Can We Somehow Blame Trump For This?

That's probably what a lot of people are wondering in the White House. Maybe some are doing it out loud. A recent WSJ comparison by Greg Ip: Trump vs. Biden.

On a related note, Deirdre McCloskey is Talking Economics. Slightly reformatted from the original:

Economics is easy. Thinking like an economist can be reduced to easy and even obvious principles. Consider two of them:

  1. Much of what we want is scarce. Having one such thing means giving up another. President Millei, who is a professor of economics, is trying to teach this to the Argentinians, who have not believed it, especially since Juan Perón. Come to think of it, though, the Brazilians and the Yankees don’t believe it, either. Look at their national debts, or their personal debts, or the childish way they vote. “We can have everything.” Lula or Donald told us so.

    [Or Joe - ps]

  2. Every act in society has two sides, at least. If drug lords in Latin America are willing to sell heroin, some Yankees must be buying it. Who is to blame? If grocery stores charge more for meat during inflation, farmers must be selling it to the stores at a higher price, and customers must be willing to buy. Who benefits?

Good thinking. If you think like this you are “thinking like an economist,” which every professor of economics wants you to do. I do, for example. Milei does.

You can find multiple daily examples of ignorance about that second point in the news.

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And now is as good a place as any to highlight Don Boudreaux's Quotation of the Day, from David Schmitz's Living Together (Amazon link at your right.)

One mark of adulthood is getting past thinking of oneself as the center of the universe. An adult conception of justice will be a conception of our place and our due, alongside a conception of what other people are due within a community that has a logic of its own.

And DB makes the connection to economic thinking:

[O]one too-frequent result of political decision-making is to encourage us to act as children.

The worker who doesn’t want to lose his job because fellow citizens no longer want to buy what he makes at prices that he finds acceptable convinces the government to obstruct fellow-citizens’ freedom to spend their money in whatever peaceful ways they choose. This worker ignores the unseen, and greater, costs to fellow citizens (as well as to foreigners) that protecting his existing job creates. Politicians and pundits pander to this worker, they baby him, assuring him that he is noble, good, and right to demand that countless other people suffer in order for him to avoid having to play by the rules of a market economy. ‘Other people – your fellow citizens – don’t count, or they don’t count as much as you do,’ is the ultimate message of the protectionist to this worker.

The protectionist politician or pundit continues: ‘Poor baby! We’ll protect you from having to adjust to the peaceful decisions of your fellow citizens. You’re too precious to be troubled to play by the rules of the market order. We will force your fellow citizens to absorb the costs that you prefer to be relieved of. You are special and deserve special treatment.

And maddeningly, the politicians and pundits who exempt this worker from the responsibility of playing by the rules of the market order have the gall to describe their efforts as ensuring that this worker leads a dignified life. Only those who do not know what true dignity is can possibly suppose that treating someone as a child – forcing others to pander to this someone’s wishes – is a means of bestowing dignity on that someone.

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Yup. Let's throw in one from C. S. Lewis from The Abolition of Man:

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

Also of note:

  • Be skeptical about them. Bruce Yandle ("distinguished adjunct fellow with the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, dean emeritus of the Clemson College of Business and Behavioral Sciences, and a former executive director of the Federal Trade Commission") thinks AI Regulations Are Crony Capitalism in Action.

    In May 2023, OpenAI founder Sam Altman testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about ChatGPT. Altman demonstrated how his company's tool could massively reduce the cost of retrieving, processing, conveying, and perhaps even modifying the collective knowledge of mankind as stored in computer memories worldwide. A user with no special equipment or access can request a research report, story, poem, or visual presentation and receive in a matter of seconds a written response.

    Because of ChatGPT's seemingly vast powers, Altman called for government regulation to "mitigate the risks of increasingly powerful AI systems" and recommended that U.S. or global leaders form an agency that would license AI systems and have the authority to "take that license away and ensure compliance with safety standards." Major AI players around the world quickly roared approval of Altman's "I want to be regulated" clarion call.

    Welcome to the brave new world of AI and cozy crony capitalism, where industry players, interest groups, and government agents meet continuously to monitor and manage investor-owned firms.

    Yandle points to the classic "bootleggers and Baptists" issue, where two sides actually thought prohibition was just swell. For different reasons of course. And entertains the notion that Altman ("and his ilk") might plausibly be thought to have a foot in both camps when it comes to AI.

  • USPS delenda est. David Williams has the latest reason for wishing it would just go away: U.S. Postal Service Asking for Another Taxpayer Bailout.

    For an agency that claims it “generally receives no tax dollars for operating expenses,” the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) sure does like government subsidies. Despite receiving $120 billion in taxpayer-funded bailouts since 2020, the USPS is once again asking for more money. As Washington Post reporter Jacob Bogage notes in a recent article, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and mailing industry officials have “asked the White House to send the Postal Service $14 billion, which would come from what the agency says is decades of overpayments into the Civil Service Retirement System.” These appeals for more money ignore the real root of the USPS’ problems. The agency’s fiscal issues stem from a failed business model and lack of cost control. No amount of taxpayer dollars will fix the fiscal fiasco plaguing the USPS.

    America’s mail carrier is requesting that “Congress and other stakeholders…help support USPS in the implementation of key self-help initiatives outlined in the [Delivering for America] Plan that are critically necessary, and that will ultimately enable our operational and financial success.” The USPS fails to explain why $120 billion in taxpayer dollars and double-digit percentage increases in stamp costs haven’t facilitated this “self-help.”

    Another NHJournal article points out one source of the USPS woes: even their feeble efforts to economize get sidetracked by politicians looking to protect local jobs: NH Delegation Goes Postal Over Possible Closure of Manchester Facility.

  • Another good Big Bang Theory episode title. The NR editors remove their tinfoil hats and write on The Covid Comeuppance.

    One by one, the shibboleths that our public-health authorities put forward as reliable guidelines for behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic are being revealed as scientifically baseless health theater. The question is whether anyone will learn from this.

    The latest admission is found in the closed-door congressional testimony of former National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, revealed by NR’s own James Lynch. In that testimony, Collins clarified that the origin of Covid — whether the disease emerged zoonotically, perhaps at a meat market, or from research at the Wuhan lab — remains unsettled science and that the lab-leak theory is not a conspiracy theory. Collins also clarified that the guidance for “social distancing” during the pandemic — the recommendation that people from separate households remain six feet apart from one another — had no firm basis in science.

    “Do you recall science or evidence that supported the six-feet distance?” the committee asked Collins. “I do not,” he replied. “Have you seen any evidence since then supporting six feet?” they asked. Collins: “No.”

    Not only did this behavior harm people during the pandemic, it will probably cause people to ignore pronouncements from public health figures in the future. Which might not be a good idea.