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Some Non-Covid Links

Tweet [1]

George Will decries the attitudes and reckless ‘reasoning’ that have resulted in $1.6 trillion of student debt in the United States [2]. Two slices:

The Constitution, which modern presidents treat as a tissue of suggestions to be complied with when doing so is not inconvenient, says [3]: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (if the committee [4] has 20 members or so, it has about half of the Americans who care about responsible budgeting) is not amused. It says [5] this will bring to more than $115 billion the effective disbursement, granted by executive largesse, of funds that otherwise would have flowed into the treasury in payments of principal and interest. Now four more months, at about $5 billion [6] per month in non-accrued interest, will fuel consumption in the overheated economy.

In March 2020, the first suspension [7] of loan payments was instituted by presidential action (remarkably, Congress then involved itself in governance by codifying [8] the suspension) as the economy plunged into lockdowns and uncertainty. President Donald Trump extended [9] it two times.

Twenty-eight days into his presidency, Biden, responding in a CNN town hall to a question-cum-exhortation about loan forgiveness of “$50,000 minimum,” embarked on a syntax-defying 648-word [10] ramble that included an almost decipherable vow not to forgive “the billions of dollars in debt for people who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn.” Now, however, he has again given such people, included in the about 41 million borrowers, relief. Otherwise, he says [11], a resumption of loan payments in May could produce a cascade of delinquencies and defaults that would “threaten Americans’ financial stability.” It is remarkable that the economy can be both as robust and as fragile as he says it is.

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Instead of rethinking many assumptions and practices, Biden is poised to use student loan difficulties as an occasion for political opportunism on a grand scale. When the latest payment pause expires after Aug. 31, it is highly unlikely that most borrowers will then have to resume full payments. It is highly likely that there will be not just another payments pause but a splashy and expansive loan forgiveness — one of the largest wealth transfers [12] in U.S. history, by presidential fiat.

Biden — subtlety is not his strong suit — probably assumes that the gratitude of up to 41 million beneficiaries will exceed the resentment of borrowers who scrimped to pay their debts. Biden is probably right. Comedian Lily Tomlin certainly was when she said [13]: “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy warns of the folly of price controls [14]. A slice:

To believe that inflation is the product of corporate greed requires even more obliviousness to reality. Inflation is truly a general and ongoing increase of all prices, including wages (which are the price of our labor). This reality means that all companies would have to be getting greedier simultaneously, and that all workers are, at the same time, overcome with similar avarice.

On that note, if corporate greed is sufficient to allow companies to get away with raising prices, why isn’t it sufficient to allow them to resist demands for higher wages?

Here’s Ben Zycher on [15]

… the Biden administration’s desperate efforts to avoid political responsibility for the sharp increases in fuel costs for which its fossil-fuel policies are almost entirely to blame [16]. The incoherence of those policies [16] is blatant, combining tightening constraints — formal, informal, direct, indirect — on investment in domestic crude oil production capacity and associated infrastructure (e.g., pipelines) with exhortations to both foreign [17] and domestic [18] producers to expand output in the here and now so as to reduce the adverse political effects of high fuel costs.

Is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as stupid as he often sounds? [19]

Matt Welch explains the anxiety now suffered by many elites over the prospect of Twitter being taken over by Elon Musk [20]. Three slices:

News Thursday morning that the outspoken serial tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has offered to buy Twitter [21] and take it private has surfaced widespread anxieties within the knowledge-class industries that free speech and even societal peace will be jeopardized if the Tesla CEO lifts content restrictions from journalists’ favorite social media platform.

“I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter,” wrote [22] Max Boot, columnist for The (Jeff Bezos–owned) Washington Post, on Twitter. “He seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”

Boot is a longtime apocalyptic troll—past lowlights include declaring [23] that “I would sooner vote for Josef Stalin than I would vote for Donald Trump,” and advocating [24] the Federal Communications Commission go after Fox News to forestall “the plot against America.” But his anxiety about allegedly unfettered free speech is revealingly common in media, academia, Silicon Valley, and the government.

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At the core of these objections is the notion (misguided, in my view) that social media platforms, once they achieve a certain ubiquity, should be treated less like private companies, and more like utilities [25]—subject to robust government regulation in the name of both the greater good and the protection of historically disadvantaged minorities.

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Perhaps ironically, the social-media-as-public-utility mindset is being embraced not just by a growing number of left-of-center knowledge-class professionals, but by some of their antagonists in the nascent trad-con right [26]. “Twitter should be a public utility controlled by a rightly-ordered state,” Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule tweeted [27] today. “Short of that, I’m not sure I care which particular billionaires use it as an ideological playpen.”

Populism of all ideological flavors tends to treat not just government but constitutional principles as instruments, to be used bluntly against ideological opponents. Twitter may have had some libertarian, anything-goes roots, but in the Trump era especially the company has become both the professional plaything [28] and ideological piñata of the white-collar left.

My Mercatus Center colleague Robert Graboyes defends the sanctity of medical oaths [29].

My GMU Econ colleague Chris Coyne talks with Juliette Sellgren about “manufacturing militarism.” [30]