URLs du Jour

2020-03-27

  • The Club For Growth emits its 2019 Scorecards for last year's votes by Senators and Congresscritters.

    Club for Growth’s annual Congressional Scorecard tracks how members of Congress vote on economic legislation. Each year the Club for Growth issues Key Vote Alerts urging Representatives and Senators to vote in favor of economic policies that strengthen our nation’s economy and against legislation that would raise taxes, increase harmful regulations, and grow our already massive government. At the end of the year, the Club for Growth Foundation conducts a study of how members of Congress voted on key issues, including the Club’s Key Vote Alerts, and ascribes a score.

    The CfG has taken on a more partisan cast, unfortunately. Despite their claim to track "economic legislation", it seems they put the Trump impeachment votes on the scoreboard. Whether you think impeachment was a good idea or not, it's hard to cast it as an economic vote.

    And, since both NH senators and my congresscritter are Democrats, they got lousy scores.


  • So my Governor, Chris Sununu, stepped up his Covid-19 game, issuing a "stay-at-home order" for the Granite State. You can Read The Whole PDF here. It's pretty porous. I'm still allowed to walk my dog, for example. Anywhere I want, except Hampton Beach is off limits, social distancing guidelines must be obeyed, etc. At Inside Sources, Michael Graham has some fun asking us to Meet New Hampshire's 'Essential' Workers.

    Who’s ‘essential?’ Doctors and nurses certainly are, and first responders, too. Grocery stores have to stay open and vital supplies must be trucked across America’s highways.

    And then, of course, there are the florists.

    When New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced his state was going on stay-at-home lockdown, he issued a list of ‘essential’ jobs and services exempted from the no-go order. Among them: “Workers supporting…florists, and farm stands.” Is a bouquet of roses and a loaf of farm-fresh bread an ‘essential’ service? It is in New Hampshire.

    Not to mention a freshly dry-cleaned shirt.

    I'm slightly inconvenienced by the closure of the UNH Library, my primary source for "serious" non-fiction. (The Portsmouth Public Library, my primary source for everything else, closed back on 3/16.)

    I'll live. I hope.


  • Daniel J. Mitchell discusses the latest nonsense, namely Washington’s Counterproductive Attack on Stock Buybacks.

    Back in 2013, I joked that “you get bipartisanship when the Stupid Party and the Evil Party both agree on something.”

    That generally means bad outcomes, with the TARP bailout being a prime illustration.

    We now have another example since many Republicans and Democrats want to restrict – or even ban – companies from buying shares from owners (i.e., company shareholders).

    If you're weak on what stock buybacks are, Dan has links to more information, mostly describing the awfulness resulting from politicians substituting their own judgment for that of business owners and managers.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson accurately skewers pundits and pols who see dead people market failure everywhere. Coronavirus Face-Mask Shortage: Failure of Planning, Not Economics. (Current headline: 'More Cowbell'.)

    For Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other comrades in the socialist vanguard of the Democratic Party, the coronavirus epidemic proves that the world needs socialism. For admirers of Western European universal health-care systems, the outbreak proves the need for the United States to build a Western European universal health-care system. (Like Italy’s?) For Joe Biden, the plague proves that the world needs Joe Biden. It is pretty easy to imagine Joe Biden demanding “More cowbell!” but that is what every political opportunist is saying right now. Like climate change or that infinitely plastic thing known as “national security,” the coronavirus epidemic is a policy palimpsest that political entrepreneurs will be writing over forever, or at least until something more convenient comes along. We know how that story goes, because we have heard it so many times before: Al-Qaeda flies airplanes into a building and Arianna Huffington gets to tell you what kind of car to drive.

    Kevin has a good rundown of the actual producers of facemasks and what they've been up to.


  • At the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf detects Two Kinds of Pandemic Failures. Current headline: "The Government Is Failing by Doing Too Little, and Too Much". Is it too much to ask for Goldilocks Government—just right?

    The United States is performing more poorly than it should in the present crisis, even apart from the actions and rhetoric of President Trump, for at least two distinct reasons: underinvestment in public-health infrastructure and unduly onerous government regulations.

    That first category of error has received far more attention. To cite one example of many: the Bush administration noted in its “National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza,” released in 2005, that if an infectious disease spread across the nation, federal officials planned “to distribute medical countermeasures ... from the Strategic National Stockpile and other distribution centers to federal, state and local authorities.” According to the Los Angeles Times, the Strategic National Stockpile shipped out roughly 100 million N95 masks to protect doctors and nurses during the 2009 swine-flu epidemic, prompting a task force to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to replenish the supply.

    I'm pretty libertarian, but maintaining public health in the face of pandemic is pretty high up on even my short list of "Valid Government Functions". But even less libertarian folks should wonder: if the government is so bad at this, why should we expect them to do better on more complex and subtle tasks?

Motherless Brooklyn

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A pretty good movie. Edward Norton wrote it for the screen (adapting a Jonathan Lethem novel), directed, and stars. A cynical take: he's thinking Oscars! Unfortunately, it got zero Oscar nominations (but one Golden Globe nomination). Don't know what happened there. Maybe it was too long. (Two hours, twenty-four minutes.)

It's set in 1950s New York, and Norton plays Lionel Essrog, who works for an investigatory firm headed by his father-figure mentor, Frank (Bruce Willis). Unfortunately, Frank keeps Lionel and his co-investigators mostly in the dark on a job that gets him seriously killed. Lionel and the rest of the crew try to find out what Frank was working on, and bring his killers to justice.

Lionel has Tourette's Syndrome, which causes him to blurt out uncontrollable streams of words at unpredictable times. This bothers people a lot less than you might think. Pretty soon, he's made connections to New York's major development guru, Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a thinly-disguised Robert Moses. Opposing Moses is a plucky activist, Gabby Horowitz (Cherry Jones), an equally thinly-diguised Jane Jacobs. But also in the mix is Laura Rose (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who unexpectedly becomes a love interest.

Well, it's long and the mystery's solution is pretty sordid. Alec Baldwin is well-known these days for doing a one-note Trump impression on Saturday Night Live, and I'm pretty sure some of that leaks into his performance here, where Moses talks about his, um, liaison with a woman decades past.

The period details are pretty amazing: lots of old cars and storefronts. And a resurrected Penn Station.

The American Dream Is Not Dead

(But Populism Could Kill It)

[Amazon Link]

This short book by (168 print pages, including end matter) was published in late February. It's by economist Michael R. Strain, who works for the American Enterprise Institute. I got the Kindle version for a mere $7.49, link at right. It's a quick read, very accessible.

Consumer note: some of the book's graphs rely on color. If your primary Kindle reading device is monochrome…

Strain's thesis is simple, set out right there in the title; he sets out to debunk the various doomsayers on left and right who claim that the American Dream is … well, if not dead, then seriously unwell. We're simply not doing that badly. Strain is no Pollyanna, setting out various challenges that the US is not meeting well. But he trots out some pretty convincing statistics showing that typical workers have been enjoying modest income gains over the past thirty years or so. He uses the "personal consumption expenditures" price index to account for inflation, as opposed to the more popular Consumer Price Index, arguably a more accurate choice.

Strain also looks at mobility, very relevant to the dream. He looks briefly at "relative" mobility—e.g., how likely is it that a kid growing up in a bottom-income-quintile family will move into a higher quintile? But he makes a good point about relative mobility as judged by income quintiles or some other N percent fraction of the income spectrum: when somebody moves up, someone else has to move down.

So he prefers absolute mobility, and the results are pretty cheery there. Most American men (about 59%) earn more than their fathers did at the same age. And about 80% of sons from the bottom 20% of income out-earn their fathers.

The numbers could be better. But we won't make them better (Strain goes on to argue) by various populist nostrums proposed by left and right: protectionism, industrial policy, punitive taxes on the successful.

Strain's book does something interesting by including rebuttals: one from the left (E. J. Dionne) and one from the right (Henry Olson). And then a final response to these critics—author's privilege—from Strain.

Even though it's a short book, I've left some stuff unmentioned here. It's very accessible and (to my mind) convincing.