[Paul] Ehrlich, who is back in the news with a recent appearance on “60 Minutes” and the subsequent publication of his autobiography, has lived long enough to see his doomsday predictions repeatedly proven wrong.
In 1990, he famously lost his bet with the late economist Julian Simon regarding Ehrlich’s related claim that population growth would lead to shortages of natural resources and resulting higher prices for them.
Yet more dramatically, as the world’s population has grown from 3.7 billion in 1970 to 8 billion today, the only mass starvation has been in draconian socialist economies like North Korea and mid-1980s Ethiopia. The University of Oxford’s Our World in Data reports that worldwide famine deaths sharply fell from an annual average of over 16.6 million in the 1960s to 255,000 since 2010.
The vast reduction in famine deaths, Our World in Data also shows, does not mean more are living in misery. From 1970 through 2015, extreme poverty around the world deeply declined from almost 48 percent to less than 10 percent.
[Tucker] Carlson also argued that “Mass population growth makes life worse for pretty much everybody… There are never enough resources to go around.” The facts establish that the opposite is true. A new book by Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley, “Superabundance,” extends and expands on the work of Julian Simon and shows that as population has grown, resources have become vastly more abundant and less expensive, particularly when based on the number of hours of work required to earn enough to purchase them.
Rather than being anchored to facts, Carlson’s population growth views are part of his dark side that opposes freedom and prosperity. His population growth views are related to his restrictionist, zero-sum game claims about how immigration impacts jobs and wages that similarly cannot be squared with decades of directly contrary economic data. The same is true of his strident opposition to Walmart and apparent support for industrial policy. And nothing positive can be said about his admission that he wants Russia to win its murderous war against Ukraine.
So, if you have been feeling pessimistic, renew your hope! People’s capacity to think of innovative, creative solutions to problems is the well that never runs dry. Our world is more complex than being pigeonholed into working with only one of two categories of resources. So forget the broken renewable/non-renewable dichotomy. As Julian Simon pointed out, people are the Ultimate Resource, and all other resources are created from the same place: the human mind.
The only thing Europe exports now on the digital-technology front is regulation. That is why it is mind-boggling that William Barr (“Congress Must Halt Big Tech’s Power Grab,” op-ed, Jan. 23) joins President Biden (“Unite Against Big Tech Abuses,” op-ed, Jan. 12) in calling for America to lead from behind on technology policy, following in the footsteps of the European Union rather than further developing one of the largest sectors of our economy.
Neither mention the staggering costs of the EU’s big-government regulatory crusade against digital tech: Stagnant markets, limited innovation and a dearth of major players. Overregulation by EU bureaucrats led Europe’s best entrepreneurs and investors to flee to the U.S. or elsewhere in search of the freedom to innovate.
Yet Messrs. Barr and Biden would have us import the EU model to our shores and smother our best and brightest with similar red-tape burdens. This would be a stake through the heart of the “permissionless innovation” that made America’s info-tech economy a global powerhouse.
With China challenging America’s dominance in technology and AI, new mandates could compromise America’s lead. Shackling our tech sectors with regulatory chains will hobble our nation’s ability to meet global competition and undermine innovation and consumer choice domestically. Messrs. Barr and Biden’s call for bipartisan big government in tech markets must be rejected.
Senior Fellow, R Street Institute
Partisan “fact checks” are undermining open discourse about important issues, including climate change. Earlier this month I wrote an accurate post on Facebook about the growing polar-bear population. The post undercut alarmist climate narratives, so it was wrongly tagged as a falsehood.
Activists have used polar bears as an icon of climate apocalypse for decades, but the best data show that far from dying out, their numbers are growing. The official assessments from the leading scientists who study these animals—the Polar Bear Specialist Group within the International Union for Conservation of Nature—peg the global population today at 22,000 to 31,000. That’s higher than the 5,000 to 19,000 polar bears scientists estimated were around in the 1960s.
The main reason has nothing to do with climate. An international agreement enacted in 1976 limits polar-bear hunting, always the key threat to polar bears’ numbers. Polar bears survived through the last interglacial period, 130,000 to 115,000 years ago, when it was significantly warmer than it is now.
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California has temporarily enjoined enforcement of California’s new Orwellian statute designed to punish physicians for allegedly spreading covid misinformation and disinformation.
It’s difficult to read this decision regarding California’s “covid misinformation” law without feeling deep disgust for the Democrat legislators who enacted this blatantly unconstitutional, anti-speech statute — and for the governor who signed it.
A month before his recent retirement, Dr. Anthony Fauci cautioned that the U.S. “certainly” remains in the midst of a COVID pandemic. Other experts repeatedly warn of impending “deadly” waves caused by the latest genetic variants, and recently President Biden once again extended the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. Yet those dire warnings hinge largely on an assumption that some 400 people in the U.S. continue dying daily from the disease. There are important reasons to question this assertion, as Dr. Leana Wen explored in the Washington Post. And if therefore in fact we’re no longer in a public health emergency (which a renowned virologist in Germany concluded last month), then some growing calls for reinstating school mask mandates or other inappropriate restrictions should be dropped.
For over a year, it has been apparent that many hospitalizations officially classified as being due to COVID-19 are instead of patients without COVID symptoms who are admitted for other reasons but also happen to test positive. Since nearly everyone is still routinely swabbed upon hospital admission (although the largest infection control organization has recommended against doing so), many patients with other conditions also receive a positive test result, especially during the ongoing Omicron surges—thereby overstating the number of hospitalizations tabulated as caused by COVID-19. UCLA researchers who examined Los Angeles County Public Hospital data discovered that over two-thirds of official COVID-19 hospitalizations since January 2022 were actually “with” rather than “for” the disease.
Growing recognition of the overcounting of COVID-19 hospitalizations has caused some local authorities as well as the CDC to try to better estimate the actual levels. Misclassified hospitalizations obviously suggest there have also been miscategorized deaths, yet a parallel recognition that undoubtedly many official COVID-19 deaths are similarly due to persons dying with instead of from the coronavirus has only begun to emerge. CDC guidelines still stipulate that any death from (any) illness occurring within 30 days of a positive test result automatically be classified as due to COVID-19. Hence, if the current prevalence in the population is, say, 3% (towards the lower end of typical levels during major surges like the present one) then the background prevalence among persons admitted to hospitals for other reasons—and also among those who end up dying —would similarly be around 3%. Considering about 9,200 total deaths occur daily in the U.S., then in this hypothetical scenario some 275 deaths ascribed to COVID (or approximately two-thirds of the official daily count) would in fact have been due to other causes.
The former Milwaukee County chief medical examiner conducted a careful review of some 4,000 COVID-19 deaths reported during the pandemic there. His research revealed that nearly half had no link to COVID or in some cases only a “marginal” association, such as end stage cancer patients whose demise was possibly hastened by a few days or weeks, from catching the disease. An analysis of LA County and national data collected during the more recent waves of the highly contagious (but considerably less deadly) Omicron variants suggests that COVID-19 deaths are now likely being overcounted by at least fourfold. A newly published investigation from Denmark documented that, following the emergence of Omicron a year ago, an astonishing 65-75% of deaths officially attributed to COVID-19 have been merely incidental to the coronavirus, consistent with the above hypothetical exercise. Yet even if only half the currently reported deaths in the U.S. are not really caused by the virus, that would mean an actual daily COVID-19 toll of around 200, roughly the number dying during a bad flu season.
In addition to overcounted numbers of COVID hospitalizations and deaths, another reason for maintaining a public health emergency is the purportedly massive wave of ongoing long COVID. Yet almost all long COVID reports are based on tabulations of the number of persons who self-report lingering symptoms post-infection, rather than controlled studies that carefully compare the prevalence of persistent symptoms in persons who have been infected to those who have not. An announcement on San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit trains warns that any of a number of common maladies, including headaches, anxiety, diarrhea, muscle aches and trouble concentrating, may be caused by long COVID. But case control studies have so far found, at most, only modest differences in symptom prevalence comparing between persons previously infected or not (and new research suggests most symptoms dissipate within a year). While long COVID is undeniably a significant problem, as are those deaths still actually caused by the coronavirus, rigorous analysis is needed to more accurately estimate the prevalence.
Public-health experts are increasingly acknowledging what has long been obvious: America is overcounting hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19. Hospital patients are routinely tested for Covid on admission, then counted as “Covid hospitalizations” even if they’re asymptomatic. When patients die, Leana Wen notes in a Washington Post column, Covid is often listed on their death certificates even if it played no part in killing them. Government programs create incentives to overestimate Covid’s toll, and poor data make it difficult to pinpoint who’s still at risk and how effective boosters are.
Another incentive to overcount comes from the American Rescue Plan of 2021, which authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay Covid-19 death benefits for funeral services, cremation, caskets, travel and a host of other expenses. The benefit is worth as much as $9,000 a person or $35,000 a family if multiple members die. By the end of 2022, FEMA had paid nearly $2.9 billion in Covid-19 death expenses.
Funeral homes, mortuaries and state health departments widely advertise this benefit on their websites, as does FEMA. By contrast, the agency barely advertises funeral assistance to hurricane victims. And while around 80% of requests for Covid death benefits had been approved as of Jan. 1, some 80% of applications following hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017 were denied. FEMA offers no death benefit for the flu, HIV or any other infectious disease.
Several physicians told us they are concerned that hospitals are being pressured by families to list Covid-19 on the death certificate. “Just try and leave Covid off the death certificate of a person who was asymptomatic positive and died in a car accident,” one infectious-disease doctor said. “Just try.” No one was willing to be quoted by name—unsurprisingly, since the implication is that their hospitals are falsifying death certificates.
These programs create a vicious circle. They establish incentives to overstate the danger of Covid. The overstatement provides a justification to continue the state of emergency, which keeps the perverse incentives going. With effective vaccines and treatments widely available, and an infection fatality rate on par with flu, it’s past time to recognize that Covid is no longer an emergency requiring special policies.