URLs du Jour

2022-03-13

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  • Magic 8-Ball Says: "Outlook not so good." And I would guess Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies to James Hamblin's guest essay in the NYT: Can Public Health Be Saved? What he sees as the problem:

    In the attempt to have a cohesive message, there appear to be delays and failures to say anything at all. Whatever the intent, the effect has left Americans feeling uncertain of whom to trust, at best. At worst, lied to. The issues go beyond messaging, to failures to update basic definitions or policies that could easily — instantly — be carried out.

    For example, the definition of “fully vaccinated” has not yet been changed to include booster shots, even months after the C.D.C. recommended them for everyone. It can be argued there’s a political benefit to not doing so: If the definition were updated, the administration would no longer be able to tout the success of 65 percent of people being fully vaccinated. Suddenly that number would drop to around 44 percent. (The C.D.C. says people who have gotten their booster are considered “up to date.”)

    Other decisions have been similarly vexing. During the Omicron surge, the administration maintained a travel ban against South Africa for weeks despite the fact that the virus was already in the United States. And for months there was persistent hesitation to acknowledge the usefulness of N95 masks and rapid tests, coinciding with a national shortage of both.

    In isolation, any of these decisions might be dismissed as an earnest oversight. The agency is small, understaffed and underfunded. But taken together, there is a pattern of alignment between health information and political expediency. This approach may placate people in the short term, but it makes the crisis of trust only worse with time.

    Hamblin's recommendations include moving the CDC and the FDA out from under the political department of Heath and Human services, and giving the CDC a lot more money, via a "mandatory funding stream". (They're only getting a mere $7.1 billion now!) My eyes are rolling.

    I'd suggest the rot is inevitable when an agency sees its role as paternalistic nudger of the great unwashed; this causes it to (a) pretend to certainty that it doesn't actually have, (b) be unwilling to admit to past missteps, and (c) expand its nannyism beyond boundaries.

    I'll remind you of the Reason headline I posted just yesterday: Why Can't the CDC Tell the Truth About Smoking and Vaping by Teenagers?

    Until headlines like that go away, there's little hope of "saving public health".


  • Cato vs. O'Toole, Round Three. Randal O'Toole explains How the War on Sprawl Caused High Housing Prices

    High housing prices have reached crisis proportions in much of the country. You can blame the war on sprawl for that.

    Since the 1960s, planners have convinced many state and regional governments to limit the physical spread of urban areas. They called this "growth-management planning," and the most common growth-management tool was an urban growth boundary. Outside such boundaries, development was practically forbidden.

    About 99 percent of Oregon, for example, is outside of an urban growth boundary. In most of those places, families cannot build houses on their own land unless they own at least 80 acres, actually farm it, and have thereby earned $40,000–$80,000 per year (depending on soil productivity) in two of the last three years.

    Randal has a hidden slam at his previous employer, the Cato Institute:

    Many planners—and many libertarians—blame single-family zoning for high housing prices. By creating an oligopoly in housing, they say, such zoning drove up prices. But an oligopoly doesn't work unless it controls the entire supply. And for that, you need a separate set of regulations to stop new homes from appearing on the urban fringe.

    I have no dog in this fight. But I have a house in this fight, so my self-interest is in keeping its sale value high. But, that said, I'm not a fan of either zoning or the "war on sprawl".


  • Are you now, or have you ever been, a card-carrying neoliberal? Samuel Gregg visits a topic of continuing interest, how labels get invented and misused. In this case: Conjuring Up the Neoliberal Bogeyman

    Who’s a neoliberal? Apparently that is an important question these days, given that two major American philanthropic foundations — the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network — regard “neoliberalism” as a menace to civilization: So much so that Hewlett and its partners recently gave a $40 million gift to Harvard and MIT so that they can “help rethink and replace neoliberalism and its assumptions about the relationship between the economy and society.”

    “For more than forty years,” according to the press release announcing the grant, “neoliberalism has dominated economic and political debates, both in the U.S. and globally, with its free-market fundamentalism and growth-at-all-costs approach to economic and social policy.”

    That language reflects the extent to which the Left has upped the rhetorical ante in recent years. Left-leaning thinkers have blamed neoliberalism for things ranging from the aftermath of the second Iraq War to some of the worst forms of social dysfunction in America today as well as its high incarceration rate. Neoliberals, they insist, are all about making the world safe for multinational corporations to do whatever they want whenever they want wherever they want.

    I kind of wish "neoliberalism" was as dominant as the scaremongers imagine it to be. Alas…

    But Gregg's article is a decent history and good summary of the state of the debate: dishonest, overblown, and likely to make things much worse.


  • They do use that word a lot. Philip Greenspun notes: Democrats are willing to fight anyone except a foreign invader? (Bold in original)

    Democrats frequently promise to “fight” when seeking election. Here’s the party’s thought leader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “‘We can and must fight‘: AOC urges Americans to ‘get to work’ to defeat Donald Trump following Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death” (Independent 2020). Nancy’s Pelosi’s 2010 statement on President Obama’s Economic Speech says Democrats are “fighting” for the middle class. The most excellent of current Democrats, as evidenced by his/her/zir/their elevation to the Presidency: “I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first,” said Biden. (NYT, December 2020) Biden’s inaugural address: “I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” Biden in April 2021: “the climate crisis is not our fight alone. It’s a global fight.” The godlike Obama in 2018: “You can make it better. Better’s always worth fighting for.” Obama in 2009: “I will fight for you. … I got my start fighting for working families in the shadows of a shuttered steel plant.” Hillary Clinton’s concession speech: “I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. … please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

    A Quinnipiac University poll, however, found that there was one thing Democrats did not want to fight against: a military invasion.

    As the world witnesses what is happening to Ukraine, Americans were asked what they would do if they were in the same position as Ukrainians are now: stay and fight or leave the country? A majority (55 percent) say they would stay and fight, while 38 percent say they would leave the country. Republicans say 68 – 25 percent and independents say 57 – 36 percent they would stay and fight, while Democrats say 52 – 40 percent they would leave the country.

    It is (of course) unsurprising that a generation brought up on Zinn-based indoctrination and various manifestations of Critical Race Theory believe that America isn't worth defending. And the only people worth "fighting" are … neoliberals?