URLs du Jour


  • Answering a question nobody's asking, Hans von Spakovsky at the Daily Signal: Can Trump Use Coronavirus to Delay 2020 Election?

    With Congress, the Supreme Court, sports leagues, schools, and many businesses and companies across America shutting down, only time will tell if we are being appropriately cautious or engaging in a hysterical overreaction to coronavirus.

    But for those imaginative reporters who see a Russian lurking behind every tree and keep asking me if President Donald Trump can use this pandemic as an excuse to delay the 2020 presidential election, the answer is “no.”

    Under our Constitution, the executive branch has no authority whatsoever to delay, reschedule, or otherwise change the federal election in November, much less any of the remaining state primaries. On the other hand, Congress and the states do have that authority.

    I shouldn't have said that nobody's asking the question, I guess. Only "inquisitive reporters" who haven't read the Constitution.

  • It's Wednesday, which means it's a good day to link to Kevin D. Williamson's weekly feature The Tuesday: Character in the Time of Coronavirus.

    One of the maddening things about the U.S. government’s tardy, inadequate, and incompetent response to COVID-19 is that it was the result, in part, of an unnecessarily stupid political calculation. Donald Trump spent 2016 sneering at the idea that the performance of the stock market during the Barack Obama years indicated anything about the quality of the Obama administration’s economic policies; he spent much of his presidency up until a couple of weeks ago boasting about the performance of the stock market during his own administration, arguing that it illustrates the excellence of his administration’s economic policies. He spent the early days of the COVID-19 crisis treating it as though it were principally an economic challenge and spent his time trying to “tweet the markets back to life,” as my National Review colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty put it.

    That’s not exactly working out: On Monday, trading was halted one minute after the market opened and the Dow plunged 2,250.

    Set aside, for a moment, the more substantive question of how the government’s early nonchalance will shape events in the next few months and consider the pure political malpractice of that. Rather than try to bluster through, the president could have said, “There’s a potentially serious new epidemic under way in China, one that involves a virus we haven’t seen before in humans. We are beginning a full national mobilization in response to it. It may turn out to be nothing, in which case we will have spent a few million dollars on a pretty good dry run of our epidemic-response capabilities. That’s a good investment. There isn’t anything to panic about, but we’d rather err on the side of caution than err on the side of inaction. Now, here’s . . . Mike Pence.”

    All right, I might strike that last sentence.

    But he did not.

  • Matt Welch at Reason asks that we Stop It With the Coronavirus Curfews Already. There are serious proposals afoot, apparently. Matt lists four problems:

    1. Shutting most everything down creates real shortages, not just the no-toilet-paper-at-Whole-Foods kind. The more people and industries you order locked down, the more supply chains get broken, the more stores shutter, the fewer goods are available. We all still need stuff, even if we're sitting indoors all day. And in cramped, big cities like New York, where living space is at a premium, there is frequently neither storage space nor predilection for stocking up on weeks' worth of food at a time.
    2. Compressing the commercial day will mean more people shopping together in close quarters. The smart play until now among germaphobes has been hitting up the local Rite Aid in the wee small hours. Mayors, county executives, and governors are increasingly foreclosing that option.
    3. Law enforcement has more urgent priorities than policing the free movement of citizens. At a moment when National Guard reservists are being called up to build emergency ICU capacity, do we really want available man/womanpower scaring peaceable residents straight?
    4. Human beings do not have a limitless capacity for self-imprisonment. We are about to see a lot of resentment from the healthy Youngs about how they no longer have jobs or the ability to make student loan payments because of draconian governmental measures to combat a disease disproportionately affecting the Olds. But even setting that aside, in the absence of V-1 bombs flying overhead, people are eventually going to bust out of their containment. Setting up legal regimes in contravention of human nature is a recipe for all kinds of trouble.

    This is even not considering minor issues like constitutional legality.

  • At Law & Liberty, Reuven Brenner looks Behind the "-Isms".

    Societies around the world have always matched people with capital. No matter when or where, there have been only four institutions through which people carried out this matchmaking: Parents (bankers furnished by nature), savings and financial markets, governments, and criminal organizations. The choice of these means lies at the core of our “-isms,” including the two that figure most prominently in American public opinion right now: capitalism and socialism. The better ability of capitalist democracies to efficiently match capital to people according to their talent comes about because there are more institutions to restore accountability faster, with the deeper financial sector and the risk of default playing the critical roles.

    Sometimes (however) it's difficult to distinguish between "governments" and "criminal organizations", except by reputation.

  • Wired is especially tedious these days, with its writers in full lying-Trump's-gonna-kill-us-all mode. But this article by Jason Lanier and Glen Weyl, Microsoft researchers, contains an interesting idea: AI is An Ideology, Not A Technology.

    “AI” is best understood as a political and social ideology rather than as a basket of algorithms. The core of the ideology is that a suite of technologies, designed by a small technical elite, can and should become autonomous from and eventually replace, rather than complement, not just individual humans but much of humanity. Given that any such replacement is a mirage, this ideology has strong resonances with other historical ideologies, such as technocracy and central-planning-based forms of socialism, which viewed as desirable or inevitable the replacement of most human judgement/agency with systems created by a small technical elite. It is thus not all that surprising that the Chinese Communist Party would find AI to be a welcome technological formulation of its own ideology.

    It’s surprising that leaders of Western tech companies and governments have been so quick to accept this ideology. One reason might be a loss of faith in the institutions of liberal democratic capitalism during the last decade. (“Liberal” here has the broad meaning of a society committed to universal freedom and human dignity, not the narrower contemporary political one.) Political economic institutions have not just been performing poorly in the last few decades, they’ve directly fueled the rise of hyper-concentrated wealth and political power in a way that happens to align with the elevation of AI to dominate our visions of the future. The richest companies, individuals, and regions now tend to be the ones closest to the biggest data-gathering computers. Pluralistic visions of liberal democratic market societies will lose out to AI-driven ones unless we reimagine the role of technology in human affairs.

    You don't have to buy into the whole argument (and I don't) to see some pretty powerful points here.