URLs du Jour

2022-04-10

[Running Out of Everything]

  • And that would be bad. Veronique de Rugy looks at the latest iteration of a stupid idea: Price Controls Would Make a Dire Economic Situation Worse

    History has a way of repeating itself. Or maybe it's that people cling to defunct beliefs, stubbornly refusing to learn from experience. Such stubbornness is on display when pundits, legislators, and President Joe Biden blame inflation on corporate "greed." The fix, they claim, is price controls. But such controls would only bring further economic calamity.

    To explain hikes in the prices of meat, poultry, and energy, many politicians and pundits say we must look no further than cold-hearted corporate CEOs padding their bottom lines at the expense of ordinary Americans. Companies today are allegedly so greedy that they use the pandemic as an excuse to charge extortionate prices. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that "giant corporations who say, wow, a lot of talk about high prices and inflation. This is a chance to get in there and not only pass along costs, but to inflate prices beyond that and just engage in a little straightforward price gouging."

    I'm old enough to remember the last time price controls were implemented. Didn't take much time before the Newsweek cover story over there on your right to show up. (Yes, kids, that was back when Newsweek was something occasionally worth reading.)


  • All we need is practical nucleosynthesis and we'll be fine! But until then, big government can't get out of its own way. The WSJ editorialists muse on the latest instantiation of that truth: Critical Mineral Contradictions.

    The contradictions of White House energy policy keep piling up. In the latest example, President Biden on Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to subsidize the mining of certain minerals in the U.S. that his own Administration is using regulation to block. Weird, right?

    As Mr. Biden notes, government climate policies are driving up demand for critical minerals. An electric car includes huge amounts of graphite (66.3 kg), copper (53.2), nickel (39.9), manganese (24.5), cobalt (13.3) and lithium (8.9). Conventional cars require far less—22.3 kg of copper and 11.2 of manganese. Solar and wind also require more of such minerals than do fossil-fuel plants.

    Foreign sources are often controlled by hostile governments. And the "green lobby" (with willing cooperation from non-subsidizing bits of the Administration) is doing a pretty good job of stimying domestic mining.


  • Unaffected by climate change? Cato's Neal McCluskey wonders if we've got Student Loan Permafrost?

    When President Trump instituted a freeze on federal student loan repayments in mid‐​March 2020, which was codified in the CARES Act soon after, it made sense. COVID-19 had just descended on the country, and we were all trying to get our heads around how dangerous it might be and how to cope with it. Lockdowns, at least short‐​term, seemed to make sense, and even in their absence the pandemic was expected to put a major hit on the economy.

    Fast‐forward to today: Widespread lockdowns are long over. We’re into the second‐booster phase of vaccinations. The economy is humming along to the tune of 3.6 percent unemployment overall, and just 2 percent for Americans with at least four‐year degrees. Yet President Biden just extended the repayment freeze, the seventh such extension. The apparent justification? Inflation is high, and borrowers are not ready to put money into the repayment can they’ve seen repeatedly kicked down the road.

    At this point, there is no logical economic reason to extend the pause, and there probably hasn’t been one since the CARES Act freeze ended on September 30, 2020. By then the economy had already rebounded, while today’s inflation rationale makes no sense since more money in the economy generally makes inflation worse. And why should borrowers say they are prepared to repay when there is always a good chance another pause is coming, especially if they say they are not ready?

    This may buy the votes of a few deadbeats looking to avoid paying back their loans. I'm sure that Biden fervently hopes everyone else getting stuck with the tab isn't paying attention.


  • I'm pretty sure hope is a four letter word. But Jonah Goldberg builds a column around the opposing viewpoint. Hope’s Not a Four Letter Word.

    My AEI colleague Yuval Levin likes to say that optimism is the wrong way to think about the future. He once told me on an episode of The Remnant (and on another occasion when he was throwing stale sandwich crusts through the little sliding window of my cell door), that optimism deprives us of agency. Optimism is just a guess we make from the sidelines about how the future will work out. It implies that the unfolding of events is outside of our control. He prefers the word “hopeful” on the grounds that it suggests a goal we can work toward. I’m not entirely convinced that, as a semantic matter, hope implies more skin in the game than optimism—“hope is not a plan” and all that. But I think his intended point is the right one. If we respond to events as if our responses matter, it’s more likely that we can actually shape events, too.  

    I’ve written a lot about how I don’t like slippery slope arguments or teleological arguments. There is no “right side of history”—at least not the way people normally use that term—i.e., that a specific future is inevitable and therefore you might as well give up fighting for the one you want. This formulation, as Robert Conquest once said, has a “Marxist twang” to it. 

    Similarly, while I have modified my blanket opposition to slippery slope arguments, I think the core weakness of such arguments is that they, too, ignore human agency. Statements like, “If we recognize a right to own a gun, we won’t be able to stop people from having bazookas” or, “If we allow gay people to get married there will be no way to stop people from marrying horses” ignore the fact societies can draw lines, make distinctions, and, like Jean Luc Picard, proclaim “This far, and no further!” (Though I think in this instance it should have been “no farther.”)

    "Hope is not a plan." True enough. But neither is despair.

I Will Fear No Evil

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I found myself imagining a conversation between Robert Heinlein and his publisher:

"Hi, Bob! What do you have in the pipeline? It's been four years since we saw The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which won the Best Novel Hugo."

"I have something even better! Set in the near future of an anarchistic and violent America. The main character is Johann Sebastian Bach Smith…"

"Bob, it seems you name a lot of your characters 'Smith'. Valentine Michael Smith, Woodrow Wilson Smith…"

"Yeah, maybe. Well, Johann is a billionaire, very old and sick, kept miserably alive. He gets a bright idea: to escape the prison of his malfunctioning body, he'll have his brain transplanted into a healthy host."

"Is that something like the 'Spock's Brain' episode on Star Trek last week? Wild. 'Brain and brain! What is brain?'"

[Pregnant pause] "No, it's not like that at all. Anyway, by sheer coincidence, Smith's loyal secretary, Eunice, is killed by a mugger, and her body is used as a host for Johann's brain. And it works. Unexpectedly, even though Eunice is dead, and her brain has been excised to make room for Johann's, there's still something left of her personality, and Johann can converse with it."

"Uh huh."

"There are legal issues. Does Johann's vast fortune follow his brain, or his body? But mostly there are sexual issues. And Buddhism. And…"

"Wait, Bob, tell me more about the sex stuff."

"OK. Since Johann's brain is in the young, beautiful body of Eunice, he/she immediately wants to get laid. There's a lot of internal conversation between Johann and Eunice about how best to go about that. Go after girls or boys? Ah, why discriminate? Both."

"Bob, it seems kind of thin. Can you keep this going for your contractually obligated 500 pages?"

"Sure! I'll just make sure everybody talks a lot about whatever comes to mind. Mostly sex."

"And the ending?"

"I'm not sure yet, but I'll wrap it up in the last five pages or so."

Ahem. I see from the Wikipedia page that Heinlein had lengthy life-threatening health issues after finishing the first draft. More info (and more detail on plot/theme) here.

I reread my $1.25 paperback copy, purchased back in 1971. I read it then, when I probably should have been concentrating more on electromagnetism. (Physics 2a at Caltech was not easy.) I hadn't been tempted to check it out in the intervening years, but it's part of my "Reread Heinlein" project, so…

I found it kind of a slog. Although there are flashes of brilliance: Heinlein adopts the John dos Passos trick of interweaving snippets of news stories. (Actual ones, for dos Passos, imaginary for Heinlein.) That's amusing, but maybe I was just glad to escape the endless Heinleininan character chitchat.