Thursday, December 10, 2020

Goodfellows wrap-up

The wrap-up goodfellows for the year, a great conversation with H.R. McMaster and Niall Ferguson, moderated by Bill Whalen who serves up the questions and keeps us on track. >

The podcast version. You can find all the good fellows videos and podcasts here. We'll be back in January. 


  1. I agree in part with your comment regarding the erosion of norms in American politics. I definitely see problems on both sides of the aisle on this issue. To be specific, on the Democratic side, we can think about Harry Reid's nuclear option, the Obama administration prosecuting general Flynn, Hillary Clinton still talking about a stolen election, Russiagate and Ukrainegate, setting a new precedent whereby impeachment can be levied against a president without criminal accusations, and more recently the demands from prominent progressives for extra-judicial tribunals, WWII style 'truth and reconciliation commissions' and efforts to try to shun Trump supporters from public life. And, to be entirely fair, we can list others on the Republican side as well: McConnell refusal to hold a vote on Obama's pick, Donald Trump calling for the imprisonment of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump meddling in the Ukraine judicial apparatus, or the current iteration with Donald Trump proclaiming that the election got stolen.

    Where I think we might disagree is on the desirability to contest electoral results: in essence, my critique with the Trump campaign, some Republicans and Donald Trump on this issue is a critique of style. We do have some evidence of impropriety, though I doubt it reaches the scale needed to overturn the outcome of the election. Moreover, the manner in which Pennsylvania moved forward with electoral changes seem to raise some legal concerns.

    A gentlemanly resolution of the dispute could have taken place from day one. Donald Trump could have ensured everyone that he fully intends on respecting the outcome of the election, but must first reassure himself and his supporters that the oddities we have witnessed in early November were just that -- oddities. Joe Biden could have responded by requesting that all members of both parties cooperate to turn every stone so that everyone is satisfied that the results are clean. Even if results do not change, heightened scrutiny might help you catch a handful of people who did try to cheat.

    This thing did not need to turn into a media circus where mainstream media and Big Tech collude to censor the opposition. Joe Biden, Donald Trump and other politicians decided to turn it into a circus -- that's not the same thing.

    My preferred outcome at the moment, as an economist, would be for SCOTUS to hear the suits currently pending, give only limited relief such that Biden and Harris get inaugurated as expected and that the Senate stays in Republican hands. Why? Because it gives no one what they want and it leaves politicians in DC with two options: be reasonable and cooperate, or nobody gets anything done full stop. I strongly suspect the animosity of American politics has a lot to do with the concentration of powers in DC and away from State and local governments, as well as away from communities and individuals. The current game makes loosing increasingly consequential, but people need to be able to afford loosing an election. A gridlock like the one I described might just be enough of a prolonged shock to ease at least some of the tensions.

    1. This game theory modeling depends heavily on the payout matrix. If the political price paid is modeled correctly, sure, a dominant strategy could emerge that's cooperative. But if the payout matrix rewards brinksmanship and partisan fighting to satisfy the base, well, who really loses? The country.

    2. I agree with you that Biden and democrats should call for investigation, audit and transparency about this election. But the reality is opposite. The democrats find any means to prevent this from happening. The Dominion machines were audited but the secretary of Michigan state forbids releasing the audit result. There are all kinds of evidence showing massive frauds, thousands of witness testimony, expert investigation results. What concerns me most if the majority of Americans understand the gravity of the issue.

  2. I was struck by Dr. Cochrane's concern for those who are really suffering, unwilling to indulge in fantasy. Good.

    Living in California these days is quite eye opening in the way the pandemic has exposed structural weaknesses in the economy. Lockdowns are terrible economically, yes. The flipside to all that is what I see on a daily basis. Yes, I beat the drum on this relentlessly, but I still see people not wearing masks, not social distancing and going to super spreader events. It's terribly irresponsible. So now we have another outbreak and people wonder why economies get shut down that then require fiscal bazookas to help stop the bleeding -- help that may never come because of the dysfunction in DC. Now it's not everyone doing this, but this idea of liberty being taken away, or stolen, hurts people and society. Maybe people cannot see the effects beyond own their actions, but we're all in this together. Lockdowns happen because some people can't act responsibly. Don't get mad at the politicians. It is reasonable to get upset when they're hypocrits, sure, but that doesn't justify being stupid and/or selfish on an individual level.

    The suffering is real. Yes, approaching 300k deaths. But look at the economic death toll, too. Unemployment, small business closures. What will this reallocation in capital look like? Probably automating supply chains so they're pandemic proof, to start. My biggest concern is skill acquisition -- getting the resources to retrain a workforce that has seen permanent job losses across many industries that relied on close social interactions.

    I could go on, ha. But I will stop here.


    1. @Mykel G. Larson "Now it's not everyone doing this, but this idea of liberty being taken away, or stolen, hurts people and society."

      You have everything backwards. This pandemic is a thorough and irrefutable demonstration that any once of power you concede will be abused. Lockdowns are a test study in why you should not expect the government to make decisions that are aligned with public interest.

      A woman was selling merchandise online from her store during the initial lockdowns in New Jersey and the police came crashing in. It's apparently not safe to go to a mom and pop store, but Walmart are Best Buy are okay? If I own a small restaurant in some parts of California, I cannot even have guests dinning outside... Have you seen the video of the woman who owns a restaurant in California, cannot have outdoor dinning, but the mayor authorized outdoor dining for a movie set feet away from her restaurant with nearly identical accommodations? Do you own a business? Do you know how much sweat and toil goes into building up a successful business? The woman I just talked about is loosing everything she owns because the government said so. And this is okay to you because you think you know better than ordinary people?

      The reason we protect individual rights and liberties isn't out of cruelty or out of a lack of concern. If you noted the pattern above, you probably realize that politicians are bending the rules in ways that only hurt the little guy.

      The hypocrisy isn't a bug of the system: it's a feature of the system. The rules in place are designed so that it is "one rule for thee, another rule for me."

      "Lockdowns happen because some people can't act responsibly. Don't get mad at the politicians."

      No. The only thing lockdowns can do is to SLOW DOWN the spread and this is a last resort effort in case the health care system is overrun. Remember 15 days to flatten the curve? We had newspaper articles coming out explaining that lockdowns do not work all the way back in March, and that disrupting supply chains could expose over 200 million people to famine in the next year...

      There is nothing scientifically justified about the policies you see. Politicians are only afraid to look like they've done nothing, so they prefer doing something.

    2. Uh huh. That's why our health care system is on the verge of collapse. People talk about liberty but they don't really see their own role in preserving stability and safety. It's all just talk in the end if people don't see their role in preserving the capacity to have liberty in the first place. Lockdowns, while not ideal, yes, help slow down the spread of the virus because apparently people don't want to act responsibly. Then economies crash and people get upset at politicians. It'd be laughable if it wasn't so tragic.

      Hypocrisy is a feature of the system? What? I think you're talking about human nature. While institutions do matter, they're built and maintained by people who make mistakes. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

      But there's a difference between making a mistake and being willfully ignorant and insouciant, putting others at risk economically and health-wise.

      Wear a mask, social distance, and avoid super spreader events/locales. How hard IS that? It would do us all a lot of good.

    3. You entirely miss the point. Power is always abused. The lockdowns are a fine example that if you give politicians an inch, they will take a mile -- and it's not going to benefit the little guy.

      That's why you must draw a line and set limits on what governments can do.

      It's not the government's job to control people's lives according to your wishes. You don't own those people.

    4. People do not talk enough about freedom.

    5. The people and the government both have a role in preserving stability and safety. That's what you miss and fail to realize that when people can't act towards a common good, yes, government has to step in. I don't like lockdowns, but if people can't act responsibly, what's your alternative, hmmm? Just let the virus ravage the population? Great idea.

      Instititions still matter. Anarchy in its most idealistic form is self-rule. But that assumes trust in everyone respecting their right to self rule and preserving the ability to self-rule through responsible action. But, guess what? Doesn't work out that way practically.

      There's a reason it goes, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Look at the order. Real hard to have liberty if you're dead.

    6. @Larson "[W]hen people can't act towards a common good, yes, government has to step in."

      You do not get to define "common good" on behalf of everyone else and then use the full force of the government to violate
      their rights and liberties because you judge their actions have failed. You do not get to force people to act as you well please because your highness has judged they are "irresponsible" or "can't act towards a common good."

      And maybe you should keep reading the Declaration of Independence. Right afterwards, it states "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men (...)."

      Governments are there to secure RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES and you DO NOT have a right to other people or their property. Your right to life doesn't include a provision to enslave other human beings. It's quite rich to cite a petition against tyranny to justify the levels of tyranny we're seeing at the moment. And none of it has anything to do with public health concerns.

      Explain to me how the hell is the government justified to shut down outdoor dining areas for a restaurant, but they authorize the exact same accommodations feet away when it's for shooting a movie? Why is it dangerous to walk into a Mom and Pop store, but it's okay to walk into Walmart? Why are some stores seeing thousands of people per day okay, but the gym next door isn't? No, it's not an issue that your highness can explain as disregard for the "safety" of clients. Even if they were extremely careful and put in place additional protocols -- mandatory hand washing, mandatory masks, limits to people in the building, etc. -- they got shut down by force. A woman operated her store -- by selling online. There was no contact with clients because the store was closed. The cops busted into the store and told her to shut it down... Because Amazon is okay, but a one-person operation in New Jersey was too much of a risk?

      THIS is what I am talking about. Politicians have exploited to crisis to benefit themselves and their crony friends. That's why you don't just say "but public safety" and think they'll actually reason carefully about those problems. They won't. They will adopt symbolic gestures, even when there is little you can do. They will never opt for hands off approach, even in a case where all the science was behind a hands off approach.

      And you're excusing it.

    7. No, I'm not excusing what your perception of the problem is. You say this whole pandemic has been exploited by politicians as a power grab. I don't see it that way at all. This is a public health crisis.
      Are you content to have the government do nothing at all? Why have one then? Is that what you're really saying?

      I'm sorry you're so jaded and cynical of government. It's not perfect, I'll agree there. While you see power grabs, I see people suffering because some are beating the liberty drum, refusing to participate in the maintenance of public health. Yes, economic lockdowns are terrible, but the alternatives are worse because of the potential collapse of the health care system. Without that infrastructure functioning well, any kind of economic recovery will be severely hampered for years to come.

    8. I don't know exactly how you have managed to convince yourself there is anything even remotely close to the collapse of the health care system, but let me humor you for a minute.

      I'm sure you can find some instances of hospitals being at a real risk of being overran by a rapid spike. Those will be *some* hospitals in *some* areas of only *some* cities. Even if I accept a **temporary** authoritarian power grab, I have to admit I am looking at unprecedented levels of stupidity in its administration. From your own perspective, you **might** have a rationale for lockdowns at a **local** level. There is no case in here where you'll convince me it's smart to lockdown an entire State, let alone an entire country, because a very narrow set of tightly geographically clustered hospitals face sufficient risk of being unable to service the demands for their services. "Oh Dear Lord! One part of New York City is in trouble. Better force everyone in the entire God damn State to stop living, especially those people living miles away in a rural area."

      Even as regards partial lockdowns, you STILL FAILED TO ANSWER ME. I told you that in CA, a woman cannot have clients sitting outdoors, on tables set far apart, but a movie production can use the EXACT SAME INSTALLATIONS about 40 feet away. Why? The simplest solution: rules for thee, but not for me. All those public heroes of yours, touting the need to step all over the economic and civil liberties are VIOLATING THEIR OWN EDICTS. If you tell me A is good, but you don't do it yourself, not being a complete moron I conclude you don't really believe it.

      The only reason you're not "beating the liberty drum" is that you never saw the point of it. You don't stop valuing liberty when the going gets tough. It's not a fair weather ideal. Either you trust the damn process of you don't -- and, manifestly, you don't.

  3. Western countries such as Australia and New Zealand have managed to control Covid. It needed limited travel, strict tracking, community acceptance, free bulk testing etc. And it works. The US just doesn't get it.

    I'm not convinced that China is losing cold war 2. China is coming out of Covid much better than the US. People looking for success in disease control look at China not the US. China's economy remains growing rapidly. The US won cold war 1 because its economy performed so much better. This time the US is losing the economy - stupid. One reason they are losing is the linking of the economy by the crazy regulations being implemented.

    1. Hilarious you must be watching CCTV or reading China Daily as your main news sources about China. The government has been preparing for food shortage, small business collapsed, new college grads are encouraged to go to the underdeveloped far west to get low pay and labor intensive jobs, billion dollar size financial firms default one after another, imported foods and goods are banned by claiming them infected with Covid-19. The list can keep going. But you get my point. Curious you did not mention Taiwan, which should be the model every nation can learn.

    2. It really helps if your nation is an island (add Taiwan and effectiely South Korea to your list), and you can completely close borders during a Covid crisis. Sadly, there was no way for the US to morph into an island nation within the last year.

    3. It is true Taiwan is an island country. But Taiwan has hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese working/living in China and these people return Taiwan for Chinese New Year. Taiwan mobilized national action to combat Covid 19 in early Jan, earliest among all the countries. The key reason they could do that is Taiwan truly understand how malicious the Communist party can be. If every country had done the same thing, the situation would be very different. You may say this is hindsight. But Taiwan would say the world is too naive.

  4. Oh jeez, more of the rantings of healthcare is on the verge of collapse. Step away from the TV.


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