Reason‘s Eric Boehm rightly criticizes Biden’s economically illiterate – and disturbingly yet predictably arrogant – effort to reduce gasoline prices by ‘ordering’ owners and operators of retail gasoline stations to do as El Presidente commands. A slice:
Over the holiday weekend, President Joe Biden discovered a new scapegoat for persistently high gas prices: Americans who own and operate gas stations.
“My message to the companies running gas stations and setting prices at the pump is simple: this is a time of war and global peril,” Biden tweeted on Saturday. “Bring down the price you are charging at the pump to reflect the cost you’re paying for the product. And do it now.”
It arguably lacks the pomposity of former President Donald Trump’s memorable tweet that “hereby ordered” American companies to stop doing business in China, but the content is equally unhinged. Biden has been aggressive about using vague executive powers to shape the economy in recent months, but that doesn’t change the fact that an American president has no business whatsoever telling gas stations how much to charge at the pump.
If the tweet merely overstepped the limits of executive authority, though, it wouldn’t be as noteworthy—that sort of thing is almost an everyday occurrence. It’s also a telling example of just how little the Biden administration seems to know about what it believes it can design.
Smoking causes cancer and nicotine improves mood. So guess which the Food and Drug Administration will seek to ban under a sweeping new initiative?
An ambitious rulemaking announced in recent days looks to ratchet down progressively the nicotine in cigarettes, likely causing smokers at least in the beginning to light up more often and puff harder to get the desired nicotine hit. If this weren’t weird enough, in the same week, based on the inability of its manufacturer to prove a negative (an absence of any harm), the FDA moved to drive from the market the most popular consumer product that allows people to consume nicotine without the side effects of smoking, namely Juul brand electronic cigarettes.
Nicotine doesn’t cause cancer, it pays to remember as the agency sets out on what may prove a colossal policy error. Officially regarded as a drug, nicotine may be addictive like cocaine or heroin, and produce withdrawal symptoms in many who try to quit. But unlike other controlled substances, it’s anodyne in its effects. Nicotine doesn’t intoxicate. It doesn’t addle judgment. It’s mildly stimulating and calming at the same time, relieves anxiety and sadness, improves memory and motor performance in the short term, and may have benefits for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s and ulcerative colitis.
Partly the problem is an ideological unwillingness to distinguish the benefits of nicotine from the harms of smoking. Decades have made a cliché out of the specialist observation that people “smoke for the nicotine and die from the tar.” In 2015, Scientific American quoted one of the world’s leading smoking-cessation researchers pleading for the need to “de-demonize nicotine.”
The FDA is headed in the opposite direction. Maybe, after thousands of years of people seeking out and consuming nicotine, they will stop because the agency says so. In public policy, examining costs and benefits fully and frankly is usually advisable to avoid unpleasant surprises. Left out of the FDA’s assessment are the benefits people get from using nicotine. Left out is the possible gift to organized crime of trying to ban it.
Perhaps the most interesting chapters concern energy. Although Zeihan is a believer in the dangers of climate change, his analysis shows that “green energy” fails, even on its own terms. In order to generate, transmit, and store solar and wind power, we need to build solar panels, wind farms, batteries, and new transmission systems. The cost of doing so, including the carbon dioxide that will be released in that atmosphere in the process, is daunting.
I hope that people read and come away with a better appreciation of what makes our modern world possible. We are highly specialized. We are very interdependent. Our energy production and distribution system is remarkably efficient. Those who would like to stifle global trade and/or fossil fuels should understand just how primitive we might live if their ideologies prevail.
Timelessly crafted as they are, Bastiat’s thought experiments still inspire economic communicators today. Another classic is the “negative railroad,” allusions to which he sprinkles throughout Sophisms. France builds railroads, bridges, and canals to England that yield lower transportation costs. But when those lower costs result in more trade between the countries, France “corrects” the “imbalance” with a tariff to reduce imports. A tariff, therefore, performs the reverse function of a railroad. If we think a railroad is beneficial because it enables us to consume more and better goods, what does that imply of protectionist measures that raise the costs of exchange? This thought experiment, and his numerous transportation metaphors more generally, remain staples of Econ 101 classrooms the world over.
Then, at the nearby University of York, during the same period, health and safety guidance decreed that in the event of a fire, self-isolating students should wait behind to allow ‘non-self-isolating’ colleagues to exit first. This ludicrous diktat not only displayed a profound lack of risk balancing, but also a dereliction of a fundamental duty of care and an ignorance of basic safety standards.
In January 2022, in a particularly shocking example, officers in Texas arrested a teacher for suspected child endangerment after her son was discovered in the boot of her car at a drive-through PCR testing site. The mother allegedly told officials that she had transported her child in this way so she wouldn’t be exposed to his infection.
These distressing cases testify to something deeply dysfunctional in our societal response to Covid. We have normalised the mistreatment of children, collectively justifying it against the backdrop of the pandemic state of exception.
This treatment of children should be unacceptable in any civilised society, no matter what respectability it is given by the cloak of ‘public health’. Much has been made throughout the pandemic response of the need for public health to act in the interests of an ill-defined concept of a ‘greater good’. Yet it’s striking that a now reengineered concept of ‘public health’ has barely acknowledged children as part of the ‘public’. In its name, we have not only marginalised our young people’s wellbeing, but often actively put them in harm’s way.
Blue states like California are still hampered by the looming threat of covid restrictions, asymptomatic testing, & quarantines, imposed unpredictably at the whim of the governor and mercurial public health authority. How can an economy function well under such irrational policy?