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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Six More Presidents

Nobody asked but …

I’ll say again, the Presidents of the United States are a motley crew.  So far the scorecard reads 45 attempts, 45 clunkers.  I am not saying there were no honorable persons in the group (“honorable” itself is a very iffy word).  But I have practically no regard for the intellects of any of today’s half-dozen.  With the exception of the monstrous Jackson, the other 5 are bound for the oubliette of history.  But, to me, there is no such thing as a great President.  To have been a POTUS places a black mark on that career.  Few (ie none) have risen above.

On some occasions, some wisdom has been dispensed independently of the downward slide to the oval office.  Here are some of my favorite quotes from the second six (7-12):

It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their own selfish purposes.

As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.

The chains of military despotism, once fastened upon a nation, ages might pass away before they could be shaken off.

Let it be henceforth proclaimed to the world that man’s conscience was created free; that he is no longer accountable to his fellow man for his religious opinions, being responsible.

I would bring the government back to what it was intended to be – a plain economical government.

If elected, I would not be the mere president of a party – I would endeavor to act independent of party domination and should feel bound to administer the government untrammeled by party schemes.

But every person who has served in furtherance of this inauspiciously mediocre capacity, in my view, has a great atrocity to their name.  Again, the list:

— Kilgore Forelle

 

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Process and Product

Nobody asked but …

I agree wholeheartedly with James Walpole in his blog post, “Being Late Is for Slaves“. But I must admit that I misread the headline. I have had a few jobs where obsessive clock-watching by a supervisor may have helped the process but not the product. Remember the object of a process is the product. The product is the be-all-and-end-all without which there would be no process (except fictional ones, like a Potemkin village).  The purpose of punctuality is procedural, not production.  In the end, there must be a product, factually, that fulfills its function well, regardless of whom was at their workstation promptly, during its processing.

Bureaucracy tends to emphasize the process, often while fictionalizing the product.  The Pentagon is great at this subterfuge.  Defense is their decoy product (while allowing 9/11 to happen), then they fooled all of us into believing that interdicting WMD was the product (cherrypicking was the process — selectively revealing so-called intelligence to aid the ruse).  But this has always been the case, the Military Industrial Bureaucratic Political Complex has specialized in straw men all along, to underwrite the constant need for more and better materiel.

In the long run, it makes no difference which employees were there on time, or even which employees were there at all. All that is necessary is buy-in among the positions filled. The Manhattan Project was an example of buy-in sufficient to reach a goal — Hiroshima and Nagisaki — that satisfied the agenda of those who saw self-gain possible.  T. C. Mits did not know about this secret goal.  Have you ever seen any attendance records from Los Alamos?

I will not leave before lauding the point(s) that James Walpole has made, in his post linked above. I’m still not all in with the headline, but I finally understood the point — understand the requirements of the real world around you. Take responsibility for the requirements. Master them. Being on time is your deal, not some bureaucrat’s. Not some current employer’s.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Freedom for $5.30 — and This Time Mexico Really is Paying For It

Back in 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump promised that Mexico would pay for his proposed border wall. Turns out Mexico wasn’t interested, so Trump eventually resorted to declaring fake emergencies and illegally misappropriating money from the military budget.

He’s spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars per mile on a barrier that, Samuel Lovett of the Independent reports, migrants are scaling with $5.30 ladders (when the wind isn’t blowing it over for them, making ladders unnecessary).

Yes, based on the price of rebar at a local hardware store on the Mexican side of the wall, $5.30.

What a refreshing lesson! No matter how much money politicians like Trump spend trying to restrain and impoverish the people they stole it from, those seeking freedom and prosperity find ways to win through — and to do so for far less.

The wall was always a dumb and evil idea.

Dumb, because it was never going to “work.” The US has 95,500 miles of border and coastline. If people want to get in, they’re going to get in, even if every member of the armed forces and every sworn law enforcement officer in the country is re-assigned to nothing but “securing the border.” The only reliable way to keep people out is to turn America into such a crappy place that nobody wants to come here. Which, admittedly, is something our politicians are always hard at work on.

Evil, because even if it DID “work” the result would be less freedom, a slower economy, and worse lives for everyone on both sides of it. Capital — including “human capital,” aka labor — naturally flows to where it can be most profitably invested. If that flow is impeded, we’re all worse off.

Well, not all of us, I guess. The corrupt politicians doing the impeding, and their crony corporate welfare queens, make bank at the expense of the other 99% of us. Which is as good an explanation as any, and better than most, for Trump’s wall fetish.

Those $5.30 rebar ladders are, a huge practical benefit to their direct users. But they’re of double benefit — practical and political — to the rest of us.

As a practical matter, the immigrants who come over, under, around, or through the wall make our lives better.

As a political matter, the ease with which they’re exposing Trump’s multi-billion-dollar boondoggle for what it is makes it less likely that future politicians will waste our money on similar idiocy.

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Evil’s Supporters

Helping someone commit evil acts, or supporting them while they commit them, is just as bad as committing the evil acts yourself.

If you “Support the troops” in any way beyond supporting getting them back home where they won’t be maimed and killed by those trying to defend their homes from the invaders makes you complicit in their evil acts.

If you “Back the Blue” you’re worse than if you “Support the troops”, although it’s close. There’s no way to back the Blue Line Gang without being tainted by what they do, and there is no such critter as a “good cop“.

You might as well be out there committing evil in person.

I see a lot of people making excuses for the harm committed by both those who are out there doing evil and those sitting around supporting or fawning over the evildoers. As if circumstances or feelings change reality.

But the news isn’t all bad.

I have the greatest respect for those who were in the military and are still able to stand firmly against it, and for those who were once legislation enforcers and now stand against that “profession” without reservation. People can change for the better. They give me hope.

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To “Serve”

The words people use and how those words are used says a lot about how someone thinks. In many cases, it’s almost as good as an X-ray into their mind.

Take, for example, the word “serve” and its past tense, “served”.

If someone says “I served” where does your mind go? You probably assume they mean they were in the US military, and at this point in history on this spot on this planet your assumption is probably correct.

But why? Common usage.

To “serve” means you have provided a service of some sort to someone.

Everyone serves someone just about all the time.

The corner drug dealer serves. The cashier serves. The prostitute and the waiter and the car wash attendant serve. The writer serves, the scientist serves, and the medical provider serves. They serve by mutual consent and voluntary choice.

There are also those who provide unethical service. The mafia hitman and the legislation enforcement scum, for example. Unethical service means that someone is forced to either tolerate an unwanted “service” or to pay for it whether they want it or not. Unethical service is based in some way on archation.

To basically reserve the word “serve” for those who foolishly joined forces with the military of any government is to perpetuate a lie. Yes, they serve, but they serve anti-society and the anti-individual forces of the State. They serve liberty’s enemy. That’s not a good thing to do.

How can I pretend they are serving me in any way when I don’t want them to do what they are doing and I don’t want to pay them to do it? They aren’t even on my side.

The same goes for other government employees, who also sometimes try to use the word “service” to refer to their own parasitism.

It’s a lie to pretend that being a legislator, or government president, or government judge is a beneficial service. Those are parasitic positions, serving the political government at the expense of society. To be proud of such service, or to call it out for special honor, is to show just how deep the statism virus has infected the mind.

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