Government More Deadly Virus

Do you know what I’d rather not think about? The coronavirus panic. Do you know what it seems no one, including me, is thinking about? Anything other than the coronapocalypse.

People think about the things that catch their attention. That’s normal. The changes forced on society over the past couple of weeks are huge. It’s no wonder people can’t stop thinking about this.

It’s wise to take things seriously, but not to let them cause panic.

Here are some other things that might be important to learn from this:

  • If you’re sick, stay home!
  • If you are waiting to see if government can save you, you’re barking up the wrong flag pole. You have the most influence over your own life and health. Use it.
  • Don’t stay submerged in coronavirus hysteria. You can leave the cell phone in your pocket and take a walk. Let the sunlight and fresh air work their healthy magic.
  • The time to stockpile supplies is before a crisis occurs. Otherwise you help cause shortages and increase the possibility of violence. Maybe less so here than in urban areas, but it’s a danger everywhere.
  • There’s no such thing as “price gouging.” Higher prices during greater demand make sure the stores don’t run out. Government’s unwise intervention, imposing socialist economic policies, guarantees empty shelves, whether it happens in America or Venezuela. I’d rather pay a higher price for something I need than to not be able to get it at any price because stores weren’t allowed to charge higher prices during increased demand.
  • When government bungles the response — often by responding at all — and then tries to cover up the bungling with heavy-handed police state tactics as is happening now, things get worse than they otherwise would.

This is also an opportunity for personal growth.

There are people in high-risk groups who probably shouldn’t be going into public to shop. If you aren’t in this group, why not ask them what they need, and go get it for them? Compete with your friends and see who can help the most people. Make it a sport.

No one knows what the coming weeks will bring. I believe the virus itself is less dangerous than the social effects of the panic and the anti-social power-grabs by various governments.

You will suffer in the coming months. It’s not going to be the fault of any biological virus, but of an institutional one. Political government is the deadly virus most in need of extinction.

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By The Time We Notice We’re Hungry, It May Be Too Late

“[A]s the top U.S. watermelon-producing state prepares for harvest, Reuters reports, “many of the workers needed to collect the crop are stuck in Mexico …. Without the workers crops could rot in fields throughout the country,” starting in Florida and California where major harvests begin in April and May.

As you can probably guess, the problem stems from the COVID-19 panic. The US State Department has halted routine visa applications and consulates are limiting both staff numbers and staff contact with applicants. That’s making it difficult for the quarter million migrant workers who normally pick America’s crops to get here and get to work.

Most Americans aren’t hungry. Yet.

But unless something changes, we’re going to start GETTING hungry in a couple of months.

And by then, it will be too late. Planting cycles don’t turn on a dime for our convenience and ripe crops don’t wait. They get picked when it’s their time, or they go to waste. We get the food while the gettin’s good, or we don’t get it at all.

There’s a non-trivial chance that Americans are rushing headlong into a horror we haven’t seen since the Civil War — mass starvation — or, at the very least, malnutrition on a scale we haven’t suffered since the Great Depression.

We can’t avoid that outcome with stimulus checks in our mailboxes. All the money in the world won’t buy you a cantaloupe if there aren’t any cantaloupes to buy.

We can’t hold it off with corporate bailouts, either. It’s not money Big Agriculture’s lacking for, it’s permission for its workers to come pick the crops.

If we want to keep eating, our politicians are going to have to knock off this “shutdown” nonsense and let people get back to work.

Yes, even if that means that COVID-19 remains a problem or becomes a bigger problem.

The varying probabilities of catching the disease, and the varying probabilities of dying from it, pale next to the absolute, indubitable, 100% certainty that if we do not eat, we WILL die.

Politicians can’t just shut down major parts of an economy at will, start them back up, and expect things to go well. They can’t throttle the food supply chain without consequences.

We gotta eat.

Which means we’re going to have to insist that the politicians hang their Mussolini costumes back up in the closet and magnanimously permit us to get back to our lives.

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If It’s Wrong to Steal Your Wallet…

I’ve been thinking more about Brian Leiter’s ethical trap.  (Caveat: I’m quoting Leiter’s questions from memory, so his exact wording will slightly vary).

During our debate, he repeatedly asked the audience:

“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?”

Leiter’s point: Threatening workers with starvation is precisely what employers do to make employees do what they want!  How then is this any worse than threatening them with a gun?

In my original critique I replied:

[T]here is a vast moral difference between getting you to do what I want by threatening to take away something to which you are morally entitled (e.g., your life) and getting you to do what I want by threatening to take away something to which you are not morally entitled (e.g. my assistance).

On reflection, though, I could have explained this answer much more effectively.  Consider this line of questioning:

“Is it wrong to steal someone’s wallet?”

Yes, duh.

“So is it wrong to steal someone’s boyfriend?”

Normally not, right?  So what’s the difference?  Simple: You are morally entitled to your wallet, but you are not morally entitled to your boyfriend!  The rightful owner of your boyfriend, after all, is himself.  This is true even though many people suffer far more over a lost boyfriend than a lost wallet.

Deeper point: The language of “stealing a boyfriend,” though metaphorically compelling, is ethically confusing.  Why?  Because it makes it sound like you are the boyfriend’s legitimate owner.

Similarly, the language of “threatening to starve a person” is metaphorically compelling but ethically confusing.  Why?  Because it makes it sound like the person is the legitimate owner of someone else’s food.  Taking the food you grew and refusing to share the food I grew have radically different moral status even when they have the same physical effect.

To be fair, you could say, “The employer who fires a lazy worker has a right to do so, but he still deprives the worker of his freedom.”  My reply: “freedom” is a highly moralized concept.  Meaning: When moralists invoke the concept of freedom, they’re implicit making claims about rights.  Logically speaking, “The First Amendment protects the religious freedom of Muslims” and “The First Amendment deprives Americans of the freedom to ban Islam” are equivalent.  But when you say the former, you implicitly affirm the individual’s right to worship as they please; and when you say the former, you implicitly deny this right.

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Congress Declares Itself Non-Essential

Around the US, “essential” workers are going to work everyday and doing their jobs, COVID-19 pandemic or not. Factory workers are producing things. Truck and delivery drivers are transporting those things. Grocery store employees and food service workers are making sure food reaches our tables.

Congress, not so much.

When US Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) tried to require his fellow politicians to actually show up at the Capitol to vote on the biggest one-off welfare handout in human history, and to  record their votes for posterity, all hell broke loose.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called Massie a “dangerous nuisance” for having the gall and temerity to suggest that the House get the constitutionally required quorum (216 members) together and put them on record instead of just pretending it had such a quorum and holding an undifferentiated voice vote.

US Representative Peter King (R-NY) said it was “disgraceful” and “irresponsible” of Massie to imply that King should show up for work instead of sitting at home in New York collecting his $174,000 salary, his lavish fringe benefits, and his comfortable retirement package.

President Donald Trump called Massie a “third-rate grandstander” and advocated his expulsion from the Republican Party. I mention this only to acknowledge Trump’s expertise in third-rate grandstanding, and to suggest that he’s not otherwise qualified to so much as carry Massie’s briefcase.

And so it went down on March 27:

Massie called for a recorded vote. The chair pretended to count those standing in favor of a roll call vote and announced there weren’t enough.

Upon Massie’s further objection that the House lacked a quorum, the chair spent four seconds pretending to count to 216 in a nearly empty chamber before asserting that yes, there was a quorum, and declaring the bill passed.

If any other body pulled that kind of stunt, its members would find themselves in court answering to charges of honest services fraud. But when Congress lies, even as openly and arrogantly as it did here, it usually gets away with doing so. Massie presumably lost this battle.

But there’s a larger war on over the credibility of American politicians and political institutions, and if we listen to what Congress is actually saying, it just shot itself in the foot in public.

Here’s the message Congress just sent America:

“We as individual members of Congress are far too important, and Congress itself is far too un-important, for us to be expected to do our jobs if doing our jobs entails any personal risk, or even inconvenience.”

Or, to put it a different way, “we’re far more important than Subway sandwich artists, and the House of Representatives isn’t nearly as important as a Subway  store. Our safety and comfort is paramount and the job we do isn’t important enough to do right.”

I’m not sure I agree with Capitol Hill’s (when they bother to be there) perfumed princes and princesses as to just how very special and important they are, but I think they’re onto something with the second part.

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Decarceration: COVID-19 is Opportunity Knocking

On March 23, 14 US Senators from both major political parties asked US Attorney General William Barr and Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, to “transfer non-violent offenders who are at high risk for suffering complications from COVID-19 to home confinement.”

It’s a smart idea, and one local jails and state prisons around the country are already implementing. But it raises an important question and also points to an important opportunity.

The question: If the prisoners in question pose no threat of violence, why were they sent to jail or prison in the first place?

The opportunity: The COVID-19 outbreak should mark the beginning of mass decarceration, not just a temporary exception to a dumb and damaging practice.

More than 2.3 million Americans live in cages.

The vast majority of them are not murderers, rapists, armed robbers, or kidnappers.

In fact, many of them didn’t victimize anyone at all — they didn’t pick your pocket or steal your car, they just got caught disobeying this or that arbitrary government edict (for example, laws against using or selling marijuana).

But instead of letting them pay their own rent, buy their own food, and provide for their own medical insurance — not to mention earning money to pay restitution to their victims if they have any — American politicians extort nearly $200 billion a year from American taxpayers to confine them in institutions that provide those already criminally inclined with higher educations in their chosen fields while simultaneously promoting the spread of every malady imaginable from anti-social behavior to substance abuse to, yes, infectious disease.

That was crazy before the pandemic. It’s crazier now, as even the most dim-witted among us (our politicians) are beginning to understand. And it would be bat-feces insane to go right back to it once the COVID-19 panic ends.

We already have at our disposal, and are already using, the  technology and manpower we need to do away with incarceration for all but the most violent and dangerous criminals: The electronic tracking devices already used to enforce “house arrest” and “work release” convicts, and correctional institution staff who can be transitioned into jobs as tracking monitors and/or probation and parole officers.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. We’ve had the way for ages. COVID-19 has at least temporarily created the will. Let’s hold on to the lesson permanently instead of falling back into error  when this present crisis ends.

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Open Borders: Now Do You See What We’re Missing?

In Open Borders, I never claim that immigration restrictions make life in the First World bad.  I don’t try to scare people into supporting more immigration, a la, “Without more immigrants, we’re doomed.”  What I claim, rather, is that immigration is a massive missed opportunity.  While life is fine the way it is (or was, until a month ago), there is no reason to settle for “fine.”  If there is a dependable way to dramatically improve our lives, we should seize it.

What then are we missing?  The standard and correct answer is: tens of trillions of dollars every year; see Clemens’ classic “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” article.  Allowing human talent to move from low-productivity countries to high-productivity countries greatly enriches mankind.  A mind really is a terrible thing to waste.  Until recently, though, these tens of trillions of dollars of unrealized gains have been awfully hard to visualize.

Now, human tragedy provides crystal clarity.  If you examine almost any American population center today, it doesn’t look bad – just empty.  Enormous economic sectors – restaurants, entertainment, retail, and much more – have suddenly shut down to fight coronavirus.  As a result, tens of millions of folks are stuck in their homes, wasting their talents, and contributing little to the world.  An optimist would correctly remind us that we’re hardly starving, and we have Netflix.  Yet an optimist should also gladly acknowledge that it would be awesome to suddenly recover all that we’ve lost.  If the virus vanished overnight, a Niagara Falls of missing productivity would be unleashed.

Imagine, though, if we’d never known anything better than what we have today.  If you claimed that we were missing trillions of dollars of gains, most people would be deeply pessimistic.  Some would bemoan the fate of grocery stores if restaurants were legalized, or warn that releasing tens of millions of homebodies into the workforce would lead to catastrophic unemployment.  The main mental block, though, is that people would have trouble visualizing a straightforward way to make us trillions of dollars richer.

If you can get over this mental block, if you can see what we’ve lost, then it’s only a small step further to see what we’re missing.  If people were free to take a job anywhere on Earth, humanity would have more agriculture, more manufacturing, more services.  We would have more restaurants, more homes, more elder care.  We would have more doctors and more janitors, more meal delivery and more cars to deliver the meals.  If coronavirus can eliminate 90% of the restaurant business, open borders can add 90% to the restaurant business.  You’ve seen the former with your own eyes, so you should have no trouble seeing the latter with the eye of the mind.

To be fair, you could demur, “We’ve shut down most of the domestic labor market to prevent the spread of a horrible disease.  Similarly, we shut down most of the international labor market to prevent something similarly horrible.”  The difference, of course, is that the coronavirus is all too real, while the horrors of immigration are speculative at best.  Indeed, on inspection they’re largely imaginary.  And while many will now be add infectious disease to the list of social ills to blame on immigrants, that argument too makes little sense.

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