Author Archives: Greg Morin

Unmasked

“We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic.”

New England Journal of Medicine, 2020; 382:363

These days everyone imagines himself or herself to be a scientist. Scolds, who labor under the delusion that reading the New York Times is equivalent to holding a doctorate, unceasingly inflict on us finger-wagging lectures about how we need to “listen to the science” when it comes to masks. Apparently “masks work” because “The Science™” says so. Newsflash: these media figures and self-styled authorities aren’t (largely) scientists and know not of what they speak. As a scientist myself I feel compelled to set the record straight on what is, and is not, science. For those degreed scientists out there parroting the mask propaganda: for shame, you should know better. Cherry picking, selection bias, anecdotal data, and dubious models have no place in the arsenal of scientific inquiry. 

What is the claim built on?

Here’s the problem with “the science” about masks: the media cited studies are built on a foundation of sand. They are based on computer models1, anecdotal stories2, theoretical mechanistic (non-biological) analysis, or hypothetical contra factual scenarios.1 In short, if the conclusion of a study rests on “this would have happened” then that is not science. Science does not compare contra factual or hypothetical scenarios. It analyzes concrete, reproducible, controlled conditions (that are broad enough to be statistically valid).  In every single story where there has been a reference made to evidence that “masks work” and I have drilled down through the 42 layers of links to get at the actual research document, it turns out the study is, surprise, based on a contra factual model, anecdote, or purely mechanistic study. Every. Single. Time. How do models support the claims? They make a “post-diction” for an alternate universe where masks were not deployed. Then they compare those values to the real world and wouldn’t you know, the numbers are lower when masks are used. The non-scientist with little time to drill down to the source will credulously accept what is read. Why shouldn’t they? An “authority” was cited and we’ve been trained from childhood to be predisposed toward trusting those perceived to be “in charge”. This is why whenever one questions the mask narrative the response is invariably “so and so said they work.” This is nothing more than the common logical fallacy known as an appeal to authority. Such a response deflects the inquiry, it does not answer it. When you encounter an appeal to authority your BS meter should max out. We should take every news story with a grain of salt and seek answers to the artfully omitted questions. Everyone has an agenda, even me. My agenda is to set the record straight and not allow the noble scientific profession to be prostituted in service of state propaganda. I encourage the reader to question and consider my assertions and to verify my claims by the references provided.

Question the models

One of the problems with models is their perception by the public as infallible fonts of knowledge. The media reinforces this narrative by credulously reporting model-based claims without any scrutiny. They never consider questioning the underlying assumptions built into the models. Models are easily manipulated. They are malleable and versatile instruments. In the hands of a virtuoso they can play any tune. They are tools of science, but they are not science themselves. Science is not SimCity. Science is doing real work in the real world to gather real data. Once one has collected data, then one may develop a model – based on that data – to make predictions about the future. Those predictions are then tested (i.e. the prediction is falsifiable). It is impossible to check a post-diction for a contra factual universe. The impossibility of such verification precludes falsifiability of the claim and in doing so removes it from the realm of science toward “what-if” fantasy. 

Evidence against the claim?

The reader might now be wondering, “well where is the evidence against masks?” Sorry, that’s not how science works. Those making the novel claim carry the onus to support it. You have to prove your claim; I do not have to disprove it. A claim cannot be said to be true because there does not yet exist evidence disproving it. This is the same as the foundation of our legal system; innocent until proven guilty. Guilt is a novel positive claim and must be proven. Were this also not the standard in science, then one could claim ghosts exist because no one has definitively proven they do not exist. With that said, because the “masks work” claim is a scientific one it is therefore subject to falsifiability. If it is true, then we should see fewer real world infections when use vs. non-use scenarios are compared.. Is that what we see? Unfortunately, no. There are a number of studies in the literature from the pre-Covid era regarding real world mask effectiveness at limiting contagions. In short none of them demonstrated any statistically significant diminishment in real world viral spread. 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11

Correlation not Causation

The lack of substantive empirical data in real world environments has shifted the focus toward teasing out a positive correlation between mask use and case loads by reviewing case counts across cities, states, and countries over time. One may certainly cherry pick a country, state or time frame where mask use is high and case rates are low. But for every one of those you can find several more that counter it.12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19 The scientific method demands one looks at all the data, not just the data that confirms the preconceived conclusion (selection bias). When all localities are analyzed, the aggregate results demonstrate zero correlation between masks and case counts. Zero. However, even this is a bad metric for both sides. There are simply way too many variables at play to claim this one thing (masks) had an effect or did not relative to other competing influences. However it certainly doesn’t help the “masks work” camp that the vast majority of such comparisons show no correlation or a negative correlation (i.e. better outcomes in low mask use localities). Correlation does not prove causation; but, it is impossible to have causation without correlation.

At what cost?

Compelled mask wearing (along with all the other various restrictions on normal life) is morally equivalent to the banning of alcohol, drugs, and firearms: a handful might be irresponsible so all must suffer the remedy in order to protect a vanishingly small minority. This mode of thinking, sacrificing the many in favor of a few, does not come without costs. The reflexive objection here is that the benefits could be substantial while the costs should be minimal. Perhaps in March that approach might have been sound given the ignorance surrounding what we were dealing with. But here we are months later and it has become clear who is at risk and who is not. It has become clear that widespread mask use does not correlate well with reduced cases. 12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19   It has become clear that asymptomatic spread is a negligible risk vector.20 Countries such as Canada, Australia, and even Sweden have much lower mask compliance but with equal or lower case loads and deaths per capita than the US.21 If the effect was substantially beneficial we would not expect this outcome. A benefit too small to be measured must be weighed against a cost that is measurable. The longer people suffer under these mandates the costs come into greater focus. Interacting with a sea of faceless zombies is disrupting normal social cues, interactions, and at some level social cohesion itself. A smile can brighten ones day. Sadly, those are cancelled for now. This is stressful to the human psyche in a way that is not easily accountable. Theoretically solitary confinement shouldn’t be mentally taxing – and yet perplexingly it is among the harshest of punishments. Social interaction matters. Likewise on the individual level there are increasing reports of inflamed skin conditions and fungal infections from prolonged mask use.22 Further, fatigue and “brain fog” are elevated by long-term excess CO2 inhalation.23 No, masks do not decrease oxygen intake, but they do increase COintake  – even the pro-mask camp admits that – although they try to hand wave it away by disclaiming that such high levels of COare “tolerable” or pose no “serious” health risk. But, just because something is tolerable or not serious does not mean it is ideal either. No air conditioning on a 95 °F day is “tolerable” too but I doubt many would enjoy it long term. Would you forgo air conditioning forever if you were told it would save 10 lives? I suspect few would willingly partake in that offer. We are allowing the scolds to rhetorically guilt us into a corner where non-compliance with their arbitrary dictates is equated with sociopathic behavior merely because it is claimed a life could be saved. That is a dangerous precedent. It opens the door to justifying any demand upon one’s behavior if one meekly submits. 

What should be done

A more effective strategy would be to shift from indiscriminate universal mandates and toward targeted and individualized interventions. Resources are limited and should be focused and not scattered about. For example, N95 masks do largely protect the wearer. Unless regulations are impeding production, there is no reason supplies should be constrained anymore. If there are regulations, then remove them.  If you are concerned about exposure to yourself, wear a properly fitted N95 mask. This would be self-regulating in direct proportion to its effectiveness. If cases went up, then more people would opt to don masks, which would then drive the cases back down. Because the proportion of society at elevated risk (mostly those above age 70 with health conditions) is a minority there should be no issue in supply of such masks. Additionally, there is some limited mechanistic evidence that surgical (not cloth) masks may be useful in limiting droplets and aerosols in ill patients (although the viral load found was barely measurable even without the mask).24,25 This may be useful in a health care or home setting. Restricting such mask use to those at risk (N95) or actively sick (surgical) has the added benefit of signaling to everyone around them that they are to be avoided. Targeted social distancing would be vastly superior to a universal mandate. Fatigue over this standard among the clearly healthy leads to lapses in maintaining it. Let those at low to no risk foster herd immunity while staying distanced from those who are sick or at risk. We all have a role to play. It is counterproductive to force all to play the exact same role. Allow the healthy to be exposed (natural vaccination) to build herd immunity while focusing protective resources on those actually at serious risk.

Individualized measures based on a person’s risk profile are how this country and the rest of the world handled such decennial pandemics up until now. The strategy this year: lockdowns, social distancing, universal mask mandates – these are the unprecedented policies that should be scrutinized with a skeptical, critical, science based, analysis. 

Gregory Morin  @gregtmorin

B.S., Chemistry, Emory University

M.S., Chemistry, Emory University

Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, University of Notre Dame

List of Citations

Open Letter to the USG Board of Regents & Chancellor

Dr. Steve Wrigley,

I wanted to thank you for your dedication, work, and perseverance in developing and implementing a course of action that has made it possible for our state Universities to be open this fall. Returning to some semblance of normalcy is absolutely critical to the mental health and well being of the returning students. 

Although the social environment on campus has been more isolating than under normal circumstances, this is a vast improvement over the alternative of not having students on campus. As adults we are usually able to weather unexpected challenges in life, however this past spring and summer I gained new insights into how the young struggle with these novel obstacles. I witnessed both of my sons (18 and 22) grapple with the isolation of being “stuck” at home. Although parents and children share a close bond we all know as parents we can’t compete with the social fulfillment from their own peer group. They endured both social and mental isolation while simultaneously being educationally disadvantaged through involuntary online teaching. If we could all just read a book or watch TV and become proficient then schools would not exist. But they do exist – for the very critical reason that most people learn best in a direct, tangible, hands on environment. Teaching is often a dialogue, and that does not happen in the virtual world in any meaningful sense. But perhaps more critically (as this can lead to thoughts of suicide for many) is the despair that accumulates over time from the realization that there is no clear end point to these major life disruptions. Even prisoners know the length of their sentence.

As a father who does not want to be forced to stand by and witness his sons’ mental states spiral backward into darkness I plead with you to maintain your resolve and support our schools in remaining open. I know challenges lie ahead but your past wisdom in opening the schools for on campus instruction gives me great confidence that you will remain dedicated to putting our children first and doing what is in their best interest.

Sincerely,

Gregory Morin, Ph.D.

Some Context

Information without context is not merely useless, it can be dangerous. Context is the landscape that yields the perspective by which we can make an informed judgment. For example, if you are told your cholesterol is 150 without also telling you what the normal range is, what the known error of the test is, and what your previous values were then it is impossible to know whether this news is of concern or not. Without context we humans are predisposed evolutionarily to assume the worst; those with a heightened predilection for caution in the bush tend to pass on their genes. However in the modern era this instinct can be a counterproductive. Making a decision without relevant information is as bad as making a decision with completely wrong information. If you just learned that you have a tumor in your foot and your first instinct is to amputate your entire leg “just to be safe” you might argue this is the prudent thing to do. But if you later learn such tumors are easily treatable and rarely fatal then that would seriously call into question the rationality of an amputation. As a country we have similarly overreacted amidst an ocean of information lacking any sort of context: we have burned our house down to rid ourselves of termites. The response has been disproportionate to the risk precisely because the media has failed to provide the proper context to evaluate the risk relative to the costs. This lack of context has caused people’s imaginations to run rampant to the point where normal healthy people literally believe their life is in imminent danger if they step outside maskless. 

            How did we get here? The rise of the Internet has fostered an environment where news media competition has become cutthroat. The Internet has removed the normal barriers needed to produce and distribute news content thereby opening the floodgates of competition for a fixed pot of ad revenue. This has altered the reporting incentives in a way where engagement and sensationalism are valued over dispassionate objective reporting. To build a more loyal audience many news organizations have opted to narrow rather than broaden their appeal (a plant with few but deep roots will endure drought over one with many but shallow). They have found by focusing on content with a particular political bent they can maintain a stronger audience connection. In short the news has become extremely biased and sensationalized. This shift has created a fertile soil in which those with a personal political agenda may flourish. This shift in in the news landscape has given rise to a style of reporting known as “factual… but not truthful” otherwise known as “fake news.” It’s not fake because it’s a flat out lie, rather it is “fake” because while being factually true it omits certain other crucial facts – facts that give the story the proper context needed to get the whole picture. Not volunteering information is not “lying” so if caught in their subterfuge they can plausibly hand wave it away as a simple “mistake” or “oversight”. 

            A fanciful example would be “Local shop owner refuses to sell food to the hungry!” – this would be factually true, however the story would omit the additional pertinent detail that the store went out of business due to bankruptcy. So the reader is left with the belief that the storeowner is a heartless jerk. If the narrative of the story reinforces the reader’s preconceptions about the storeowner then it would never even occur to them to question the story. This is a common tactic to impugn a political opponent; report words out of context, often omitting a follow up sentence that completely contradicts what the report is trying to imply from the quote. 

            This same level of “factual but not truthful” reporting has infected nearly all of the corporate media’s reporting on the Covid pandemic.  As a result Americans are dramatically overestimating their risk of death. A recent survey revealed that people believe those aged 44 and younger account for 30% of deaths; the actual figure is 2.7%. Further, Americans overestimated the risk of death for those under 24 by 50-fold. As of August 15 a scant 320 people aged 24 and below have died from Covid-19 in the US. The cumulative risk for that group is 1 death per 322,000 which is on par with the one-year odds of dying from drowning. “Oh but they could spread it to the teachers!” Ok. Some more context. Those aged 25-64 have a 1 in 5,000 chance of dying from Covid – this is on par with the risk of dying in your vehicle on the way to work (1 in 8,303 per year).  Perhaps a more useful exercise would be the following: imagine there are 5,000 doors lined up and you have one chance to open the correct door to reveal the grand prize. When considered in terms of something desired (the prize) this seems almost hopeless, right? But curiously if we merely flip from prize to punishment (death) we suddenly feel like it’s almost certain we will pick the wrong door on the first try. This sort of irrational thinking yields these absurd egocentric displays of “die ins” by teachers at various schools and universities. Their risk of dying from Covid is no greater than their risk of dying while driving to and from work. And since masks “work” I can’t imagine what they are concerned about.             

Even though the young face almost no risk from Covid there is a much deadlier threat wending their way if we do not stay committed to returning to normal as quickly as possible. One would think if there were a looming threat that might kill hundreds of thousands of young people this would be headlining making news. Instead we get crickets. To what do I refer? The CDC recently reported that in the past 1 month an astounding 25% of respondents aged 18-24 reported seriously considering suicide. To put that in context, the normal range is 7-11% — considered over the past 12 months. For those aged 45-64 the number was only 3.8%. Clearly those who are making policy are hardly bothered by it as they blithely ignore their own children who are powerless to reverse this insane course. Even if 1% followed through on their thoughts it would be over one hundred thousand of our youth dead. When compared to fewer than 300 deaths to date for that same cohort the choice becomes clear: resume normal lives for our youth without delay. No more threats of shutting down school. No more social distancing. No more masks. No more online classes. Childhood years are a precious resource that the adults are looting from the children and squandering in a futile attempt to eradicate this virus. For shame. 

The Business of Policing

We live in curious times when it is the left getting broad traction on what up until a few weeks ago had been the domain of only the most radical of the anarchist-libertarians. They are demanding that the state (what some people call “government”) vis-à-vis its enforcement arm (the police) should play a diminished role in our lives. Unchecked abuses of authority (or rather “privilege”, literally Latin for “private law”) accumulated over space and time have finally reached a boiling point. To be clear, we libertarians have expounded for decades upon the obviously predictable and empirically proven flaws inherent to any state socialized monopoly system such as the police. But I suppose it isn’t until our predictions bear enough fruit that anyone wants to listen. So be it. The police are single payer security: monopoly service coupled with an extortionist payment scheme and zero liability has finally overflowed onto the bathroom floor of modern American society. It is heartening to see that people are finally awakening to the results of flawed incentives while equally depressing that so many have had to suffer death and injustice in order for people to finally take notice en masse. For those that are only capable of binary thinking, I’m not saying, “all cops are bad”. I’m saying that bad incentives produce poor outcomes because of a systemic lack of error correction.

For those communities looking to make a change to their policing system the obvious question is “What will you replace it with?” The simple answer is, “I don’t know.” And that is actually the point. This is why we have (free) markets, to give individuals a space in which to experiment to see which ideas work and which ones do not. Markets produce better outcomes not because of magical capitalist pixie dust but because given a problem to be solved, more minds are better than fewer. State monopoly systems fixate on only one way of doing something and then enforce that method upon all. Any variance from The One way is either outlawed or so heavily regulated as to make any attempt pointless. The state, lacking a profit motive, is incapable of rapid negative feedback (the loss part of profit/loss) if it implements a poor solution; it takes decades of public suffering for anyone to notice the accumulating damage of the failure. 

This movement to “defund the police” is the best thing for that industry –  in the same way that Obama’s ‘defunding’ of NASA with respect to the Shuttle program has spawned a whole new market for orbital lift companies (Space X, etc.). So how could this private policing/security model work in the real world? The beauty of any market is that it is inherently self-regulating due to the profit motive. For example, one vertical market possibility is this: client—>insurance company—>security company—>training academy. The entity to the right has to work to satisfy the demands of their customer to the left; if they don’t then the customer seeks out a different supplier and that former supplier suffers a loss. Without the state imposing the privilege of qualified immunity the individual police/security officers would carry their own indemnity insurance for their actions or their firm could cover them on their policy, but in either case, officers with a poor claim record would quickly become unemployable in the same way people that have multiple car accidents quickly find their premiums skyrocket. This is the market telling them perhaps they should seek a different career. The desire to prevent this would induce the self-regulation of more stringent training and screenings imposed upon the security firms by the insurance carriers seeking to minimize their claims resulting from rogue officers. Security firms that produce the best outcomes (solve or prevent crimes) would excel and gain more paying customers, those that do a poor job would go out of business – profit guides firms to delivering what the consumer demands: safe, effective, and efficient security. 

One common rejoinder to this model is “but what of the poor that can’t afford such security?”: well, please tell me about how “the poor” are receiving such great policing service in our current system? I’ll wait. But in all seriousness, there are many options in a market system, no doors are closed: community policing, á la carte subscription models, insurance pass through protection, charitable organizations, and many more I can’t envision. The next objection is typically “but what about law enforcement?” An indirect benefit of privatizing security/police is that it instantly nullifies all victimless crimes; no victim, no crime to solve and certainly no one to pay for it. Perhaps the laws stay on the books, but without an enforcement arm they are effectively null and void. Good. Nearly half the current prison population is for drug “crimes.” Ending the drug war in this way would create a huge public dividend of the billions not spent on pursuing such cases as well as dramatically reversing the current racial disparity in the prison system. 

While it does seem no one is currently calling for anything as radical as what I’ve outlined, the mere fact that the general populace is actively looking for some alternative is encouraging. Even if one community experiments and succeeds it would be the perfect empirical template to show that separation of police and state is no more radical than the separation of church and state.

Rescue our Seniors

Where there is death, we grieve. Death comes in many forms. It manifests not merely as the cessation of biological life also as the irreversible termination of relationships and experiences. We grieve that which is meaningful that we can’t get back. The truth of this is borne out by considering the grief many experience during the aftermath of a romantic break up. A rarely acknowledged collateral damage of this pandemic “shut down” is that of 3.2 million high school seniors. They are indeed experiencing that grief – and – just like the economic fall out for “non-essential” workers and businesses – no one seems to care.  Each passing day is a milestone that they should have experienced – Prom, honors night, senior night and apparently now graduation itself – but which has now been snatched away, never to return. You can delay a vacation, a wedding, a birthday party – you cannot delay that which cannot be rescheduled. And it is not merely events that some might dismiss as superficial trivialities. For student athletes counting on their athletic performance to qualify them for scholarships or team placement these set backs will have real world financial consequences.  If you find these statements overly dramatic, then I can only conclude you are not currently the parent of a high school senior. If you believe your own deferring of your life events is a sacrifice then you are deluding yourself. A real sacrifice is giving up something one can NEVER get back. In this regard high school (and college) seniors qualify. Sitting on the couch watching Netflix does not. Some are being asked to sacrifice much more than others. I take that back, they are not being “asked”, they are being “told.” Sacrifice leaves a much more bitter taste in your mouth when forced upon you rather than voluntarily given.

For 18 years they have anticipated that which every generation before them has enjoyed. But instead they get Lucy snatching the football away at the last second. Specious platitudes about how “we are all thinking of you” ring hollow; stop thinking and start doing. The Governor and the school boards CAN do something. If they actually cared about our seniors’ interests they would be steadfastly crafting a concrete plan to restore as much of what has been lost of the senior year rather than hiding behind non-committal weasel words of “hoping”  to try this or that. If anyone truly cared they could still squeeze several senior year milestones into a resurrected last two weeks of school. Not ideal, but better than nothing at all. And to all you parents trying to help, please stop. Well intentioned but poorly considered ideas of parents posting their own graduation photos online to honor their senior is pouring salt on an open wound. Honestly, this is like sending selfies from your ski trip to your buddy who broke his legs.

The constant false hope has been a destructive psychological rollercoaster. First it was just two weeks of closure, then two more, then finally, sorry, school year is over and oh by the way we’ve made this decision over 6 weeks in advance of the end of the school year. Why make decisions so far out? What purpose does it serve other than to virtue signal one’s adherence to the groupthink of the mob? If you can close schools on 3 days notice you can open them on 3 days notice. This is school, not the moon landing.

So what to do? At least in Georgia the outbreak and deaths have never gotten anywhere near what they claimed and we are clearly “over the hump” at this point (see here and here) . The Governor should permit the public school systems to resume normal operations if they so desire. Each school district can tailor their response to their own environment and to the desires of their parents and seniors. If schools are opened but some are still concerned for their health they are free to stay at home and continue as they have. But, we should not let the fears of some override the desires of everyone else. Hold high school sports, hold the Prom, hold Senior night – if people want to attend these events they can, but nobody is forcing anyone to attend them, it is quite easy to opt out: just don’t go. 

We have nothing to fear…

Amidst the current global pandemic of COVID-19 there is another more sinister and stealthy infection moving through society: BBD-20, Binary Brain Disease. It renders the victim incapable of analyzing any topic, in particular the COVID response, in anything other than a good/bad false choice mode. For years this disease festered amongst the political class but for the most part was confined to that realm. It has now broken through those ranks and spread to the general populace. It sickens the soul of this country, as its victims willingly disown the Constitution while all but begging for martial law. And people wonder how the fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan so easily subdued their populace into compliance.  They did so through fear; fear of the “other”. Today that other is not some corporeal enemy but instead the invisible specter of a potential harm. 

Currently the most common symptom of BBD-20 is the belief that any discussion regarding the immense social, economic, and mental devastation resulting from bankrupting tens of millions of people equates to an obvious desire to kill grandma and millions like her. Furthermore the infected commonly engage in very public virtue signaling via sanctimonious pronouncements about how obviously basic morality compels us to lock ourselves in our basement for an indeterminate period in order to protect the “vulnerable”. Newsflash: those that are immune compromised face that risk from all diseases, not just COVID. Anyone else at risk with COVID should protect himself or herself and not expect the rest of the planet to bankrupt themselves trying to protect them. There are reasonable precautions and there are unreasonable. Right now we are in the unreasonable zone, but even the mere thought of a conversation about dialing it back to the reasonable zone sends BBD-20 victims into apoplexy.

I suppose this is to be expected. Our society is largely the product of a public school system that propagandizes its citizenry into the false narrative that the state is our savior. A savior is of course omniscient (after all a less wise being cannot save us). It is imprudent to question our betters, so unsurprisingly those of us that do so are chastised to no end: “How dare you question such and such, don’t you know he’s an EXPERT!?” This mistaken belief in state level omniscience compels many to suspend their critical faculties and blindly follow the state anointed “experts.” Never mind that these very same “experts” told us in January that,

“this is not something that the citizens…should be worried about right now.” (Fauci, Jan 2020)

First we are told we don’t need masks, now we are told we do. Ok, well which is it? Were they wrong then and right now, or right then and wrong now? Were there weapons of mass destruction or were there not? When exactly is the state lying to us or when are they merely incompetent? I suspect it is a bit of both, after all, the political class (elected and appointed) are largely made up of the C-students that couldn’t cut it in the real world and so have carved out a cushy sinecure in the hierarchy of state mediocrity.

Again this ignorance is to be expected. The state school systems do not teach economics. They barely teach history. Nobody learns about tradeoffs, marginal benefits, or the division of labor. If they did they would understand one does not simply “stop” the marketplace and restart it later with little to no harm. If these concepts were taught, then the political class would understand one can’t repair the damage that they are causing throughout society by merely printing money. Most people genuinely have no idea how the goods they order on Amazon end up on their front porch. Even the most mundane of products is the result of the truly invisible hand of the market that coordinates millions of individuals across hundreds of sectors. To truly grasp the depth of that statement I encourage the reader to take a look at “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read.

In any event, in a non-political society where “the people” lack the power to meddle with things they don’t understand their lack of understanding would be irrelevant, insofar as they could not derail that which they cannot grasp. The current state of affairs is comparable to people banning electricity but expecting their smart phones to continue working.

It is telling that the more vocal proponents of these “shut it down” measures are those that work either directly or indirectly for the state or a state (tax) supported sector of the economy. Those other people, who have been deemed “non-essential,” they should lose everything. It’s for the “greater good” after all. Those in the non-essential camp see it differently. How grotesque a society have we become when someone can turn to their neighbor and tell them that they are “not essential” to society while they collect their “essential services” paycheck from their state connected employer? Were the hospitality and other “non-essential” sectors of the economy allowed to operate again would they not see a steep decline in revenues? Yes, of course – but it wouldn’t be zero revenue as it is now. At this point anything is better than zero.

            Maybe, just maybe, the solution to this problem is not to go running to the very entity (the state) that is the proximate cause for the dilemma we see ourselves in. The state has only one solution for every problem it encounters: pass a law and then back that law up with the threat of violence – the state is literally a hammer that sees every problem as a nail. There are a million instances of state created distortions in society that have hampered our ability to cope with this pandemic, but let’s just look at the top three:

(a) Certificate of Need laws severely restrict the number of hospitals and hospital beds in Georgia (and in 34 other states in the US) – there would be far more beds right now had these laws never existed, this one is not even debatable,

(b) Regulatory bodies like the FDA have for years thrown up a wide assortment of regulatory barriers that have kept safe, cheap, and effective treatments and tests for a myriad of diseases and ailments from being available to the public or needlessly delayed them for years; to wit, the CDC delayed testing in this country for weeks as it bungled about trying to make its own kit while existing kits were already available

(c) the sclerotic monetary and financial system propped up by the inflationary monetary policies of the Federal Reserve ensured and promoted wide ranging financial moral hazards that rendered most companies unable to cope with unpredictable downturns such as this pandemic – a pandemic that would never have become a pandemic in the US had (a) and (b) not been an issue.

            To turn to the state now as our savior is like asking your dentist to remove all your teeth, both cavity infected and not, when it was that same dentist that advised you your whole life to eat sugary foods and brush your teeth with cake frosting. Yes, perhaps now you have few options, but at least get a second opinion and make a note to ignore or critically evaluate all future advice. 

A Blind Hen…

As the saying goes, even a blind hen finds corn. Georgia House Bill 523 is just that bit of legislative corn. Typically it is large, distant governing bodies (federal and/or state) that impose upon their subsidiaries egregious violations of individual liberty. These large bodies commonly compel all to march in lock step with their directives irrespective of the preferences of the smaller communities and individuals. But as Yoda says, “size matters not.” Small governing bodies may be just as injurious to individual rights as large bodies. House Bill 523 is trying to right the wrongs that numerous local, city, and county governments have inflicted on their citizens. In short, House Bill 523 would remove the legal authority for such communities to restrict the property rights of those who wish to engage in “short term” rentals (under 30 days) of their homes. HB 523 has been dubbed the “AirBnB” bill because it is attempting to restore the rights of homeowners to use their property as they see fit with respect to these rentals. Many local communities currently impose either outright bans on such short-term rentals or onerous restrictions (such as being forced to plead one’s case in front of a board of commissioners – basically begging to be permitted to use their own property). This bill would do away with these regulations and render the local governing bodies impotent in this domain.

The indignant outcries from the local communities’ governing leaders (e.g. Morgan County which encompasses a wide swath of lake homes and charming antebellum abodes – see this article (behind paywall)) concerning this bill is deafening in its hypocrisy. Why this is a blatant violation of THEIR right to violate the rights of those that live in their community! This ranks right up there with the indignation of slave owners who were forced to free their slaves after the Civil War – “I can’t believe what is being done to me!” These are the same people that will put their hand over their heart and recite the pledge of allegiance while fondly reflecting on the phrase “liberty and justice for all” and then with a straight face tell a homeowner, “no, sorry, we have the right to tell you how you may or may not use YOUR property.” Yep, nothing illustrates pursuit of happiness better than other people imposing their will on you.

The objections to HB 523 run the usual gamut of crony-capitalism, protectionism, and nods toward the protection of existing homeowners. Unsurprisingly existing bed and breakfasts and local hoteliers oppose this bill since AirBnB and similar real estate sharing activities threaten their business. But it is not the domain of government to protect the economic interests of businesses by restricting competition  – regardless of how rampant this behavior may otherwise be across this country (from taxi medallions, to Certificate of Need laws, to food truck regulations and similar “turf” zoning). The other concern raised is typical fear-mongering; paint a worst case scenario to the constituents and then step in and offer a solution to prevent said scenario, “well, this might happen, so let’s ban it.” But of course existing laws prohibiting public nuisance or excessive noise already cover the scenarios they outline; there is no need for additional restrictive controls.  

In fact, this bill is so astutely crafted that it carves out an exception for existing private protective covenants that govern short-term rentals. Why? Because protective covenants are voluntary contracts: one may opt in or out by buying or not buying property governed by them. But this is not so with ordinances and regulations, they come and go and change with the prevailing political winds so it is impossible to ever be sure what your property rights will be in one, five or ten years. Perhaps HB 523 will change just a bit of that.

Hypocrisy on Trial

Trump is going to win re-election. Bigly. And the Democrats have ironically all but guaranteed that result with this head-scratching insane witch-hunt of impeachment. The political class may think they have uncovered a cleaver loophole to abort their least favorite President but the rest of us, the American public, can see right through their subterfuge. The core of the argument for impeachment demonstrates the willful hypocrisy so often demonstrated by both parties against the other. They are literally saying that Trump’s political extortion to expose Biden’s political extortion is impeachable whereas Biden’s identical behavior is perfectly fine. Furthermore, these aren’t mere allegations against Biden – we literally have video of him bragging about doing just that. Biden boasted about how he got Ukraine to drop an investigation into Burisma Holdings Ltd in front of a small entourage by insisting if they didn’t do what he asked the foreign aid they had been promised would not be forthcoming. Sound familiar? That seems like an odd request for  a Vice-President. Why would he be so interested in the internal machinations inside Ukraine? Well it just so happens that his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board of Burisma at the time. Of course no one in the corporate press seems curious to ask how Hunter Biden managed to secure a million dollar a year sinecure on the board of one of the largest Ukrainian natural gas companies. I’m sure it was complete coincidence that this dropped right into his lap while his father was Vice-President. Nothing to see here, move along, move along. 

Basically the new standard they are trying to set in Congress is that as soon as a politician is running for political office they are immune from all investigations of potential wrong doing. The only entity that could open such investigations is the government. And those in the government in the same party as the candidate certainly aren’t going to open such investigations. So that leaves only people from the other party. So the second someone from the other party suggests to open an investigation they themselves will be hauled before Congress on violation of “ethics” rules for having even proposed such a thing.

So what Trump intimated be done is no different than if say Exxon had a new CEO and that CEO asked that some outside party investigate the former CEO because there was strong evidence of wrongdoing. Let’s even say that former CEO was still on the board and seeking to claim his spot again. Even then, would anyone object to this scenario? Seems perfectly reasonable shareholders would want to know if there were wrong doing at the top of their company. Seems perfectly reasonable we would want to know if Biden engaged in unethical horse-trading during his tenure as VP.

Trump simply asked for the matter to be looked into. He didn’t ask them to “get him” by fabricating evidence. It is entirely possible the results could have been to fully exonerate Biden. There is no way to say a priori this request would necessarily benefit Trump politically. Firstly, it was unknown (and still is) who the final Democratic nominee for president will be, and secondly, it was equally likely that Biden could have been cleared or have implicated in something inappropriate. 

The final irony here is that what Trump (or Biden) actually did is something that nearly all politicians do all the time. They are constantly making deals to advance their own interests – that is literally how they get most votes for their bills, e.g. the old “you vote for my bill, I’ll vote for yours.” How is that ethical? A politician willing to undermine the interests of their constituents to advance their own political capital is certainly engaging in far more egregious behavior that what Trump is accused of. He literally was suggesting that a foreign country would not get a GIFT of OUR money unless they help him investigate possible FRAUD committed by a former elected official. Oh, the horrors! Lock up that monster now!

Warren’s Healthcare Plan Dead on Arrival

The likely Democratic front-runner, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has at long last lifted the proverbial kimono to reveal the wizardry by which she proposes to fund the so-called “Medicare for All.” She has long insisted her plan would require no new taxes for the middle class while deftly sidestepping questions seeking details on the funding scheme. Those details have now been revealed and it is apparent that the veracity of her prior assertions depends on her definition of “tax”, “middle class”, and “total costs.” In Warren’s world a payment that the government requires you to make is not a tax but rather a “contribution.” Ok. Although Democrats are not shy about wanting to drain your wallet via taxation, they assiduously avoid associating themselves with that particular term, instead opting to use feel-good Orwellian phrases such as the “Affordable” Care Act’s “shared responsibility payment.” Other common taxation weasel words include “revenue,” or board/department of “equalization” when referring to the entity responsible for taking the money. The Department of Theft would be more honest, but I digress. 

The crux of the financial underpinnings for her plan rely on a new employer mandate, that is, a “contribution” paid by every “large” (whatever that means) employer to the federal government in place of the amount they used to pay in health insurance premiums. But I’m sure that amount will never go up, just like the original income tax rate of 6% was promised to never increase. New government programs always cost exactly what they are estimated to and efficiently achieve their stated goals. 

But wait, there’s more. The remaining funding for her plan relies on what George Bush senior would have charitably called “voodoo economics.” It makes broad assumptions about economic growth and how much can be saved by consolidating services under the federal umbrella as well as laughable estimates of how much more tax revenue can be brought in by increasing IRS enforcements efforts. How tone-deaf does a candidate have to be to propose increasing IRS audits? Truly, Americans love nothing more than the prospect of an IRS audit. It’s right up there with Root Canals for All. 

But don’t take my word for it. Just listen to what her fellow Democrats have to say about this plan. Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign went on the record stating that,

For months, Elizabeth Warren has refused to say if her health care plan would raise taxes on the middle class, and now we know why: because it does. Senator Warren would place a new tax of nearly $9 trillion that will fall on American workers.”

Additionally, the Urban Institute (a highly regarded liberal think tank) projects a Warren/Sanders style single payer plan would raise health care spending by $7 trillion over a decade, while healthcare economics Kenneth Thorpe finds such a plan would increase costs to more than 70% of people who currently have private insurance. And these are people on the left!

To briefly touch on the economics of her new “contribution” it should be obvious this would have the side effect of suppressing future earnings of the very middle class she is pandering to. Economics is (partly) the study of the seen and the unseen (Bastiat). The seen benefit here is the “free” healthcare. The unseen result is that future wages and hires will necessarily be lower in comparison to a world where this new “contribution” does not exist. Companies do not have an infinite supply of money; if resources are mandated toward an MFA payment scheme, then that much less will be available for raises, new hires, and expansion of operations. In short this new tax would be a million ton anchor on the American economy. To suggest one can add $20 trillion in new spending without harmful economic consequences is either deranged or willfully dishonest. Neither is a good option from a presidential candidate.

Quora: I’m sick of paying for everyone else’s kids to go to school. Why can’t people without children pay smaller amounts of school tax than people with children?

Why? Because we live in a world populated by morons that can’t seem to comprehend the idea that just because an investment (yes, education is an investment) benefits other people indirectly doesn’t therefore require all of “society” pay for said investment through a progressive theft (taxation) scheme

My God people. So a factory is built and it employs people and produces goods we all enjoy, does that mean “society” should pay to have all factories built? To subsidize all business creation? I invest in a car so I can get to work and I’m a heart surgeon. Guess without that car I couldn’t operate on people. I guess “society” has to buy me a car otherwise you have no right to think I should ever operate on you if you need my services.

“Society” benefits from everything everyone does (other than crimes of course). Does that mean every dang thing anyone does should be bought and paid for by some kid of tax?

The idea that without government schools throngs of children would be neglected and uneducated is absurd. So I guess all these same non-school inclined parents are now also neglecting to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their children too? Oh no you say of course they would do those things. All except for education. Right. Nope just sit at home and watch TV son. It’s alright

Government schools helping the least advantaged? Right! Where are the most common complaints about schooling levied? At the poorly run schools from poor districts. And that’s the outcome right now with government in charge. That’s your system folks. If the same occurred right now under a non government school environment you’d never hear the end of the screaming for the government to step in. But it happens on their watch and those of us insisting on a free market in education as the solution (and only moral system as it involves no theft) are called the crazy ones.

But I’m not surprised. What would you expect to come out of government indoctrination centers err I mean public schools but mindless brainwashed apologists for the very system that produced them. The lesson there is theft is perfectly fine as long as I can come up with an ex post facto reason why I think you might have indirectly benefited from the tax money I stole from you.