Thanks again to Gene Epstein and Reason for sponsoring last week’s immigration debate between myself and Mark Krikorian. Thanks to Mark, too, for debating before an unsympathetic audience. The resolution, you may recall, was: The current pandemic makes it all the more necessary for the federal government to tighten restrictions on immigration. Here are my extra thoughts on the exchange.
About six months after the rise of COVID-19, humanity still doesn’t know the answers to a long list of critical questions. Yet amazingly, we have a straightforward and ethically unimpeachable way to decisively answer all of these questions – and countless more. The method is: paid voluntary human experimentation.
Coronavirus originated in China, migration brought it here, and suddenly life is terrible. Dogmatic libertarians can keep droning on about “liberty,” but everyone else now plainly sees that strict immigration controls could have stopped this plague – and only strict immigration controls can stop the plagues of the future. This argument sounds so right. What could possibly be wrong with it?
If you’ve bought anything in the past six weeks, you’ve seen shortages. In grocery stores, you’ve see empty shelves. Online, you’ve seen long waits. If you know econ 101, there’s an obvious explanation: price-gouging laws. When supply falls, the market’s normal reaction is to raise prices. Government’s reaction, however, is to paint the market’s normal reaction as vicious exploitation – and order prices to stay flat despite reduced supply. Shortages inevitably result. While this story has great merit, you don’t have to look closely to realize that it’s not the full story of shortages. Why not?
“Caplan’s point is a good and striking one. His conclusion is fairly extraordinary, though: He is apparently claiming that all (or a plurality) of the major decision makers in the American government are power-hungry demagogues who deliberately decided to channel money into stimulus rather than research because they are bad people.”
In the last few years, social scientists have started heavily appealing to “state capacity” to explain the wealth of nations. Why do some countries prosper? Because they have great state capacity. Why do others flounder? Because they have crummy state capacity. What do floundering countries need to do in order to prosper? Build state capacity, naturally.
I was glad to see Florida beaches reopen last weekend. Agree with me or not, though, this part seems crazy: “The beaches will be open from 6 to 11 a.m. and 5 to 8 p.m local time.” When you reduce hours of operation, you obviously increase congestion, which in turn obviously impedes social distancing. Upshot: If you’re going to reopen, you should reopen completely.
The simplest explanation is that the current recession is terrible. Quite right; maybe it’s twice as terrible as the Great Recession. But last time around, I heard zero first-hand reports of nominal wage cuts, and near-zero such stories in the news. I can understand a doubling of incidents, but not this.
I recently voiced fear of coming inflation. Yet on reflection, high inflation is already here. While measured inflation remains low, I’ve been arguing for years that CPI bias heavily distorts official measures. My point has always been that official measures of inflation are too high, because official measures fail to properly account for rising quality and variety of goods. In the last month, however, all this has suddenly reversed. Due to the coronavirus, official measures of inflation are now much too low.
“Suppose I threaten to shoot you unless you do what I want. Are you free?” At least one person in the audience dodged the question, but everyone knew “No” was the correct answer. This then led straight to Leiter’s next question: “Suppose I threaten to starve you unless you do what I want. Are you free?”