Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 12, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 287 of Tom Palmer’s December 31st, 1999, Human Events essay titled “The Millennial Struggle for Liberty,” as this essay is reprinted in Tom’s excellent 2009 book, Realizing Freedom:

The most important development of the past thousand years has been the growth of liberty, both because liberty is important in its own right and because it is what has made virtually all of the other achievements of humanity possible, as well, from science to art to material well being.

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 11, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom, Podcast

… is from Deirdre McCloskey’s June 2021 review of Pete Boettke’s 2021 book The Struggle for a Better World:

Good behavior is achieved, actually, not by rules or catechisms or snappy if self-contradictory 18th-century formulas like the categorical imperative or the greatest happiness or the greatest number, but rather, as the ancients in Greece and China and everywhere else said, by forming one’s character well, and then acting in accordance with it.

DBx: Today – September 11th – is Deirdre’s 79th birthday. Please join me in wishing this remarkable scholar all best wishes for a wonderful 80th year. (Also from Deirdre is this recent interview with Hywel Williams of the Erasmus Forum.)

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Some Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on September 11, 2021

in Current Affairs, Media, Risk and Safety

Mario Loyola writes that it’s time we reclaim from the Covidocracy our right to choose. (HT Iain Murray) Three slices:

But as the months passed, it became clear that lockdowns were of dubious utility. Comparing measures taken around the world, one Stanford University study found virtually no correlation between severity of lockdowns and rates of infection or death.

…..

But even conceding Fauci’s point that the unvaccinated are “part of the problem,” the principle at stake is one that progressives ignore all the time. How many progressives accuse people on welfare of being “part of the problem” of budget deficits and crime because of the choices they make? Reducing the speed limit to 5 mph on the highway would save perhaps 40,000 lives every year, but how many progressives support that? Prohibiting alcohol could save about as many, but how many progressives would support that?

…..

The bottom line is this. Given how unevenly the risk of severe disease is distributed in the population, and how unevenly the risk of infecting others is distributed even among the unvaccinated, it makes much more sense for at-risk people to focus on protecting themselves than for everyone else to adjust their behavior. There are things we can reasonably do to reduce the risks to others, but with a virus that has now gone from pandemic to endemic, and which will always be with us, the time has come to learn to live with it.

Reason‘s Nick Gillespie eloquently protests Biden’s vaccine mandate. Two slices:

There is every reason to believe that President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for COVID-19 will not survive legal scrutiny even as compulsory vaccination for the disease enjoys broad popularity among the public. As former Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.)—like me, a pro-vaccine, anti-mandate libertarian—has bluntly noted, “There is no authority for this. This is a legislative action that bypasses the legislative branch.”

The courts will almost certainly strike down this executive branch overreach and the sweeping new rules that wave away longstanding distinctions between public and private spheres of activity. This is what happened to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium. It’s foundational to American life that the president is not a king who can subject citizens to his whims.

…..

As Jeffrey A. Singer, a surgeon and senior fellow for the Cato Institute, has noted, COVID-19 has a “0.2 percent fatality rate among people not living in institutions.” Fully 80 percent of deaths have occurred among people over 65 and just 358 children under the age of 17 had died of the disease as of July 29, 2021. We are not talking about smallpox, which affected all populations and had a fatality rate of 30 percent. COVID, argues Singer, “will not be eradicated” and will become a small-scale, endemic problem that should be minimized by targeted interventions to protect the most vulnerable. From a public health perspective, it should not become the casus belli for a radical restructuring of society and a massive expansion of presidential (or governmental) powers.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board is right to be harshly critical of what it calls “Biden’s vaccine command.” Two slices:

The President blamed unvaccinated Americans for clogging up “emergency rooms and intensive care units, leaving no room for someone with a heart attack, or pancreatitis, or cancer.” This is false. Some hospitals have cancelled elective surgeries, but they’ve done so to ensure that people who need urgent care can get it—whether for Covid or something else.

…..

These columns have supported the vaccine effort from the start, but we also believe in free choice and persuasion. Mr. Biden’s polarizing commands may stiffen the resistance of many on the political right, and they are certain to cost many people their jobs. They aren’t necessary, and they show again that the progressive policy default is always brute political force.

“Lumping 75 million unvaccinated Americans into one category is wedge partisanship, not science” – so correctly writes Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins. Two slices:

Mr. Biden plays on the trained willingness of Democratic media consumers to believe Trump voters are the vaccine resisters, however oddly this sits with public-service ads in blue states trying to coax minority voters and unionized healthcare workers to accept vaccination.

He plays on the lingering “zero Covid” delusions of the left, which hugged “herd immunity” once vaccines became available and Trump voters could be portrayed as the last obstacle to Covid’s elimination from the earth.

He hopes you will embrace false assumptions: Our vaccines, alas, are not sterilizing—they do not prevent infection, though they reduce the risk of severe illness and death. This attenuates the argument that others’ failure to be vaccinated is a threat to you, and, of course, it negates the zero Covid dream.

…..

His approach is wedge politics. It will provoke confrontations with red-state governors and old-school civil libertarians. It will rile up anti-vax nuts, who will be portrayed as ordinary GOPers. It does not faintly resemble any strategy you would adopt if your goal was to improve Covid outcomes quickly and efficiently.

David Henderson applauds a government official who has the courage to change his mind regarding Covid restrictions.

Silkie Carlo warns that “‘public health need’ shouldn’t be allowed to become the basis on which freedom is meted out by the state.” A slice:

However, the “public health need” is becoming more faith-based than fact. Given the inevitability of new variants, and the minority of people who will always refuse vaccination, the public health need will be cast immortal. At the same time, the performance of public health policies and institutions has become the basis on which freedom is meted out by the state.

The nearly impossible happens: Australia’s Covidocratic tyranny intensifies.

Marty Makary on Twitter (HT Martin Kulldorff):

What fear does to our freedom.”

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 11, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 61 of the late M. Stanton Evans’s 1976 Hillsdale College address, “The Liberal Twilight,” as it appears in Champions of Freedom (Vol. 3, 1976):

If one adopts the authoritarian premises, ultimately one is going to emerge with the authoritarian conclusions. The libertarian shell has fallen away, and we’re left with the bedrock principles of compulsion and the subjection of human beings to a planning elite.

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On Twitter, Martin Kulldorff defends Sunetra Gupta from an unfair attack.

Writing in the New York Times, Robby Soave of Reason explains that “Biden’s vaccine mandate is a big mistake.” Two slices:

The president should not — and most likely does not — have the power to unilaterally compel millions of private-sector workers to get vaccinated or risk losing their jobs: Mr. Biden is presiding over a vast expansion of federal authority, one that Democrats will certainly come to regret the next time a Republican takes power. Moreover, the mechanism of enforcement — a presidential decree smuggled into law by the Department of Labor and its Occupational Safety and Health Administration — is fundamentally undemocratic. Congress is supposed to make new laws, not an unaccountable bureaucratic agency.

While more than 70 percent of American adults have received a shot, a smaller but sizable group of people, for various reasons, are unvaccinated. Some members of this group have antibodies from a previous Covid case and are reasonably protected from future illness, according to recent data. There is little benefit to forcing vaccination on such people, and Mr. Biden’s decision to not exempt them is a significant misstep.
…..

It’s worth repeating that the federal vaccine mandate represents a broad expansion of the executive branch’s power. And Mr. Biden will not be the chief executive forever. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a plausible 2024 Republican presidential candidate, has used his current authority to prohibit private vaccine mandates in his state. Is this really the time to solidify the idea that the president is the ultimate authority on whether such things should be required or forbidden?

Also from Robby Soave is this justified criticism of the appalling, tyrannical, innumerate, and shockingly uninformed Washington Post columnist, and CNN “analyst,” Leana Wen. A slice:

“We need to start looking at the choice to remain unvaccinated the same as we look at driving while intoxicated,” she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Thursday night. “You have the option to not get vaccinated if you want, but then you can’t go out in public.”

Wen elaborated that society has an “obligation to prevent” the unvaccinated from leaving their homes and infecting others, in the same way that society has an obligation to deter drunk drivers.

“The vaccinated should not have to pay the price for the so-called choices of the unvaccinated anymore,” she continued.

This is a tortured analogy, since the unvaccinated do not actually pose much of a risk to the vaccinated. In recent weeks, the unvaccinated have constituted 99 percent of hospitalizations and deaths. The unvaccinated aren’t drunk drivers—they’re more like drivers who won’t buckle their seat belts, and are only likely to crash into other unbelted drivers. They are the victims of their own bad choices, and the government shouldn’t force them to make better ones.

National Review‘s Editors decry the “desperate overreach” that is Biden’s vaccination mandate.

Also decrying Biden’s vaccine mandate is Jeffrey Tucker.

Philip Klein asks: “If COVID-19 will be here forever, is this what you want the rest of your life to look like?” (HT Ian Fillmore) Two slices:

In March of 2020, the outside estimates were that this coronavirus period would come to an end when safe and effective vaccines became widely available. Even the infamous Imperial College London report, viewed as draconian at the time for its estimate of up to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. absent sustained intervention, predicted that its mitigation strategies “will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available.” Yet vaccines have been available for anybody who wants one for nearly six months, and our leaders have ignored the obvious off-ramp. The CDC backtracked on guidance and said that vaccinated people must wear masks in public, and many people and jurisdictions have listened. For example, Montgomery County, Md., has an extraordinarily high vaccination rate — with 96 percent of the eligible over-twelve population having received at least one dose and 87 percent of them being fully vaccinated. By its own metrics, the county has “low utilization” of hospital beds. Yet the county requires masks indoors — including in schools. In Oregon, vaccinated people are required to wear masks even outdoors. And it isn’t just liberal enclaves. A new Economist/YouGov poll found that eight in ten Americans report having worn a mask in the past week at least “some of the time” when outside their homes, with 58 percent masking “always” or “most of the time.” If masking has remained so widespread among adults months after vaccines became widely available, why will it end in schools after vaccines become available for children?

…..

Whatever arguments were made to justify interventions early on in the pandemic, post-vaccine, we are in a much different universe. There is a negligible statistical difference in the likelihood of severe health consequences between vaccinated people who go about their business without taking extra precautions, and those who take additional precautions. Yet having to observe various protocols in perpetuity translates into a reduced quality of life. Put another way, the sort of question we need to start asking ourselves is not whether we can tolerate masking for one trip to the grocery store, but whether we want to live in a society in which we can never again go shopping without a mask.

And here’s a follow-up from Philip Klein on Biden’s vaccine mandate. A slice:

And others have suggested that the founders supported such mandates and that the Supreme Court has ruled on this. Charlie had a smart post on this earlier today, but the fact that George Washington supported inoculation of troops in the Continental Army and the fact that the Supreme Court has upheld vaccination mandates in the past has zero bearing on the current discussion. The 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v Massachusetts, concerned a small-pox vaccination requirement in Cambridge, Mass. The court concluded that, “It is within the police power of a State to enact a compulsory vaccination law…” The federal government does not have police power. OSHA, the entity through which Biden is going to issue this mandate, wasn’t even created until 65 years after the Jacobson decision. Though we do not yet have a formal order, the Biden administration has indicated that it would have OSHA issue an Emergency Temporary Standard. Legal challenges will likely hinge on whether OSHA exceeded its authority by leaning on this rarely deployed mechanism for such sweeping ends. The fact that Pfeiffer and others point to state level requirements and requirements for the military (who are government employees), again, has no relevance at all to the debate over whether what OSHA is about to do is legally permissible. Regardless of whether one believes that this is within Biden’s power, let’s be clear that what OSHA is about to do would be without precedent.

Kyle Smith is understandably unimpressed with Washington Post writer Amber Phillips’s grasp of the legality of Biden’s vaccine mandate. A slice:

Jacobson was a state case, not a federal one. Phillips (or CNN’s Chris Cillizza, who used to write The Fix and retweeted Phillips’s mistaken analysis) might have guessed that from the v. Massachusettspart of the case’s name. It established that state governments can require vaccinations (in this case through municipalities). The reason it came before the Supreme Court was to decide whether Massachusetts vaccine mandates were in violation of the 14th Amendment. (Another case, from 1944, which is mentioned in passing by Phillips, considered a religion-based objection to vaccines and also came down on the pro-vaccine mandate side, but that was also a state matter: Prince v. Massachusetts.)

Several governors have announced opposition to Biden’s vaccine mandate. They obviously will not argue that states are forbidden to mandate vaccines.  The issue is whether the federal government has the enumerated power to force businesses of more than 100 employees to mandate vaccination (or do weekly testing). Phillips suggests she does not understand the distinction between state and federal power when she writes that the Supreme Court “decided that jurisdictions do have the right to require people to get vaccinated.” Does she consider the entire country a federal “jurisdiction”?

Also from Kyle Smith is this criticism of Biden’s authoritarianism. A slice:

Do I exaggerate? Like Presidents Obama and Trump before him, Biden has repeatedly expressed the idea that should Congress not act the way he prefers, he thereby gains special license to legislate via executive order. Today he baldly stated state governments were a hindrance to the executive branch’s ability to work its will on the American people.

“If they’ll not help, if these governors won’t help us beat the pandemic, I’ll use my power as president to get them out of the way,” Biden said, shredding the concept of federalism.

Charles Cooke explains that advocates of Covid-19 vaccine mandates “are twisting American history.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 10, 2021

in Philosophy of Freedom

… is from page 370 of Michael Oakeshott’s 1961 essay “The Masses in Representative Democracy,” as this essay is reprinted the 1991 Liberty Fund collection of some of Oakeshott’s work, Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays:

Human individuality is an historical emergence, as ‘artificial’ and as ‘natural’ as the landscape. In modern Europe this emergence was gradual, and the specific character of the individual who emerged was determined by the manner of his generation. He became unmistakable when the habit appeared of engaging in activities identified as ‘private’; indeed, the appearance of ‘privacy’ in human conduct is the obverse of the desuetude of the communal arrangements from which modern individuality sprang. This appearance of individuality provoked a disposition to explore its own limitations, to place the highest value upon it, and to seek security in its enjoyment. To enjoy it came to be recognized as the main ingredient of ‘happiness’. The experience was magnified into an ethical theory; it was reflected in manners of governing and being governed, in newly acquired rights and duties and in a whole pattern of living. The emergence of this disposition to be an individual is the pre-eminent event in modern European history.

DBx: Note that the emergence of individuality is not the emergence of venality, greed, or a narrow concern of each person with only his or her own material possessions. It is, instead, the emergence of each person’s awareness of, interest in, and insistence upon choosing his or her own goals – whatever these might be, and consistent with the same desire and right of every other person – rather than being an organism whose chief purpose and justification is to serve collective ends.

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The Biden administration will use OSHA to impose vaccine mandates or requirements of weekly testing on employees of large firms.

This unprecedented government intervention isn’t the first piece of bitter fruit of Covid Derangement Syndrome, and it won’t be the last. While we Americans aren’t (yet), as a group, as lunatic as are Australians, during the past 18 months we have (1) allowed ourselves to be deceived into believing that a pathogen that poses unusual dangers only to a relatively small minority of us (namely, the very old or ill) is a categorically monstrous threat to all of us; (2) used this disproportionate – and, hence, unwarranted degree of – fear of Covid to excuse not only the exercise by government of unprecedented powers to restrict ordinary familial, social, and economic affairs, but also the unleashing and enforcement of these powers by executive-branch agencies at all levels of government; and (3) as a result, have freed a terrifying genie from a bottle into which it will not return voluntarily and will likely escape all efforts to be stuffed back in.

I have never denied that Covid-19 poses unusually grave dangers for certain people. But I am more convinced now than ever before that the dangers posed by the reaction to Covid are magnitudes larger – and magnitudes more lethal to person, property, and civilization – than not only is Covid in reality, but than Covid would have been even had the absurd predictions of reckless modelers such as Neil Ferguson proven to be accurate.

I’m very glad that tomorrow I’ll turn 63 – meaning that I fortunately won’t live long enough to witness full extent of the damage that civilization will likely suffer as a result of the awful cultural and institutional transformation that’s occurred over the past 18 months.

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This sign – bearing the imprimatur of the CDC (and not Her Majesty’s government) – is posted in men’s rooms at Dulles airport (and, I’m confident, also in women’s rooms at that airport). (I took this photo this morning at Dulles.)

So sad… and so annoying. Is it any wonder that so many people continue to behave as if Covid’s dangers are greater than those dangers really are when, in public restrooms, signs exhort individuals to “Keep calm”? The implication of this message is that a terrible danger lurks, ready to strike at any moment – a danger that warrants fear. But, brave traveller, in the face of this monster you must keep calm.

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In my latest column for AIER I marvel at the deep insight that economics, well-taught and well-learned, gives us into reality. A slice:

But even many economists whose introduction to economics was as splendid as was my own are nevertheless reluctant to endorse laissez-faire policies. I’m sure that the reasons for this reality are many, including even simple differences in personalities. Yet I suspect that many economists’ reluctance, shall we say, ‘to go full Friedman’ springs ironically from a deep appreciation – an appreciation no less real than my own – of the marvels of self-regulating market processes.

Once you firmly grasp the logic of market processes, and then compare the operation of real-world markets to the operation of real-world government interventions, the case for nearly all government intervention is revealed as dreadfully weak. The appropriate role for government in the economy shrinks to a pinpoint. But for many economists, I think, this conclusion is unacceptable psychologically. Such a conclusion feels too radical. Anyone who embraces it positions himself or herself very far from friends and family members – from the norm in polite society.

Can the vast majority of men and women be so far off in their assessments of markets and in their confidence in government officials? “Surely not” is an understandable answer. “The strong case for allowing markets in almost all cases to self-regulate, rather than displacing such regulation with government-issued commands, must reflect a bias created by immersion in the economic way of thinking.”

Likely also at work is a related factor – namely, the natural desire to fit in. Because the typical non-economist today thinks it lunatic, say, to do away with antitrust statutes, to abolish the Food and Drug Administration, to eliminate occupational-licensing restrictions, to get rid of legislated minimum wages, to repeal all protective tariffs, and to separate school and state, the economist is reluctant to mention in polite company that he or she sees potential merit in such policy moves. The reticence borne from such reluctance too easily is eventually transformed into a conviction that the general public must be correct in its rejection of laissez faire.

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Some Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on September 9, 2021

in Country Problems, Current Affairs, Media, Risk and Safety, Science

Better late than never, I suppose, for Bill Gates.

Good for Laura Dodsworth for resisting Covidocratic hysteria.

Alex Starling decries the pathetically poor reporting on Covid-19.

Covid Derangement Syndrome is literally causing starvation in Vietnam. (DBx: But I reckon that that’s okay, for we all now know that no fate is as bad as coming into contact with the Covid monster.)

Here’s an interview Gigi Foster, a co-author of The Great Covid Panic.

Shahar Hameiri and Tom Chodor ask: “What’s the point of Australia?” A slice:

Australia no longer seems to function like a country and Australian citizenship has been largely drained of legal and practical meaning.

Thousands of Australian citizens remain stranded abroad, unable to return due to strict caps on spots in hotel quarantine, which are set by state governments. Frequent domestic border closures — also decided by state governments — have effectively fragmented Australia into eight separate countries. Last month, Australians were treated to the surreal spectacle of the Australian Defence Force patrolling the border between Queensland and New South Wales.

Across the country, citizens have discovered that reserve powers are largely the prerogative of state governments, and are being exercised in ways that routinely exclude other states’ residents, as if they were foreign nationals. For example, Western Australia now requires that people living in New South Wales have at least one shot of the Covid vaccine to enter the state. In one of the most callous examples of exclusionary state politics in practice, last year the Queensland government denied a 14-year-old double-lung transplant patient from NSW access to his specialist doctor, declaring that Queensland hospitals were for Queenslanders.

John Ioannidis writes wisely about Covid and the hysterical and unscientific overreaction to it. (HT Martin Kulldorff) Two slices:

In the past I had often fervently wished that one day everyone would be passionate and excited about scientific research. I should have been more careful about what I had wished for. The crisis caused by the lethal COVID-19 pandemic and by the responses to the crisis have made billions of people worldwide acutely interested and overexcited about science. Decisions pronounced in the name of science have become arbitrators of life, death, and fundamental freedoms. Everything that mattered was affected by science, by scientists interpreting science, and by those who impose measures based on their interpretations of science in the context of political warfare.

One problem with this new mass engagement with science is that most people, including most people in the West, had never been seriously exposed to the fundamental norms of the scientific method. The Mertonian norms of communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism have unfortunately never been mainstream in education, media, or even in science museums and TV documentaries on scientific topics.

…..

Disinterestedness suffered gravely. In the past, conflicted entities mostly tried to hide their agendas. During the pandemic, these same conflicted entities were raised to the status of heroes. For example, Big Pharma companies clearly produced useful drugs, vaccines, and other interventions that saved lives, though it was also known that profit was and is their main motive. Big Tobacco was known to kill many millions of people every year and to continuously mislead when promoting its old and new, equally harmful, products. Yet during the pandemic, requesting better evidence on effectiveness and adverse events was often considered anathema. This dismissive, authoritarian approach “in defense of science” may sadly have enhanced vaccine hesitancy and the anti-vax movement, wasting a unique opportunity that was created by the fantastic rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. Even the tobacco industry upgraded its reputation: Philip Morris donated ventilators to propel a profile of corporate responsibility and saving lives, a tiny fraction of which were put at risk of death from COVID-19 because of background diseases caused by tobacco products.

Other potentially conflicted entities became the new societal regulators, rather than the ones being regulated. Big Tech companies, which gained trillions of dollars in cumulative market value from the virtual transformation of human life during lockdown, developed powerful censorship machineries that skewed the information available to users on their platforms. Consultants who made millions of dollars from corporate and government consultation were given prestigious positions, power, and public praise, while unconflicted scientists who worked pro bono but dared to question dominant narratives were smeared as being conflicted. Organized skepticism was seen as a threat to public health. There was a clash between two schools of thought, authoritarian public health versus science—and science lost.

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