Hygiene Socialism

by Don Boudreaux on November 30, 2020

in Current Affairs, Philosophy of Freedom

The best term that I’ve yet encountered to describe most of humanity’s deranged reaction to Covid-19 comes from a personal e-mail sent earlier today by my friend in Australia David Hart. He calls it “hygiene socialism.”

I’m afraid that we are now in the grips of this absurd ideology and the tyrannical regimes that it fosters.

Just as conventional socialists are never eager to give up power, so too will our hygiene-socialist dictators be unwilling to give up power. Just as conventional socialists defend their tyranny by asserting that it is justified by science, so too do the hygiene-socialists point to science as a full defense of their tyranny. And just as conventional socialists use the very dislocations, suffering, and tragedies caused by their socialist policies as excuses to double-down on their suppressions of ordinary people’s freedoms, so too will the hygiene-socialist dictators – cheered on by the many hygiene-socialist comrades – find every excuse to suppress our freedoms in the name of protecting us.

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Gilbert Berdine explores the process of classifying Covid-19 deaths (with special emphasis on the United States). A slice:

Figure 1 illustrates the death count from Covid-19. These data are based on death certificates. If the death certificate includes Covid-19, then the death is included whether or not Covid-19 was the primary or even contributing cause of death. The problems with these data are uncertainties about how many deaths are merely associated with Covid-19 rather than caused by Covid-19.

These uncertainties are not helped by the fact that many of these patients are cared for at university medical centers, the death certificates are often filled out by resident physicians in training, and these resident physicians receive no formal training on how to fill out the certificates. These uncertainties are not helped by the fact that the hospital receives a bonus payment for patients who have the ICD-10 diagnostic code for Covid which is included in the problem list for every patient with a positive PCR test. Therefore, a financial incentive exists to perform PCR testing on every patient and label every patient with a positive PCR test as having Covid-19.

Joe Soucheray writes wisely and with appropriate feeling on Covid and the deranged, tyrannical response to it. (HT Mark Perry) A slice:

A word keeps coming up from the authorities who are trying to guide us, presumably in our own self-interest. They appear to be disabusing us of the idea of risk. They are already telling us that even in the event of all of us getting a vaccine, don’t let your guard down. Even if hospital admissions thankfully decline, we are told to not let up. OK. But how long will this press on? The prospect of “prepare for another surge” could become the boilerplate mantra of our lives.

Risk is fundamental to the human condition. We cannot be made free of risk, nor should a government entity believe that such an impossible task is their mandate. Such a mandate opens the door to, in the future, there being other unknown manipulations of our behavior. If we are told by the government not to sing or talk loudly at our own family table, it is not necessarily far-fetched to imagine the unimaginable.

(I do, however, differ from Mr. Souchery on one matter. He writes that he and his family obeyed Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s order to limit the size of family gatherings and to refrain from singing while together from now until at least December 18th. How sad. I would never obey any such order. Indeed, I would go out of my way to violate it. No one has a right to tell me how many people I can have under my roof, and what I may and may not allow them peacefully to do while there. And no one has a right to issue such tyrannical commands to you, to Mr. Souchery, or to anyone else.)

Brian Doherty rightly applauds bourgeois libertarianism. A slice:

What makes civilization work is people roughly hewing to “live and let live” principles. Fortunately, most of us do so even when we are not governed in a libertarian manner. Most people, most of the time, simply want to live in their justly owned space, work for a living, engage in mutually beneficial commerce, and thus contribute to the web of peaceful interactions that makes our lives rich in every sense.

Civilization collapses, on the other hand, when people relentlessly seek state (or state-like) solutions to their grievances—particularly when they act in ways that threaten their fellow citizens’ liberty to live, think, express themselves, work, save, and do business in peace. Such violations of peaceful people’s lives are not justified even if what you are protesting against are indeed evils that ought to be halted.

The Value is In the Ideas.”

George Will hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will correctly interpret the U.S. Constitution in a way that makes criminal justice more just.

Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley document the changing cost of an American Thanksgiving dinner.

Juliette Sellgren’s podcast with Robby Soave on college radicals is superb.

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Here’s a letter to an upset Cafe patron.

Ms. Grayson:

You disagree with my criticism of USA Today for its failure to report that, as a percentage of total Covid-19 deaths in America, that of people younger than 40 (at 1.5%) is tiny. “The fact of the matter,” you write, “is that more than 3500 kids and young adults died of this disease. That’s more than 3500 shortened lives and grieving families. It was right for government to respond with tough emergency measures.”

Of course all premature deaths are especially sad and to be regretted. And these deaths are downright tragic when the victims are children. But such deaths are sad and tragic regardless of their cause. By failing to put the number of young people killed by Covid in perspective, however, USA Today not only conveyed the false impression that Covid is unusually dangerous to young people, it also implicitly discounted the sadness and tragedy of the deaths of young people who die of causes other than Covid.

Consider that each year in the U.S. the number of children and adolescents who are killed in automobile accidents is, at around 4,000, nearly 8 times higher than is the number (515) of Americans ages 24 and younger killed by Covid. To paraphrase you, that’s more than 4,000 shortened lives and grieving families. Yet are you moved by this number to demand that government reduce the maximum speed limit on all roads to 10 MPH, or that it prohibit young people from riding in automobiles? Such “tough emergency measures” would, after all – and with greater certainty than Covid restrictions will actually reduce net deaths – dramatically reduce the number of young people killed in automobile accidents.

If we live with the risk that automobiles pose to young people – if this risk does not cause us to utterly upend our familiar ways of living – certainly, and contrary to your claim, the harsh restrictions imposed in the name of fighting Covid find no justification in the much smaller number of young people killed by this disease.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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… is from page 163 of Philipp Blom’s 2010 book, A Wicked Company; here Blom is describing the thought of, and quoting, Thiry d’Holbach:

Infantilized and deformed by a constant diet of falsehood, human beings are “amused with marvelous chimeras.”

DBx: Holbach’s remark was directed at conventional religion. Yet I believe that it applies with even stronger force to the dogmatic belief held by many people in the power of the state to perform miracles – the power of state officials to know what mortals cannot know, to achieve what mortals cannot achieve, to transcend the realities of scarcity and human nature in order to create heaven on earth.

This conceit in the ability of human beings invested with state power is fatal, yet it persists. So many people – smart and not-so-smart people; well-educated and poorly educated people; rich and poor people; men and women; people of all ethnicities and nationalities – embrace this childish dogma, one as dangerous as it is ridiculous.

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 29, 2020

in Current Affairs, Reality Is Not Optional

… is from this new essay – titled “Viruses, Lockdowns, and Biomic Learning” – by George Gilder:

The ultimate scarcity is time. Contriving remedies for every disease is a fool’s errand that would doom the human race to an endless waste of time and resources in a whack-a-mole frenzy beating down diseases that always crop up in unexpected times and places.

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I’ve not yet read Virginia Postrel’s new book, The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World, but seldom has a book been released that I’m so eager to read as this one. My eagerness to read it was only heightened by listening to Russ Roberts’s latest podcast with Virginia.

The podcast is fascinating throughout. Here, though, are two of my favorite parts.

Just after the 32-and-a-half-minute mark, Russ asks Virginia about the Luddites. She points out that the Luddites where hypocrites. (The term is mine, not hers.) The Luddites were early 19th-century hand-loom weavers in Great Britain who selfishly opposed the introduction of power looms. But as Virginia notes, the hand-loom weavers themselves at that time earned the relatively good livings that they earned – and which they sought to use coercion to protect – only because of earlier mechanization of spinning. Had not good thread been made much more abundantly available by earlier technological advances in spinning, the hand-loom weavers would not have had the relatively high-paying weaving jobs that they cherished so much and wished not to lose.

This fact is key to why I describe the Luddites as selfish. They were content to enjoy the fruits of technological advances that yielded to them personal benefits, but they were not content to allow others to enjoy such fruits if this enjoyment came at the Luddites’ expense.

A second especially nice point that Virginia makes starts around the 51-minute mark. There, Virginia explains that, just recently, an American weaver reintroduced into Peru a long-lost weaving technique once used by the Incas.

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Lockdowns kill. And contrary to the prevailing narrative, lockdowns are not justified by science. Quite the opposite. As the heroic Ivor Cummins correctly says,”The government is addicted to the medieval ideology of lockdowns.”

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Writing in the Wall Street Journal, playwright David Mamet decries the failure to hold government officials, and the “experts” who advise them, accountable for the massive destruction that they so frequently inflict on humanity – and that they today are inflicting on humanity by fueling Covid Derangement Syndrome and insisting on authoritarian restrictions. Here’s his conclusion:

The virus here is government—or at least the incompetents who advise our rulers and cannot admit the legitimacy of dissension. Absent intervention, this virus may eventually kill the host organism.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, that consistent voice of sanity amidst CDS-20, columnist Holman Jenkins, is properly critical both of government “leaders” and of the mainstream media who have recklessly fueled this derangement. Two slices:

A wit once said war is too important to be left to the generals. In a similar vein, the political consequences of Covid are so dramatic that even experts have been bewitched by the imperative to mythologize the pandemic. A disease that infects 10 million people and kills 2.5% will kill the same number as a disease that infects 100 million and kills 0.25%, but they need to be approached differently. The latter is what we’ve been facing. The former is the picture we have been consistently painting for the public with our obsession with “confirmed cases.”


We have a media that overwhelmingly sees its job as repeating things, rather than finding things out and understanding them. A free press has been less of an asset in dealing with Covid than it might have been.

Michael Heller rightly applauds resistance by the Hasidim to tyranny done in the name of containing Covid-19. A slice:

Indeed, the worst crimes of the 20th century were perpetrated by states in the name of “Science,” specifically “scientific” racism and eugenics. These crimes were committed in the U.S. and, even more horribly, in Europe. The views of today’s Hasidim toward government edicts guided by “Science” are strongly colored by the fact that millions of their ancestors were lawfully murdered in Europe by a government guided by that day’s “Science” of eugenics and racism.

It is no coincidence that today’s Hasidim will have none of it. Nor should they. Nor should we.

Here’s the full version of David Hart’s April 2020 deep reflections on the need for intellectual change if human liberty is to survive public derangements, such as today’s hysteria over Covid.

The Strangely Unscientific Masking of America.”

The title of this recent lecture by David Henderson is “To Fear or Not to Fear: That is the Question.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 29, 2020

in Crony Capitalism, Economics, Seen and Unseen, Trade

… is from page 115 of Matt Ridley’s superb 2010 book, The Rational Optimist:

I repeat: firms are temporary aggregations of people to help them do their producing in such a way as to help others do their consuming.

DBx: Yes. The ultimate economic justification for any firm – as for any productive activity – is to produce outputs for consumption. If a firm is literally producing nothing, then any resources (including labor) used in it are being wasted unless the owners of all of those resources willingly, and personally, bear the costs of ‘using’ their resources in this idling manner.

The situation is not changed simply by arranging for the resources used in a firm to generate physical outputs. Unless those physical outputs satisfy some consumption desires, all such resource use is complete waste. If the resources in the firm ‘produced’ nothing but maggot-and-sawdust pies, this firm would be, economically, in the same category as is a firm that literally generates no physical output.

But producing outputs that do satisfy some consumption desires is not sufficient for the firm’s existence to be economically justified. In order for any firm to be economically justified, the amount of consumption desires that its outputs satisfy must be greater than the amount of consumer desires that the resources used in the firm would have satisfied were these resources used differently.

For example, coercively preventing LeBron James and other NBA employees from earning their livings by playing basketball would result in each of them holding other jobs and producing outputs with some value to consumers. Yet the total value of the consumption desires satisfied by these other uses would be less than is the total value of the consumption desires satisfied by these men playing basketball professionally. Whatever might be the particular species of coercion that prevents people from earning their livings by playing basketball professionally would cause resources to be wasted. Society would, as a result, be less wealthy.

The same conclusion holds if consumers’ desires to watch NBA games were to fall significantly but coercion is used to force consumers to continue to fork over to the NBA the same sums of money that they voluntarily paid to the NBA before their preferences changed. In this case, NBA employees would be no worse off as a result of the change in consumer preferences, but consumers would be worse off – and worse off by an amount greater than is the benefit that this coercion bestows on NBA employees. Proof of the truth of this latter conclusion is found in the fact that, in this example, consumers pay what they pay to the NBA only because they are coerced to do so. (The logic here is the very same that leads you to understand that if I steal your car, there is every reason to believe that you value the car more highly than I do, for otherwise I would have acquired the car from you through voluntary exchange.)

Resources (including labor) that are kept in particular lines of production only because other people are coerced to help keep those resources in those lines of production are net drains on society. They are net drains on fellow human beings (usually fellow citizens, for fellow citizens are generally more easily coerced for such purposes than are foreigners). To the extent that resources (including labor) are kept in ‘productive’ activities that persist only because coercion is used to prevent consumers from spending less on the outputs of the ‘productive’ activities, these activities are not really productive; they are wasteful – which means, economically damaging. These activities might look productive, but they in fact are economically damaging because the coercion that supports them prevents the production of more highly valued outputs.

If the above sounds trivially true, rest assured that it indeed is. It’s not, as they say, rocket science. Yet the world overflows with people who fail to understand this point. You show me a protectionist or industrial-policy proponent who argues that his or her scheme will enrich the economy and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t understand the above-explained reality. I’ll show you someone so feeble of brain that he or she believes that the mere physical transformation of inputs into outputs, when done by resource owners who wish to perform those particular transformations, is sufficient for genuine production to take place. (Or, usually I’ll show you such an economically uninformed person: Some protectionists and industrial-policy advocates are venal apologists for rent-seeking producer interests who have no qualms about living predatorily on their fellow human beings.)


Pictured above is the 1991 Economics Nobel laureate Ronald Coase (1910-2013), whose pioneering 1937 paper, “The Nature of the Firm,” remains to this day at the foundation of all worthwhile work in the economics subdiscipline called “industrial organization.”

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 28, 2020

in Current Affairs, Media, Myths and Fallacies

… is the concluding sentence of Antony Davies’s and James Harrigan’s November 28th, 2020, essay, “Blinded by a Blizzard of Data“:

That the media has consistently reported on Covid without appropriate context suggests that historians will look back on 2020 less for its outbreak of Covid than for its outbreak of hysteria.

DBx: Yes. I am certain of it. As Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins said, 2020 is humanity’s “year of living derangedly.” And no institution has contributed more to this tragic derangement than has the media with their almost criminally reckless ‘reporting.’

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