URLs du Jour

2022-01-04

  • [Checks calendar] Yep, he's correct. Jim Geraghty reminds us: No, Not Every Day Is January 6. It's in response to a NYT editorial claiming otherwise.

    But I also think that declaring every day to be January 6, as the New York Times‘ editorial board did, is stirring fear, suspicion, and paranoia in a country that already has more than enough of all three. The Times’ editorial board contends that “The Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court.” There is no such thing as a bloodless, legalized riot.

    You can hate the laws that these elected officials are trying to pass, but those lawmakers are attempting to pass them under the legal constitutional order, and they’ll be subject to judicial review to ensure they don’t violate the Constitution, just like every other law. That’s not a riot. Calling it a riot is a metaphor that obscures more than it illuminates. If we want there to be a universal condemnation of political violence, we cannot argue that attempting to pass laws we oppose is just as bad as violence.

    Declaring every day to be January 6 is a bit like the familiar refrain that some particular problem, spurred by the actions of a few people, is “everyone’s fault.” It’s a cop-out, a blurring of the lines, an attempt to spread the emotional horror stirred by specific actions, sights, and outrages in a place and time and spread it across a much broader area.

    This must be a growing meme on the left. Just yesterday I responded to an op-ed in my local Sunday newspaper that breathlessly claimed "Republicans in Congress and in Republican-controlled legislatures across the country are actively working to grind our democratic process to a halt and replace it with autocratic rule."

    "Autocratic rule" means, I think, insisting on Voter ID.


  • Another point made yesterday… in our op-ed fisking was that there was "creeping illiberalism on both left. and right. wings, reflected (regrettably) in both parties." TechDirt's Mike Masnick provides an example of the sort of thing I'm talking about: NY Senator Proposes Ridiculously Unconstitutional Social Media Law That Is The Mirror Opposite Of Equally Unconstitutional Laws In Florida & Texas.

    We've joked in the past about how Republicans hate Section 230 for letting websites moderate too much content, while Democrats hate it for letting websites not moderate enough content. Of course, the reality is they both are mad about content moderation (at different extremes) because they both want to control the internet in a manner that helps "their team." But both approaches involve unconstitutional desires to interfere with 1st Amendment rights. For Republicans, it's often the compelled hosting of speech, and for Democrats, it's often the compelled deletion of speech. Both of those are unconstitutional.

    On the Republican side, we've already seen states like Florida and Texas sign into law content moderation bills -- and both have been blocked for being wholly unconstitutional.

    We've already heard that some other Republican-controlled states have shelved plans for similar bills, realizing that all they'd be doing was setting taxpayer money on fire.

    Unfortunately, it looks like the message has not made its way to Democratic-controlled states. California has been toying with unconstitutional content moderation bills, and now NY has one as well. Senator Brad Hoylman -- who got his law degree from Harvard, where presumably they teach about the 1st Amendment -- has proudly introduced a hellishly unconstitutional social media bill. Hoylman announces in his press release that the bill will "hold tech companies accountable for promoting vaccine misinformation and hate speech."

    Masnick goes on to point out the obvious problem: " Whether we like it or not, the 1st Amendment protects both vaccine misinformation and hate speech."

    I would guess (almost certainly) state legislators take an oath to preserve/protect/defend the Constitution. Obvious efforts to pass unconstitutional legislation should have some sort of consequences for them. Like removal from office. But who'd be left?


  • Pun Salad fact check: True. Jeff Jacoby mulls on wisdom from the late great William Goldman: Nobody knows anything.

    In “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” his 1983 memoir about life in Hollywood, the late William Goldman summarized the movie industry in three words: “Nobody knows anything.” A two-time winner of the Academy Award for best screenplay, Goldman wrote some of the big screen’s biggest hits, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men.” If anybody was an expert on successful movies, he was. But experts, he wrote, are as clueless as everyone else about the future.

    “NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING,” Goldman repeated, putting the words in all caps. Why, he asked, did every single studio in Hollywood except Paramount turn down the chance to make “Raiders of the Lost Ark”? Why did Universal decide it wasn’t interested in “Star Wars”? Why did Columbia, after spending a small fortune to develop “E.T.,” eventually drop the project?

    Goldman’s answer: “Because nobody, nobody — not now, not ever — knows the least goddam thing about what is or isn’t going to work at the box office.”

    What is true of Hollywood is true of just about every field: When experts say something is going to happen, the odds are generally even that it won’t. As the odometer turns to 2022 and self-assured savants and insiders begin another 12 months of confidently forecasting what the future will bring, remember: Nobody knows anything.

    That's why you won't find any confident predictions on this blog. And why I snicker when I read them elsewhere.


  • Credit where credit is due. Matthew Yglesias notes The vanishing case for student loan forgiveness. And even his usual foes should give him credit for changing his mind:

    Student loan forgiveness is back in the news since the Biden administration decided to again extend the repayment holiday.

    This is a topic where I think the facts have changed considerably since Slow Boring’s debut in mid-November of 2020, and as a result I have changed my mind. Back then, I thought loan forgiveness would be a good way to assist a depressed economy and that objections were being made on nonsensical grounds by fussy technocrats who weren’t paying attention to the actual situation. But today the situation is different. The economy is not depressed, and instead the Federal Reserve is pivoting to fight inflation. That means student loan forgiveness in 2022 is a purely distributive issue — one that will shift resources from the majority of Americans with no student loan debt to the minority of Americans who have it.

    Both the debtors and the non-debtors are highly heterogeneous groups, but it’s pretty clear that the non-debtors are both more numerous and poorer on average.

    So while there are certainly lots of individual cases where debt relief sounds like an appealing idea, under the current circumstances the case for broad debt relief has become extremely weak. There’s basically no other situation in which progressives would talk themselves into this kind of idea, which is currently being propped up with some very odd math about the racial wealth gap.

    I'm not sure where Yglesias stands on getting rid of the SALT cap in the Federal tax code, but it seems to me that a similar argument applies.


  • Especially not the mail. Pierre Lemieux explains Why Government Should Not “Deliver”.

    To counter “disillusionment with the government,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D. Conn) expressed a widespread but invalid or seriously misleading idea: it is the idea that governments should “deliver” or, in other words, be efficient (“Americans Diverge on Perils and Lessons of the Jan. 6 Capital Attack,” Wall Street Journal, December 30, 2021):

    Listen, I do think people are actively considering giving up on democracy in this country. And that does explain part of the reason why people marched on us, why people tried to overthrow the government. We’ve got to show people that government can deliver for them.

    The idea that government should “deliver” is seriously misleading because it depends on what exactly it delivers. The WSJ reports that Mr. Murphy was “arguing for passage of Mr. Biden’s stalled economic agenda.” For anybody who disagrees with this trillion-dollar agenda—and about half of American voters do—the government should not “deliver.” It is an invalid idea if one assumes that it is incorrect to tax all the people in a country or even just a selected group of scapegoats (like “the rich”) in order to finance the benefits that others want.

    I think, according to the Constitution, that Uncle Stupid's job is "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Nothing in there about taking money from one group of people and giving it to others.

Doom

The Politics of Catastrophe

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

An alternate subtitle for this book might have been "A Bunch of Stuff Niall Ferguson Felt Like Writing About". It's very wide ranging. But the theme is right up there on the book flap in big type: "All disasters are at some level man-made." One chilling comparison:

Politics explained why World War II killed twenty-five times as many Germans as Americans. Politics explains why COVID-19 has thus far killed eighteen times as many Americans as Germans

[Currently, the US/Germany cumulative death ratio looks to be about 7.3. And the death rates are currently about equal. But point taken.]

There's a lot of (what I'd call) "theoretical history", where he attempts to tease out laws (or at least widely-applicable lessons) from worldwide events spanning millennia. (E.g., How often are empires born, and how long do they last? Even more relevant to present-day: how often do devastating plagues occur?) There's discussion of probability distributions. (E.g., Are catastrophes better described by a normal, Poisson, or power-law distribution?) And networks are relied upon for their explanatory power. (E.g., and very relevantly, how do viruses spread from one region to another?)

But there's quite a bit of normal history too, and it's centered around the book's title, Doom. Plagues and epidemics, primarily, since they're on everyone's mind. But other natural and unnatural disasters are discussed: Chernobyl, the space shuttle Challenger, earthquakes, volcanoes, wars, famine, …

There's also speculation on foreign policy, and (in conclusion) an overview of various science fiction predicted futures; which is likely to be most accurate? (Unfortunately, it's not The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.)

Ferguson finished the book in August 2020, more or less in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. (More accurately, as I type, I hope it was the middle.) That was pre-Moderna, also pre-variant. His takes on various failures in various countries are slightly heterodox, not totally wacky. Also, unfortunately, not very interesting, if you've seen dozens of analyses and commentaries on the same theme over the last couple years.