“The 1619 Project” Shows How Government Policies “Discriminated Against African-Americans”

(p. A15) Hulu’s series “The 1619 Project” blames economic inequality between blacks and whites on “racial capitalism.” But almost every example presented is the result of government policies that, in purpose or effect, discriminated against African-Americans. “The 1619 Project” makes an unintentional case for capitalism.

The series gives many examples of government interventions that undercut free markets and property rights. Eminent domain, racial red lining of mortgages, and government support and enforcement of union monopolies figure prominently.

The final episode opens by telling how the federal government forcibly evicted black residents of Harris Neck, Ga., during World War II to build a military base. The Army gave residents three weeks to relocate before the bulldozers moved in, paying below-market rates through eminent domain. After the war, the government refused to let the former residents return. Violation of property rights is the opposite of capitalism.

For the full commentary, see:

David R. Henderson and Phillip W. Magness. “‘The 1619 Project’ Vindicates Capitalism.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 20, 2023, and has the title “‘The 1619 Project’ on Hulu Vindicates Capitalism.”)

The commentary quoted above is related to Magness’s book:

Magness, Phillip W. The 1619 Project: A Critique. Great Barrington, Massachusetts: American Institute for Economic Research, 2020.

Regulations, Trade Barriers, and “Restrictive Government Contracts” Caused Infant-Formula Crisis

(p. A15) The pandemic era has seen its share of supply-chain problems, but the infant-formula crisis—which began a year ago—stands out for its depth, duration and danger.

. . .

Politicians responded to the crisis with their standard pandemic playbook. They claimed decades of laissez-faire economics—free trade, deregulation, etc.—had left the U.S. formula market vulnerable to a major shock. Thus, the politicians argued, new government industrial policies and more regulatory enforcement were needed to resolve the current crisis and protect against future ones.

These refrains ignored the reality of the U.S. formula market and related federal policies, . . .

. . .

First, high and complicated “tariff rate quotas” dating back decades subjected most infant-formula imports to an effective tax of more than 25%; . . .

. . .

Two aspects of U.S. domestic policy added insult to this injury by effectively ensuring that a handful of large formula producers continue to dominate the market.

First, the U.S. regulates formula more strictly than any other food and more strictly than most other countries. Heavy regulatory burdens can discourage new market entrants, . . .

. . .

Second, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which has grown to cover almost half of U.S. infant-formula sales each year, demands steep discounts from participating formula producers in exchange for sole access to a state’s WIC market and prime shelf space at participating retailers.

. . .

The combination of high trade barriers, onerous domestic regulations and restrictive government contracts has created a concentrated and sclerotic U.S. formula market that collapsed when a single factory shut down and still hasn’t fully recovered. Tellingly, the federal government’s emergency actions to alleviate the formula crisis targeted these very policies. Congress suspended baby-formula tariffs through the end of 2022. The FDA exercised its “enforcement discretion” to approve eight new foreign manufacturers to sell formula until 2025 without meeting all U.S. regulations. The Agriculture Department allowed WIC recipients to use their benefits to buy noncontract formula brands, including imports, until mid-2023. And President Biden’s Operation Fly Formula commissioned military aircraft to deliver formula from abroad.

In all cases, the federal government implicitly recognized how freer markets can boost economic resilience and how protectionism and excessive regulation undermine it. Yet Congress and the executive branch haven’t made these reforms permanent. Tariffs are now back in force, even as discrete shortages persist.

For the full commentary, see:

Scott Lincicome and Gabriella Beaumont-Smith. “The Infant-Formula Market Is Still Bottled Up.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb. 17, 2023): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 16, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

Communist China Fails Again at Flailing Efforts to Centrally Plan Fertility

(p. 1) In China, a country that limits most couples to three children, one province is making a bold pitch to try to get its citizens to procreate: have as many babies as you want, even if you are unmarried.

The initiative, which came into effect this month, points to the renewed urgency of China’s efforts to spark a baby boom after its population shrank last year for the first time since a national famine in the 1960s.

. . .

Many young Chinese adults, who themselves were born during China’s draconian one-child policy, are pushing back on the government’s inducements to have babies in a country that is among the most expensive in the world to raise a child.

. . .

(p. 12) Efforts by the ruling Communist Party to raise fertility rates — by permitting all couples to have two children in 2016, then three in 2021 — have struggled to gain traction. The new policy in Sichuan drew widespread attention because it essentially disregards birth limits altogether, showing how the demographic crisis is nudging the party to slowly relinquish its iron grip over the reproductive rights of its citizens.

“The two-child policy failed. The three-child policy failed,” said Yi Fuxian, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has studied Chinese population trends. “This is the natural next step.”

Sichuan, the country’s fifth-largest province with 84 million people, lifted all limits on the number of children that residents can register with the local government, . . .

For the full story, see:

Nicole Hong and Zixu Wang. “Public Is Wary Of China’s Push For Baby Boom.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 26, 2023): 1 & 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Desperate for Babies, China Races to Undo an Era of Birth Limits. Is It Too Late?”)

Chips Act Requirements “Set a Fraught Precedent for Attaching Policy Strings to Federal Funding”

(p. A1) WASHINGTON — Semiconductor manufacturers seeking a slice of nearly $40 billion in new federal subsidies will need to ensure affordable child care for their workers, limit stock buybacks and share certain excess profits with the government, the Biden administration will announce on Tuesday [Feb. 28, 2023].

The new requirements represent an aggressive attempt by the federal government to bend the behavior of corporate America to accomplish its economic and national security objectives. As the Biden administration makes the nation’s first big foray into industrial policy in decades, officials are also using the opportunity to advance policies championed by liberals that seek to empower workers.

While the moves would advance some of the left-behind portions of the president’s agenda, they could also set a fraught precedent for attaching policy strings to federal funding.

. . .

(p. A16) The requirements will join a growing list of administration efforts to expand the reach of President Biden’s economic policies beyond their primary intent. For instance, administration officials have attached stringent labor standards and “Buy American” provisions to money from a bipartisan infrastructure law.

. . .

Some Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also questioned the wisdom of giving any taxpayer money to the chip industry, which is generally profitable.

For the full story, see:

Jim Tankersley and Ana Swanson. “Funds to Bolster U.S. Chip-Making Come With Catch.” The New York Times (Tuesday, February 28, 2023): A1 & A19.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 27, 2023, and has the title “Biden’s Semiconductor Plan Flexes the Power of the Federal Government.”)

Let “People Express Concerns in a Therapeutic Environment Before You and I Decide the Policy”

(p. A4) Britain’s top civil servant warned in October 2020 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a “nationally distrusted” figure who should not announce new social-distancing rules in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.

The health secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, disparaged an eminent medical researcher who had publicly criticized Britain’s handling of Covid as a “complete loudmouth.” Mr. Hancock also mocked “Eat Out to Help Out,” a program to lure people back to restaurants sponsored by Rishi Sunak, referring to it as “eat out to help the virus get about.”

Those and many other unfiltered remarks are in more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages exchanged among Mr. Hancock, other ministers and aides as they tried to control the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 and 2021. They were handed to The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, by Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist who obtained them while helping Mr. Hancock write a book, “Pandemic Diaries,” about those desperate days.

. . .

“What I found shocking was the callous nature of the messages — the banter, the humor, and how casual they were about making decisions that affected people and their lives,” said Prof. Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh.

. . .

Amid the pervasive sense of dread in the texts, there were also moments of gallows humor. Mr. Hancock once asked Michael Gove, a fellow minister, to explain the goals of a coming government meeting on the pandemic.

“Letting people express concerns in a therapeutic environment before you and I decide the policy,” Mr. Gove wrote.

“You are glorious,” Mr. Hancock replied.

For the full story, see:

Mark Landler. “Juicy Nuggets, but No Surprises About U.K. Covid Policy.” The New York Times (Monday, March 8, 2023): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2023, and has the title “Ex-Minister’s Texts Lift the Veil on U.K. Covid Policy. It Isn’t Pretty.”)

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Cochrane Study Finds No Benefits of Mandatory Masking

During the pandemic, I wrote an op-ed piece advocating the voluntary (not mandatory) use of masks. I still believe that, based on the mechanics of disease spread, and the mechanics of physically blocking virus particles, that masks can have a modest effect in reducing the viral load we spread to others. I also still believe in free speech and believe that it was wrong to censor those who were skeptical of masks.

(p. A19) The most rigorous and comprehensive analysis of scientific studies conducted on the efficacy of masks for reducing the spread of respiratory illnesses — including Covid-19 — was published late last month. Its conclusions, said Tom Jefferson, the Oxford epidemiologist who is its lead author, were unambiguous.

“There is just no evidence that they” — masks — “make any difference,” he told the journalist Maryanne Demasi. “Full stop.”

But, wait, hold on. What about N-95 masks, as opposed to lower-quality surgical or cloth masks?

“Makes no difference — none of it,” said Jefferson.

What about the studies that initially persuaded policymakers to impose mask mandates?

“They were convinced by nonrandomized studies, flawed observational studies.”

. . .

These observations don’t come from just anywhere. Jefferson and 11 colleagues conducted the study for Cochrane, a British nonprofit that is widely considered the gold standard for its reviews of health care data. The conclusions were based on 78 randomized controlled trials, six of them during the Covid pandemic, with a total of 610,872 participants in multiple countries. And they track what has been widely observed in the United States: States with mask mandates fared no better against Covid than those without.

No study — or study of studies — is ever perfect. Science is never absolutely settled. What’s more, the analysis does not prove that proper masks, properly worn, had no benefit at an individual level. People may have good personal reasons to wear masks, and they may have the discipline to wear them consistently. Their choices are their own.

. . .

The C.D.C.’s increasingly mindless adherence to its masking guidance is none of those things. It isn’t merely undermining the trust it requires to operate as an effective public institution. It is turning itself into an unwitting accomplice to the genuine enemies of reason and science — conspiracy theorists and quack-cure peddlers — by so badly representing the values and practices that science is supposed to exemplify.

It also betrays the technocratic mind-set that has the unpleasant habit of assuming that nothing is ever wrong with the bureaucracy’s well-laid plans — provided nobody gets in its way, nobody has a dissenting point of view, everyone does exactly what it asks, and for as long as officialdom demands. This is the mentality that once believed that China provided a highly successful model for pandemic response.

For the full commentary, see:

Bret Stephens. “‘Do Something’ Is Not Science.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 22, 2023): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 21, 2023, and has the title “The Mask Mandates Did Nothing. Will Any Lessons Be Learned?”)

As College Enrollments Drop, Apprenticeships Flourish

(p. A5) Today, colleges and universities enroll about 15 million undergraduate students, while companies employ about 800,000 apprentices. In the past decade, college enrollment has declined by about 15%, while the number of apprentices has increased by more than 50%, according to federal data and Robert Lerman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute and co-founder of Apprenticeships for America.

Apprenticeship programs are increasing in both number and variety. About 40% are now outside of construction trades, where most have traditionally been, Dr. Lerman said. Programs are expanding into white-collar industries such as banking, cybersecurity and consulting at companies including McDonald’s Corp., Accenture PLC and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

. . .

. . ., some employers say a mismatch has developed between the skills employers are seeking and the lessons students are learning in college and university courses. To address the mismatch, companies are dropping requirements for degrees for some jobs, and states are rebuilding the vocational-education pathways that were de-emphasized two generations ago when the nation adopted a college-preparatory path for nearly all students.

. . .

Companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Delta Air Lines Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. have responded by dropping college degrees as requirements for some positions and shifting hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Pennsylvania has cut college-degree requirements for some state jobs, and Maryland has set a statewide goal of 45% of high-school students starting a registered apprenticeship by 2031.

For the full story, see:

Douglas Belkin. “More Choose Apprenticeships Instead of Heading to College.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 18, 2023): A5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated March 16, 2023, and has the title “More Students Are Turning Away From College and Toward Apprenticeships.”)

Elon Musk Got Rich the Old-Fashioned Way, He EARNED It

(p. B4) Elon Musk is tired, his back hurts and his mom wants him to get some sleep.

. . .

A self-described nanomanager, Mr. Musk has long waded deeply into the weeds of the companies he runs, including SpaceX and Tesla Inc., green up pointing triangle routinely working late into the night and sleeping little. His tenacity has led to superhuman-like accomplishments, such as landing space rockets and making electric cars sexy.

. . .

Since taking ownership of Twitter Inc. in late October [2022], Mr. Musk’s workload has exploded to more than 120 hours a week from as much as 80 hours before, he told investor Ron Baron in November at a conference.

“I go to sleep, I wake up, I work, go to sleep, wake up, work—do that seven days a week,” Mr. Musk said.

. . .

Even before buying Twitter, Mr. Musk wasn’t a “chill, normal dude,” as he once joked on “Saturday Night Live.” Mr. Musk has said he usually goes to sleep around 3 a.m. and typically gets six hours of shut-eye before waking and immediately checking his phone for any new emergencies.

These days, Mr. Musk has said he is sleeping at Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. He has even provided beds for employees.

. . .

Concerns about Mr. Musk’s health had circulated a few years ago, ignited by photos of him that appeared to show a new scar on his neck. In 2020, he confirmed he had two surgeries, the first a failure, to address neck pain.

His pain, Mr. Musk has said, traces to a birthday party thrown years ago by his second wife that was attended by a sumo wrestler.

Mr. Musk took to the ring and—according to him—managed to throw the 350-pound opponent, resulting in an injury to his spine. “It cost me smashing my c5-c6 disc & 8 years of mega back pain!” Mr. Musk said on Twitter last year.

. . .

Entrepreneur Arianna Huffington at one point in 2018 pleaded with Mr. Musk to take better care of himself.

. . .

He responded with a tweet sent at 2:32 a.m.: “Ford & Tesla are the only 2 American car companies to avoid bankruptcy. I just got home from the factory. You think this is an option. It is not.”

For the full story, see:

Tim Higgins. “Musk’s Frantic Schedule Comes at a Personal Cost.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Feb. 6, 2023): B4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated February 5, 2023, and has the title “When Does Musk Sleep? He Speaks of Limits to Fixing Twitter, Back Pain.”)

Classical Liberalism Is Based on “Freedom as a Supreme Value”

(p. C7) Almost elected president of his native Peru and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa combines politics and the written word with a distinction that makes him a Grand Old Man, of whom there are far too few left in the world. As befits this status, he is a liberal in the classic sense that derives from the biblical injunction to do to others what you would have them do to you.

He was not always a liberal. As Mr. Vargas Llosa recalls in the beautifully and carefully written opening chapter of “The Call of the Tribe,” he had been a communist in the 1950s.

. . .

(p. C8) José Ortega y Gasset is introduced as “one of the most intelligent and elegant liberal philosophers of the twentieth century.”

. . .

Conceding that Ortega may have been naive, Mr. Vargas Llosa goes on to sign off this chapter with a personal ex cathedra statement: “Liberalism is above all an attitude toward life and society based on tolerance and respect, a love for culture, a desire to coexist with others and a firm defense of freedom as a supreme value.”

. . .

Hayek’s book “The Road to Serfdom” was published in 1944 but Margaret Thatcher, who read it as a student at Oxford, seems to have delayed until she was prime minister before making it compulsory reading for anyone with a sense of politics. She had found an authority for her conviction that central planning was incompatible with freedom.

For the full review, see:

David Pryce-Jones. “The Duty of a Liberal Intellectual.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 3, 2023, and has the title “‘The Call of the Tribe’ Review: Mario Vargas Llosa’s Dinner Party.”)

The book under review is:

Llosa, Mario Vargas. The Call of the Tribe. Translated by John King. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023.

Lives Lost to Covid-19 Due to Slow Regulatory Recommendations

(p. B1) In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nebraska Medical Center was at the forefront of an international clinical trial of the drug remdesivir, . . .

. . .

By April 2020, the early trial showed that remdesivir shortened the time it took for all patients hospitalized for COVID-19 to recover by five days overall, compared with those who received a placebo.

. . .

A study published last week in the British medical journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine confirmed findings of the initial NIH trial.

Dr. Andre Kalil, who led the Omaha-based arm of the trial, said it’s always important to see studies replicated by other (p. B2) researchers.

But Kalil, in an invited commentary on the Lancet study, noted that a number of public health and medical bodies delayed acting on the early beneficial results and recommending the drug in guidelines for clinicians.

The National Institutes of Health and the Infectious Diseases Society of America guidelines for nearly two years recommended remdesivir only for hospitalized patients who received supplemental oxygen. Only after that time did the groups recommend it for patients who were hospitalized but did not need supplemental oxygen.

The World Health Organization didn’t recommend remdesivir for patients hospitalized with COVID-19 until late 2022.

“Regrettably, the delays in recommendation of remdesivir for patients — even after the initial remdesivir shortage was resolved — adversely shaped antimicrobial policy in hospitals around the world, preventing patients from receiving timely remdesivir,” wrote Kalil, a University of Nebraska Medical Center professor and an infectious diseases physician with Nebraska Medicine, the health system that includes the Nebraska Medical Center.

In an interview, Kalil said he believes more lives could have been saved if the guideline panels had been more timely in making their recommendations. All three now recommend remdesivir for hospitalized patients.

For the full story, see:

Julie Anderson. “Delays on Remdesivir May Have Cost Lives.” Omaha World-Herald (Sunday, March 5, 2023): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Could earlier adoption of remdesivir have saved lives during the COVID pandemic?”)

California Bureaucracy and Regulations Block Nimble Use of Flood Waters to Recharge Depleted Groundwater

(p. A15) It sounds like an obvious fix for California’s whipsawing cycles of deluge and drought: Capture the water from downpours so it can be used during dry spells.

Pump it out of flood-engorged rivers and spread it in fields or sandy basins, where it can seep into the ground and replenish the region’s huge, badly depleted aquifers. The state’s roomiest place for storing water isn’t in its reservoirs or on mountaintops as snow, but underground, squeezed between soil particles.

Yet even this winter, when the skies delivered bounties of water not seen in half a decade, large amounts of it surged down rivers and out into the ocean.

Water agencies and experts say California bureaucracy is increasingly to blame — the state tightly regulates who gets to take water from streams and creeks to protect the rights of people downriver, and its rules don’t adjust nimbly even when storms are delivering a torrent of new supply.

During last month’s drenching storms, some water districts got the state’s green light to take floodwater only as the rains were ending, allowing them to siphon off just a few days’ worth. Others couldn’t take any at all because floods overwhelmed their equipment.

. . .

The permitting process is meant to ensure that the takers aren’t encroaching on other people’s water rights or harming fish and wildlife habitats. There are meetings and consultations to hash out details, and a public comment period to hear objections. The whole process can take months. And the resulting permit allows the holder to divert water only on a temporary basis, usually 180 days, and only when specific hydrological conditions are met.

. . .

The process is too slow and cumbersome to help corral big floods that come, like this winter’s, out of the blue.

The Omochumne-Hartnell Water District, which operates along a stretch of the Cosumnes River near Sacramento, applied for a permit last August. When the storms started up in December, its application was still pending.

“It was frustrating,” said Michael Wackman, the district’s general manager. He and his colleagues called up the State Water Board: “What’s going on there? Let’s get these things moving.”

Its permit finally came through on Jan. 11, more than a week after the swollen Cosumnes had crashed through nearby levees and killed at least two people. By that point, so much water was roaring down the river that it damaged the pumps that were supposed to send it away, Mr. Wackman said.

For the full story, see:

Raymond Zhong. “In Parched California, Rainwater Keeps Rushing Out to Sea.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 22, 2023): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 21, 2023, and has the title “Parched California Misses a Chance to Store More Rain Underground.”)