Russ Roberts talks with Mike Munger about industrial policy. Here’s a slice, from the transcript, of Munger’s remarks:
Look, elected officials have a two-year time horizon until the next election. And that’s in November. So, in December they have a 23-month time horizon. So, politics has a really, really short time horizon, and that’s why these people who advocate for an industrial policy, they’re all wet. All they need to do is read basic Public Choice, and we would stop hearing about all this nonsense.
Most pundits (including some economists) underestimate the ability of markets to do a “work around” when the supply of a key good is restricted. We often read that it is technologically impossible to do without X, and that it will take many years to ramp up the production of alternatives. Recall that during Covid we were assured that it would take a long time to produce various quantities of vaccines, masks, Paxlovid, etc., and then production easily blew right by the pessimistic forecasts. I am not suggesting that supply constraints are never a problem (Europe still faces some problems this winter), rather that we should be skeptical about claims of how hard it will take to circumvent those restrictions.
The climate lobby has spent more than 30 years preaching apocalypse to goad countries to purge fossil fuels. Most Western elites have joined the lobby. But publics around the world simply aren’t willing to make the sacrifices in standards of living that extreme climate advocates insist on.
Our sincere advice would to be drop the doomsday act, which people don’t believe, and focus instead on policies to adapt to a warmer planet and mitigate any damage if the worst happens. It beats standing in the public square with a sign saying “the end is near.”
In a countering article, Matthew G. Burgess, Roger Pielke Jr. and Justin Ritchie also endorse more research but warn against marching such low-probability scenarios to the center of the conversation to mislead voters and policy makers.
This brings us to a third, epic-length piece of climate-related journalism, posted on Substack by the liberal political analyst Ruy Teixeira. He touches on all the same matters and mentions many of the same names, on the way to describing the political and policy disaster his fellow Democrats created for themselves by adopting the overdone and unscientific “climate crisis” stylings of Greta Thunberg.
OK, we get it: Ahmari really, really hates the upending of traditional sexual and gender norms in the West. His crusade against the “demonic” practice of Drag Queen Story Hour is legendary. But one needn’t subscribe to progressive dogma on gender identity to be troubled by Ahmari’s “national conservatism,” which responds to these controversies by advocating coercion, as the latest step in Ahmari’s intellectual journey makes especially clear. Between a liberal society that tilts too far toward female and LGBT liberation—even if “too far” means merely allowing women to offend traditionalists with short skirts—and an authoritarian regime that compels the hijab and allows barely pubescent girls to be married to middle-aged men, Ahmari dislikes the liberal society more. His column makes it clear that he regards victory by the liberal opposition in Iran as not just unrealistic but undesirable: “I fear what it might portend should it ‘succeed,’” he writes.
All this is familiar to the point of ennui. What UDC adds, and what prompted some critics to dismiss the book as libertarian pamphleteering, is the elementary recognition—not mine, but that of a massive body of literature—that “dual” federalism is also and always competitivefederalism. On all the margins that are beyond the federal government’s powers, states will have to compete for citizens’ “affections,” as the Federalist put it; for productive citizens and their talents and assets.
During 2020 and 2021, Oster was very much on the side of lockdown. And she supported vaccine mandates in universities and for workers. In fairness to Oster, she did not support every Covid measure. She did, for instance, criticise how long it took for schools to re-open in the US back in the summer of 2020. Yet ultimately, she belonged to the side that was happy to criminalise meeting a friend for coffee or to separate people from their dying loved ones.
Now, with hindsight, Oster regrets some of her positions. The crux of her argument is that the people baying for more lockdowns, harsher restrictions and vaccine mandates couldn’t possibly have known any different at the time. She says that they couldn’t have known that outdoor transmission of Covid was rare, that schoolchildren were always a low-risk group and that cloth masks were virtually useless in preventing viral spread.
Many, however, did know these facts, including back in the spring of 2020. But those who said them out loud were quickly turned into pariahs.
Although Oster admits that those on the anti-lockdown side got many things right, she says this was merely a question of ‘luck’. But it should not have taken any great foresight to see the danger of lockdowns. They were responsible for the most significant loss of liberty in the history of the democratic world. Their impact on economic output was as profound as that of any war. Not since the days before universal education had so many kids been shut out of school. Worse still, those who did warn of these inevitable and dangerous consequences were met with derision and censorship.
At times it seemed as if the pro-lockdown side was driven less by science than by fear – less by the emerging evidence than by an authoritarian impulse. This is why so much debate about Covid was zealously shut down. It is why anyone who broke the lockdown rules was shamed as a ‘Covidiot’. It is why many on the side of lockdown thought it important to mock the deaths of the unvaccinated – ‘to make sure that the lessons of these teachable moments are heard’, in the words of the LA Times.
Believe it or not, American Federation of Teachers chief Randi Weingarten on Monday tacitly acknowledged that keeping schools closed during the pandemic was a mistake. Miracles happen, apparently. But she also now wants parents—especially if they’re voters next week—to forgive her and her political allies without seeking an apology or holding them accountable. Sorry, that lets them off way too easy.
“I agree,” Ms. Weingarten tweeted a link to a piece in The Atlantic by Emily Oster, “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty.” The article argues that Americans should forgive experts and government leaders for their mistakes during the pandemic.
Ms. Oster cites school closures as one example: “There is an emerging (if not universal) consensus that schools in the U.S. were closed for too long: The health risks of in-school spread were relatively low, whereas the costs to students’ well-being and educational progress were high.”
However, she adds, “in spring and summer 2020, we had only glimmers of information. Reasonable people—people who cared about children and teachers—advocated on both sides of the reopening debate.”
That’s awfully generous to Team Shutdown, which included all of the progressive great and good and nearly all of the media. Yet it was clear by summer 2020 that children were at extremely low risk for severe illness. They were also struggling with remote learning, as were their parents. All efforts should have been made to reopen schools, as Florida did in August 2020, and to keep them open.
But the teachers’ unions lobbied hard to keep them closed and succeeded in far too many places where they dominate local and state politics. Many big city school districts didn’t reopen until spring 2021. Chicago didn’t offer full in-person learning until last fall. The results in lost learning have been catastrophic.
One certainty: The left will never forgive the shutdown dissenters, notably Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for being right.
Maybe we should halt the spread of misinformation by censoring any communications that come from three-letter government agencies.