URLs du Jour


  • Joy Pullmann of the Federalist is not a Pelosi fan: Democrats' $3 Trillion Coronavirus Spending Wishlist Is Another Farce.

    Democrats released a laughable new “coronavirus” spending bill Tuesday that would rain trillions of future taxpayers’ money on an already bloated and incompetent federal government. More than anything else, it’s proof Democrats are an unserious party unfit to govern at all, let alone in a time of crisis.

    The bill was initially dubbed CARES 2 Act and rapidly renamed the HEROES Act, as if it’s heroic to dump other people’s money out the window after taking it at gunpoint. It would expand by billions of dollars the spending of just about every government agency, most of which Americans don’t even know exist, and very few of which have anything to do with treating the disease.

    I'm not sure if irretrievable damage hasn't already been done by Our Federal Government's fiscal frivolities, but another $3 Tril wouldn't help.

  • James Pethokoukis of the AEI wonders: Traffic is way up, and the internet seems fine. Did we maybe spend too much time ferociously debating net neutrality? (An exception to Betteridge's law of headlines. The answer is yes.)

    A 1990 coronavirus pandemic would have been even worse than today’s version. Sure, there would have been less capability to rapidly produce therapeutics and vaccines. But also no internet economy to keep us connected via Facebook, Google Meet, and Zoom. And no Amazon to bring us all manner of essential items without breaking quarantine. There would have been no curve flattening or crushing back then.

    So thank goodness the internet hasn’t buckled, much less broken. Unlike in Europe, for instance, Netflix and YouTube haven’t been forced to slow down streaming speeds and reduce video quality due to higher usage. Everything here still seems to be working pretty well. But it’s easy to imagine that not being the case. As journalist Charles Fishman reports in The Atlantic, US internet traffic carried by AT&T surged 20 percent in mid-March, with workweek network traffic now up a steady 25 percent from the pre-pandemic period.

    So that's the good Pethokoukis. Unfortunately, there's also…

  • … the bad Pethokoukis. In a different article, he asserts and asks: US federal research spending is at a 60-year low. Should we be concerned?


    The most tweetable takeaways from a new Goldman Sachs report on US science investment tend to focus on the Trump administration. Like this one: “The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to cut funding from federal research and public health agencies.” Or this one: “When adjusted for inflation, the first three years of the Trump administration had the lowest levels of federal R&D spending since FY 2002.”

    But declining US science investment is hardly a new phenomenon, though it may suddenly be more of an issue because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the GS report notes, “The United States successfully first landed astronauts on the moon in 1969. With less urgency in the space race, federal R&D spending gradually decreased over the next two decades to about 4.6% of the federal budget, and stayed at around this level until the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession.” And here’s where we are today: “In FY 2019, federal R&D spending equaled 0.6% of US GDP and 2.8% of total federal outlays, the lowest in over 60 years.”

    I can't find the Goldman Sachs report to which James refers, but here's a recent Fact Sheet from the Congressional Research Service. You can look at the pretty pictures and tables on your own, but in words:

    In current dollars, federal funding for R&D grew from $2.8 billion in 1953 to $127.2 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1%. In constant dollars, federal R&D grew by a 2.8% CAGR during this period. However between 2011 and 2014, federal R&D funding, as measured in current dollars, fell for three consecutive years for the first time since such data has been collected; the total decline in federal funding for these years was $8.7 billion (6.8%). In constant dollars, federal R&D declined seven straight years, from 2009 to 2016, by a total 16.8%; a similar drop occurred from 1987 to 1994, when federal R&D fell by 16.0%.6 In FY2017 and FY2018, federal R&D grew by 1.9% and 2.7% respectively, in constant dollars

    In short, when measured in actual constant dollars, R&D funding is down slightly from its 2011 record. You only get the Pethokoukis headline by measuring, arbitrarily, a fraction of total federal spending, or fraction of US GDP.

    This is a pet peeve of mine. There's no law that entitles any given government function to some permanent fraction of spending. I don't know if you've noticed, but Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid expenditures are growing crazily. By Pethokoukis logic, in order to avoid an R&D spending "cut", such spending must also grow (crazily) at the same rate.

    And of course, there's the ever-present spending fallacy: shoving federal dollars into R&D automatically produces wonderful inventions and progress. Much like feeding more pig snouts into the grinder gives you more yummy sausage out the other end.

    It would be nice if that were true. It isn't true.

  • The Atlantic is not particularly friendly to conservatarian views, so it's nice to see Conor Friedersdorf urging his readers to Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously.

    Should states ease pandemic restrictions or extend lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders into the summer? That question confronts leaders across the United States. President Trump says that “we have to get our country open.” And many governors are moving quickly in that direction.

    Critics are dismayed. Citing forecasts that COVID-19 deaths could rise to 3,000 per day in June, they say that reopening without better defenses against infections is reckless. That assessment may well be correct. Many insist it is immoral, too. The columnist Amy Z. Quinn says the Trump administration is “choosing money over lives.” In a CNN news analysis, Daniel Burke offers this characterization of America’s choice: “Should we reopen the economy to help the majority or protect the lives of the vulnerable?”

    Denunciations of that sort cast the lockdown debate as a straightforward battle between a pro-human and a pro-economy camp. But the actual trade-offs are not straightforward. Set aside “flattening the curve,” which will continue to make sense. Are ongoing, onerous shutdowns warranted beyond what is necessary to avoid overwhelming ambulances, hospitals, and morgues?

    That's… an open question. It's easy to make fun of (or point with horror at) protesting yahoos with their LFOD signs. ("It's not Live Free and Die! Har har har.") But it's not that simple.

  • Kevin D. Williamson's sorta-pessimistic take at NR: It’s Destruction, Yes — But Is It Creative? But here's a nice story about …

    “I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine. I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine.” So sang Tennessee Ernie Ford in his recording of Merle Travis’s “Sixteen Tons,” a surprise hit in 1955.

    That song is an interesting mess of elements that shouldn’t work together: Travis’s semi-autobiographic miner’s lament delivered in Ford’s smooth, classically trained baritone, the singer’s tough-guy posturing complemented by a pretty bad-ass riff played on the . . . clarinet.

    Merle Travis came from coal-mining people in Kentucky; Ernest Jennings Ford was a man of the middle classes, a former radio announcer who studied singing at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. The arc of his life is a familiar one: He went away to war and came home to seek — and find — his fortune in California. “Tennessee Ernie” was one of his radio personae, a stereotypical hillbilly. (The cheerful contrivance of these personalities was part of the charm: Louis Marshall Jones became “Grandpa Jones” when he was in his twenties.) Ford lived the American Dream: If you have a decent off-road vehicle and a few jerry cans of gasoline, you can camp out at his former retreat in the Nevada wilderness, well past where the blacktop ends. He died of liver failure after a state dinner with President George H. W. Bush.

    Kevin ventures into Mark Steyn territory there.