Some Links

by Don Boudreaux on March 24, 2023

in Adam Smith, Current Affairs, Education, Environment, Myths and Fallacies, Podcast, Seen and Unseen, Taxes, Trade

George Will decries wokism’s sacrificing a once-excellent Philadelphia school on the poisonous alter of DEI. A slice:

In September 2022, the school dropped its mission statement about engaging “academically talented students in grades 5-12 in advanced intellectual study.” In six subsequent iterations, Masterman’s motto — “Dare to Be Excellent” — disappeared from the school crest. For the 2022-2023 school year, according to the parents’ report, admissions criteria were significantly lowered, and the promise of a middle school accelerated curriculum was dropped.

Lee Stitzel interviewed my GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein on academic freedom and excellence.

Also from Dan Klein is this essay on Ronald Coase on Adam Smith. A slice:

In “Adam Smith’s View of Man,” Coase writes, “It is sometimes said that Smith assumes that human beings are motivated solely by self-interest. Self-interest is certainly, in Smith’s view, a powerful motive in human behaviour, but it is by no means the only motive.”

Coase makes no bones about his message. In the first paragraph, Coase announces, “The inclusion of other motives in his analysis does not weaken but rather strengthens Smith’s argument for the use of the market and the limitation of government action in economic affairs.”

Coase’s message needs renewed amplification today because it has become fashionable among left-leaning scholars to claim Smith as one of their own. They do this to sustain their denial of the fact that leftism is an outlook that strives for the governmentalization of social affairs. Coase’s essay serves as a corrective to the left’s appropriation of Smith.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague, Veronique de Rugy, warns against being too eager to ban imports from China. A slice:

National security is an elusive concept. Politicians have long understood the potency of waving the national security flag to push policies, even if unrelated to national security. Since the cost of government meddling in the economy is often large (even when used to achieve legit security goals), the burden of proof should be put squarely on the shoulders of those advocating for blanket or targeted bans.

Yet, that’s rarely the case. Leaving aside whether it’s even possible to partially or fully decouple from Chinese products, calls to isolate the U.S. economy are concerning. First, decoupling would carry some often-overlooked security risks. Global trade can, at the margin, increase national security by interlocking economies and discouraging armed conflict.

Furthermore, a country that grows is more politically stable and resilient and has revenue to invest in national security. Taking steps toward decoupling requires isolationist policies like tariffs, export and import bans, and sanctions—growth killers in both countries with important destabilizing effects.

Ron Bailey asks: “Is the ‘climate time-bomb’ really ticking toward imminent catastrophe?” Here’s his conclusion:

So how much warming is likely to occur? University of Colorado climate change policy researcher Roger Pielke Jr. and his colleagues conclude in their 2022 Environmental Research Letters study that IPCC’s worst-case scenarios are highly implausible. Consequently, the good news is that global average temperature by 2100 is likely to be between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius higher than the 1850-1900 baseline with a median estimate of 2.2 degrees Celsius. That is only slightly higher than the Paris Agreement’s 2.0 degree Celsius threshold.

These calculations and projections do not suggest that humanity has “less than a decade to stop catastrophic warming.”

Former U.S. Senator John Breaux (D-LA), writing in the Wall Street Journal, warns against taxing unrealized capital gains. A slice:

In addition to creating more loopholes than it closes, a tax on unrealized gains would have a chilling effect on investment. We make saving and investment decisions with the expectation that our assets will increase in value over time and that we don’t pay tax on those increases until we sell them. Often, we are making these plans with a long view, thinking years if not decades ahead. Taxing unrealized gains would jeopardize this planning, with consequences that would ripple throughout our economy, from small businesses to the farms and enterprises that families have spent generations building.

Charles Cooke isn’t impressed with Tirien Steinbach’s attempt, in the Wall Street Journal, to justify her DEI measures. A slice:

In the Wall Street Journal, Tirien Steinbach — the woman who is paid by Stanford University Law School to undermine the free-speech policies at Stanford University Law School — has confirmed that she will continue to undermine the free-speech policies at Stanford University Law School until she is fired.

I noted recently that “DEI” people talk like liberals but act like Pol Pot, and Steinbach is a nice example of this trend. “Free speech isn’t easy or comfortable,” she says, but “it’s necessary for democracy, and I was glad it was happening at our law school.” But, quite obviously, she wasn’t. And she still isn’t — as is made abundantly clear by her repeated attempt to convince those reading that the real problem at Stanford was that Judge Duncan wanted to talk in the first place.

Montaigne tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

What struck me most about Public Health during the pandemic was its statistical incompetence.

PH touted studies even a decent AP stats student should see are junk.

Freddie Sayers of UnHerd wonders why Britain doesn’t regret lockdowns. Two slices:

For the dissenting minority, the past three years have been very different. We have had to grapple with the possibility that, through panic and philosophical confusion, our governing class contrived to make a bad situation much worse. Imagine living with the sense that the manifold evils of the lockdowns that we all now know — ripping up centuries-old traditions of freedom, interrupting a generation’s education, hastening the decline into decrepitude for millions of older people, destroying businesses and our health service, dividing families, saddling our economies with debt, fostering fear and alienation, attacking all the best things in life — needn’t have happened for anything like so long, if at all?

To those who place emphasis on good quality evidence, it has been particularly exasperating. In the early days of 2020, we had only intuitions — there was no real data as to whether lockdowns worked, as they had never been tried in this way. As millions tuned in to our in-depth interviews on UnHerdTV with leading scientists, we made sure to hear arguments in favour of lockdowns as well as against. Devi Sridhar made the case for Zero Covid; Susan Michie said we should be locking down even harder; Neil Ferguson (whose last-ever tweet was a link to his UnHerd interview) told me how exciting it was that the world was attempting to stop a highly infectious disease in its tracks.


In the past year, however, we have for the first time been able to look at the Covid data in the round. Many of the countries which appeared to be doing “well” in terms of low levels of infections and deaths caught up in the second year — Norway ended up much closer to Sweden, while countries such as Hungary, which were initially praised for strong early lockdowns, have ended up with some of the worst death tolls in the world. Due to the peculiarly competitive nature of the lockdowns, the results were neatly tracked, allowing clear comparison between countries and regions. While we spent the first year arguing about deaths “with” Covid as opposed to deaths “from” Covid, all sides in this discussion have now settled on overall “excess deaths” as the fairest measure of success or failure: in other words, overall, how many more people died in a particular place than you would normally expect?

My view on these results is quite simple: in order to justify a policy as monumental as shutting down all of society for the first time in history, the de minimis outcome must be a certainty that fewer people died because of it. Lockdown was not one “lever” among many: it was the nuclear option. The onus must be on those who promoted lockdowns to produce a table showing a clear correlation between the places that enacted mandatory shutdowns and their overall outcome in terms of excess deaths. But there is no such table; there is no positive correlation. Three years after, there is no non-theoretical evidence that lockdowns were necessary to save lives. This is not an ambiguous outcome; it is what failure looks like.

If anything, the correlation now looks like it goes the other way. The refusal of Sweden to bring in a lockdown, and the neighbouring Scandinavian countries’ shorter and less interventionist lockdowns and swifter return to normality, provide a powerful control to the international experiment. Three years on, these countries are at the bottom of the European excess deaths league table, and depending on which method you choose, Sweden is either at or very near the very bottom of the list. So the countries that interfered the least with the delicately balanced ecosystem of their societies caused the least damage; and the only European country to eschew mandatory lockdowns altogether ended up with the smallest increase in loss of life. It’s a fatal datapoint for the argument that lockdowns were the only option.

Add a Comment    Share Share    Print    Email

Previous post:

Next post: