URLs du Jour


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie may be on to something: We Will Regret Not Taking the Economic Effects of Mass Quarantine More Seriously.

    It won't be popular to call attention to the possiblity that such actions might be an overreaction. But it's a serious point, even if that sentiment has no hopes of carrying the day. The federal government botched the early response to coronavirus, so why should we expect it to get its act together now? Whenever we are finally clear of this pandemic, we will need to study our response to understand what we did right and what we did wrong. With a virtually complete halt of the American economy about to begin, we should enter this phase with full awareness that it wasn't the only choice available to us.

    On Friday in The New York Times, David L. Katz of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center outlined in no uncertain terms what is known about the effects of coronavirus and its likely spread among older and sickly Americans. He pointed out that the death rate on the Diamond Princess cruise ship—"that insular and uniformly exposed population"—is roughly 1 percent. Similar or smaller numbers are observed in countries such as China, Taiwain, Singapore, and South Korea, where the rate of new infections is declining, signaling that infection is at least temporarily under control. As a medical professional, Katz in no way scants public health concerns. But he is also

    deeply concerned that the social, economic and public health consequences of this near total meltdown of normal life—schools and businesses closed, gatherings banned—will be long lasting and calamitous, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself. The stock market will bounce back in time, but many businesses never will. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be public health scourges of the first order.

    I'm no epidemiologist, but I know what panic looks like, and I know that it rarely … oh, heck, never … results in good rational decisions.

    We'll muddle through. We always do. But my guess is that the next few years will be much rougher than they should have been, and the "lessons learned" will be minimal, because it will be in nobody's partisan interest to look back in honesty about how foolish everyone is behaving.

  • At Power Line (a few days ago), John Hinderaker offered the results of what must have been a pretty fierce competition: The Day’s Dumbest Comment….

    comes from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who issued an order yesterday shutting down all “non-essential” businesses in the state. Of course, pretty much all businesses are essential to those who own them and work for them. But that isn’t what Cuomo meant:

    “I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do,” Cuomo said. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

    This is profoundly stupid. When you are dealing with the lives of millions of people, everything you do–or don’t do–has consequences. When you drive thousands of businesses into bankruptcy, people die. When you unemploy millions of people, some of them die. When tens of millions live in more straitened circumstances, some of them die. There is robust social science research on this point. Shutting down New York’s “nonessential” businesses will kill. How many, we will never know. So Cuomo won’t have to take responsibility for his ill-advised action. And, of course, millions of lives will be blighted even when no one dies.

    One can only hope that the politicians will be held accountable, but if history is any guide, they will not be.

  • David Harsanyi is another lonely voice of sanity: Coronavirus Pandemic Doesn’t Discredit Small-Government Conservatism.

    There are no libertarians during a pandemic, they tell me. Everyone is a Keynesian these days, apparently. It’s not just socialism that leads to shortages and empty shelves, fans of socialism point out. (They neglect to mention that, unlike the grocery shelves in socialistic nations, ours will be restocked as soon as the worst passes — and probably sooner.)

    Yet the coronavirus crisis has only strengthened my belief in limited-government conservatism — classical liberalism, libertarianism, whatever you want to call it. Years of government spending and expanding regulation have done nothing to make us safer during this emergency; in fact, our profligate spending during years of prosperity has probably constrained our ability to borrow now.

    Yes, unforeseen existential threats to America sometimes require extraordinary temporary measures that would normally be considered terrible policy. Asking most of the United States to self-quarantine during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic makes some sense, but asking 350 million people to self-quarantine when there’s no unique health risk would be ruinous, not to mention utterly insane. Perhaps sending Americans $1000 government-stimulus checks, instituting temporary sick- and family-leave pay as an emergency measure to keep families afloat, and bailing out our hardest-hit industries makes some sense, too, but not all ideas are equally beneficial in all situations.

    This pandemic also shows us that government does far too much of what it shouldn’t, and is far too incompetent at doing what it should.

    As noted above, neither Republicans nor Democrats are in any mood to make that point. That would make it difficult to maintain the narrative that they are saviors of America

  • Steven Landsburg wonders: Is It A Crime to Stop the Economy? He hosts a small essay by Romans Pancs:

    It is a crime against humanity for governments to stop a capitalist economy. It is a crime against those whom the economic recession will hit the hardest: those employed in the informal sector, those working hourly customer service jobs (e.g., cleaners, hairdressers, masseurs, music teachers, and waiters), the young, the old who may not have the luxury of another year on the planet to sit out this year (and then the subsequent recession) instead of living. It is a crime against those (e.g., teachers and cinema ushers) whose jobs will be replaced by technology a little faster than they had been preparing for. It is a crime against the old in whose name the society that they spent decades building is being dismantled, and in whose name the children and the grandchildren they spent lifetimes nourishing are subjected to discretionary deprivation. Most importantly, it is a crime against the values of Western democracies: commitment to freedoms, which transcend national borders, and commitment to economic prosperity as a solution to the many ills that had been plaguing civilisations for millennia.

    Pancs makes a provocative and subtle argument. I fear he's right.

  • Ah, but let's look at a stupid argument that has nothing to do with the Kung Flu. Wired hosts one from Gilad Edelman: Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?

    Let’s pretend it really happened. Imagine Congress passed a law tomorrow morning that banned companies from doing any ad microtargeting whatsoever. Close your eyes and picture what life would be like if the leading business model of the internet were banished from existence. How would things be different?

    Many of the changes would be subtle. You could buy a pair of shoes on Amazon without Reebok ads following you for months. Perhaps you’d see some listings that you didn’t see before, for jobs or real estate. That’s especially likely if you’re African-American, or a woman, or a member of another disadvantaged group. You might come to understand that microtargeting had supercharged advertisers’ ability to discriminate, even when they weren't trying to.

    Gilad is pretty cavalier about trashing the business models of a host of companies simply because he doesn't like seeing Reebok ads.

Last Modified 2020-03-23 2:50 PM EDT