Some Links

by Don Boudreaux on August 10, 2022

in Books, Current Affairs, Energy, Financial Markets, Regulation, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen, Trade

Ben Zycher explains why a ban on the exportation of oil and refined products is a bad idea. A slice:

A number of perverse Beltway ideas never seem to die despite their underlying fallacies. The latest such nostrum is the argument that a renewed ban on the export of crude oil and refined products would reduce domestic fossil-energy prices, as asserted in a recent letter to President Biden from four U.S. senators urging Biden to “preserve petroleum supplies for the U.S. and our allies.”

Just such an export ban on crude oil was implemented by the U.S. beginning in 1975. This followed the 1973 global price increases and the imposition of price and allocation regulations on the U.S. market, resulting in an artificial suppression of domestic production. (It was the regulatory regime and not the “embargo” that created the queues and massive market dislocations.) The export ban was ended by legislation in 2015, after the technological revolution in fracking and horizontal drilling yielded a sharp increase in U.S. output.

Notwithstanding ubiquitous assertions to the contrary, the ban did not reduce U.S. prices below international ones because it created a disincentive for foreign producers to export oil to the U.S. Why should foreign producers sell to us for less? Market forces thus resulted in domestic and international prices being equated, controlling for such factors as transportation costs and exchange rates. The same is true for such refined products as gasoline.

But the ban had the effect of reducing domestic production of crude oil by shrinking the market for American petroleum. According to an October 2020 Government Accountability Office report, the repeal of the export ban increased the incentive for domestic crude production, adding to market incentives that yielded the production boom that began with the fracking revolution.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jesse Fried and Charles C.Y. Wang explain the benefits of stock buybacks. Two slices:

Much of this money, our research shows, is in fact plowed into investment. Overall investment levels, as measured by capital expenditures and R&D, reached historical record highs in six of the last 10 years, totaling $12 trillion during 2012-21. Investment intensity at these firms, measured by the ratio of investment to revenue, has also been rising over the past 10 years and is now near two-decade highs.


Because the buyback tax is only 1%, the damage may be limited. But with this taxing mechanism in place [through the “Inflation Reduction Act”], an anti-buyback Congress will be tempted to raise the tax to a point where it causes much worse damage—to investors, workers and the economy.

The Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto reports on the striving of Vivek Ramaswamy to resist the folly of “woke capital.” A slice:

Between annual shareholder meetings, Strive will employ “shareholder engagement”—lobbying managers and directors on behalf of its profit-seeking agenda. “Shareholder engagement means letters, private meetings, public meetings, etc., exercising your voice and delivering that shareholder mandate,” Mr. Ramaswamy says. “As BlackRock, State Street and Vanguard do today, Strive will do in a different way. I will be the chief ambassador for delivering those messages. And the greater capital we have in DRLL, the more weight shareholder engagement will carry with the boards and management teams of U.S. energy companies.”

Emma Camp warns of government helping parents spy on their children.

Bryan Caplan reflects on travel by train compared to travel by plane.

Here are more excellent Venn diagrams from Mark Perry.

George Leef is correct: “The government shouldn’t decide who may practice law.”

el gato malo writes truly:

truly covid response has masked the people, masked the truth, and masked very idea of informed consent.

but it has unmasked some dire facts about both the susceptibility of the populace to orchestrated attempts to panic them and about the politicians and agencies who did so.

Jay Bhattacharya tweets:

It’s wrong to deny school to (predominantly poor & minority) kids in New Orleans & DC because their parents are making rational health care decisions for their children. Remote or no school will harm the kids far more the the vax would help them.

Roger Watson reviews Mark Woolhouse’s book, The Year the World Went Mad. Two slices:

This is the book every lockdown sceptic has been waiting for, and I place myself firmly in that camp. But to my fellow sceptics, I would brace for some disappointment. While author Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, has come out of the pandemic closet and declared himself to be a lockdown sceptic, he takes some time to get there. At times the reader may be forgiven for wondering if, after all, this was the book that they meant to order. His scepticism extends no further. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this book was published before Professor Woolhouse revealed that pressure had been put on him by Messrs Whitty and Vallance, respectively the chief medical officer and chief scientist, to modify his views on social media. The author had tried to reassure the public about the likely extent of deaths from COVID-19, but this was contrary to the UK government’s narrative. None of this is mentioned in the book.

However, it is a good book. It is very readable and, as the author is one of the world’s leading epidemiologists and eminently qualified, it is incredibly informative. Look no further if you want easy-to-understand, lay explanations of concepts that became household words during the pandemic, such as the ‘R’ number, ‘generation time,’ and ‘infection fatality rate.’ Other technical aspects of the pandemic and epidemiology are likewise explained with clarity and few people will come away from the book without being better informed than they were prior to picking it up.

I detected the author’s pain in his writing. Pain at his part in the mistakes that were made (he states clearly that he was one of the people officially supporting immediate and full economic lockdown on March 23, 2020). Pain at some of the criticism and hate mail he received when he began to make it clear that the measures introduced to manage the pandemic may have been excessive. He apologises to his daughter in the dedication for this generation letting hers down. As someone who condemned the lockdown from the outset, I feel no vicarious responsibility. Moreover, he should have tried being critical of the lockdown early in 2020 when, for example, calls were made to my university to have me dismissed and I was mobbed on social media.

Woolhouse explains the essential problem was with the modelling—the so-called ‘science’—that was so influential on UK government planning and implementation of measures. The models were not ‘segmented’ which means that they treated the population as a homogeneous mass. In other words, a newborn baby was considered at as much risk of becoming infected with and dying of COVID-19 as someone in their sixties; in reality, the difference in risk is around three orders of magnitude. This led to a one-size-fits-all approach which, while intended to reduce risk equally across the demographic board, simply inflicted equal and entirely pointless misery on younger and economically active people. This approach, according to the author, was also partly implemented due to an exaggerated level of risk aversion and, while he does not say it, I will: the UK government did absolutely nothing to mitigate that, even justifying the use of the ‘virtuous lie’ to cajole the population into lockdown and to keep it there for the best part of two years.


I undoubtedly come across as more critical of the book than I really am. But I maintain the position that lockdown was never an approach that should have been implemented. I would hold that view even if lockdown was a measure that was considered, based on evidence, effective. The cost to personal liberty was too great ever to contemplate and that was compounded in the UK by the fact that the costs of lockdown were never estimated prior to implementation. We witnessed a prolonged curtailment to basic freedoms assumed under common law of freedom of movement, freedom of association, and freedom of speech. But Woolhouse does not address this fundamental aspect of lockdown and the government’s attempt to control the COVID-19 narrative. In fact, while he clearly comes out as lockdown sceptical, it is not entirely clear why.

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