Some Links

by Don Boudreaux on August 12, 2022

in Books, Current Affairs, Great Depression, History, Politics, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen, Taxes

George Will writes wisely about the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago. Two slices:

As this is written Thursday, there are important unanswered questions about who instigated the search of Mar-a-Lago, and why. One remarkable aspect of this debacle, however, is that vigorous disgust need not wait until we know those answers: Try to imagine a justification for this flamboyant exercise of — what? law enforcement? What was important enough to bring to a rolling boil the already simmering suspicions of tens of millions of Americans about tentacles of the “deep state” engaging in partisan skulduggery?

…..

The great and the good, a.k.a. the Democratic Party in its vanity, gave us President Trump by awarding its 2016 presidential nomination to someone who could manage to lose to the star of the “Access Hollywood” tape. Now, a Democratic administration’s Justice Department has managed to reverse the fading of that entertainer whose act is stale. With his feral cunning, Trump instantly intuited that the search of his home was a gift that will keep on giving by fueling his supporters’ animosities, and their giving.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board reports that industrial policy in China isn’t working out as the Chinese government wishes and as many American pundits and politicians – some left, some right, and all economically ignorant – feared. Three slices:

Bloomberg this week reports that Beijing is launching corruption investigations into government ministers and business leaders involved in its semiconductor initiative, which is a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s Made in China 2025 plan to achieve manufacturing self-sufficiency. Corruption crackdowns are Mr. Xi’s modus operandi when things don’t go according to Communist plan.

When senior government officials last month reviewed the country’s chip-making progress, they reportedly grew dismayed that advances may have been overstated and investments weren’t paying off. Mr. Xi’s plan to throw money at the semiconductor industry, as with others, has resulted in many unproductive companies chasing government subsidies.

About 15,700 new semiconductor companies registered in the first five months of last year. As it turns out, government is a poor allocator of capital, and semiconductor handouts have spawned cronyism and graft. These problems are intrinsic to industrial policy. But Mr. Xi is blaming China’s industrialists, rather than his planning model.

…..

Meantime, U.S. technology export controls are making it even harder for China to catch up with Western computer-chip technology. This may be one reason for Beijing’s stepped up militarism with Taiwan, which manufactures many of the most advanced chips. What U.S business and political leaders don’t seem to understand is that the world, including China and Taiwan, still relies on U.S. innovation, which is a product of our capitalist system.

Mr. Biden said Tuesday that “federal research and development brought down the cost of making [chips] and built a market and an entire industry.” That’s wrong. Business consolidation, economies of scale and off-shoring reduced manufacturing costs. But the main U.S. comparative advantage continues to be technological innovation, which is driven by business research and development.

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China’s assets are formidable, but its politically directed economic policy isn’t one of them. The U.S. doesn’t need politicians and bureaucrats picking winners and losers. It needs economic policies that unleash the creativity and investment of people and private firms.

Here’s the latest installment of George Selgin’s important series on the New Deal and recovery. A slice:

With a few (mostly left-wing) exceptions, labor unions were also notorious discriminators. According to Colston Warne (1945, p. 203), rather than “accord women an equal place in their works,” they tended to look upon them “as interlopers and ‘wage cutters’ who undermined union standards.” Consequently, Alice Kessler-Harris (1982, p. 291) reports, despite the fact that more than three million women workers made up 22 percent of trade union membership in 1944—up from just 800,000 when the war started—”most unions unceremoniously discarded their female members at war’s end.”

Chris Edwards explains that “Congress has created a tax code at war with growth and efficiency.”

I’m eager to read my GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan’s forthcoming book Don’t Be a Feminist.

David Henderson shares more insight from Kevin Corcoran.

Robby Soave reports on the CDC’s welcome, if far-too-long in coming, easing of its covid guidelines. A slice:

If anyone was still waiting for official permission from the nation’s top health officials to resume life as normal, it is here. By signaling that the universal masking-and-social-distancing phase of the pandemic is now over, the CDC has conceded that the U.S.’ COVID-19 prevention strategy should now revolve around protecting those who are at heightened risk.

About the CDC’s update, Sai Medi tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

At this rate the CDC will just update its guidelines by nonchalantly reading the Great Barrington Declaration and hoping nobody notices.

And here’s a reaction by Jay Bhattacharya himself to the change in the CDC’s guidelines:

The CDC guidance to end mass asymptomatic testing is a big deal, though it comes a full 2 years too late. If your child is going on a field trip and has no symptoms and is forced to test, make sure to let the authorities know that they are violating CDC guidelines.

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Inspired in part by Gertrude Himmelfarb, David McGrogan decries “the brutalization of compassion.” Two slices:

Statistics were therefore paramount in the process whereby the vast apparatus of governance which the state deploys came into being. More importantly, the emergence of statistics was a spur to action. The mere act of ‘knowing’ the population was then a call to improve it; once one ‘knows’ its poverty rate (or whatever) then the question which inevitably follows is what can be done to achieve statistical improvement.

One can think of this as a positive feedback mechanism in which statistical measures give rise to bureaucracies whose job is to make improvements in the underlying phenomena being measured – which causes them to generate more statistics, and thus identify further need for improvement, and so on. Thus, it became necessary to think about something called ‘the state’ because of the organic emergence of its apparatus, arising through intrinsic processes of development – something which Foucault called its ‘governmentalisation.’

Foucault’s interest was in how measuring the population gave rise to ‘biopolitics’ – the exercising of power upon the population as though it was an organism, and the concomitant growth in interest in particular in its health. Naturally enough, given the period in which he was writing, this caused his analysis to veer into the logic of raison d’Etat: he understood the biopolitical urge as essentially caught up in questions of how to make the state stronger (with a healthier and more productive population) than its rivals.

…..

In her two masterpieces, The Idea of Poverty and Poverty and Compassion, Himmelfarb sheds more light on the connection between knowledge and action, and in particular the role which compassion played in the process. She begins by telling us the story of how the problem of ‘the poor’ came into being in the early modern period, and how it went on to animate the imagination of the chattering classes of England in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 16th century, she reminds us, the dominant view of the poor was that they would ‘always be with us’ – poverty was considered to be the normal lot of certain classes, and indeed even ennobling of their members. It was certainly not considered to be the duty of the ruler to make the poor wealthier. Yet by the late 19th century the position had totally changed: it was now considered to be one of the main, if not the main, task of the state to improve the material conditions of the population.

What had happened in the interim, of course, was exactly the process Foucault had identified. It had become possible both to conceive of the population as a thing in its own right, with characteristics (like the overall poverty rate) that could be improved, and to measure that improvement with purportedly objective and accurate statistics.

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