Some Links

by Don Boudreaux on January 4, 2023

in Current Affairs, Education, Environment, Legal Issues, Media, Myths and Fallacies, Trade

At his Facebook page, Phil Magness makes short work of dispensing with the strained assertion that W.H. Hutt’s opposition to apartheid wasn’t why, in 1955, South Africa’s apartheid government deprived Hutt of his travel visa.

GMU Econ alum Dominic Pino, writing at National Review, joins those who rightly condemn 60 Minutes for giving air time to the consistently and spectacularly wrong Paul Ehrlich. Two slices:

And as [Julian] Simon knew, the price mechanism has a way of encouraging efficiency. The solution to high prices is high prices: If a commodity becomes scarcer and is permitted to become more expensive, in accordance with the laws of supply and demand, the incentive increases to economize the use of that resource or find alternatives to it. That will, in turn, avert the looming disaster because new technologies that were not profitable before the price increase become profitable, which means people are likely to develop them and use them. Resource allocation is an economic problem, not a biological problem.

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There will always be a market for doomsayers. The existence of the 60 Minutes segment proves Simon right as well; he understood the incentives the media have to play up bad news and the limited bandwidth that good scholars have to refute it. But David Harsanyi was smart to ask, “Couldn’t 60 Minutes find a fresh-faced, yet-to-be-discredited neo-Malthusian to hyperventilate about the end of the world?”

It seems they could not. The other scientific “experts” CBS included in the segment were Ehrlich’s Stanford colleagues Tony Barnosky and Liz Hadly. Barnosky and Hadly are married. Hadly earned her bachelor’s degree in 1981, and Barnosky earned his in 1974, meaning they are both reaching retirement age or are beyond it already. Other statistics in the segment came from environmental activist groups, which have incentive to exaggerate the facts to justify their activism to donors.

A better framing of the 60 Minutes segment would have been: “Discredited 90-year-old Stanford biology professor and a couple in his department think we’re all going to die.” It might be slightly interesting as a story of how groupthink works in higher education. But it’s no cause for alarm. And if the best CBS could do to support Ehrlich’s scientific claims was to interview a gray-haired couple that Ehrlich knows, hard-core population-bombers will go extinct before all the fish do.

The Babylon Bee reports on 60 Minutes‘s recent interview of Thanos.

George Will explains how the U.S. Supreme Court “can protect charter schools from suffocating litigation.” Two slices:

If opponents of expanded school choices would devote to improving public education half the ingenuity they invest in impeding competition from alternatives to the status quo, there would be less demand for alternatives.

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Charters are so popular the public education establishment must attack them indirectly, by what [Judge J. Harvie] Wilkinson calls “the slow strangulation of litigation.” Unless the Supreme Court rescues charters from the “state actor” designation, today’s argument that sex differences in dress codes violate “equal protection” will morph into attacks on single-sex charters, and bathroom or sports policies based on biological sex. Discussions of religion will provoke First Amendment establishment clause challenges. Only the Supreme Court can protect charters from progressives who, ever eager to break all institutions to the saddle of government, pursue this aim while praising a predictable casualty of it, true diversity.

George Leef offers a key lesson in education policy.

James Bacchus rightly decries the Biden’s continuation of Trump’s international-trade lawlessness.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, NYU physicist Steven Koonin calms fears that climate change will drown New York City. A slice:

The Battery’s sea level also depends on local changes in the sea and the sinking of the land. Most important is the natural variability of winds, currents such as the Gulf Stream, salinity and temperatures of the North Atlantic, which cause variations in sea level along the entire U.S. Northeast coast. Because of these many variables, climate models can’t account for the ups and downs so evident in the graph.

Despite this, the recent NASA report echoes a February National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report predicting more than 1 foot of rise at the Battery by 2050. Such a rise during the coming 30 years would be more than double the rise over the past 30 years and more than triple the past century’s average. Even more remarkably, the NOAA report says this rise will happen regardless of future greenhouse-gas emissions. There is no way of knowing if this prediction is correct.

David Henderson finds Bryan Caplan’s classification of libertarian covid camps to be flawed.

Jenin Younes tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

I continue to be stunned by the sheer number of educated people who think that government and private companies working together to censor people is fine. The government cannot censor people for expressing views it disfavors, that’s basic First Amendment law 1/

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It should be just as clear that government cannot encourage, pressure, or coerce a private company to accomplish what it can’t directly. For if government can use private companies to circumvent constitutional safeguards, there’s literally no point in having a constitution 2/2

Writing at UnHerd, Thomas Fazi and Toby Green decry both the western media’s hysteria over China’s abandonment of its deranged policy of zero covid, and western governments’ absurd restrictions on travelers from China. Four slices:

It’s pretty clear that China abandoned Zero Covid because it didn’t work, was causing huge socioeconomic and psychological harm, and threatened to undermine the political control of Xi Jinping. The writing was on the wall when footage emerged in August of shoppers in a Shanghai Ikea stampeding for the exit after authorities sought to seal off the store and send everyone in it to quarantine following the discovery of one shopper who had been exposed to an asymptomatic six-year-old child. Once mass protests began to spread in November, the decision was taken to move on before they became a threat to the regime.

To us, a number of conclusions can be drawn, which we discuss in The Covid Consensus. Clearly, lockdowns could only work in a very limited way, to reduce spread for a short period of time; they were therefore impractical for any length of time without causing enormous harm, which is why Zero Covid was impossible. Moreover, in spite of China’s severe attempts to prevent travel, the spread of a highly infectious respiratory virus cannot be shut down completely in the era of global supply chains, even with hermetically sealed borders, as proved to be the case in Australia and New Zealand.

Nevertheless, many seem to be trying to draw different and nonsensical lessons, showing that nothing has been learned from the past three years. Once again, the Western media is stoking unnecessary fears with panic-stricken reports of “China’s new Covid nightmare”. The rapid infection of potentially more than a billion Chinese people, we are told, is likely to result in countless deaths among the population, and spark the emergence of dangerous new variants that could lead to “a global catastrophe”, as millions of potentially disease-carrying citizens prepare to celebrate the reopening of the country’s borders by travelling to all corners of the world.

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One thing, however, is certain: in the coming weeks and months, a huge portion of the Chinese population is going to catch the virus. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), for example, estimates that around 1 million Chinese people are already getting infected every day. Some reports claim that 250 million people across the country have been infected just in December. How many deaths this leads to depends on a number of factors, including the ability of the Chinese authorities to put measures in place to protect those who are actually at risk of developing a serious illness from Covid-19, namely the elderly and those with serious medical conditions. The IHME expects close to 300,000 Covid deaths by April 2023 — roughly 100,000 deaths per month (3,000 per day).

These numbers may seem shocking, but they need to be contextualised. Assuming that a large percentage of the 1.4 billion-strong Chinese population eventually catches Covid, as seems likely, this would amount to a minuscule infection fatality rate (IFR) — less than 0.001%. Most of the deceased are also likely to be very elderly people who would have died within a short time — as was the case for the overwhelming majority of Covid-related deaths in Western countries. In fact, since more than 10 million people died in China in 2021 (the most recent year for which there are statistics), this figure — even if it continued at that rate throughout the year — would lead to around a 12% mortality increase, broadly in line with global averages elsewhere in 2020.

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More importantly, why would we want to do that? Data from last month suggests a majority of people in Western countries have had coronavirus infections, and that prior infection, even in the unvaccinated, offers strong protection against BA.5 Omicron hospitalisation. Moreover, the Omicron subvariant that has been spreading in China has been detected in the US, Europe and rest of the world for many months, which means we also have good levels of natural immunity to that subvariant (as well as high vaccination rates, which were told were the golden bullet to end the pandemic). So, there’s no reason to fear coming into contact with a Chinese tourist any more than there is to come into contact with any other human being.

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Why, then, are policymakers once again going down this route? Part of the explanation is that politicians, by peddling a pro-lockdown narrative for the past three years, have now created an artificial demand for restrictive measures among their fear-stricken constituents, some of whom are now even making the case for wearing masks forever or for the permanent institutionalisation of what Giorgio Agamben might call “bare life”. Even more worryingly, it appears to indicate that Western governments have little intention of giving up the powers they’ve claimed under the guise of “fighting the virus”. While these current travel restrictions won’t affect the daily lives of Western citizens, they nonetheless show how easily “lockdown laws”, many of which remain in place in the UK and other countries, can be reinstated. If restrictions can be arbitrarily brought back at any moment in the name of public health, what’s to stop governments from abusing these powers once again in the future? For instance, the British government’s “Living with Covid-19” guidance, published in February 2022, states that it “will retain contingency capabilities and will respond as necessary to further resurgences or worse variants of the virus”.

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