World

Who Supports the Hong Kong National Security Law?

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Riot police officers in front of a water cannon vehicle during a march against the national security law on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain, in Hong Kong, China, July 1, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

In the wake of Beijing’s move to enact a draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong this week, China’s state-owned media outlets and foreign ministry have gleefully highlighted a statement by Cuba’s delegate to the U.N. on behalf of 52 other countries lauding the law. Curiously, none of these reports mentioned any of the other countries standing with China.

The statement’s co-signatories remained unknown — until this morning, when Axios published the full list.

These countries include North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Eritrea, and Belarus. Of course, none of the governments in this group have particularly admirable human-rights records; most of the 53 countries are autocracies with one-party rule. That the U.N. Human Rights Council — which earlier that day was addressed by pro-Beijing Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam — would be the forum for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda games is unsurprising, to say the least.

More interesting, as many have pointed out online, is the geographic dispersion of the group of 53, when compared with the 27 countries that condemned the National Security Law in their own statement. The CCP allies wrap around less-developed parts of the world, tracing the path of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, most of the 27 opponents of the law were liberal democracies located in Europe, in addition to Canada, Japan, and Australia.

Coordinated opposition to Beijing by Western democracies has percolated for years now. In the United States, it’s conventional wisdom that the past three years have seen a dramatic shift in China policy, moving from an approach that prioritizes the management of a problem to one that mitigates a threat. The coronavirus marked another sharp shift — U.S.–China relations reached new heights of acrimony, and Europe, Canada, and Australia saw an acceleration of the deterioration of their relations with Beijing. As it turns out, spreading disinformation, sentencing prisoners on political grounds, and launching massive cyberattacks has not won the CCP many friends. Meanwhile, an international coalition of legislators working on China-related issues formed in June. And political parties across the West are beginning to re-evaluate their attitudes toward China.

The events of the past week seem to mark a significant new rupture. In addition to the National Security Law, this stems from new concerns that the CCP’s treatment of the Uighurs constitutes a genocide. These are only the latest outrages. We can certainly expect many more.

Will there be a united Western response? Despite the usual concerns about America’s treatment of its allies in the Trump era, U.S. partners have no choice but to stand with Washington against Beijing’s assaults on fundamental human rights. As the CCP rallies authoritarian regimes around its worldview at international organizations, liberal democracies catch a glimpse of how an emboldened CCP will wield its influence around the world. Fortunately, they’re getting their act together.

Elections

After What Happened in 2016, You’d Think People Would Be More Skeptical about 2020 Polling

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question from the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., October 9, 2016. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

It’s been odd watching the national political conversation march forward as if the 2016 election had never happened. While the world’s changed dramatically in four years, much of 2020’s poll numbers are strikingly similar to those of 2016.

The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, for instance, gives Biden a 53–43 percent lead among registered voters nationally. On June 26, 2016, a Washington Post/ABC News poll — noting that Trump’s support had “plunged” — put Hillary up over the Republican 51–39 among registered voters nationwide in a head-to-head contest.

The reasons?

The survey finds broad objections to Trump’s candidacy — from his incendiary rhetoric and values to his handling of both terrorism and his own business — foreshadowing that the November election could be a referendum on Trump more than anything else.

In the first week of July 2016, Reuters/Ipsos had Clinton up 44–33 (in November of that year, the pollster gave Hillary a 90 percent chance of winning.) The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll has Biden up 48–35. The latest New York Times/Siena poll that has Biden up 14 points nationally over Trump. In the last poll conducted by Siena before the 2016 election (I don’t see any from June–July), Clinton carried a 17-point lead over Trump. In June of 2016, Fox News had Hillary with a 49–39 lead, and now it shows Biden with a 50–38 lead. In May 2016, USA Today/Suffolk poll had Hillary’s leading 50–39 percent. In June 2020, USA Today/Suffolk poll finds Biden leading 53–41 percent.

It’s difficult to conjure up a more precarious political environment for a national candidate than the one Trump finds himself in — due to both self-inflicted troubles and events out of his control — and yet the RCP average right now has Biden up over nine points. In July of 2016, a CNN/ORC poll had Trump down 52–43. In August of 2016, Quinnipiac had him down 51–41, and McClatchy/Marist had him down 48–33.

Plenty of polls, it’s true, showed a closer race, but even some of those had obvious problems. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in late June 2016 had Clinton up 46–41 percent, with the Libertarian Party’s Gary Johnson and Green Party’s Jill Stein winning 16 percent of the vote combined. They ended up with around 4 percent in a contest in which both major candidates were personally unpopular.

It’s also true that national polls are about as useful as the “popular vote.” State polls, however, were hardly better — and quite similar in 2016 to 2020.

RCP average of Pennsylvania in July of 2016 found Hillary up by over a seven-point spread. Right now, Biden is up seven points. The last poll CBS News/YouGov conducted in the state had Hillary winning 48–40; the last New York Times/Siena poll, 46–39; the last Bloomberg poll 48–39; and the last NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll, 49–37.

In the final Wisconsin RCP average spread, which remained consistent throughout the election, had Hillary ended up over six points. Biden is up over six points right now in the RCP average.

In Michigan, polls show Hillary at around 6.2 average in July of 2016. The number spiked in the fall — Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, and Detroit Fox, all had Hillary with a double-digit lead in October — before the race tightened. Biden’s spread is over seven points.

None of the above is scientific, and I certainly don’t claim any special expertise on the matter. If polls tell me Donald Trump is in trouble in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, I’m inclined to believe them, because the events I’m witnessing tend to confirm it. Trump hit a low in the national average today, and that’s a trend that should concern Republicans. On the other hand, lots of media and liberals seem awfully confident they’re going to run away with the election. It seems to me a little more skepticism about the polling might be in order. Especially considering recent history.

Culture

Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Human Rights, Abortion, Hugh Downs & More (July 2, 2020)

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1. The Washington Post: ‘Cries for help’: Drug overdoses are soaring during the coronavirus pandemic

Nationwide, federal and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses — a hidden epidemic within the coronavirus pandemic. Emerging evidence suggests that the continued isolation, economic devastation and disruptions to the drug trade in recent months are fueling the surge.

2.

3. Msgr. Ratzinger, retired pope’s brother, dies at 96

4.

5. The Washington Post: Virginia maternity housing charity sees spike in need, challenges in fundraising

The demand for help exceeded the nonprofit’s housing capacity, so Mary’s Shelter came up with a new way to meet needs. It placed women in hotels, paid their rent, or covered transportation to friends or family willing to take them in, [Kathleen Wilson, executive director of Mary’s Shelter] said.

“We’re just meeting the needs wherever they are,” Wilson explained. “If we have to buy a bus ticket so they can get some place else or if we have to keep them in hotels for three weeks and incur that cost, we’ll do that.”

6. Supreme Court turns away two challenges to buffer zones outside abortion clinics

7. Black Disabled Man in Texas Dies After Being Denied COVID Treatment and Starved for Six Days, Wife Alleges

8. Cardinal Timothy Dolan: For God’s sake, stop demonizing the NYPD

Continue reading “Twenty Things that Caught My Eye Today: Human Rights, Abortion, Hugh Downs & More (July 2, 2020)”

Education

U.K.: An Economist Looks at 90: Tom Sowell on ‘Charter Schools and Their Enemies’

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The day before this show was recorded, Dr. Thomas Sowell began his tenth decade of life. Remarkably on one hand and yet completely expected on the other, he remains as engaged, analytical, and thoughtful as ever. In this interview (one of roughly a dozen or so we’ve conducted with Dr. Sowell over the years), we delve into his new book Charter Schools and Their Enemies, a sobering look at the academic success of charter schools in New York City, and the fierce battles waged by teachers unions and progressive politicians to curtail them. Dr. Sowell’s conclusion is equally thought-provoking: If the opponents of charter schools succeed, the biggest losers will be poor minority children for whom a quality education is the best chance for a better life.

Recorded on July 1, 2020

Capital Matters

Jobs: Good News/Bad News — and Wee Tim’rous Beasties

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People who lost their jobs fill out paperwork to file for unemployment following an outbreak of the coronavirus, at an Arkansas Workforce Center in Fayetteville, Ark., April 6, 2020. (Nick Oxford/Reuters)

The headlines look just fine. No, more than fine.

CNBC:

Nonfarm payrolls soared by 4.8 million in June and the unemployment rate fell to 11.1% as the U.S. continued its reopening from the coronavirus pandemic, the Labor Department said Thursday.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting a 2.9 million increase and a jobless rate of 12.4%. The report was released a day earlier than usual due to the July Fourth holiday.

The jobs growth marked a big leap from the 2.7 million in May, which was revised up by 190,000. The June total is easily the largest single-month gain in U.S. history.

But:

. . . . because the government survey comes from the middle of the month, it does not account for the suspension or rollbacks in regions hit by a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

As CNBC noted, new jobless claims rose, and by more than estimated, but the most interesting number (to me) was highlighted by Felix Salmon for Axios:

Thursday’s jobs report showed 4.8 million jobs created in June, but those were overwhelmingly people beginning to return to places where they had been temporarily laid off. The number of “permanent job losers” went up, not down, rising 25% in just one month to 2.8 million from 2.2 million.

This, I think, underlines the point that you cannot just switch an economy off and then on, just like that. A “pause” on the scale and, possibly more seriously still, of the duration, that we have seen was always going mean that the recovery would fall very far short of the ‘V’ on which so many are pinning their hopes.

I cannot help wondering whether it might have been different if the U.S. had had something in place more directly akin to Germany’s Kurzarbeit arrangements (It’s well worth reading Standpoint’s Christopher Rauh on this topic).

If I had to guess (which is all, really, that anyone can do), the most likely shape of the recovery will be a ‘K’.  That won’t be good news for those in the wrong part of the K, or, for that matter, the GOP in November.

I’d also pay close attention to Salmon’s comments on where the money that is being pumped (theoretically) into the economy is going.

Short answer: Much of it is going nowhere, at least for now.

Salmon:

We’ve already thrown $6 trillion at this crisis. Much of it seems to have found its way into the stock market, which rose 20% in the second quarter. A new stimulus bill could add another $1 trillion or so. But far too much of that money just isn’t being put to effective use . . . .

If money flows into a bank and just sits there, that’s a sign of severe economic malaise — the “paradox of thrift.” In a healthy economy, individuals and corporations spend freely, and that free spending causes more money to come in tomorrow. In an unhealthy economy, cash gets hoarded and does not contribute to economic activity . . .

Americans saved 32% of their income in April, and 23% in May — numbers vastly higher than all previous records. Money-market funds now hold $4.7 trillion. Corporate cash balances are similarly surging, and now stand at well over $2 trillion. And the total amount of cash available for spending in checking accounts and other readily-accessible locations is now over $5.2 trillion.

Part of this reflects the simple reality that, particularly where discretionary spending is concerned, there are limited opportunities for spending with so much of the consumer economy shut down. But part of this may be simple caution. People do not feel secure enough to spend.

While, as Salmon notes, “insofar as the CARES Act was designed to ensure that America didn’t run out of money, it succeeded. And the individually-focused elements of the act — the $1,200 stimulus checks and the $600-per-week extra unemployment benefit — worked to cushion the economic blow that hit millions of Americans.”  That’s good, but the broader picture — that of a nervous consumer is unchanged.

And if the consumer is nervous, so are companies.

Salmon:

Much of the corporate aid in the act — from $500 billion in emergency relief for businesses to the Fed’s Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility — has ended up almost entirely untouched. Even the Main Street lending facility has lent almost nothing.

Keynes saw a revival in what he referred to as “animal spirits” as an essential element in any recovery.

The only animal I can see (borrowing shamelessly from Robert Burns) is a “wee . . . tim’rous beastie,” cowering in its burrow. That’s understandable — and it’s not good news.

Capital Matters

A Fuller Picture of Unemployment

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The headlines are understating how much unemployment there is, but they’re also understating how fast it’s falling. See here for more.

World

Mixed Feelings

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Riot police fire tear gas into the crowds to disperse anti-national security law protesters during a march on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China from Britain in Hong Kong, China, July 1, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The United Kingdom has provided a path to citizenship for Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas passports because they were subjects of the queen until 1997. The move applies to nearly three million Hong Kongers out of a population of nearly 8 million. Australia is also looking to become a haven for Hong Kongers, and many are pressuring President Trump to do the same.

I have very mixed feelings about this. Obviously, the United Kingdom had to do something to punish China for violating the terms of the 1997 Joint Declaration on Hong Kong. There is an important and thriving community of Hong Kongers in London already.

I want Hong Kongers to remain free. But, I worry that the effect is to make Beijing’s tyranny over Hong Kong more secure and doom its chances of independence, or any kind of recovery of Hong Kong’s unique political–historical identity. If millions do take the options to emigrate, the effect will be to open Hong Kong to much greater re-settlement from Beijing’s mainlander loyalists. It will maroon those left behind in a tyranny whose grip has become tighter.

It’s true that a successful diaspora can help their brothers and sisters back home. And they often do. But, it’s also true that, historically, great waves of emigration can weaken nascent independence movements, or weaken the unique cultural identity of a people around which they can build an effective political resistance.

There’s also something unseemly about the way in which some commentators are talking about Hong Kongers and emigration. I agree with many of them that Hong Kongers are some of the most remarkable people in the world. If Hong Kong were a free nation, I would feel especially blessed to live there and count Hong Kongers as my neighbors. But, it is crass to talk about the destruction of their home as a free economic opportunity for those that would welcome them.

Culture

The Case of Woodrow Wilson

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President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first pitch on opening day, 1916. (Library of Congress)

Ross Douthat criticizes Princeton’s decision to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The school, he writes, “wasn’t named for Wilson to honor him for being a segregationist. It was named for him because he helped create precisely the institutions that the school exists to staff — our domestic administrative state and our global foreign policy apparatus — and because he was the presidential progenitor of the idealistic, interventionist worldview that has animated that foreign policy community ever since.”

It may have seemed too obvious a point for Douthat to note, but surely the school was named for him because he was the president of the university and, moreover, the president who made it a world-class institution. The argument Douthat makes for keeping the name is an argument that would apply if it had happened to be housed at Tufts or Clemson. But the case for keeping the name is stronger than that; it’s includes another argument, akin to the one Douthat makes for keeping the name of Yale University: “The name ‘Yale’ doesn’t honor old Elihu’s slaving; it simply pays the school’s debt to him. . .”

Some years ago I was speaking at Princeton, probably for an alumni event, in a room with a gigantic portrait of Wilson. My eldest daughter, then a baby, burst into tears when she saw it, and my wife had to take her out of the room. I thought at the time that a) this was an encouraging sign of her incipient conservatism and b) Wilson wouldn’t have been any more delighted to see her there than she was to see him. But that we can have reasons to be grateful to sinful and narrow-minded men is part of an education.

U.S.

Breaking News: Every Actor Has Just Been Pretending All Along!

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Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of ‘Hamilton,’ arrives at the 71st PrimeTime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, California, September 22, 2019. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Tomorrow, Disney+ subscribers will tune in to watch the movie version of the Broadway musical Hamilton — a June 2016 performance of the celebrated cast of almost entirely minority actors playing, as far as I can recall, entirely white historical figures.

As many articles have noted over the years, many white actors have played characters that were of different ethnic groups in the source material — sometimes in performances that became iconic, like Italian Al Pacino playing Cuban Tony Montana or Ben Kingsley as Ghandi, and sometimes in examples of awful miscasting, like Johnny Depp as Tonto or John Wayne as Genghis Kahn. (“We’re gonna take over all of Asia there, pilgrim.”)

No one complains that the white historical figures are somehow poorly served by the performers in Hamilton — not out of some sort of sense that the cast balances out past historical injustices in casting, but because they’re good performances. 

Imagine how many good performances we would have missed if casting directors believed that actors had to match the ethnicity of their characters precisely. In any historical drama, the actors will be older, younger, taller, shorter, fatter, skinner, or somehow different from the characters they play. All acting is an exercise in pretending to be someone that you aren’t. The late Leonard Nimoy was not an actual Vulcan.

Can a film or television show or play miscast a role, putting in an actor who simply isn’t plausible or compelling or entertaining, because they are of a different race? Absolutely. A film trailer announcer declaring “Tom Hanks is . . . Malcolm X” is probably not going to work. The diminutive and hilarious Kevin Hart would probably not make a great Abraham Lincoln in a drama.

But it’s not hard to picture actors of different races offering terrific and surprising performances. Imagine James Earl Jones playing Winston Churchill. Casting directors need the freedom to cast a wide net and look for the best performance they can find — unafraid of stirring up angry social-media mobs.

Sports

The Football Gods Tell Me to Be Careful What I Wish For . . .

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I can’t stand the National Football League’s preseason, best summarized as boring, sloppy, error-filled play by obscure bench warmers and soon-to-be-cut long shots in meaningless games, sold to season ticket holders at full price.

In that light, ordinarily I would cheer reports that the NFL preseason will be cut in half for most teams, from four games to just two. Reports contend the decision is driven by teams wanting to reduce their travel and the lack of on-field practice sessions in the offseason means teams need more basic practice time to get ready for the regular season. And as of now, the NFL contends the regular season will start on schedule and include the full 16 games — although it is unlikely to feature fans in the stands.

But Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League have encountered a lot of bumps in the road trying to restart or start their seasons. The opening day of baseball’s 60-game season is expected to be July 23 or 24, the NBA season is set to restart July 30, and the NHL sometime in July. The odds that the NFL season will start without a hitch, on time, are not great.

Politics & Policy

Good Luck Promoting Gun Confiscation during an Era of Booming Gun Sales

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Joe Biden, when accepting the endorsement of Beto O’Rourke in El Paso back in early March: “You’re going to take care of the gun problem with me,” Biden told O’Rourke on stage. “You’re going to be the one who leads this effort. I’m counting on you.”

You probably recall O’Rourke declaring at a September 12 Democratic primary debate in Houston, “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” to considerable applause.

As our Britney Bernstein observes, in the first six months of 2020, the FBI has recorded 19 million background checks in the system, on pace to blow past last year’s record of 28 million background checks in one year. In recent weeks, Stephen Gutowski has spotlighted the trend of first-time gun buyers, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 2 million gun purchases by March were by first-time buyers. The New York Times just spotlighted African-American first-time gun purchasers.

A Pew survey in 2017 estimated that three out of every ten American adults owned a gun, and another one in ten lived with someone who did. Thirty percent of 253 million American adults would add up to almost 76 million Americans owning guns.

Gun confiscation is a thoroughly unworkable policy, and probably the idea most likely to spur a violent resistance to American law enforcement. (Not that we haven’t seen plenty of violent resistance to American law enforcement already this year.) The more Americans own guns, the less likely it is that a proposal like confiscation ever gets any serious traction.

Politics & Policy

A Young Doctor Sees Oppression Everywhere

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(Pixabay)

I read an article in the current New England Journal of Medicine that broke my heart. Chase T. M. Anderson, MD, a gay African-American psychiatry resident, bemoans being stifled and denigrated by racism, homophobia, macro aggressions and micro aggressions. But as I read the piece, the picture presented was of an obviously talented young doctor with a very promising future in the midst of a very successful medical career — who has allowed rude comments by others to ruin success’s joy.

Dr. Anderson writes about becoming enraged when the NRA urged doctors to stay out of the gun-control debate in the wake of mass shootings. From, “Taking Back Our Voices: #HumanityIsOurLane:”

And who can forget that in 2018, when physicians spoke out about the need for gun control and reducing deaths from gun violence, the National Rifle Association tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane”? Directives to “stay in your lane” have in fact echoed throughout history whenever physicians have attempted to speak out on issues deemed too “political.”

I have written a bit about this very question. Doctors are — and should be — just as free to engage politically as everyone else. Medical societies are — and should be — as free to engage policy issues as the NRA. But I don’t want to be harangued about gun control or any other political question — whether I agree with my doctor or not–in the course and scope of our professional relationship. I want my doctor to explain the medical implications of my blood tests or whether the pain in my gut is gas or appendicitis. Frankly, I do not care what my doctor thinks about, gun control, BLM, or any other political issue.

Dr. Anderson sees discrimination everywhere, even in the most seemingly minor personal interactions:

I realized that medicine itself, with its inherent bigotry, had conditioned me to silence. I had lost my voice.

In medical school, I had been told by a classmate that I’d probably won the race for class president because I was black and gay. Another classmate asked me if I’d gotten into medical school because “they had a certain number of spots for gay people.” My professionalism was called into question when I spoke with administrators about the racism, homophobia, and bigotry I encountered in our institution. The list of microaggressions, aggressions, and implicit and explicit biases ran long by the end.

This is so sad. Instead of rejoicing at the great achievement of being elected class president — demonstrating unequivocally that most of Dr. Anderson’s classmates were not prejudiced — the psychiatrist obsesses about classless comments. Dr. Anderson has earned success after success after success — but that doesn’t seem to matter. The entire system is rotten because a few people were rude and thoughtless.

Dr. Anderson writes that such interactions forced the young doctor into pre-defined expectations:

If students and residents who identify as minorities experience heart-rending discrimination in their own institutions, how are they supposed to find their voice? How can they advocate for themselves and for their patients if they are continually told by their own universities to stay in their lane?

There is no evidence presented in the piece that Dr. Anderson’s university discriminated. Dr. Anderson was once told to wear a tie — which conflicted with Anderson’s “gender expression and identity.” And Dr. Anderson was once accused of eye-rolling by a colleague, “a classic racist trope.” I am sorry, but those events don’t seem like evidence of stifling oppression. Indeed, Dr. Anderson is in the midst of a psychiatry residency at a major Massachusetts hospital. That is a matter to be celebrated is it not?

Dr. Anderson concludes:

In the face of systemic and individual racism and rampant other “isms,” we can no longer remain silent. I believe we have a duty to heal not only our patients, but also the world at large. I am finally getting my voice back. Ultimately, I would love nothing more than for the voices we hear in medicine to reflect the diversity of the rest of our world.

Go for it. That’s the right of every citizen. Just don’t bring your issues and political passions into our professional relationship if I am ever your patient.

And please don’t support the ubiquitous efforts to stifle the heterodox voices of those who disagree with the emerging reigning ideological paradigms. That too is an essential part of the comity required “to reflect the diversity of the rest of our world.”

Politics & Policy

The Right to Choose What, Joe?

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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during an event in Philadelphia, Pa., June 2, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Joe Biden would like us to believe that Roe v. Wade is in peril. Nothing so energizes the abortion-advocacy wing of the Democratic Party (also known these days simply as the Democratic Party) like a press release or two gesticulating wildly about being the underdog.

In reality, of course, the U.S. proudly maintains one the most expansive legal-abortion regimes in the Western world, and it doesn’t appear to be crumpling anytime soon. But in a statement on the Supreme Court’s ruling this week in June Medical Services v. Russo, Biden insists that it is necessary to elect him president so as to stave off the allegedly imminent threat to Roe.

Never mind that June Medical offered the Court a golden opportunity merely to overturn Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt — the 2016 case in which the Court struck down a Texas law requiring abortionists to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital — and it failed to do so. The Court, in other words, remains unwilling even to acknowledge that states have a right to require abortionists to follow the same regulations imposed on every other sort of medical provider.

But Biden would like us to believe that his presidency is the sole thing standing between American women and a vast hellscape of illegal, back-alley abortions. He’s come a long way for a guy who’s spent decades in politics plaintively calling himself “personally pro-life.”

“Women’s health care rights have been under attack as states across the country have passed extreme laws restricting women’s constitutional right to choice under any circumstance,” Biden’s statement on June Medical attests. What Biden fails to point out is that not a single one of these laws has been permitted to take effect. From Georgia to Missouri to Ohio and now to Louisiana, one court after another has enjoined or otherwise struck down these laws, because, after all, they violate Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prop up our judicially manufactured and enforced regime of abortion on demand.

But Biden would like us to believe that the very passage of these laws proves that abortion rights are in danger — and if we’d like to elect him, please, he’ll take care of it.

He offers plenty of obfuscations to digest in just a couple of paragraphs, but what is most intriguing about his statement is what it doesn’t say. As he laments the enactment of even the most modest safety regulations on abortion providers, and as he promises to “codify Roe v. Wade” — whatever that means — Biden fails to use the word “abortion” even a single time.

Of June Medical, Biden says that the Court has “reaffirmed that states cannot put in place laws that unduly burden a women’s right to make her own health care decisions with her doctor.” Of pro-life laws, he mutters, “restricting women’s constitutional right to choice under any circumstance.” Of his presidential administration, he avers, “My Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate a woman’s protected, constitutional right to choose.”

But the right to choose what? Like every activist and politician who backs unlimited legal abortion, Biden benefits from two common myths: first, that the jurisprudence forcing legal abortion on the entire country is always on the brink of being entirely eliminated, and second, that phrases like “women’s health-care decisions” and the “constitutional right to choose” are euphemistic enough to avoid acknowledging that the choice in question involves killing a distinct, living human being.

Culture

New Data Indicate that Abortions Surged in Ireland after Legalization

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A celebration following the result of the abortion referendum, Dublin, Ireland, May 26, 2018 (Max Rossi/Reuters)

In May 2018, Ireland voted to repeal the Irish constitution’s eighth amendment, opening the door for full legalization of abortion, which officially became legal on January 1, 2019. A new report from Ireland’s Department of Health shows that the number of abortions performed in the country surged during the first full year after legalization.

This report indicates that 6,666 abortions took place in Ireland, and an additional 375 Irish women obtained abortions in England, for a total of 7,041 abortions in 2019. By comparison, in 2018, only 2,879 abortions were performed on Irish women, and the vast majority took place outside the country.

After abortion was legalized, then, the number of abortions in Ireland increased by nearly 150 percent.

The fact that abortion rates in Ireland increased sharply after legalization should come as no surprise to anyone involved in the pro-life movement. Legalizing abortion, of course, makes it much easier to access, and it reduces the stigma attached to it. Legalization also gives abortion rights greater legitimacy in the eyes of the public and creates a network of doctors who advertise for abortion and have a vested financial interest in keeping it legal. Also, legalization often shifts the public view of sexual mores, which could result in more unplanned pregnancies and more abortions.

Many supporters of legal abortion prefer to push the narrative that the incidence of abortion is unaffected by its legal status. For instance, they often circulate studies suggesting that the abortion rates are similar in countries where abortion is legal and countries where abortion it is restricted, and these studies tend to receive positive coverage from mainstream media outlets. However, many of these studies are flawed, because most of the countries where abortion is illegal are located in Africa, South America, and the Middle East, places that tend to have higher poverty rates and a higher incidence of other social pathologies, which may increase the demand for abortion.

The best study analyzing the effects of legal limits on abortion was published by the Journal of Law and Economics in 2004, analyzing the way in which changes to abortion policy in Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism affected abortion rates. After the fall of Communism, some countries, such as Poland, enacted legal protections for the preborn. Other countries, such as Romania, legalized abortion. The study held constant a range of economic and demographic variables and found that modest abortion restrictions reduced abortion rates by 25 percent. Stronger limits had a much larger effect. The fact that the incidence of abortion increased sharply in Ireland over the past year adds to the body of research showing that legalizing abortion increases abortion rates and that pro-life laws save lives.

Business

ESG and Share-Price Performance

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Notepad kept on table in empty conference room (Getty Images)

I haven’t read the underlying paper (so all necessary caveats apply) from 2019, but, if this INFORMS report of its contents is accurate, it is of interest both as a reminder of the importance of investor perception in shaping a company’s market price (something that is both obvious and yet something that some “fundamental” investors can overlook), and for the awkward questions that it implicitly asks about “socially responsible” (to use that preening, self-regarding label) investing.

INFORMS (my emphasis added):

A company with a gender-diverse board of directors is interpreted as revealing a preference for diversity and a weaker commitment to shareholder value, according to new research in the INFORMS journal Organization Science.

The study examines investor responses to board diversity and finds that one additional woman on the board results in a 2.3% decrease in the company’s market value on average, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Authors Isabelle Solal and Kaisa Snellman, both of INSEAD, looked at 14 years of panel data from U.S. public firms and saw that firms with more female directors were penalized.

“Firms that increase board diversity suffer a decrease in market value and the effect is amplified for firms that have received higher ratings for their diversity practices across the organization,” said Solal.

The paper, “Women Don’t Mean Business? Gender Penalty in Board Composition,” suggests that investors respond to the presence of female leaders not simply on their own merit, but as broader cues of firm preferences.

“If investors believe that female board members have been appointed to satisfy a preference for diversity, then by increasing board diversity, a firm unintentionally signals a weaker commitment to shareholder value than a firm with a nondiverse board,” said Snellman.

Some reports by consulting firms and financial institutions have shown a positive correlation between firm value and gender-diverse boards, but recent studies based on long-term data show a negative effect on female board representation. The explanation is found in how investors interpret the decision.

Put another way, investors are not marking the price of a company down because of higher female board representation per se, but because of their suspicion that it is evidence that the company is prioritizing a “socially responsible” agenda above shareholder return. Such hirings are seen, to borrow the phrase used above, as a “broader cue of firm preferences.”

INFORMS:

The paper suggests that over time, just as greater exposure to female leaders has been shown to reduce stereotype bias, the increase in female board appointments should likewise decrease the perception that firms select directors for any reason other than their qualifications.

I am sure that’s the case. Experience will dispel prejudice.

But then let’s take a look at other aspects of what is now expected of a “socially responsible” company, often a series of tests designed to see how it measures up various against various (and varying) “Environmental, Social and Governance” (ESG) standards. What evidence there is suggests that the relatively uncontroversial ‘G’ (Governance) adds, as might be expected, to share price performance, the ‘S’ and the ‘E,’ not so much.

To reiterate some research I cited in a post from late May, which comes from Julian Morris, writing in IFC Review:

 A 2016 paper from group of researchers from the European Parliament and Bournemouth Business School sought to look more deeply at the relationship, using disaggregated data from Bloomberg’s ESG Disclosure form for the S&P 500 for the period 2007 to 2011. The researchers found that the relationship between ESG and financial performance in general was indeed U-shaped. However, they found that the environmental and social components were linearly negatively related to performance. It was only the governance component that drove the U-shape relationship. This governance-dominated U-shape relationship between ESG and financial performance has since been confirmed in other studies.

Even if we put that to one side, there is some evidence that the outperformance of some ESG investment funds might reflect nothing more than investor demand for tech companies that happen to be (environmentally speaking) ‘light touch.’

In a post, again from May, I quoted Bloomberg’s John Authers:

Vincent Deluard, of INTL FCStone Inc., suggests that ESG funds are people-unfriendly. Tech and pharma companies tend to look good by ESG criteria, but they tend to be virtual as well as virtuous. These are the kind of companies that need relatively few workers and which churn out hefty profit margins. When Deluard looked at how the big ETFs’ portfolios varied from the Russell 3000, the results were spectacular. They are full of very profitable companies with very few employees. . . . A further look at companies’ market cap per employee showed that investing in the current stock market darlings who are making their shareholders rich is a very inefficient way to invest in boosting employment. They include hot names like Netflix Inc., Nvidia Corp., MasterCard Inc. and Facebook Inc…. Companies with few buildings, few formal employees and a light carbon footprint tend to show up well on ESG screens.

In other words, the reasons that these stock-market favorites score well (in ESG terms) is not a result of a conscious decision to adopt, say, a climate agenda, but because of the underlying nature of their business.

Returning then to the question of female directors, the more that investors can see that the appointment of women to the board is a boon to the bottom line, then the more that this particular issue can be separated from the issue of “socially responsible” behavior and looked at instead as a matter of employing the best person for the job, something to which no rational investor ought to object.

However, if the broader implications of this research, which is that investors do not like to see companies adopt “socially responsible” policies at the expense of the bottom line, are thought through, that raises serious questions about whether companies or investment groups investing client money who consciously adopt (or insist upon) such policies may (in the absence of a specific investor or shareholder mandate) be in breach of the duty they owe to those who have entrusted their money to them.

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