Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 20, 2021

in Hubris and humility

… is from page 83 of George Will’s hot-off-the-press 2021 book, American Happiness and Discontents: The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020 – a collection of many of his columns over these years; (the column from which the quotation below is drawn was originally published in the Washington Post on August 9th, 2019) (original emphasis):

What socialists are so fond of saying, national conservatives are now saying: This time will be different. It never is, because government’s economic planning always involves the fatal conceit that government can aggregate, and act on, information more intelligently and nimbly than markets can.

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… is from page 3 of Richard Epstein’s 2020 book, The Dubious Morality of Modern Administrative Law:

The key explanation for why such a high level of discretion is applied by courts [to the decisions of administrative agencies] is an uncritical belief that administrative agencies will act in the public interest and resist pleas for partisan outcomes. In all too many cases, that optimistic assumption is false.

DBx: Yep. Politicians – even those duly elected by majorities – never have the motivation (or the knowledge) of gods. Ditto for appointed administrative officials and all other government employees. The reason for why this reality escapes so many people escapes me.

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{I’ve removed this first link as potentially severe problems with the data, that I did not initially notice, have been brought to my attention.}

Paul Alexander understandably wonders why the CDC recognizes natural immunity for chicken pox but not for Covid-19.

Jay Bhattacharya on Twitter:

Barring schoolhouse doors revealed our willingness to sacrifice children on the altar of infection control.

Not surprisingly, we achieved the sacrifice (learning loss, & shorter, poorer, & less healthy lives) but did not get the infection control.

Jay Bhattacharya talks with Tom Woods.

Martin Kulldorff talks with Dan Proft and Amy Jacobson.

Covidocratic tyranny metastasizes in Australia.

Geoffrey Sommers, writing from dystopian Australia, warns of the dangers of what we might call ‘long lockdown.‘ A slice:

President Ronald Reagan noted, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. … It must be fought for, protected and handed on [to our children] to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like … where men were free”.

“Show me your papers” is only ever merely the beginning. Vaccine passports, the limiting of certain rights to only those who are vaccinated, the freedom of movement and the ability to travel unimpeded, the ability to remain gainfully employed and to provide for one’s family–by their very nature, the restrictive systems being adopted by the Australian government, our various states, and many of our country’s business leaders are inherently discriminatory, for they will, in no uncertain terms, serve to exclude members of our community from participating fully in our society.

Juliet Samuel describes the suspicion and fear that are induced in ordinary people by the Covidocracy. A slice:

If it hadn’t been for the texts, I would have forgotten that I was under house arrest. I didn’t get my second jab in time to avoid quarantining after my holidays, so I was required to sit in the house for nearly a week doing a stream of overpriced Covid tests and waiting days for the results.

At the start of the week, it was hard to remember. Everything seemed normal. I was at home. The world outside was busy. “I’ll just pop out for a coffee,” I would think to myself, and start down the stairs, before remembering.

On the second or third day, a real-life, honest-to-God quarantine inspector showed up. He was an unhurried fellow with a clipboard and a high-vis vest branded “Test and Trace”. But his arrival concentrated my thoughts. I started to make an extra effort to police what I was doing. Whenever I found my feet taking me absent-mindedly towards the door, a new, police-state superego would kick in to remind me that it was risky. Soon, I had stopped trying to leave.

Freedom day arrived. I left the house triumphantly to go to the shops. But for a few days, although everything seemed normal, it wasn’t. Every time I opened the door to leave my own house, a little voice said: “Wait a minute. Is that a good idea?”

Just like that, my brain had internalised a miniature police state, installing an automatic second-guessing machine that made everything in my day just a little more questionable and difficult. Eventually, the feeling wore off. Scale this up to the size of a country and I fear true normality is still some years away.

Phil Magness on Facebook:

The lockdowners have apparently set up a website for the purpose of screenshotting the social media feeds of unvaccinated people who died of Covid, and grave-dancing over their demise.

Choice involves toleration of risk, and risk does not always play out the way a person hopes. But that’s the price of a free society.

I won’t link to this filth, but I will note that it’s currently making the rounds among the Neckbeard types. One wonders if they would express similar glee at AIDS victims who had unprotected sex and contracted the disease, because it’s functionally the same sort of tasteless and craven behavior.

University of Oxford professor Charles Foster rightly worries that lockdowns are a cancer that devours human agency. Two slices:

Relationships cannot be maintained purely electronically. To suggest that they can is to endorse a pastiche of the complex human person and to ignore what we know about what real relationships entail. For embodied animals, physical proximity and touch matter. Communication is about very much more than the conveying of information – or at least about very much more than conveying the sort of information that can be transferred in language. Much of our most eloquent communication is non-verbal: many of our most important cues are subliminal – lost over the phone, over social media, or on a screen. We need to be hug and be hugged; we need to exude and sniff pheromones. It takes years to become an expert in the use of these subtle, inchoate modalities. It takes, it seems, only months to be dangerously de-skilled.

…..

Though horrible things may happen if autonomy is made a god, horrible things certainly do happen if it is allowed to decay in a society or in any individual. That decay, all the evidence suggests, is one of the symptoms of lockdown.

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 19, 2021

in Crony Capitalism, Virginia Political Economy

… is from pages 16-17 of Ludwig von Mises’s 1932 essay “The Myth of the Failure of Capitalism,” as translated from the original German by Jane E. Sanders and reprinted in Ludwig von Mises, The Clash of Group Interests and Other Essays (Richard Ebeling, ed., 1978):

In the interventionist state it is no longer of crucial importance for the success of an enterprise that operations be run in such a way that the needs of the consumer are satisfied in the best and least expensive way; it is much more important that one has “good relations” with the controlling political factions, that the interventions redound to the advantage and not the disadvantage of the enterprise. A few more Marks worth of tariff-protection for the output of the enterprise, a few Marks less tariff-protection for the inputs in the manufacturing process can help the enterprise more than the greatest prudence in the conduct of operations. An enterprise may be well run, but it will go under if it does not know how to protect its interests in the arrangement of tariff rates, in the wage negotiations before arbitration boards, and in governing bodies of cartels. It is much more important to have “connections” than to produce well and cheaply. Consequently the men who reach the top of such enterprises are not those who know how to organize operations and give production a direction which the market situation demands, but rather men who are in good standing both “above” and “below,” men who know how to get along with the press and with all political parties, especially with the radicals, such that their dealings cause no offense. This is that class of general directors who deal more with federal dignitaries and party leaders than with those from whom they buy or to whom they sell.

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My latest column for AIER is the first of a two-part series on the indispensability, for the productive use of resources, of market-determined prices. A slice:

The reason socialism inevitably wastes resources is rooted in the fact that, under such a regime, the state owns all means of production (or what Mises called “goods of higher order”). Without private ownership of the means of production, there is no genuine exchange of the means of production. There is no transfer of ownership of plots of land, of factories, of commercial lathes, or of stockpiles of iron ore and bauxite. With no exchange of the means of production, there are no prices of the means of production. (Each price, after all, is among the terms on which one thing is exchanged for another.) And with no prices of the means of production, the manager of a factory that produces, say, lawn mower blades can’t possibly know whether the lowest-cost method of producing these blades involves the use of steel or of aluminum or of carbon fiber.

Without prices in the means of production, this factory manager must fly blind. Her decision on which material to use is a wild guess. Suppose she decides to produce blades using steel. She requisitions some quantity of steel from the central planning bureau, and the bureau complies. A few hours later, however, the bureau receives another requisition for steel, this time from a comrade charged with the responsibility for manufacturing automobile engines. But because the bureau already shipped steel to the blade factory, there’s not enough steel now to ship to the engine factory.

How is anyone to know if this quantity of steel is better used to produce blades or engines? Without market-determined prices, such knowledge is impossible.

In a market economy, blade producers and engine producers compete against each other for steel. The factory owner who offers the highest price for some amount of steel is the one who gets that steel. And the factory owner who offers the highest price for that steel is the one who expects to use that steel in the highest-valued manner – that is, to produce outputs for which consumers are willing to pay higher prices. Also in a market economy, producers of other outputs – outputs from bird feeders to I-beams – observe the price of steel as it compares to the prices of aluminum, carbon fiber, and other materials. These other producers make their own production plans based on these prices. Producers for whom the price of steel is attractive buy steel for use; producers for whom the price of steel is unattractive buy aluminum or some substitute input for use.

Socialism, however – by eliminating prices of each of the countless different means of production – eliminates this method of determining the allocation of steel and other inputs. Steel and other inputs, not being priced, are allocated without any knowledge of which particular outputs are produced at lowest cost using steel and which outputs are produced at lowest cost using some other material.

The result is a massive waste of resources. Many outputs are produced using inputs that would have produced more output – measured in terms of economic value – had those inputs been used otherwise. The result is a systemwide, gargantuan failure to get as much output as possible from available inputs.

As Mises summarized the fate of a fully socialized economy, “As soon as one gives up the conception of a freely established monetary price for goods of a higher order, rational production becomes completely impossible.”

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Some Covid Links

by Don Boudreaux on September 18, 2021

in Books, Current Affairs, FDA, Reality Is Not Optional, Risk and Safety, Video

Texas Tech economist – and GMU Econ alum – Ben Powell understandably worries about what we might call ‘long lockdown.’ A slice:

Today the risk of death from COVID-19 for children and most vaccinated adults is no greater than other routine risks we accept in our daily lives without thought. Fewer than 500 American children under 17 have died from the disease since the start of the pandemic, while a few thousand die in car accidents each year. For children and vaccinated adults, the New York Times recently summarized the situation by writing, “For the vast majority of people, the virus resembled a typical flu, rarely causing serious illness.” However, the incentives of health bureaucrats will be to continue to propagandize us by inflating the risk in order to maintain their own authority, prestige, and budgets.

For example, the federal mask mandate on airplanes that was set to expire on Sept. 13 has been extended to Jan. 18, despite the low risk of severe cases for most Americans. Although the Delta variant undoubtedly played a role in that decision, we should be concerned that health bureaucrats will frighten Americans with new variants to get us to continue to accept their “inconveniences” based on false claims of the safety they provide — much as the TSA has done with terrorism over the last 20 years.

Reason‘s Robby Soave reports on yet another officious Covidocratic hypocrite. A slice:

Yet another politician was caught violating her own mask mandate. This time it’s San Francisco Mayor London Breed, who partied maskless at a jazz club on Wednesday despite the city’s requirements.

Reason‘s Matt Welch decries Biden’s cynical – and scientifically uninformed – exploitation of Covid hysteria. A slice:

Even as vaccinations, unavailable to those under 12, have become widespread, and the more infectious delta variant has become the dominant strain, minors are still blessedly underrepresented in COVID death numbers: 146 out of 97,071 since April 1, or 0.15 percent. Kids are 23.1 percent of the United States population, one out of every 4.3 people, and even during the delta/vaccination period, they have accounted for just one out of every 665 COVID deaths. The virus is still unlikely to crack the top 10 causes of pediatric fatalities this year, lagging far behind car crashes, drowning, suffocation, drug overdoses, cancer, malignant neoplasm, and heart disease.

Ah, I can hear some parents retort (literally, in the case of a Washington Post scare story Thursday), “It doesn’t matter how small the numbers are…. Even if the numbers are really small, you still keep thinking it could be yours.” But upper-middle-class neurosis (and the journalism amplifying it) should not drive pandemic policy; rational risk assessment should.

Stacey Rudin asks if you’re ready and willing to again be free.

Nigel Farage, with whom I disagree on many matters, declares that he will not obey any further lockdown commands – a declaration that I applaud enthusiastically and without condition.

Johns Hopkins medical professor Marty Makary, writing in the Washington Post, decries the hesitancy to recognize the reality, enjoyed by those who have had and survived Covid-19, of “powerful” natural immunity from that disease. A slice:

So, the emerging science suggests that natural immunity is as good as or better than vaccine-induced immunity. That’s why it’s so frustrating that the Biden administration has repeatedly argued that immunity conferred by vaccines is preferable to immunity caused by natural infection, as NIH director Francis Collins told Fox News host told Bret Baier a few weeks ago. That rigid adherence to an outdated theory is also reflected in President Biden’s recent announcement that large companies must require their employees to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing, regardless of whether they previously had the virus.

Downplaying the power of natural immunity has had deadly consequences. In January, February and March, we wasted scarce vaccine doses on millions of people who previously had covid. If we had asked Americans who were already protected by natural immunity to step aside in the vaccine line, tens of thousands of lives could have been saved. This is not just in hindsight is 20/20; many of us were vehemently arguing and writing at the time for such a rationing strategy.

My GMU Econ colleague Alex Tabarrok reviewed, in the Wall Street Journal, Scott Gottlieb’s new book, Uncontrolled Spread. A slice:

Dr. Gottlieb is much kinder to his friends and former colleagues at the FDA. My view is that the FDA shares in the failure. The FDA does not have authority over laboratory-developed tests, so in ordinary times a lab can develop a test without seeking FDA approval. But the FDA, using the Covid-19 emergency as a pretext, asserted that any SARS-CoV-2 test needed its approval before it could be deployed. Thus the logic of emergency was inverted. Instead of lifting regulations and giving priority to speed, the FDA increased regulation and slowed test deployment.

(DBx: One general lesson that I draw from facts such as this one is about the unfortunate but largely unalterable reality of government. Government has a nature no less than does any virus. It’s therefore not only pointless, but dangerous because distracting, to make declarations about what interventions government ‘should’ have pursued, and should pursue in the future, to better protect us from contagious pathogens as if government’s nature is amenable to good intentions expressed by persons adequately informed about science. Much of the disagreement among people about Covid policy springs from the different assessments different people make about the amount of knowledge to which government can reasonably be supposed to have access and the ability to process, and about the likelihood that government officials will act in the public interest when acting in this manner runs against these officials’ own interests. If our earthly affairs were governed by a supernatural power akin in both knowledge and motivation to the Christian God, then even I would trust this power with the authority to lock humanity down if and whenever this power deemed such a move to be the best. But of course the state is a power categorically and dramatically inferior on all dimensions to any such supernatural power. While no one directly and expressly denies the truth of the previous sentence, a shockingly large number of people endorse government policies as if the previous sentence were untrue. Among the many surprises of the past 18 months has been the number of people who, pre-Covid, understood that the state is not a godlike institution, but who, once Covid appeared, joined ranks with those who believe that the state is both capable of being, and eager to be, godlike.)

Phil Magness on Facebook:

Suppose a test was developed tomorrow that detected and easily demonstrated whether a person currently has true and robust immunity to covid. Not vaccination, or recovery from previous covid, but actual real-time robust immunity.

Such a test would completely obviate the externality argument for other covid NPIs (which was already flimsy to begin with, but let’s grant it for a moment) for the person with demonstrated immunity, as such a person would have practically no risk of either catching or transmitting the virus.

It is my strong suspicion that the great majority of people who previously pled for and justified those same NPIs on an externality basis would continue to demand their imposition on the demonstrably immune anyway, shifting their appeals over to claims about “fairness” and symbolic solidarity with those who lacked real-time robust immunity. Indeed, we’ve already seen signs of this sort of behavior in the form of the masking revival.

Jay Bhattacharya on Twitter:

A common trope: if we only lock down hard now, we can avoid hard lockdowns in future.

The track record is poor — we always end up locking down now and later, with the public blamed for non-compliance.

Why not just not lock down?

Here’s a new video featuring the great Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford:

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Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 18, 2021

in Creative destruction, Philosophy of Freedom, Podcast

… is from page 83 of George Will’s hot-off-the-press 2021 book, American Happiness and Discontents: The Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020 – a collection of many of his columns over these years; (the column from which the quotation below is drawn was originally published in the Washington Post on August 9th, 2019):

The aristocrats were not wrong in seeing their supremacy going up in the smoke from industrialism’s smokestacks: Market forces powered by mass preferences do not defer to inherited status.

DBx: Don’t miss Nick Gillespie’s recent conversation with George Will.

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Here’s a follow-up letter to my correspondent from this morning:

Ms. S__:

Thanks for your follow-up e-mail.

I regret that you find “simplistic” what you call my “economics self interest explanation of pay [differences between] men and women employees.”

I’ll grant that because the U.S. Soccer Federation is a not-for-profit organization its decisions on pay (and other matters) aren’t driven as much by competitive market forces as are the decisions of most employers. Not-for-profit organizations do indeed have a greater scope to unjustly discriminate than do for-profit organizations. And so it might well be that there’s merit in the lawsuit brought by the women soccer players

But I don’t believe that the economic explanation for pay differences generally is more simplistic than is an explanation centered on bigotry. Nothing, I think, is as simplistic as observing a difference in men’s and women’s pay and then ascribing that difference to employers’ motives.

Allow me one more attempt to persuade you. Suppose that I start a new professional football league, the GFL – the Geezer Football League. In my league I hire as players only men ages 60 and older. Do you doubt that the pay of even the most talented GFL players would be no higher than a tiny fraction of the pay of the most ordinary player today in the NFL?

How would you explain this pay difference? Some people might try to explain it by screaming “age discrimination!” Yet surely you know better. You understand that the public’s demand to watch old men play football is not and never will be as intense as is the public’s demand to watch young men do the same. This difference in demand for watching NFL games as compared to GFL games is sufficient to explain, without resort to allegations of unsavory motives, why players in my GFL would be paid far less than are players in the NFL.

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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Here’s a letter to a college sophomore writing a paper for one of her courses:

Ms. S__:

Thanks for your e-mail.

You ask for my thoughts on the U.S. Women’s Soccer team suing to receive pay equal to that of the U.S. Men’s Soccer team. Alas, because I’m unfamiliar with the details of the suit, I’m in no position to comment on it. Ditto for the recent decision of the U.S. Soccer Federation to equalize the pay.

But I will make one substantive point: It’s illegitimate to infer from the fact that female soccer players are paid less than male soccer players that female soccer players necessarily are victims of unjust discrimination. The likely explanation for the difference in pay is simply the fact that the market demand for watching soccer played by men is higher than is the market demand for watching soccer played by women. One can criticize the general public for having such a preference, but if such a preference exists, it and it alone is sufficient to explain the difference in pay.

If you’re skeptical of my reasoning, consider this report from GQ: “The top 10 earning male models earned a combined total of $8 million last year, compared to the $83 million the top supermodels of the world acquired over the same year.”

Why are female fashion models paid so much more than are male fashion models? If discrimination is the only source of pay differences between men and women, then it must be true that in the fashion industry a huge bias exists against men. But surely the more likely explanation for women’s much-higher pay in this industry is the fact that the demand for clothing modeled by women is much higher than is the demand for clothing modeled by men.

Reality is far more complicated than it appears on its surface. Further, ‘outcomes’ observed in commercial markets – contrary to popular belief – are not the results of battles between good and evil but, instead, are almost always the innocent consequences of countless individuals making nuanced trade-offs as they spend their own money.

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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Julian Simon’s son David Simon draws lessons from his own family about the bankruptcy of woke-ism.

My intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy calls out some sloppy reporting on that great geyser of cronyism, the U.S. Export-Import Bank. A slice:

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure it is easy to find companies that will say that they loved having their loans subsidized by the American taxpayers, and that they missed the perks when the Ex-Im was dormant. That’s a whole different thing than claiming that on net the U.S economy suffered. That would require us to believe that economic growth, trade, or even business decisions rest on the competition between government banks extending export subsidies to special-interest clients in higher-income nations where capital is easy to find.

Also from Vero is this dose of realism about taxation. A slice:

Don’t think I’m saying that if the Democrats get it wrong, the Republicans must get it right. They don’t. GOPers say they prefer lower taxes, but they do nothing to restrain spending. I saw evidence of this during the presidencies of Donald Trump and George W. Bush. My colleague Matt Mitchell, along with our former colleague Andrea O’Sullivan, wrote a great paper documenting what’s wrong with this approach. They explain, “Cutting taxes allows policymakers to give voters something they want, while appearing to rein in the size of government. But this is a temporary illusion unless the tax cuts are combined with necessary reductions in spending – a far more difficult but also the more important task.”

And Eric Boehm exposes “the $700 Billion gimmick at the center of Biden’s tax plan.

I’m always honored to be a guest on Amy Jacobson’s and Dan Proft’s radio program in Chicago.

Ian Vásquez writes on the newly released 2021 Economic Freedom of the World report.

Theodore Gebhard is correct: China’s export subsidies enrich Americans and other non-Chinese people at the expense of the Chinese people.

Gary Galles explains that “hating landlords misplaces the blame.

In “America on the Dole,” Peter Suderman decries the fact that “Biden’s American Families Plan would put most working-age American households on the dole.

My GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan wonders why there are no red large cities.

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