Category: Law

Whither Australian liberty and rule of law?

According to a person close to the tournament with direct knowledge of the sequence of events, Djokovic followed every step of the country’s visa process properly. Moreover, the person said, Djokovic’s medical exemption was granted with all identifying information redacted, ruling out the possibility of favoritism for the tennis star.

But in the view of the person close to the Open, Australian authorities “did an about-face” on Djokovic’s status after his disclosure of being granted a medical exemption to covid vaccination requirements sparked outrage in Melbourne and throughout the country from citizens who have been subject to exceedingly strict protocols for nearly two years.

“He did everything correctly,” the person said. “But the goal posts have been changed — for him.”

Here is more from the very pro-vaccine Washington Post.  Has the culture there become so worn down from internal restrictions that they are so resentful?  Over ninety percent of the Australian public is vaccinated, and omicron is spreading there in any case.  Maybe there was some minor problem in the visa application, but so often there is — should the result really be such last minute political grandstanding?  It would have been easy enough to inform him in advance that maybe he would not be admitted into the country, right?  Is his case now really going to receive a fair hearing?

Arnold Kling’s proposal for regulatory reform

To improve our agencies’ performance, we need to think about restructuring the federal bureaucracy itself.

I propose we do so by creating two positions within the executive branch that operate in tension with each other. The first would be the chief operating officer, charged with managing the administrative agencies. The second would be the chief auditor, charged with leading a watchdog agency that monitors the administrative state for effectiveness and abuses of authority. Both the president and Congress would oversee the balance of power between the two positions.

Much like that of a private firm, the chief operating officer (COO) of the regulatory state would direct the operations of the entire executive branch, including independent agencies like the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Reserve Board, and the Patent and Trademark Office. The COO’s charge would be to maximize operational effectiveness. He would have the authority to make decisions without the approval of the president.

Unlike presidents, who tend to enter the Oval Office without having supervised anything larger than a Senate staff, the COO should come into office with strong organizational-management experience — ideally based on having led a large, private-sector firm. This person should be familiar with the challenges of improving incentive systems, streamlining organizational processes, planning, budgeting, facilitating coordination among disparate units, articulating objectives, and aligning organizational efforts toward those objectives. He should have the authority to put this experience to work within the regulatory state.

To unravel the tangle of agencies that are the legacy of so many congressional bills, the COO should be empowered to re-organize, restructure, merge, or eliminate any existing agencies, refine their missions, and appoint their directors.

And:

With a COO in charge of managing government agencies, the roles of Congress and the president would adjust accordingly. Congress would act more like a board of directors with respect to the agencies, and the president would act more like a board chairman. The COO would assume the responsibility of presenting a plan and budget to Congress for approval, while the president would have the authority to hire and fire the COO at will. In a spirit of conservative incrementalism, we could first apply the COO model to one functional domain, such as domestic infrastructure, before extending it to the others.

The second new position — the chief auditor (CA) — would lead a powerful audit agency that provides independent evaluations of agency performance.

Worth a read in full.

ProPublica on the FDA and Rapid Tests

Lydia DePillis has written the best piece on the FDA that I have ever read in a mainstream news publication. It gets everything right and yes it frankly verifies everything that I have been saying about the FDA and rapid tests for the last year and a half. I wish it had been written earlier but I suppose that illustrates how difficult it is to radically change people’s mindset from the FDA as protector to the FDA as threat. The sub head is:

Irene Bosch developed a quick, inexpensive COVID-19 test in early 2020. The Harvard-trained scientist already had a factory set up. But she was stymied by an FDA process experts say made no sense.

The piece recounts how cheap, rapid tests could have been approved in March of 2020! Here’s the opening bit:

When COVID-19 started sweeping across America in the spring of 2020, Irene Bosch knew she was in a unique position to help.

The Harvard-trained scientist had just developed quick, inexpensive tests for several tropical diseases, and her method could be adapted for the novel coronavirus. So Bosch and the company she had co-founded two years earlier seemed well-suited to address an enormous testing shortage.

E25Bio — named after the massive red brick building at MIT that houses the lab where Bosch worked — already had support from the National Institutes of Health, along with a consortium of investors led by MIT.

Within a few weeks, Bosch and her colleagues had a test that would detect coronavirus in 15 minutes and produce a red line on a little chemical strip. The factory where they were planning to make tests for dengue fever could quickly retool to produce at least 100,000 COVID-19 tests per week, she said, priced at less than $10 apiece, or cheaper at a higher scale.

“We are excited about what E25Bio is capable of shipping in a short amount of time: a test that is significantly cheaper, more affordable, and available at-home,” said firm founder Vinod Khosla. (Disclosure: Khosla’s daughter Anu Khosla is on ProPublica’s board.)

On March 21 — when the U.S. had recorded only a few hundred COVID-19 deaths  Bosch submitted the test for emergency authorization, a process the Food and Drug Administration uses to expedite tests and treatments.

You know how the story ends but really READ the WHOLE THING.

Stablecoin sentences to ponder

The real reason people use stablecoins is regulations make it difficult to convert crypto assets to traditional assets. Stablecoins are a creature of regulation in the same sense that money market funds were created in the 1970s to get around government limits on interest banks could pay retail depositors while the economy was running at double-digit inflation.

That is from Aaron Brown at Bloomberg.

The Slow Rollout of Rapid Tests

I thought the Biden administration would at least make original pandemic errors. But no, its been making all the same errors. Slow on vaccines, slow on rapid testing and slow on new drugs, and far too little investment. Still after a year and half of shouting it from the rooftops we are getting some rapid tests. Josh Gans has an interesting reminder focusing on Canada that this has been an example of expert failure not just US failure. 

Rapid test advocates such as myself have suddenly moved from fringe crazies who were told they didn’t understand the science to we need them and we need them now.

Several cases in point:

  • The CDC now says that unvaccinated students exposed to Covid can “test to stay.” That is, rather than sending all the students in a class (or a school!) home when one tests positive for Covid, they test the students instead and so long as they are negative, they stay.
  • The US Government is going to order 500 million rapid tests and distribute them free to the public … by mail!

It is hard to appreciate what a sea change this is in terms of attitude. A year ago, when we tried to roll out rapid tests — that had already been purchased and were sitting in their millions in warehouses in Canada — to Canadian workplaces, we were told that those tests had to be administered by health care professionals in PPE in secure and sanitised environments with all manner of precautions taken that really took the “rapid” out of rapid testing let alone exploding the costs to businesses who wanted to keep their workers safe. This was because they required those long-swabs etc. Eventually, short swabs were permitted. Then self-swabbing supervised in the workplace. Then swabbing at home while on a virtual call with a professional for that supervision with the swabs being picked up and then taken for safe disposal. Finally, we got to self-administered, at-home screening without supervision and you could pop your negative swan in the bin. A year after we had been told that you needed a full-court medical professional press to do this, our kids in Ontario were sent home with 5 rapid tests to use over the holidays. Only a couple of weeks ago, the Ontario government’s advisory board, the Ontario Science Table, finally endorsed the use of rapid tests in this way.

Earlier data on Texas abortion restrictions

Between 2011 and 2014, Texas enacted three pieces of legislation that significantly reduced funding for family planning services and increased restrictions on abortion clinic operations. Together this legislation creates cross-county variation in access to abortion and family planning services, which we leverage to understand the impact of family planning and abortion clinic access on abortions, births, and contraceptive purchases. In response to these policies, abortions to Texas residents fell 20.5%and births rose 2.6% in counties that no longer had an abortion provider within 50 miles. Changes in the family planning market induced a 1.5% increase in births for counties that no longer had a publicly funded family planning clinic within 25 miles. Meanwhile, responses of retail purchases of condoms and emergency contraceptives to both abortion and family planning service changes were minimal.

That is an NBER paper from 2017 by Stefanie Fischer and Corey White.

Will this Australian polity prove sustainable?

And what would Lysander Spooner say?:

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the two-week rule for vaccinated close contacts was under constant review.

And:

When Shaun Ferguson was browsing the plants at a local nursery last Tuesday afternoon, he never thought it would land him in two weeks quarantine in a medi-hotel.

That night he received the text message that no one wants to receive.

“At about 11.30 that night I got a text message from SA Health saying that I’d been to a potential exposure site for the Omicron strain,” Mr Ferguson said…

There were three other people on the bus with him, including a woman who had also visited the pet and plant shop in Glengowrie.

“She said, ‘I never go anywhere, I’m fully vaccinated … I just decided I’d go there and get this cat brush and now look what happens. I’m in quarantine,'” Mr Ferguson said.

There is much more to the story, and for the pointer I thank A.

How Many Lives has Vaccination Saved?

A Commonwealth Fund study:

The U.S. vaccination program campaign has profoundly altered the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing nearly 1.1 million deaths. Even with only about 60 percent of Americans vaccinated to date, the nation has dodged a massive wave of COVID-19 deaths that would have started as the Delta variant took hold in August 2021. Because of Delta’s rapid and nationwide spread, deaths due to COVID-19 would have far exceeded all previous peaks.

Our estimates suggest that in 2021 alone, the vaccination program prevented a potentially catastrophic flood of patients requiring hospitalization. It is difficult to imagine how hospitals would have coped had they been faced with 10 million people sick enough to require admission. The U.S. has 919,000 licensed hospital beds and typically accommodates about 36 million hospitalizations each year.3 Even the 2.6 million COVID-related hospitalizations that occurred during 2021 placed an enormous strain on hospitals, with many staff lost not only to the virus but also to exhaustion and burnout. Faced with such unprecedented demand, U.S. hospitals operating under crisis standards of care would likely have had no choice but to turn away tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of individuals.

The methodology is somewhat unclear so take this with a grain of salt–many future studies will look at this question–but one million lives saved is not outside the realm of the possible. One million lives saved at a $7 million value of statistical life is a 7 trillion dollar savings. Keep this number in mind when evaluating pandemic investment.

Photo Credit: Lindsay Bonanno

Will China ever get Pfizer?

As Covid-19 started spreading in Wuhan early last year, Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang’s drugmaker appeared to have scored a big win: A partnership with Germany’s BioNTech SE, which went on to produce with Pfizer Inc. one of the world’s most successful vaccines against the coronavirus.

Yet almost a year later, the shot is yet to be approved in mainland China, and in recent weeks Beijing has thrown its heft behind a homegrown mRNA vaccine, allowing China’s Walvax Biotechnology Co. to test its own experimental shot as a booster. The developments are raising new questions about whether the U.S.-German vaccine, licensed for the potentially lucrative Greater China region by Guo’s Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., will ever be used on the mainland, where President Xi Jinping’s administration has backed a nationalist agenda on all fronts, including in the fight against the virus.

Here is more from Bloomberg.  And will China ever get Omicron?  Yes.  Pfizer, maybe not.

Air pollution and the history of economic growth

I have not had the chance to read this through, but here goes:

Documenting environmental pollution damage affects the magnitude of aggregate output, net of pollution damage, and the contribution to national product across economic sectors. For example, air pollution damage from the production side of the economy amounted to over 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002…

I have presented estimates of these effects in the US economy between 1957 and 2016. This period featured the passage of the Clean Air Act (CAA) in 1970 and its subsequent implementation through the 1970s, as well as several business cycles. This research suggests that pollution damage began to decrease just after the CAA was enacted, and the orientation between GDP growth and that of the adjusted measure, or environmentally adjusted value added (EVA), switched.

That is from Nicholas J. Muller, all a bit awkwardly worded.  Jeremy Horpedahl is more to the point:

If we use the standard measure of GDP, growth indeed slowed down after 1970. If instead we augment GDP for environmental damages, the period after 1970 was actually faster! The adjustment both slows down growth from 1957-1970, and speeds up growth after 1970.

Worth a ponder.

Estonian E-Residency

A useful post on getting E-Residency in Estonia:

Being an e-Resident of Estonia means that you get remote access to the Estonian economy from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t mean you get to vote or receive access to Estonian welfare services, or even that you get to live there. However, access to the Estonian market also means access to the European Union’s market —twenty-six economies which, when combined, constitute the world’s third largest.

Starting a business in the United States is hard and complicated and full of all kinds of expenses. Trust me, Spectacles has taught me that lesson at least. As an e-Resident or citizen of Estonia, however, it’s incredibly simple and inexpensive. Opening a business in the country costs €120, and everything can be done online through Estonian government web portals which feature detailed and useful explanations of everything one needs to know. This is why Estonia has the most startups per capita in the EU and is ranked the most entrepreneurial country in Europe by the World Economic Forum.

Becoming an e-Resident of Estonia is similarly straightforward. All you need to do is head to the government website—which actually feels modern and professional, especially compared to US government pages—and fill out the application. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour. All you really need is a headshot, a picture of your passport, links to your social media, and some answers to various questions about your motivation and interest.

When you’re finished, you pay a €120 fee and wait around 30 days to find out the result of your application.

E-Residency is a fascinating program, but it’s merely one example of how streamlined, modern, and innovative Estonia’s bureaucracy is. The features and mechanics which underpin e-Residency extend far beyond it.

Estonia also has a flat tax of ~20% which is administered automatically. Voting is also online.

Do we live in a “post-outrage” world?

From David Siders at Politico:

“I wish we lived in a world where outrage mattered. But I think we live in a post-outrage world, and voters today are affected only by that which directly affects them, which is why the economy, affordability and cost of living is such a major issue for so many people. While a lot of people will express sympathy for that 12-year-old girl in Texas who got raped but no longer can terminate her pregnancy, it’s not what motivates them to go to the polls, sadly.”

And some details:

Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic strategists, pollsters and officials reveal skepticism that the court’s decision will dramatically alter the midterm landscape unless — and perhaps not even then — Roe is completely overturned. Privately, several Democratic strategists have suggested the usefulness of any decision on abortion next year will be limited, and some may advise their clients not to focus on abortion rights at all.

Some of that thinking is colored by Virginia’s gubernatorial race earlier this year. After the Supreme Court allowed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy to take effect in Texas, the party was so sure abortion would resonate with voters that Democrat Terry McAuliffe made it a centerpiece of his campaign, saying “it will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote.”

By the time ballots were cast, just 8 percent of voters listed abortion as the most important issue facing Virginia, according to exit polls. Even worse for Democrats, of the people who cared most about the issue, a majority voted for the Republican, Glenn Youngkin.

Cancellations up, outrage down — model that!

My Conversation with the excellent Ruth Scurr

A fine discourse all around, here is the transcript and audio.  Here is part of the CWT summary:

Ruth joined Tyler to discuss why she considers Danton the hero of the French Revolution, why the Jacobins were so male-obsessed, the wit behind Condorcet’s idea of a mechanical king, the influence of Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments during and after the Reign of Terror, why 18th-century French thinkers were obsessed with finding forms of government that would fit with emerging market forces, whether Hayek’s critique of French Enlightenment theorists is correct, the relationship between the French Revolution and today’s woke culture, the truth about Napoleon’s diplomatic skills, the poor prospects for pitching biographies to publishers, why Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws would be her desert island read, why Cambridge is a better city than Oxford, why the Times Literary Supplement remains important today, what she loves about Elena Ferrante’s writing, how she stays open as a biographer, and more.

And an excerpt:

COWEN: Is there a counterfactual path where the French Revolution simply works out well as a liberal revolution? If so, what would have needed to have been different?

SCURR: In terms of counterfactuals, the one I thought most about was, What would have happened if Robespierre hadn’t fallen at Thermidor and the relationship between him and [Louis Antoine Léon de] Saint-Just had continued? But that’s not the triumph of the liberal revolution. That would have merely been a continuation of the point they had gotten to. For a triumph of the liberal revolution, that would have needed to be much, much earlier.

I think that it was almost impossible for them to get a liberal constitution in place in time to make that a possibility. What you have is 1789, the liberal aspirations, the hopes, the Declaration of Rights; and then there is almost a hiatus period in which they are struggling to design the institutions. And that is the period which, if it could have been compressed, if there could have been more quickly a stability introduced . . .

Some of the people I’m most interested in in that period were very interested in what has to be true about the society in order for it to have a stable constitution. Obviously when you’re in the middle of a revolution and you’re struggling to come up with those solutions, then there is the opening to chaos.

Definitely recommended.  And I am again happy to recommend Ruth’s new book Napoleon: A Life Told in Gardens and Shadows.