On Tuesday, the New York Timesreported, “over 100 Republicans, including former officials, threaten to split from the G.O.P.
We can now see the list of 100 Republicans who “believe in pushing for the Republican Party to rededicate itself to founding ideals—or else hasten the creation of an alternative.” The list includes some well-known names like Anthony Scaramucci, Mark Sanford, Joe Walsh and Evan McMullin, and quite a few names that will not ring bells to most of the public. Connie Morella last served in Congress in 2003, and served as an ambassador until 2007. Arne Carlson was governor of Minnesota back in the 1990s. Christopher Bayley was the King County, Washington prosecuting attorney from 1971 to 1979.
It is no news that Joe Biden’s understanding of how markets work (and the good that they can do) is not the strongest, but it would be nice if the president didn’t feel the need to remind everyone else of that fact on such a regular basis. But politicians are what they are, and if there are votes to be won (or at least not lost), well . . .
President Joe Biden warned gasoline stations not to engage in any price gouging as motorists wait for fuel to start flowing reliably through the Colonial Pipeline, which reopened on Wednesday after falling victim to a cyberattack.
“Do not, I repeat, do not try to take advantage of consumers during this time,” Biden said Thursday in remarks at the White House. “Nobody should be using this situation for financial gain. That’s what the hackers are trying to do. That’s what they’re about, not us. That’s not who we are.”
In almost all cases, shortages such as the shortfalls in gas that we now seeing in parts of the east coast are made worse by panic buying, and in almost all such cases, putting a price on panic can defuse it, and reduce the extent to which a bad situation is made worse by (in essence) stockpiling.
Kyle Smith had something to say about price gouging during the toilet paper crisis of 2020.
Here’s an extract:
You, sir! You whose shopping cart squeals beneath the weight of half a dozen 48-packs of toilet tissue! Come now, be reasonable. How many rolls do you really need to get you through the next week or so? A four-pack, you say? Wonderful. Bless you for your civic-mindedness. You may now put 284 rolls of TP back on the shelves so that a dozen fellow citizens who really need it can get it.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone trustworthy and courteous and concerned with the common good could stand in front of the registers at Costco calming people’s fears and successfully urging them to buy only what they actually need? Someone as folksy and good-hearted as, say, Jimmy Stewart during the scene in which there’s a run on the Building and Loan (i.e. bank) in It’s a Wonderful Life?
Good news, friends! We already have Jimmy Stewart. He’s right here among us. Only his name is “market pricing.”
My colleague John Hirschauer has looked at worrisome remarks made by politicians about interfering with pricing signals and explained the academic research on the wisdom of setting price controls during a crisis. Now let’s consider the matter from the point of view of community and common sense. Free enterprise — sometimes called capitalism — is a wonderful thing in normal times because during every non-coercive transaction, the buyer would rather have the thing he’s buying than the money, and the seller would rather have the money. Each freely entered-upon transaction increases global well-being.
But capitalism is especially useful in a crisis, when there is market disruption. When times turn dark, capitalism is, more than ever, your friend. Let’s say stores run out of toilet paper or hand sanitizer or diesel fuel because of panic buying during the age of COVID-19, and no one can find these items in stores. Why people are punching each other over the Charmin while leaving the Robitussin and Tylenol alone is a mystery, but that is of no moment. What matters is that toilet paper is suddenly more valuable simply because demand has surged. That means people are bidding up the price. Or they would be, if the stores allowed this. If Costco quadrupled the price of whatever item is selling out, there wouldn’t be any shortages of anything. Market pricing would restore normal functioning.
Costco doesn’t do this because of what economists call “good will,” which essentially means “fear of bad publicity propagated by economic illiterates.” . . .
“Unscrupulous traders use a crisis to charge exorbitant prices. Politicians, wanting to protect consumers, crack down on profiteers. But how to work out what price is too high, and what redress is appropriate?”
The answer (almost always) is that this is not something in which politicians — particularly from a command-and-control place such as New York City — should get involved.
But, back to The Economist (my emphasis added), where its correspondent tells the story of his or her local corner shop:
“This type of shop was once familiar in New York, but has largely been squeezed out by chains and bank branches. The owner is an immigrant who opens early and closes late. In crises the shop stocks the products that customers need. When flooding from Hurricane Sandy caused a blackout in 2012, it sold batteries, torches, candles and board games. During the pandemic it has been piled high with boxes of sanitiser, bleach, masks and gloves.
Stocking up comes with risks. Acquiring inventory is costly. Demand drops off when normality returns—unwanted board games linger in the back of the shop. And this time, the rules changed. In March a woman bought a box of masks (each mask costing $2), and then said she was from the city’s office of consumer affairs, and charged the shopkeeper for violating new price-gouging rules. Two days later, says the shopkeeper, another inspector charged the shop again, this time offering guidance on the right prices. Masks should cost no more than $1; gloves selling at $19.95 should sell for only $14.95. Each package marked above the permitted price would be fined $500. There were many packages.
Most economists oppose restrictions on price gouging not because they like fat profits, but because higher prices lead to more supply. Indeed, in many places sanitiser and face-masks are now ubiquitous and cheap. Then there is the tricky question of what counts as price gouging—in a pandemic. New York City banned price rises of more than 10% from pre-pandemic levels. But what if the shop had not sold the items before? And why 10%? Price increases “in excess of an amount reflecting normal market fluctuations” were banned. But what, in March, was normal?”
Read the rest of the piece and it becomes obvious that if anyone was gouging (there were a lot of fines), it was the city, not the shopkeepers.
For several weeks – months? – people have questioned why fully-vaccinated people were expected to wear masks – certainly outdoors, and indoors as well. Once you’re fully vaccinated, your body’s antibodies are much more effective line of defense than a piece of cloth. The piece of cloth or N95 mask are a great idea if you’re not fully vaccinated yet; until you know your body can produce the antibodies to fight it off, you would rather the virus not get inside your body. But once you’re vaccinated, wearing a mask as superfluous as wearing kneepads while riding inside an armored tank. As the president should say, come on, man, you’re already protected.
For well over a year, a certain clique of researchers tarred the idea that COVID-19 initially escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan as a conspiracy theory. Now, their grip on that narrative within the scientific community is loosening, as a growing chorus of experts calls for a closer look at this lab-leak hypothesis.
In a letter published this afternoon at Science, 18 scientists call for an investigation into the pandemic’s origins that does not discount the possibility of a lab leak. “Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable,” they write. “Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is …
Here is Joe Biden on the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial pipeline:
Pres. Biden on Colonial Pipeline hack: "We do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack—but we do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia." https://t.co/CAHmsNFmcfpic.twitter.com/ex8AfuwIPX
Now, I suppose the president’s statement is an improvement from the administration’s contention yesterday that a ransomware attack emanating from a foreign actor is merely a “private sector” matter. Though, if our last president had claimed that a pipeline disruption that caused gas lines and skyrocketing prices had nothing to do with the Russian government — even though the group behind the attack, DarkSide, seemingly operates freely in that country — there would be a thermonuclear media meltdown. Biden provided no evidence for his assertion. For five years, there was virtually nothing the panic-mongering press and Democrats wouldn’t blame on the nefarious Russians. The administration, for example, is still defending the debunked Russian bounty story. The media spilled millions of hysterical words convincing Americans that a few Twitter bots and a $200,000 Facebook ad buy was tantamount to Pearl Harbor. At one point, 67 percent of Democrats believed that Russians hacked into machines and changed their votes. Yet, after this, one of most expensive cyberattacks in history, the president simply says Putin — a man he rightly called a “killer” only recently — is innocent. And, so far, everyone seems fine with it. That’s quite the turnaround.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine is drawing headlines for his idea of using federal stimulus money to hold five weekly $1 million lotteries only open to adults who have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Putting aside this question of whether this is a good idea, I confess that it is fascinating as an experiment in human behavior. Yet were I given a pool of $5 million and tasked with designing a vaccine lottery, I would de-prioritize the value of the prize and instead split the money into many smaller prizes that provide greater odds that somebody would win.
So, as an example, let’s say that instead of having one weekly winner of $1 million, Ohio had 1,000 weekly winners of $1,000?
Given that the adult population of Ohio is about 9 million people, only 1 out of every 1.8 million Ohio adults will be winners in the $1 million lottery. Yet were the state to pursue my approach, there would be a total of 5,000 winners, or about one in every 1,800 adults.
While that may still seem like long odds, one in 1,800 means that a lot of people in Ohio are going to know somebody who won the lottery, or at least have heard of somebody who won the lottery. It’s conceivable that one of your Facebook friends would have won, or would have posted about a friend or family member who won. And thousands of winners, spread across the state, would probably generate a lot of local news coverage.
Though a $1,000 prize doesn’t have the pizazz of a cool million, a recent Morning Consult poll found of unvaccinated adults found that 57 percent would “probably” or “definitely” get a shot in exchange for a $1,000 savings bond. So, if any other state is considering going the lottery route, it’s worth considering doing smaller, more numerous, prizes.
Last month, I wrote about how imperative it was for us to escape the COVID-obesity trap: Lockdowns, and the general discouragement of physical activity (even outdoors) that they encouraged, had led to serious weight gain among many; meanwhile, obesity is a coronavirus comorbidity, making infection likelier and worse.
In that piece, I did not think much specifically about children. But a Wall Street Journal report from earlier this week revealed that they, too, have notched serious weight gain over the past year:
Doctors say they are seeing normal-weight children become overweight or even obese, overweight children become obese, and obese children add more weight. Doctors also report increases in weight-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and fatty liver disease. And some children with prediabetes are being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes . . .
A May study in the journal Pediatrics found that the percentage of children ages 2 to 17 who are obese increased to 15.4% in June to December 2020 compared with 13.7% in the year-earlier period. Researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia analyzed pre-pandemic and pandemic body mass index calculations from more than 500,000 visits to doctors’ offices in 2019 and 2020.
This is, unfortunately, unsurprising. The report assigns blame to the disruption of routines of eating and socializing that school lockdowns wrought. Children have also certainly been affected by the same general discouragement of outdoor and indoor physical activity that became the primary public-health message for much of the pandemic period, even though outdoor activity has always been extremely safe.
A rise in the childhood-obesity rate is looking likely to become one of the many effects of the coronavirus period that will linger in society once we have left the pandemic behind. To the extent that ends up true, I feel for the children, who are not really to blame here. Over the past year, they have undoubtedly suffered tremendously. You sometimes hear it said that they’ll be fine because they are “resilient,” but that is a horrid excuse to have inflicted, or allowed to be inflicted, the level of social anomie on them that they have experienced during this time.
Over the past year, when I have seen children out and about, I console myself by hoping that the younger ones will simply forget that this ever happened and their lives will proceed as normal. But I fear that for many, the effects will linger, and manifest in unpredictable ways in the years to come. If that’s true, then an increase in childhood obesity — which we should still work to correct forthwith — might end up the least of our problems.
My magazine piece in this issue is on Rebekah Jones, the disgraced Floridian dashboard manager who has been almost single-handedly responsible for the widespread — and entirely false — belief that Florida has been “fudging” its COVID numbers. As I note, having combed through hundreds of pages of official documents (and Jones’s own “manifesto”):
Jones isn’t a martyr; she’s a myth-peddler. She isn’t a scientist; she’s a fabulist. She’s not a whistleblower; she’s a good old-fashioned confidence trickster. And, like any confidence trickster, she understands her marks better than they understand themselves. On Twitter, on cable news, in Cosmopolitan, and beyond, Jones knows exactly which buttons to push in order to rally the gullible and get out her message. Sober Democrats have tried to inform their party about her: “You may see a conspiracy theory and you want it to be true and you believe it to be true and you forward it to try to make it be true, but that doesn’t make it true,” warns Jared Moskowitz, the progressive Democrat who has led Florida’s fight against COVID. But his warnings have fallen on deaf ears.
Jones is seriously bad news. Far from being an exception, her firing by the Florida Department of Health was the norm. This is a person who has accused the African-American epidemiologist who is currently serving as Florida’s deputy secretary of health of being a “murderer.” This is a person who has called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement the “Gestapo.” Worst of all, this is a person who has been either dismissed or charged with a crime pretty much wherever she has gone. In Louisiana, she was charged with assaulting a police officer, and she avoided a felony conviction only by entering into a pre-trial intervention program. In Florida, she was fired from FSU for having sex with a student in her class. She also was fired from the Department of Health for insubordination. And she is currently awaiting two trials — one on a felony charge for illegally accessing government systems and downloading private personnel data, the other on a misdemeanor stalking charge that was initially subject to deferred prosecution but is now live again as a result of her other behavior.
That Jones was so widely promoted — including by gubernatorial hopefuls Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist — is a scandal. It’s the only scandal here, in fact.
The past year has seen the fields of epidemiology and public health rise to an incredible prominence in public life. The reason for this is obvious enough. What is not obvious is why, during that period, so many political actors have deferred entirely to the preferences of people in those fields. Their guidance is not to be ignored entirely. But for human beings living in actual polities, as opposed to public-health abstractions, there are always inherently political choices to make, and trade-offs to deal with. Simply to outsource one’s decision-making entirely to the science — or The Science — is to evade a fundamental responsibility of government.
There is also the fact that those in these fields bring their own biases to their work: chiefly, the understandable, if misguided, bias of viewing all of reality through the prism they were trained to. Some of the implications of this were made clear in an informal survey of epidemiologists conducted by the New York Times, the results of which were revealed yesterday. As a follow-up to the same survey last December, the Times asked various epidemiologists what activities they were willing to do with vaccines now available and coronavirus cases declining. Their willingness to do various things has expanded considerably from December, but is still worth highlighting as evidence of the mindset they bring to this situation.
The survey measured which of the following activities “they had done in the last 30 days, or would have done if necessary, assuming they would wear a mask or distance as needed.” Some highlights:
8 percent had or would have attended a church or religious service
25 percent had or would have traveled by airplane
30 percent had or would have eaten indoors at a restaurant
39 percent had or would have hugged or shaken hands when greeting a friend
45 percent had or would have “interacted outside within 6 feet without a mask”
The group turned out to be fairly confident about doing errands in person (92 percent), and . . . bringing in mail without precautions (83 percent). All of these measures are improvements from December. And also, all of these are things that I have done, without much hesitation and when legally permitted, throughout this entire period. I strongly suspect I am far from alone.
Epidemiologists do important work, most of which I can barely comprehend, and to which we owe great deal. And right now, vaccine hesitancy is a serious problem worth addressing. But if this survey is any indication, the work epidemiologists do inculcates a kind of life hesitancy that their ascension to prominence in political decision-making has spread throughout much of society over the past year. Again, their counsel should not be ignored. But their demonstrable, abnormal risk aversion suggests that it should, at the very least, be qualified as our society looks to leave the pandemic behind.
Less than a month after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the population is continuing to flow from “tax and spend” blue states to more competitive red states, an important group of state legislators has filled in the astonishing details on why that’s happened.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has tracked the economic policies of state governments for 14 years. Once again, it found that states pursuing low tax and spending policies have faster growth and a brighter future. Utah came out in first place in the latest Economic Competitiveness report, its 14th straight year in the top spot. Florida was a big winner under Governor Ron DeSantis’s leadership, jumping from seventh place last year to second place now.
Who fared the worst? New York, Vermont, and New Jersey — a trio of neighboring states that are mired in a model that features high taxes, crushing regulations on business, and a precarious public-pension system.
It is now conceivable that sometime in the not-too-distant future — 2022? 2023? — the National Rifle Association will cease to exist. Even more likely is that a New York court severely sanctions its leadership, or the prospect of this spurs dramatic changes in the organization’s leadership.
Stephen Gutowski, the longtime gun and Second Amendment-focused writer at the Washington Free Beacon has launched his own gun-focused publication, The Reload. This morning Gutowski lays out the grim assessments from bankruptcy and nonprofit law experts in the aftermath of federal bankruptcy court rejecting the NRA’s filing. Federal Judge Harlin Hale ruled that the NRA was “inappropriately trying to use the bankruptcy court to avoid government oversight,” and stated “in recent years, however, it has become apparent that the NRA was suffering from inadequate governance and internal controls.” One nonprofit expert concluded, “I think it actually made dissolution more likely.”
An accurate sense of the NRA’s problems requires keeping two things in mind. The first is that New York state attorney general Letitia James is just about the worst person to lead any investigation of the NRA, because of her past statements labeling the group a “terrorist organization” and obvious ideological vendetta against the group. The second is that the NRA’s management genuinely did bad things that may well have violated the law, or at minimum, represented self-dealing and egregious waste of donor money.
With the cause of the Second Amendment relatively strong, and the NRA relatively weak, some gun owners may see the dissolution or wholesale replacement of the current NRA leadership as less of a tragedy and political setback than a necessary step.
Drought and monsoon are chronic and predictable contrasting California weather patterns. Now, it’s drought time again. From a CNN story:
About 98% of California is currently experiencing drought conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor, with nearly 75% of the state seeing extreme drought conditions. Droughts have been intensifying, especially in the West and Southwest US, according to the latest National Climate Assessment, with climate change playing a key role in the scarcity of water in the West.
“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” Newsom said in a statement. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”
Dealing with both too much and too little water — depending on the year — requires reservoirs to catch water in times of flood and store it for the times of drought. It’s not that complicated.
In 1979, California’s population was a little more than 23 million. Today, it is more than 39 million. Yet in that entire time, California did not construct one additional, large-scale water storage project – meaning water infrastructure that once suited the state’s irrigation, livestock, and human needs has become chronically inadequate to meet its essential tasks.
The Bible tells us that Joseph was told by the Lord to store food during the seven years of plenty in preparation for seven years of famine. That’s the kind of water pattern California experiences predictably. And yet, there have been no new large-scale water-storage/flood-control projects completed in over 40 years! Why?
Blame environmental ideology that puts human needs last. Whether it is the desire to protect fisheries, antipathy toward water-centric agriculture, or the desire to maintain or restore wild areas, California leaders have not met the task of assuring that the state has adequate water supplies to meet its burgeoning and varied needs.
Wait. It gets even stupider! The state has plans to reduce storage:
There are political efforts afoot to tear down existing reservoirs. Hetch Hetchy, which supplies San Francisco’s water, is the prime target, because it was once a valley of great natural beauty akin to Yosemite. But other dams are in the crosshairs, too. Newsom wants to destroy four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River to help the salmon. This, at a time when many farms are withering on the vine, and state-imposed rationing policies will ultimately limit individual water usage to 50 gallons a day over the next 10 years.
So, let’s just make things worse! That’s the ticket!
Meanwhile the state wasted tens of billions on the unneeded high-speed “train to nowhere.” This is also the state that took more than 20 years to rebuild a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge because of ideological infighting, when the entire original bridge took less than six. Oh, and by the way, critical cable sections began to rust within a year.
No wonder people are leaving California in droves. It is becoming Venezuela.
Yesterday’s inflation data show that consumer prices surged in April, growing at a 4.2 percent annual rate — faster than they have grown in well over a decade.
Inflation skeptics were quick to point out that the surge was driven by factors that are unlikely to persist over time, such as a 21-percent increase in the price of used cars (likely due to a shortage of computer chips needed to make new cars) and the fact that inflation in April of last year was relatively low, artificially boosting price growth last month by comparison.
The skeptics are right that these factors were key, and that they won’t persist over time. But I argue in my latest Bloomberg column that they are wrong to conclude from that that yesterday’s inflation data don’t increase the chances that the U.S. enters into a period of sustained inflation:
Any period of sustained inflation is likely to begin with aberrant economic phenomena. The pattern takes months to emerge. In April, a fluke in the semiconductor supply chain sent the price of used cars soaring. Maybe this will return to normal in May, but then a transportation problem could suddenly push up the price of meats and eggs. Imagine that June brings them back to earth, only to see the cost of children’s clothes going through the roof. July and August each have rapid price growth, as well, for their own quirky reasons.
Inflation skeptics seem to think that explaining the quirks dismisses the problem. It doesn’t. The relevant issue isn’t whether one-off factors explain any one month’s data. Instead, the question is whether the accumulated effect of several months of price spikes — each driven by unique factors — leads consumers, workers and businesses to change their expectations about the pace of future price increases.
Is this happening? It’s too early to say. But the trend in market expectations about future inflation is rising. It would be troubling if that continues.
My Impromptus today is headed “Splitsville, &c.” Why? I lead with Bill and Melinda Gates, who are getting divorced. This is not only a personal matter, I think, it is also a blow to society. You may differ (as always).
What else? I have some Vladimir Putin in my column. He is a very, very good hockey player — though maybe not as good as Kim Jong-il was a golfer, or Elena Ceausescu a chemist.
I also touch on Liz Cheney, George Will — and Jack Fowler, that pillar of National Review.
Language, too. My column includes some notes on language, as it usually does, and I’d like to do some more typing on the subject, here in the Corner.
I often say that I’d last about a week — maybe three days? — on a typical college campus. I’d use the wrong pronoun or something, there’d be a blow-up, and I’d be gone.
Language is a minefield. You never know what you’re going to step on. In my column today, I use the word “accompanist,” to describe a pianist who plays in a voice recital. A lot of people don’t want you to use this word. They want you to say “collaborative pianist.” I have not quite gotten with the program. (When do I?)
I smile at the memory of one musician, who when called a “collaborative pianist” said, “No, I’m an accompanist. ‘Collaborator’ makes me sound like a Frenchman on the wrong side in World War II or something.”
My Impromptus on Monday led with Caitlyn Jenner, who is a minefield unto herself — himself? A lot of people feel very, very strongly about this. Some readers thought I had used the wrong pronouns, and they let me know, in no uncertain terms. I say: I have resisted the language cops all my life. Usually, they come from the left. But I’ll resist them wherever they come from.
One of the reasons I rejected the Left, long ago, was that they were always telling you how to talk. They were always saying what you could say and not say. They were language cops. The American rebel in me says: Get stuffed.
There is policing on the right, too. I’ll give you two examples, beyond the pronouns thing. I have been admonished for saying “gay marriage,” instead of “homosexual marriage.” Also for saying “Fourth of July.” Oh, you don’t like American independence, do you? Don’t you know it’s “Independence Day”? You think it’s just another date on the calendar? Do you refer to Christmas as “the Twenty-fifth of December”? Why are you trying to erase Independence Day?
To which I can only say, as our forefathers did, Ay, caramba.
There are a million more things to say about language, and I have said many of them — half a million? — over many years of writing. There is this essay, for example: “Adventures in Lexical Fashion: Today’s progressive term may become tomorrow’s slur.” Bottom line, if I have one: Good will means a lot. Good will über Alles.
Which brings up another language issue (in English, not German): Do you like good will or goodwill? There was a debate at The Weekly Standard, way back. I think that good will and goodwill are pronounced differently. I think the stress in goodwill has to go on the first syllable, which I dislike.
But we can debate this little question another time. Again, for today’s Impromptus, go here.
Salvatore Cordileone, the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco, has explained why politicians who support exposing unborn children to lethal violence are ineligible for Communion. Responding to him without naming him, Robert McElroy, the Catholic bishop of San Diego, writes in America that “the Eucharist must never be instrumentalized for a political end, no matter how important.” He goes on to argue that millions of laypeople would run afoul of a more stringent standard; that it would be wrong to withhold Communion for officials who are in error on abortion but not those who have made grave moral errors on other issues; that the unity of the Church would suffer as many Catholics failed to see any good reason for this selectivity; and that we must keep in mind that we are “a church of sinners and questioners, who must face intense pressures and complexities in their daily lives.”