Tuesday , January 19 2021
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Don Boudreaux

Don Boudreaux

He is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Previously, he was president of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Articles by Don Boudreaux

Stories from the Bizarro World of Covid Hygiene Hysteria

4 days ago

True story.
This morning I arrived in the spacious lobby of the modern office building in Arlington, Virginia, in which the Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies have their main offices. I was there to meet a friend with whom I had some business to conduct on one of that building’s upper floors. Unlike me, my friend does not have a scanner card that would allow her to direct an elevator to the proper floor.
I arrived in the lobby about ten minutes early. The only other person in the lobby was a woman sitting behind the reception desk.
When I began to seat myself in a chair far from the reception desk but with a good view out of the window (the better to see when my friend was arriving), the woman sitting behind the reception desk informed me in no uncertain terms “Sir,

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

4 days ago

… is from page 5 of Cass Sunstein’s superb 2005 book, Laws of Fear:
Human beings, cultures, nations often single out one or a few social risks as “salient,” and ignore the others.
DBx: Yes. What Sunstein here describes is called by behavioral economists the “availability heuristic.” It is defined by Wikipedia as “a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to a given person’s mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision.”
With the media, 24/7, bombarding people’s eyes and ears with reports of rising Covid-19 case counts and (“with-“)Covid fatality rates, and with photos of Covid patients in hospitals, it’s difficult for people to think of much else – including the unreported fatalities, health problems, and misery caused by the lockdowns.

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Some Links

5 days ago

Amelia Janaskie and Micha Gartz survey what was said prior to 2020 about using lockdowns in response to a lethal and contagious pathogen.
George Will exposes the appalling lust for power and laughable-if-it-weren’t-so-lethal economic ignorance of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO). A slice:
If Hawley, Rubio and Graham squint, they can see a silver lining on the dark cloud of Democratic control of the Senate: Majority Leader Schumer will soon give them an opportunity to vote for $2,000 disbursements. The national debt has increased almost 40 percent in the past four years. But when congressional Republicans rediscover (the rhetoric of) frugality, as surely they will at noon Jan. 20, Biden can cite Hawley’s assurance that there “obviously” is “plenty” of money.
My intrepid Mercatus Center

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Quotation of the Day…

5 days ago

… is from pages 220-221 of my late Nobel-laureate James Buchanan’s “Morals, Politics, and Institutional Reform: Diagnosis and Prescription,” which is chapter 5.1 in James M. Buchanan and Richard A. Musgrave, Public Finance and Public Choice: Two Contrasting Visions of the State (1999):
This terrible century has done much more than bear witness to the tragic failures of collectivist control over personal lives. In the process of those failed experiments, valuable social capital was allowed to depreciate, capital that was represented in personal attitudes of independence, obeying laws, self-reliance, hard work, self-confidence, a sense of permanence, trust, mutual respect, and tolerance. This capital has been eroded only to be replaced by attitudes that embody irresponsibility,

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Three More Principles of International Trade

6 days ago

Here’s the fourth and final installment in my series, at AIER, titled “Twelve Principles of International Trade.” A slice:
10. Because wages reflect worker productivity, workers and firms in low-wage countries do not have an “unfair” advantage over workers in high-wage countries.
Contrary to popular mythology, high wages earned by workers in countries such as the US do not put them at a competitive disadvantage relative to workers and firms in low-wage countries, such as Vietnam. The reason is that, in markets, wages reflect worker productivity. The higher is a worker’s productivity, the higher is that worker’s wage. It follows that low-wage workers are paid as poorly as they are because they are not very productive. (If the low wages in some country are the result of that country not

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Some Covid Links

6 days ago

Jeffrey Tucker looks back at the 1957-58 Asian flu pandemic: there were no lockdowns. A slice:
The Asian flu of 1957-58 was a deadly pandemic with a broader reach for severe outcomes than Covid-19 of 2020. It killed between 1 and 4 million people worldwide, and 116,000 in the US in a time with half the population. It was a leading contributor to a year in which the US saw 62,000 excess deaths.
Globally, it might have been five times as deadly as Covid-19, as measured by deaths per capita. It was unusually lethal for younger people: 40 percent of deaths had occurred among people younger than 65, whereas the average age of death Covid-19 is 80 with only 10-20% of deaths under the age of 65.
What’s striking is how public health officials handled the pandemic. It had a diametrically

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Quotation of the Day…

6 days ago

… is from page 130 of Deirdre McCloskey’s and Alberto Mingardi’s superb 2020 book, The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State:
At a certain point also some alleged liberals began to attack (classical) liberalism. The so-called “New Liberalism” in Britain in the 1880s, and then Progressivism in the US and socialism on the Continent, attacked the liberal ideas of writers like John Stuart Mill or Henry David Thoreau or Francesco Ferrara. That is to say, after a moment in the early 19th century in a few places of true-liberal ideology among advanced thinkers, the European clerisy commenced longing for hierarchy, to be run of course by the clerisy, which viewed itself, as [Mariana] Mazzucato views herself, as a new aristocracy, suited to lordship over mere citizens. The new illiberalism

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

6 days ago

… is from page 58 of the great management scholar Peter Drucker’s insightful Winter 1984 California Management Review paper, “The New Meaning of Corporate Social Responsibility”:
Even the Japanese who reportedly invest in “winners” and starve “losers” – at least according to a currently popular American myth – are finding that it cannot be done politically. Indeed, the Japanese have found that they cannot give up support of a retail distribution system which everyone in Japan knows to be obsolete and frightfully expensive….
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For Every Action…

6 days ago

… there is an equal and opposite reaction.
So says Newton’s Third Law of Motion.
What is true in the physical world is very often true also in the social world. Extremism on the political left causes extremism on the political right; extremism on the political right causes extremism on the political left.
Extremism and zealotry now reign unreined on opposite sides of the ideological spectrum. I am pessimistic.
Comments

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Dan Polsby on the Reach of the First Amendment

7 days ago

In supportive response to this post of mine yesterday on the misbegotten insistence that private tech companies be restrained, as is government, by the First Amendment, former GMU Law School Dean Dan Polsby sent to me this e-mail. Adding a link, I share it here with Dan’s kind permission.
Don, people who didn’t have to think through Shelley v. Kraemer as a part of their formal education do not appreciate the can of worms one opens by making private decisions into quasi-state action. Granting these big tech networks have generated a problem (maybe more than one) that may need be addressed, but let’s consider the many legislative (and private!) remedies than can be deployed. Who in his right mind would want to give a committee of government lawyers the last word on what, exactly, these

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Please Let’s Not Go Further Down the Road Toward Complete Politicization of Society

7 days ago

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal
Editor:
Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld correctly decry the practice of government officials threatening tech companies with penalties if those companies don’t control content in ways demanded by government officials (“Save the Constitution From Big Tech,” Jan. 12). But these authors incorrectly conclude that these threats, along with Section 230 immunity, render tech companies state actors whose content decisions should be subject to First Amendment challenges
We travel down a road to perdition if we allow private decisions made in response to government demands to transform, in the eyes of the law, private actors into state agents. While we might, in the past, have taken a few small steps down this perilous path, it would be a giant and

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Some Covid Links

7 days ago

Michael Esfeld decries the abuse of science during this time of Covid-19. A slice:
We know many cases from history, in particular of the last century in Europe and especially Germany, in which coercive state measures were legitimized as absolutely necessary from a scientific point of view and had devastating consequences for the people affected. Is it different this time? Is it possible and permissible to stop the spread of a virus through central state planning with a massive intervention in people’s lives – and especially the lives of those people who do not have much time left to live – without causing great harm?
Billy Binion reports that New York State strongman Andrew Cuomo continues to muck matters up.
British MP David Warburton explains his reasons for voting against a

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Some Non-Covid Links

7 days ago

Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O’Grady laments the arrival in the United States of the politics of Latin America. A slice:
Participatory democracy as defined by extreme groups has been put into action in the U.S. before. The leftist upheaval in the streets of Seattle against the World Trade Organization ministerial conference in 1999 is one memorable example. It is no coincidence that elements of Mr. Trump’s base oppose free trade and globalization.
J.D. Tuccille wisely warns of the dangers of anti-sedition legislation.
Timothy Taylor reports on two papers that call into question the popular claim that middle-class Americans (pre-Covid-lockdowns, that is) are not prospering economically. A slice:
[Dartmouth economist Bruce} Sacerdote also refers back to the findings of

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Quotation of the Day…

7 days ago

… is from page 130 of Deirdre McCloskey’s and Alberto Mingardi’s superb 2020 book, The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State (original emphasis; footnotes deleted):
After 1848, liberalism (or, as we call it not, classical liberalism) began to come under attack from enthusiasts for State action – by the nationalists from the right and the socialists from the left. The anti-liberals, inspired on both sides by Hegel, have this in common: they substitute for human action by individuals in society a single path ordered by the State. Said Lord Acton in 1882, “Whenever a single definite object is made the supreme end of the State, be it the advantage of a class, the safety or the power of the country, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, or the support of any speculative idea, the

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EconTalk Podcast on James Buchanan

7 days ago

Here’s the full version of my EconTalk podcast, recorded this past December 23rd, on Jim Buchanan, with special emphasis on his articles “What Should Economists Do?” and “Natural and Artifactual Man.”
[embedded content]
The link to the audio-only version of the podcast is here.
Again, I thank Russ for inviting me to be again on EconTalk.
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On Last Wednesday’s Actions on Capitol Hill

7 days ago

A long-time and very thoughtful friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent to me the e-mail pasted below in response to this Cafe Hayek post. I share it with his/her kind permission:
I haven’t looked too closely at the issue but the little I’ve read suggests that:
1) objections are not unusual post-2000 – there were objections in at least one chamber in 2000, 2004 (both houses that time), and 2016. If that’s true (and it seems to be), then is it really inappropriate?
2) isn’t the point of the process to allow for senators and congresspersons to object? All the objections do is force a debate (if there are objections from both houses). That doesn’t seem either like trying to overturn an election or a violation of the rule of law – the process is there for a reason, after all. (I am

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No, the First Amendment Doesn’t Constrain Private Parties

8 days ago

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:
Editor:
Justifiably angered by large tech firms’ restrictions on content contrary to today’s Progressive narrative, you unjustifiably conclude that “[t]ech firms that dominate the flow of information in the U.S. and censor at the behest of powerful Democrats also deserve First Amendment scrutiny” (“The Progressive Purge Begins,” January 11).
You mock the First Amendment by proposing to turn it into a tool for use by an arm of government – the courts – to achieve precisely what the amendment is meant to prevent, namely, government superintendence and control of private citizens’ peaceful decisions about how to express themselves using their own property.
I share your fury at, and fear of, many decisions made today by companies such as Twitter

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Some Covid Links

8 days ago

Writing at Spiked, Dave Clements decries the lockdowns’ destruction of human sociability. A slice:
During this seemingly endless pandemic, we now find so many of our freedoms not only under threat, but in some cases already severely curtailed or completely removed. Social-media accounts challenging the government’s illiberal response to the pandemic have been taken down. The police have cracked down hard on protests against lockdown restrictions. And even our freedom to associate with friends and family has been severely curtailed.
Freedoms which, until a few months ago, we had taken for granted, have been taken away. We now have to make do with enforced social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and warnings of Armageddon to come if we do not comply.
Why aren’t many more people –

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Quotation of the Day…

8 days ago

… is from pages 111-112 of John Mueller’s superb 1999 book, Capitalism, Democracy, & Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery (footnote deleted; link added):
The nineteenth-century British historian Henry Thomas Buckle hailed Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations as “probably the most important book that has ever been written” because it convincingly demonstrated that gold and silver are not wealth but are merely its representatives, and because it shows that wealth comes not from diminishing the wealth of others, but rather that “the benefits of trade are of necessity reciprocal.”
DBx: Far be it from me to dissent from Buckle’s astute assessment of the Great Scot’s 1776 book!
Where is the Adam Smith of 2021? Where is the great scholar who will demonstrate that government checks and central-bank-supplied

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A New Study of the Impact of Lockdowns on the Spread of Covid-19

9 days ago

Eran Bendavid, Christopher Oh, Jay Bhattacharya, and John P.A. Ioannidis have a new, peer-reviewed paper the findings of which should be of interest to anyone who cares about civilization. It’s titled “Assessing Mandatory Stay‐at‐Home and Business Closure Effects on the Spread of COVID‐19” and appears in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Here’s the abstract:

Background and Aims
The most restrictive non‐pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for controlling the spread of COVID‐19 are mandatory stay‐at‐home and business closures. Given the consequences of these policies, it is important to assess their effects. We evaluate the effects on epidemic case growth of more restrictive NPIs (mrNPIs), above and beyond those of less restrictive NPIs (lrNPIs).
Methods
We first

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Quotation of the Day…

9 days ago

… is from page 285 of Philipp Blom’s 2010 book, A Wicked Company:
Now, however, around the time of his sixtieth birthday in 1773, [Denis] Diderot himself was in a position of influence, and he realized that the problem with power was not that it was held by the wrong people but that it was inherently corrupting.
DBx: Oui. Yes. Diderot is correct.
And so those who seek power seek to be corrupted – or, they are at least recklessly indifferent to the terrible risk.
Comments

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Philosophical, Not Political

9 days ago

Here’s a letter to another much-respected reader of my blog.
Mr. J___ N___
Mr. N___:
Thanks for your e-mail and for regularly reading my blog. I’m truly honored.
You’re correct that I’m not political, in the sense that I almost never express publicly a preference for one political candidate over another. One reason is that I very seldom feel favorable toward any candidate who has any real prospect of winning high political office. In the great majority of cases, I judge each such candidate to be, at best, an amoral brute – and usually, much worse. Because the most approving thing that I could ever honestly say about a candidate is that “He or she is evil, but the lesser of two,” I refrain from such commentary.
And I continue to so refrain. Contrary to your suggestion, I today did not

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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

9 days ago

… is from pages 54-55 of my late Nobel-laureate colleague James Buchanan’s 1981 lecture “Constitutional Restrictions on the Power of Government,” as this lecture is reprinted in Choice, Contract, and Constitutions (2001), which is volume 16 of The Collected Works of James M. Buchanan:
[Government] spending rates would be lower if all programs were required to be tax-financed. Government, however, may have access to both debt issue and money creation as alternative revenue sources. These allow the government to spend without taxing, which is almost the ideal setting for elected politicians. By creating deficits, government is allowed to finance desired programs that provide benefits to potential voters without overt increases in rates of tax.
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Here’s a Sample…

9 days ago

… of my latest EconTalk discussion with Russ Roberts.
Taped several days ago and to be released in full on Monday, it is on Jim Buchanan (with special focus on two papers of his: “What Should Economists Do?” and “Natural and Artifactual Man”).
[embedded content]
Comments

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Some Non-Covid Links

10 days ago

George Will rightly condemns Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz for playing leading roles in unleashing Wednesday’s mob on Capitol Hill. A slice:
The Trump-Hawley-Cruz insurrection against constitutional government will be an indelible stain on the nation. They, however, will not be so permanent. In 14 days, one of them will be removed from office by the constitutional processes he neither fathoms nor favors. It will take longer to scrub the other two from public life. Until that hygienic outcome is accomplished, from this day forward, everything they say or do or advocate should be disregarded as patent attempts to distract attention from the lurid fact of what they have become. Each will wear a scarlet “S” as a seditionist.
Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel correctly blames

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Some Covid Links

10 days ago

Frank Furedi eloquently defends freedom of speech and of dissent – freedoms that are under siege today because of Covid Derangement Syndrome. A slice:
Or take the hysterical criticism levelled at the authors of the lockdown-questioning Great Barrington Declaration, and lockdown-sceptical individuals, such as Sunetra Gupta, a professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford University. They have been personally and professionally maligned, and, more troubling still, their critics want them removed from the public sphere. This has all the characteristics of a modern high-tech witch-hunt.
And as if to supply an ideal reason for heightened skepticism of what our overlords tell us about Covid-19, we get this new report from, of all places, the New York Times. Here are the

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Quotation of the Day…

10 days ago

… is from page 125 of the 19th-century American jurist James Coolidge Carter’s posthumously published and brilliant, yet unfortunately neglected, 1907 volume, Law: Its Origin, Growth and Function:
When man made his first appearance upon earth, he did not wait until some lawgiver appeared to tell him how he must act.
DBx: This undeniable truth is implicitly denied by most people today. Pundits, professors, politicians, and pedestrians of nearly all ideological and political stripes suppose that each individual is either an inert blob or a chaotic fool unless and until the state injects him or her with the appropriate fuel – and gives to him or her detailed instructions for how – to act.
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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

10 days ago

… is from pages 306 of Philipp Blom’s 2010 book, A Wicked Company:
Every dictatorship needs transcendence, the promise of a better tomorrow – a perfect beyond, a heaven, a paradise…. After all, only the quasi-religious adherence to a great ideal hovering just out of reach and demanding great sacrifices can justify the cruelties and injustices of today.
DBx: All who have thirsted for authoritarian, top-down command of nearly every aspect of life were given a gift in 2020: Covid-19. With much of humanity scared irrationally out of its wits by fears of Covid, we are now in the iron grip of hygiene socialism. Our rulers promise us salvation from death-by-Covid in return for strict obedience to their diktats.
This paradise to which we are headed carries a ghastly price. And it is a price

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Some Covid Links

11 days ago

David Henderson compares the performance of markets to that of governments in 2020. Two slices:
One of the biggest government mess-ups was state and local government lockdowns of their economies. Although this has not been well publicized, epidemiologists themselves, before the pandemic, seemed to have a consensus that lockdowns were a bad idea. In a September 2019 report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, for instance, the authors stated:
In the context of a high-impact respiratory pathogen, quarantine may be the least likely NPI [nonpharmaceutical intervention] to be effective in controlling the spread due to high transmissibility. To implement effective quarantine measures, it would need to be possible to accurately evaluate an individual’s exposure, which would be

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Quotation of the Day…

11 days ago

… is from page 186 of Barbara Crossette’s 2000 paper “Culture, Gender, and Human Rights,” which is chapter 13 in Culture Matters, Lawrence E. Harrison and Samuel P. Huntington, eds. (2000):
Special interest groups whose principal goals are not necessarily the improvement of human rights have learned to manipulate the media and legislatures by championing causes in one-dimensional terms. In an age of information overload, a heart-rending story may not always be checked too carefully.
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