2/06/2020

The Markets Don’t Know What to Make of Coronavirus Yet

"Tedeschi pins the start of major worries among market participants at Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend; the quantity of stories on the Bloomberg terminal about the outbreak was “an order of magnitude” higher on Tuesday, January 21, than Friday, January 17, he says. And from January 17 through January 31, market expectations for short-term interest rates at year-end fell by 0.26 percent, meaning investors had shifted their views to expect the Fed to offer an additional quarter-point cut, right as they were getting more nervous about coronavirus.

It is important to note, market expectations about future interest rates are probabilistic. The shift didn’t mean market participants were sure coronavirus would hurt the U.S. economy enough to require exactly one additional rate cut; rather, it was a measure that incorporated a significant possibility of no major economic effects and no additional rate cuts, and also a possibility of significant economic effects requiring several rate cuts."

2/05/2020

The Infallibility of Popes and Presidents

"In the lead-up to his impeachment trial, U.S. President Donald Trump, who excels at terrifying his own followers, has also shown himself equal to Pius’s claims of power. Last July, he declared that Article II of the Constitution gave him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” During the impeachment trial, his lawyers have made similar claims. Most notably, Alan Dershowitz asserted that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” Dershowitz has since scrambled to explain his remark, but it perfectly distills the ethos of the president and his enablers. 

Pius failed to stem the tide of change. When he died eight years later, the anti-clerical government of a unified Italy had made Rome its capital, confining Pius to the hundred acres of the Vatican. Yet the juridical powers he had assumed remained in force, frightening not just other European states, but even many devout Catholics. 

Among them was the English Catholic politician and historian Lord John Acton. Sitting in the spectator’s gallery to the First Council, Acton was filled with horror at Pius’s pretensions. Several years later, Acton he explained his reaction to a fellow historian, writing that he could never accept that we “are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility.”"

Mentoring: The Rationality of Fear

"The problem, of course, is that mentoring is too informal to easily monitor. Unless someone loudly announces, “I refuse to mentor women,” there’s not much you can do to him. Mentoring quotas are likely to flop for the same reason.

The alternative is obvious, but unpalatable for activists: Put the frightened people whose assistance you need at ease. Be friendly and calm, gracious and grateful. Take the ubiquity of misunderstandings seriously. Don’t zealously advocate for yourself, and don’t rush to take sides. Instead, strive to deescalate conflict whenever a misunderstanding arises. This would obviously work best as a coordinated cultural shift toward good manners, but you don’t have to wait for the world to come to its senses. You can start building your personal reputation for collegiality today – so why wait to get potential mentors on your side?

If you’re tempted to respond, “Why should I have to put them at ease?,” the honest answer is: Because you’re the one asking for help."

Acton Institute ranks among world’s best in 2019 think tank report

"The University of Pennsylvania released its “2019 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report” last Friday. This year, the annual report – which was “designed to identify and recognize centers of excellence in all the major areas of public policy research” – opened the ratings to all 8,248 think tanks in its database.

The report has recognized the Acton Institute since 2010, and, once again, Acton ranked well in the categories with which it has become most closely identified.

In “Top Social Policy Think Tanks,” the category Acton values most dearly, the report rated the Acton Institute in the top 20 worldwide. This year, the Acton Institute moved up one spot to number 12 – behind the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, but ahead of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI, 14) and the UK-based Civitas (31)."

An anonymous reader on talent misallocation and bureaucratization

"My own experience at GE and a top management consulting firm is a good example of this in action. I joined GE through one of its leadership development programs but found my peers to be less talented and hard-working than I had hoped. Unsurprisingly, I also found the roles to be uninspiring and poor uses of my time. After less than two years, I left to join a top consulting firm. I was challenged from day one and at times was not sure if I would make it. My bosses asked much more of me, but they also better resourced me. My productivity was an order of magnitude higher than at GE, and I was accordingly paid nearly twice as much.

For further evidence, consider that 90% of US companies have predefined pay bands based on experience. Given one’s experience level, it is difficult to make considerably more than one’s peers in the first few years (which is the purpose of pay bands). Contrast that with consulting: an average graduate with an engineering degree (the highest earning of all degrees) earns $69k but a new associate at McKinsey earns $105k. The disparity only widens for lower-earning degrees."

Liberal Practice v. Liberal Theory

"On the other hand, Western critics of liberalism have also touched a nerve because people do not like seeing painful but true observations used to justify outrageous conclusions. It is very strange to watch grown adults who enjoy liberalism's blessings appear to fantasize about rejecting those blessings. And rejecting them in favor of what, exactly? Believable answers are rarely forthcoming.

Yet liberalism's critics rightly insist that such commonplace rejoinders fail to engage their real arguments. Liberalism's defenders, for their part, often feel themselves in the position of the theologian confronted with an atheist: The "liberalism" they hear attacked is one that they, too, do not believe in. Thus the parties have often been talking past each other, and not only because of an above-average amount of strawmanning on both sides. What one party sincerely regards as its clinching argument will seem a trivial observation to the other, and vice versa.

Many good-faith misunderstandings within these debates can be traced to an ambiguity in the term "liberalism." It refers, on the one hand, to a set of political practices, and on the other hand, to a political theory that purports to explain those practices. Defenders of liberalism are thinking first and foremost about liberal political practice, which they (almost all) defend by drawing selectively on liberal theory. Critics of liberalism are thinking first and foremost about liberal political theory, which they (almost all) attack by pointing selectively to liberal practice."

McCloskey’s Brief Against Antiliberalism

"Here’s the thing. McCloskey’s central criticism of Polanyi is that, contrary to Polanyi’s historical claim, the rise of market society is NOT a Western novelty of the nineteenth century. Continuity reigns with earlier economies. But McCloskey’s central claim in Why Liberalism Works is that the rise of the market in the first half of the nineteenth century was a unique historical event: The development of the market during this period was fundamentally discontinuous from the economic life before this period, both quantitatively and qualitatively.


Polanyi thinks the Great Transformation is a bad thing; McCloskey thinks “the great expansion” is a good thing. But contrary to McCloskey’s criticism of Polanyi, they both now seem to agree that this historical period was qualitatively unique and pivotal for markets and for society. The argument is not whether the great transformation occurred, the argument is over the consequences of that transformation.

Polanyi’s black and white line between the pre-market economy before 1800 and the market economy after 1800 is incorrect. But taking issue with Polanyi’s rhetorical excess is just a debater’s point if Polanyi’s central historical claim can be made substantially true with the addition of a few weasel words."


Invoking the Tradition: Catholic Social Teaching in Policy Debates


"In fact, the same features that make CST helpful can also make it difficult to invoke the tradition well. Most of the social encyclicals deal primarily with principles and aims rather than specific courses of action, and CST acknowledges a variety of goods in society, such as freedom and justice, that may be in tension and must be balanced. Determining how to do so requires prudential judgments based on particular situations. And, as Rubio notes, CST is not reducible to a particular party platform or ideological persuasion.

These features are salutary, but they make CST amenable to appropriation in support of a variety of policy agendas. There is a temptation to emphasize only the elements of the tradition that appear to support a predetermined policy preference. If that happens, interpretations of CST will become another source of partisan wrangling. Invocations of CST could even exacerbate such wrangling, because partisans might claim that anyone who disagrees on a policy issue is disagreeing with the Church and God."


Calculating the Californication

"What set the Berkeley poll apart is that it also asked residents their party affiliation and how they characterized themselves politically—revealing a sharp divide. Conservatives and moderates are the most unhappy with the state and most anxious to leave. Liberals, by contrast, are mostly staying put, and some think life in California is just great. Only 38 percent of Democrats said that they were considering leaving, compared with 55 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans. Similarly, those characterizing themselves as “somewhat liberal” were least likely to say that they want to go—fewer than four in ten are considering leaving. But 53 percent of moderates, 66 percent of the “somewhat conservative,” and 74 percent of the “very conservative” would like to migrate. Political affiliation, in fact, was more of a predictor of who wants to go or stay than other demographic information, such as race. The poll found, for instance, that 56 percent of white residents and 58 percent of African-Americans would like to leave; and 54 percent of men, compared with 50 percent of women, are thinking of going."

The Zoning Straight-Jacket

"I’m in India and they have similar problem, except in India it’s agricultural land that is frozen in place and made difficult to transform to new uses (in the process depriving farmers of the true value of one of their only assets and creating opportunities for regulatory arbitrage that politically-connected special interests exploit by buying at the farm price, obtaining approvals to convert that other cannot obtain and then selling at the much higher post-conversion price.)

Freezing agricultural land in place seems backward because ubanization is clearly India’s future but it’s no less backward than what has happened in the United States. In both cases, an important right in the land bundle was expropriated and collectivized and the market process of creative destruction impeded."

2/04/2020

Raj Chetty and the New Scientism: Big Data, Economic Engineering, and the Failure of Economic Education

"Hayek cautioned would-be central planners that “the number of separate variables which in any particular social phenomenon will determine the result of a given change will as a rule be far too large for any human mind to master and manipulate them effectively” (CRS 73). Might Big Data and AI overcome the limitations of the human mind, so that central planning is now possible? No—but why? First, as explained above, acting humans are not predictable atoms. Second, there is more to spontaneous order than merely aggregation of information. Prices provide information and coordination, but they also provide incentives; the market mechanism rests on property prices to promote socially useful behavior (ITF 12).

Chetty’s approach holds much promise—if it follows two conditions: first, that Big Data be combined with sound economic theory; and second, that social scientists act very carefully before they use Big Data to act as economic engineers. They would indeed do well to remember Hayek’s warning that it “the curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they know about the systems they purport to design” (TFC, 76). This is also exemplified in a rich literature on expert failure and the tyranny of experts."

He Tells Us It's the Institutions

"A number of questions arise at the outset of the book. Are contemporary problems unusual? Can these problems be traced to a decline of institutions? For that matter, what is the definition of an institution?

In answering the first question, Levin begins on page 2 with a long quotation from Robert Nisbet’s Twilight of Authority. Nisbet speaks darkly of “twilight ages… Processes of decline and erosion… a vacuum obtains in the moral order… Retreat from the major to the minor, from the noble to the trivial, the communal to the personal, and from the objective to the subjective… degradation of values and of corruption of culture… estrangement from community.”

Levin wishes to borrow Nisbet’s rhetoric to describe our current predicament. But a careful reader will note that Twilight of Authority appeared in 1975, which is close to what Levin will later suggest was a high point for trust in American institutions. In that respect, the quotation subtly goes against Levin’s thesis that institutional decay is a distinctively contemporary phenomenon."

Why Did Armen Alchian Have to Teach Economists About Property Rights?

"Alchian’s unique positioning within the economics profession is largely a consequence of the particularities of his time. To an earlier generation of economists educated in the late 19th and early 20th century, many of his insights were just common-knowledge among serious students of classical and early neoclassical economics. But to the generations educated in the post WWII era, Alchian’s insights were so alien to their way of thinking that either he was dismissed as a relic of an earlier age, or exalted to the status of one of the most clever and creative thinkers in the profession. My position is that Alchian was both—a relic of that earlier age, and a clever and creative thinker in possession of unique insights. The evolution of economic theory between 1930 and 1950 sought to squeeze out the analysis of property, prices, and profit-and-loss, and I might add people and politics as well. All the things studied by the great classical political economists from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill were now pushed aside as economics became too aggregative, with the consequent loss of the individual and the exchange relationships forged in the market. Economics became too formal in presentation, with the loss of nuance, processes, and institutional framing due to a preoccupation with analytical tractability."

The Irony that Our Creed Is Our Culture: On Reno, Lowry, and National Conservatism

"It will also help us if we remember that liberalism and love are not entirely as unmixable as oil and water. When Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg in 1863, he spoke of America as a nation, but one “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” This is surely as liberal a description of the American polity as any Lockean could have devised. As he uttered those words, though, he was looking over a cemetery filled with 3,500 Union dead, fully a third of them unknowns. They were clerks and farm boys, blacksmiths and lawyers, deckhands and bricklayers, Boston Brahmins from the 20th Massachusetts, and Irish Catholics from the 69th New York. They were not like the Duke of Wellington’s “scum of the earth” at Waterloo, who had taken their shilling and their chance, and died. They had volunteered. They had fought for an idea, an idea that was their country, an idea that was their family, and one that they—yes—loved.

Is America a creed or a culture? Reno and Lowry’s books are both healthy reminders that Americans do, in fact, need to have a culture, that the culture needs to have heroes, and that historians need to delineate them for us, or else they stand as nothing more than spavined Machiavellian cynics. The irony, though, is that our creed is our culture."

The Pretense of Intuition

"Joe's excellent critique of "state capacity libertarianism" picks up on something I also noticed when reading Tyler Cowen's piece. As Joe puts it, Cowen's ideal state is "a nonmarginal actor whose task is to achieve certain collective outcomes intuited by Cowen or some other political philosopher." Cowen provides a laundry list of societal challenges he claims only a highly capable state can solve—traffic congestion, secondary education, climate change, etc.—without discussing any in detail. Of course, each issue has been analyzed many times in the libertarian literature, using the standard concepts, theories, and frameworks such as marginal analysis, demonstrated preference, opportunity costs, Austrian price theory, comparative institutional analysis, and so on, and no evidence for "market failure" has surfaced. But Cowen's intuition tells him markets aren't good enough in one area or another. 

This is actually Cowen's long-held view. You may remember his 2014 article "The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth," which echoed the Mariana Mazzucato position that government spending is the main source of technological progress. I remember a friendly argument with Cowen some twenty years ago about NASA, which he insisted was an example of benevolent government intervention. I brought up the standard counterarguments—theoretical (how do you measure benefits and costs, including opportunity costs?), empirical (lots of case study evidence suggesting widespread waste, fraud, and long-term negative effects on the direction of science and technology), and deontological (is it okay to coerce people to support transfer payments that they see as against their self interest?). He wasn't buying it. Space exploration is just so cool that the usual arguments don't apply."

Flu Remains the Real Danger

"Familiarity breeds complacency—“oh, it’s just the flu”—but seasonal influenza is a serious public health problem, causing widespread illness, hospitalizations, and death. The Council of Economic Advisers recently estimated that in a typical flu season, 27 million Americans will get sick; 59,000 will die, while another 368,000 will be hospitalized. The total cost will be $361 billion per year, primarily due to the value of lives lost.

On occasion, new influenza viruses emerge containing significant genetic changes to which people have little or no immunologic memory or protection. These viruses can spread from person to person in an efficient and sustained way, leading to a pandemic with higher rates of illness, serious complications, and mortality than seasonal influenza. The past 100 years have seen four influenza pandemics—1918, 1957, 1968, and 2009—leading to worldwide deaths totaling, respectively, 50 million, more than 1 million, 1 million, and 151,700–575,000. The CEA estimates that a future influenza pandemic would cause $413 billion to $3.79 trillion worth of economic damage in the U.S., depending on the transmission efficiency and virulence of the pandemic virus. U.S. fatalities in the most serious scenario would exceed half a million."

California Says No to the Future

"In the wake of SB50’s failure, the next steps for California are uncertain. Governor Gavin Newsom campaigned on a fanciful pledge of getting 3.5 million new homes built by 2025. The state has passed some housing bills, including a package of 15 in 2017, but these address only the margins of the problem and are unlikely to have any major effect. SB50 was broadly designed, with the big changes to zoning, but narrowly applied, with the many exemptions. A better approach would be narrowly designed but broadly applied, such as a series of bills, each changing one specific rule but applying it to the whole state.

One option is eliminating single-family zoning statewide, as Oregon recently did. Unlike towering apartment buildings, duplexes and triplexes don’t provoke much opposition, as numerous recent laws legalizing or liberalizing accessory units reflect. If other zoning requirements on height and setbacks are maintained, people may not even notice that a building that looks like a single-family home has two or three front doors. Another step could be making minimum lot size one-eighth or one-sixth of an acre. This will be more controversial, but smaller lot sizes are not unknown in the suburbs (the original Levittown was built on one-eighth-acre lots). Taken together, these two steps could see housing developments with 12-24 units per acre, which would be sufficient for the needs of many parts of the state."

American Exceptionalism and the Benefits of Statehood: An Analysis of the Growth Effects of Joining the United States of America



"This paper quantifies the economic benefits of joining the United States. Adapting extant static synthetic control models into a dynamic model similar to Arellano and Bond (1991), we are able to construct the counterfactual growth paths of Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada had they not joined the USA. We show that the real growth path outperforms the counterfactuals substantially in all cases. In the same way, we construct counterfactual growth paths of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines and Greenland in the scenario where they joined the USA at times in history where this might have been a (remote) possibility. We find counterfactual growth to be substantially higher than the actual growth. Having established the positive economic effects of US membership, we subsequently assess the sources of this added growth, distinguishing between a class of explanations related to internal market access and a class of explanations related to institutional quality. Using a large number of determinants of institutional quality, we find that the institutional quality of the USA as a whole matches the quality predicted for New England most closely. This suggests that upon accession, states imported the institutional quality of New England, which was typically superior to what they would have likely developed by themselves. We show that this institutional bonus accounts for the bulk of the growth benefits of US accession."

Best Classical Pianists: Top 25 Greatest All Time

"Few pianists have ever achieved such a cult following as the elusive Canadian Glenn Gould, one of the greatest pianists. His extraordinary if quirky intelligence and imagination led him in unusual directions: after an impressive start to his performing career, he withdrew from the concert platform entirely and devoted himself to recording. While other artists might miss the effects of adrenaline away from a live audience, Gould saw the recording studio as the best way to exploit his musical perfectionism. Famed for his hypochondria, his low seat at the piano and his eclectic brilliance of thought, his fascinating character has attracted attention from numerous different film-makers. Though his repertoire was huge, as was the quantity of his recordings, it is for his Bach playing that he is best remembered today."

2/03/2020

Wokeademia

"So, the point is as much about internal political battles as it is about hiring "diverse" faculty. Squashing the "resistance" by the "small number" of "senior" faculty members actually willing to risk their necks by speaking out about this. "Bringing together" the faculty -- and staff! -- who "share a common passion and set of goals." Forming a "group of allies." Achieving a "cultural and procedural tipping point."

I'm interested here in the politicization of our institutions. It is interesting that not everyone is on board this project, even in the UC system. There are still Jerry Coynes and Abigail Thompsons at major universities. Much of the project is to force political conformity and silence their dissent within the institution."

The Economist as Scapegoat

"The bottom line: it is absurd to think that somehow Friedman’s free-market ideology triumphed and the time has come to roll back his polices. Most of them have never been tried. Over the last 50 years government has gotten larger, not smaller. Government is mostly more intrusive not less, when it comes to regulations facing a new business, the labor market, and in key areas like housing, education, and health."

Against the Young Fogeys

"Victorian menswear, then, is for Dawson the ugly and unnatural expression of a cruel and inhuman culture. And Dawson was hardly alone in his opinions. Tolkien quotes Dawson’s assessment with approval in “On Fairy Stories”; for him, the “full Victorian panoply” is part of the ugly, mechanistic modernity that Fantasy helps us escape. Tolkien’s hostility towards refined fashion is, perhaps, not too surprising: as Humphrey Carpenter notes, both Lewis and Tolkien practiced a deliberate indifference to fashion; Michael White claims that both friends “frowned on any form of stylish or fashionable dress.”"

Insider Trading and Nontrading

"In late 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Insider Trading Prohibitions Act with the intent of further restricting stock market trading based on nonpublic information, by seeking to clarify what constitutes “insider trading.” In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Lyle Roberts recently criticized the bill for making the law more confusing ( “The Insider Trading Law is Bad. Will Congress Make It Worse?,” Jan. 10).

Maybe so. My concern is more general, that basic insider trading law maintains the distorting effect of a legal asymmetry that was pointed out years ago by my former colleague (and close friend) at Clemson University, the late Myles Wallace: Corporate officers can’t benefit legally from insider information through trading, but they can gain from nonpublic information through “insider nontrading” (which can be hidden from SEC scrutiny)."

Preventing Suicide by Higher Education

"That the freedom of speech is under attack on many campuses should not be surprising, given that the freedom of the mind, of which speech is the expression, is rarely understood as their purpose any longer. Without that purpose, most American universities no longer serve the public good for which they were created and for which they continue to be publicly funded. Their transformation, which in turn has led to the transformation of the nation, has taken place with the unwitting assistance of American taxpayers — and amounts to defrauding the public. If citizens are compelled to pay for others to go to college, it should be to the benefit of the entire nation — forming good citizens and advancing useful sciences, rather than teaching the rising generation that the nation is irredeemably evil. Taxpayers have funded the research, bankrolled the student loans (including generous forgiveness programs), and allowed the universities and their enormous endowments to operate without paying taxes. These funding sources are the operational life blood of universities, but they can no longer be justified. In fact, it seems likely that the nation would be better off if the vast majority of America's more than 3,000 colleges and universities closed down."

Being a Noob

"It's not pleasant to feel like a noob. And the word "noob" is certainly not a compliment. And yet today I realized something encouraging about being a noob: the more of a noob you are locally, the less of a noob you are globally.

For example, if you stay in your home country, you'll feel less of a noob than if you move to Farawavia, where everything works differently. And yet you'll know more if you move. So the feeling of being a noob is inversely correlated with actual ignorance."

How Will You Measure Your Life?

"When I finished the minimill story, Grove said, “OK, I get it. What it means for Intel is…,” and then went on to articulate what would become the company’s strategy for going to the bottom of the market to launch the Celeron processor.

I’ve thought about that a million times since. If I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should think about the microprocessor business, I’d have been killed. But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think—and then he reached what I felt was the correct decision on his own."

The Positive Side of Shame

"Jennifer Jacquet argues in Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses For An Old Tool that we’re not quite through with shame yet. In fact, if we adapt it for the current era, it can help us to solve some of the most pressing problems we face. Shame gives the weak greater power. The difference is that we must shift shame from individuals to institutions, organizations, and powerful individuals. Jacquet states that her book “explores the origins and future of shame. It aims to examine how shaming—exposing a transgressor to public disapproval—a tool many of us find discomforting, might be retrofitted to serve us in new ways.”"

Who will answer the call in the next outbreak? Drug makers feel burned by string of vaccine pleas

"Every few years an alarming disease launches a furious, out-of-the-blue attack on people, triggering a high-level emergency response. SARS. The H1N1 flu pandemic. West Nile and Zika. The nightmarish West African Ebola epidemic.

In nearly each case, major vaccine producers have risen to the challenge, setting aside their day-to-day profit-making activities to try to meet a pressing societal need. With each successive crisis, they have done so despite mounting concerns that the threat will dissipate and with it the demand for the vaccine they are racing to develop.

Now, manufacturers are expressing concern about their ability to afford these costly disruptions to their profit-seeking operations. As a result, when the bat-signal next flares against the night sky, there may not be anyone to respond."

2/01/2020

Espinoza v. Montana can reverse 150 years of anti-Catholic prejudice

"Perhaps the only prejudice in U.S. history not highlighted by the Woke is America’s pervasive anti-Catholicism. John Winthrop wrote in 1631 that the first reason the Pilgrims wished to establish the Massachusetts Bay Colony was “to raise a Bulwark against the kingdom of AntiChrist which the Jesuits labour to rear up in those parts.” Anti-Catholic bigots worried aloud that Catholicism was incompatible with the American experiment (a position they strangely share with today’s Catholic Integralists). As a result, North Carolina did not allow Roman Catholics to hold public office until 1835.

The same year, abolitionist Lyman Beecher encapsulated this view when he wrote that Catholicism is a “despotic religion” that “never prospered but in alliance with despotic governments … and at this moment is the main stay of the battle against republican institutions.” (Emphasis in original.) The hub of the purported conspiracy, he wrote, lay in Catholic parochial schools. “Catholic powers are determined to take advantage” of American children “by thrusting in professional instructors and underbidding us in the cheapness of education – calculating that for a morsel of meat we shall sell our birth-right,” he wrote."

A Threat to Humanity

"When a new virus emerges, it takes months to create a vaccine for treatment. In the interim, only time and isolation can manage infection rates. Nor is there any remedy other than medicines that ease symptoms. The highly respected French epidemiologist Robert Sebag told me that, judging from past experience, it’s conceivable that up to 15 percent of those who contract the Wuhan virus could die. Chinese officials, though conceding that the virus is highly contagious (and more so than SARS), maintain that the more likely figure is 3.5 percent. This is, of course, largely guesswork for the time being. The only effective measure against the virus at this point is to isolate the sick to control contagion. But the source remains unknown, making management difficult; and not enough Chinese doctors exist—and not all are competent—to contain an illness spreading from city markets to the countryside.

Chinese Communism worsens the problem. According to Communist Party logic, all is well, and news that reflects poorly on the government must be suppressed. Any negative development, from a train accident to an epidemic, is harmful to the Party’s glorious and progressive image. Dissimulation is the norm throughout the land. In 2003, for example, China denied the SARS epidemic; once the virus had spread beyond its borders, Beijing’s admission came too late to do any good."

Even a partial dose of democratic socialism seems to be economic poison

"The closest Cembalest could find to a true democratic socialist state, at least by his definition, is Argentina, “which has defaulted 7 times since its independence in 1816, which has seen the largest relative standard of living decline in the world since 1900, and which is on the brink of political and economic chaos again in 2019.” Double ouch.

Argentina met most of the following criteria: a) higher personal and corporate tax rates, and higher government spending; b) more worker protections restricting the ability of companies to hire and fire, and less flexibility for companies to set wages based on worker productivity and/or to hire foreign labor; c) more reliance on regulation, more constraints on real estate development; d) more anti-trust enforcement and more state intervention in product markets; and a shift away from a shareholder-centric business model; e) protections for workers and domestic industries through tariff and non-tariff barriers, and more constraints on capital inflows and outflows."

Remembering Kobe Bryant

"Other aspects of Bryant’s life, beyond basketball, had a special salience for my husband and me. He was our age. His second child was named Gianna, which is our daughter’s name, and she was roughly the same age, went by the same nickname, Gigi, and, like our daughter, loved to play basketball. Like us, Bryant was a Roman Catholic, trying to raise his kids in the faith.

And like all of us, Bryant was a sinner. Most notoriously, in 2003, he was arrested after being accused by a young woman of rape. He maintained that he had had consensual sex with her, but apologized to her publicly, acknowledging that she saw it differently, and settled out of court. It was an ugly, and career-threatening, incident, and it must remain a factor in reckoning with Bryant’s life and career. Yet so must Bryant’s response: on the brink of divorce from his wife, Vanessa, he leaned hard on his faith and fought for his marriage, publicly crediting a priest with helping him to save it."

Do you know who’s really worried about Big Tech? America’s lagging economic rivals like Germany

"Perhaps the only people more terrified of Big Tech (AppleMicrosoftAlphabetAmazonFacebook) than American anti-tech activists are America’s economic competitors. Take Germany, for instance. It’s the economic engine of Europe. And for some US politicians, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, it’s an example of capitalism done right. Germany makes stuff! It has a trade surplus!

But many German business and political leaders don’t see things that way. Not at all. But how could they, really? As a great new piece in the Financial Times notes, not only is Apple alone worth more than 20 times German industrial giant Siemens, but “at $1.35tn the iPhone maker is worth more than the entire Dax index of Germany’s 30 leading companies.” That disparity, FT reporters Patrick McGee and Guy Chazin continue, “is a striking example of how Europe’s largest economy risks being left behind by the 21st century tech boom.”"

Three Motivations for “State Capacity Libertarianism”

"The second, related impetus I see for “state capacity libertarianism” is simply the growing chasm between the public- and private-sector user experience. With a few taps on my phone, I can hail a car, pay my rent, reserve a table for dinner, and share a video with my friends and family. And if anything goes wrong, a chat-based customer service agent is there to help. But if I want to pay my taxes, order a new passport, transfer a property title, or simply have a question answered about a rule or regulation, the experience is much different. There’s a good chance I’ll need a pen and paper, time to stand in line, and a nine-digit Social Security Number rooted in 1936 technology.

The consequences of this gap are more than personal inconvenience. Inefficient bureaucracies running on legacy systems and processes can become a bottleneck for economic growth and development. And as Donald Moynihan and Pamela Herd argue in their recent book, Administrative Burden, confusing paperwork and complex regulations harm the resource-constrained poor above all."

Is Bernie Sanders a Crypto-Communist? A Bayesian Analysis

"The word “crypto-communist” has a paranoid, McCarthyite connotation. But during the Cold War, numerous communist intellectuals and politicians deliberately concealed their commitment to Marxism-Leninism. Why? To be more successful intellectuals and politicians. A few crypto-communists even managed to become national leaders. Fidel Castro gained power in 1959, but only announced his communism in 1961. Nelson Mandela presented himself as a reasonable democratic reformer. Yet after his death, the African National Congress openly admittedly that Mandela had been on the politburo of the South African Communist Party for decades. Ho Chi Minh joined the Communist Party in 1920, but in 1945 he loudly posed as a moderate democratic reformer – famously quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence to charm the West. Juan Negrin, last prime minister of Republican Spain, was also very likely a crypto-communist.

Which brings me to my question: What about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders? Is he a crypto-communist? Sanders has sent decades worth of frightening signals – praising Soviet bloc regimes, honeymooning in the Soviet Union, and such. Indeed, he’s said and done almost exactly what you would expect a sincere Marxist-Leninist who wanted to be a U.S. Senator would say and do. Note, moreover, that Sanders came of political age during the 60s and 70s, when communism made a big comeback in the U.S. radical left."

Unaccountable Accounting in the Pentagon

"Phrased differently (and more to the point): taxpayers, holders of US dollars, and investors in US government debt securities would, regardless of the underlying circumstances, much rather see the national debt reported to the penny than estimated. Exactness as in this case is almost certainly impossible, but serves an evangelical purpose: the state, Kuznets suggests, must in some ways represent itself as a tirelessly responsible custodian of the funds collected by it or invested in it. 

Or so it was. Clearly that mandate – consider it a principle of good statecraft – has long since been abandoned. Until 2018, in fact, the Pentagon had actually avoided the legal requirement of an annual audit for decades. Yet when, in 2018, it had one, it failed miserably. The response from the deputy secretary of defense? “We failed the audit. We never expected to pass it.”

That kind of response makes spending $7,622 on a coffee pot seem quaint: it was, at least, an accurate number. Maybe. “Improper payments,” defined as funds flowing without approval or documentation, rose to $1.2 billion from $957 million between 2017 and 2018."

The Federalist Society is Under Attack (Again)

"As has been widely reported, a recently-released draft advisory opinion of the Committee on Codes of Conduct of the Judicial Conference of the United States—a 15-member group of judges responsible for fashioning and interpreting ethical rules applicable to the federal judiciary—concluded that membership in the non-partisan Federalist Society by judges, law clerks, and staff attorneys is improper because the group’s ideological orientation would call its members’ impartiality into question. The draft ethics opinion, which was reportedly leaked, is subject to internal discussion within the Committee during a 120-day comment period ending on May 20. For the purposes of full disclosure, I am a longtime member and supporter of the Federalist Society.

The draft opinion included the American Constitution Society, a liberal counterpart to the Federalist Society, in the membership ban. For inexplicable reasons, the draft opinion did not extend the ban to the American Bar Association, even though that left-leaning organization—unlike the Federalist Society—advocates political causes, engages in lobbying, files amicus briefs, and adopts resolutions on a broad range of public policy topics. The ABA essentially serves as a liberal special interest group, but judges are still permitted to be a member while serving on the federal bench."