The Capitol Gains

Most people may have no idea what capital gains are, but they’re darn sure they need to be taxed more. Biden’s rhetoric on that topic is straight from the populist playbook: “Why, it is so unfair that the rich pay lower rates on capital gains when you, dear sir, must pay a much higher percentage on your paycheck!” 

            First, he tells us that “the rich” are not paying their “fair share,” whatever that is supposed to mean. But in fact, the top 1% of earners pay nearly 40% of all income taxes. Their average tax rate is two to three times higher than all other tax-paying groups. They pay more in taxes than do the bottom 90% of all taxpayers combined. Even though their share of total income is 21%, they pay almost double that as a share in taxes (40%). Exactly how much would be enough to qualify as a “fair share”?            

            Capital gains tax rates of 15% and 20% (we’ll ignore the Obamacare NIT 3.8% surtax for now) are said to amount to some kind of “loophole” or “giveaway” to the wealthy. But crucial context is missing here, namely the historical reasoning behind these rates, which are based on two factors: risk, and double taxation.

            Let’s tackle risk first. Wage income is risk-free. As long as an employee does his job he will always receive his paycheck. Employers do not withhold wages or discount them based on the performance of the business that week. They do not lower them if the product that the employee helped to produce fails to sell as expected. Capital gains, however, are derived entirely from investments that are 100% at risk. What would be the incentive to risk one’s savings in useful investments only to have the government (as proposed) take up to 50% (including state taxes)?

            Note that the government itself risks nothing, yet reaps a reward (in the form of capital gains taxes) from every winner while leaving every loser hanging out to dry (if all of your investments lose money the government doesn’t give you a tax refund). From the government’s perspective capital gains taxation is literally a game of “heads I win, tails you lose.”

            The second fact that the “loophole” claim ignores is that capital gains are already diminished due to prior taxation on the source of the invested funds. Wage income is taxed once (until subject to a sales tax, but this only lends support to the idea of abolishing one or the other). However, capital gains come already diminished by previous taxation. Suppose a worker earns $100 in wages. After taxes (federal, state, FICA, etc.) she now has $60. She invests that $60 in some speculative venture (stocks, real estate, etc.). After a few years that $60 investment grows to $120, so she sells it in order to enjoy those gains. But had the original $100 not been taxed she would have been able to invest the full $100 and thereby seen it grow all the way to $200. So the original taxation has already diminished her returns on that investment by $80. 

            To offset this tax burden somewhat (and thereby to encourage investment) the capital gains rate has historically been set lower than taxes on wage rates. In our example, in which a $60 investment turns into $120, a 20% capital gains tax on the $60 gain means $12 in taxes, for an after tax gain of $48. But the Democrats are proposing to DOUBLE the capital gains rate, from 20% to 40%. This would reduce that current system’s $48 gain to a mere $36. 

            Here’s what that means. The entire $60 she invested was at risk of falling to $0. Some investments don’t pan out. Sometimes you lose everything. If people are at risk of losing $60 and stand to gain a mere $36, people will be less likely to engage in such investment in the first place, which decreases everyone’s standard of living. The tax both reduces the investor’s effective return and, to the extent it does not dry up the investment market entirely, tends to shift future investments into far riskier (higher return) ventures to compensate investors for the higher capital gains taxes. A market dominated by primarily riskier ventures is a much more volatile and wasteful one, since higher risk generally means more failures. Junk bonds will become the new standard investment

            If the Democrats were politically savvy and not devoted to ideology above all else they would propose eliminating all taxes on capital gains and setting the corporate tax rate to 0%. We would see an explosion in domestic investment and job creation as companies from all over the globe came to the US to set up shop and expand. This happened to an extent with Trump’s corporate tax cuts, though not as much as we might have hoped. Why? Because no one trusts the US government on taxes anymore. No matter how “permanent” the rates are claimed to be, we all know that just like Lucy with the football, whatever tax regime we have today will likely be different tomorrow. And the Democrats are just proving them right by fiddling with taxes not even three years later.

             Sleepy Uncle Joe is just wrong when he says “fairness” demands that capital gains be taxed the same as wage income. He is either being deliberately deceitful or wholly ignorant. Neither is a good option.

Get Shorty

The GameStop™ short-selling drama is one of those rare events in the news cycle where literally every analysis – from the right and the left – is dead wrong. There is nothing wrong with short selling. There is nothing wrong with individuals or companies coordinating actions in order to drive a stock price up or down. Value is subjective therefore price manipulation is a meaningless term. There is nothing wrong with trading platforms suspending trading, for any reason, or none. Pump and dump schemes are lottery analogues: many pay in to benefit a few. No one deserves sympathy, scorn, or accolades for their actions in these events. This entire affair is morally neutral. It’s no different than card-counters winning big and then getting tossed out of the casino.  

Humans denigrate that which they do not understand and short selling is no exception. We can understand long selling (buy low, sell high) whereas the appeal of short selling is more cryptic. In both cases, however, the goal is profit. Entrepreneurial profit is obtained by accurately assessing consumer demand, that is, understanding a market well enough that one can predict its future. Investing profit is similar. An accurate assessment of a company’s market behavior informs the investor as to whether or not it is being well run. If so, then its value will rise, whereas if not, a decline is on the horizon. Stock trading is in essence betting on yourself: how accurate are your assessments? If you believe a company is well managed then you invest long, whereas if you believe the opposite, then you invest short. The social function of stock speculation is to keep the price (on average) where most believe it should be. Both sides vote in an eternal election guided by profit seeking. That some people profit through this process at the expense of others should not be surprising. Stock speculation is informed gambling, and gambling is a zero sum game. 

If enough people believe a company is poorly managed and act in coordination they can drive the price down to where new ownership can wrest control away from current management and set about repairing the damage. Short selling is the market repairing itself (spontaneous regulation). This price-derived feedback mechanism corrects for misallocation of resources being squandered by poorly run firms. The long sellers should thank the short sellers. They will be the ultimate beneficiaries of an appreciated price contingent on new management adeptly repairing past damage. It is bemusing when such coordinated beneficial market actors are denounced while bleatings about “our democracy” to effect identical coordination in the political arena are lionized. 

If such coordinated action takes place on ones property, then one is within their rights to disrupt it if they believe it to be injurious to their interests. Robinhood™ can limit trades, kick users off their platform and otherwise impede site functionality if they desire to do so. Were I such a user I would be quite angry about it – but it would be their right. But it would also be my right to ditch the platform. One can be both angered by the actions of another while understanding one’s “rights” have not been violated. Robinhood™ will likely suffer financial loss due to their actions. And that is fine. Individuals and companies do not have a right to be shielded from the consequences of their actions. State backed governments have created a moral hazard where such protections are expected. We play the game and when we lose we appeal to government to make things more “fair” – for us. We seek anti-trust legislation when those acting in unison might impact our profits. We seek subsidies to protect us from foreign (and sometimes domestic) competition. We seek intellectual property rights to protect us from “unfair” competition. And when those seeking these protection are granted it they become ever more “grateful” to those in power. This “gratitude” helps the political class maintain their grip on power and so the cycle continues. Just sit back and watch. The politically well-connected elites will soon be rewarded with “sensible regulation” to restrict the impact that you, the coordinated individual can have on their interests.

A Time for Mitosis

The fallout from the recent Capitol Hill ((a) uprising, (b) insurrection, (c) coup, (d) rebellion, (e) mostly peaceful protest, (f) all of the above) has ignited a movement of national secession – not of political boundaries (yet) but rather electronic and economic ones. The opening salvo was Twitter’s summary ejection of Trump from their platform. Soon after the right-of-center Twitter competitor Parler was drummed out of the Google Play store, the Apple App store, and it’s entire network infrastructure mothballed by Amazon on their AWS network. They were initially blamed for facilitating communication between those invading Capitol Hill however it turns out Facebook and other platforms were instrumental towards those ends – I’m sure it was only an innocent mistake that Parler was singled out for execution. 

Orwell’s fictional ‘thoughtcrime’ is now real. Those opposing the corporate press’s narrative are no longer merely ‘wrong,’ they are ‘deniers’ and as such a threat to ‘safety.’ But the punishment for ‘wrongthink’ comes not from the state, but instead private actors. The corporate media are shameless in their hypocrisy. Private companies may be forced to bake gay wedding cakes or remain closed during a state imposed ‘lockdown’ but simultaneously have every right to refuse service or employment to Trump supporters. The putative rationalization for such behavior is naturally not ‘censorship’ but rather ‘safety.’ It then becomes a trivial matter to justify any actions if the stated goal is safety. This is how their ideological goals are smuggled in – via the rubric of public safety. Had these platforms responded similarly to the widespread and pervasive violence seen last summer (or when left-wing protestors invaded the Wisconsin state capitol building in 2011) then perhaps this behavior might have been viewed as less pretext and more principle. Fortunately Twitter can’t literally imprison us (yet). The only ‘justice’ they can mete out is one of electronic excommunication with all the due process of a drumhead court. 

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it”.
John Gilmore

Today’s electronic secession differs from the previous one however. In 1861 it was the wife who tried to leave but was beaten into submission by her jealous husband. Today the wife is kicking the husband out of the house; she packed his bags and put them on the front porch. The left has wanted this divorce for years and now they have their excuse. But rather than bemoan this perhaps we should celebrate it. The first step in acknowledging this farce of a “united” states is to recognize there are irreconcilable differences. Yes the divorce will be difficult but achieving anything of value in life is rarely easy. In many ways this fracturing mirrors the biological reality of the world. Cell division follows a pattern of cellular growth to a point whereupon mitosis begins and the cell sets about dividing. Perhaps a country of 350 million is just a tad too big to expect ideological solidarity. Maybe we are more Balkanized than United and just as Yugoslavia split asunder so should we. Such fracturing of groups is a common process. It is the primary reason there exists hundreds of differing Christian denominations. Within every group disagreements will arise and swell to the point of becoming irreconcilable. The groups then go their own separate and peaceful ways. The irony is that these amicable divisions were possible only because the founding fathers had the wisdom to not bind any single denomination to the state. It is now time for a separation of government and state so that many and varied governments may form freely and peacefully and the people may form political unions of their choosing and not one imposed by their neighbor. There is no principled reason to force people into a political union at this point other than pure sentimentality or nostalgia. 

 This electronic ostracism will inspire a renaissance of new technology, new platforms, and new ways of interacting with one another that will render the current ideological and political subjugation impotent. Impossible? Just recall that no one could have predicted the growing irrelevancy of those former gatekeepers of the pre-Internet world (e.g. publishing, music, shopping, news media, entertainment, etc.). It is only when the powerful abuse their position that they lay the seeds of their own demise. 

Mask Equivocation

            Do masks “work”? We keep hearing that term thrown around by the politicos, talking heads, and media nags, but they never bother to define it. There is a reason for this. The reason? Equivocation. Equivocation is the deployment of ambiguous language so that one may never be called out for inaccuracies. If a word can have multiple meanings then you can safely call up whichever meaning gets you your get of jail free card. So when they say “masks work” what they are factually referring to is the ability of a properly fitted N95 mask to offer limited utility in limited situations for a limited duration. But they don’t mention those details. Rather, they reference that term without context in order that you the listener (or reader) will assume the discussion relates to the policy, not science, position regarding masks. Namely that they have been shown to effectively halt or diminish the rate of infection and death among populations that deploy them universally. This belief, however, is not supported by empirical evidence. Positive claims such as these (X does Y) are subject to the scientific method because they are falsifiable. That means it is possible to conceive of an experimental outcome that would not support the claim. For example, scientists once thought that electromagnetism travelled through a medium known as the ether. Experiments were done that supported the claim. Then one day an experiment was done that did not (Michelson-Morley). That one experiment overturned the entire theory of the ether. That is how falsifiability works. It does not matter if you have a thousand studies that support your claim. It only takes one piece of empirical evidence that does not and that claim is void or must be adjusted to conform to the new evidence. 

            This is the situation with “masks work.” Yes, the New York Times may cherry pick some locality that introduced masks followed by declining “cases” (I’m looking at you selectively charted Kansas counties). They may even find dozens of those. But we only need one that doesn’t conform to the narrative (all things equal). We have hundreds (numerous examples can be found at and here). But I’ll share just a couple of the most damning ones here. 

            Connecticut (97%), Massachusetts (97%), and California (94%) all have had continuous mask mandates for the chart period (compliance rate%). Florida (89%) ended theirs at the point shown. If you weren’t told could you pick out the state with no societal restrictions (masking, gatherings, school, sports, etc.)? Not only did cases rise among all four, they rose concurrently. That seems like an odd coincidence for such geographically disparate locales (Northeast, West, and South). Almost like the virus follows a well-established seasonality profile that is invariant to our various mitigation measures. And to be fair we can see that even though there is no state mandate in Florida the masking rate is still quite high (89%) in Florida (86% in Georgia for the curious). But this still doesn’t really help the masks work camp; all four states are rising (indeed the more compliant masking states are rising faster). There is simply no correlation of the proposed measure with the desired outcome. You may claim crowing roosters cause the sun to rise and cite numerous correlated examples; but I only have to provide one example of the sun rising in silence to settle that argument.

            If the masks “worked” then the “cases” would remain at baseline noise and never rise. Or would rise in some clear relationship between mask compliance rates and cases. Not even that is seen. Clearly something else is at work here. Clearly the masks are not having the effect that the “experts” tell us they should. At this point the masks serve no other purpose than as an externalized reminder from the state that we are in a self-made “crisis” that only the state can save us from. That’s quite convenient. But for the masks we would be unaware of anything amiss. A true crisis doesn’t require daily reminders that there is in fact a crisis. Ask yourselves then, why does this one?

Open Letter to Washington State Rep Jenny Graham

This is a first ever guest post by my good friend Martin Hughes addressing the heavy Covid related governmental restrictions ongoing in his state of Washington.


The Honorable Jenny Graham
404 John L. O’Brien Building
Olympia, WA 98504

Dear Representative Graham,

I am writing to you with regard to the restrictions implemented by Governor Jay Inslee related to Covid-19. This is a follow-up to my letter of 24 April 2020, in which I stated, “I am writing to enlist your support in calling for an immediate cessation of all government restrictions related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus outbreak;” and it is a follow-up to the two subsequent online submissions on this topic that I have provided to your office through the web site.

My opposition to Governor Inslee’s continuing lockdown restrictions stems from my background as a scientist. As I mentioned in my previous letter, we have known the impact of lockdowns from the very beginning: Increases in poverty-related adverse physical health outcomes including obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, substance abuse, domestic violence; and increases in poverty-related and isolation-related adverse mental health outcomes including depression, anxiety disorders, stress, suicides, to name a few. And of course, we know of the mounting societal costs we are paying and will have to pay for years to come due to world-wide starvation as predicted by the World Food Program, and the excess mortality we will experience due to lockdown-related limitations in primary care, including cancer screenings. Also, as I noted in my previous letter, we don’t need to rely on an infamously fraudulent model from Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, London to ascertain the scale of the impact of these ill-advised lockdowns. The connection between poverty and the above listed adverse physical and mental health outcomes is extensively documented in the literature.

Note well, these are not due to the virus. They are due to the draconian lockdown orders issued in response to the virus. I have said this from the very beginning, as have many of my fellow scientists and other academics. In my letter from six months ago, I provided quotes from Nobel laureate Michael Levitt, Stanford professors Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya, and professor Richard Epstein from New York University, all urging proportionality in our response to the virus, and decrying the “draconian measures that are now being implemented” (in the words of Dr. Epstein). Thankfully, more and more scientists are recognizing what some of us have been saying from day one: Lockdowns are anti-scientific, useless as a response to a viral outbreak – and more than useless, they are outright harmful. Earlier this month, Dr. Bhattacharya, joined by Dr. Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard Medical School, issued the “Great Barrington Declaration” urging the replacement of blanket lockdown orders with strategic interventions designed to protect those most vulnerable to Covid-19. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) has reversed course just this month. Dr. David Nabarro, the WHO special envoy on Covid-19 stated on 08 October, “We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” noting, “Lockdowns just have one consequence that you must never, ever belittle, and that is making poor people an awful lot poorer.” 

The evidence continues to accumulate. Sweden defied the prevailing orthodoxy and made the science-based decision to not undertake a lockdown. The results are in: Sweden, with no lockdown, experienced more than 10 times fewer Covid deaths than Ferguson’s farce of a model predicted they would. Sweden has fewer Covid deaths per million than many countries that did enforce a lockdown, including Spain, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. And what is most significant, life has returned to normal in Sweden. Not a “new normal” – the old normal, just as it was when I was an exchange student at Uppsala University 24 years ago. And yet, like so much else, Governor Inslee and his enablers continue to ignore Sweden’s success. Despite the accumulating evidence of the ineffectiveness and outright counterproductive nature of lockdowns, Governor Inslee is still enforcing his widespread irrational, overbearing, indiscriminate lockdown policies, including restrictions on businesses and a statewide mask mandate.

About those masks. Recently, Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, absurdly stated in testimony before Congress, that a flimsy cloth mask would be more effective in protecting him from the virus than a vaccine. This was a bizarre statement, given that the public health community previously proclaimed that the purpose of the masks was to protect others, not one’s self. But beyond that, it was a preposterous statement given what we know about the ineffectiveness of masks to prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses. Prior to the coming of Covid, we had data going back 100 years to the Spanish flu, in particular data from controlled trials conducted over the last 40-50 years on masks, all of which came to the same conclusion: Cloth masks do not prevent the transmission of respiratory viruses. This makes perfect sense: These flimsy masks were not designed to block virus particles. Of course, Dr. Redfield knew this at the time of his testimony. His very own taxpayer-funded CDC published a paper just a few months ago which concluded, based on a review of 10 randomized controlled trials, that face masks have no substantial effect on the transmission of influenza.[1] This is consistent with the well-publicized conclusions of health authorities in Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, who have all concluded that masks are not useful in limiting the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In addition to the data from scientific studies, we also now have extensive real-world empirical data showing increases in cases of Covid-19 subsequent to implementation of mask mandates in many locales throughout the world. On 10 October, Dr. Simone Gold tweeted a chart illustrating that 19 of the 20 areas in the United States with the highest number of new Covid-19 cases over the previous 2 weeks have mask mandates. And just last week, the CDC itself published the results of a July 2020 study of Covid-19 in 11 outpatient care facilities in the United States, which showed that out of the 154 Covid-19 patients interviewed, 70.6% reported wearing masks “always”, and another 14.4% reported wearing a mask “often”. Between them, the mask-wearing groups accounted for 85% of the confirmed infections.[2]

The data continues to accumulate, and the science is clear: masks do not prevent the transmission of respiratory influenza-like viruses. And yet our governor continues to mandate their use, a clear violation of personal freedom and individual rights. 

Another point about the masks: As I informed the governor in a voice mail message when he first mandated masks, and as I told you as well in my e-mail at the time, masks are in fact harmful to our individual and collective ability to fight off SARS-CoV-2. Our best defense against viruses is our innate immune system. Our immune systems need exposure to the countless innocuous microorganisms in our environment, our “microbiome”, to function properly. This is how our immune system gets its exercise. This is what keeps our immune system vigilant. You can think of this exposure as daily programmatic updates to the software of our immune system. Putting a mask over one’s mouth and nose erects a barrier between the immune system and that microbiome, that daily update. It won’t stop viruses, because they are too small. But it will reduce exposure to the larger, mostly innocuous particles that update and train our immune systems. This is madness.

I am amazed every time I venture out into the public and see a sea of mask-covered faces. I am astonished that my fellow Washingtonians tolerate such an incredibly intrusive violation of their very person. A person’s face is such a profoundly personal aspect of their very identity, made “in the image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26). The resemblance to one’s parents and grandparents is a constant reminder of one’s heritage. At the same time, the uniqueness of each person’s face is a testament to their individuality. It really is no wonder that the forces of collectivism and socialism want to see those individual faces covered up. Faces that give a constant reminder of their individuality, their humanity, their personhood. Socialists are not interested in people as individuals. They are only interested in people as cogs in their socialist machine. 

One last point. The WHO estimates that 10% of the world’s population has been infected by SARS-CoV-2. Many scientists believe it is actually much more than that, but for the sake of argument, let us take their estimate. With a world population of approximately 7.5 billion, this equates to 750 million people. Given that approximately 1 million people have died from Covid-19 – another number that can be disputed, but again, taking this number for the sake of argument – this equates to an infection fatality rate of 0.13% for SARS-CoV-2. Now let us compare that to the infection fatality rate of the influenza virus. The following table provides the CDC estimate of the infection fatality rate for the seasonal flu over the last ten years:

YearInfuenza IFR (%)

The conclusion here is obvious: Using the WHO and CDC estimates, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is equivalent to the seasonal flu in terms of its overall lethality, at 0.13%. And that is even given that with the flu we have the advantage of a vaccine. But we don’t crash our economy for the flu each year. We take appropriate precautions and go on with our lives, just as we have done for millennia.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic ended several months ago, but the pandemic of fear continues. This is the worst result of the virus. Leftist politicians like Governor Inslee, medical bureaucrats like Dr. Redfield and Dr. Fauci, and their collaborators in the media have destroyed our collective ability to assess and manage risk. Covid-19 is a risk just like any other that we encounter in our daily lives, yet for some reason THIS risk has been elevated to a status far beyond any other. People die from heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, influenza, tuberculosis, car accidents, Alzheimer’s – all of these we recognize as inherent risks in life. Yet somehow, a single death from Covid-19 is intolerable – so much so that we have shut down our state, increasing death from many other tangential causes, in order to prevent a single death from Covid-19. This is madness.

On top of everything else, is the irony that we do have real means of reducing deaths from Covid-19, and it’s not by lockdowns and masks, but from numerous therapeutic options for managing the disease, all of which Governor Inslee denies or ignores. He always claims to be guided by the science, but he completely ignores it. Science is about forming a hypothesis, challenging the hypothesis experimentally, then affirming or rejecting the hypothesis based on the results. Based on the data and the science, there is no need for ongoing lockdown measures, no need for wearing masks. But Governor Inslee stubbornly clings to his hypothesis. This isn’t science, this is religion, the new faith of Covid Hysteria. This is policy-based “science”, not science-based policy.

I could go on, but I’ve taken up too much of your time. I just want to ask you, as my representative, to amplify my voice in Olympia. End this madness. End the lockdown. End the mask mandate. End the fear the Leftists are using to advance their agenda. Edmund Burke once stated: “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.” Leftists ignite and fan the flames of fear, then exploit that fear to create an excuse for their abuses of power. We can’t go on like this. We need to end this pandemic of fear and return to reason, and to life as normal.

Our governor has become a tyrant. He is using SARS-CoV-2 as an excuse to end our democratic form of government. He thinks his voice is the only voice that matters, and that he gets to unilaterally decide the law of the land. It is time to call him out on his despotic tyranny. C.S. Lewis recognized this behavior for what it is, noting, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

No. Governor Inslee does not get to rule over us like a tyrant. He does not get to decide our fate. We, the people decide. End the lockdown now. Repeal the mask mandate. Restore our freedoms.


Martin Hughes, Ph.D.

[1]   “In pooled analysis, we found no significant reduction in influenza transmission with the use of face masks.” Nonpharmaceutical Measures for Pandemic Influenza in Nonhealthcare Settings – Personal Protective and Environmental Measures. Xiao, J.; Shiu, E.Y.; Gao, H.; Wong, J. Y.; Fong, M. W.; Ryu, S.; Cowling, J. Policy Review. 26(5), May 2020. 

[2]   Community and Close Contact Exposures Associated with Covid-19 Among Symptomatic Adults ≥ 18 Years in 11 Outpatient Health Care Facilities – United States, July 2020. Fisher, K.A., et al. MMWR, 2020, 69(36):1258-1264.

Constrained Choices

Commissioner Chuck Horton was quoted in the October 8 issue of the Oconee Enterprise as stating, “The private sector has chosen not to take this on” while discussing a public-private partnership in Oconee county aimed at enhancing broadband internet access. This is a prime example of a “factual, but not truthful” statement. There is a reason this “choice” was not made.  Silence concerning factors that influenced this “choice,” leaves the reader to assume the motivations are either aloof disinterest or the perennial greed charge. It does seem quite odd that businesses normally motivated toward potential monetary gain would simply ignore a wide open market. Why could that be? Maybe, just maybe, it has to do with the never-ending obstacle-course of state and local regulations that impose artificial barriers and costs on potential carriers (see OCGA §46-5-1(a) and 48-5-423).

In dense population centers these barriers may have a smaller impact on the bottom line, however when the population thins out, those fixed costs remain the same while revenues decline. The point at which it does not make economic sense is rapidly approached. But in many cases the economic equation is not even a factor. Monopolization-enabling statutes that limit which carriers are even permitted to enter a particular market can play a much greater role. The carriers are not blameless though. In low population centers they will often petition local governments to exclude competition from their domain. The real problem though is not so much that such appeals are made, but rather that they are even possible to grant legally. Publix can not ask the Board of Commissioners to exclude all other grocery chains from Oconee (no such authority exists (I hope!)) and yet broadband carriers can petition to circumscribe or diminish their own competition. This is entirely due to anachronistic common carrier regulations that grant such authority. When we speak of eliminating regulations, this is what is meant – silent, invisible regulations you are not even aware exist but which impact your life in a meaningful away

But let’s just assume there are zero restrictions and it is simply a matter of profitability. The numbers in the Oct 8 article would seem to bear out why service right now is focused on population centers in the county and not everywhere. It is too rural a county to be profitable if people are not willing to pay the actual costs to obtain service. It is claimed Oconee County will front $4.5 million while Smart City Capital will manage the project. It is then stated that it’s “possible” Oconee will earn back its investment. Possible. Would you invest your retirement savings into a bond that might yield you a 0% return after 20 years? It’s not unsurprising then that any company or person would not want to risk their own funds in such a high-risk low-reward venture if these numbers are indicative of the profit potential. So how do we overcome the natural reticence to make such an investment? Well, we just take the money from people (through sales tax). If you have to fund something through taxation then that is a strong indicator you are engaging in economically destructive activity. Absent a taxation backstop, such projects lose money, that is, they take something of higher value and reduce it to something of lower value.            

If the citizens of this county wish to bring this project to fruition as outlined in the article then they should be willing to risk their own money by voluntarily buying into this venture. In other words, shareholders, not taxpayers. If this is truly a “good idea” then what is the risk? I know that using other people’s money (taxes) to fund something that disproportionately benefits you is the norm these days – but that doesn’t make it right. Principles over pragmatism

Postscript to Unmasked 10-19-2020

Shortly after the release of my article a paper appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports that investigated the suitability of various types of masks (N95, surgical, cloth, etc) to compare their efficacy in decreasing particle expulsion (source control). This is one of the better of the “pro-mask” type articles in that they are completely open and honest about the limitations of their studies as well as raising a very interesting hypothesis that if true, could very well mean masks are making the spread worse.

The idea is this: you breath out and the masks captures the particles. Ok. Where do they go? They don’t simply vanish into another universe. If they are adhered to droplets and aerosols (water) then once that material builds up on the mask interior further breathing will actually re-aersolize it through the mask spraying it out like a spray can. This would have the effect of creating a much broader and more disperse ejection of material given that it is now concentrated in one spot. Likewise, even if the water particles evaporate leaving the viral particles behind – they still exist – on the mask. They are now attached to the fibers etc of the mask. These are no irreversible chemical bonds, they are loose electrostatic interactions. This is important because this study showed that cloth masks actually produced more particles than no mask at all. The reason for this being that breathing through it cause mask material itself to become dislodged and break free. So if a virus can attach to these then the virus will be hitching a ride on them.

This casts serious doubt on the mitigation effects of masks insofar as it demonstrates the very real possibility that at best they are doing nothing whatsoever and at worst they could be amplifying the spread. The only way to avoid this scenario would be to use N95 or surgical masks and change them out for new ones over the course of a few minutes. We know this is not happening nor is it practical in an real sense to expect that. Therefore the best approach is to only mask the vulnerable with suitable masks and use such masking as a signal to others to maintain a wide berth and take other protective measures. If every tree is marked then which tree has the pot of gold?


“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

Postscript 10/19/2020

Shortly after the release of my article a paper appeared in Nature’s Scientific Reports that investigated the suitability of various types of masks (N95, surgical, cloth, etc) to compare their efficacy in decreasing particle expulsion (source control). This is one of the better of the “pro-mask” type articles in that they are completely open and honest about the limitations of their studies as well as raising a very interesting hypothesis that if true, could very well mean masks are making the spread worse.

The idea is this: you breath out and the masks captures the particles. Ok. Where do they go? They don’t simply vanish into another universe. If they are adhered to droplets and aerosols (water) then once that material builds up on the mask interior further breathing will actually re-aersolize it through the mask spraying it out like a spray can. This would have the effect of creating a much broader and more disperse ejection of material given that it is now concentrated in one spot. Likewise, even if the water particles evaporate leaving the viral particles behind – they still exist – on the mask. They are now attached to the fibers etc of the mask. These are no irreversible chemical bonds, they are loose electrostatic interactions. This is important because this study showed that cloth masks actually produced more particles than no mask at all. The reason for this being that breathing through it cause mask material itself to become dislodged and break free. So if a virus can attach to these then the virus will be hitching a ride on them.

This casts serious doubt on the mitigation effects of masks insofar as it demonstrates the very real possibility that at best they are doing nothing whatsoever and at worst they could be amplifying the spread. The only way to avoid this scenario would be to use N95 or surgical masks and change them out for new ones over the course of a few minutes. We know this is not happening nor is it practical in an real sense to expect that. Therefore the best approach is to only mask the vulnerable with suitable masks and use such masking as a signal to others to maintain a wide berth and take other protective measures. If every tree is marked then which tree has the pot of gold?

Postscript 2

I was interviewed on three podcasts concerning the content of this article and related matters. If interested take a listen here:

The Tom Woods Shows

Pauls to the Wall

Sports, Clicks, and Politics

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.


Gregory Morin, Ph.D.

Some Context

Information without context is not merely useless, it can be dangerous. Context is the landscape that grants the perspective by which we can make an informed judgment. For example, if your cholesterol is 150 but you don’t know what values are bad or good, the test’s accuracy, or what your prior values were, then it is impossible to know whether this news is of concern or not. Without context we are predisposed evolutionarily to assume the worst; if you assume everything is a threat you’re more likely to live long enough to pass on your genes. However, in the modern era this instinct can be counterproductive. Making a decision without relevant information is as bad as making a decision with completely wrong information. Amputating your leg “just to be safe” upon learning you have a tumor in your foot might seem prudent absent other information. But as soon as you learn such tumors are easily removed and rarely fatal then amputation should obviously be seen as overkill. As a country (and planet to a large extent) we have similarly overreacted amidst an ocean of context-free information: we have burned our proverbial house down to rid it of termites. The response has been disproportionate to the risk precisely because the media has failed to provide the proper context. Don’t ask  “how many” without also asking, “how does this compare.” Long-term side effects from Covid-19 sounds ominous, that is until you learn such long term side effects exist for the flu and many other ailments as well. Completely typical phenomena are being presented in isolation as though entirely unprecedented. Operating without context is like looking at a map with no scale: is the destination 10 ft or 100 miles? Without that informed framework to judge risk, people’s imaginations have run rampant to the point where healthy people literally believe death is all but certain if they step outside maskless. The only question left to ask: is this context-free milieu a result of intent, incompetence, or perverse incentives? A bit of all three as it turns out.

The rise of the Internet has fostered an environment where news media competition has become cutthroat. The Internet has dramatically diminished the legacy barriers to producing and distributing news content: the citizen journalist with nothing but his cell phone and a Twitter account is a force to be reckoned with now. This reality has opened the floodgates of competition. Reporting incentives now prioritize engagement and sensationalism over dispassionate objective reporting. Clicks lead to traffic and traffic justifies ad placement (incentives). To build a loyal audience many news organizations have opted to narrow rather than broaden their appeal (few but deep roots outperform the many but shallow during a drought). Focusing on ideological content maintains a stronger audience connection. In short the news has become biased, polarized, and sensationalized. This shift has created a fertile soil in which those with a personal political agenda (intent) may flourish. This shift in the news landscape has amplified an attention grabbing 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 some parts are factually true there are omissions of crucial facts – facts that give the story the proper context needed to get the whole picture. Not volunteering information is not “lying” so when caught in their subterfuge they can plausibly hand wave it away as a simple “mistake” or “oversight.” This factual omission is a mix of laziness/incompetence or a deliberate agenda to craft a specific narrative. When this occurs in other countries we call it propaganda. When it happens here we whistle past the graveyard. 

A fanciful example of factual but not truthful would be “Local shop owner refuses to sell steak to illegal aliens!” – this would be factually true, however the story is omitting the additional detail that the store had run out of steak the prior day. The reader is left with the implicit message that the storeowner is a racist jerk. Whenever the narrative reinforces a reader’s preconceptions no further scrutiny is warranted in his mind. This is a common tactic to impugn political adversaries; report words out of context, often omitting a follow up sentence that contradicts the implication of the headline (Google “fine people hoax + Scott Adams”). 

This same level of “factual but not truthful” reporting has infected nearly all of the corporate media’s reporting on the Covid-19 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 2.6%. Further, Americans overestimated the risk of death for those under 24 by 50-fold. As of October 21 a scant 437 people aged 24 and below have died from Covid-19 in the US. The cumulative risk for that group is 1 death per 236,000. This is on par with the one-year odds of dying by falling down stairs. “Oh but they could spread it to the teachers!” Ok. Some more context. Those aged 25-64 have a 1 in 2,500 chance of dying from Covid – this is in fact the same risk prior to Covid of dying from any respiratory disease. In other words their risk profile has not changed.  But even these numbers don’t tell the whole picture. These numbers are averages. The risk is heterogeneous, not homogenous. Unless you have multiple comorbidities your risk is far lower than whatever average is shown for your age demographic. 

For those still worried even at 2,500 to 1 imagine the following: there are 2,500 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 inability to rationally assess risk leads to these foolish egocentric displays of “die ins” by teachers at various schools and universities. Odd. We’re told masks “work” so I can’t imagine what they are concerned about. 

 Even though the young face almost no risk from Covid (indeed, 2017-2018 flu deaths are 5x the current Covid deaths for those under 17) there is a much deadlier threat wending its way toward our youth if we do not return 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 headline-making news. Instead we get crickets. To what do I refer? The CDC reported in June that in the prior month an astounding 25% of respondents aged 18-24 reported seriously considered suicide. To put that in context, the normal range is 7-11% — over the prior 12 months! For those aged 45-64 the number was only 3.8%. Clearly those making policy are immune to its impacts. Astoundingly many embrace these disruptive measures as they blithely ignore their own children who are powerless to reverse this insane course. Even if 1% followed through on their inclinations it would be over one hundred thousand dead. When compared to fewer than 400 deaths to date for that same age cohort the choice becomes clear: resume normal lives for our youth without delay. No more threats of shutting down schools. No more social distancing. No more masks. No more online classes. Childhood years are a precious resource that adults are looting from their children and squandering in a futile attempt to hold back this tide with a sponge.