My ever-astute GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan assesses his Covid-19 expectations. A slice:

1. Government (all levels, all nations) did even worse than I expected.  I remain stunned that official shutdowns went on for more than a couple of weeks. And by my calculations, it would have been far better to do nothing. Overall, I put government at the 10th percentile of my already low expectations.

2. Regular people did vastly worse than I expected. The initial level of paranoia was no surprise, but its sheer durability continues to shock me. One of the main lessons of happiness research is that pleasant interaction with other humans is our most important source of happiness. And one of the main lessons of COVID is that a mild risk wrapped in official nagging is enough to get roughly half of all people to throw their most important source of happiness in the garbage.

Wisdom from Lenore Skenazy:

When we try to reduce the risk of something to absolute zero, we aren’t benefitting anyone – the children, least of all.

Ron Bailey reports that the “CDC Greatly Exaggerates Risk of Outdoor COVID-19 Transmission.” Here’s his opening:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been largely missing in action when it comes to effectively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency’s chaotic responses during the Trump administration have now given way to absurdly cautious approaches under the Biden administration.

And here’s New York Times columnist David Leonhardt on the same. A slice:

That benchmark “seems to be a huge exaggeration,” as Dr. Muge Cevik, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, said. In truth, the share of transmission that has occurred outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent, multiple epidemiologists told me. The rare outdoor transmission that has happened almost all seems to have involved crowded places or close conversation.

Saying that less than 10 percent of Covid transmission occurs outdoors is akin to saying that sharks attack fewer than 20,000 swimmers a year. (The actual worldwide number is around 150.) It’s both true and deceiving.

This isn’t just a gotcha math issue. It is an example of how the C.D.C. is struggling to communicate effectively, and leaving many people confused about what’s truly risky. C.D.C. officials have placed such a high priority on caution that many Americans are bewildered by the agency’s long list of recommendations. Zeynep Tufekci of the University of North Carolina, writing in The Atlantic, called those recommendations “simultaneously too timid and too complicated.”

They continue to treat outdoor transmission as a major risk. The C.D.C. says that unvaccinated people should wear masks in most outdoor settings and vaccinated people should wear them at “large public venues”; summer camps should require children to wear masks virtually “at all times.”

These recommendations would be more grounded in science if anywhere close to 10 percent of Covid transmission were occurring outdoors. But it is not. There is not a single documented Covid infection anywhere in the world from casual outdoor interactions, such as walking past someone on a street or eating at a nearby table.

Ross Clark reports that Covid ‘modelers’ at Imperial College and elsewhere continue – as they have for the past 16 months – to do science very poorly. A slice:

The three modelling groups are still using efficacy assumptions that are way out of line with the trial and real world data. Imperial, for example, uses a central assumption that the AstraZeneca vaccine reduces symptomatic illness by 63 per cent after two doses, and a pessimistic assumption that it reduces symptomatic disease by just 50 per cent. By contrast, the Phase 3 trials found two doses of AstraZeneca to reduce symptomatic illness by 70 per cent. Subsequent US trials have upped this to 76 per cent. Moreover, Imperial assumes no additional efficacy from a second dose of AstraZeneca. Is Imperial trying to say that the second dose — a cornerstone of the government’s vaccination strategy — is a complete waste of time, and if so, on what evidence is it basing that conclusion?

A day in life under the Covidocracy.

Ethan Yang writes that the best response to Covid would have been the Focused Protection advocated by the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration.

Patrick Fagan reports on the authoritarianism of the nudgers. A slice:

Similarly, while the team views its work as “libertarian paternalism” – as if it were kindly old Santa Claus himself, chiding us to be good boys and girls with lumps of coal – the reality seems to be the inverse: authoritarian maternalism, which has hitherto been known as the Nanny State and recently reinvented as a sort of Hugbox Bolshevism. This is the ideology that tells you to be #bekind and #staysafe – or else! It is the ideology that will put an entire nation under crippling house arrest for its own good; it has turned the world into a safe space, by threat of force.

“The ‘hugging ban’ shows just how far we have slid into lockdown dystopia” – so writes Spiked’s Fraser Myers. A slice:

Scientists from SAGE have also appeared in the media to warn that, while hugging will be allowed, we need a new Covid-secure way to hug. Professor Catherine Noakes told the BBC her top tips for ‘hugging safely’ from next week: ‘Don’t hug too frequently, keep it short, try to avoid being face to face… and even wearing a mask could help.’

Some believe that allowing the public to hug at all is a terrible mistake. Good Morning Britain’s resident lockdown scold, Dr Hilary Jones, has decried the recklessness of hugging. ‘We’ve still got 2,000 cases that we know about every day’, he warned this morning. Zero Covid advocate Dr Deepti Gurdasani says there should be no return to normal – and no hugging – until the government has got ‘on top of the pandemic’ and brought transmission down.

(DBx: Who can read about government officials opining on hugging – and some advocating government-enforced prohibitions on hugging – and not recognize the reality of Covid Derangement Syndrome?)

James Carden reports on the tragic mental disorders that Covid Derangement Syndrome is unleashing on residents of Washington, DC. A slice:

Even more preposterously the city has also enacted a ban on dancing at weddings (nor are guests allowed to stand during cocktail hour).

What exactly is going on here? It seems the thought of returning to some semblance of normalcy is too much for city officials to even contemplate. In DC the civic religion reigns supreme — even of course if that means not, in this particular case, following the science.

It is emblematic of the hyper-cautious attitude of liberals to the pandemic. Born out of a dismay at the former president’s cavalier attitude towards the virus, liberals in blue states like mine have taken their reverence for Dr Fauci to new extremes.

Everywhere you look in the tonier precincts of our fair capital one sees the posters and placards and pictures: ‘Thank you Dr. Fauci!’ A house I passed by in Georgetown even had its front door covered in pictures of the good Doctor.

There is something peculiar about the way in which this new cult of personality has arisen. How have we gotten to the point where the media and many ordinary citizens have taken to treating Dr. Fauci as a kind of divine figure, as an object of veneration and awe? After all, this is a man who said that he wouldn’t travel or eat at restaurants even though he’s fully vaccinated (CDC guidance says that these activities are safe for vaccinated people who take precautions).

Amber Athey hits one out of park. Two slices:

I recently attended my first game in almost two years at Nationals Park in Washington DC. (Before angry readers tell me I should be boycotting the MLB because of their decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta over Georgia’s new election security laws, I’ll have you know that I did not purchase the tickets). It was far from a celebration of the (far too slow) reopening of America. Instead, the experience was a soul-crushing reminder that too many parts of the country are still relying on the inane anti-science policies that have prolonged the pandemic and destroyed trust in public health.

…..

Baseball is supposed to be a leisurely sport to spectate. You drink a few beers and have a few hours to forget about the rest of the world. With all of the restrictions on our experience, though, it felt more like work. This is not good news for a sport with an already declining viewership.

It’s also bad news for getting over the COVID pandemic. Baseball hardly boasts the most in-shape players in professional sports, but when obesity is one of the main drivers of coronavirus deaths, we should be encouraging any and all physical activity. But our public health officials have repeatedly canceled or limited sport seasons, closed gyms and parks and otherwise made it more difficult than ever to workout. Just over the northern border, Ontario has shut down golf courses, some of the most socially-distant areas in all of sports!

If we are truly encouraging people to be healthy, we ought to normalize being outside and playing sports. The COVID restrictions at places like Nats Park and Camden Yards, however, punish fans and players for doing exactly that. It’s time for a changeup.

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Although from early March, the Washington Post report to which I here respond is featured today in a banner ad at the Post:

Editor, Washington Post

Editor:

In “More deaths from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in 2020, report says” (March 2), Tara Bahrampour reports that Marc Cochran blames his wife’s death from Alzheimer’s on “the pandemic.” This statement is misleading, as Mr. Cochran’s own quoted remarks reveal: “I can’t tell you that she wouldn’t have, but I could see a definite demarcation point from the time we shut down to the time she had to go into memory care. One of the things that made her happy was seeing people, smiling at them, laughing with them, hugging them, and when she couldn’t do that . . . she would become agitated.”

Mr. Cochran explicitly blames his wife’s death, not on the pandemic, but on the Covid shut down. The latter is not the same as the former.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
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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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 12, 2021

in Complexity & Emergence, Economics

… is from page 27 of the late Jerry Ellig’s 2001 paper, co-authored with my student Daniel Lin, “A Taxonomy of Dynamic Competition Theories,” which is Chapter 1 of Dynamic Competition and Public Policy (Jerry Ellig, ed., 2001) (references deleted; emphasis added):

Most economic analysis treats uncertainty as a factor that prevents the creation or diminishes the efficiency of markets. Austrian analysis treats markets as one response to uncertainty. Markets permit individuals to act on their limited information, to receive feedback, and to discover and communicate knowledge to others. The market price system is a way to summarize and transmit information in a swift and flexible way to the people who would be most interested.

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A friend who holds a major academic post at a prominent northeastern university sent to me yesterday an e-mail decrying Covid Derangement Syndrome. (Note: the university is not George Mason.) I share here part of her e-mail with her kind permission:

Experience of one of my daughters with her long time friend (LTF) this weekend, which is very disturbing.

We own a second house in Aiken, South Carolina. This daughter is an equestrian. SC is now fully open and Aiken lifted all mask mandates just this past week (thank God). With college classes over, my daughter and her long time friend made a weekend trip there. Sounds like fun, right?

My daughter made dinner reservations, and another friend invited them to see live music outside. It is important to note that my daughters has one shot of the vaccine, and that her LTF not only had COVID, but is fully vaccinated, and the friend they are meeting had COVID – and they are all under 25, so already not at great risk. They are about to enter the restaurant when LTF has a panic attack, starts crying, and declares that she cannot enter the restaurant because people are dining inside. LTF then declares that she also cannot go to the music event because there will be crowds there. LTF has become so terrified of other human beings that, despite being immunized, she cannot fathom living life normally. LTF is convinced that all the non-mask wearing people are going to infect her, and despite the fact that she, her parents, and her grandparents are all vaccinated, she is going to carry the illness to them and kill them. This is mental illness. This is what we’ve done to our young people, it is heartbreaking.

DBx: Indeed. It’s Covid Derangement Syndrome – that bizarre and debilitating state of mind in which (1) minimizing the risk of coming into contact with Covid-19 dominates all other preferences, and (2) the actual risk of Covid is vastly overblown.

Also yesterday, I learned of a graduate student – a young man in his mid-20s – studying one of the natural sciences at a premier university in New England. This young man is fully vaccinated, in complete good health, and is physically fit. Yet even though his university is allowing graduate students to return to work in their campus offices this month, this graduate student is so fearful of Covid that he refuses to return to campus until at least Fall.

Finally, just a few minutes ago the ad pictured here appeared on my Cafe Hayek home page. (Clicking on it leads to this site.) Despite nearly four months of steadily, and often dramatically, falling case counts in Virginia despite steadily falling hospitalization numbers for Covid – despite falling Covid death rates – despite 50 percent of Virginians now having at least one vaccine shot and 38 percent being fully vaccinated, the government of this State which was home to Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison officially advises citizens to double mask and to worry about “new variants of Covid-19.”

This attitude is deranged.

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In my latest column for AIER, I dive more deeply into the reasons why deficit financing of government expenditures is fraught with danger. A slice:

But let’s assume, contrary to fact but for argument’s sake, that an actual government – an agency with a monopoly on the lawful authority to initiate coercion – can forever fund all of its operations with borrowed funds. This fairytale government repays and services all of its debts simply by borrowing, infinitely into the future. Contrary to the belief of many, this situation would be especially bad for freedom and free markets. Government would grow even larger and more intrusive.

As argued above, deficit financing allows real-world governments to grow too large and intrusive by enabling today’s citizens-taxpayers to free-ride on the resources of tomorrow’s citizens-taxpayers. Yet in the real-world there remains at least some constraint on government growth – namely, the need eventually to raise taxes or to cut programs.

But in the fairyland world in which government never collects taxes, even this relatively small constraint on government growth disappears. Dominant coalitions of citizens-taxpayers can get whatever they want from government in whatever quantities they desire, with the monetary expenses all being paid by an infinite series of creditors.

Why is this situation bad if the full monetary costs of government programs are financed only with funds from creditors who voluntarily lend their purchasing power to government? A chief reason is that government – retaining all governmental powers except that of taxation – can use these borrowed funds to impose programs that benefit special-interest groups at the greater expense of the general public.

Consider agricultural subsidies. A government funded exclusively with borrowed funds will still be pressured by the same interest groups who operate in the real world to grant such inefficient subsidies. But in the fairyland world in which all government revenues come from borrowed funds, the size of such subsidies would be even greater. In this fairyland world there would be even less incentive than there is in the real world for government to constrain the size of these subsidies.

When creditors in the real world lend money to private producers to expand their operations, these creditors have strong incentives to lend only to projects that are efficient. Lending money to projects that turn out to be excessively costly – that is, inefficient – results in creditors not being repaid in full, and sometimes not being repaid at all.

In contrast, a government that subsidizes production has no incentive to consider the efficiencies or inefficiencies of the production that it subsidizes. Ability to extract funds from taxpayers allows government to subsidize inefficient operations. The only constraint on such government subsidies in the real world is that which comes from the need to make budgetary trade-offs: Should the government expand the subsidies by another $100 billion if doing so requires a tax hike or a cut in some other program?

As weak as this constraint is, at least it exists. But even this weak constraint would be absent in a world in which government could perpetually borrow all that it spends. In such a fairyland world, market-distorting subsidies – subsidies that over time make the citizenry poorer by channeling resources into inefficient uses – would be even more commonplace and gargantuan than they are in the real world in which governments must eventually raise taxes or cut spending to meet their debt obligations.

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Phil Magness and Joakim Book bust myths about the alleged wisdom of the draconian anti-Covid measures adopted by countries such as Iceland, Australia, and New Zealand. A slice:

When push comes to shove, Aussie rulers also showed their authoritarian streak: snatch away everyone’s (temporary) life any time there’s an inevitable breach in the outer walls; harass people, including old ladies, and let infants die, all under the auspices of “protection” and “responsible government services” against the mild danger that is Covid.

Those of you who remain impressed with the Australian government’s tyrannical response to Covid-19 should read this item from Paul Collits. A slice:

What does “eliminating” Covid mean for ordinary people?  Basically, it means Stalin on steroids.

It means endless internal and external border closures – mean, shameless and dictatorial.  It means truncated interstate trade and travel.  It means lockdowns on a whim, without notice.  Mask mandates.  Bans at worst and curbs at best on normal activity.   Enforced incarceration.  Threats of prison.  The stifling, joy-draining bureaucratisation of everything.  Reporting in doorways before masked officials in order to have a pint or to worship your God.

It means endless, metastasising calls on the budget.  It means the loss, possibly permanent, of any sense among both politicians and voters that budget deficits and debt matter.  Witness the drunken sailor budgets in Australia and the UK, where Tory governments are spending like there is no tomorrow.  (The USA’s Covid related spending is routinely measured in the trillions).  No day of fiscal reckoning.  Doing the Labor Party’s normal job of screwing the economy for it.

Evisceration of the government-schooling system might not make the lockdowns worthwhile, but such an outcome would be a very wide and shiny and welcome silver-lining around the cloud. Fortunately, as Matt Welch reports, many “teachers” (so-called) are doing their best to ensure that such an evisceration occurs. A slice:

This kind of poisonous rhetoric, while cuckoo-bananas on its face, is nonetheless routine in reopening debates, and not just in New York. Gee, I wonder what message Harlem public school parents glean from teachers who warn about corpses and education leaders who call reopening racist?

Michael Deacon’s report on an actual recent news conference with Britain’s P.M. literally reads as if it’s from Babylon Bee. A slice:

No one could ever possibly have seen it coming – least of all the man himself. Thanks to the pandemic, Boris Johnson – the playboy of politics, the Don Juan of Downing Street, the Conservative Casanova – found himself having to make casual sex a criminal offence.

Thankfully, the virus now seems to be in retreat, and more than 35 million of us have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Chastened by the horrors of the past year, however, the Prime Minister is still preaching caution about the dangers of physical intimacy. From Monday next week, Mr Johnson is finally going to permit members of the public to hug each other – provided, that is, they proceed with due care and attention, and don’t get carried away.

“We can’t suddenly throw caution to the winds,” he declared sternly, at a Downing Street news conference this evening (Monday). “We all know that close contact, such as hugging, is a direct way of transmitting the disease… I know there’s going to be a lot of people thinking about the guidance on hugging… Do it if you think it’s appropriate, but exercise care and common sense…”

TANSTAFPFC (There Ain’t No Such Thing As Free Protection From Covid.)

Philip Thomas asks how Covid modelers got it so wrong. A slice:

Fundamentally, Prof Ferguson and his team – and the other Sage modellers – have overcomplicated their modelling, which is inappropriate when the data we have on the virus is very limited, as it always will be with any new disease. The additional complexity of the Sage models might be academically satisfying and might, indeed, seem impressive to politicians. But it has not brought greater accuracy.

Chris Bullick calls on businesses to stand up against lockdowns. A slice:

The data [are] in – lockdown-type mandates that have imprisoned most of the developed world don’t work. It’s about time we the business community started talking about this and stood up against the harms being caused. This is a heart-felt plea to change to my fellow LinkedIn users.

On Sunday, a church service in Nova Scotia was busted up by goons from the Covidocracy. A slice:

The province of NS is currently under another two-week complete lockdown [DBx: i.e., what some call “a straw man”] where any type of religious service has been banned. In fact, NS’s lockdown is among the strictest in the whole world as of this writing.

“Peak hysteria.” This development alone proves the reality of Covid Derangement Syndrome. [DBx: Here again, we have from the real world an actual report that reads as if it’s from the Babylon Bee.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 11, 2021

in Seen and Unseen, Work

… is from page 120 of my late, great colleague Walter Williams’s 2015 book, American Contempt for Liberty, which is a collection of many of Walter’s columns and essays; this quotation specifically is from Walter’s January 8th, 2014, syndicated column, “Politics and Minimum Wage“:

Minimum wages have their greatest unemployment impact on the least skilled worker. After all, who’s going to pay a worker an hourly wage of $10 if that worker is so unfortunate as to have skills that enable him to produce only $5 worth of value per hour? Who are these workers? For the most part, they are low-skilled teens or young adults, most of whom are poorly educated blacks and Latinos.

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Bob Chitester (1937-2021)

by Don Boudreaux on May 10, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom

I am deeply saddened to learn that Bob Chitester just lost his long battle with cancer. Bob is most famous for conceiving, and producing, Milton Friedman’s remarkable 1980 PBS series, Free To Choose. But Bob did much, much more in addition. He believed in the power of ideas, and cherished, to his core, human liberty.

Here’s David Boaz on Bob Chitester.

Also remembering Bob Chitester are the good people at Guatemala’s Universidad Francisco Marroquin.

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Here’s the short video on subjective costs that accompanies my and Randy Holcombe’s new book, The Essential James Buchanan.

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on May 10, 2021

in Crony Capitalism

… is from page 383 of Tom Palmer’s May 1983 essay “Infrastructure: Public or Private?” as this essay is reprinted in Tom’s excellent 2009 book, Realizing Freedom (footnote deleted; link added):

Of course, it may be no accident that the claims made on behalf of state provision of public goods are not borne out in practice; as a consequence, perhaps the theory of government underlying such claims should be revised. Harvard economist Joseph P. Kalt suggests that we should view government “as a means whereby some free riders are able to force others to pay for their rides, rather than as a means whereby we all agree to coerce ourselves in order to overcome a free-rider effect that frustrates desires for public goods.”

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