of the plan – which is to maintain the most damaging lockdown restrictions like social distancing (whose very name makes clear how unnatural it is) for the foreseeable future without necessarily having to mobilise the police to enforce them.

Tim Stanley describes Britain today as “Orwellian.” A slice:

I now wonder if I lived in a brief golden age of wealth and freedom, roughly 1989 to 2020, when I could get a good job at a newspaper without any contacts by blogging and turning up day after day looking for work. (Or fly to America, camp out on a mattress on a stranger’s floor and reinvent myself as a foreign correspondent.) Kids trying to make it now have no such physical mobility and diminishing social mobility, too, because rent is high and ownership is impossible, while the culture wars are squeezing the parameters of what one can do or say. The initial, liberating boom of the internet is over; whatever you said then can now be used against you.

The lockdown is the predictable next step, the tangible manifestation of a society that is terrified and of individuals who have given up or given in. Yes, I will wear the mask; yes, I will obey these rules. Not just to save the NHS, which I am keen to do, but because I also have no say in the matter and can see no point pretending otherwise. Like Winston Smith, I shall drink my Victory Gin and submit.

Sensible Brits seek support from Americans.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Jordan Lancaster correctly identifies the Big Lie of 2020-2021.

Martin Kulldorff rightly laments one of the many calamitous consequences of lockdowns.

Zachary Yost is correct that “if we truly believe in our liberal convictions then we are obligated to continue to fight for the truth, no matter how terrible the odds may seem.”

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 14, 2021

in Myths and Fallacies

… is from page 156 of Thomas Sowell’s important 1990 volume, Preferential Policies: An International Perspective:

Part of the moral aura surrounding preferential policies is due to the belief that such policies benefit the less fortunate. The losers in this presumed redistribution are seldom specified, though the underlying assumption seems to be that they are the more fortunate.

Empirical evidence for such assumptions is largely lacking and the a priori case for believing them is unconvincing.

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 13, 2021

in Myths and Fallacies, Seen and Unseen

… is from page 3 of Herbert Spencer’s 1891 “Introduction: From Freedom to Bondage,” to A Plea for Liberty (Thomas Mackay, editor, 1891); the page number is to Liberty Fund’s 1981 edition of this collection:

[T]he more things improve the louder become the exclamations about their badness.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 13, 2021

in Law, Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 331 of philosopher Jason Brennan’s superb contribution, titled “Moral Pluralism,” to the 2016 collection edited by Aaron Ross Powell and Grant Babcock, Arguments for Liberty (original emphasis):

Still, from a pluralist perspective, the best way to defend liberty is to begin with the observation that day-to-day morality is libertarian. There is a presumption of liberty. By default, we presume people should be free to live as they see best, without having to ask permission or justify themselves to other people. By default, all restrictions on liberty are presumed wrong and unjust, until shown otherwise. Coercive interference with others’ liberty must be justified. Political authority and all laws are assumed unjustified until shown otherwise.

DBx: Yes. Beautifully put.

But I pick one nit. When Brennan writes that “all laws are assumed unjustified until shown otherwise” he ought instead to have written “all legislation [or all statutes] meant to regulate persons’ private affairs are assumed unjustified until shown otherwise.”

Genuine law that governs persons’ private affairs – chiefly, the law of property, contract, and tort – emerges spontaneously in the course of human interactions. When disputes in such affairs arise and are serious enough to warrant formal adjudication, courts discover the applicable law and then apply it to settle the disputes in question. (The applicable law is found not in any “brooding omnipresence in the sky,” but, rather, in ordinary people’s existing expectations – many of which can and do change over time.) This law – what might loosely be called “the common law” – deserves a presumption of legitimacy; it should be assumed to be justified until shown otherwise.

In addition, statutes setting out the organizational structure and operating rules of a government and its agencies arguably also deserve a presumption of legitimacy. Each such statute – for example, one that specifies the method of appointing local postmasters, or a statute that sets the pay scales of judges and of members of the legislature – are not meant to regulate persons’ private affairs.

There is every reason to presume spontaneously evolved law to be legitimate. And there is no necessary reason, even in libertarian philosophy, for a presumption of illegitimacy of organizational and operational statutes.

But as Brennan argues, all legislation that obstructs the peaceful, private affairs of consenting adults ought well be presumed to be illegitimate until and unless shown otherwise. And a successful showing of otherwise requires far more than demonstrating that such legislation won the approval of the majority. Of course, such legislation today – from minimum-wage regulations to protective tariffs to occupational-licensing restrictions to detailed government interference in financial markets to Covid-19 lockdowns – is as voluminous as it is obnoxious and, I believe, illegitimate.

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This Vox report (or some variation on it) was sent to me by three different people, each of whom had the good sense to understand that something about it is fishy.

Ms. T__:

Thanks for sending this Vox report on Aaron Klein’s ‘theory’ that credit-card rewards points are a scheme through which poor people are unwittingly lured to subsidize the consumption of rich people. Here’s the key paragraph of the report:

Every time a credit card is swiped, the bank charges a fee. It seems trivial, but those fees add up – enough to help pay for rewards like points-funded hotel rooms and cash back. To compensate, businesses raise prices, and so cash users (who tend to be poorer) are often subsidizing the perks going to credit card users (who tend to be richer). And the higher the rewards, the bigger the cost to the unsuspecting people paying for it.

This alleged problem is phony.

If poor people truly are being overcharged because merchants must raise the prices of goods and services in order to cover credit-card fees, there are profits to be made by running more businesses on a cash-only basis.

Aaron Klein should lead the way. He can quit his job at Brookings and set up shop as a retailer selling items only for cash. If his theory about credit cards is correct, his retail shop, with its lower prices, will attract all the business of poor people. Mr. Klein would make a mint while simultaneously helping the poor.

But the fact that Mr. Klein merely scribbles about the problem rather than personally puts his money where his mouth is to solve it is solid evidence that he either doesn’t understand what he alleges or that he doesn’t really believe it. (I suspect it’s the former.) And the fact that few actual merchants are moving to cash-only operations only further testifies that his ‘theory’ is baloney.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 12, 2021

in Myths and Fallacies, Politics

… is from page 32 of Thomas Sowell’s excellent 1984 book, Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality? (original emphasis):

It would perhaps be easier to find an inverse correlation between political activity and economic success than a direct correlation. Groups that have the skills for other things seldom concentrate on politics. Moreover, politics has special disadvantages for ethnic minority groups, however much it may benefit individual ethnic leaders. Public displays of ethnic solidarity and/or chauvinism are the life blood of ethnic politics. Yet chauvinism almost invariably provokes counter-chauvinism.

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on June 11, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 653 of the 1988 collection of Lord Acton’s writings (edited by the late J. Rufus Fears), Essays in Religion, Politics, and Morality; specifically, it’s a note drawn from Acton’s extensive papers at Cambridge University; (I can find no date for this passage):

We require in an honest man, not submission, but resistance and independence.

DBx: Truer words were never etched, quilled, penned, typed, thought, whispered, spoken, broadcast, telecast, texted, scribbled, emailed, blogged, preached, or shouted from rooftops.

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Douglas Holtz-Eakin writes wisely about the fallacies surrounding so-called “supply chains.” Here’s his opening:

A supply chain is a series of commercial transactions that permits the final assembly and delivery of a good or service. A supply chain is what it needs to be – short, long, simple, complex, quick, or time-consuming. Firms pick the combination of the characteristics to deliver the best value proposition they can. So, while I can understand what a tax policy is, what a trade policy is, what an occupational safety regulation is, and myriad other federal policies, I fear there is no such thing as a supply-chain policy. Supply chains are the province of private firms.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy wonders if corporate wokeness is here to stay. A slice:

Conservatives should tread carefully before using the legislative branch to ban woke behavior. Any provisions that limit the power of woke leftists could and would be used against conservatives as well.  Furthermore, it is not clear that limiting companies’ political behaviors, including actions that may cost them their own consumers, would be effective. In fact, banning wokeness would be an excellent means of boosting its popularity.

My Mercatus Center colleagues Alden Abbott and Andrew Mercado urge caution before turning government regulators loose on the Internet. A slice:

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right set out in the Constitution. While it’s not a violation of free speech for platforms to monitor and regulate the speech occurring on their own platforms, free speech is threatened when targeted regulation is introduced to force the supervision of speech on platforms. Clegg claims regulation is the only way to prevent the United States from “becoming a nation that exports incredible technologies but fails to export its values.”

But his call for regulation of political speech on platforms is a paradox. If protection of speech is so fundamental to American values, then any regulation that suppresses political speech goes against those values. Political speech has long been protected by the Supreme Court, and Congress should not threaten that right just because the speech has moved online.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy is no Keynesian.

I’m always honored to be a guest of Dan Proft and Amy Jacobson.

According to Arnold Kling, inflation in the U.S. is now running at about 8 percent annually.

Kyle Torpey recounts Paul Krugman’s decade-long history of being mistaken about Bitcoin.

Pierre Lemieux reminds us of the centrality of exchange.

David Waugh is understandably impressed with Jim Otteson’s new book, Seven Deadly Economic Sins.

I thank Oren Cass for inviting me to this discussion in American Compass’s “Critics Corner.”

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Monica Gandhi and Jeanne Noble, writing in the Wall Street Journal, expose the deceptiveness of the CDC’s recent attempt to stir up fear of Covid’s risk to teenagers. Here are their opening paragraphs:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last week warning that adolescent hospitalizations due to Covid-19 were on the rise. The media picked up the message and ran with it. But it isn’t true. The CDC misrepresented the data and played down a more important finding that provides further evidence that pandemic-control measures are likely having a serious adverse impact on young people’s mental health.

The CDC truncated its analysis at the precise date—April 24—that would cast an increase in teen hospitalization in the worst possible light. The 10% rise in early March that attracted so many headlines was similar to rises in other age groups and had declined sharply by late April. Adolescent hospitalizations for Covid-19 were back down to 0.6 per 100,000 by late May, before the CDC report was published, and well below the rate of 2.6 for the adult U.S. population. Moreover, Covid cases among children in 2021 have now fallen by 84% and hospitalizations are down by 69% since January, thanks largely to adult vaccination.

Here’s Reason‘s Scott Shackford on California’s ‘easing’ of Covid diktats.

Speaking of California, here’s Wall Street Journal columnist James Freeman on that state’s power-drunk strongman, Gavin Newsom. A slice:

Will Mr. Newsom use his powers to liberate citizens from senseless bureaucracy? Golden Staters may need to go to court for such relief. Judges should also seize the next opportunity to clarify that the governor’s emergency authority cannot last forever.

A face of the inhuman (and inhumane) Covidocracy. And here’s more on this madness by Michael Curzon.

My GMU Econ colleague Chris Coyne summarizes the contents of the latest edition (Spring 2021) of The Independent Review. A slice:

In the opening paper, Richard Wagner notes that public health is an oft-used illustration of market failure and justification for governmental action to solve as a corrective. COVID-19 is just the latest in a continuing series of claims of market failure that are alleged to require solutions by politically selected experts. Although recognizing that COVID-19 presents problems of public health, Wagner argues that solutions are a complex matter of social organization and not a simple matter of selecting the right expert to determine the right solution. Subduing COVID-19 requires expertise provided by the scientific disciplines related to public health, but it requires more than that. To explore how much more, Wagner draws on Michael Polanyi’s notion of a “Republic of Science” to explain that subduing infectious disease is best accomplished not through a closed and limited system but instead through a system of free and open competition among ideas and approaches.

Lockdown measures enacted across the United States in response to the COVID- 19 pandemic have severely curtailed personal and economic liberties. The next two papers explore the origins and consequences of government responses to the pandemic. Phillip Magness and Peter Earle analyze the nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) aimed at mitigating the transmission of COVID-19. Examples of NPIs include closing businesses, canceling events, restricting travel, limiting the size of gatherings, and imposing shelter-in-place mandates. Magness and Earle identify the various political economy dynamics at work in the design, implementation, and persistence of NPIs in the context of COVID. These factors include bias toward government action, political path dependency, and the emergence of public-health experts as an interest group incentivized to perpetuate the status quo. Their analysis has implications both for understanding the response to COVID-19 as well as for learning broader lessons for government responses to future public-health crises.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Ramesh Thakur writes that the example of Sweden is strong evidence that lockdowns are no ‘solution.‘ A slice:

Now, back to the Nordics. Sweden’s mortality rate is indeed thrice that of Denmark. But Denmark’s in turn is thrice that of Norway and five times higher than Iceland’s. Lockdowns cannot be the explanation for Denmark’s better performance than Sweden’s in light of its own identical disparity with Norway and still greater disparity with Iceland. Moreover, as shown in no fewer than 35 studies collated by the AEIR, globally and among US states Covid mortality is policy invariant, there’s no correlation between key Covid metrics and jurisdictions with severe and soft, mandatory and voluntary social distancing restrictions and guidance. The clear logical inference is that variations are due to factors other than lockdown like Iceland being an isolated island country – a bit like Australia and New Zealand, come to think of it. Danish and US researchers list 16 different factors (including lighter lockdowns) as possible explanations for Sweden’s worse toll among the Nordics. Not all are of equal weight but they are ‘thought-provoking’: average age of Covid deaths, co-morbidities, obesity levels, urbanisation, immigrant populations, crowded working and living conditions, care homes for the elderly (Sweden’s nursing home population is 50 per cent bigger than Denmark’s), cross-facility mobility of healthcare staff, hospital capacity and medicine stocks, climate, seasonality, vitamin D deficiency, etc.

“George Orwell must be looking down on the state of Victoria, rueing his lack of imagination” – so explains James Macpherson. A slice:

As dark as Orwell’s visions were, not even he foresaw a government telling citizens they must remain locked down because a quick easing of restrictions might breach their human rights.

Yet this is exactly what happened in truth-is-stranger-than-fiction Danistan yesterday.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told journalists that harsh restrictions on movement could not be eased until after public servants had ensured it did not violate Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights.

In other words, the government couldn’t be too hasty giving people their freedom, just in case they violated people’s freedom.

Doublethink, thy name is Victoria!

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