Category: Law

So what’s it like being red-pilled by the median voter theorem?

President Biden will limit the number of refugees allowed into the United States this year to the historically low level set by the Trump administration, reversing an earlier promise to welcome more than 60,000 people fleeing war and persecution into the country.

Here is more from the NYT.  I have been stressing for several years now that the Democrats are not going to die on the hill of an ultimately unpopular immigration policy.  Here is an earlier Angus, penned before the Afghanistan withdrawal news:

The marketing and associated cultural capital, however, are indeed very different, and you can expect that to continue and possibly intensify.

Update: Biden will budge.

Mexican drug cartel now assassinates its enemies using drones?

Ho hum, nothing to see here:

Mexico’s drug cartels are notoriously well armed and equipped, with some possessing very heavy weaponry, including armored gun trucks sporting heavy machine guns. Now at least one of these groups appears to be increasingly making use of small quadcopter-type drones carrying small explosive devices to attack its enemies. This is just the latest example of a trend that has been growing worldwide in recent years, including among non-state actors, such as terrorists and criminals, which underscores the potential threats commercially-available unmanned systems pose on and off the battlefield.

Various police raids seem to have uncovered quadcopters armed with shrapnel.  Just how speculative is this report?  I do not know, but I have been expecting such developments for quite a few years now, and it would be sad if finally they were upon us.  Here is the full story by Joseph Trevethick.

“RCTs for me but not for thee”?

Zeke Emanuel, a professor of healthcare management at the University of Pennsylvania and a former coronavirus adviser to US president Joe Biden, said: “I understand they wanted to be transparent, but did they really have to announce a complete pause? “My concern is this will unnecessarily undermine confidence in the vaccine, and possibly all [Covid-19] vaccines. Are people going to know the difference?”

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said: “The damage is done, this is going to be hard to resume. All [the CDC] can do is say how rare this is, show how safe and efficacious the J&J vaccine is. But this action is going to be hard to reverse.”

Here is the full FT piece.  Since lives are at stake, how about this for a proposal?  The FDA is allowed to suspend the use of any positive expected value vaccine only after running an RCT on their underlying theory of credibility and public risk communication in the relevant context.  (NB: asking about attitude change is not nearly good enough!)  And after they run the RCT, they have to wait three weeks to schedule the meeting on evaluating the data.  After all, that is how long it takes, right?

Estamos de acuerdo?

By the way, one reader wrote to me: “I submit to you that the credibility of the FDA on the relative safety of various vaccines may be a minor issue in the pool of issues that prevent the level of vaccinations we would like to see.”  Do we even know if that is true or false?

From the comments, on FDA credibility

This maybe a violation of Cowen’s second law, but my cursory examination turns up no useful hits in PubMed about FDA credibility. We have the odd op-ed, some drivel about people thinking the FDA is more credible about cigarettes when they learn that FDA regulates cigarette manufacture, and precious little else of remote utility.

Almost as though senior FDA leadership have not bothered, after over a year of pandemic to even commission a rigorous survey of which action(s) the public would view as credible. Certainly what they are doing is not coherent with any of the effective medical communication techniques I was taught nor with any of my training for dealing with public responses to calamity.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe somewhere the FDA dumped a couple of grand into even a Mechanical Turk survey to justify actions that will have billions in cost implications and might lead to the death of thousands of folks (particularly overseas).

I mean, the civil servants at the FDA surely are not just LARPing as pop psychologists, somewhere I’ve missed they have actual peer reviewed literature guiding any of their moves regarding communication, credibility, and risk management, right?

That is from Sure.  So what is the best piece on FDA credibility?  (Yes, I know the work of Daniel Carpenter and have a CWT with him coming out and we do address this directly.)  And what has the FDA itself done to study the issue of its own credibility?

The Covid culture that is Australia

Health Minister Greg Hunt has refused to guarantee Australia’s borders will open even if the whole country has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Australia’s borders have been shut since March 2020 and will remain closed until at least the middle of June, leaving more than 36,000 Australians trapped overseas, unable to return due to caps on the number of quarantine spaces.

The closure also bans citizens from leaving the country unless they have an exemption or are travelling to New Zealand.

Mr Hunt suggested at a news conference in Canberra on Tuesday the international border closures could last much longer and stay in place even if the entire population had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” Mr Hunt said.

“If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.”

“We still have to look at a series of different factors: transmission, longevity [of vaccine protection] and the global impact – and those are factors which the world is learning about,” he said.

Really people?  Via Chris.

Hearing: “Vaccinations and the Economic Recovery”

I will be testifying to the JEC of Congress today at 2:30 pm est.

Witnesses:       

Dr. Paul Romer
Nobel Prize Winning economist and NYU Professor
New York, NY

Dr. Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, FIDSA
Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine & Infectious Diseases, NYU School of Medicine & Bellevue Hospital
CEO of Just Human Productions
New York, NY

Dr. Alexander Tabarrok
Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center and Professor of Economics George Mason University
Fairfax, VA

Dr. Belinda Archibong
Assistant Professor, Economics
Barnard College, Columbia University
New York, NY

Link here.

“Free-floating credibility” is underrated

The presence of a minuscule risk for some of the adenovirus platform Covid vaccines means that the FDA has put a hold on J&J and still won’t approve AstraZeneca.

In response to critics, the FDA says that their credibility is on the line.  If they allow vaccine use to proceed, and a modest number of people die as a result (with a big increase in net lives saved), the FDA and its defenders claim that people will lose faith in the FDA.  Yet that is exactly the wrong thing to say, it is self-serving, and it exacerbates the problem at hand.

When the FDA announces that they have to ban a vaccine because its credibility is on the line, that very announcement puts their credibility on the line.  It is a simple two-line proof.  Either they are lying about whether their credibility is on the line, in which case they have wrecked their credibility with the lie.  Or they are telling the truth, in which case by definition their credibility is indeed on the line.

One lesson is that you should not try to extend your credibility too far, because you will end up unduly constrained.

For purposes of contrast, consider alcoholic beverages.  At the federal level they are regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (who are they again?), and also various state and local authorities.

As a result of this unusual, Prohibition-rooted distribution of authority, alcohol does not come with nutritional labeling.

Now, in that setting, if a bunch of kids die from binge drinking, the credibility of the Bureau is not much damaged.  The Bureau does not have to ban alcohol on the grounds that if it does not, the credibility of the Bureau will be ruined.  The Bureau simply never put its credibility on the line in this manner.

Now you might favor a tighter regulation of alcohol for some reason, but you could achieve such regulation without tying up the credibility of the ATTT Bureau in knots.  Similarly, the Department of Transportation regulates road safety (again with state and local authorities as well), but it has not put its credibility on the line when 40,000 or so Americans die each year on the roads.  Again, maybe they should enforce tougher safety standards, but they shouldn’t tie their credibility to getting road deaths down to one hundred, and indeed they do not.  They end up with more degrees of regulatory freedom.

Let’s say I were to announce that my credibility as a public intellectual were to depend at how I would fare at darts on British pub night.  That would be a big mistake, for multiple reasons.  It is like with the FDA.  If I am lying about that credibility tie, I hurt my credibility as a public intellectual.  If somehow I am telling the truth, well let’s just hope everyone else stays home that evening because my credibility is going to take a beating.

What I call “free-floating credibility” is underrated.

And that is precisely what defenders of the FDA destroy when they…defend the FDA.  They make the FDA worse.

NB: You are “out of your lane” commenting on this analysis unless you have studied game theory with Thomas Schelling.

Vaccine fact of the day

Moderna and BioNTech shares jumped 10.5 per cent and 6.1 per cent, respectively, on Tuesday as the vaccine makers benefited from news of the J&J pause.

Norway’s health authorities estimated that their vaccination plans could be delayed by eight to 12 weeks if they could not use either the J&J or the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.

The biggest short-term loser here is Europe, not the United States.  Nor will this help Australia reopen.  But does the American median voter or median FDA senior bureaucrat care?  What will the CVS liability lawyers advise from here on out?  What will the French anti-vaxxers think?

Here is the full FT article.

Ideology and performance in public organizations

We combine personnel records of the United States federal bureaucracy from 1997-2019 with administrative voter registration data to study how ideological alignment between politicians and bureaucrats affects the personnel policies and performance of public organizations. We present four results. (i) Consistent with the use of the spoils system to align ideology at the highest levels of government, we document significant partisan cycles and substantial turnover among political appointees. (ii) By contrast, we find virtually no political cycles in the civil service. The lower levels of the federal government resemble a “Weberian” bureaucracy that appears to be largely protected from political interference. (iii) Democrats make up the plurality of civil servants. Overrepresentation of Democrats increases with seniority, with the difference in career progression being largely explained by positive selection on observables. (iv) Political misalignment carries a sizeable performance penalty. Exploiting presidential transitions as a source of “within-bureaucrat” variation in the political alignment of procurement officers over time, we find that contracts overseen by a misaligned officer exhibit cost overruns that are, on average, 8% higher than the mean overrun. We provide evidence that is consistent with a general “morale effect,” whereby misaligned bureaucrats are less motivated.

They seem to be saying (among other things) that government is worse under Republican administrations because Democrats in the bureaucracy are not as loyal to their missions?  That is a new NBER working paper by Jorg L. Spenkuch, Edoardo Teso, and Guo Xu.

Economics in One Virus

Here is John Cochrane, Megan McArdle, Ryan Bourne and myself on the pandemic. Lots of good material. John Cochrane was excellent on testing in a pandemic and why it’s different than medical testing, starting around 22:00. My follow-up also had some good material, our antibodies, our selves.

Ryan Bourne’s book Economics in One Virus is very good.

 

Atul Gawande and Zeke Emanuel Now Support Delaying the Second Dose

Many people are coming around to First Doses First, i.e delaying the second dose to ~12 weeks. Atul Gawande, for example, tweeted:

As cases and hospitalizations rise again, we can’t count on behavior alone reversing this course. Therefore, it’s time for the Biden admin to delay 2nd vax doses to 12 weeks. Getting as many people as possible a vax dose is now urgent.

Now urgent??? Yes, I am a little frustrated because the trajectory on the new variants was very clear. On January 1, for example, I wrote about The New Strain and the Need for Speed (riffing off an excellent piece by Zeynep Tufekci).  Still, very happy to have Gawande’s voice added to the cause. Also joining Gawande are the power trio of Govind Persad, William F. Parker and Ezekiel J. Emanuel who in an important op-ed write:

If we temporarily delay second doses …that is our best hope of quelling the fourth wave ignited by the B.1.1.7 variant. Because we did not start this strategy earlier, it is probably too late for Michigan, New York, New Jersey and the other Northeastern states. But it might be just in time for the South and California — the next places the more infectious strain will go if historical patterns repeat.

…Drug manufacturers selected the three- or four-week interval currently used between doses to rapidly prove efficacy in clinical trials. They did not choose such short intervals based on the optimal way of using the vaccines to quell a pandemic. While a three- or four-week follow-up is safe and effective, there is no evidence it optimizes either individual benefit or population protection.

…Some complain that postponing second doses is not “following the science.” But the scientific evidence goes far beyond what was shown in the original efficacy trials. Data from the United Kingdom, Israel and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that first doses both prevent infection and reduce transmission. In people with prior infection, experts are beginning to recognize that a second dose could provide even less benefit. Following the science means updating policies to recognize new evidence rather than stubbornly maintaining the status quo.

Emanuel is on Biden’s COVID-19 task force so consider this op-ed running the flag up the flagpole. I predict Topol will fall next.

I would be surprised, however, if the US changes course now–too many people would then ask why didn’t we do this sooner?–but dose stretching is going to be important for the rest of the world. Why aren’t we doing more to investigate fractional dosing? Even if we went to half-doses on the second dose–the full second dose appears to be strong–that would still be a significant increase in total supply.

Addendum: I have argued for sending extra doses to Michigan and other hot spots such as NJ. Flood the zone! The Biden administration says no. Why? Production is now running well ahead of distribution as more than 50 million doses have been delivered but not administered. It would be a particularly good idea to send more single-shot J&J to reach hard to reach communities–one and done.

From the comments, on Covid and our response

It is simply not a tenable policy to oppose pandemic lockdowns on the premise that COVID-19 only negatively affects a certain portion of the population. First, the fact that COVID-19 disproportionately killed the elderly was not something that was readily apparent right out of the box, when the virus was spreading rapidly. Hindsight is 20-20. Second, focusing solely on mortality is short-sighted given that approximately one-third of all people who get over COVID-19 suffer “long haul” symptoms that persist for months and may even be permanent in some. We cannot simply claim that the non-elderly have no reason to fear COVID-19.

So far, COVID-19 has killed more Americans than we lost in World War II, and it took the war five years to do what the virus did in one year. Even though the majority of the deaths were 65+, these are staggering numbers. Losing well over 100,000 people under the age of 65 in one year alone is nothing to sneeze at, and that’s with lock-downs and other harsh measures being taken. A “let them live their lives” approach would doubtlessly have escalated those numbers greatly.

The best early policy for any pandemic is to ramp up rapid testing as fast as possible, and test people constantly. A widespread testing regime (like in South Korea) would allow uninfected people to live more or less normally, while stifling the spread of the virus by identifying infected people quickly so they can immediately quarantine and prevent further spread. [Alex’s] earlier post on Testing and the NFL is instructive on that point. Such a testing regime could have enabled us to avoid harsher measures later on. But, unfortunately, America was led at the time by a president who did not prioritize testing (and in fact discouraged it to hide the spread of the virus) and sought to pooh-pooh its danger, shrugging off even the slightest mitigation efforts, like masks. Even after he got it, and was hospitalized, almost put on a ventilator, he acted as though it was nothing. That leadership caused a dangerous cognitive dissonance in public perceptions of COVID-19 — a dissonance that is causing people to take unreasonable risks, refuse to get vaccinated, and otherwise take actions that will make it even harder for us to get out from under this pandemic.

Focusing on the Great Barrington Declaration itself, the big problem with its approach is that it presumes that “herd immunity” will naturally occur with COVID-19 at some point. The evidence indicates, however, that natural infection does not lead to permanent immunity. The worse a person’s symptoms from COVID-19, the longer their immunity lasts, but that’s it. The only immunity that is possible now is through vaccination, and even that will require yearly updates as the virus mutates as it is already doing. Eventually we will have it under control. But the suggestion that people under 65 can just safely infect themselves into herd immunity is likely an impossibility, and certainly not a good enough foundation to rest any pandemic policy on. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00728-2

None of this is meant to minimize or challenge the obvious economic and mental health effects of certain pandemic policies. There are a great many costs being imposed by lock-downs and other policies. Businesses are failing and not coming back, jobs are being permanently lost, people are feeling isolated, on and on. All of that is tragic, and could have been largely avoided had we aggressively pursued testing (especially rapid-result testing) from the outset. When the next pandemic comes, I hope our descendants remember that lesson. Because once the pandemic started spreading because we didn’t get a testing regime in place, it was too late, and then the harsher policies became inevitable. The horse was out of the barn, and the game changed for good.

That is from James N. Markels, responding to Don Boudreaux in these comments.

Here is another way to put the broader argument, not my preferred first-order response, but I think significant nonetheless.  Given the way government and public choice work, anything that kills over half a million Americans is going to be a big deal for policy, whether we like it or not (Don should be the first to recognize that government will restrict your liberties for far less than 500k deaths!).  You want the best feasible version of a response, as there isn’t really a stable libertarian response pattern out there.  Trying partial but non-sustainable libertarian approaches will in the end get you more and more statism as the virus keeps on defeating you, deaths rise, and calls for ever-greater state action increase.  A lot of what libertarians don’t like about lockdowns in part stems from the “do nothing” response of the first two months of notice that we Americans had when Covid first appeared in China.

Some of the Covid-era deregulations will stick

Lawmakers in Texas and at least 19 other states that let bars and restaurants sell to-go cocktails during the pandemic are moving to make those allowances permanent. Many states that made it easier for healthcare providers to work across state lines are considering bills to indefinitely ease interstate licensing rules. Lawmakers in Washington are pushing for Medicare to extend its policy of reimbursing for certain telehealth visits. States also are trying to lock in pandemic rules that spawned new online services, from document notarization to marijuana sales.

Deregulation has long been a central tenet among Republican politicians, but many of the coronavirus-inspired changes have gained bipartisan support…

In February, California State Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, co-authored legislation with a Republican lawmaker to make permanent the coronavirus-era suspension of liquor laws that prohibited drinking in sidewalk extensions known as parklets and other outdoor dining spaces used by multiple vendors. If approved by two-thirds of the legislature and signed by the Democratic governor, it would take effect in September.

State legislatures in Connecticut and Arkansas also are weighing bills to extend outdoor dining allowances made during the pandemic.

Mr. Wiener said he has spent years studying ways to modernize the state’s liquor laws, some of which are 100 years old.

Here is much more from Aaron Zitner and Julie Bykowicz at the WSJ.  For the pointer I thank Greg Roemer.

Deregulation has never been more imperative

Electric vehicle charging stations can in fact be provided by the private sector, just as gas stations are.  But will state and local governments step out of the way?:

There are several regulatory barriers to the deployment of EV charging infrastructure including permitting of charging infrastructure, the lack of a technical standard for charging infrastructure, policy uncertainty regarding sale of electricity, regulation regarding EV-related investment by utilities, etc. Cities which face these regulatory barriers should address them as early as possible by building political consensus and then mandating the relevant government agency to address each issue whether it be modifying building codes, streamlining permitting, deciding a standard in consultation with OEMs, etc. As mentioned in Chapter 4, city governments hold a comparative advantage in zoning and building codes and permitting, and they should use those levers to good effect. Cities should use their regulatory influence smartly to remove / mitigate barriers to create a conducive environment for private investors. This report also shows that perse a direct subsidy to private infrastructure providers is not required because charging networks offer a viable business opportunity – the notable exemption being cities with large proportions of on-street residential parking where residents might be undersupplied with charging infrastructure as the economics under those conditions are less appealing.

Here is the full report, from Stephen Crolius and the Clinton Climate Change Initiative.

Has Covid ushered in a new era of U.S. regional decentralization?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, and here is the opener:

The homogenization of America — through national TV and politics, cheap transportation and big online or nationwide businesses such as Walmart and Amazon — is a longstanding story. Regardless of how true it is, or ever was, a new truth is emerging from the pandemic: In the last year, the differences among the U.S.’s states and regions have become increasingly apparent — and they are more temperamental than political.

I recently spent two weeks in Miami Beach, and the mood was festive. On the street, many people wore masks, but once they entered the packed restaurants and clubs, the masks came off and the partying started. (Disclosure: I am vaccinated, and was an observer, not a participant.) The midnight curfew was by no means always respected.

That scene might make you recoil in horror, and many observers predicted catastrophe for Florida’s policies. But Florida’s death toll is close to the national average, and Governor Ron DeSantis is extremely popular. The state’s lockdowns were never very strict, its schools have been open since August, and Miami’s NBA team is welcoming fans, albeit with seating restrictions. The economy has been booming for some time, in part because people who wish to spend money or organize get-togethers have been drawn to Florida.

And my sense is that most Floridians feel vindicated. I spoke to several people who admitted they had had Covid earlier in the year and described the experience with a giggle or a smirk, as if it were nothing serious. Just last week DeSantis announced that Florida would have nothing to do with plans for vaccine passports…

San Francisco is one obvious point of contrast. The schools still have not reopened, with no clear date in sight, even though the teachers have been offered vaccines. (Meanwhile, the school board decided to rename many of its schools.) Large public gatherings are rare, and inside dining has been largely prohibited. Like Florida, the city can boast of very low death rates from Covid, and like Floridians, many San Franciscans seem proud of their course.

You might think this is all because Florida is a Republican-leaning state. But Donald Trump won only 51.2% of the vote there last year, and Joe Biden won Miami-Dade County by seven percentage points…

Overall the Southeast would seem to be a big winner, as the psychological effects of low rates of unemployment may prove more durable than the effects of high rates of casualties.

There is much more at the link, including a comparison of Virginia and Maryland.