Category: Current Affairs

From Bret Stephens

In October, Brian Riedl of the Manhattan Institute tallied the costs of Mr. Sanders’s policy goals. By his calculations, the federal government would double in size. Half the American work force would be employed by the government, Mr. Riedl writes. Government spending as a percent of G.D.P. would rise to 70 percent (in Sweden, it’s less than 50 percent). The 15.3 percent payroll tax would hit 27.2 percent to help pay for Medicare for All. Total additional outlays would reach $97.5 trillion on top of the nearly $90 trillion the federal, state and local governments are projected to spend over the next decade.

Here is the full NYT column.  #TheGreatForgetting, #moodaffiliation.

Coronavirus information and analysis bleg

What are the best things to read to estimate what’s going to happen from here?

In particular, what is the best way to think about how to make inferences, or not, from extrapolating current trends about case and death numbers?

What is “what happens from here” going to be most sensitive to in terms of potential best remedies? Regulatory decisions of some kind? Which features of local public health infrastructure will matter the most? Will any of it matter at all?

Which variables should we focus on to best predict expected severity?

Woke terrorists what about plastic straws?

Terrorist group al Shabaab has banned single-use plastic bags.

The Somali militant Islamist group, which has links to al Qaeda, has long had an interest in environmental issues.

It made the official announcement on Radio Andalus, which is operated by al Shabaab.

Jubaland regional leader Mohammad Abu Abdullah said the group had come to the decision due to the “serious” threat posed by plastic bags to both humans and livestock.

He added that pollution caused by plastic was damaging to the environment.

In the same announcement, the group said it has banned the logging of rare trees.

Details of how the eco-friendly bans would be enforced were not shared with listeners.

Here is the link.

Commercial silence about China, what is the equilibrium?

OK, the NBA and its players won’t much exercise their free speech rights, nor will university presidents, so how will this all look in the longer term?  Surely India and other nations are learning from the Chinese experience, and so here is one excerpt from my Bloomberg column:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India is an avowed student of the Chinese experiment. Is it so far-fetched to imagine that he would help to create comparable pressures on speech for institutions doing business with India? The more China’s strategy succeeds, the more likely it is to spread. Modi has not shied away from controversy in making Indian policy, so the domestic pressure to follow the Chinese model could be quite strong.

Imagine a world, not so far off, where Indonesia is a business’s fifth-largest customer or a university’s seventh-largest supplier of students. Will it really be so safe to criticize the government of Indonesia, even for employees of those institutions on their social media accounts? U.S. businesses today are quite reluctant to criticize their customers at all, regardless of how much they collectively or individually account for revenue.

The world is evolving into a place where countries and regimes are exempt from all significant public criticism from any entity (or its employees) with substantial interests overseas — whether commercial or academic. That scenario may sound dystopian, but in fact it would not be a major shift from the status quo.

It is also easy to imagine a norm evolving where major customers, say China and India, become offended if a business or its employees criticize a much smaller nation. The theory might be that if any criticism is allowed at all, eventually it will reach the larger (and more controversial) nations. Or perhaps the smaller nation is an ally or friend of the larger, more powerful one. So you had better not criticize Kiribati, either.

And my parenthetical:

(Paradoxically, China’s concern for speech over actions shows a respect for the power of discourse — and free speech — that contemporary America could learn from.)

Recommended, and here is India already flexing its muscle over Bezos and WaPo (NYT).

Countering The Narrative

A surprising fact about the 2016 election is that Trump received fewer votes from whites with the highest levels of racial resentment than Romney did in 2012…Trump’s vote totals improved the most among swing voters: low-socioeconomic status whites who are political moderates.

That is from recent research by Justin Grimmer and William Marble, hat tip anonymous.

*Smith: It’s a Capitalist World*

That is a new magazine, on UK-style paper, nice-looking, and presented by Jamie Whyte.  The first issue was published this December, and contributors include Dominic Hilton, Vernon Bogdanor, Helen Dale, David Friedman, Steven Landsburg (who seems to have a column on economic puzzles), Matt Ridley, Martha Bayles, and others.

So far my impressions are positive, though I despair at the economics of magazines more generally.

Googling the title of the magazine seems to yield nothing, and the issue I was sent does not obviously explain how to subscribe.  So I am not sure where to send those of you looking for more, but if anyone from the magazine is reading, would you please include that information in the comments section of this post?

Addendum: “Anybody who would like to see the PDF of Smith, please email me and I will send it to you. jamie.whyte@smithmagazine.com”

The economic policy of Elizabeth Warren

Jerry Taylor has made some positive noises about her on Twitter lately, as had Will Wilkinson in earlier times.  I genuinely do not see the appeal here, not even for Democrats.  Let’s do a quick survey of some of her core views:

1. She wants to ban fracking through executive order.  This would enrich Russia and Saudi Arabia, harm the American economy ($3.5 trillion stock market gains from fracking), make our energy supply less green, and make our foreign policy more dependent on bad regimes and the Middle East.  It is perhaps the single worst policy idea I have heard this last year, and some of the worst possible politics for beating Trump in states such as Pennsylvania.

2. Her private equity plan.  Making private equity managers personally responsible for the debts of the companies they acquire probably would crush the sector.  The economic evidence on private equity is mostly quite positive.  Maybe she would eliminate the worst features of her plan, but can you imagine her saying on open camera that private equity is mostly good for the American economy?  I can’t.

3. Her farm plan.  It seems to be more nationalistic and protectionist and also more permanent than Trump’s, read here.

4. Her tax plan I: Some of the wealthy would see marginal rates above 100 percent.

5. Her tax plan II: Her proposed wealth tax would over time lead to rates of taxation on capital gains of at least 60 to 70 percent, much higher than any wealthy country ever has succeeded with.  And frankly no one has come close to rebutting the devastating critique from Larry Summers.

6. Student debt forgiveness:  The data-driven people I know on the left all admit this is welfare for the relatively well-off, rather than a truly egalitarian approach to poverty and opportunity.  Cost is estimated at $1.6 trillion, by the way (is trillion the new billion?).  Furthermore, what are the long-run effects on the higher education sector?  Do banks lend like crazy next time around, expecting to be bailed out by the government?  Or do banks cut back their lending, fearing a haircut on bailout number two?  I am genuinely not sure, but thinking the question through does not reassure me.

7. College free for all: Would wreck the relatively high quality of America’s state-run colleges and universities, which cover about 78 percent of all U.S. students and are the envy of other countries worldwide and furthermore a major source of American soft power.  Makes sense only if you are a Caplanian on higher ed., and furthermore like student debt forgiveness this plan isn’t that egalitarian, as many of the neediest don’t finish high school, do not wish to start college, cannot finish college, or already reject near-free local options for higher education, typically involving community colleges.

8. Health care policy: Her various takes on this, including the $52 trillion plan, are better thought of as (vacillating) political strategy than policy per se.  In any case, no matter what your view on health care policy she has botched it, and several other Dem candidates have a better track record in this area.  Even Paul Krugman insists that the Democrats should move away from single-payer purity.  It is hard to give her net positive points on this one, again no matter what your policy views on health care, or even no matter what her views may happen to be on a particular day.

All of my analysis, I should note, can be derived internal to Democratic Party economics, and it does not require any dose of libertarianism.

9. Breaking up the Big Tech companies: I am strongly opposed to this, and I view it as yet another attack/destruction on a leading and innovative American sector.  I will say this, though: unlike the rest of the list above, I know smart economists (and tech experts) who favor some version of the policy.  Still, I don’t see why Jerry and Will should like this promise so much.

Those are some pretty major sectors of the U.S. economy, it is not like making a few random mistakes with the regulation of toothpicks.  In fact they are the major sectors of the U.S. economy, and each and every one of them would take a big hit.

More generally, she seems to be a fan of instituting policies through executive order, a big minus in my view and probably for Jerry and Will as well?  Villainization and polarization are consistent themes in her rhetoric, and at this point it doesn’t seem her chances for either the nomination, or beating Trump, are strong in fact her conditional chance of victory is well below that of the other major Dem candidates.  So what really are you getting for all of these outbursts?

When I add all that up, she seems to have the worst economic and political policies of any candidate in my adult lifetime, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders (whose views are often less detailed).

I do readily admit this: Warren is a genius at exciting the egalitarian and anti-business mood affiliation of our coastal media and academic elites.

If you would like to read defenses of Warren, here is Ezra Klein and here is Henry Farrell.  I think they both plausibly point to parts of the Warren program that might be good (more good for them than for me I should add, but still I can grasp the other arguments on her behalf).  They don’t much respond to the point that on #1-8, and possibly #1-9, she has the worst economic and political policies of any candidate in my adult lifetime.

For Jerry and Will, I just don’t see the attraction at all.

That said, on her foreign policy, which I have not spent much time with, she might be better, so of course you should consider the whole picture.  And quite possibly there are other candidates who, for other reasons, are worse yet, not hard to think of some.  Or you might wish to see a woman president.  Or you might think she would stir up “good discourse” on the issues you care about.  And I fully understand that most of the Warren agenda would not pass.

So I’m not trying to talk you out of supporting her!  Still, I would like to design and put into the public domain a small emoji, one that you could add to the bottom of your columns and tweets.  It would stand in for: “Yes I support her, but she has the worst proposed economic policies of any candidate in the adult lifetime of Tyler Cowen.”

The culture that is Brazil? (and Nazi Germany)

A video in which Brazil’s culture minister uses parts of a speech by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda boss, has sparked outrage.

In the clip posted on the ministry’s Twitter page, Roberto Alvim details an award for “heroic” and “national” art.

Lohengrin by Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer, plays in the background.

Reacting to the controversy, Mr Alvim said the speech was a “rhetorical coincidence”. Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has been urged to fire him.

Mr Bolsonaro, a former army captain with a conservative social agenda, has frequently accused Brazil’s artists and cultural productions including schoolbooks and movies of “left-wing bias”. He has not commented.

In the six-minute video detailing the National Arts Awards, Mr Alvim says: “The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and will be national, will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement… deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing.”

Parts of it are identical to a speech quoted in the book Joseph Goebbels: A Biography, by German historian Peter Longerich, who has written several works on the Holocaust.

Here is the full story.

What should I ask John McWhorter?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, with an associated public event.  Here is part of his Wikipedia profile:

John Hamilton McWhorter V…is an American academic and linguist who is associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, where he teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy, and music history. He is the author of a number of books on language and on race relations, and his writing has appeared in many prominent magazines. His research specializes on how creole languages form, and how language grammars change as the result of sociohistorical phenomena.

So what should I ask him?

And if you wish to register for February 17, here is the link.

What to make of the new U.S.-China trade deal?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The U.S. has established its seriousness as a counterweight to China, something lacking since it largely overlooked China’s various territorial encroachments in the 2010s. Whether in economics or foreign policy, China now can expect the U.S. to push back — a very different calculus. At a time when there is tension in North Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea, that is potentially a significant gain.

…Currently the U.S. is working hard to keep Huawei equipment out of the forthcoming 5G networks in many countries. (Imagine letting the KGB run the American phone network in say 1980, and you can see what is at stake here.) For that campaign to succeed, even partially, the U.S. needs some credible threats of punishment, such as withholding intelligence or even defense protection from allies. The course of the trade war has made those threats more plausible. If you are Germany, and you see that the U.S. has been willing to confront the economic and military power of China directly, you will think twice about letting Huawei into your network.

A third set of possible benefits relates to the internal power dynamics in the Chinese Communist Party. For all the talk of his growing power, Chinese President Xi Jinping has not been having a good year. The situation in Hong Kong remains volatile, the election in Taiwan did not go the way the Chinese leadership had hoped, and now the trade war with America has ended, or perhaps more accurately paused, in ways that could limit China’s future expansion and international leverage. This trade deal takes Xi down a notch, not only because it imposes a lot of requirements on China, such as buying American goods, but because it shows China is susceptible to foreign threats.

The U.S. still is keeping $360 billion of tariffs on Chinese goods, hardly a propitious sign that China made a great bargain. There is even speculation that China will not report the full deal to its citizens…

It is a common argument that being tough with other countries strengthens the hard-liners in those countries. But in China the hard-liners had been growing in power and influence anyway. This trade war, and the resulting first phase of a trade deal, shows there is a cost to China for being so hard-line.

Do read the whole thing, and note that we still should be agnostic.  Nonetheless extreme TDS is preventing people from thinking rationally about this one, and thus I view my column as a correction to most of what you are seeing in MSM.

Damir Marusic and Aaron Sibarium interview me for *The American Interest*

It was far-ranging, here is the opening bit:

Damir Marusic for TAI: Tyler, thanks so much for joining us today. One of the themes we’re trying to grapple with here at the magazine is the perception that liberal democratic capitalism is in some kind of crisis. Is there a crisis?

TC: Crisis, what does that word mean? There’s been a crisis my whole lifetime.

And:

TC: I think addiction is an underrated issue. It’s stressed in Homer’s Odyssey and in Plato, it’s one of the classic problems of public order—yet we’ve been treating it like some little tiny annoyance, when in fact it’s a central problem for the liberal order.

And:

AS: What about co-determination?

TC: There are too many people with the right to say no in America as it is. We need to get things done speedier, with fewer obstacles that create veto points. So no, I don’t favor that.

And:

AS: John Maynard Keynes.

TC: I suppose underrated. He was a polymath. Polymaths tend to be underrated, and Keynes was a phenomenal writer. I’m not a Keynesian on macroeconomics, but when you read him, it’s so fresh and startling and just fantastic. So I’d say underrated.

And:

AS: Slavoj Zizek, the quirky communist philosopher you debated recently.

TC: Way underrated. I had breakfast with Zizek before my dialogue with him, and he’s one of the 10 people I’ve met who knows the most and can command it. Now that said, he speaks in code and he’s kind of “crazy,” and his style irritates many people because he never answers any question directly. You get his Hegelian whatever. He has his partisans who are awful, but ordinary intellectuals don’t notice him and he’s pretty phenomenal actually. So I’d say very underrated.

Here is the full interview, a podcast version is coming too.

Are the ex-royals good enough for Canada?

For example, many of the ways to get permanent residency in Canada require applicants to have specialized skills or high levels of education. Prince Harry trained as a military officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, but he does not have a university degree, which lawyers said would be a major stumbling block for him.

“I doubt very much they would apply for permanent residency,” said Sergio R. Karas, an immigration lawyer in Toronto. “That would not be a good option for them.”

From the sound of the NYT article by Ian Austen, they will likely enter as “visitors,” a status for which they do not need additional authoritzation.

My Conversation with the excellent Reid Hoffman

This one is better than the other available conversations with Reid, here is the transcript and audio.  Here is part of the CWTeam summary:

Reid joined Tyler to talk about all these leverage points and more, including the Silicon Valley cultural meme he most disagrees with, how Wittgenstein influenced the design of LinkedIn, mystical atheism, what it was like being on Firing Line, why he’s never said anything outrageous, how he and Peter Thiel interpret The Tempest differently, the most misunderstood thing about friendship, how to improve talent certification, what’s needed from science fiction, and his three new ideas for board games.

Excerpt:

COWEN: If we think of Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, they could arguably, by the standards of many people, be called weird. I’ve reviewed all the books you’ve written and a lot of your public talks. I can’t recall you saying a single thing that’s outrageous in any way whatsoever. Why aren’t you weirder?

HOFFMAN: [laughs] Maybe I mask it better. That’s my Straussian element, that I hide my weirdness. I would say that a little bit of it comes down to a theory about what is the right way of evolving discourse.

I think I probably do have a variety of views that people would think is weird. I, for example, think of myself as a mystical atheist, which is neither the full atheist category nor any religious category, but some blend in the middle. Or the fact that I actually think that the notion of capitalism is one of the world’s leading interesting technologies, but it’s not a particularly good philosophy, and you’d think that’s odd for an entrepreneur or an investor, and so forth.

So I have areas where I would say groups of people would think I’m weird. I may not highlight it because I tend to always speak in a way to, how do I think I help us make the most progress? And I would only say the weird things if I thought that was the thing that would result from that.

COWEN: So there are weird things that are in your mind?

HOFFMAN: Yes, yeah.

And:

COWEN: How did your interest in the late Wittgenstein influence the construction and design of LinkedIn? I’m sure they ask you this all the time in interviews.

HOFFMAN: [laughs] All the time. The question I’ve always been expecting. I would say that the notion of thinking about — a central part of later Wittgenstein is to think that we play language games, that the way that we form identity and community, both of ourselves and as individuals, is the way that we discourse and the way that we see each other and the way that we elaborate language.

That pattern of which ways we communicate with each other, what’s the channel we do, and what’s the environment that we’re in comes from insights from — including later Wittgenstein, who I think was one of the best modern philosophers in thinking about how language is core to the people that we are and that we become.

COWEN: What else from philosophy influenced the construction and design of LinkedIn?

Recommended.  For help in arranging this Conversation I am very much indebted to Ben Casnocha.

The culture that is Buckingham: what is the underlying structural model?

The Duke of Cambridge has spoken of his “sadness” at the broken bond with his brother and voiced sorrow that the royal family is no longer a “team”.

As the Queen called emergency peace talks tomorrow at Sandringham to end the Windsors’ civil war, The Sunday Times can reveal that Prince William has said he feels sorrow that he and Prince Harry are now “separate entities” and expressed hope that they might pull together again in future.

“I’ve put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can’t do that any more; we’re separate entities,” he told a friend.

…Tom Bradby, who did the recent ITV interview in which Harry and Meghan confessed their sense of isolation, warned failure to keep the pair on side could lead the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to do a “no-holds-barred” interview that could damage the monarchy further.

…Harry and Meghan may have their security downgraded, with protection squad officers armed only with Tasers rather than guns.

Here is the full piece from the London TimesSome reports say Meghan now has a deal with Disney, maybe she will do voice-over for a princess…