URLs du Jour

2020-04-16

  • I'd guess Deirdre McCloskey's National Review article, Coercion and the Coronavirus, is paywalled. (It's from the print magazine that showed up for me yesterday.) Among other things, Deirdre makes a language point:

    But I do so dislike the two words we use, the S-word and the C-word. They are misleading, coinages both of them by the enemies of liberty. Like “society” or “the nation” or “the general will” or “the balance of international trade,” they make us stupid. Capitalism should be called, rather, “innovism,” which is what it is. The original liberalism of people such as Adam Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft inspirited millions of ordinary people to have a go at innovating, such as Malcom McLean in 1956 inventing containerization, with the result that real income per head exploded, raising the roof. To a very, very tall roof. A roof 30 times as tall as the roofs of the earlier, pathetic hovels. It’s called the “Great Enrichment,” well beyond the more routine Industrial Revolution.

    “Socialism,” to consider the other bad word, sounds sweet and collaborative. It charmed me as a folk-singing leftie in high school. Bernie Sanders and I are the same age. In 1960 we had the same opinion about capitalism. Since then I’ve listened and learned. Of course socialism is literally the use of the government’s monopoly of physical coercion to force people to do what they would not otherwise choose to do. If your sweetly socialist neighbor doesn’t think so, and balks at the word “coercion,” buy her a copy of the Soviet Jew Vasily Grossman’s last novel, Everything Flows (unpublished and indeed suppressed after his death in 1964), about how life under socialism actually is. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power over the economy corrupts absolutely.

    Socialism should therefore be called “coercionism.” Sometimes, rarely, what the government coerces us to do is a swell idea, such as coercing parents to inoculate their children against measles. One measles case infects 20 others and the disease is regularly fatal for adults who haven’t had it as children. Ask the Aztecs and the Incas and the Mohicans on that score. The corresponding number for the novel coronavirus is two or three, which is quite bad enough. For influenza it is lower, between one and two, which is why in the normal seasonal influenzas, for some of which we have inoculations, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to coerce people. People, especially old people like me, have plenty of incentive to self-protect by getting their shots. And when the protection from the flu doesn’t work, as for many thousands annually it doesn’t, there isn’t actually anything more that either self-protection or an activist government can do about it.

    That's probably enough. Don't want to get into copyright legal trouble.

    The problem with using more accurate language is obvious: few will know what the hell you're talking about.


  • At the Library of Economics and Liberty, David Henderson writes Flattening the Curve and Moving the Goalposts. Quoting a Facebook article by Ben Powell:

    The reason for the shutdown was not simply to “flatten the curve” for its own sake but to flatten it so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed. It was not to decrease the total number of people who get the disease. It was to spread out the cases to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed so that there would not be deaths from COVID because of lack of available medical care (regardless of what the death rate from COVID is otherwise). It was a particular cause of death (lack of hospital capacity) that the shutdown was to avoid. So, the relevant data for re-opening is hospital capacity. That’s it. And we can get reliable data for that in the US and it varies by region. But most of the country has plenty of hospital capacity and in fact, due to bans on non-essential medical proceedures, some hospitals have so much excess capacity that they are hurting financially and laying off workers. Other data like cases and case fatality are interesting and (poorly) inform other decisions such as whether and how much I choose to social distance. But it’s not relevant for the re-opening debate.

    We used to assume a lot of people would catch Kung Flu. Is that not still the case? If that's still true, restrictions should start being lifted in areas where there's plenty of hospital capacity. Like here in New Hampshire.


  • People waste a lot of ire on price gougers. Veronique de Rugy suggests a different, more worthwhile target: Frivolous Litigators Bite the Hands That Care for Them.

    Health care professionals and businesses are both worried. For instance, COVID-19 has hit seniors disproportionately, and nursing homes have become a significant target of these attorneys. Recently, the Florida Health Care Association urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to provide legal immunity to protect facilities and their workers from lawsuits that attempt to hold them liable for the harm spread suddenly by this virus.

    Beyond the immediate impact, these medical malpractice lawsuits would also have long-term consequences, since studies show that they raise the cost of health care. According to estimates examined by my Mercatus Center colleagues Jared Rhoads and Robert Graboyes, because of fears of being sued, physicians resort to a form of defensive medicine that consists of doing more than is strictly necessary to treat a patient, at an aggregate cost ranging between $650 to $850 billion per year.

    There's no crisis so bad that a bunch of trial lawyers can't make worse.


  • At the WaPo, Yuval Levin makes a valid point: Only the public can reopen the economy. After reviewing the silly despotism revealed by Trump's assertion of his sole power to dictate an economic restart, and state officials' pushback:

    But the whole dispute betrays a serious misunderstanding of the situation the country is in. The fact is that neither the president nor the governors could reopen the economy with the stroke of a pen. Nothing they could do would, by itself, persuade people to return to work, send their kids to school or make travel plans. Americans are worried about getting sick. They began canceling plans well before most states took major actions, and the confidence to get back to normal would require much more than the word of any politician.

    In one recent poll, Gallup asked how soon respondents would “return to your normal activities” once restrictions were lifted. Only 20 percent said they would do so immediately. Seventy-one percent said they would “wait to see what happens with the coronavirus.” The only way to really reopen the economy is to make sure that what those people see is reassuring. And that can happen only if the federal government and the states cooperate to create the conditions for public confidence.¶

    That simple reality can also clarify the character of American federalism. The purpose of America’s various layers of government is not to order people around. It is to help create and sustain the conditions in which people can lead free and flourishing lives.

    I'm glad the Washington Post saw fit to run such a sensible take. I only wish that simply reading the article didn't dump—I am not exaggerating—46 cookies onto my browser.


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards looks at Our Post Office. USPS: Privatization vs. Bailouts.

    Similarly, Congress has long ignored calls to reform the U.S. Postal Service, and now the USPS faces a desperate financial crisis. In the past, the Trump administration proposed major USPS restructuring, as did the Cato Institute. But over the years, Congress has blocked even modest cost‐​saving changes that the USPS has proposed.

    I proposed to Congress that it privatize the USPS, which would have given the company the flexibility it needs to weather the Covid‐​19 crisis. The USPS is in a straitjacket unable to save itself during the crisis because Congress imposes restrictions on costs, pricing, labor unions, delivery, and other operational factors.

    Any additional taxpayer money going to the USPS should be predicated on significant reforms that will lessen or remove taxpayer exposure to this 18th-century institution.

    My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat has a mail-related article today: Mail carriers ask for help with social distancing. Which starts out with useful information about proper Covid-related etiquette the USPS would like you to follow.

    But then turns into an unpaid ad for a local pol who's proposing a USPS taxpayer bailout:

    On Monday, Maine Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree cosponsored legislation to support the USPS during the coronavirus pandemic. USPS, which handles 47% of the world’s mail, has seen a serious drop in both mail volume and revenues during the health emergency.

    Boo hoo. New Hampshire pols are so far not on the cosponsor list.

    Foster's becomes more of a Democrat mouthpiece every day.

Destination Wedding

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A not-bad, not-good, just OK romantic comedy from Amazon Prime. Because we were in the mood for this sort of thing.

Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves play (respectively) Lindsay and Frank, who meet at the boarding gate for a puddle-jumping plane that will take them up to San Luis Obispo for a … well, you see the title up there? That.

They immediately take a dislike to each other, which means they will eventually get romantically entangled. He is the groom's brother, and they do not get along; she is the groom's ex-fiancée, and they broke up contentiously. Most everyone else is having a good time, but Lindsay and Frank unite in their general distaste for the proceedings.

The trick to the movie (quoting IMDB trivia):

Winona Ryder (Lindsay) and Keanu Reeves (Frank) hold the only on-screen speaking roles in the movie. Movies playing on the TV in their rooms and announcements made over PA systems are the only other voices heard.

So here's the thing: the movie entirely relies on the Lindsay/Frank dialog being funny and clever. But that's a hit and miss thing. Also a "how long can this go on" thing.