Twenty-six days before Election Day, the last preelection inflation numbers showed that government-made inflation, which the Biden administration 18 months ago called “transitory,” is like all “temporary” government programs: long-lived. By mid-year, a typical household was spending $460 a month more than 12 months earlier for the same set of purchases.
Furthermore, because many Hispanics are upwardly mobile, they believe in upward American mobility, and hence are not attracted by the Biden administration’s enthusiasm for racial spoils systems, a.k.a., “equity.” These are, as Christopher DeMuth of the Hudson Institute correctly said at Hillsdale College recently, “programs favoring a long and elastic list of politically selected groups, including its catch-all category of those ‘adversely affected by inequality.’” Many Hispanics have experience of life under governments that pick winners and guarantee losers.
Biden endlessly castigates former President Donald Trump for the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 election. But Biden’s “Big Lie” is that he is entitled to use federal power however he pleases because he was certified the winner of that election. But 81 million votes didn’t nullify the Bill of Rights.
Speaking on the edge of Capitol Hill, Biden portrayed himself as the savior of the republic. He declared, “Autocracy is the opposite of democracy. It means the rule of one, one person, one interest, one ideology, one party.”
Like Biden’s mandate for 80 million Americans to get COVID vaccines — a dictate the Supreme Court struck down as illegal? Like when Biden contorted federal law to cancel $500 billion in student loans to give Democratic candidates a boost in next week’s election? Like when Team Biden sends FBI agents to harass parents who complained at school-board meetings? Like the Biden administration’s proposal to cancel all federal school breakfast and lunch subsidies for any state that does not impose radical pro-transgender policies on every public school?
VERs arguably did accelerate investments by Japanese automakers in the United States in the mid 1980s, but crediting them with all such investment through 1991 is far-fetched. The VERs followed Volkswagen’s late-’70s investment in Pennsylvania and Honda’s in Ohio (announced in 1980), and about a dozen other automobile factories — Japanese, German, and Korean — have arrived since 1992. Moreover, the quotas likely weren’t binding in their final years (limiting their effect on investment), and U.S.-based factories would have made economic sense even without them. Foreign direct investment in motor-vehicle and equipment manufacturing grew faster after 1990 than before.
To the extent the quotas did encourage longer-term foreign investment, it went mainly to nonunion facilities in “right to work” states — hurting the UAW and the Rust Belt communities that the VERs were intended to help.
Combine these outcomes with stagnant productivity, continued long-term declines in Big Three market share, meager growth in exports, real automotive-output growth weaker than overall manufacturing growth, and a U.S. automotive-goods trade deficit that widened substantially (in real terms or as a share of GDP) in the 1980s, and one can call the VERs a “strategic trade policy” success only by defining the “strategy” decades after the fact.
Indeed, subsequent decades saw a truly resurgent American auto industry. The VER tale oddly omits this chapter, perhaps because of the centrality of trade liberalization to the plot. In particular, the relatively seamless trade and investment facilitated by NAFTA created a globally competitive North American supply chain, with the United States as the “dominant link.” Without NAFTA, the Center for Automotive Research noted in 2017, “large segments of the U.S. automotive industry would have moved to other low-wage countries in Asia, Eastern Europe, or South America.”
Boy, it sounds like there’s a ton of chatter in Washington about cutting entitlements. And it’s about time we embraced reform. So, which brave “key Republicans” are “openly talking” and “openly broaching” the idea of reforming Social Security and Medicare? We don’t know, because the author, Jim Tankersley, doesn’t offer a single quote from anyone in the GOP making that argument — not an elected official, not a candidate, not even some fringe backbencher spouting off.
How can one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country run a 1,500-word piece asserting that a major political party has been “talking” about a highly controversial policy position and not substantiate the claim with a single quote? That would be the first question of any competent editor.
Of course, as much as I wish it existed, there is no plan or campaign or reform effort aimed at slashing or weaning us off entitlements. The entire ginned-up issue basically relies on a single line from Rick Scott’s “Save America” agenda, which Mitch McConnell rejected as soon as it appeared.
(DBx: Like Harsanyi, I wish that Republicans were seriously talking about seriously reducing the size and scope of Social Security and Medicare. Alas, being politicians, they care above all for power, and power is not won in this land of liberty by proposing to diminish voter A’s ability to live at the expense of voter B, and voter B’s ability to live at the expense of voter A – and both voter A’s and B’s ability to live at the expense of yet-to-be-born voter C.)
“It’s hard to convey the reality and the extent of this fear which stalks the halls of academia,” Arif Ahmed told me when I interviewed him for this week’s Planet Normal podcast. Increasingly, he says, universities see themselves as “social justice factories, rather than seats of learning”. He doesn’t blame the majority of students or the academics, who voted in large numbers against a sly move by the university in 2020 to compel them to “respect” all views and identities (Ahmed campaigned and got the word changed to “tolerate”). When the ballot was secret, they showed what they really thought.
Ahmed is wise to their game. Drily he notes that they always say: “We believe in free speech, but…” (But only the speech we find appropriate, obviously.) On Tuesday, the professor ran the pilot of a class on free speech where undergraduates will learn to hear the other side of an argument and prepare to be offended. It’s extraordinary and sad that such a course should be necessary at one of the world’s great universities, but it is.
In times of universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act. One day, students will not hide in the shadows to listen to a speaker the totalitarians and the intellectual cowards would like to ban. And freedom will return.
People advocating lockdowns, mask mandates, and other interventions might protest that they are just following the science, and they might be incredulous at the very idea that we should question what experts say. One of the problems with exalted expertise, however, is that it ignores a lot of important tradeoffs. Frijters, Foster, and Baker explore this throughout the book but especially in chapter 5, “The Tragedy.” In the name of a single and exclusive goal—limiting transmission—policymakers unleashed many unintended consequences. These range from relatively minor inconveniences like having one more thing to worry about (asking “Do I have a mask?” every time I leave the house), to the dystopian (not knowing what any of my students look like from the bridge of their nose down), to the devastating (enormous numbers of people pushed into poverty by COVID policy‐related economic disruptions).
The book’s most interesting chapter is chapter 6, “Science During the Great Panic: Finest Hour or Worst Cock‐Up?” It’s an interesting study in how initial conditions matter in scientific discussions. A lot of the early analyses started with suspect numbers and assumptions, but they were sanctioned by early peer review and not questioned as rigorously as they should have been. Scientists weren’t skeptical enough, they argue, of initial estimates of Infection Mortality Rates and Case Mortality Rates.
Lockdowns, mandates, and other expert‐directed central plans are suspect because they ignore what Hayek called “the particular circumstances of time and place.” Armed with this knowledge, we can take expert estimates of different probabilities and make what is, in our considered judgment, the best decisions for our families. A central planner or modeler cannot have this local knowledge; it is decentralized and often tacit, and it cannot confront the planner or modeler as data.
No book is perfect, of course, and The Great Covid Panic is no exception. I’m skeptical of Frijters, Foster, and Baker’s inequality‐and‐plutocracy narrative, both in the United States (see Phillip Magness et al.‘s March 2022 Economic Journal article “How Pronounced Is the U‑Curve?”) and globally.
The penultimate chapter, “What’s Next—and What Have We Learned?” is a little disappointing. It’s largely speculative, which is fine; however, some of the speculations distract from the book’s overall message.
Despite these criticisms, this is the kind of book that needed to be written, and there needs to be many others like it. Liberty and prosperity will return as the pandemic wanes; however, they will return in modified, less lustrous form, as Robert Higgs explained over 30 years ago in Crisis and Leviathan. The advocates of lockdowns and mandates are calling for “bold, persistent experimentation” just like Franklin D. Roosevelt did in his 1932 address at Oglethorpe University. I suspect that, just like the New Deal exacerbated the Great Depression, the COVID panic will end up being an example of a cure that is worse than the disease. Better to learn that now than never.