China’s Bizarre Authoritarian-Libertarian COVID Strategy

It’s difficult to understand China’s COVID strategy. On the one hand, China has confined millions of people to their homes, even to the extent of outlawing walking outside or having food delivered. Many thousands of other people have been taken from their homes and put into quarantine centers. On the other hand, vaccination is not mandatory! I can understand authoritarianism. I can understand libertarianism. I have difficulty understanding how jailing people, potentially without food, is ok but requiring vaccinations is not. (Here’s a legal analysis of China’s vaccine policy.) Moreover, put aside making vaccines mandatory because as far as I can tell, China has only recently started to get serious about non-coercive measures to vaccinate the elderly. The Washington Post notes:

The vaccination drive has been mild compared to some of the other pandemic-control measures and did not prioritize the elderly. Some younger people have been required to get vaccinated for their jobs, but vaccination of retirees remains optional. Incentives like eggs, grains and other foodstuffs — a staple of China’s vaccination drive since last year — are now being bolstered by home checkups, mobile clinics and the widespread mobilization of public servantsto ensure the elderly get shots.

China is shutting down factories costing its economy trillions of dollars and the best they come up with to get elderly people vaccinated is egg incentives???!

It’s difficult to understand what the Chinese leadership is thinking. It’s conceivable that the Chinese vaccines are much less effective than we have been led to believe but that seems unlikely. As far as we can tell the Chinese vaccines are not quite as good as the mRNA vaccines but good enough to prevent severe disease and pass FDA approval in the United States. My best guess is that President Xi Jinping is so powerful and insulated from reality and alternative viewpoints that he is just soldiering on either oblivious to the pain and foolishness of his policies or indifferent, much like Mao before him during the great famine.

The Essential Women of Liberty

Here’s another excellent book in the Essential Scholars series. You can download the book for free, find additional resources, introductory videos and more at the Women of Liberty web page.

This series of essays, written by leading scholars in the United States, Canada and Europe, explores the lives and ideas of some of the most influential women over the past few centuries whose work contributed enormously to the democratic, prosperous and free societies that many people enjoy today. They are a remarkably diverse group of women. Their lives span the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries and their contributions are significant despite the barriers each faced. Some were educated at prestigious universities while others only had informal schooling. Some were academics, others writers and journalists, and still others activists. What they had in common was an understanding of the power of freedom and liberty, and their influential advocacy of such during their lives. These essays are a celebration and recognition of their lives and contributions.

The end of history?

How a united Ireland would work is unclear: many voters in Northern Ireland are attached to free healthcare with the NHS, even though waiting lists for treatment are the worst in the UK, and hate the idea of paying €60 to see a doctor as is the case south of the border.

Here is more from the FT, the context is that Sinn Fein is now asking for a referendum within five years.

Mindfulness sentences to ponder

According to a new paper, mindfulness may be especially harmful when we have wronged other people. By quelling our feelings of guilt, it seems, the common meditation technique discourages us from making amends for our mistakes.

“Cultivating mindfulness can distract people from their own transgressions and interpersonal obligations, occasionally relaxing one’s moral compass,” says Andrew Hafenbrack, assistant professor of management and organisation at the University of Washington, US, who led the new study.

Here is the story.  Here is the paper, maybe bogus methods but that too points out this result is certainly possible.

*The Baby on the Fire Escape*

An excellent book, full of substance and going well beyond cliche, the author is Julie Phillips and the subtitle is Creativity, Motherhood, and the Mind-Baby Problem.  Strikingly unsentimental, it covers women writers who balanced (or didn’t balance) their creative urges with their child-rearing responsibilities.  Excerpt:

Grace Hartigan married at nineteen and had her son the same year, 1941.  In 1975 she said:

“My son bitterly opposed my painting.  He would stay after school and would come in at five o’clock, look at me, and say: “I know, you have been painting again.”  When he got to be twelve and his father had remarried, I sent him to California.  I have never seen him since.  It is a very bitter relationship.”

I especially enjoyed the chapters on Doris Lessing, Ursula Le Guin, and Angela Carter.  Will make the year’s “Best Non-Fiction” list.

Sunday assorted links

1. New paper on how the U.S. government financed three world wars.

2. Looming squeeze on Covid boosters?  Isn’t it the job of government to provide public not private goods?  Which of those are we doing right now?

3. Will the median voter end up ruling on abortion rights? (NYT)

4. “The Shadow of the Neolithic Revolution on Life Expectancy,” a paper by a bunch of economists.

5. Do we overestimate how extreme our opponents are?

6. Fracking technologies can boost greener energy sources too. Revised: correct link here.

7. The Arnold Kling proposal for network-based higher education.

“Almost Georgism”

Or you could say Georgism along the q rather than the p:

Landlords in England could be forced to let empty shops in a bid to rejuvenate high streets, under government plans.

Under the move, set to be unveiled in Tuesday’s Queen’s Speech, buildings left vacant for a year would have to be entered into a “rental auction”.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has calculated that one in seven shopfronts across Britain is empty.

Here is the full story, via Fergus McCullough.

Do welfare payments limit crime?

The effect of SSI removal on criminal justice involvement persists more than two decades later, even as the effect of removal on contemporaneous SSI receipt diminishes. In response to SSI removal, youth are twice as likely to be charged with an illicit income-generating offense than they are to maintain steady employment at $15,000/year in the labor market. As a result of these charges, the annual likelihood of incarceration increases by a statistically significant 60% in the two decades following SSI removal. The costs to taxpayers of enforcement and incarceration from SSI removal are so high that they nearly eliminate the savings to taxpayers from reduced SSI benefits.


The increase in charges is concentrated in offenses for which income generation is a primary motivation (60% increase), especially theft, burglary, fraud/forgery, and prostitution.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Manasi Deshpande and Michael G. Mueller-Smith.

The LGBTQ+ earnings gap

There is a new paper on this topic, here is the abstract:

This article provides recent estimates of earnings and mental health for sexual and gender minority young adults in the United States. Using data from a nationally representative sample of bachelor’s degree recipients, I find a significant earnings and mental health gap between self-identified LGBTQ+ and comparable heterosexual cisgender graduates. On average, sexual and gender minorities experience 22% lower earnings ten years after graduation. About half of this gap can be attributed to LGBTQ+ graduates being less likely to complete a high-paying major and work in a high-paying occupation (e.g., STEM and business). In addition, LGBTQ+ graduates are more than twice more likely to report having a mental illness. I then analyze the role of sexual orientation concealment and find a more pronounced earnings and mental health gap for closeted graduates.

That is from Marc Folch at the University of Chicago.

Saturday assorted links

1. Do people see their political opponents as more stupid than evil?

2. Sam Enright on Charles Haughey.

3. “I argue that lawmakers representing more homogeneously white districts have greater electoral incentive to moderate their voting records, since the two parties compete more for support of white voters than for the support of minority voters.”  Link here.

4. Petite Maman is an excellent movie.  It is rare to see a film with a truly original premise.

5. Puffin photo.

6. Are iPhone users worse drivers?

I Hate Paper Straws!

I am interviewed by James Pethokoukis at his substack Faster, Please! Here’s one Q&A:

JP: American political debates are generally more interested in redistribution than long-term investment for future innovation. What are the incentives creating that problem and can they be fixed?

A big part of the incentive problem is that future people don’t have the vote. Future residents don’t have the vote, so we prevent building which placates the fears of current homeowners but prevents future residents from moving in. Future patients don’t have the vote, so we regulate drug prices at the expense of future new drug innovations and so forth. This has always been true, of course, but culture can be a solution to otherwise tough-to-solve incentive problems. America’s forward looking, pro-innovation, pro-science culture meant that in the past we were more likely to protect the future.

We could solve many more of our problem if both sides stowed some of their cultural agendas to focus on areas of agreement. I think, for example, that we could solve the climate change problem with a combination of a revenue neutral carbon tax and American ingenuity. Nuclear, geo-thermal, hydrogen–these aren’t just clean fuels they are better fuels! Unfortunately, instead of focusing on innovation we get a lot of nonsense about paper straws and low-flow showers. I hate paper straws and low-flow showers! There is a wing of the environmental movement that wants to punish consumerism, individualism, and America more than they want to solve environmental problems so they see an innovation agenda as a kind of cheating. Retribution is the goal of their practice.

In contrast, what I want is for all of us to use more water, more energy and yes more plastic straws and also have a better environment. That’s the American way.

Subscribe to Faster, Please! for more.

What I’ve been reading

1. Dervla Murphy, A Place Apart: Northern Ireland in the 1970s.  Imagine a single Irish woman in the 1970s bicycling though Northern Ireland at the height of The Troubles.  Charming and perceptive throughout, and remarkably well-written.  Murphy is in general an underrated figure, and note she is still at it, recently in her 90s she did a Lunch with the Financial Times.

2. Marc F. Bellemare, Doing Economics: What You Should Have Learned in Grad School — But Didn’t.  A sober and very useful book, covering topics such as “Navigating Peer Review” and “Finding Funding” and “Doing Service.”  The advice offered is on the mark.  Yet the book as a whole makes economics (academia?) as a whole come across as a grim and dysfunctional profession.  You won’t find much on “generating new ideas” or “influencing policy” or “inspiring students.”  I guess they taught all those things so well in grad school!

3. Gregory Forth, Between Ape and Human: An Anthropologist on the Trail of a Hidden Humanoid.  The claim is that the Flores mini-humanoids may have existed on the island until quite recently, or possibly even still today.  I am not persuaded (for one thing the villagers promote too many other ancillary hypotheses about these creatures, for instance they fly), but at the very least this is a fascinating take on how to interpret eyewitness evidence.  And the author is a credible authority.  They should invite this guy to Hereticon, he is an actual heretic!

William R. Cross, Winslow Homer: American Passage is a definitive biography with wonderful photos, maps, and images.  Not a “picture book” but a book with amazing pictures.  And text.

Yaffa Assouline, Avant-Garde Orientalists: Tribute to Igor Savitsky.  One of the largest collections of Russian avant-garde art is in Karakalpakstan in northwestern Uzbekistan — you can view the work here, recommended.

Thomas W. Merrill, The Chevron Doctrine: Its Rise and Fall, and the Future of the Administrative State, “This book is primarily a work of history about the Chevron doctrine — where it came from, how it spread, the fate of attempts to cabin it, and recent arguments that it should be overruled o significantly rewritten.”

I have not read Jerry Z. Muller, Professor of Apocalypse: The Many Lives of Jacob Taubes, but it appears to be a work of promise.

In defense of extremism

That is my latest Bloomberg column, the argument is super-simple:

Calling something “extremist” is not an effective critique. It’s a sign that the speaker or writer either doesn’t want to take the trouble to make a real argument, or is hoping to win the debate through rhetoric or Twitter pressure rather than logic. It’s also a bad sign when critics stress how social media have fed and encouraged “extremism.”

I favor plenty of extremist ideas. For instance, I think that the world’s major cities should adopt congestion rush-hour pricing. (I know, it hardly sounds extreme, but I assure you that many drivers consider it extremely outrageous to have to pay to drive on roads that were free a few hours before.) London and Singapore have versions of congestion pricing, with some success, but given the public reaction and that most other major cities do not seem close to enactment, it has to count as a relatively extreme idea.

I also favor human challenge trials, arguably an even more extreme idea. In human challenge trials, rather than waiting for a virus to infect those vaccinated (randomly) with the placebo, scientists recruit volunteers and infect them deliberately and immediately. This accelerates the speed of a biomedical trial. To many people there is something repugnant about asking for volunteers and then deliberately doing them harm by injecting them with the virus.

Maybe human challenge trials aren’t a good idea. But calling them extreme or repugnant does not help explain why.

We then get into some more “extreme” ideas…

Someone complaining about “extremism” is a likely predictor of an epistemic vice.