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My GMU Econ colleague Vincent Geloso warns against falling for the calamitous message of the “de-growthers.” A slice:

To make this claim, they (sometimes unknowingly) rely on the “Preston Curve” – named after Samuel Preston in a famous article in Demography. To visualize the curve, imagine a graph where life expectancy is depicted on the vertical axis and income is depicted on the horizontal axis. The line that draws the relation between both variables shows that for each additional increment in income, the associated increase in life expectancy is less than the previous increment. This phenomenon reflects the law of diminishing marginal returns. However, once a certain point is reached, there are no gains to be had. The curve is essentially a flat line after that point.

From this, the inference made by many de-growthers is that we do not need more income than a certain fixed level. Anything beyond that brings little fruits and many harms.

This is a bad inference, however, because they forget many things. The first is that when it was first drawn, back in the 1970s, there were few “exceptionally rich” countries to draw the Preston Curve. Today there are far more countries that are exceptionally wealthy as seen from the vantage point of the 1970s. Over time, the curve has moved up and right. This means that not only is each dollar now more effective at improving health than before, but each additional dollar is more effective than it was before. True, the effect of an additional dollar is less than the effect of the previous dollar of income, but the effect remains positive. As such, de-growthers are understating the fruits of economic growth.

Second, and far more importantly, the curve’s shape is somewhat unsurprising because of biological considerations. Indeed, a large number of deaths in low-income countries are tied to preventable diseases and malnutrition. The role of a “natural” boundary to life expectancy matters little in these situations. As such, extra income (which allows for better nutrition, better water quality, better health care, and the like) makes it easy to improve life expectancy when it is “below” the biological boundary. Once one is closer to the boundary, improvements are harder to secure. At least, they are harder to secure unless one pushes the boundary further. And yet, pushing back that boundary is exactly what economic growth allows. In a recent article in Economics & Human Biology, economic historian Leandro Prados de la Escosura pointed out that it is far more impressive to improve life expectancy by one extra year when the statistic stands at 85 years rather than at 45 years. This means that we should give more “weight” to an extra year near the top rather than an extra year closer to the bottom. When this is done, we observe a totally different Preston Curve. Rather than seeing diminishing marginal returns, we see increasing ones!

Here’s the abstract of my GMU Econ colleague Dan Klein’s new paper on misinformation. A slice:

The policing of “information” is the stuff of Naziism, Stalinism, Maoism, and similar anti-liberal regimes. To repress criticism of their dicta and diktats, anti-liberals label criticism “misinformation” or “disinformation.” Those labels are instruments to crush dissent.

This paper offers an understanding of knowledge as involving three chief facets: information, interpretation, and judgment. Usually, what people argue fervently over is not information, but interpretation and judgment.

What is being labeled and attacked as “misinformation” is not a matter of true or false information, but of true or false knowledge—meaning that disagreement more commonly arises over interpretations and judgments as to which interpretations to take stock in or believe. We make judgments, “good” and “bad,” “wise” and “foolish,” about interpretations, “true” and “false.”

On that understanding, the paper explains that the projects and policies now afoot styled “anti-misinformation” and “anti-disinformation” are dishonest, as it should be obvious to all that those projects and policies would, if advanced honestly, be called something like “anti-falsehood” campaigns.

But to prosecute an “anti-falsehood” campaign would make obvious the true nature of what is afoot—an Orwellian boot to stomp on Wrongthink. To support governmental policing of “information” is to confess one’s anti-liberalism and illiberality. The essay offers a spiral diagram to show the three chief facets of knowledge (information, interpretation, and judgment) plus a fourth facet, fact, which also deserves distinct conceptualization, even though the spiral reminds us: Facts are theory-laden.

Pierre Lemieux isn’t impressed with Oren Cass’s recent op-ed in the Financial Times. A slice:

A recent oped in the Financial Times bears a strange title: “On America’s Ramshackle Railroads, Republicans Concede the Limits of the Market.” Although this sentence does not appear in the piece itself, it does reflect its author’s opinion. Oren Cass, president of American Compass and a proponent of industrial policy and protectionism, argues that the frequent derailments of private freight trains in America justify more regulation of railroads. He congratulates Republicans like J.D. Vance, Marco Rubio, Josh Haley, Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney for supporting more regulation. Conservatives like them, Cass argues, have fortunately “become increasingly cognisant in recent years that regulation can be far from perfect and yet still far better than the status quo.” He does not mention the accidents of passenger trains of Amtrak, a heavily subsidized and money-losing corporation established by Congress in 1971 (under Richard Nixon), and whose major shareholder is the federal government.

In fact, it can probably be said that American railroads have been a major part of federal industrial policy, without the name, for a century and a half, not to mention heavy regulation by state governments (including, in the South, forcing them to discriminate against Black passengers).

David Hoopman’s letter in the Wall Street Journal is spot-on:

My only quibble with “Your Coming Summer of Blackouts” (Review & Outlook, May 27) is its reference to “the green-energy transition,” as if this transition were well under way. The Energy Information Administration might differ. It expects worldwide reliance on electric generation from coal to remain unchanged over the next three decades, while reliance on natural gas increases modestly.

A major reason might be that prehistoric energy sources like wind and solar can be counted on to perform as needed only between a third and a quarter of the time, and never mind their environmental downsides—extractive mining, extravagant land-use requirements, etc. To voluntarily depend on them for all our energy requirements is to consent to returning to a Medieval—and dirtier—economy.

This is probably irrelevant to comfortably situated members of the full-time environmental movement, interested mainly in harvesting taxpayer subsidies and immune to any serious personal inconvenience, but it’s a sure path to misery for the working classes. This can be attested to by Germans whose mandated “green-energy transition” has them paying the highest electricity prices in the world for no detectable benefit to the climate.

David Hoopman
Monona, Wis.

J.D. Tuccille decries Congress’s hypocritical compliance in the rise of the use of presidential ’emergency powers.’ A slice:

Which is to say that congressional committees, under both major parties, have held hearings to voice the same concerns about the abuse of emergency powers, hearing warnings and calls for reform by overlapping experts who largely repeat their testimony. They draw from research done specifically for them that documents a never-ending state of “emergency” that has long been the norm. Surely, there must be bipartisan consensus by now that the presidency’s monarchical tendencies need to be curbed so that nobody need live “their entire lives under emergency rule.”

Well, maybe there is. But there’s also a consensus in both parties in favor of winning at all costs. A Republican-dominated House might hold hearings on the dangers of emergency powers now, but as that 2020 Congressional Research Service report pointed out, “President Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act to declare a national emergency concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019…. The President subsequently invoked additional national emergency statutes.” And last year’s Democratic majority hosted hearings on abuses of executive authority just days after their own colleagues called on President Joe Biden to declare a “national climate emergency” and to wield unilateral power over wide areas of life without the messy business of legislative debate. Biden has made a habit of rule by decree.

“If emergency decrees promise to solve some problems, they threaten to generate others,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch recently warned in a statement about the growing use of emergency authority to impose policies. “And rule by indefinite emergency edict risks leaving all of us with a shell of a democracy and civil liberties just as hollow.”

Here’s the abstract of the just-published final version, in the May 2023 issue of the Journal of Political Economy, of Phil Magness’s and Michael Makovi’s excellent paper “The Mainstreaming of Marx: Measuring the Effect of the Russian Revolution on Karl Marx’s Influence”:

Karl Marx’s high academic stature outside of economics diverges sharply from his peripheral influence within the discipline, particularly after nineteenth-century developments rendered the labor theory of value obsolete. We hypothesize that the 1917 Russian Revolution is responsible for elevating Marx into the academic mainstream. Using the synthetic control method, we construct a counterfactual for Marx’s citation patterns in Google Ngram data. This allows us to predict how often Marx would have been cited if the Russian Revolution had not happened. We find a significant treatment effect, meaning that Marx’s academic stature today owes a substantial debt to political happenstance.

From my former Mercatus Center colleague Bob Graboyes comes insight about “gigs, jobs and smart machines.”

Jay Bhattacharya tweets:

Global public health moved resources from vaccinating kids against measles — a disease very deadly for them to instead address covid, which is much less deadly for kids than measles.

Predictably: “COVID-19 pandemic-related disruptions have delayed the introduction of the second dose of the measles vaccine in many countries.” Next pandemic, kids’ interests need to be better represented.