Voters as Mad Scientists

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I'm a Bryan Caplan fanboy, having read his "real" books The Myth of the Rational Voter and The Case Against Education; his "comic" book (with Zach Weinersmith) on immigration, Open Borders; and his three previous collections of (mostly) his EconLog posts Labor Econ Versus the World, How Evil Are Politicians?, and Don't Be a Feminist.

This book is the fourth in that series, The general theme is Caplan's antipathy toward politics and resulting statism. The opening essay (and the book's title) describe the overarching problem: in a democracy, we give the voting collective coercive power over our lives. With two complications: (1) the collective has systemic biases (most specifically anti-market biases) that would make everyone worse off; (2) they, like mad scientists, are "unselfish" in expressing those biases. They are for our own good! You're welcome, no charge, it's on the house!

Along the way, Caplan hits some of my favorite themes. One is that we hold government to "absurdly low standards", resulting in high costs and low performance. To paraphrase the Lily Tomlin character Ernestine: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the state."

I also very much enjoyed a pair of articles where a libertarian and a conservative act as "missionaries", each trying to convert the other. I am often in that middle territory myself, and darned if I didn't find myself nodding in agreement with both these articles.

Guess I will always find myself in between the camps. (Currently I'm running 71%-29% libertarian. Approximately.)

The downside of Caplan's format is that it's disjointed. Putting together blog posts (typically 2-3 pages) on paper don't necessarily make a coherent whole.

Quibble one: It appears, as before, that the hyperlinks in the original blog posts have been auto-converted to footnotes in the book's text; this is (to put it mildly) less than convenient if you're interested in following them. I would have, at least, included the posts' URLs as well.

Quibble two: I also noticed a couple typos; there are probably more that I missed.

Last Modified 2024-02-24 6:50 AM EDT

Who Had "Defying the Supreme Court" on Their Biden Impeachment Bingo Card?

I think you can daub it off. What do you think, Vivek?

I speculate, however, that "if Trump had entered these same words", Vivek would be hailing them as compassionate and necessary.

The (more principled) NR editorialists weigh in on Biden’s Desperate Student-Loan-Relief Giveaway:

If President Biden were to spend even half as much energy trying to secure our southern border as he is spending on finding ways to transfer the debts of American college graduates to the taxpayer, the flow of illegal immigrants would by this point have slowed to a trickle. On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the president announced that 153,000 more borrowers will have their student loans “canceled” — which, in practice, means paid by the people who didn’t take them out and spend them — at a cost of $1.2 billion. In January, Biden “canceled” 74,000 loans, at a cost of $5 billion, bringing the total cost to that point to more than $130 billion. By the time he is finished, Penn Wharton records, the president will have spent $475 billion on the program. Never, in the history of buying votes, have so many been so fleeced for so few.

Last year, the Supreme Court held that Biden’s effort to “cancel” up to $20,000 for every borrower in the United States was illegal — a fact that Biden knew all too well. Astonishingly, he responded to this rebuke with rank defiance, vowing that he would “stop at nothing to find other ways” to achieve the same aim. And so he has. Biden delivered the news to the affected students in an email that contains five uses of the word “my” and five uses of the word “I,” and is signed “Joe Biden,” but at no point refers to “Congress” or the “legislature.” This, suffice it to say, is not how the United States government is supposed to work — especially when it is transferring nearly half a trillion dollars from one group of citizens to another. At best, Biden has found a way to achieve piecemeal what he was prohibited from achieving in one fell swoop. At worst, Biden is thumbing his nose at his oath to uphold the Constitution. Either way, it is a disgrace — and all the more so coming from a president who promised to restore American norms.

At that same site, Charles C. W. Cooke has but one demand: Biden’s Student-Loan Lawlessness Must Not Go Unanswered.

Since the summer of last year, Joe Biden has spent $130 billion transferring money from Americans who did not take out loans to pay for college to Americans who did take out loans to pay for college. Over the next few years, Biden intends to spend an additional $345 billion in this manner. Question: How are we going to pay for this perfidy?

Or, rather: Who is going to pay for this? Obviously, the answer can’t be “taxpayers.” Sure, in the short run, that’ll be how these transfers work. But in the long run? After Biden is out of power? Presumably, we are not to expect that the people who didn’t take out those loans and spend them on a service that they received ought to be taxed to pay for those who did? That would be absurd. So I’ll ask again: Where is the cash going to come from? Are we going to claw the money back from the people who were given the free ride? Are we going to take it from the universities themselves — many of which have enormous, unassessed endowments? Are we going to give a tax break to anyone who didn’t receive this largesse? All of these options have their upsides and downsides. At least one of them must become law.

Why? Because what President Biden has done here represents an extraordinary violation of the social compact, that’s why. This isn’t alms for the poor; it’s a brazen cash-grab by Joe Biden’s friends. Biden likes college graduates in a way that he doesn’t like small-business owners, plumbers, or waitresses, so he has decided to send the property of small-business owners, plumbers, and waitresses to those college graduates. That’s it. That’s the whole game. There’s no principle here; the debts owed by others remain untouched. There’s no reform here; the education system remains exactly as it was before this started. The game is exactly how it looks: Peter, general contractor, has been robbed to pay Paul, Ph.D. It’s shameless class politics — and not in that dishonest boy-made-good-from-Scranton way that Joe Biden likes to pretend. To the victors, the spoils.

Another speculation: Based on this move, and also his betrayal of Israel, President Dotard has gotten it into his head that there's a "Nobel Perfidy Prize", and he's set out to win it.

Also of note:

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? The WSJ editorial board has your answer: Given that Biden promised "devastating" consequences if Aleksei Navalny died in the Gulag, It’s Time to Seize Russia’s Reserves.

    The White House is promising tough new sanctions on Russia after the murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but the test of seriousness will be whether President Biden is willing to seize Russia’s sovereign assets and transfer them to Ukraine.

    Mr. Biden and Western nations have been reluctant to confiscate the $300 billion or so in Russian reserve funds parked in Western financial institutions. They were frozen when Russia invaded, but there they sit two years later collecting dust and interest. It’s almost as if Mr. Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz imagine that the money might be an inducement for Vladimir Putin to negotiate a peace deal and rejoin the civilized world.

    But there are no signs that Mr. Putin will settle for a peace short of Ukraine’s capitulation. His forces are on the offensive again, driving Ukrainians from the city of Avdiivka in the last week. With Ukrainians running low on artillery shells and other ammunition, Russia’s tactic is to saturate territory with days of artillery and aerial bombardment and then move in with infantry when nothing is left.

  • Whatever Biden decides to do about Navalny, he better do it while he's still President. Because, as Casey Michel points out, Trump’s Russia Policy Is Appeasement

    With Donald Trump now heavily favored to be the Republican nominee for president, his policy ideas are in the limelight. But his proposed solution for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the greatest security threat to Europe and the West in decades—has drawn little scrutiny or pushback. It can be summarized in one word: appeasement.

    The word is a charged one, and I don’t use it lightly. It points directly to failed policies, especially those of past Democratic presidents, and implies that Mr. Trump’s proposed solution to the war in Ukraine is similarly doomed.

    Last year he suggested letting Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine, and a few months ago claimed he would “resolve the war within 24 hours.” The only way to do that is to give Vladimir Putin what he wants, including recognition of Moscow’s proclaimed annexations in eastern and southern Ukraine.

    Michel goes on to recall Neville Chamberlain's remark about Hitler's designs on Czechoslovakia: “A quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing”. Geez, I know people who sound like that today.

  • It should be an easy choice. Veronique de Rugy looks at alternative economic strategies for policy makers: Deregulation vs. Subsidies.

    At the end of the day, those in favor of industrial policy must make a choice: Will they first eliminate the regulatory obstacles erected by the government and then assess what might productively be done, or will they instead plow forward with further government interventions — interventions destined to fail? I know the answer, and it worries me. With deregulation, there is less opportunity than there is with further regulation to exercise power.

    Meanwhile, let’s give another $10 billion to Intel on top of the other handouts it already received:

    Poor Intel. Last year was pretty rough for the 55-year-old semiconductor firm, as it accrued just $54.2 billion in revenue, 14% less than the year before. After paying all its bills for manufacturing, research and development, and biscuits, there was just $1.7 billion left over in net income. Poor Intel.

    So when the US administration announced the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022, with a total of $280 billion up for grabs, Intel jumped right in to get some of that golden booty. Only now it’s asking for a further $10 billion, at the very least, to ensure Intel’s US developments can continue.

    But not to worry, our friends on the New Right assure us that they will pick better winners and better industrial policy goals when they are in power.

    For today's statists, both left turns and right turns all lead down the Road to Serfdom.