Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 2, 2023

in History

… is from pages 26-27 of Thomas Sowell’s 1978 paper “Three Black Histories,” which is the lead essay in Essays and Data on American Ethnic Groups (Thomas Sowell & Lynn D. Collins, eds., 1978) (footnotes deleted):

Many of the costs created by slavery as a system were borne by southern society as a whole, rather than by the 5 percent of white southerners who actually owned slaves. These costs included not only government apparatus directly involved in the control of slaves (patrols to check passes, recapture escapees, etc.) but also restrictions increasingly imposed on the white population, including the censoring of the mails to intercept abolitionist literature and the destruction of academic freedom at souther colleges and universities in order to stamp out antislavery ideas and individuals.

DBx: Were proponents of reparations (to descendants of American slaves) serious about their (misguided) effort to achieve cosmic justice, they would endorse not only excluding descendants of the 95 percent of southern whites who didn’t own slaves from having to contribute taxes toward the reparations fund, but also including these whites in the group who receive reparations payments.

Being myself descended from non-slave-owning white southerners, I should be compensated for the damage to my life’s prospects that – according to the logic of champions of reparations – I suffer as a lingering consequence of the economic deprivations the institution of slavery inflicted on my ancestors.

Of course, in reality I am ethically entitled to no such reparations payment – just as no one today is ethically entitled, because of misfortunes visited upon their ancestors, to any such reparations payment.

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George Will, although more comfortable than I am with some U.S.-government-dispersed subsidies to producers of semiconductors, nevertheless rightly worries that these subsidies will become malignantly cancerous. Three slices:

It would be easier to be sanguine about the government’s coming disbursal of $52 billion in subsidies for semiconductor manufacturing and research if Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo did not celebrate it so lavishly. Her language suggests that what should be a narrow national security measure might become a broad, perennial temptation for government.

…..

Speaking in her office in the Commerce Department building, which is named for a previous secretary (an engineer: Herbert Hoover), Raimondo is emphatic: The reason for subsidizing the “on-shoring” of chips manufacturing is “100 percent national security.” Manufacturers should “produce what the market decides, but do it in America.”

In a November speech, however, Raimondo said these “transformational” subsidies will enable “reimagining our national innovation ecosystem well beyond Silicon Valley.” And she anticipated “new collaborations among businesses, universities, labor, and local communities” concerning “advanced computing, biotechnologies and biomanufacturing, and clean energy technologies.” Hence, “we are working across the government” to “invest in core critical and emerging fields of technology,” for “revitalizing” manufacturing.

So, far from being “100 percent national security,” the rationale for the $52 billion (and more; read on) is government-driven transformation of, potentially, American society.

…..

Government always needs but rarely has epistemic humility, an understanding not just of what it does not know, but what it cannot know. Such as what unplanned-by-government human creativity will cause to emerge, over the horizon. And how government planning of the future, by allocating resources, can diminish it.

Phil Magness finds further evidence that the 1619 Project‘s use of Lord Dunmore’s proclamation rests on a foundation more flimsy than one constructed of loosely arranged dandelion petals.

George Leef remembers Yuri Maltsev.

GMU Econ alum Dominic Pino rightly criticizes the FTC for “using a tool it shouldn’t even have in its toolbox.”

Phil Gramm and Michael Solon, writing in the Wall Street Journal, decry the U.S. government’s fiscal incontinence. A slice:

The Biden administration and the Democratic Congressional leadership admonish Republicans to do the “responsible” thing by raising the debt ceiling to continue the post-pandemic spending surge. President Biden has called Republican efforts to use the debt ceiling to rein in spending “fiscally demented.” In holding the “debt limit hostage,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says Republicans could do “irreparable harm to the U.S. economy.” But at what point does not raising the debt ceiling become less irresponsible than continuing current policy and allowing the country to go broke?

Despite outcries from Democrats and the media, using the debt ceiling to try to rein in spending is hardly a new idea. Since 1985 when Sen. Biden joined a bipartisan effort to adopt Gramm-Rudman-Hollings as a rider to the debt ceiling, the debt ceiling has been raised 50 times, and riders have been adopted as part of raising the debt ceiling 48% of the time. Many of those riders, such as the 1993 Clinton tax hike, the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and the Pelosi PAYGO Act, were offered by Democrats.

The logic of using the debt ceiling to respond to the growth in the national debt is inherently appealing to most Americans. What better time to call the family together, sit down around the kitchen table, get out the butcher knife and cut up the credit cards.

My Mercatus Center colleague Alden Abbott summarizes the top takeaways from last-week’s 2nd annual Mercatus Antitrust Forum. (Video of the Forum is available here.)

In this video, Marian Tupy busts the myth of overpopulation.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague, Veronique de Rugy, isn’t impressed with politicians’ principles.

The Morality of Adam Smith: An Interview with Daniel Klein.”

Dr. Malcolm Kendrick was sparked by news of the resignation of New Zealand strongwoman Jacinda Ardern to again ponder covid. Two slices:

With the resignation of Jacinda Ardern, my thoughts were dragged back to Covid once more. Jacinda, as Prime Minster of New Zealand was the ultimate lockdown enforcer. She was feted round the world for her iron will, but I was not a fan, to put it mildly. Whenever I heard her speak, it brought to mind one of my most favourite quotes:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.’ C.S. Lewis

At one point she actually said the following:

“We will continue to be your single source of truth” “Unless you hear it from us, it is not the truth.’

If I ruled the world, anyone who said, that, or anything remotely like that, would be taken as far as possible from any position of power, never to be allowed anywhere near it again. Ever.

…..

In the face of such evidence, the argument for lockdown seems to be transforming into a somewhat pathetic whinge. ‘We didn’t know. It’s all very well people saying we shouldn’t have locked down now. We didn’t hear you saying it at the time. We were just following The Science, don’t blame us. Better safe than sorry. Don’t blame us …I think you’re being very nasty to us.’

This, of course, is nonsense. There were plenty of scientists arguing against lockdown at the time. However, they were all ruthlessly censored, attacked, and silenced. Experts such as Prof. John Ioannidis, Prof. Karol Sikora, Prof. Sunetra Gupta, Prof. Carl Heneghan. These last two UK professors argued very strenuously against lockdowns. They were ignored, then vilified.

Thomas Massie tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

Why does Biden want to delay ending the COVID emergency for another 100 days? Because he wants to use emergency authorities to shove more money out of the door. It’s been 1000+ days to slow the spread. End the COVID emergency NOW.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 2, 2023

in Inequality

… is from page 101 of Eamonn Butler’s 2022 book, An Introduction to Economic Inequality (original emphasis):

Redistribution is contradictory: it means treating people unequally in order to produce what someone believes is equality – though that judgement is inevitably subjective. And there is considerable danger in entrusting any politician or official with the power and discretion needed to force that judgement into reality.

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… is from page 171 of Thomas Sowell’s 1983 book, The Economics and Politics of Race: An International Perspective:

Benefits earmarked for a particular group are especially helpful for that group’s political leadership, even if these benefits are less valuable than alternative benefits the group might have obtained by alternative policies benefiting the society as a whole. Moreover, the attempt to obtain earmarked benefits may arouse far more opposition from other groups, therefore reducing the likelihood or the magnitude of such benefits, but they are still in the interest of the group’s political leaders. If the group benefits as members of the larger society, that is no feather in the cap of racial or ethnic leaders.

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Phil Magness, writing at Reason, busts some egregious myths peddled by Hulu’s 1619 Project series. A slice:

We see the visual power of the Hulu production at this moment as [‘historian’ Woody] Holton lifts his finger, pointing at the Governor’s Palace, the centerpiece of the Colonial Williamsburg historical park. The camera quickly shifts to the recreated structure as he begins to speak. “Because this building is supposed to symbolize white rule over blacks, and now the guy inhabiting that building,” [Lord] Dunmore, “has turned things upside down and is leading blacks against whites.” [Nikole] Hannah-Jones interjects, “So you have this situation where many Virginians and other southern colonists—they’re not really convinced that they want to side with the patriots. And this turns many of them towards the revolution. Is that right?” Holton answers without a flinch. “If you ask them, it did. The record is absolutely clear.”

The scene is an authoritatively delivered pronouncement set to stunning cinematography, but it’s also false history.

At the time of his decree, the real Dunmore had not set foot in Williamsburg in almost five months. His order, decreeing martial law in the colony and calling on slaves to enlist in a Royalist militia, came not from the governor’s residence but from a position of exile aboard the HMS William, a naval ship anchored off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia.

Dunmore abandoned the Governor’s Palace on June 8, 1775, amid signs that patriot militiamen were converging on Williamsburg to defend the House of Burgesses from a threatened power grab by the crown. The trouble began a few weeks earlier with a botched attempt by Dunmore to seize the colony’s gunpowder stores as a preemptive strike against revolutionary grumblings.

Indeed, when Dunmore fled the capital, he carried away a sizable staff of “servants” from the palace grounds and relocated them to Porto Bello, his sprawling plantation a few miles up the river. Yes, the 1619 Project’s designated agent of “emancipation” for the British crown was an enslaver himself. Dunmore encamped on a succession of warships anchored in the nearby York River, never to return to the building where Holton erroneously situated the decree. He occasionally took a barge over to the plantation house at Porto Bello to enjoy fine dining with his officers, served by his relocated slaves. But that ended as patriot militias gained control of the peninsula on which the property sat, and Dunmore withdrew to Norfolk. By November 7, 1775—the date of the order—he had long lost any semblance of control over the colony. The decree anticipated an unsuccessful campaign to regain a foothold in the colony. In retrospect, it was a desperate move to restore himself to power by inducing a slave revolt amid the already-unfolding revolution, rather than any true attempt to affect “emancipation” at large.

The inescapable progression of the timeline has always worked against Hannah-Jones’ narrative. Leaning heavily on Holton’s academic work, she asserts that Dunmore galvanized the southern colonies against Britain by imperiling their slave plantations and moving them into the revolutionary column. Holton’s commentaries in the docuseries signal his concurrence with this view insofar as it relates to Virginia, even as he stops short of Hannah-Jones’ blurry ascription of this motive to “the colonists” of the future U.S. at large. Yet as a matter of history, it collides with easily documented facts.

As the events around Williamsburg revealed, Dunmore’s order was a reaction to—not a cause of—a revolution already in full swing. The road to American independence began in Massachusetts over a decade earlier with men such as James Otis (incidentally, an early abolitionist) rallying against the crown under the banner of “no taxation without representation.” Virginia expressed solidarity with this cause long before Dunmore’s order.

Also decrying the abominably bad “history” peddled by the 1619 Project is the Editorial Board of the New York Post.

James Bacchus warns that “deglobalization would be a disaster for the whole world.” A slice:

Advocates of deglobalization assume that the result would be heightened and widened prosperity. The opposite is true. According to the IMF study, the cost to global production from a severe geoeconomic fragmentation could be a loss of 7 percent of global GDP, which, if accompanied by technological decoupling, could be as high as 12 percent in some countries. The size of the global economy has recently surpassed $100 trillion annually. Thus, the loss to global economic output from the severe fragmentation sought by some of the most fervent tribunes of deglobalization could range from $7 trillion to $12 trillion — every year.

Simone Gao explains why communist “China will never lead on tech.” Two slices:

But there is a bigger reason that China’s ambitious technology endeavors are failing: Its communist system stifles innovation. In China, all major funding is controlled and distributed by the Communist Party. Top scientists must be in the party system to advance their careers and get funding. The higher they rank within the party, the more funding they can receive. They can also make fortunes steering projects and government funds to companies owned by their associates and earning huge kickbacks. The recent corruption investigations have implicated key Big Fund officials and executives of companies that have received the most funding, raising speculation that the fund’s leaders may have taken kickbacks from these companies.

…..

In 2019 I interviewed a data and AI scientist at Huawei, China’s largest and most powerful telecommunications company, which at the time was poised to take over the global rollout of 5G. He told me that despite Huawei’s achievements, a hunger for quick success pervaded the company. While Ren Zhengfei, the company’s founder and CEO, would publicly encourage new research, he was likely to cut off funding if there were no notable achievements within a project’s first two years. This pattern has led to the most consistent innovation at Huawei taking place only at the application level. The company rewards innovations that can make money immediately, but long-term research that might lead to world-changing innovation isn’t being done.

This isn’t unique to Huawei. It is the norm of Chinese society under communist control. Great innovation comes from free and curious minds. Such minds need nurturing, and, despite all its dazzling skyscrapers and smart cities, China today is incapable of doing so.

China’s test-oriented education discourages creativity and independent thinking.

Also writing insightfully about China is Mike Munger. Two slices:

Capitalism, however, also creates concentrations of economic power because of the ability of successful investors and entrepreneurs to gather large amounts of wealth. Ownership in a capitalist system is both the mechanism for raising liquid capital—by selling shares that are claims against the value of future profits—and a means of controlling substantial resources independent from state direction and control. The private ownership of tools and materials that characterize a market system are on a much smaller scale than the ownership of land and a controlling interest in the shares of joint stock corporations. Nations that do not have the corporate form of private ownership are likely to run up against capital constraints, as it is difficult to generate liquidity on a scale, and in a time frame, that allows the successful exploitation of profit opportunities.

…..

Markets are systems that produce wealth and sharply reduce poverty. Capitalism is a system for raising liquid capital and creating countervailing power centers that constrain totalitarian aspirations of government. As long as the Chinese state is primarily centralized and authoritarian, capitalism will be blocked. But that means that Chinese economic growth will be strangled, as capital becomes more and more constrained.

Markets aid rhino survival.”

Seriously: How serious are progressives about green energy?

David Henderson thinks on the margin about Oskar Schindler.

GMU Econ alums Caleb Fuller and Scott Burns explain what economics isn’t.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board applauds the U.S. District Court’s injunction against enforcement of California’s Orwellian attempt to silence physicians who disagree with the official narrative on covid. A slice:

Democrats last year passed legislation empowering the state medical board to discipline doctors licensed in the state who “disseminate misinformation or disinformation” that contradicts the “contemporary scientific consensus” or is “contrary to the standard of care.” The law’s goal is to enforce a public-health orthodoxy among doctors and silence dissenters.

But as federal Judge William Shubb explains, the law’s definitions of “misinformation” and “contemporary scientific consensus” are unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Doctors have no way of knowing how the law will be applied by the board or interpreted by courts, which chills their practice of medicine.

“Who determines whether a consensus exists to begin with? If a consensus does exist, among whom must the consensus exist (for example practicing physicians, or professional organizations, or medical researchers, or public health officials, or perhaps a combination)?” Judge Shubb wrote. He also asked what sources doctors should consult to determine the consensus.

Good Australians and the banality of evil: how segregation became widely accepted public policy.”

Vinay Prasad tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)

If you ruin your life, with extreme isolation, you might be able delay your Twitter thread “I did everything right and got COVID anyway and it’s your fault” by a month or so, but would it be worth it?

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 1, 2023

in Doux Commerce, History, Myths and Fallacies

… is from pages 9-10 of economists Phil Gramm’s, Robert Ekelund’s, and John Early’s superb 2022 book, The Myth of American Inequality: How Government Biases Policy Debate (footnote deleted, link added):

Children had worked as field hands and servants since the beginning of settled agriculture more than ten thousand years before [the Industrial Revolution]. There is no evidence that child labor was more pervasive in urban areas during the early nineteenth century than it had been in rural areas. But there is overwhelming evidence that the movement from the farm to the factory led to a dramatic reduction in child labor. As economic historian Clark Nardinelli concluded, “Technological change reduced the demand for child labor and increasing income reduced the supply. The Factory Acts, then, did not cause the long-term decline in child labor.” The broad-based abundance created by the Industrial Revolution during the Victorian era produced widespread school attendance and almost-universal literacy. In closing the ugly ten-millennial chapter of child labor by the end of 1900, the Industrial Revolution ushered in a new chapter of childhood nurturing and learning.

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Here’s a letter to Newsweek:

Editor:

Thank you for publishing medical-student Kevin Bass’s admission that he and a sizeable portion of the scientific community were horribly mistaken about covid and covid policies (“It’s Time for the Scientific Community to Admit We Were Wrong About COVID and It Cost Lives,” January 30th). Mr. Bass commendably confesses to having recklessly supported measures that, we know now, did little to protect against covid but much to damage the livelihoods and health of millions of people. And – finally recognizing the wisdom of Jay Bhattacharya, Scott Atlas, and the too-few others who early on warned of the madness of lockdowns – he further acknowledges that “[a]ll of these were scientific mistakes at the time, not in hindsight.”

The optimist in me hopes that a medical scientist confessing, in a publication as prominent as Newsweek, to having heedlessly cheered on the commission of (literally) grave errors will help to ensure that the mass hysteria, censorship, and lethal ‘public-health’ authoritarianism of the past three years never happen again. But given how eagerly so very many people swallowed the lies, half-truths, and exaggerations of government officials such as Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, and Gavin Newsom – and how supinely people submitted to lockdowns – the realist in me remains fearful of the future.

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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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on January 31, 2023

in Doux Commerce, History

… is from page 165 of Thomas Sowell’s November 1st, 1995, column titled “The Benefits And Hypocrisy Of Playing The Slavery Card,” as this column is reprinted (and retitled “The Slavery Card”) in Sowell’s 1999 collection Barbarians Inside the Gates:

While the Western world was just as guilty as other civilizations when it came to enslaving people for thousands of years, it was unique only in finally deciding that the whole institution was immoral and should be ended.

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Here’s the abstract of a new paper by Tim Muris:

President Biden rejects the economics-driven antitrust policies of the past 40 years. Flanked by his White House competition adviser and his new FTC Chair in July 2021, he asserted that the “experiment failed” and promised to return to earlier antitrust traditions. This report shows those traditions were abandoned for good reason: they harmed consumers.

Two such traditions are discussed in particular detail. One involves the Robinson Patman Act of 1936, which the FTC promises to reinvigorate. The second involves what FTC Chair Khan calls the “controlling precedents” of old Supreme Court merger decisions, especially from the Warren Court. Those decisions stand in sharp contrast to the modern economic standards used to evaluate mergers, as exemplified in court decisions and in the Obama administration’s 2010 guidelines.

President Biden blamed the alleged failure on Robert Bork and the Chicago school. Blaming, or crediting, Chicago for the 40 years is inaccurate. In fact, modern antitrust analysis was much richer than any school, including Harvard professors and judges, especially Philip Areeda and Stephen Breyer, both of whom have had profound impacts.

The true “failed experiment“ was populist antitrust and its policies that the new enforcers praise.

And here’s Tim Muris, writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, about antitrust’s return to the dark ages. Here’s his conclusion:

These mistakes—Robinson-Patman, merger law based on long-abandoned populist norms, renewed attacks on low prices, hostility to bigness for its own sake—result from animus to the idea of applying economics that allow business practices that benefit consumers. Antitrust has tried populism, now resurfacing among progressives and in the Biden administration. That was the experiment that failed.

Hans Bader’s letter in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal is superb:

Your editorial “Nationwide Rent Control?” (Jan. 23) notes, “If there’s any consensus in economics, it’s that rent control achieves the opposite of its intended goal.” That’s true. In a 1992 poll, 93% of economists said rent control reduces the quantity and quality of housing available. Even progressive economists mostly think rent control is stupid.

As Swedish economics professor Assar Lindbeck put it, “Rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing.”

Hans Bader
Arlington, Va.

Robert Wright reminds us of Garet Garrett.

The woke devour their own.

Simon Evans ponders “the French.”

Pierre Lemieux writes insightfully about the folly of anthropomorphizing the collective. A slice:

Classical liberals, especially in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, were correct to see the democratic state not as an expression of the “will of the people,” but simply as an institution that could assume some important functions that private cooperation could not efficiently fulfill.

This is from the Babylon Bee.

This is not from the Babylon Bee: “For the safety of the elephants, submit proof of COVID-19 vaccination prior to Volunteer Day.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Allysia Finley reports on “how Biden officials bungled a better vaccine.” A slice:

Such side effects need to be taken seriously. But the mRNA vaccines have safety risks too, not least myocarditis, especially for young men. An FDA study this month also found an increased risk of pulmonary embolism among seniors who had received the Pfizer vaccine. After the FDA initially played down a “statistical signal” linking Pfizer’s bivalent booster to an increased risk of stroke, a CDC presentation last week revealed the risk may be real after all and appeared to be higher in seniors who had simultaneously gotten a high-dose flu shot.

Public-health authorities rushed to roll out the bivalent boosters in September despite having no clinical trial efficacy and safety data, partially because they believed uptake would be higher if seniors could get them at the same time as the flu shot. “God gave us two arms: one for the flu shot and the other one for the Covid shot,” White House Covid czar Ashish Jha quipped during a press briefing.

Don’t expect the Biden administration to acknowledge this blunder, or its mistake of promoting the mRNA vaccines over the Johnson & Johnson shot. Both errors stem from shortsighted calculations that don’t properly weigh risks against benefits. The same goes for the annual booster push.

Well, those nice folks from the government were just trying to minimize transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – an end that obviously justifies whatever means those nice folks from the government choose to use in pursuit of it. A slice:

The Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were an unprecedented assault on liberty – not only on our freedom to go about our daily lives, but also on our freedom of expression and our freedom to dissent. Just as we were ordered to ‘stay at home’ for months on end, we were also told to stop asking questions about the draconian restrictions.

Today, a report by Big Brother Watch has revealed the alarming lengths the UK government went to in order to hush up its critics. We now know that three government bodies, including a shady Ministry of Defence unit tasked with fighting ‘information warfare’, surveilled and monitored UK citizens, public figures and media outlets who criticised the lockdown – and spiked was caught up in that net.

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

Jay Bhattacharya tweets:

People who believe in a flat earth do no harm to others by their false belief. People who believe in zero-covid, on the other hand, did so much harm…

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