Nightcap

  1. How the anti-communist alliances of the Cold War have ended David Goodhart, Literary Review
  2. The end of interest (and capitalism) John Quiggin, Crooked Timber
  3. The democratic road to socialism Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  4. Masks, pollution, and implied consent Johnathan Pearce, Samizdata

Nightcap

  1. Ron Paul on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (2002)
  2. The chilling effect of an attack on a scholar Conor Friedersdorf, Atlantic
  3. The childhood, schooldays, and death of Jesus Siddhartha Deb, Nation
  4. Andrew Sullivan is going back to the blog New York‘s “Intelligencer”

Nightcap

  1. The problem of policing and local public economics Peter Boettke, Coordination Problem
  2. The deep roots—and new offshoots—of ‘Abolish the Police’ (no libertarians mentioned) Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna, Politico
  3. Where are the libertarians on police brutality? JD Tuccille, Reason
  4. Intersectionality and classical liberalism Jacob Levy, Cato Unbound

Be Our Guest (Sunday Poetry): “Food & Drinks to Rats & Finks”

Our latest Be Our Guest post comes from poet N.D.Y. Romanfort, and it’s another poem. Once again I’m taking liberties in regards to Alex’sSunday Poetry” series and sharing Romanfort’s poem today. An excerpt:

Two-legg’d rodents have seized
the cherished eateries.
For these rats of great size
Mere food scraps aren’t the prize.

Please, read the rest. Enjoy. And if you’ve got something to say and no place to say it, Be Our Guest.

Wats On My Mind: Polling NOL readers about COVID-19

538 has some interesting new polling data. While the vast majority of respondents in the US agreed that social distancing et al is the right thing to do right now, there is a large and rapidly growing split between Democrats and Republicans on the future, and whether the worst is over or not. Their story fits what’s going on on my Facebook feed certainly. But I was curious what Notes on Liberty readers think (wherever in the world you happen to be living). Which of the following best describes your outlook in your country? Please choose only one:

a) There will be a 2nd or even 3rd wave during 2020 that will be far worse than we have had so far. Total deaths in my country will more than triple from where they are today. The highest number of new deaths in a single day is in the future. (For the US, that’s more than 255k deaths total and more than 4000 dead in a single day; for the UK and Italy, that’s more than 100k dead; and so forth)

b) There will be a 2nd or even 3rd wave during 2020 that will be worse than we have had so far. Total deaths in my country will double from where they are today. (For the US, that’s more than 170k deaths total and a return to 2000-3000 dead per day in on average; for the UK and Italy, that’s more than 65k dead; and so forth)

c) Right now is the worst it will be. Total deaths will increase from where they are today, but at a decreasing rate.

d) We have already survived the worst of the infections and death (For the US, total deaths will be less than 170k and average dead per day will not increase above 2000 again; and so forth).

And let me ask you a second polling question about civil liberties that have been constrained during the quarantine in most countries. Which of the following describe(s) your outlook? Feel free to answer more than one:

e) The restriction of my civil liberties will be temporary (less than 6 months).

f) The restriction of my civil liberties will be long lasting, but eventually I’ll get them back (6 months – 3 years)

g) The restriction of my civil liberties will be nearly permanent (3+ years)

h) The restriction of my civil liberties was a deliberate power grab by the state

i) The restrictions on civil liberties successfully prevented many more deaths in the last few months and in the future

j) The restrictions on civil liberties successfully prevented many more deaths in the last few months, but not many in the long run

k) The restrictions on civil liberties may have prevented some deaths in the last few months, but not many in the long run

Be Our Guest (Sunday Poetry): “The Tyrant’s Burden”

Our latest Be Our Guest post comes from poet N.D.Y. Romanfort, and it’s great. So great, in fact, that I’m taking liberties in regards to Alex’s “Sunday Poetry” series and sharing Romanfort’s poem today. An excerpt:

Shoulder the Tyrant’s Burden-
Yield to “expert” decree-
3 Lettered Health Institutes
Control mind and body-
Free thinking doctors? They’re called
Medical Heretics-
Big Tech will silence their noise,
Thus, public thought is fixed.

Please, read the rest. And if you’ve got something to say and no place to say it, Be Our Guest.

An update from Texas

I am still working from home. The weather has been spectacular here over the past few days. I immediately head outside with the kids at 5 o’clock. We just run around and play. The younger one likes throwing the football around in the grass. The older one likes to play with the ants in the cracks of the sidewalk.

I was looking forward to going to Oslo this fall, but I just received news that the event has been postponed. I’ve still got the inaugural family camping trip to Ouachita to plan, so that’s exciting.

The political landscape here is much different than it is on the west coast or in Austin. Authority is decentralized. There are more black and Mexican people here, and fewer other minorities (including Central Americans). I have more black friends now than I ever did in California. It’s odd. In some ways, the non-South is now more racist than the old South. I can’t put my finger on it but I swear it’s true. You can carry on a friendly conversation with anybody here, something that’s missing out west and up north.

My guess is that this has something to do with the fact that segregation was blatantly racist in the South during the Cold War, and Washington felt it had to do something about it in order to win friends (despots) abroad. The racism in the north and the west was less blatant, and as a result nothing has ever been done about it.

I mean, I didn’t grow up with any black people. Or Mexicans. There are tons of them in California, but they don’t live in white residential areas. Down south, at least in the parts of Texas I’ve lived in, this is not the case. There are still “sides” of town, but at least we all share the same town. There’s still racism here, but the racism is more honest than, say, the zoning found up north and out west. This familiarity between blacks, Mexicans, and whites is something you as an individual have to work hard on to achieve in the non-South.

The federal government forcibly dismantled Jim Crow. It did so only after it conveniently ignored the 14th Amendment for decades, but at least it finally did so. There’s a place for Washington down here in Texas. Decentralized tyrannies are still tyrannies. I just started watching Waco, the Netflix series. It’s good. Washington is responsible for the deaths of several innocent women and children. It’ll never pay the price. Those people were just too strange for the broad public to really give a shit.

It’s a never-ending balancing act: finding a comfortable equilibrium between federal, state, and local governance. The feds are better at protecting the descendants of slaves than the state and local governments. But the state and local governments are better at protecting non-conformists and religious extremists than the federal government.

Libertarianism hasn’t been able to shake its racist stigma yet. Sure, leftists call us racists all the time, but a kernal of truth is still a kernal of truth. I have witnessed several people I once respected sweep libertarianism’s ugly, recent past under the rug and then turn to grab their paycheck. Libertarian Inc. has its place in our society, but it won’t be effective so long as the racist label sticks with us. And the racist label won’t come off until we grapple with the brutal truth of what we’ve become comfortable with and what we will tolerate.

Nightcap

  1. Nobody knows anything (Singapore and South Korea) Scott Sumner, Money Illusion
  2. The cholera riots and the coronavirus revolts, compared Jesse Walker, Reason
  3. Climate, disease, and the end of the Roman Empire Jaspreet Singh Boparai, Quillette
  4. On trying to solve the paradox of memory Emina Melonic, Modern Age

China versus the Communists; American civil liberties

I don’t know about you but I’ve come across my fair share of anti-Asian bigotry over the past few weeks. This is not a good trend.

Here is my public service announcement for the week: China is not the Communist Party. Billions of Chinese citizens are lorded over by a Communist Party. Singapore, Hawaii, California, Taiwan (see this great article), Sydney, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Jakarta have all managed to avoid repressing data and silencing scientists.

You’re welcome.

Jacques has been subtly prodding me to write an essay complaining about the loss of civil liberties in the United States due to coronavirus (“every true libertarian is doing it”), but I just can’t muster up the willpower. I realize that civil liberties will be attacked by governments. Covid-19 is a crisis, after all, but I don’t think the attempts so far are unjustified. Hear me out:

There is a global pandemic and the virus causing all of the mayhem is one we know little about. It’s a deadly virus. It’s highly contagious. Governments have attempted to protect lives. They’ve done a terrible job, and factions are trying to use the crisis to push their agendas.

Predictable, but what about the pandemic? I don’t want to get the plague. I don’t want my small children or my wife to get the plague. And I certainly don’t want to be responsible for passing the plague on to family members who are most susceptible to the virus (my children’s grandparents).

The backlash against government stabs in the dark have already begun. Small businesses and many, many workers have been screwed. If the trade-off, though, is between small businesses/lower wage workers going broke or my family members dying unnecessarily, bye Felicia.

In politics, sometimes it’s good to play offense and sometimes it’s better to play defense. Libertarians can play offense here and there, such as when the economy is roaring, or when wars are unjustified. In a crisis like this, though, it’s best to wait and see what happens. It’s best to play defense and wait for a good place to counterattack. It’s bad enough that crackpots and racist frat boys claim the mantle of Libertarian (we wouldn’t want to be intolerant, after all), but when our leading lights start downplaying this plague before anybody really knows what’s going on, it just gives liberty a bad name.

Last Time You Heard of “Flattening the Curve”?

We were told that many or most Americans workers had to be idled to “flatten the curve” of contaminations. This means simply that it was desirable to avoid having a sudden upsurge of people infected so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed. Officials – including the president and the Gov of California, Nancy’s nephew – never gave us any other reason for confinement.

Notably, limiting the total, final number of contaminations was not the reason. Instead, and since no vaccine is in our short sights – herd immunity will save us. But the slower the rate of contamination, the later we will enjoy herd immunity. Thus, a policy of confinement may cause more deaths that it avoids. I am not saying it’s the case; I don’t know. It’s just plausible based on the info I am given, including by my government(s).

Well, I am reasonably sure that to-date, C-virus patients have not overwhelmed American hospitals except in New York City. How do I know? The end-of-time loving, Trump-hating media would make sure I would know it if any American hospital were in a catastrophic situation caused by an unexpected influx of patients. That main danger seems past. It does not mean that individuals should not take common sense precautions, including social distancing. I know I do (but I am old).

In the meantime, the American economy is undergoing an unprecedented disaster; I mean, unprecedented in my lifetime. No mystery: When people don’t work, wealth is not being generated. The solution to this problem is as obvious as it seems: More people have to go back to work. In this connection, I think it’s time to discuss something that should also be obvious: Working at close quarters leads to contamination, and thus, for some categories of the population, to death. Economic contraction leads to sectorial poverty which also kills people. Panic also kills people: surgeries and other medical interventions are being re-scheduled all over the country. No doubt, patients are dying as a result, indirect victims of the pandemics. (And many doctors are complaining of loss of income.)

Who should go back to work? A is always the case, this issue must be resolved as close as possible to those most directly concerned. In this case, it’s the employees themselves and their employers. This principle does not necessarily lead to the wisest decisions; it makes bad decisions less consequential than would be the case for decisions taken by government at the federal level. It makes rolling back bad decisions more likely.

During all this confinement period, my fellow-citizens’ general submissiveness horrified me. (I had two postings on this.) It seems that submission is over. There is a mass automobile protest going on in Lansing, Michigan as I write. It’s directed at the governor of that state, an extreme example of schoolmarmism gone mad. (“Why do I have to do it?” “Because I say so!”)

By the way, if you fear the rise of America fascism, don’t look for guns, look for ballpoints.

Coddle the Old, Spoil Them; Everybody Else, Back to Work!

I am more worried by the day about the economic consequences of the current isolation policy intended to change the shape (not the numbers) of the corona-virus epidemic in America. This, in spite of the a large infusion of (national debt) money, that I would approve regretfully if it were my sole decision. (Note: I am not an economist but I have been reading the Wall Street Journal daily for thirty years. I am also a scholar of organizations including businesses.) What inspires most of my fear is that the issue of small-scale entrepreneurship is seldom discussed, as if it did not exist.

I believe that the larger businesses, those that survive the current crisis, may well come back with a roar (as the president seems to predict for the whole US economy.) The problem is that small businesses, restaurants, but also dry cleaning establishments, hair dressers, bookstores, and the like, have short financial lifelines. Many must be dying like flies, right now. It will be difficult or impossible for them to make a comeback once the health emergency is gone. Also we can’t count on fast replacement of those failed business by new entrepreneurs. The collection of small business that accrued over many years at a particular location is not going to be replaced in the course of a few months, I think. (Yes, I know something about this topic. Ask me.)

All the above, in spite of large infusion of my granddaughter’s money by the federal department. (She is 11.) And, repeating myself, I would do it too if it were my decision, but regretfully.

The ruinous strategy of idling much of the workforce could have been avoided and could still be modified quickly, it seems to me. The alternative solution would be to confine all the sick and most of the aged, and to keep children out of school (because they are veritable cesspools, as everyone knows).

Everyone else would be invited to go back to work by agreement with his employer. Some financial dispositions should be offered at state’s expense to help parents who lose income because they must stay home to care for their children. Under such conditions, the economy would grow again and many irreplaceable small businesses would survive. Sweden is currently trying something like this policy. That country never ordered most people to stay home. I hope this experiment stays in the news. It may not because the liberal media are afraid of rational responses and of responses that don’t proceed from panic.

I only know two people who have consistently advocated for an American policy and a California policy of confining only the old and the sick. The two are myself and Jimmy Joe Lee, a singer composer musician from Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz. Both of us are old dudes. We are both close to the center of virus’ target. I am 78 and Jimmy Joe may be even slightly older. (OK, let the whole truth come out: He is taller, straighter than I am and a much, much sharper dresser.) I am just pointing to the obvious: neither of us is speaking out of selfishness.

Now, let’s imagine the old are confined from, say, the age of 65, even 60. First, some of them wouldn’t even know anything has changed because they don’t go out much anyway. For the rest of us, all you would have to do is serve us promptly two hot meals a day. They would have to be of gourmet quality. That would be easy to achieve because so many expensive restaurants are idle and hurting. It would be a nice touch if the meals were brought and served by a youngish woman wearing a short skirt. We may not remember why we like it but we do. Yes, and speaking for myself and I am sure, for Jimmy Joe, don’t forget to send along each meal a couple of glasses of really, really good old wine. I assure you that however extravagant you went with that last component of our confinement regimen, it would be a lot cheaper than what you are currently doing. At least, promise to think about it.

A PPE pandemic reading list

I haven’t written for a while – other duties get in the way – but I’d like to suggest this reading list in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics for the present time of crisis and perplexity. The main reason is that everyone seems to be an expert in Economics, Epidemiology, and Political Philosophy these days, assuming that from “facts” we can easily derive “values” and answer the question, “what is to be done?” I think this is at best a naïve attitude and at worst the same rationalistic hubris we experience everytime a political issue is simplified and reduced to a matter of “science”. Yes, there are facts and they shouldn’t be ignored, but it’s not easy to decide what is to be done, morally and politically, in light of those facts.

The first item on the list is Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes. A classic, and a reminder that people choose all the time to sacrifice some degree of liberty in the altar of survival (or a chance to survive), but also a reminder that Leviathan may turn from friend to foe, from protector to persecutor – and there is very little we can do about it. The second item is John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which then explores this topic in light of the fact that civil government shouldn’t have absolute power. It makes an attempt to show us how that power can, or should, be limited within a certain sphere of responsibility. Though it’s still there to protect us.

In this time of pandemic, people feel tempted to panic. People and politicians are calling for dramatic measures, and one reason is that the use of government coercion – which, according to Locke, ought to be limited – might be necessary to force people to cooperate, for example, by staying home. This is a proposed solution to the dilemmas of collective action posed by the problem that some may “free-ride” on the rest, and, as a result, the disease will keep spreading, frustrating any attempt to slow it down. Against dramatic, desperate and, perhaps, arrogant, use of political power, and in favor of prudence and wisdom, Edmund Burke’s collection of writings from the period of the French Revolution can be a beacon of light. On the other hand, explaining the dilemmas of collective action and suggesting ways of solving them, Mancur Olson offers an insightful look at incentives and group behavior in The Logic of Collective Action.

However, the idea that government coercion is the only solution to dilemmas of collective action (such as imposing a quarantine, for example) doesn’t hold water. In fact, other economists follow Olson in saying the problem is real and challenges a strict individualist way of thinking, but, adding to Olson’s point, they also acknowledge the role of private action and sanctions in fostering cooperation. Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons is a wonderful study that opens up a number of possibilities for private enforcing of collective action to preserve and promote the frugal allocation of common goods. This can be complemented by The Quest for Community, an overlooked work by sociologist Robert Nisbet, where it becomes clear that, between individuals, the state, and the market, there’s room for other associations and communities that strengthen civil society – particularly in this challenging time. Nisbet’s lesson invites liberty-loving people to reflect on whether a hyper-individualistic view of the world ends up pitting helpess individuals against Leviathan instead of offering the buffer zone of community in between. This is something Alexis de Tocqueville discussed in the 19th century.

And just for the sake of dealing with the issue that “is” doesn’t easily lead to “ought”, and that science might have facts and an explanation for them, but does not easily conduce to a proper discussion on values policy, I must finish this PPE pandemic reading list with F. A. Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. On Chapter 4, for example, Hayek introduces a constrast between “rationalist liberalism” and “anti-rationalist liberalism”. Rationalist liberals assume too easily that knowledge of the facts on the ground will give them what they need to re-design a society governed by reason. Hayek warns us against this technocratic assumption and offers a defence of “anti-rationalist liberalism”. Anti-rationalist liberals understand the importance of spontaneous order and of constraining power (even at a time of crisis) while prudently balancing the values of liberty and safety in light of past experience and tradition.


Three Additional readings:

Buzan, Waever and De Wilde, Security: A New Framework for Analysis (1997). In a liberal democracy, the state steps in suspending some civil liberties only if it can persuade citizens that there’s a threat that justifies it. This book offers a framework to interpret how such threats are constructed in official and non-official discourse, and to what extent this construction of a threat can be effective.

Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan (2013). 25th anniversary edition. Looks at US history and how government employed crises to its advantage and the advantage of the ruling elites. In particular, security and economy related issues are dealt with.

Sanford Ikeda, Dynamics of the Mixed Economy (2002). Shows that a time of crisis might be a time for further interventionism in the economy, as Higgs (see above) suggests, but might also be a time for disintervention, as seems to be the case with part of the agenda today (FDA deregulation, etc.) This is based on Ludwig von Mises’ view that interventionist economies are not very stable and are always swinging as a pendulum between socialism and capitalism.

 

Nightcap

  1. The Use of Knowledge in Society F.A. Hayek, American Economic Review
  2. On conservative nationalism and foreign policy Emma Ashford, War on the Rocks
  3. Europe’s ‘solidarity’ crumbles in the face of a crisis Kai Weiss, CapX
  4. Bigger Brother: surveillance capitalism Tim Wu, New York Review of Books

Nightcap

  1. What’s the difference between Italy and the rest of the Western world? Scott Sumner, EconLog
  2. Viruses, civil rights, jails, and prisons Premal Dharia, Slate
  3. Is YIMBYism the answer to California’s housing crisis? Apoorva Tadepalli, New Republic
  4. Even Hayek quoted FDR Peter Canellos, Politico

Nightcap

  1. Police tailgating and entrapment Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. Singapore’s military elite Francis Sempa, Asian Review of Books
  3. Bill Barr, the man from the 1980s Ross Douthat, New York Times
  4. Open borders and hive minds (NIMBY) Bryan Caplan, EconLog