Some Non-Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on January 14, 2022

in Books, Hubris and humility, Inflation, Myths and Fallacies, Philosophy of Freedom, Politics, Terrorism, Truth-seeking & ideology

Arnold Kling wisely reviews Jonathan Rauch’s new book, The Constitution of Knowledge. A slice:

If Rauch has a blind spot, it is that he overlooks the deterioration that has taken place within twentieth-century institutions. He is unable or unwilling to recognize institutional decay.

As one trivial example, Rauch quotes Lisa Page in one place and Peter Strzok elsewhere to buttress minor points. Rauch refers to each only as “a former FBI agent.” In fact, they were infamously lovers who boasted to one another in text messages about their intentions to bring down the Trump Presidency. When this was revealed, their superiors felt it necessary to take punitive action. Rauch mentions none of this, not even in a footnote. For me, this is equivalent to quoting Michael Milken on financial institutions without mentioning that he served time in prison for securities and tax violations.. As a professional journalist, if you view the accusations against Page and Strzok (or Milken) as overblown, then you owe it to the reader to say so, rather than going on as if their records were unblemished.

A more significant example is when Rauch writes:

Many people, to be sure, will pay a premium for reality-based content (aka “news”). As I drafted this chapter, the New York Times announced that its subscription base had topped 5 million. (p. 156)

That is a very cheerful interpretation of the rise in NYT subscriptions in the Trump era. A quite different interpretation comes from Andrey Mir in Postjournalism and the Death of Newspapers. Mir sees the NYT not as beating the social media disinformation warriors, but joining them. In Mir’s view, opposition to Mr. Trump became a business model, gathering in subscribers who donated to the cause. Along the way, the NYT discarded the values of truth and journalistic integrity.

Similarly, Rauch is unwilling to address the decay in academia. The culture of excellence has been undermined in many ways. Mediocrity has become endemic at all levels.

Students gain admission by manipulating the process. With grade inflation and a generally forgiving environment, many graduate having undertaken little effort and accomplished minimal learning. But many others do not graduate at all, with only a debt burden to show for their excursion into higher education.

Among faculty, new “disciplines” have emerged that lack standards for intellectual rigor. The intellectual weakness of these “___ studies” departments once was a source of embarrassment and insecurity for their faculty. Today, they are the tail that wags the academic dog. It is the traditional disciplines that now suffer embarrassment and insecurity, as they stand accused of having angered the Gods of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Sad news: Terry Teachout has died. And see also here.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Crispin Sartwell advises skepticism of “experts.” A slice:

Consider a hypothetical person who was born in 1922 and has resolved for the past century to believe all and only what the experts said. On topics such as race and sex, economics and law, astronomy and physics, psychology and medicine, our centenarian would have beliefs now entirely incompatible with those he had at the beginning. If he were to reflect on these changing beliefs, he’d have to conclude that most of the things most of the experts in most areas had said for most of the past 100 years were false. He’d do well to assume that most of what they’re saying now is false as well.

Such a person couldn’t exist, because at every moment on almost every matter for the whole century, experts disagreed. Sheer deference would fetch you up in complete incoherence. And experts are people too. They’re muddling through like we are; they are confused too; they forget a key detail; they see what they expect or want to see.

And finally, I’d like to urge us all to show some pride. Nodding along isn’t enough. Not only can’t we off-load responsibility for our own beliefs, we shouldn’t try.

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan assesses Biden’s recent speech in Georgia. A slice:

The speech itself was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend. It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels. Presidents more than others in politics have to maintain an even strain, as astronauts used to say. If a president is rhetorically manipulative and divisive on a voting-rights bill it undercuts what he’s trying to establish the next day on Covid and the economy. The over-the-top language of the speech made him seem more emotional, less competent. The portentousness—“In our lives and . . . the life of our nation, there are moments so stark that they divide all that came before them from everything that followed. They stop time”—made him appear incapable of understanding how the majority of Americans understand our own nation’s history and the vast array of its challenges.

By the end he looked like a man operating apart from the American conversation, not at its center. This can be fatal to a presidency.

He was hardly done speaking when a new Quinnipiac poll showed the usual low Biden numbers, but, most pertinently, that 49% of respondents say he is doing more to divide the country, and only 42% see him as unifying it.

GMU Econ student Dominic Pino warns us not to expect port problems “to go away for the rest of Biden’s term.”

John Sibley Butler’s Liberty Matters essay on my late, great colleague Walter Williams is available by scrolling down here. A slice:

The greatest test of Walter Williams’s hypothesis about capitalism came in the dynamic of race and society. In Race and Economics: How much can be blamed on discrimination? The blended the history of Black entrepreneurship with the rewards of liberty and the importance of market economies. Like Booker T. Washington, Abraham Harris, and T.M. Pryor, he showed how an open capitalist society has always provided the best economic route for liberty for those who chose it. In the Chapter “Blacks Today and Yesterday,” he blended the success of history with the denial of that success today: “Black Americans, compared with any other racial group, have come the greatest distance, over some of the highest hurdles, in a shorter period of time. This unprecedented progress can be verified …if one were to total black earnings and consider black Americans a separate nation, he would find that, in 2008, they earned $726 billion.” To show how important liberty is in America, he juxtaposed his own experience in Up From The Projects: An Autobiography. Walter Williams showed how Blacks have made the best of things by using the free market and liberty at the worst of times. His experience took him through the military to becoming an economist who understood liberty.

Patrick Eddington busts the myth that the U.S. government needs even more power to deal with “domestic terrorism.”

GMU Econ alum Ben Powell explains that inflation won’t be reduced by price controls or government spending. A slice:

Some, such as University of Massachusetts economics professor Isabella Weber, are now proposing government-mandated price controls.

As Robert Schuettinger and Eamonn Butler demonstrated in their 1979 book, Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls, price controls have been imposed throughout world history—and unfailingly fail. They’re such a bad idea that left-leaning economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman called Weber’s argument “truly stupid” before apologizing for his rude tone.

But Krugman’s initial reaction was right. Rising prices are a symptom of an underlying problem—not the problem itself. Using the power of government to limit price increases will do as much long-term good as trying to stop global warming by preventing thermometers from registering higher readings.

It’s also important for policymakers to recognize that while the inflation rate is an aggregate measure, not all prices rise equally. Each individual price—for beef and poultry, gasoline, lumber and plywood, new cars and so forth—conveys information about the relative scarcity of specific goods or services. These price signals incentivize consumers to switch to relatively less scarce (and thus, less costly) goods, while incentivizing entrepreneurs and producers to find more efficient ways to produce sought-after goods or to find desirable alternatives. Price controls blunt such market adjustments, causing unnecessary shortages and surpluses and deterring innovation.

Ilana Redstone exposes the fallacy of equal knowledge. Here’s her conclusion:

The upshot is missing information isn’t always what makes people disagree. When we pretend that it is, we make it even harder to communicate across our political and ideological differences.

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