Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Friday, August 18, 2017
 
Celebrate August 20
August 20 is World Mosquito Day. As the New York Times daily newsletter explains: "It commemorates the 1897 discovery of the role that the insects play in transmitting malaria, a disease that has long bedeviled humanity, killing an estimated 429,000 people in 2015, according to the World Health Organization." Ronald Ross won a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery, which would eventually lead to public policy that combatted the spread of the often deadly disease including preventive measures taken during the construction of the Panama Canal. There has been tremendous success over the past twenty years, with a nearly 60% decrease in malaria fatalities from 2000 to 2015. There is still much work to be done and no doubt campaigners will use the day to urge more spending for this or that program (many of them worthwhile). But we should also acknowledge progress and much has been made.


 
Opioid crisis reaction has led to sub-standard pain management for some patients
Physicians Stefan Kertesz and Sally Satel write in Slate about the opioid crisis and the (welcome) educational response to it leading to a misunderstanding or over-cautiousness from doctors which has resulted in some patients not being properly treated for their pain:
In the face of an ever-worsening opioid crisis, physicians concerned about fueling the epidemic are increasingly heeding warnings and feeling pressured to constrain prescribing in the name of public health. As they do so, abruptly ending treatment regimens on which many chronic pain patients have come to rely, they end up leaving some patients in agonizing pain or worse ...
It is no secret that one contributing factor to the current opioid crisis is the overreliance on and, at least in retrospect, irresponsible use of opioid-based pain medication. Promiscuous prescribing by physicians gained momentum in the early 1990s and continued for much of the next decade. Aggressive marketing by makers of long-acting painkillers, along with unfounded reassurances that they were safe, played a role in the explosion of prescribing—as did the culture of medical practice which rewarded hospitals based on patient satisfaction ratings, hurried visits, and a dearth of ready insurance-covered alternatives.
It should be noted that the chief risk of liberal prescribing—that is, giving a month’s worth of pills when two days were needed; prescribing opioids when extra-strength aspirin and a heating pad would do—was not so much that the patient for whom painkillers would become addicted or overdose. That can happen, particularly when the patient is also depressed, chronically anxious, or has a history of substance abuse, but it is not especially common ...
As the pill problem has grown, physicians, medical centers, and state health authorities sought to bring prescribing under better control with education, new norms, and prescription registries that pharmacists and doctors could use to detect patients who “doctor shopped” for painkillers and even forged prescriptions. To a welcome degree, this worked ...
The pendulum has swung back in the other direction. We are now experiencing the painful backlash to overzealous prescribing of opioid painkillers (that was itself a backlash to the undertreatment of unremitting noncancer pain). The bad news is that many patients treated with high opioid regimens have been caught in the crossfire. Amid regulations, pharmacy payment restrictions, and intimations that doctors are the major culprits in this epidemic, doctors are increasingly sensing pressure to reduce doses, even among patients who are benefiting from the medication and using it responsibly.
Kertesz and Satel report tragic cases of patients who were not properly treated taking their own lives because they couldn't stand the pain they were being forced to endure.


 
NIH grant to watch gay people drink
The Free Beacon: "Feds Spend $438,699 Studying If ‘Gender Norms’ Make LGBTQ People Get Drunk." Why not?


 
Because we need good stories
The Winnipeg Free Press: "After years of IS captivity, Yazidi boy reunited with family in Winnipeg." The paper reports:
After three years apart and more than 9,700 kilometres of travel, a Yazidi mother and son locked eyes again for the first time in Winnipeg Thursday morning.
Emad Mishko Tamo was held by his mother early Thursday morning at Winnipeg's James Armstrong Richardson International airport, a month after a photo of the 12-year-old boy circulated on social media following his liberation from Islamic State by Iraqi soldiers.
Until that point, his mother and four siblings — government-sponsored refugees living in Winnipeg — did not know whether he was alive.
I can't imagine what Nofa Mihlo Rafo and her family went through these past few years wondering about their son. I can't imagine what Emad Mishko Tamo went through as both a ISIS victim and a young child refugee alone. We should all be very happy for them.


Thursday, August 17, 2017
 
Today Robert E. Lee. Tomorrow George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Once you give in to liberal vandals there is no end. Hot Air reports:
“Are we going to take down statues to George Washignton? How about Thomas Jefferson?” Trump asked during his press conference Tuesday. Two days later a number of progressives have embraced the idea, i.e. maybe statues of Washington and Jefferson should go too.
The Washington Free Beacon highlighted this clip of CNN political commentator Angela Rye making Trump’s case. “I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue. They all need to come down,” Rye said. Another member of the panel, the Daily Beast’s John Avlon, cut Rye off and warned she was “feeding into Steve Bannon and Trump’s talking points,” but Rye didn’t back down.
And if it's not Washington or Jefferson, it's Abraham Lincoln. Will the progressive Left demand demolishing Mount Rushmore?
Meanwhile the Boston Red Sox ownership says it might be time to get rid of Yawkey Way. Why not erect a plaque that tells the whole story so that future generations of Boston baseball fans will know the former Red Sox owners tardiness to the sports integration?


 
Against tearing down Confederate statues
National Review's Kyle Smith had an excellent essay a few days ago at NRO against getting rid of supposedly or truly offensive monuments. I recommend reading the whole thing but this is the important takeaway:
If a statue that has been standing in your city for years suddenly sends you into paroxysms of destructive rage, you are really determined to create a problem for yourself, and you’ll create another problem when it’s gone.
Smith makes two other arguments worth noting: there will be no end to demands to excise anything and everything that offends the mob and that even if these monuments do deserve to be removed, it is best to do so following sober debate and not the heat of mob reaction to them.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017
 
Conservatives without the conservatism
Unherd's Peter Franklin briefly examines the call from liberal Jeff Jarvis for a new, conservative media outlet that would report facts without the sensationalism and divisive culture war stuff. Franklin says there are plenty of serious, sober-minded conservative publications such as First Things and New Criterion (that definitely enter the culture wars fray), but I think what Jarvis is calling for isn't commentary but reporting. Fair enough. The issue here is not so much what we talk about when discussing journalism but what do we mean when talking about conservatism. Jarvis says: "For the purposes of this venture, what does it mean to be conservative? I would return to basics: a belief in fiscal conservatism, smaller government, support for business, support for trade, and a strong military. Leave the culture wars aside as an invention of the divisive edge." Franklin rejects such an empty conservatism:
This is the weakest point in Jarvis’s argument. There’s a lot more to the basics of conservatism than economic liberalism with aircraft carriers. Serious conservative arguments on social policy need to be heard every bit as much as they do on economic or defence policy. To characterise conservative views on the family, immigration or education as “an invention of the divisive edge” is to forget how the divisions opened up in the first place. If liberals want an end to culture wars then they should be willing to enter into a respectful dialogue instead of demanding the silent surrender of the other side.
According to Jarvis' definition of conservative, Tony Blair qualifies. To a lesser degree, so might 1990s Bill Clinton. The essence of conservatism is maintaining the best of the old order. When liberals want to vandalize the culture, it is the job of conservatives to defend the permanent things. Conservatism under Jarvis would be unilateral surrender on most political fronts.


 
Generation snowflake: Scripps U intern pic with Pence triggers schoolmates
The Daily Caller reports that McKenzie Deutsch, a junior at Scripps University in California, upset her fellow students when she posted a picture of herself with Vice President Mike Pence on Facebook. Students said Pence was an existentialist threat to people like themselves. One commented: "I don’t know if you understand that Pence want me and the people I love to be erased by any means possible. I don’t know how to express to you how it feels to see a fellow Scrippsie in this photo with someone who has shown himself so willing to commit institutional violence." Another posted a comment saying she felt unsafe because of the FB post. As the Daily Caller reported, the picture occurred 2,636 miles away. Scary. The best part of this "controversy" -- and proof that some people seek out being offended -- is this: "A few people even added Deutsch as Facebook friends precisely so they could send her nasty messages, she said."
Deutsch went to the Claremont Independent, the student newspaper, to explain her ordeal: “It is as if every student must follow an understood uniform code of conduct and speech — as if I must share the liberal politics of my peers in order to be treated with respect or considered a decent person. Their lecturing about diversity apparently does not extend to diversity of thought.”


 
Brexit won't get in the way of maintaining peace in Northern Ireland
The first UK government Brexit future partnership paper was released yesterday: "Future customs arrangements." It's brief but wide-ranging and clear, and sets out a clear line about where there should be no line: the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The paper states:
The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is the UK’s only land border. We must avoid a return to a hard border, and trade and everyday movements across the land border must be protected as part of the UK-EU deal. The Government welcomes the clear commitment made in the European Council’s negotiating guidelines and the European Commission’s directives to work with us on “flexible and imaginative” solutions to achieve this. Ahead of those discussions, this paper includes proposals that are first steps to meet our objective of trade across that land border being as seamless and frictionless as possible, but further steps will be necessary. The Government will publish a paper relating to Northern Ireland shortly.
The Sun reports an unnamed government source saying, "Top of our list is to agree upfront no physical border infrastructure — that would mean a return to the border posts of the past and is completely unacceptable to the UK." It would be foolish for the EU27 to insist on measures that would risk peace in Ulster.
The Guardian reports that few people are satisfied with the customs proposal, especially Brussels. And domestic critics suggest its a "cake and eat it" proposal with London wanting the same rights as being in the current customs union without formally being within that structure. That seems like a non-starter. That said, this is the start of negotiations and both sides will have to give up some of their wish list.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017
 
Eliminating Down syndrome children
CBS reports:
With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women -- close to 100 percent -- who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.
While the tests are optional, the government states that all expectant mothers must be informed about availability of screening tests, which reveal the likelihood of a child being born with Down syndrome. Around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik ...
The law in Iceland permits abortion after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity -- and Down syndrome is included in this category.
The story focuses on eliminating Down syndrome, but Iceland -- nor any other country -- is doing any such thing. Doctors are eliminating preborn children with Down syndrome. In Iceland, CBS reports, one or two children are born with Down syndrome each year. Other countries also have "termination" rates of children identified with Down syndrome through prenatal testing (France has a 77% rate, in the United States it's 67%, Denmark 98%). Paradoxically, Dr. Anthony Lejeune, who discovered the chromosomal anomaly that causes the syndrome was opposed to abortion. In a 2002 Interim editorial we warned that abortion is not a cure. I am also worried that as fewer people are born with the genetic anomaly there will be less impetus for Down syndrome research -- why study an increasingly irrelevant "problem."
Of course, Down syndrome need not be viewed as a problem. Two months ago, Krista Ewert, author of This is Ella, was interviewed by Convivium, in which the author describes the dignity and humanity of her Down syndrome daughter:
What I did not know, however, was how full, beautiful and, quite frankly, normal Ella’s life would be. I did not realize that despite her challenges, Ella would have the potential to achieve many of the milestones her peers eventually would such as being surrounded by wonderful friends, graduating from high school or college, playing soccer, living on her own or having a job.
Ewert says that recognizing the humanity of so-called flawed children expands the bounds of our tolerance and diversity:
One shade of blue on a canvas is lovely in and of itself, but how much more beautiful is a canvas filled with vibrant reds, serene greens, cool blues and vivacious purple. To each canvas in life, whether it be our families, our workplace, classroom, or church, we bring the colours of our personality, our abilities, and our talents. As I have worked to ensure Ella’s contributions are not only recognized, but welcomed in her community, I have also become acutely aware of how I judge other’s contributions in my own life.
Our editorial noted that "Malcolm Muggeridge commented on this trend more than two decades ago when he said we are entering an age when abortion will be used to eliminate the less than 'perfect blooms' – people who are not beautiful, intelligent, skilled." That sounds like eugenics and the abdication of love. Eliminating Down syndrome children is not an accomplishment and Iceland should be not celebrated for their achievement of near zero Down syndrome children.


 
Unappreciated Trump victory
Austin Bay at Instapundit: "WHY PYONGYANG’S FAT KID STOOD DOWN: Trump’s pressure diplomacy is working." At The Observer, he explains:
The Trump administration’s “pressure strategy” is disrupting the North Korean regime ...
The great Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said that the best strategy is to attack the enemy’s plans. With a soldier-scholar like Jim Mattis in the Trump administration, a stroke or two of Sun Tzu should surprise no one ...
We aren’t engaged in a game. This is the latest phase of the Korean War. Though war is not a sport, some sports analogies are instructive. Basketball’s full-court press is a defensive attack on the offense’s “plan” to score—which would be a sportscaster’s description of the Trump administration’s North Korea policy. In basketball, teams employ a relentless full-court press to degrade an opponent’s ability to move the ball, deny easy shot attempts, and disrupt shots the opponent takes. “Pressing” teams try to force their opponents to make mistakes that lead to turnovers. A sustained press that forces mistakes dispirits an opponent.


 
Reynolds on Silicon Valley's future influence over our lives and our politics
Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today: "When a gigantic corporation that controls our data and knows us intimately takes a controversial political stance, it ought to make us worry." He explains:
Since its 1990s heyday, Silicon Valley has transformed from an unruly collection of aggressive upstarts disrupting existing industries to a flabby collection of near-monopolies, now busy enforcing gentry-liberal norms on their employees and customers. Whether it’s censoring right-leaning political figures, or firing employees who dare say something truthful but politically incorrect, there’s not much of the old startup spirit there. These are flabby overstaffed Big Business corporations, run by their HR departments. You might find more dynamism at General Motors, these days.
But worse yet, they exercise tremendous power and require tremendous trust. When you use Facebook or Google (or Twitter, or Amazon, or Netflix) you’re sharing a lot of data with a company that you have to trust won’t abuse that. It’s much harder to trust a company that has decided to aggressively pursue thoughtcrime. And it doesn’t matter where you are on the political spectrum – Damore describes himself as a centrist. But it only takes one politically incorrect utterance, as so many in academia have learned, to achieve Enemy Of The People status. And then, apparently, you’re fair game.
Can you trust a self-driving car from Google, if some new company policy might reprogram it to avoid events Google doesn’t approve? Can you trust Google to prevent its (apparently many) “social-justice warrior” employees from trawling through your personal data looking for dirt, and then leaking it?
It sounds conspiracy theoryish, but the alarm should be sounded over these concerns. Especially if one of their founders (Mark Zuckerberg) is considering running for political office.


 
Ezra Levant on the alt-right
Ezra Levant explains how he and others at The Rebel view the alt-right:
That’s really what the alt-right is, in my mind — the mirror image of Black Lives Matter, or perhaps more accurately Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam black separatists.
Until this weekend, I would have said that the alt-right doesn’t tend towards violence — they walked through Charlottesville with torches, but didn’t torch anything, unlike many BLM riots. But of course the murder of a leftist by an alt-right activist changes that.
So let me sum up our position:
1. We are not alt-right. That term now effectively means racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism.
2. We are conservatives (as opposed to socialists); we are nationalists (as opposed to globalists); we believe in having borders (as opposed to Merkel- and Trudeau-style migration); we are opposed to identity politics inherent in state multiculturalism and affirmative action (and we do not support countervailing white nationalism as a response). So we are different from the alt-right in many ways.
3. Finally, we are aware that the alt-right, as it it now constituted and led, is an obscure, small, ineffective movement. Their Charlottesville march, that had national media coverage for weeks in advance, mustered fewer than 500 people altogether. They hold no elected office, hold no prominent positions in academia, media, or any other institution. Their chief political utility is to the left: to prove the leftist narrative that the “true threat” in America is actually from “right wing white guys”, as opposed to, say, Muslim extremism or Latin American drug gangs. And to the Soros-funded street gangs of the left, the alt-right is a justification of violence — it’s an excuse for more chaos and fear that are Antifa’s signature.
The alt-right is not effective at promoting conservative ideas; it doesn’t even claim to be. But after this weekend, the media certainly sees the alt-right as effective at discrediting conservative ideas.
There are six takeaways from the past few days and Levant touches upon most of them:
1. The alt-right is not conservative.
2. The media will opportunistically link the alt-right and conservatism to delegitimize the latter.
3. Republican politicians will condemn both alt-right ideology and violence in a way that Democrats never do for Black Lives Matter.
4. Identity politics is gross. It debases politics worse than normal politician venality because it corrupts not only political leaders but all democratic participants.
5. If you want to call the alt-right "right-wing" identity politics infects both Left and Right. However, alt-right politics embraces interventionist economic policies and is essentially a collectivist view because it assigns value to individuals based on their race, so it looks pretty left-wing to me.
6. The alt-right is small and insignificant. Their tiny protest received disproportionate coverage. This is unquestionably linked to the goal of delegitimizing mainstream conservatism and the current Republican administration.
See also Ben Shapiro's tweet storm about the alt-right.


Monday, August 14, 2017
 
Macron is France's Donald Trump
Vox reports that Emmanuel Macron's 35% approval rating is about where American President Donald Trump's poll numbers are. It's easy to say that governing is more difficult than campaigning or that many politicians would look good running against the villainized Marine Le Pen, but Vox's Sarah Wildman also notes that Macron has been viewed by critics as "too authoritarian in his instincts, and too elitist in his approach." The problem for Macron and his European progressive fans is that there are many more critics than was supposed there would be for their liberal champion. Many of Macron's wounds are self-inflicted: he eschews the media, breaks promises, fights with military leaders, cavorts with celebrities, flirts with paying his wife an official salary, and takes positions at odds with his center-left image (tax cuts for the rich and housing benefit cuts for the poor). As the New York Times reported last week, Macron has managed to tick off French voters across the political spectrum:
The “Jupiterian president,” as aides fondly describe him, has alienated left-leaning voters with his promise to loosen France’s labor code and trim the country’s generous social safety net. He angered civil servants with his vow to freeze their salaries. And he upset voters on the right with his fight with the head of the country’s armed forces, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, who resigned as a result.
But he campaigned on liberalizing France's labour laws and hasn't yet introduced them or faced (anticipated) organized protests against his proposals. Vox explains that the decline in popularity is unprecedented in recent French political history and while its too early to tell if it will affect his re-election efforts in seven years or derail his agenda, a 30 percentage point drop in approval -- if, in fact, all his voters this past spring approved of Macron, which is not necessarily a safe assumption -- over a few months is something most politicians would like to avoid. It's especially troubling for one whose political persona is based on his personal celebrity: what's left once the adoring fans are gone?


 
Advice for journalists
Columbia Journalism Review asked a few journalists about the best reporting advice they ever received. Fact-checking is important. Not enough reporters and media outlets check and double-check facts. Gay Talese said he is thankful for the advice to stay off the phone and show up in person. This is harder to do today with immediate deadlines and the decline of beats/rise of generalist reporters. But this, from New Yorker writer Steve Coll, is great (and true):
“When I was starting out at The Washington Post, I once asked Bob Woodward how to ask government officials to share confidential or possibly classified documents or written materials. I thought that he must have some carefully sequenced strategy, arriving at a subtle request. ‘Just ask them,’ he said. ‘Don’t hesitate.’ Oh. That turned out to be very helpful as the years went by.”
This works best when reporters 1) have relationships with sources and 2) have demonstrated they can reliably report facts and not expose their sources, and it occurs more frequently that you might imagine because many government insiders want to share information. Many of them have agendas and leaking helps further their ideological or personal agendas or helps score points in personal grudges. If a particular requested leak is not agenda-driven, leaking to a reporter can strengthen source-journalist relationships for future agenda-driven leaking.


 
What I'm reading
1. Simply Electrifying: The Technology that Transformed the World, from Benjamin Franklin to Elon Musk by Craig R. Roach. Definitely a candidate for top-ten book of 2017.
2. The First Serious Optimist: A. C. Pigou and the Birth of Welfare Economics by Ian Kumekawa. More about Pigou and his milieu than his economics. That's equal part complacent observation and observational complaint.
3. Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle by Jeff Flake
4. The Right People: The Social Establishment in America by Stephen Birmingham. I found this 1958 book about the American elite in a used bookstore last week.


 
Brexit update
The Sun reports that Prime Minister Theresa May will soon deliver a Brexit speech (although the Financial Times reports it is planned for September), Brexit Minister David Davis will release 12 papers laying the groundwork for future talks with the EU, and that Davis will hold the £36 billion divorce bill hostage to "bigger issue" talks with the EU to ensure the UK gets more favourable agreements. The Mail on Sunday reports that London wants a "virtual border" between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Meanwhile, Philip Hammond, Chancellor of Exchequer and hero to the Remoaners who has signaled London should pursue the softest of Brexits, penned a column with pro-Brexit Trade Minister Liam Fox in the Sunday Times saying the UK will not only leave the EU in March 2019 but the customs union.
In a very rambling column in The Observer, former Labour politician David Miliband is calling for a vote in Parliament to ratify the final deal -- a vote that the government has already committed to undertaking. Miliband has numerous theses for one column: politics is broken, the June 2016 referendum should not be an excuse to run roughshod over demoracy (has it been?), and the EU is the champion of liberal ideals from which the United Kingdom should not recoil.


 
Jacob Rees-Mogg's leadership ambitions
The Sunday Times reports:
The news comes days after the father of six was revealed as the second-most popular choice to become the next Tory leader in a poll of party members by the ConservativeHome website.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Rees-Mogg, 48, sidestepped questions about his ambition, saying: “I think if I threw my hat into the ring, my hat would be thrown back at me pretty quickly.”
He has resolutely supported May, who lost her party’s majority in June’s general election.
However, the American-born and pro-Trump professor Ted Malloch of Henley Business School of the University of Reading tells the Mail on Sunday that Rees-Mogg has told him he's interested in running for the Conservative leadership.
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Amber Rudd says she'll run for the leadership if Theresa May steps aside.


 
Six weeks is a long time in politics
Politico Europe reports that Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union leads Martin Schulz Social Democratic Party by 14%-17% in recent polls. German voters head to the polls September 24. Politico reports Schulz is not conceding defeat, but The Observer suggests Schulz is resigned to settling for the opposition benches.


Sunday, August 13, 2017
 
Should kids be in R-rated movies?
Bloomberg View columnist Virginia Postrel says that having 6-8 year olds in the theater during R-rated movies like Atomic Blonde is a distraction and she enjoyed the movie less for having a young child ask questions of his parents loud enough to bother other customers. This seems to be a case not of an inappropriately young customer, but a rude one. Adults talk during movies, too. Unless the psychic harm of having children nearby is an issue -- Postrel writes, "the mere presence of children too young to understand a movie disturbs other audience members," which indicates that it isn't curious questions that is the problem -- but that's the annoyed customer's problem, not the child's, family's, or movie theater's.
That said, I'm not sure how others are affected by other customers is the proper frame for the question of whether young people belong in the theatre of R-rated movies. Postrel suggests as much herself suggests when she asks that between the violence and the sex scene, "What’s worse, I wondered: the movie gives the kids nightmares or they take it in stride?" The movie industry and movie theaters need to make a buck and I'm leery of calls for self-policing and rules to protect minors from mature material, but clearly some parents are making bad decisions. Who takes a young child to Atomic Blonde?
I don't see Postrel's solution of charging children more for admission to R-rated movies as addressing either problem: kids are still going bother other patrons with their noise or presence* and they are still going to be exposed to morally questionable content.
* Unless there is a Coasian solution in paying other customers for their inconvenience or having other customers pay families to keep their children at home.


 
Modern life in a sentence
I'm still catching up on a week's worth of commentary and news. I read Katherine Timpf's August 11 NRO article on the latest "microaggression" -- chairs that insultingly too small for larger people. Timpf begins her article thusly: "Too many people, particularly on college campuses, use their emotions in a tyrannical way." That seems to sum up not just the modern academy but social media. As a friend of mine says, we live in the Age of Feelings. And there is no debating feelings. There is no consistency or internal logic in feelings. Thus wielding them in fights is only an exercise in power -- not persuasion but coercion. Taking offense is a trump card.


 
Buy local is a scam
Anthony Gill on buying "local" in Washington state:
So imagine my surprise when I encountered a sign promoting a “local” food product in the bakery aisle of our town’s Safeway (a corporate grocery chain). Was the delicious item a blueberry tart from the local “U-Pick” farm down the road? No! It was a single-serving chocolate cream pie topped with coconut shavings.
How fantastic! My neighbors must now be setting up cocoa bean farms and planting palm trees.
I quickly inquired on the town’s social media discussion board regarding the whereabouts of these cocoa and coconut farms, only to be told that I was being silly; those foodstuffs do not grow well in the cool, damp climate of western Washington. “So why is this luscious pie labeled local?” I retorted quizzically. Well, the answer was simple: It was baked locally.
Well, then! My next task became to discover the whereabouts of this superb bakery. I figured I could walk over to the establishment and compliment the owners for successfully satisfying my taste buds. Upon investigating the label, however, I was surprised to find out that it was made in Airway Heights, Washington. I had never heard of Airway Heights. Further research indicated that it was near Spokane, WA, just a short 275 miles east of my town.
Wait a minute?! How can something that is roughly a five-hour drive away be “local?" How could we be “keeping money in the local community” if the likelihood of anybody from Airway Heights shopping in Duvall on any given day is close to zero?
How can something that is roughly a five-hour drive away be “local?"
Further queries led me to discover that Safeway labels any product made and sold in Washington as “local.” A pie baked just 25 miles further east in Idaho, a mere addition of 30 minutes on a five-hour drive, would not get the “local” label.
But what about Vancouver, British Columbia? That Canadian city is less than half the distance away (at 130 miles) even though it is in some far-flung “foreign” country. A slab of back bacon from Vancouver purchased in our town’s Safeway would not get the “local” seal of approval, whereas the farther-flung Airway Heights pie would. None of this makes any sense!
If you are as confounded as I was, then you might be suffering from the geographic confusion that comes naturally (and often gluten-free) with the “locavore” movement.
Gill then makes several arguments about the fallacy of buy local and why localism doesn't matter (including using Leonard Reed's famous essay I, Pencil, to make the case that nothing can be truly local). More importantly, why can't we be neighbourly purchasing goods and services from laborers in other countries? Why does your local baker (however defined) deserve your consumer dollars while the Chilean farmer does not? This, as I've noted many times before, reeks of bigotry. Buy local is feel-good discrimination for a certain set, and it should be called out for what it is.


 
Why does the Left oppose 'neoliberalism'?
At EconLog, Scott Sumner points to a chart that shows between-country inequality is declining (while within-country inequality is increasing), suggesting that poorer countries are becoming richer. He says: "It seems likely that much of the reduction in between country inequality is caused by market reforms in places like China, India, and the ASEAN group." That's good, yet many on the Left oppose the free market and trade despite its obvious benefits to many of the world's more vulnerable. Sumner says, "Neoliberalism might just be the best thing that ever happened."


 
AMA with Seema Jayachandran
Seema Jayachandran, an economics professor at Northwestern University, did a Reddit AMA that is reproduced in a more readable version at The Winnower. Jayachandran argues for paying poor farmers in the developing world not to cut down forests (as an inexpensive way to combat climate change), although there are other reasons to resist deforestation (that she briefly touches upon). Jayachandran found a fair bit of resistance to the idea of paying individuals not to do something (as opposed to traditional programs that pay individuals to do something, for example enroll children in school or receive an inoculation). The penultimate question was: "Will this principle of "feeding carrots if you do no harm" apply to other human affairs such as crime, business competition, gender equality, nuclear nonproliferation? Why or why not?" Her answer:
Great question, and a broad one, so there's of course no simple yes or no answer. The idea is applicable if a few key pieces are in place. First, (most) people would have been engaging in the harmful behavior, absent the carrots. Otherwise, the policy will be paying people for something they wouldn’t have been doing anyway, so it’s not cost-effective. In Uganda, most forest owners were degrading their forest, absent PES. Even then, this idea of “inframarginality” in econ-speak, or additionality as its known in PES circles, was a big part of what we set out to assess in our study, because maybe the only enrollees would be the ones who would have conserved. The program attracted and changed the behavior of a lot of people who would otherwise have done harm, and that’s why the benefits>costs. You also have to be able to measure whether the harm took place, and the cost to society of that harm has to be more than the private benefits to convince them to refrain (otherwise, it's not worth it to pay them to stop.
There are programs that have applied it to gender equality, e.g., paid families not to marry off their daughters at a young age (http://www.poverty-action.org/study/empowering-girls-rural-bangladesh). Some hospitals/clinics have programs that pay those addicted to drugs to stay sober. Like anything, the idea is not universally applicable and every application has nuances, but if compensating people gets people to stop doing harm, and that is beneficial not just them but to others in society, it can be a good use of money.
Paying people to not do harmful things is an under-rated, under-studied, under-utilized tool of public policy. That said, are we more likely to not pay people in the developing world than in wealthy countries? Is that a function that such public policy experiments are cheaper there than here? Or is it a form of colonialism? Or does resistance to paying people to not do something make such policies more difficult in a democracy?


Friday, August 11, 2017
 
Five books to understand economics
Over at Learn Liberty, Anne Bradley of the Institute for Humane Studies challenges students to read five economics books. Four of five would be on everyone's introductory econ list; the fifth is not the Ayn Rand novel most people would chose.