COVID-19: What Would Rosie The Riveter Do?

Half the readers I hear from accuse me of Trump Derangement Syndrome. The other half accuse me of rabid Trump fandom. In truth, I think of US President Donald J. Trump in exactly the same way I think of most other politicians: He’s usually wrong and often dangerous. But when he’s right he’s right.

He’s right when he says that America needs to “open up” soon.

If anything, his target date of Easter is too distant.

The longer we wait to get moving again, the longer it will take to recover.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will descend into, or fall deeper into, poverty.

The longer we wait, the more Americans will die of causes other than coronavirus.

If we wait TOO long, starvation and malnutrition will be among those causes.

We don’t have to like it. That’s how it is whether we like it or not.

One of the oddest assertions I’ve heard from American politicians is that the COVID-19 outbreak is “our generation’s World War 2.”

I’m far too young to remember World War 2, but I’ve listened to veterans talk about it, read its history, and love the era’s propaganda posters. Rosie the Riveter in “We Can Do it!” “Lay-Offs Cost Lives!” “Work To Win.”

I’m trying to imagine a propaganda poster for “our World War 2,” and all that comes to mind is a hand reaching out from under a bed to grab a government check.

That image isn’t nearly as inspiring, is it? Nor is the sentiment nearly as practical.

America won World War 2 by working and fighting. It isn’t going to beat COVID-19 by shutting down and cowering.

Our politicians are thoroughly enjoying their extended Mussolini cosplay holiday, but their “lockdown” orders and such are merely feeding their egos, not starving the virus. The longer we continue to put up with that authoritarian nonsense, the harder it’s going to get to reclaim our rights and put them back in their places. Once they get used to filthy serfs like you and me taking a knee when they pass by, they’re not going to want to give it up.

The more quickly we seize back control of our lives — from the virus and from the politicians — the more quickly our lives will start getting better again.

Call me a Trump fanboy if it makes you feel better, but I’m with the president on this one.

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Yes, the COVID-19 Panic Does Call for Drastic Measures

As an old saying goes, it’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.

The world’s politicians are innovating on the fly (pun intended) by trying to combine the fall — the COVID-19 epidemic — with the sudden stop, bringing life and commerce to a halt through draconian travel restrictions, business closures, etc.

We don’t yet know what the COVID-19 death toll is going to be. In the US,  based on current numbers, it looks like we’re going to see quite a few more deaths than occurred in the 9/11 attacks, more even than from the usual seasonal flu, but not nearly as many as predicted by the “I know the word exponential! I know how to draw a hockey stick on graph paper! Quick, hide under the bed, or COVID-19 WILL GIT YEWWW!” social media crowd.

What we’ve not yet seen is anything remotely justifying the declarations of dictatorship coming from politicians at all levels of government.

Everyone from mayors to governors to the president himself is getting in on the act, claiming authority to shut down businesses the politician doesn’t consider “essential” — and at the federal level to centrally plan and manage those businesses’ operations — to clear the streets of anyone and everyone whose activities the politician hasn’t listed as “approved,” etc.

On the back end, those same politicians are trying to figure out how to cushion the economic blow of their own authoritarian stupidity with bank and corporate bailouts, individual stimulus checks, and other voodoo rituals that threaten to turn a short, mild recession into a Greater Depression.

I do agree that the situation calls for drastic measures, and I have one to offer:

I propose a 90-day total quarantine, effective immediately, on all elected or appointed government officials.

By “total,” I mean they are to be restricted to their homes without telephone or Internet access, and physically restrained if they try to leave, have a communication device smuggled in, or speak to anyone through an open window.

As compensation (and to keep ringers from smuggling out proclamations), the taxpayers should provide for grocery delivery.

Three months without politicians exploiting panic to enhance their own power would reduce both the short-term death toll and the long-term problems of economic recovery.

Alternatively, we could all just start ignoring them and their edicts and get back to living again whether they like it or not.

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Don’t Let Politicians Use Pandemic as an Excuse for Dictatorship

By invoking the Defense Production Act, which “authorizes the President to require acceptance and priority performance of contracts or orders and to allocate materials, services, and facilities to promote the national defense or to maximize domestic energy supplies,” US president Donald Trump has declared himself America’s economic dictator.

He’s also moved to seal the nation’s borders, even as governors and mayors have banned public gatherings, ordered businesses to close or severely curtail operations, sealed off neighborhoods, and even in some cases — San Francisco comes to mind — ordered the entire populations of cities to remain indoors.

And we’re letting them do it.

Why? Because they say it’s about “public health.”

If this was about public health,  obvious vectors for the spread of COVID-19 like the Transportation Security Administration and its airport security screening lines would have been among the first things shut down.

Your neighborhood tavern, where people are seldom closely packed unless one is trying to sweet-talk another back home, is closed. TSA agents are still making airline passengers line up to be groped and coughed on.

If it was about public health, America’s non-violent prisoners would have been released to make more room for “social distance” between the remaining prisoners, reduce staffing needs, and prevent the virus from raging through captive populations.

Some prisons and jails are releasing some inmates or refusing to take in more. But not nearly as many prisoners are being released as Americans are being made prisoners in their own homes.

If this was about public health, government would be letting the market produce, and set prices for, essential goods instead of trying to seize control of production and suppress “price gouging.”

This isn’t about public health. It’s about political power. And things are getting very ugly, very quickly.

Vladimir Putin WISHES he had the power that American politicians have seized in the last couple of weeks.

Latin American dictators are green with envy at the enthusiasm with which Americans are surrendering our freedoms.

Pardon my French, people, but WTF?

A month ago half of us didn’t trust Donald Trump, half of us didn’t trust Nancy Pelosi, and many of us trusted neither. Now all of a sudden most of us seem to be practically begging both of them, and their henchmen, to order us around.

That’s not going to contribute to the public health. It’s not going to shorten the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s just going to crater our economy and leave us less free after than we were before.

If we force the politicians to knock this nonsense off now — by ignoring their orders until they run to the front of the parade by countermanding themselves — we might get off light. A short recession, maybe, and perhaps even some politicians who are scared into respecting our rights a little bit more, for a little while.

If we keep going along to get along, we’re more likely to end up thinking of the Great Depression and Stalin’s reign as versions of “the good old days.”

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A Proposal for Real Coronavirus “Stimulus”

On March 12, the New York Federal Reserve announced a $1.5 trillion injection of money into the US financial system. Three days later, it cut its benchmark interest rate to zero and announced it would be buying at least $500 billion in government bonds and another $200 billion in mortgage securities.

The Fed is returning to a policy of “Quantitative Easing” in response to the COVID-19 panic. The idea behind these moves is that throwing money at the banks and the government will “stimulate” the economy by keeping credit easy for consumers and business borrowers.

I have a better idea.

The Fed’s new QE announcements already top $2.2 trillion.

For Fiscal Year 2018 (the year your last tax return covered), the US government only collected $1.6 trillion in individual income tax.

The projected amount for Fiscal Year 2019 is probably more than that, but not a great deal more, and almost certainly not as much as the Fed is already planning to throw into the mix.

If the US government is serious about “stimulus,” it should announce that instead of accepting tax returns this year, the IRS will immediately (no waiting for April 15, no questions asked) cut and mail refund checks for every dollar of income tax it collected in Fiscal Year 2019.

Instead of the Fed magically creating a bunch of new money out of thin air and giving it to banks and the government, just give Americans our own money back.

We’ll take that money to stores and buy things with it (that’s “actual economic demand”), which will stimulate the economy a whole lot more, and a whole lot faster, than the Fed’s magic money sitting in bank balances waiting to be loaned out (that’s “prospective economic supply”).

Yes, my proposal would result in an even bigger federal budget deficit this year than usual, adding more to the government’s debt. But that was going to be the case even before the coronavirus. And both major American political parties have made it clear — in action even when they don’t admit it — that they don’t believe deficits matter.

If the COVID-19 panic is the economic equivalent of a heart attack, and that’s pretty much what it is, the Fed’s response amounts to slapping the patient’s face and urging it to wake up while praying loudly and fervently.

Actually putting people’s tax money back in their pockets would be the equivalent of a direct adrenaline injection to the patient’s heart.

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Paul Krugman, COVID-19, and Broken Windows

The jury is still out on which of two things — COVID-19 or the panic over COVID-19 — will cost more lives and do more damage to the global economy. My money’s still on the latter. In the meantime, I’ve developed a surefire, Groundhog Day type test for whether the emergency is over:

Watch for Nobel laureate economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman to start trying to convince us it was, all in all, actually a GOOD thing.

Krugman on 9/11: “[T]he direct economic impact of the attacks will probably not be that bad. And there will, potentially, be two favorable effects.”

Krugman on Fukushima: “[T]he nuclear catastrophe could end up being expansionary, if not for Japan then at least for the world as a whole.”

Krugman would even have us believe that Pearl Harbor ended the Great Depression (which actually ended more than half a decade later). “If we suddenly had a threat of war and a military build up,” he once asserted on ABC News’s Roundtable,  “you’d be amazed how fast the economy would recover.”

Krugman is the 21st century’s foremost evangelist of the Broken Window Fallacy.

In Frederic Bastiat’s “parable of the broken window,” a shopkeeper’s son carelessly breaks a window pane.

A witty onlooker — Paul Krugman’s ideological ancestor — considers this a good thing because it creates business for the glazier who replaces broken windows.

As Bastiat points out, though, while the cost of replacing the  pane is seen, other things aren’t:  That was money the shopkeeper could have spent on a new pair of shoes, or on a book he wanted to read.

Instead of buying something that improves his life, the shopkeeper has to spend that money just getting back to his previous condition.

To cover costs like replacing the window, he probably raises prices, meaning his customers have to spend more on his products, leaving them less to spend on other things they might like.

Even the glazier’s customers get screwed. Broken windows increase demand, which means higher prices. The man building a new house has to pay more, and wait longer, for new windows.

The matter is a loss, not a gain, for everyone except the glazier.

Can we expect to see some long-term beneficial consequences from COVID-19 and its associated hysteria? Yes.

Two likely outcomes are large, permanent increases in “telecommuting” (working from home instead of traveling to an office) and “distance learning” (taking classes from home instead of traveling to a university campus).

Those two trends were already noticeable, but fear of contagion is boosting them tremendously. When the fear subsides, the benefits will be remembered. Not as many people will be returning to offices and campuses as left them. That means lighter traffic, lower energy consumption, and more spare time for many workers and students.

Those are good things, but we could have had them any time we wanted them, with or without COVID-19 and the associated mass hysteria. Contra Krugman, any “bright side” to catastrophe costs more than it’s worth.

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Freedom: Don’t Let Politicians Tell You to EARN IT

The Wile E. Coyotes of the Internet — US Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) — are sure that THIS time  they’ve finally found a made-to-order tool that can take out the Roadrunn … er, those meddling ki … er,  the First Amendment and  Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Surely, they believe, their latest super duper special Acme rocket —  the “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act of 2020,” aka “EARN IT” — will finally allow them to deprive you of access to the strong encryption that protects your privacy, so that they (and every hacker on the planet) can snoop on you at will.

Here’s the cartoon character genius and deviousness of the EARN IT Act:

It doesn’t actually OUTLAW strong encryption, nor does it REQUIRE companies to cripple their products with “back doors” for law enforcement.

All it does is create a commission to establish “best practices” for Congress to pass into law.

What could possibly be the harm in that? Well, the EARN IT act would deprive any Internet platform that doesn’t implement those “best practices” of its Section 230 protection from liability for content created by parties other than itself.

What kind of “best practices,” one might ask?

“Best practices” for protecting user security? Nope.

“Best practices” for protecting freedom of speech, promoting vigorous commerce in digital goods and services, etc.? Nope.

“Best practices” for “preventing, identifying, disrupting, and reporting child sexual exploitation.”

You had to know that these cartoon character politicians were going to pull yet another “for the chilllllllldren” gag, and they lay it on thick — the words “child” and “children” appear nearly 300 times in the bill’s text.

And you have to know that among the first set of “best practices” to come down the pike will be demands that platforms prang  encryption so that law enforcement can more easily read your emails, your text messages, etc.

If you’ve thought the matter through, you probably also know that the EARN IT Act and its associated “best practices” won’t prevent or disrupt child exploitation. The strong encryption genie has been out of the bottle for decades and no number or type of “best practices” can stuff it back in. People who have something to hide already have, and will continue to use, the tools they need to hide it. The only thing EARN IT will prevent or disrupt is your privacy and freedom.

Only the innocent and law-abiding among us would be affected by the EARN IT Act, and the effects on good and important things like freedom and privacy would be wholly negative.

Graham, Blumenthal et al. certainly know this too. Don’t let them trick you into thinking they’re just harmless idiots like Wile E. Coyote.

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