Actually, exploring the list is intellectually painful. While I’m all in favor of avoiding the use of genuinely offensive terms, Stanford’s list assumes extreme fragility on behalf of pretty much everyone. I find this assumption insulting, but perhaps I’m not adequately representative of, or in touch with, public opinion.
Speaking of which, how are you, dear reader, coping with the stress of life during 42 simultaneous emergencies? That is how many have been declared and never terminated by recent presidents. These executives triggered the expansion of their powers under some of the 136 laws by which Congress has authorized special powers for the president when he or she declares them needed to cope with an “emergency” that he or she has discerned.
An actual emergency, an event that requires an instant augmentation of the president’s power to act unilaterally, is a sudden surprise requiring quick executive nimbleness. If the event persists, it becomes just a problem, which should be dealt with by normal government processes. So, a third matter Congress should address is the emergency of “emergency abuse.” Several senators have proposed bills to do this. One from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) stipulates that a declaration of national emergency shall last for 30 days “and shall terminate when that 30-day period expires, unless there is enacted into law a joint resolution of approval.”
Congress’s core power, of the purse, entails an obligation to ensure that federal money does not fund practices inimical to constitutional principles. Defenders of those, who have uttered Voltaire’s prayer (“O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous”), had this prayer answered, yet again, last week: Stanford’s “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” advised, among many other hilarities, against identifying Americans as “Americans,” lest there be hemispheric sadness, or something. Too often, however, academia’s itch to fine-tune speech and other behavior slides from ludicrous nitpicking into sinister enforcement of orthodoxies. Congress should say: We will fund only institutions that content themselves with being ludicrous.
All of this has me wondering: what if New Coke, Crystal Pepsi, and failed McDonald’s menu items had been government programs? The reaction might have been swift (people took to the streets after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, for example) but it probably would have taken a lot longer for these companies to correct their mistakes, if they did at all. In the meantime, valuable land, labor, and capital would have been tied up in producing products hardly anybody wanted. They would have been difficult to get rid of because each would have had a vocal constituency trying to protect it (I have fond memories of McDonald’s chicken fajitas and would love to see them return). The government regulators would have been poorly positioned to decide because they would not have faced direct costs or enjoyed direct benefits. In a market economy, profits and losses give us pretty reliable guidance as to when we’re using resources wisely or wastefully.
Markets get things very wrong very frequently, but they make effective use of decentralized “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place” and provide very swift, easy-to-interpret feedback in the form of profits and losses. There is no analog to a share price or an earnings report to discipline governments, and thus “temporary” agencies like the Small Business Administration live on, while unambiguous incursions against liberty and wastes of resources like the Transportation Security Administration it seems we will always have with us.
[DBx: Beyond assuming that miracles occur, proponents of industrial policy have never come close to explaining how the problem here identified by Art would be avoided by real-world industrial policy.]
The evidence that Omicron was more infectious (which it was) came from South Africa and was immediately considered settled science. But when evidence from South Africa suggested that Omicron was resulting in relatively few hospitalisations and deaths (which it also was), SAGE experts went out of their way to dismiss it. South Africans were younger, they said. They had built up immunity from earlier waves, they said, as if the UK hadn’t had its own waves of infections and a far more extensive vaccination programme.
This was perhaps the most shameful episode of the whole campaign. Almost from the outset, doctors in South Africa were telling us that Omicron was ‘far less severe’ and that the UK was ‘panicking unnecessarily’. Anyone who followed the data from South Africa could see what they were talking about. Waves of infections rose and then fizzled out with far fewer hospital admissions and deaths than in previous waves. On social media, this was dismissed as ‘hopium’ and a range of excuses were wheeled out, such as it being summer in the southern hemisphere and South Africa having a lower rate of obesity (which, in fact, it does not). The head of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee, later said that she was asked by European scientists to shut up about Omicron being milder.
I’m only 20 and I’m sure as hell that I’ll believe the opposite of whatever the government says for the rest of my life. There’s no chance of regaining my trust after the last two years. Not even the most basic services like public health can be trusted.