Some Non-Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on February 26, 2022

in Books, Crime, Hubris and humility, Legal Issues, Nanny State, Regulation, Risk and Safety, Subsidies

George Will writes with his usual deep wisdom about the dangers of prosecuting “hate crimes.” A slice:

So, the government can conduct trials for the purpose of virtue signaling — to announce, however redundantly, that it condemns particular frames of mind. A bigot’s shabby mental furniture is, however, not a crime. Were it, what other mentalities might government decide to stigmatize by imposing special punishments? [Ahmaud] Arbery’s killers had expressed their racism in speech (texts, social media posts, remarks) that no jurisdiction can proscribe. But their federal punishment will be imposed precisely because their speech demonstrated their bigotry.

Proving the intent behind a criminal act is crucial. And no principle should prohibit ever making punishment proportional to the motive for a criminal act. However, deciding that an actor’s heinous behavior is made more heinous because they had a bad attitude is dangerous. It is one thing for the law to hold individuals responsible for controlling their minds, which presumably control their bodies. It is quite another thing for government to inventory an individual’s mind for the purpose of declaring how admirable the government’s mind is, and perhaps by doing so to improve the public’s mind.

This impulse melds with what C.S. Lewis called the remedial theory of punishment, whereby government detains offenders until they are cured, as determined by government’s “official straighteners.” Another totalitarian temptation.

Nick Gillespie explains why legislating against hate speech backfires.

My Mercatus Center colleague Michael Farren reports on why the new nickname of Washington, DC’s, NFL team really should be “Predators.”

National Post columnist Jonathan Kay – writing in the Wall Street Journal – argues that Justin Trudeau’s authoritarianism is fueled by wokeness. A slice:

Mr. Trudeau deserves the scorn he is now receiving—including from principled liberals who understand that invoking emergency powers to silence political enemies sets a terrible precedent. But in fairness, Mr. Trudeau isn’t solely responsible for the climate of hysteria that now suffuses Canadian progressive politics. His rise to power coincided with America’s Great Awokening, and neither Mr. Trudeau nor anyone around him could have predicted how radicalized the social-justice movement would become.

Canada had its own Great Awokening in 2017, a few months after that famous meeting between Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trump. That year marked Canada’s 150th birthday. But instead of joining the national party, many indigenous leaders refused to help celebrate a country created at their ancestors’ expense. The ensuing culture-war eruption was volcanic, with Canadian media (especially the already-quite-woke Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) launching into maudlin spasms of national self-recrimination.

Mr. Trudeau, who had succeeded in politics by presenting himself as both a great patriot and an unimpeachable progressive, couldn’t have it both ways. When Canada’s defining national ideal had been resistance to American laissez-faire capitalism and bellicosity, Canadian patriotism and progressivism went hand in hand. But, suddenly, an alliance with progressive true believers required agreeing that Canada is a racist and genocidal hellhole.

When in 2019 Mr. Trudeau was revealed as a hypocrite who’d lectured the world on social justice while hiding evidence of his wearing blackface—he can’t remember how many times he painted himself when young to look like a black person—that only turbocharged his performative approach. The white son of privilege had even more to prove. When George Floyd was killed in 2020, Mr. Trudeau took a knee—though Minneapolis isn’t a Canadian city—making clear that he was beholden not only to the parochial rites of Canadian wokeism but also to the American variant.

Stephen Budiansky reviews Ananyo Bhattacharya’s new biography of the remarkable John von Neumann. A slice:

As striking as von Neumann’s scientific intellect were his bon vivant’s zest for life and acute perception of human nature. These are not qualities typically associated with genius, much less with a child prodigy, which von Neumann undeniably was. As a boy he taught himself calculus; fluently mastered English, French, Latin, and classical Greek; and memorized entire stretches of a 40-plus-volume history of the world, which he was able to recite verbatim decades later.

Many prodigies go off the rails, but von Neumann did not. He loved company, excelled at both making money and spending it—on tailored clothes, Cadillac convertibles, first-class travel—and was famous for the endless flow of powerful martinis at unbuttoned cocktail parties at his luxurious home in otherwise stuffy Princeton. He was a master of smoothing over professional or political frictions among colleagues with a well-timed diversion into Byzantine history or, more often, a dirty joke or limerick, of which he maintained an endless store alongside the mathematical visions that filled his mind.

He also had a deep grasp of political realities exceptional for a scientist, or for that matter anyone. Mr. Bhattacharya quotes a remarkable letter von Neumann wrote a Hungarian colleague in 1935 predicting that there would be a war in Europe within a decade, that America would come to Britain’s aid, and that the Jews would face a genocide like the Armenians suffered under the Ottomans.

At National Review, GMU Econ graduate student Dominic Pino celebrates Stephen Breyer’s admirable role in deregulating commercial airlines. Here’s Dominic’s conclusion:

He wrote a lot of words as a Supreme Court justice that will not be long remembered. But he deserves to be remembered for his greatest act of public service: helping to get the federal government out of the air-travel market.

Stephanie Slade reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) inadvertently – in a recent speech – made the case against so-called “common-good conservatism.”

James Bovard decries Progressives’ “love affair with Leviathan.” A slice:

The same pro-Leviathan bias has radiated in liberals’ [DBx: Prorgressives’] response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Government officials vastly overstated the mortality risk and then exploited Covid fears to inflict “previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty,” as Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito declared. Governors in state after state effectively placed hundreds of millions of citizens under house arrest — dictates that former Attorney General Bill Barr aptly compared to “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties” since the end of slavery. The New York Times set the tone for media coverage when it announced that the task for government was to “learn how to frighten [citizens] into acting for the common good.” Shutting down entire states was the equivalent of burning witches or sacrificing virgins to appease angry viral gods.

Joe Biden was elected president in part because liberals wanted a more forceful response to the pandemic. Last August, Biden decreed that any employee of a private company with more than 100 employees must be injected with a Covid vaccine. The response from liberals and Democrats was almost entirely supportive. The fact that Biden’s order had no basis in the Constitution or federal law was irrelevant: instead, all that mattered was that the president was coming to the rescue. Washington Post editorials praised the mandates for “working” because they resulted in many individuals submitting to getting vaccinated in order not to lose their jobs. Federal appeals court rulings striking down the mandates as illegal and unconstitutional were derided or ignored by Democrats.

Similarly, Democrats have been prone to confer sainthood on Covid Czar Anthony Fauci, regardless of his endless flip-flops and his false congressional testimony about federal funding of dangerous research at the Wuhan Lab in China. Early in the pandemic, Fauci became the incarnation of coercive good intentions. Liberals posted lawn signs proclaiming “I believe in science” — implying that anyone who did not venerate Fauci and cheer politicians’ Covid crackdowns was a hopeless Neanderthal. On November 28, Fauci announced on a Sunday talk show that Republican senators who criticized him were “really criticizing science because I represent science. That’s dangerous.” On the day after Fauci effectively proclaimed “L’Science, C’est Moi,” FDA’s former top vaccine experts warned in the Washington Post that “the push for boosters for all could actually prolong the pandemic.” But liberal supporters of Fauci and Biden ignored the split in scientific opinion on Covid policy. Instead, Fauci’s job title apparently was the highest scientific evidence imaginable.

My GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan writes insightfully about externalities.

Here’s David Boaz on the late P.J. O’Rourke on “safety Nazis.” A slice:

P. J. O’Rourke may not have coined the term “safety Nazi,” defined by the Urban Dictionary as “A person obsessed with safety and possessing a fascist belief that everyone who believes otherwise is irresponsible, reckless, and should be publicly chastised.” But he does seem to have mainstreamed it. Glenn Garvin writes in Politico that he saw O’Rourke use it in a magazine interview around 1980 and invited him to expand on the topic in an article for Inquiry, a magazine founded by the Cato Institute and edited for a time by Garvin. P.J. did so in a 1982 article, which has just been posted on the Cato site. It seems to have been his first real political article, after his days with the National Lampoon and Car & Driver.

In the article P.J. lambasted seatbelts, safety bumpers, vegetarian restaurants, and childproof aspirin bottles. “Allen Ginsberg said he saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness. I have seen the best minds of my generation destroy a half gross of Tylenol with a ball peen hammer.”

“The forces of safety,” he declared, “are afoot in the land. I, for one, believe it is a conspiracy–a conspiracy of Safety Nazis shouting Sieg Health! and seeking to trammel freedom, liberty, and large noisy parties.”

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