URLs du Jour


  • David Harsanyi writes sensibly, is anyone listening? Coronavirus Scary Enough without the Scaremongering.

    Like the reporters and pundits who seek out the most bloodcurdling predictions regarding coronavirus, I have no expertise on infectious diseases. But I’m far more skeptical about what certain experts say — not the scientists and doctors making amazing and tangible strides in combating the disease, but the model-making policymaking experts who often dominate news stories.

    Former CDC director Tom Frieden, reports the Washington Post, says the U.S. death toll for coronavirus could range anywhere from 327 (best-case scenario) to 1.6 million (worst case). As I noted, I’m not an epidemiologist. That sounds like an extraordinarily wide-ranging set of predictions which are probably contingent on thousands of factors, many of which are beyond our control. Any one of you could comfortably predict a death toll somewhere between 327–1.7 million. These numbers need context.

    I know: how brave do you have to be to come out against scaremongering?

    A big part of the story: nobody wants to be accused, either now or later, of underplaying the problem. Then you get blamed for whatever bad stuff happens.

    In contrast, scaremongering looks like a pretty good strategy, especially for those in power:

    • If things turn out well, you can say: "See, people followed my advice."
    • If things turn out badly, you can say: "See, people didn't listen to me."

  • At the NYPost, Rich Lowry notes a different game of gotcha: Suddenly, the left is complaining that Trump isn’t dictatorial enough.

    What happens when the supposed dictator won’t dictate?

    This is the conundrum confronted by the harshest critics of President Trump, who have gone from warning he is a budding despot to complaining he hasn’t done enough to impose his will during the coronavirus crisis.

    They can’t believe that he didn’t urge sports leagues to cancel their seasons, call for school systems to close or tell bars and restaurants to shutter before this wave of closures began.

    As a New York Times report put it, Trump “has essentially become a bystander as school superintendents, sports commissioners, college presidents, governors and business owners across the country take it upon themselves to shut down much of American life.”

    Presidents, in the modern age, have the extra-Constitutional duty to "do something" in times of crisis. "Something" doesn't have to be effective, or even legal. As long as we are Reassured by the Great Orange Father in Washington.

  • Mickey Kaus detects a "not-so-American idea whose time has come again": The Virus of Corporatism.

    Forget whether you were reassured or not by Trump's Friday coronavirus press conference. […] The identity of the real winner was clear: corporatism.

    Corporatism doesn't mean rule by corporations. It means the theory that society is like a body (corpus) with different institutions and people performing different organic roles and maybe having distinct rights and privileges. We have brains (the state and business elite) and eyes and ears (the press!) and arms and legs (the unions).

    In related news, this morning's WSJ notes that US Airlines Seek $50 Billion Coronavirus Aid Package. Helpfully pointing out that this is three times their post-9/11 bailout.

  • At Econlib, Pierre Lemieux goes Spanish: Rothwell Si, Piketty No! It's a review of a review of Thomas Piketty’s new book. Which apparently "naively defends the sort of hard socialism that we would instead expect to find in the dreams of some befuddled French sociologist."

    The Economist quotes the incipit of the book, where Piketty pontifies:

    Every human society must justify its inequalities.

    I checked on Amazon that it is a faithful translation of the French original:

    Chaque société humaine doit justifier ses inégalités.

    Especially for an economist, the declaration raises an immediate question: How does society do that? Is it the top 1% who must provide a justification through its collective mouth? Or the bottom 1% through its different mouth? Or some group of rationally ignorant voters? Or everybody through some mythical “social welfare function”? Or is it some philosopher-king—like Piketty, to take an example at random—who will interpret the general will?

    On this third-hand description, it sounds as if Piketty's trying to do something Rawlsian, without the care Rawls took to develop his ideas.

  • OK, this was something I was wondering about, watching people in line at the supermarket: Why Shoppers Are Hoarding Toilet Paper. Does Time have the answer?

    But why? What is it about toilet paper—specifically the prospect of an inadequate supply of it—that makes us so anxious? Some of the answer is obvious. Toilet paper has primal—even infantile—associations, connected with what is arguably the body’s least agreeable function in a way we’ve been taught from toddlerhood. Few, if any of us, remember a time when we weren’t acquainted with the product.

    “There is comfort in knowing that it’s there,” says psychologist Mary Alvord, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine. “We all eat and we all sleep and we all poop. It’s a basic need to take care of ourselves.”

    What would we do without Associate Professors of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the George Washington University School of Medicine?