Friday, March 27, 2020

Buchanan: Must we kill the economy to kill the virus?

"We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," tweeted the president on Sunday night, adding that, after the current 15-day shutdown, "we will make a decision as to which way we want to go."

President Trump is said to be privately expressing a deepening concern at the damage the coronavirus shutdown is doing to the U.S. economy and debating whether it can be safely reopened.

Though castigated for his remark, Trump has a point.

The U.S. is rightly using extreme measures to meet the threat and control the virus that threatens the lives of millions of Americans, with the elderly sick foremost among them. And we need to do so without killing the economy upon which scores of millions of other Americans depend.

Clearly, America was unprepared for this pandemic.

And there will be time enough to assess responsibility for the lack of surgical masks, medical gowns, rubber gloves, respirators, ventilators and hospital beds.

The immediate imperative is to produce those beds and that equipment and get it delivered to doctors, nurses and hospital staff, the front-line troops in the battle to control the virus.

However, during this shutdown, all "nonessential businesses" are being closed and their workers sent home to shelter in place and to keep "social distance" from friends and neighbors to minimize the risk of spreading this easily transmissible virus.

Unfortunately, what is "nonessential" to some — bars, restaurants, hotels, stores, cruise ships, tourist sites, shops, malls — are places of employment and indispensable sources of income for millions of other Americans.

Close the businesses where these Americans work and you terminate the paychecks on which they depend to pay the rent and buy the food and medicines they and their families need to shelter and live. And if the salaries and wages on which workers depend are cut off, how are these millions of newly unemployed supposed to live?

How do those who follow the instructions of the president and governors to remain in their homes get their prescriptions filled and buy the food to feed their families?

How long can the shutdown be sustained if the necessities of life for the unemployed and unpaid begin to run out? Is it necessary to create an economic and social crisis to solve the medical crisis?

"We had to destroy the village in order to save it," was a remark attributed to a U.S. Army officer in the Vietnam War. Must we cripple or destroy the economy to rescue the American nation from the coronavirus crisis of 2020?

Then there is the matter of time. Many Americans can survive on what they have on hand for two or four weeks. Far fewer can survive without income for two or four months.

If we shut down the economy, what will we have when the medical crisis passes, be that in May, June, July, August or September?

Will all those nonessential businesses we put to sleep come back to life?

The free market system that is the legacy of Hamilton and the Founding Fathers is the world's best design for the distribution of goods and services and ensuring prosperity. And in a population where life expectancy is decades beyond what it was in the early 20th century, there are government programs to provide the necessities of life for those who can no longer access or afford them.

But businesses are needed to deliver the goods.

And if, by government command, America's free economy is partly shut down as unessential in this medical crisis, the government could be responsible for imposing the conditions that lead to social disorder.

At some point, the country is going to have to open up the supply chains and take the risks to let the market work to provide food — or people will engage in panic buying, hoarding and using any means to get what they need for themselves and their families.

Reports of folks in this heavily armed nation stocking up on guns and ammunition suggest a widespread apprehension of what may be coming.

If the medical crisis is allowed to induce an economic crisis that leads to a social crisis, the American political system, our democratic system, may itself be severely tested.

Lest we forget: In the greatest crisis in this nation's history, in which the issue was whether the American Union would be severed into two nations, Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus, shut down state legislatures, closed newspapers, jailed journalists and was prepared to arrest the chief justice. And for the dictatorial measures he took, and for waging the bloodiest war in U.S. history, against fellow Americans, Lincoln is now regarded by many as our greatest president.



Steve Hilton and the need to restart the economy

The federal government has done a terrific job of informing Americans how to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19. If you don’t have the disease and you follow the feds’ guidelines, you should be able to avoid this bug. But folks need some perspective here: COVID-19 is not the plague, the Black Death. Nor is it Ebola, which seems to “dissolve” the body. This virus can, however, kill the very vulnerable: the elderly and folks with compromised immune systems. But those people should already be “sheltering in place,” quarantining themselves from the myriad other diseases out there.

Sunday night on Fox News, Steve Hilton gave a monolog urging that we quickly end the national quarantine and restart the economy. Hilton thinks we’re in danger of ruining the economy if we continue the quarantine much longer. I urge everyone to listen to his impassioned plea: Flatten the curve, not the economy. The Fox link also provides the complete text, but the video alone is at Twitter.

The thing is: some sectors of our economy, such as food production and distribution, continue to operate despite the contagion. The rest of us are smart enough that we, too, can abide by new safety protocols, and avoid the virus. Let’s get back to work, America, before the economy is grievously harmed. Let’s restart the economy no later than April 1.

And thank you, Steve Hilton, for your timely insights.



Forgive Me if I Don’t Fall Right into Line with the New Fascism

As a San Francisco resident and business owner, I’m wondering—can I trust the health judgments of leaders who let thousands live on the streets in their own filth? And if we are now getting the homeless into shelter, why couldn’t that have happened earlier? Doesn’t their health count?

All of a sudden, we are supposed to accept 24-hour curfews “for your own safety” from people who order the police to stand down when Antifa and friends beat the Hell out of taxpayers; people who refuse to enforce laws they don’t like (death penalty, bail, property crimes).

City leaders who literally give wanted alien criminals a public heads-up when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is about to conduct raids are now telling me what’s best, declaring a death penalty for businesses, no hearings or due process?! Forgive me if I don’t fall right into line with the fascism which seems awfully situational. Governor Gavin Newsom’s suggestions yesterday that older and vulnerable people take extra care and stay inside seemed reasonable. However, “progressive” city leaders then decided to seize the opportunity and throw the whole economy into a tailspin as collateral damage, but don’t worry—we’ll soon have a government-sponsored bailout for favored groups soon, funded with a tax increase crammed down the throats of the dwindling number of taxpayers. Homeless go back to the streets, illegal alien criminals get sanctuary, car break-ins continue...

Criminals continue to be released from jail or not arrested at all, and we all become more habituated, like sheep, to the loss of liberty yet again, “for our own safety.” I’m not buying it. I don’t buy it with FISA renewal, with gun-grabbing, or with this sweeping lack of process.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is tied to a corruption investigation of a federally-indicted city bureaucrat she dated. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo mocked Trump supporters assaulted by criminals while the police stood down. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff tips off wanted violent illegal aliens. These are the Bay Area rulers telling 7.1 million+ citizens—more than the population of many U.S. states—to stay indoors, shut down businesses? Great judgment, all of them.



Bandy Lee: A Psychiatric fraud

On March 11, Mike Lachance posted the article, Yale Psychiatrist Who Called Trump Mentally Unfit For Office Refuses To Offer Diagnosis on Joe Biden.

Dr. Bandy Lee thinks she’s so good at what she does she doesn’t have to meet a patient to know they’re nuts…or unfit….or who knows what. She has claimed Donald Trump is unfit for office. Really? Amazing diagnosis! And that diagnosis is based on what?

As far as I can tell, that “diagnosis” is based on nothing except her dislike for Donald Trump.  How could anyone refute that kind of medical science? Right? That’s of course if everyone is assuming psychiatry is really medical science.   Or is it a science of misrepresentation, and make it up as they go along?  She even claims he's so powerful he's brainwashed his supporters. Which makes them all unfit also.

However, the Board of Psychiatrists find fault with diagnosis without examination. It’s considered malpractice, and she's now diagnosed tens of millions of people she's never met or even heard of. Amazing!!   But Bandy has assured Democrats in Congress Trump is unfit, and she has a “duty to warn”.

Is it her "duty to warm" us about Joe Biden also?

What is her diagnosis of Joe Biden? After all, it’s clear (and I want to use the correct medical term here) Joe is in deep mental donkey doo. His mental condition is so observably bad even reporters can tell he’s lost it.  If reporters get it you know how bad it must be.

But, this psychiatric genius, who can watch Trump on television and read articles about him, can diagnosis him as unfit.  Okay, but if she has this overwhelming "duty to warn" America about the mental unfitness of politicians, why does she refuse to diagnose Biden?

Furthermore, it must be clear to the most casual observer that Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and most certainly Maxine Waters, along with a host of others in politics suffer from some sort of mental disorder or other, yet she offers no diagnosis about any of them, or their supporters.

Now, there's nothing partisan about that. Is there?




OPTIMISM: Dow posts 2,112-point (11%) gain on Tuesday — the biggest ever (Fox Business)

GOOD NEWS: Scientists say coronavirus does not undergo significant number of mutations (The Daily Wire)

"CHEAP MANUFACTURING BE DAMNED": Sentiment builds for moving U.S. companies out of China (Washington Examiner)

TRAVELERS GET A BREAK: Real ID deadline pushed back due to the coronavirus (USA Today)

POLL: Trump more trustworthy than media on coronavirus (The Washington Free Beacon

AN EXCUSE TO INFRINGE ON THE SECOND AMENDMENT? North Carolina sheriff suspends new pistol permits due to "250 percent increase in demand" (National Review)

DEATH BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY: Ohio abortion providers say they will defy state shutdown order (The Washington Free Beacon)

POLICY: A litany of useless laws have been exposed by the coronavirus (Foundation for Economic Education)

POLICY: Start with common ground on climate-change policy (National Review)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Identity quakes and the art of changing minds

Our beliefs are often bound up with our sense of self. That’s why giving them up can be so painful.

Recently I entered into a discussion on Facebook with an ex-student I had taught while I was a part-time lecturer at the University of Oxford. Although we fundamentally disagreed on the issues, the back and forth was cordial. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, her tone turned hostile. I was accused of endorsing views I do not hold, and associating with people I had never met. I tried to reply, but by this point had been blocked. My former student had decided I was something I was not and was no longer interested in civilised dialogue. More upsettingly, there was a clear implication that by challenging her political opinions I was posing a direct threat to her sense of self.

Such experiences have helped me to realise that, for many people, politics is not so much a belief system as a kind of identity. This is perhaps why a study in Scientific Reports in 2016 found that most people perceive challenges to their political beliefs to be personal attacks. The ideological civil war over Brexit, which has driven families and friends apart like no other recent political dispute, is the most obvious example of this phenomenon. In Carol Hanisch’s famous 1969 essay she declared that ‘the personal is political’. Now, it seems, the political is personal.

It would be tempting to put this down to the tribalism that has been fostered by social media, but in truth people have always reacted badly to the experience of having to rethink their most deeply held convictions. In his book Dominion, the historian Tom Holland notes that the paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope, who was raised a Quaker and taught that the Bible was the literal truth, was ‘so unsettled by the dinosaurs he found entombed in rock that they came to visit him in his dreams’, where they would kick and trample upon him. A similar crisis of faith befell Charles Darwin, who could not reconcile the notion of a ‘beneficent and omnipotent God’ with the brutal reproductive practices of the ichneumon wasp, which paralyses caterpillars with its sting so that its larvae can develop inside a living host. Darwin’s Christian identity was shaken by the evident cruelty of the natural world.

Such realisations are known as ‘identity quakes’, described by Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay in their book How to Have Impossible Conversations as the ‘emotional reaction that follows from having one’s core values disrupted’. I am reminded of Edmund Gosse’s autobiography Father and Son (1907), in which he recounts how his father, the naturalist Philip Gosse, was forced to confront the ways in which the emerging facts of evolutionary science were contradicting his literal belief in holy scripture. His solution was elegantly expressed in his 1857 book Omphalos, in which he argued that the creator had left deliberate markings on the Earth to suggest that it was much older than it was. After all, the first trees in the Garden of Eden would have had growth rings and yet were brand new. This would account for the existence of seemingly ancient fossils, as well as Adam’s omphalos (the Greek word for ‘navel’), which was suggestive of a mother that did not exist.

There is something profoundly moving about Philip Gosse’s need to incorporate these fresh scientific discoveries into the purview of his Christian faith. This was an identity quake so seismic that it could easily have driven him to despair. Omphalos was widely ridiculed at the time, but I cannot help but sympathise with his efforts, and the sheer poeticism of his vision. For anyone who wishes to understand the emotional impact of identity quakes, Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son is a good place to start. (The Oxford World’s Classics edition is recommended, as it contains extracts from Omphalos in the appendices.)

The identity-quake phenomenon should be taken into consideration by anyone who is serious about their views and seeks to persuade others of their validity. From the late medieval period, students at Oxford and Cambridge were taught the trivium of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The latter is best defined as ‘the art of persuasion’, and there is something to be said for attempting to reinstate this discipline in national school curricula. But one doesn’t need to be a rhetorician to understand that people are rarely persuaded by having their beliefs insulted, particularly when said beliefs are such an elemental feature of how they perceive their role in society.

That political affiliation has become a form of personal identity presents difficulties for those of us who still believe in the importance of discussion and debate. Leaving aside the obvious merits of decorum for its own sake, the hostile approach is always counterproductive in purely strategic terms. It is difficult to maintain respect for an interlocutor while he’s shouting and slinging mud. We argue because we value the opinions of others and seek to interrogate our own certainties. We argue because by doing so we refine our propositions and our ability to persuade. Above all, we argue because we know that there is a kernel of truth in every viewpoint. Only the most narrow-minded of us would dismiss the possibility that we might be wrong.

There’s a moment in Father and Son in which the young Edmund Gosse kneels and prays to a chair in order to test whether God would react to such flagrant idolatry. Nothing happens, and he is left questioning whether God even exists. For a child raised in the evangelical traditions of the Plymouth Brethren, this was no small matter. We all need to be willing to challenge our most treasured convictions, and to be empathetic when we challenge those of others. It isn’t easy to abandon or modify one’s belief system, especially when it has become so interlinked with notions of personal identity. Changing minds is necessary, but it is never painless.



Coronavirus Communism Comes to California

Bernie Sanders supporters learn what life under socialism is really like.

A few weeks after Californians cast their votes for Bernie Sanders, there are huge lines to buy toilet paper. Toilet paper, like dairy products and cleaning supplies, are limited to two per household.

Savvy shoppers have learned, like their counterparts in the old Soviet Union, to get what they need by bartering what they can buy. Toilet paper for antibacterial soap. Milk for wipes.

Yakov Smirnoff had spent his career joking about standing on line to buy toilet paper and discovering that the government store wasn't even selling toilet paper, but something to be bartered for it.

"If I start making jokes about a shortage of toilet paper in America, it won`t make any sense because you walk into a store and see 15 brand names of toilet paper," he had once told a newspaper.

"Yesterday I stood in line for two hours waiting for CVS truck to unload. Everyone was waiting for alcohol and toilet paper. I felt like I was back in Soviet Russia," Smirnoff, who now lives in California, tweeted.

The old Soviet anecdotes finally make sense to Americans. All it took was a little taste of the real deal.

"You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants when children are hungry in this country," Senator Bernie Sanders had once snapped.

And now there are no choices of deodorant. You take what’s on the shelf and learn to like it.

Sanders voters had wanted to live under socialism. And now they have the opportunity to learn what it’s really like. Between the curfews, the shortages, and the absolute government authority, they’re living in the type of system that Sanders and his base have admired when it was far away and safely overseas.

In 2003, Sanders, along with Rep. Conyers, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, had signed a letter of support for Hugo Chavez: the brutal Venezuelan strongman. “If Abraham Lincoln or George Washington were alive and here today, they would be on our side,” they told him.

“These days, the American dream," Sanders once wrote, "is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela."

The socialist dream in Venezuela began with toilet paper shortages, then dairy shortages, and eventually no food, medicine, or drinking water, while the Marxist regime paid its military thugs in food supplies.

A few supermarket lines are only a small taste of “democratic socialism” in action.

The coronavirus isn’t Communism, but it has created social, political, and economic conditions similar to that of Communism, with an authoritarian state, a frightened populace, and resource shortages.

There’s no better laboratory for seeing how the real thing would play out in California.

California’s Sandernistas are invariably on the wealthy and comfortable side. Bernie bumper stickers rarely show up on beat-up Chevys, but on a Tesla, on a Mercedes, or on a Beemer. You can spot Bernie lawn signs outside lavish mansions whose owners imagine that socialism is for someone else.

Someone else’s cars and mansions will be confiscated. Not theirs. Someone else won’t be able to buy basic staples. Not the Silicon Valley tech bros pouring a fortune into the Sanders campaign and its PACs.

Bernie's wealthy donors in the Inner Mission and Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, and Echo Park in Los Angeles, are now discovering the lifestyle that they’ve only romanticized from a distance before as they wait on line in empty supermarkets and stare baffled at ‘Out of Stock’ messages on Amazon listings.

To paraphrase Sinclair Lewis, the poet laureate of California socialists, "When Communism comes to California, it will be wrapped in a repurposed paint fume respirator mask, wearing medical gloves, and driving a BMW with a Bernie 2020 bumper sticker while frantically grabbing rolls of toilet paper."

There are two kinds of socialism: the ideal and the real.

Ideal socialism is an entertaining set of intellectual games, castles in the sand, ivory towers in the air, where the right words and attitudes can enable the enlightened to implement heaven on earth.

Real socialism is standing on line for toilet paper.

Capitalism is the best argument for socialism. When the supermarkets are full and there are lots of good jobs, then it’s easy to imagine that the system can be improved with a lot of authoritarian planning. Why not take all those goodies and distribute them more efficiently? There’s so much of the stuff that it seems easy to redistribute it, to add a few zeroes to budgets already filled with imaginary numbers.

And socialism is the best argument against itself.

Socialists always think that they will lose their freedom to a wise ideal, only to discover that they will lose it to a grubby real of incompetent bureaucrats, frightened mobs, and armed men in the streets.

Bernie’s vague rambling plans to nationalize everything from electricity to the internet, to bring into being a nation where the government decides how much deodorant and shoes you get to have, sound great until it stops being a hip ideal and becomes the tawdry reality of waiting on line for toilet paper.

You don’t need a literacy program to realize socialism is a bad idea when you’re living through it.

California politicians have taken a break from a torrent of insane bills that proposed to ban receipts (they’re bad for the environment), ban fur, legalize eating roadkill, (if you run over a rabbit, you can eat it, but don’t you dare wear its fur), and banning separate clothes sections for little girls and boys, to ineptly tumble the state and its major cities headlong into a mismanaged response to the coronavirus.

The incompetence of California Democrats was all fun and games when it led to blowing up the homeless population while wasting billions of dollars, banning police from turning over illegal alien pedophiles to ICE, or accidentally outlawing freelance work across the entire state for the unions.

But now there are real consequences. It’s not just another bunch of zeroes or a handful of victims whose stories will never appear on any cable network except the one no respectable socialist would watch.

Millions of lives have been disrupted. And countless lives are potentially on the line.

Socialism sounds like a great idea if you imagine that the people running things are smart, moral, and competent, as socialists imagine that they are. It falls apart in the real world where people aren’t.

After voting for Bernie Sanders, Californians are discovering what it’s actually like to live in Venezuela, Cuba, or the Soviet Union, where they have no rights, there’s nothing in the stores, and nothing works.




DPA OFFICIALLY INVOKED: FEMA head says administration will use Defense Production Act to obtain 60,000 coronavirus tests (National Review)

CRACKING DOWN: Trump signs executive order to prevent price gouging, hoarding of medical supplies (The Hill)

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES: How the VA is prepared to handle rising rates of veterans with coronavirus (The Daily Signal)

ENFORCEABLE WITH FINES: The UK goes into full lockdown with the public barred from leaving home for nonessential reasons (Business Insider)

SECOND AMENDMENT SUBTERFUGE: Pennsylvania Supreme Court greenlights mandatory gun store closures (The Washington Free Beacon)

MEANWHILE IN NEW JERSEY... Gun-rights coalition sues Gov. Phil Murphy for closing gun dealers during coronavirus pandemic (The Washington Times)

22ND STATE TO BAN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT: Colorado abolishes death penalty (National Review)

COMMUNIST SYMPATHIZERS: Twitter says Beijing's coronavirus lies are just fine (The Daily Beast)

BEGINNING OF A NEW COMMERCE ERA: When coronavirus is through, our economy will look a lot different (Washington Examiner)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Trump keeps his head when everyone else is losing theirs

Huge disruptions to everyone's lives matter too

Donald Trump has indicated he wants to ease social distancing measures in the United States and “reopen” the economy within weeks, not months.

Other countries around the world are imposing ever-stricter policies in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sent the United Kingdom into near total lockdown today. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern did the same yesterday. Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated intrusive measures will remain in place for “at least six months”.

At a White House briefing today, however, Mr Trump was focused on mitigating damage to the US economy. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” he said.

The President told Americans they would get through the challenge presented by the virus. “The hardship will end. It will end soon. Normal life will return and our economy will rebound very, very strongly,” Mr Trump said.

“Our public health experts, who are terrific, are studying the variation in the disease across the country, and we will be using data to recommend new protocols to allow local economies to cautiously resume their activity at the appropriate time.

“We also have a large team working on what the next steps will be once the medical community gives a region the OK – meaning the OK to get going, to get back, let’s go to work.

“Our country wasn’t built to be shut down. This is not a country that was built for this. It was not build to be shut down. “America will again, and soon, be open for business. Very soon. A lot sooner than the three or four months that somebody was suggesting. A lot sooner.

“We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.”

The United States is about halfway through a 15-day period of social distancing.

“At the end of the 15-day period, we’ll make a decision as to which way we want to go, where we want to go, the timing – essentially we’re referring to the timing of the opening. Essentially the opening of our country,” said Mr Trump.

After a short interlude, during which he promised that “vaccines are coming along very quickly” and urged Republicans and Democrats to make a deal on stimulus measures, the President returned to the subject of the economy.

“We are going to save American workers and we’re going to save them quickly. And we’re going to save our great American companies, both small and large,” he said.

“This was a medical problem. We are not going to let it turn into a long-lasting financial problem. It started out as a purely medical problem and it’s not going to go beyond that. We’re just not going to allow that to happen.

“Our country was at our strongest financial point. We’ve never had an economy like we had just a few weeks ago, and then it got hit with something that nobody could have ever thought possible. And we are fixing it. We’re fixing it quickly.

“Our country will be stronger than ever before, and we fully anticipate that, and it won’t be that long.”



The PATRIOT Act, Coronavirus, and the Politics of Fear

This week Congress has tackled two important issues that may not seem related at first: reauthorizing an expiring portion of the USA PATRIOT Act and legislating for those affected by COVID-19. But there is one common thread between them - each will have had their passage through the legislature amply lubricated by a potent dose of fear. Decisions made hastily under such pressure are often nigh impossible to reverse after the fact.

A quick review since it’s been two decades (and for those too young to remember). Just six weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Congress rushed through a tremendous expansion of the government’s ability to spy on, ostensibly, terrorists. What was a controversial measure even in the fear-filled aftermath of the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor was written in secret and hotlined through both chambers of Congress with barely any chance for debate (and no chance for amendments) in only three days.

As always, the marketing of the bill obfuscated its true nature from the public. It was a simple necessity in order to keep us safe from terror, its sponsors assured Americans. And with a name like the USA PATRIOT Act, who could possibly oppose it -- you’re a patriot… aren’t you? In reality, Congress was, knowingly or not, creating a veneer of legality for a flagrantly illegal dragnet telephony data mass surveillance program that had already been activated by the NSA shortly after September 11th.

It was fortunate that some individuals had the foresight to force sunset provisions into some of the more controversial authorities like Section 215, the main part of the law that was at issue in Congress this past week. Otherwise, leadership in Congress would probably continue to ignore the litany of abuses of warrantless surveillance against innocent Americans, as revealed by whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Bill Binney, Tom Drake, and others.

Still, although sunset clauses give reformers periodic bites at the apple, nearly two decades later, most of the most dangerous authorities from the PATRIOT ACT are still on the books. Thanks only to a heroic stand led by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), we’ll have another chance to change some of that in about two months, better late than never.

Turning to the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the difficulty is that once again we are presented with a clear and present danger that most people will agree there is a legitimate need for the federal government to address. This time, the enemy is invisible and walks among us, bringing with it a specter of dread that seems to have people losing their minds, desperate to control the unknown, even if the best they can do is strip stores bare of toilet paper.

A lot of talk of fear, so here is mine: I fear that legitimate concern about the spread of COVID-19 will, just like 9/11, lead to further erosions of our basic liberties that will last long after the outbreak, and long after vaccines and testing have made the coronavirus’ most durable memory the memes it spawned on the internet.

For example, as The American Conservative’s Barbara Boland has reported, Israel has taken to domestic mass surveillance to address the spread of coronavirus, with the U.K. considering doing the same. The U.S. government, too, has reportedly already been in talks with the big tech companies about leveraging the location data they have for all their customers to track the disease’s spread. Thus far, fortunately, Google appears to have said “no,” but a mandate of this sort is certainly not impossible based on the government’s past history.

Same for the quarantine lockdowns already being implemented in some localities, which are certain to expand dramatically over the coming weeks. Never mind that there is serious evidence that militarized mass lockdowns are not an effective way to address epidemics. It’s one thing to mandate that infected individuals be isolated from others - that’s an unfortunate necessity to protect others from harm - it’s quite another to shut down an entire city for days or weeks. With mass testing for the disease finally becoming more widely available (no thanks to the government for that either), we ought to be able to handle the outbreak without a martial law style approach reminiscent of China.

Even some of the economic stimulus that is intended to be temporary could easily find a way to stick around. Things like mandatory paid sick leave may be necessary given the current economic shutdown, but should not be allowed to stick around once coronavirus is in the rearview mirror. The trillion-plus dollars of additional national debt, certainly, will stick around to haunt future generations regardless. Worse, the very infrastructure of crisis management created by these hasty measures can tend to stick around to help mismanage the next major panic, such as how portions of the 2008 Emergency Economic Stabilization Act are being used to facilitate this week’s bailouts.

Be mindful that our politicians, too, are timorous creatures, ever fearful that any action they take or any power they don’t grant the government might redound upon them in the form of their most dreaded of miseries – a loss in November. They will always value their employment over your liberties unless we the voters make clear that those two things aren't mutually exclusive. Left to their own devices, our elected (and unelected) overlords will create a catastrophe from a crisis and congratulate themselves for averting Armageddon.



In Walmart We Trust During Troubled Times

As we go through all of this END TIMES apocalypse fun, it’s good to look at things that aren’t oh-so awful. Our good friends at Walmart Inc. are helping us through the storm in a couple of ways.

Walmart has long been the whipping boy of liberals, derided for both its sheer capitalist success and the fact that the company serves so many rural Americans.

In short: Walmart is an effete liberal’s nightmare.

The company that the worst people in America love to hate just did a couple of things that prove them wrong.

In this most dire of economic times, when so many Americans are worried about their jobs, Walmart announced that it would be hiring 150,000 people to handle the coronavirus panic buying.

In the same announcement, the company said it would pay out almost $550 million in bonuses to hourly employees.

The Big Bad Capitalist Behemoth that has long been derided for making too much money now has the money to help people in a time of true crisis.

There is a lesson to be learned here, but we know that the people who need to learn it won’t. Just yet, anyway.

This may be the tipping point.

Before anyone gets too crazy in the comments, let me say I don’t really believe that. I’m just saying that if it ever were going to happen, this would be the thing that does it.

But it won’t.




A NEW CHAPTER: Federal Reserve pledges asset purchases with no limit to support markets (CNBC)

"WE'RE ALL UNDER QUARANTINE NOW": Gov. Andrew Cuomo orders most New Yorkers to stay inside (CNBC)

VALID UNTIL END OF APRIL: Illinois issues stay-at-home order (NBC Chicago)

VALID UNTIL APRIL 7: Massachusetts under stay-at-home order (CNBC)

APPROVED BY FDA: At-home tests now available, companies say (Fox News)

FIRST SENATOR TO CONTRACT THE VIRUS: Rand Paul tests positive (Axios)

WHO'D A THUNK IT? Five Florida college students test positive after spring break trip (Fox News)

TRADE AND COMMERCE EXEMPTED: Trump administration announces U.S., Mexico limiting nonessential travel across border (Fox News)

SILVER LININGS: Pandemic measures cut illegal border crossings by half (AP)

THE PARTY OF DOUBLE STANDARDS: Michael Bloomberg exploits campaign-finance loophole to funnel $18 million to DNC (The Washington Free Beacon)

NO WONDER BERNIE SANDERS HASN'T FOLDED: Five more states suspend Democrat primaries, sending nomination race into chaos (The Daily Wire)

POLICY: We have the technology to address climate change and still use fossil fuels (RealClearPolicy)

POLICY: It shouldn't take a crisis to deregulate healthcare (The Federalist)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Will the Coronavirus change the world for the better?

The pessimists are as usual out in force, declaring that the Chinese virus will destroy civilization as we know it.  It is refreshing therefore to hear a different view from English libertarian Sean Gabb.  He even sees the crisis as a blow against the Left and a boost for conservatives.

He has a thoroughly Trumpian respect for some trade restrictions. My background in economics still makes me idealize unrestricterd free trade but economists have always conceded that there can be rational restrictions to that and China's takeover of world manufacturing does generate some concerns.

I am afraid however that I do not see as likely the revival of England's industrial North that Sean hopes for.  The product of the North was never first quality and we are fortunate to be rid of it. British manufacturing is still strong in parts but it was prosperous as a whole only while the rest of the world took time to catch up with and surpass the advantage the British had of being the first in the field.

Chinese quality is also mostly low so far but they rule the roost because of their very competitive prices.  The prospect of the British worker accepting Chinese wages is however non-existent.  There probably are some areas however where the Chinese advantage is not great and a tariff would bring that production back home.

Britain has long had a significant pharmaceutical industry so that would seem an early prospect for promotion and encouragement. On grounds of quality assurance a tariff to support local manufacture would seem advantageous for pharmaceutical manufacturers

Lastly, I want to endorse Sean's skepticism about the hysteria  that the Chinese virus has produced from governments.

With 217 deaths in the USA at last update, the Wuhan virus is a very minor cause of death.  It would not even be a blip in the record of the number of people who die from various illnesses every year.

The panic over it is therefore hugely disproportionate and destructive.  The panic is clearly causing more harm than the disease.  The virus is primarily a lung disease so ensuring widespread availability of  oxygen was all that needed to be done

I have no particular knowledge of medicine or the natural sciences. However, I remember the Aids panic of the 1980s, when we were told there would be two million deaths by 1990 in this country alone. I remember the Mad Cow Disease of 1996, when we were told that a million people would turn into zombies by 2016. There have been a dozen lesser panics the details of which I presently forget. The Coronavirus may be a modern equivalent of the Spanish Flu of 1918-19. But I have reason to be sceptical. Indeed, if ignorant of medicine in any practical sense, I do know a lot about the bubonic plague pandemics of 542-4 and of 1347-51. These exploded among populations severely weakened by hunger, following downturns in global temperature. The Spanish Flu took hold because of the dislocations produced by the Great War. The human race now has never been so well-fed and so well-provided with medicine. It seems that most victims of the Coronavirus were very old or already in poor health. I do not, of course, welcome any death. But I shall need to see much higher rates of infection and many more deaths – and much and many more outside those groups presently most at risk – before I regard this as other than some collective madness.

This being said, there may be more to be said. Far above the ravening sheep in the supermarkets stands a new political establishment that cannot really be as stupid as its apocalyptic warnings make it appear on first inspection. I begin to smell a conspiracy – and a most unusual conspiracy, so far as its main victims may be the kind of people who do nicely out of the new order of things that has emerged since about 1990, and particularly since 2008.

I have read the Guidance Notes of the British Government’s Coronavirus Bill. Except the proposals go absurdly beyond the needs of the outbreak as it seems to be, it is a broadly proportionate response to the outbreak as it is said to be. I do not see the powers to close public gatherings and lock away the plainly infected as a blueprint for any more of a police state than we already have. The final Act may smuggle in provisions to outlaw cash or to censor the Internet. But I doubt it will. The other responses – shutting down all the schools, subsidising wages, deferring tax payments – are costing or losing the British State a lot of money, and none of this, so far as I can tell, is going to the usual special interest groups. Though grossly disproportionate to any reasonable view of how severe this outbreak is, the Johnson Government’s response is the opposite of the Brown Government’s response to the 2008 financial crash, which involved handing over a mountain of our tax money and the future growth of our savings and pensions to the very rich.

So what is happening? One possibility is that the outbreak is a convenient excuse for at least the British and American Governments to do in a state of emergency what they want to do, but would have trouble doing in the normal course of politics. What they may want – and this is congruent with the promises made by Mr Johnson and Mr Trump – is a deflation of the financial sector and a shortening of supply chains and a tightening of borders, all in the interests of greater security and equality for ordinary people. They have confected a panic, or gone along with an autonomous panic. This has brought on a wholly self-inflicted supply shock. The British Government in particular is taking large new financial liabilities. But this is a supply shock from which recovery should be fast and complete. The financial liabilities put money directly into the pockets of those most immediately harmed by the shock – and the ceiling of £2,500 per month on the wage subsidy will involve a progressively greater loss for those earning more than the average.

The usual suspects are asking for a delay to our full departure from the European Union. This is probably not on the agenda, as it goes against the underlying principle of the emergency measures. This includes a real tightening of border control and an encouragement of domestic manufacture. Again, ordinary people will benefit from the raising of wage rates. As a libertarian, I am not supposed to approve of anything that looks like protectionism. On the other hand, using China as a giant sweatshop is almost certainly not the outcome of any clean market process. More likely, the current pattern of world production and trade has nothing to do with Ricardian comparative advantage, but is the outcome of various hidden subsidies and prohibitions that mainly benefit the rich and well-connected. Removing these and allowing the emergence of shorter supply chains might improve the lives of ordinary people.

And improving the lives of ordinary people might be good for the cause of liberty. After 1979, the Government kicked the bottom out of the world for the working classes. Millions were thrown out of work. Millions more eventually found employment in menial and insecure jobs. One result was to end the threat of trade union militancy. Another was to remove people from some connection with scientific rationality – even the lowest industrial labour is a kind of applied science – and to leave them open to every stupid superstition and moral panic the media cared to promote. Restore something like the broad industrial economy of the past, and we might see a rebirth of liberal opinion in the old sense of the words.

As for the gathering financial collapse, the wage subsidy will protect ordinary people from the worst effects. Its most notable effect may be the liquidation of the debt and credit bubble that was blown up after 2008 and that has now become unsustainable. I doubt we shall reach the point where those glass towers that disfigure Central London are remade into flats and workshops. If that were to happen, though, it would be no cause for regret – except to those enriched by the present order of things.

And so, I do not fear the Coronavirus – not yet, at least. I moderately fear the shortages in the supermarkets. I am keenly interested in the possible emergence of an England in which the Northern working classes will be proud to be seen voting Conservative.



Coronavirus in Perspective

By Rich Kozlovich

Pandemics come and pandemics go, but how much damage do they do?  These pandemics we've experienced in recent years aren't the Black Plague, nor are they the Spanish Influenza.

So where does this pandemic stand on what I'm calling a "health crisis chart" from the CDC?

You will notice Malaria, which is eternal, is still number five on the chart.  Tuberculosis deaths worldwide must clearly justify calling it a pandemic.  Don't you think?  Why isn't it?

Because it's a lot like malaria, it's eternal, so it's not an emotion grabber.  Even though TB in the third world has developed resistance to drug treatments.

You will also notice that "seasonal flu" is number eight.  Why isn't it a pandemic?  And when I see whooping cough is number ten, I really get outraged because there's a vaccine readily available to prevent it.  The appearance of Whooping Cough in the third world is understandable for three reasons.  Cost, incompetence, and socialized medicine.  But why are we having cases of it in America?

Because irresponsible activists are scaring parents making false claims about vaccines and autism in children.  That hysteria has caused children in the United States to unnecessarily suffer and even die as a result.

Jim ONeill posted the article, The Convenient Timing of the Coronavirus saying:

"It is no secret that the Left would rather destroy the US economy than risk four more years of Trump.......... With the 2020 elections looming large, the coronavirus panic seems to be conveniently timed to damage the US economy, and distract We the People from important topics such as FISA abuse, roots of the Russia hoax, and Biden’s dealings with Burisma.

The media is, of course, adding fuel to the fire of panic with their “lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!” coverage of the virus. The silver lining here is that with coronavirus the globalist Left has jumped the shark (again), and jumped the gun (again).

Their over-the-top coverage of the coronavirus, while perhaps effective for their cause in the short term, will eventually boomerang on them (where have we seen this before?) as it becomes obvious over time that they have been crying wolf too loudly and for too long."

He notes: "There is a world of difference between taking something seriously, and panicking over it."

People are going insane storming the stores wiping out toilet paper and actually fighting over items on the shelves.  See, and you thought they only did that at Christmas time while celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace.



Despite Media Attacks, Public Rallies Behind Trump During Coronavirus Pandemic

A newly released ABC News/Ipsos poll finds that the attempts by the media and the Democratic Party to bash Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic have failed to sway voters. In fact, since the last time they polled the question, approval of Trump’s response to the pandemic has swung hugely in his favor.

According to the poll, which was conducted March 18-19th, 55 percent of voters approve of the way Trump “is handling the response to the coronavirus.” The poll shows a dramatic shift in opinion from a week earlier, when only 43 percent approved of Trump’s response to the virus.

This was not the only poll to show the public rally behind Trump during the pandemic. An Axios/Harris poll found virtually identical numbers in a survey conducted March 17-18, with 56 percent of Americans approving of Trump’s response to the pandemic, up from 51 percent in their previous poll.

In fact, the Harris poll shows Trump’s numbers have improved across the board. His overall approval went from 49 percent to 53 percent.

The survey also makes it clear that the public is not blaming Trump for the negative economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, as his approval on stimulating jobs and the economy stands at 60 percent.

Given the overwhelmingly negative coverage by the fake news media, complete with blatantly false stories, the fact that Trump’s approval in handling the pandemic is in positive territory is remarkable. One can only imagine what Trump’s numbers would be if Democrats weren’t politicizing the pandemic and he was getting fair coverage from the media.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Monday, March 23, 2020

New Index Finds Rising Tide of Economic Freedom

Governments around the world are responding to the coronavirus epidemic with a variety of measures that have the potential to curtail economic activity.

It’s vital that such actions be temporary and of as short a duration as possible.

Government restrictions and regulations have a tendency to outlast—sometimes for decades—the crises they were implemented to address.

Some will try, for their own political reasons, to use this crisis and others—real or imagined—to call for a fundamental restructuring of the American economy or the world economic system.

We need to put any such talk to rest.

The 2020 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by The Heritage Foundation, shows a world more committed to the principles of free-market capitalism than ever before.

Some 124 of the 180 countries ranked in the index managed improvements in their economic freedom scores this year. The average score in the index is at its highest level in history, and the commitment to free-market reform is stronger than ever.

The reasons so many countries have adopted U.S.-style capitalism (though some call it by other names) are clear.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and its socialist/communist allied governments in Eastern Europe, the world economy has more than doubled in size. Poverty rates have declined by two-thirds.

The globalization of world commerce has brought unprecedented prosperity to the developed economies of North America, Europe, and Asia, and fantastic opportunities for growth to the underdeveloped countries of the world, including China and India.

Hundreds of millions of people are enjoying better lives because their governments have embraced, at least in part, the U.S. way.

The data presented in the index demonstrate conclusively that citizens of freer societies enjoy much higher levels of per-capita income than those who live where governments control most economic activity.

They enjoy longer lives and better standards of health care and education, and live in much cleaner environments.

Countries where economic freedom is growing also have higher economic growth rates, about 1 percentage point per year higher on average. That can add 10% to a country’s living standards over a decade.

The Index of Economic Freedom has a new country at the top of the list this year, Singapore. That Southeast Asian trade and finance powerhouse is the only country to be ranked economically free in every category measured by the index.

Other economies judged “free” this year include Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Ireland.

The U.S. comes in only at 17th place. That’s five spots lower than last year. Protectionist measures have eroded trade freedom in the U.S., and our applied tariff rates have increased by more than 50%.  That’s sure to hold back economic growth in the future, not only here, but also in countries with which we trade.

High levels of U.S. government spending and debt remain ongoing concerns.

We’re obviously going through a tough patch, and Americans’ concerns about their own health and that of our society are running high.

We count on our governments—local, state, and federal—to help us when times are tough. But we need to remember that we live in the most prosperous country in the history of the world, and the fundamental principles of economic freedom have played a vital role in making that happen.

Let’s not trifle with them now.



Politics and Fears of 'Racism' Helped Coronavirus Spread in Italy, Virus Expert Warns

While leftists in the U.S. echoed the Chinese Communist Party in branding President Trump racist for calling the coronavirus Chinese, a virus expert in Italy warned that the Italian government stalled in its response to the virus due to politics and fears of racism — and that stalling cost lives.

Regardless of political correctness, the Chinese coronavirus started in China and taking concrete action to ban Chinese travel and to isolate people coming from China has been very effective in curbing the virus's spread.

Italy's death toll overtook China's on Thursday, with more than 41,000 confirmed cases and 3,405 deaths.

Dr. Giorgio Palù, the former president of the European and Italian Society for Virology and a professor of virology and microbiology at the University of Padova, told CNN that politics and fears of racism hamstrung the Italian government's response.

The government was "lazy in the beginning... too much politics in Italy," Palù said. "There was a proposal to isolate people coming from the epicenter, coming from China. Then it became seen as racist, but they were people coming from the outbreak." This unwillingness to contain people who posed the greatest risk contributed to the devastating situation, he argued.

Yet this political correctness was not limited to Italy's national government, as Voice of Europe pointed out.

Northern Italy has been hit hardest by the outbreak, and leaders there encouraged behavior that spreads the virus. Dario Nardella, the Mayor of Florence, urged Italians to "hug a Chinese" in early February, warning that coronavirus fears were leading to racism against Chinese people. Nardella, a member of the left-wing Democratic Party, even tweeted a video of himself hugging a Chinese man.

Northern Italy now has the most cases of coronavirus. The Governor of Lombardy recently warned citizens that they must follow the curfew strictly as hospitals will soon be overwhelmed with patients.

Left-leaning media outlets in the U.S. have parroted the line that Trump's decision to call the virus the "Chinese coronavirus" is racist, even though the president is pushing back on Chinese Communist Party propaganda blaming the U.S. for the virus.

If this Italian virologist is correct, however, these fears of racism are not just overblown but downright deadly. Bad responses to the virus, however well-intentioned, can have a tragic human cost.



COVID-19 Will Change Healthcare

Reducing regulation to ensure speedier service will help millions of Americans

When terms like “social distancing” and “self quarantine” are on the tip of every journalist’s tongue, the good news can often be hard to find.

And little did we know that an act passed in 1996 would haunt us in 2020. Back then, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed into law, ensuring that information shared between doctors and patients is private and secure. The HIPAA website states, “Prior to HIPAA, no generally accepted set of security standards or general requirements for protecting health information existed in the health care industry. At the same time, new technologies were evolving, and the health care industry began to move away from paper processes and rely more heavily on the use of electronic information systems.”

But the technology of 1996 is not that of today. Essentially, HIPAA prevented healthcare providers and individual doctors from taking advantage of emerging information technologies — and it required patients to be in the physical presence of their doctor in order to have important conversations about their health.

Thus, the Wuhan coronavirus has made the standard office visit not only a challenge for those suffering the symptoms but dangerous for everyone else.

As Tiana Lowe writes at The Washington Examiner, “For decades, HIPAA has strangled the healthcare system, preventing providers from communicating with patients and sharing health data with other experts” and “they are forced to use antiquated electronic medical record systems and to communicate with patients primarily in person.”

This week, all that changed.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump took the bold step of ordering the Department of Health and Human Services to waive potential HIPAA penalties, thereby clearing the way for telemedicine. Now, a patient with coronavirus symptoms can consult with a real doctor from home.

Two healthcare providers, Kaiser Permanente and One Medical, are already offering this service to their patients. “Kaiser and One Medical can do this because patients aren’t paying to see their preferred physician,” writes Lowe. “They’re paying to get immediate, efficient care. You may wait weeks to see your private practice physician, who is financially incapable of circumventing the HIPAA stipulations that render telemedicine so difficult.”

As the nation’s coronavirus response continues to evolve, President Trump is getting rid of the red tape. Just yesterday during the daily coronavirus task force briefing, he announced that he’s directed FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn to “eliminate outdated rules and bureaucracy” in order to “get the rapid deployment of safe, effective treatments” out to the public as soon as possible. As a result, Americans will soon be able to access Chloroquine to alleviate the symptoms of coronavirus.

Trump, in fact, has been battling the bureaucracy since he took office. In 2018, he signed right-to-try legislation that allows terminally ill patients to try promising drugs that haven’t yet received FDA approval. Taken together, these steps may set a precedent by making quality care more efficient, affordable, and accessible long after we’ve conquered coronavirus.

The coronavirus panic has pushed the stock market to the brink, forced universities to teach courses online, turned millions of Americans into telecommuters, and shuttered restaurants, malls, and transportation hubs. But the good news is out there, including that American healthcare has a brighter future.

If only it hadn’t taken a national emergency to make it so.




9/11-STYLE PREPARATIONS: Trump eyes grounding jets, halting stock trading, and ordering shelter in place (Washington Examiner)

MOST POPULOUS AND LARGEST ECONOMIC STATE SHUT DOWN: California issues "stay at home" order (NPR)

TRAVEL ALERT: State Department warns Americans against all overseas travel (AP)

"NOT OUR TRADITIONAL MEDICAL MISSION": Navy readies 1,000-bed hospital ships and Defense Health Agency prepares for civilian support role (Washington Examiner)

GOOD IDEA: Sen. Tom Cotton debuts plan to take pharmaceutical production back from China (The Washington Free Beacon)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here  (Personal).  My annual picture page is hereHome page supplement


Sunday, March 22, 2020

History Shows Direct Assistance Won't Boost Consumption

The state of the economy is on everyone’s mind due to the COVID-19 and the more frequent practice of social distancing. People are staying at home due to the virus, which will have a negative impact on consumption. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that the administration is “looking at sending checks to Americans immediately.” The idea is similar in approach to proposals from Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

The approach of direct cash-based assistance isn’t a new idea. On the surface, it may sound like a good approach. Americans get a check from the federal government based on the hope they will spend the money to boost consumption. In this instance, the direct assistance the administration appears to hopes to help some Americans meet their financial obligations, such as mortgage payments and utilities.

If the administration hopes to see an increase in consumption, however, history says that it won’t work. Not only are many people staying home in light of COVID-19, but the data show that people tended to save the money they received from the federal government rather than spend it. Some may have paid off debt, although there isn’t good data on this particular theory. A better way to boost businesses would be to provide a payroll tax holiday for an indefinite period.

In June 2001, President Bush signed the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act. This bill was the first of two major tax bills that President Bush signed into law during his first term. The law not only cut marginal individual income tax rates and capital gain tax rates, among other changes to the tax code, it also created a 10 percent income tax bracket on taxable incomes of $6,000 for an individual and $12,000 for a married couple filing jointly. The maximum amount an individual could receive was $300. The maximum for a married couple filing jointly was $600.

These tax rebates were sent to taxpayers in the form of a check. The hope was that the tax rebate would have a stimulative effect on consumption. But did the 2001 tax rebate have the desired result? Different studies on the effect of the tax rebate have different conclusions. Using an idea from John B. Taylor of the Hoover Institution, who looked at the effect of the 2008 tax rebate, we’ve compared disposable personal income (DPI), which is after-tax income, to personal consumption expenditures (PCE) between January 2000 and December 2002. If the tax rebates were effective, we would expect to see a significant rise in both DPI and PCE. The data shows this not to be the case.

As the chart below shows DPI did rise after the passage of the 2001 tax rebate, but personal consumption expenditures (PCE) declined briefly before jumping and then declining again and leveling off. Not shown in the chart is the PCE-to-DPI rate. In December 2000, the rate was 91.6 percent. In May 2001 and June 2001, the PCE-to-DPI rate was 91.5 percent. It declined to 90.4 percent in July 2001 and 89.3 percent and 89 percent in August and September 2001.

2001 Tax Rebates

Interestingly, the personal savings-to-DPI rate increased between July and September 2001. Prior to these three months, between January 2000 and June 2001, the rate had not exceeded 5.4 percent, which was the rate in January 2000. The personal savings-to-DPI rate increased to 5.6 percent in July 2001 and peaked at 7 percent in September 2001. The PCE-to-DPI rate increased in October and November 2001 to 92.6 percent and 92 percent before falling back to 91.6 percent in December 2001.

Personal savings declined to 3.4 percent and 4.5 percent in October and September 2001. Throughout 2002, the personal savings-to-DPI rate never dropped below 5.4 percent. The PCE-to-DPI rate didn’t rise above 91.1 percent in 2002.

One could surmise from the 2000 through 2002 data that many who received tax rebates decided to save the money rather than spend it or saved it knowing that they were receiving a check that could be spent later. Others may have paid off personal debt with the rebate. In February 2002, the White House Council of Economic Advisers released a short paper that claimed the previous year’s tax rebates “provided valuable stimulus to economic activity in the short run,” but there’s little evidence that is the case.

The Bush administration used a similar method 7 years later with similar results. In February 2008, President Bush signed the Economic Stimulus Act, which provided another round of tax rebates. Unlike the tax rebates in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, the Economic Stimulus Act provided tax rebates to taxpayers, even those with no tax liability, who earned a minimum income of $3,000. Rebates were reduced for individuals with incomes above $75,000 and married couples filing jointly with incomes above $150,000 by 5 percent of their 2007 reported adjusted gross income. There were other tax aspects to the Economic Stimulus Act for individuals with children and businesses.

In 2008, the rise in DPI was even more noticeable around mid-year, but PCE declined substantially. Of course, in this instance, the recession began in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009, which, more likely than not, explains the decline DPI and the even more substantial decline in PCE.

2008 Tax Rebates

What all these numbers demonstrate is something that fiscal conservatives have long known. Centrally planning the economic activity of millions is an effort in futility. Every time we have attempted using stimulus policies to stimulate the economy, the real-world impact has been negligible. Moreover, a direct cash infusion of the type Secretary Mnuchin has proposed would require financing billions of dollars in payments by taking on an incomprehensible amount of excess debt and all of the negative externalities that come along with it.

In short, the stimulus package that the administration has expressed support for would not only fail in its objective but would hold far-reaching consequences for our nation’s fiscal security.



In a Time of Crisis, Let's Stand Together

For quite some time, aided and abetted by a rapacious media and take-no-prisoners howlers-at-the-moon on social media, "partisanship porn" has been America's most enduring frame of reference. You're either with me or you're the enemy, the idiot, or simply beneath contempt. Thus one must be ridiculed, defriended, socially ostracized, and/or ignored. All of our differences are irreconcilable and civil war inevitable.

Except that it's not.

This writer is a conservative who finds much of the progressive agenda wrongheaded at best and detestable at worst. But an agenda is not a person and hatred, simply for hatred's sake, might be the most contemptible default position one can have — in the best of times.

In a time of national emergency, it may prove deadlier than the coronavirus that has precipitated that emergency.

One wants to point out that the Trump administration has done a lousy job reacting to the virus, while someone else wants to counter that there's a double standard regarding how well the Obama administration handled swine flu and Ebola? Point and counterpoint. Tit for tat. Nah, nah, nah, nah nah.

Toward what end, other than to stoke division in a time when unity is desperately needed?

Columnist Micheal Goodwin reminds us that even during a world war, soldiers on both sides took a respite from the baser aspects of the human condition. "Starting earlier in December and culminating on Christmas Day in 1914, many allied British and French troops on one side and Germans on the other left their trenches and greeted each other on No-Man's Land," he writes. "The sudden fraternization happened on many spots along the Western Front, with soldiers swapping souvenirs, raising toasts, singing Christmas songs and playing soccer."

He believes the same mindset should prevail in Washington, DC. "If warring European soldiers could do it a century ago, surely warring American political leaders can do it today," he asserts. "God knows our nation needs a truce."


Nonetheless, there is little doubt the partisanship that afflicts our Ruling Class will play itself out in whatever series of measures politicians attempt to implement during this crisis. Thus, conservatives will complain about possible loss of constitutional rights precipitated by mandatory shutdowns of various economic sectors, while progressives will complain about efforts viewed as sacrificing vulnerable Americans to protect the economy — all while reliably hysterical media pundits exacerbate the differences and fan the flames of panic for their own perceived advantages. Conservatives will rail against nationalization schemes, progressives against tax cuts, etc. etc., ad infinitum.

Here's an idea: In a nation beset by large philosophical differences, how about inserting a sunset clause into every measure enacted by Congress during the crisis? According to the current worst-case scenarios, we are in for a long period of hard times. Perhaps such sunset clauses could be tied to information regarding when the transmission of the virus peaks and begins to wane. At that point, any measure related to the outbreak will either have to be renewed or it will automatically expire.

A heavy lift? No doubt. But one that would certainly mitigate the paralysis that inevitably arises when one side sees the other as seeking permanent changes, using coronavirus as a pretext. Indications that bipartisanship is already occurring are a welcome sign, and such clauses would further that end.

Perhaps financial markets should be temporarily closed as well. Since panic is the current worldwide default position, and most economies are in some form of suspended animation, it seems sensible to suspend the unprecedented and potentially catastrophic gyrations of financial markets as well. Price discovery, which is the basis of the entire system, can be determined at a later time.

Americans themselves? One hopes that self-quarantining and isolation might induce reflectiveness. Perhaps we might begin to realize that most of the issues we argue about, sometimes to the point of insanity, are reflective of our ... luxury. The overwhelming majority of Americans are well fed (even to the point of obesity) and our definition of "poor" is the envy of a world where, for the overwhelming majority of people, simple survival is still a 24/7/365 effort.

And then there's perspective. "For those who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, there was nothing unusual about finding yourself threatened by contagious disease," writes self-described "80-something" columnist Clark Whelton. "Mumps, measles, chicken pox, and German measles swept through entire schools and towns; I had all four. Polio took a heavy annual toll, leaving thousands of people (mostly children) paralyzed or dead. There were no vaccines. Growing up meant running an unavoidable gauntlet of infectious disease."

In modern day America, "growing up" has become an increasingly heavier lift in an increasingly narcissistic nation. No doubt largesse, coupled with technology, has made "look at me" a national sport. But one suspects a crisis that has likely caused millions of Americans of every generation to contemplate their own mortality may ultimately engender a much-needed "were all in this together" response. At the very least, we may realize just how petty many of our disagreements are, and one hopes that in turn will engender an appreciation of each other that transcends those differences — even if it is only for the duration of the crisis.

We already know where the alternative gets us, and the reality that some people will never get it should not deter the rest of us from seeking common ground, no matter how narrow the parameters. Americans will always disagree, even vehemently, about what is right and wrong for our nation, but the wholesale elimination of mutual respect does not have to be part of the equation.

Moreover, we should be enormously thankful for the legions of unsung, everyday heroes who persevere and often risk their own well-being taking care of the ill, delivering much-needed supplies, and performing other innumerable tasks that may ultimately be the difference between civilization and anarchy. Few of their names will ever be known, but millions of Americans will owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.

America persevered after Pearl Harbor and 9/11. We can do it again. And maybe, just maybe, for the first time since it was coined, there is a phrase Americans can take to heart in an entirely different context than it was first presented:

Never let a crisis go to waste.




MEDICAL SUPPLIES AT THE READY: Trump invokes Defense Production Act to buoy the manufacturing of medical supplies (The Hill)

COVID-19 BESIEGES CAPITOL HILL: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ben McAdams are first lawmakers to announce testing positive for coronavirus (Fox News)

NO JOKE: Baltimore mayor begs residents to stop shooting each other so hospital beds can be used for coronavirus patients (CBS Baltimore)

COMMUNIST MALFEASANCE: Outbreak could have been reduced by 95% if China acted sooner (The Daily Wire)

HITTING THE BRAKES: Most automakers shut North American plants (AP)

SILVER LININGS: Gas prices could hit 99 cents in some states due to coronavirus and supplies (Fox News)

ROCKET-ATTACK RETALIATION: U.S. imposes new sanctions on Iran, seeks release of Americans (National Review)


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCHPOLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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