Cost Disease Socialism
The big immediate story of the last week is the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot three attackers while patrolling the streets during the anti-police riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last summer.
There have been a number of good rundowns on the case in the conservative media, but I wanted to link to something more interesting: a good rundown outside the conservative media, from Jesse Singal at Persuasion.
"Rittenhouse testified that [Joseph] Rosenbaum ambushed him, and that appears to be borne out by the videos: Rosenbaum chases him a significant distance, and Rittenhouse, now hemmed in by parked cars and lacking an easy escape, only shoots Rosenbaum after he lunges at him.
"Most of this was clear from the video that went online shortly after news of the killings went viral....
"The other two men Rittenhouse shot chased him after they and others in the crowd realized he had shot someone. Video shows that Anthony Huber, who was killed, caught up to Rittenhouse and struck him with a skateboard. Gaige Grosskreutz, who survived and testified during the trial, acknowledged in a devastating moment for the prosecution that at the moment Rittenhouse shot him in the arm, he was pointing his own handgun at the teenager.
"According to Wisconsin state law, lethal force is only legally permissible if someone 'reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.'...
"Whatever one thinks of these laws, they are the relevant laws here. And they made for an uphill battle for the prosecution all along, because the videos showed that Rittenhouse was, in fact, threatened by the people he shot. The videos alone didn't prove that a self-defense claim would definitely prevail, of course, but they did come pretty close to proving that Rittenhouse did not instigate any of the shootings in question.
"All of this was right there, on video and in the relevant statutes, for anyone with eyes to see. Why did so many people—including influential people who are paid to get the news right—look away?"
Singal blames "the creation of alternate realities as a result of partisan outlets and journalists more interested in narrative-promotion and ideological point-scoring than in fact-checking."
If only someone had warned them. Oh wait, I did—seven years ago, when I gave advice to the media after they messed up a previous case involving the same combination of deadly force and racial politics.
I warned that the first ingredient, the use of force, always involves complexities which cannot be eliminated by referring to the second ingredient, politics. "Individuals are not symbols and every shooting has its own irreducibly concrete facts and context."
"People are individuals. Their actions are individual actions. Every case of the use of force is a discrete incident with its own unique facts. It is not an abstract morality tale about racism or poverty or heavy-handed policing.
"But of course reporters and commentators had to make this immediately into a 'symbol' of race relations in America. They started doing this five seconds after they discovered the story. It is a reflex drummed into them by decades in the media, where every story must be freighted with as much dramatic, life-or-death, world-shaking significance as it can bear, and then some."
But this implies that commentators want to get the story right. Some do. For others, gross inaccuracies and inflammatory overstatements are the whole point. They have to build up the supposed crimes of their enemies in order to justify their side committing crimes of its own. This is summed up in a rally where Jesse Jackson is rolled out for a protest against the Rittenhouse verdict, and right behind him someone is carrying a banner that reads: "Organize now for real revolution."
It would be terrible if a teenage kid were to shoot people with a rifle, so as an answer to that, let's unleash violent revolution on the streets.
As to what I think of the case, I don't think a 17-year-old should be roaming the streets armed under potentially violent conditions, particularly given his lack of training or support. Lack of support is the most important. What is a policeman's most powerful weapon? His radio. The moment you attack him, you are at war with an entire police force and all the power of society is mobilized against you. A single individual is by comparison a much easier target, which made a deadly confrontation more likely.
But from what we knew about the case early on, the people Rittenhouse shot were in fact rioters, they were violent, and they did initiate the attack, putting him into a position where he needed to use deadly force in self-defense.
Moreover, there are two further pieces of information that came out at about the time of the trial that are relevant to our evaluation of the case. The first is that Rittenhouse was not just a conflict tourist in search of adventure—though some on the right are now encouraging this approach (see David French's comments). He had friends and relatives in Kenosha and ties to the community that made him want to protect it, no matter how foolishly he did so.
The second is that the man who initiated the confrontation, Joseph Rosenbaum, seems to be have been mentally unstable with a long criminal record. He does not seem to have cared one way or the other about the cause behind the riots and was only looking for an excuse for violence.
That brings us to the widest perspective on this, as articulated by anti-woke leftist Freddie deBoer, who points out that a lot of people cheered on anarchic violence in the streets, then became outraged when they got what they asked for.
"At the time of the Kenosha riots, many many people along the left-of-center, including otherwise reformist liberals, endorsed riots to some degree or another. I know quite a few people who were willing to say that riots were just good on the merits, and there were also many saying in some terms or another that these particular riots could not be judged by progressive people due to what had inspired them. This sentiment stretches back a long way but has picked up steam in the last decade and the past year and a half particularly. Here's a pro-riot piece and here's a pro-riot piece and here's a pro-riot piece and here's a pro-rioting interview and here's a pro-looting interview and here's a riots-aren't-necessarily-good-but-they-do-good-things piece and here's a both-sidesy rioting piece, and on and on."
Each "here" in the original is a link to an article. It's a lot of links. DeBoer continues.
"You can't endorse spasms of directionless violence and then complain when some of it plays out in a way that you hadn't intended. This seems totally obvious to me, and yet so many out there want to both condone riots and condemn their chaotic outcomes. It's like putting on music and getting mad when people dance....
"What else did you expect to happen, in that scenario? How did you think this would all go, this peacocking endorsement of violence for its own sake? Reap what you sow. Reap what you sow."
That is the absurdity of endorsing violence to achieve your political aims in a free society. The violence tends to become an end in itself.
The Last Thing We Need to Cap Off the 1970s
Between race riots, inflation, and the return of ABBA and the Love Boat, it's the 1970s again. The one final thing we need to cap it off—and this would be part of the recovery from our current malaise—is for America to become shocked enough by the depredations of an evil regime to boycott the Olympics like we did in 1980.
We already have many excellent excuses to boycott the 2022 games in China, but the latest is an offense committed by the regime specifically against the world of sports: the case of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
"Peng, who is one of China's most recognizable sports stars, has not been seen in public since she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
"'What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault,' Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
"'According to available information, the former world doubles No. 1 hasn't been heard from publicly since she alleged on social media that she was sexually assaulted. We would stress that it is important to know where she is and know her state, know about her wellbeing,' Throssell said."
This is a horrific story, and the only good part about it is the reaction of the World Tennis Association.
"The head of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated.
"'We're definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,' Simon said in an interview Thursday with CNN. 'Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business,' added Simon."
This puts the NBA and its craven kowtowing to Beijing to shame.
As for the International Olympic Committee—well, that's another matter.
"The controversy risks impacting the forthcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, which are set to kick off in Beijing in less than three months. Calls for a boycott have been growing in recent months, owing to concerns over China's alleged human rights abuses. On Thursday, US President Joe Biden confirmed he is mulling a diplomatic boycott of the event.
"The international concern for Peng, who is a three-time Olympian, having represented China at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, London in 2012, and Beijing in 2008, could now strengthen those calls."
This highlights a longstanding problem for the Olympics games, which have become so expensive to host that only dictatorships will do it, because they are desperate for international prestige and because don't have to answer to the public about how they spend its money. The only other bidder for hosting the 2022 games was Kazakhstan, leaving the IOC with a choice between two dictatorships.
I feel like Cassandra these days, because I keep giving excellent advice no one listens to, so let me just re-post my own solution to the problem: the adoption of permanent summer and winter Olympic venues in small, neutral democracies.
The big wave of COVID cases caused by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant has been receding, but the progress seems to have stalled as we head into a new Winter wave caused by people spending more time indoors breathing the same air as each other. (This is why infection and hospitalization rates are lower now in the South, where Winter is a time of mild weather conducive to getting outside, but higher in places like the Upper Midwest.) If last year is any guide, we can expect another big spike caused by increased travel around the holidays.
A lot of this is caused by people who are unvaccinated and have just decided to go back to the pre-pandemic normal and never mind the risk. Now that all of my people are vaccinated, I might be prepared to give in a cry of live and let die, but fortunately, we may not have to, thanks to an extremely effective new treatment from Pfizer.
"A month or so ago, we wrote to you about a new oral antiviral drug from Merck, molnupiravir, that would have 'huge ramifications' for treating those with COVID-19 because it was shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by up to 50 percent.
"Pfizer blew those numbers away late last week in announcing clinical trial data for an oral antiviral drug of its own: PAXLOVID was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by a whopping 89 percent when taken within three days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms."
The new drug is so effective that it triggered a bizarre and totally irrational paradox caused by drug regulation.
"The trial was stopped due to 'ethical considerations' for being too effective. You see, we live in a world in which:
"1. It is illegal to give this drug to any patients, because it hasn't been proven safe and effective.
"2. It is illegal to continue a trial to study the drug, because it has been proven so safe and effective that it isn't ethical to not give the drug to half the patients.
"3. Who, if they weren't in the study, couldn't get the drug at all, because it is illegal due to not being proven safe and effective yet.
"4. So now no one gets added to the trial so those who would have been definitely don't get Paxlovid, and are several times more likely to die.
"5. But our treatment of them is now 'ethical.'
"6. For the rest of time we will now hear about how it was only seven deaths and we can't be sure Paxlovid works or how well it works, and I expect to spend hours arguing over exactly how much it works.
"7. For the rest of time people will argue the study wasn't big enough so we don't know the Paxlovid is safe.
"8. Those arguments will then be used both by people arguing to not take Paxlovid, and people who want to require other interventions because of these concerns.
"9. FDA Delenda Est."
As soon as the FDA has decided that they are done "protecting" us, this will have a huge impact, because I have a feeling that a lot of the people who refuse to take preventive vaccines before they get sick are not going to be so stubborn once they're struggling to breathe.
My only complaint, as a fan of "Firefly," is that they decided to call it "Pax."
Meanwhile, what happened to that other supposed miracle cure, Ivermectin?
For those who want to dive deep in, I came across an excellent overview of the data by Scott Alexander. The whole thing is very long and detailed, but here's the upshot.
"As several doctors and researchers have pointed out (h/t especially Avi Bitterman and David Boulware), the most impressive studies come from places that are teeming with worms. Mahmud from Bangladesh, Ravakirti from East India, Lopez-Medina from Colombia, etc....
"[S]omewhere between half and a quarter of people in the developing world have at least one parasitic worm in their body.
"Being full of worms may impact your ability to fight coronavirus. Treatment of worm infections might reduce the negative effect of COVID-19! And ivermectin is a deworming drug! You can see where this is going...
"The most relevant species of worm here is the roundworm Strongyloides stercoralis.... The good ivermectin trials in areas with low Strongyloides prevalence, like Vallejos in Argentina, are mostly negative. The good ivermectin trials in areas with high Strongyloides prevalence, like Mahmud in Bangladesh, are mostly positive."
Hardest hit: People who complained bitterly when skeptics referred to Ivermection as "dewormer," because that might actually be its main impact on COVID treatment.
At any rate, with highly effective vaccines plus highly effective new treatments, we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. COVID is about to be over, at least as a major, all-consuming cultural and political issue. The only people who will be upset about this are those who unwisely built their political movements and worldview around the issue.
Cost Disease Socialism
Many years ago, I coined the "Paradox of Subsidies" to name a phenomenon in which the government subsidizes something to make it more affordable and just ends up driving up the price and making it less affordable. The primary examples are college, health care, and housing, all of which have been the victims of extensive government efforts to make them "affordable."
"The Biden administration has rebranded its Build Back Better plan as part of a strategy to fight inflation. By subsidizing essential services like child care, the argument goes, American families and the broader economy will experience relief from the rapidly rising cost of living.
"Yet something doesn't add up. Consider that the current proposal would also dramatically shift the cost structure of child care upward with regulations mandating higher salaries, greater credentials and compliance with federal "quality standards." Having made child care more expensive, it then proposes socializing over 90 percent of the cost for a subset of middle- and lower-income households. This won't reduce rising prices so much as mask them. And with informal child care providers, including religious organizations, at risk of being crowded out, the true availability of low-cost child care could even contract.
"This is an extreme example of what we call 'Cost Disease Socialism'—addressing the increasing costs of supply-constrained goods and services by spreading the price among American taxpayers while leaving the cause of the underlying costs unaddressed.
"While Democrats want to socialize the rising cost of everything from higher education to housing, neither party has a strategy for expanding the real supply of these goods and services nor a plan for the inevitable fiscal consequences when sectors with rising costs are moved onto public budgets."
This is the Paradox of Subsidies, but with a new name, "Cost Disease Socialism"—and a new element added. You can see a longer explanation here. As with my theory, government subsidies drive up the cost of the thing they are trying to make more affordable, so government hides the price increases by simply absorbing them. Spiraling consumer prices are hidden by folding them into a spiraling federal budget—which eventually becomes spiraling federal debt or spiraling taxes, or both.
The rest of the article has some elements you might also find familiar.
"Things like clothing, appliances and consumer electronics feature plunging costs even as quality improves.
"This contrasts with big-ticket items like housing, higher education, health care and child care—the sorts of goods most households need or will need. These staples of middle-class life have put a squeeze on family budgets and will continue to dominate the public debate over the coming decade.
"Yet the drivers of everything from unaffordable housing to outlandish health care costs are to be found in regressive regulations that restrict supply and competition while redistributing wealth upward. These are structural problems that aren't easily fixed through the usual tax-and-spend tool kit....
"Our economic policy needs a new grand narrative. A full-scale attack on the regulatory drivers of the costs of living will not be easy, but it has the benefit of addressing the right problem, and in a way that both liberals and conservatives, in their own way, can contribute to solving."
The Niskanen Center seems to be a sort of half-way house for libertarians looking to come in from the cold and make peace with the pro-welfare state establishment. But in the process, at least they are trying to bring along some pro-free-market ideas.
The Closing of the Conservative Mind
At this point, though, I'm almost glad to get anyone talking about ideas. I've been relaying my sense that the conservative movement in the Trump years has become more unintellectual and anti-intellectual (following the example of their figurehead). I recently came across an interesting analysis trying to quantify the effect by way of one particular marker.
It's all summed up in the title, "Liberals Read, Conservatives Watch TV."
"I want to present a new theory of American politics: liberals live in a world dominated by the written word, while conservatism is something of a pre-literate culture. This can be summarized as 'liberals read, conservatives watch TV.'...
"On the Republican side, when it comes to newspapers, the most relied upon source is The Wall Street Journal (11%). On the Democratic side, 30% read The New York Times, and 26% read The Washington Post. Democrats even read the WSJ more than conservatives do, and are just as likely to report The New York Postas a source! On both sides, only a minority reads any particular newspaper, but having half of your supporters read something instead of 15%, or whatever the exact numbers are, creates a completely different culture.
“On the conservative side, 19% got their information from Hannity, and 17% from Rush Limbaugh....
"Even when Republicans do read, the content and style of their sources are similar to TV and radio. In the first figure above, about the same percentage of Republicans read Breitbart as Democrats who read Vox. Both fall into the category of 'news websites,' but there's something very clearly different between them. You might go to Vox and find a serious analysis of the prospects for nuclear fusion or trends in architecture. You would struggle to find anything on Breitbart that is not directly related to some hot button issue in Washington."
Partly we can view this as a side-effect of Republicans becoming more blue-collar in their orientation and appeal, while the Democrats are becoming the party of the educated upper middle class. College educated voters are always going to be more active readers than the non-college educated.
But this also has big effects on how ideas transmit through a movement—or fail to transmit. The whole piece is very long, but the central conclusion I want to highlight is that a movement that reads less and watches TV more is one that is becoming less ideological and more tribal. Hence Republicans' ability to flip 180 degrees in their positions on foreign policy and government spending. The content matters less and loyalty to personalities matters more. TV-watching both reflects and reinforces that shift.
The implication for classical liberals, and particularly for Objectivists, is ominous. Much as we have complained about conservatives over the years, I think we're going to find that we didn't know how good we had it, because at least we were dealing with a movement that reads and is therefore more likely to take free-market economics seriously or tuck into a 1,000-page philosophical novel.
These days, it looks increasingly as if we're dealing with the closing of the conservative mind, a movement that is less open to discussion of any ideas at all. That could have long-term implications that we're only just beginning to see.
This is also the reason why I appreciate you, my readers, all the more.