Litan and Mankiw Endorse Paying People to Take Vaccine

(p. 5) What’s the best way to get the economy back on track after the Covid-19 recession? Simple: Achieve herd immunity. And what’s the best way to achieve herd immunity? Again, simple: Once a vaccine is approved, pay people to take it.

That bold proposal comes from Robert Litan, an economist at the Brookings Institution. Congress should enact it as quickly as possible.

. . .

Recent research by the University of Chicago economists Austan Goolsbee and Chad Syverson has found that the government-mandated shutdowns account for just a small part of the decline in economic activity. The main reason people aren’t spending is that they are afraid to leave their homes and contract the virus. That hypothesis explains my own behavior. I have not stepped foot on an airplane or inside a restaurant for six months.

. . .

Immunology, meet economics. One of the first principles of economics — perhaps the most important — is that people respond to incentives. Applying this principle to the case at hand, Mr. Litan recommends that the government pay $1,000 to whoever gets the vaccine. With a large enough incentive, most Americans are likely to get vaccinated.

This proposal is textbook economics. (I’ve written some of the textbooks.) As all economics students learn, when an activity has a side effect on bystanders, that effect is called an externality. In the presence of externalities, the famous theorems of economics that justify laissez-faire do not apply. Adam Smith’s vaunted invisible hand can no longer work its magic.

A classic example of a negative externality is pollution, and the simplest and least invasive policy solution is a tax on emissions. In economics-speak, such a tax internalizes the externality: It induces polluters to take the cost of pollution into account by giving them a financial incentive to cut emissions. That’s why I have written here many times that a tax on carbon emissions is the best way to deal with global climate change.

Vaccination confers a positive externality. When you get vaccinated, you benefit not only yourself but also your fellow citizens by helping society take a step toward herd immunity. In this case, internalizing the externality requires not a tax but a subsidy, as Mr. Litan suggests.

For the full commentary, see:

N. Gregory Mankiw. “A Vaccine Subsidy Licks 2 Crises With One Shot.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, September 13, 2020): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 9, 2020, and has the title “Pay People to Get Vaccinated.”)

The Robert Litan op-ed mentioned above is:

Litan, Robert E. “Want Herd Immunity? Pay People to Take the Vaccine.” Brookings Institute Op-Ed. (Tues., Aug. 18, 2020) URL:>

The Goolsbee and Syverson NBER working paper mentioned above is:

Goolsbee, Austan, and Chad Syverson. “Fear, Lockdown, and Diversion: Comparing Drivers of Pandemic Economic Decline 2020.” NBER Working Paper #27432, June 2020.

Art Diamond Interviewed on Robustly Redundant Labor Markets

I was interviewed early on Mon., October 26, 2020 on Jim Blasingame’s Small Business Advocate radio program on my concept paper “Ending Persistent Poverty by Enabling Robustly Redundant Labor Markets.” The concept paper earned the second place award in a Charles Koch Institute competition on how to end persistent poverty. The concept of a robustly redundant labor market was briefly discussed in my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism.

Diamond’s book, mentioned above, is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

“Operation Warp Speed, . . . , Is More Imaginative Than the Bureaucratic Norm”

(p. 11) . . . the blundering of the Trump administration, while real and deadly, may not be responsible for the bulk of America’s coronavirus fatalities.

. . .

. . . : the absence of challenge trials for vaccines (in which young, healthy participants agree to be vaccinated and then infected with the virus), the predictable expert resistance to at-home testing. But the most important one was the straightforward bureaucratic calamity at the C.D.C. that delayed effective testing for a fateful month.

An effective president might have addressed some of these problems. (Although Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s vaccine initiative, is more imaginative than the bureaucratic norm.) But overall they are problems with structures and habits rather than personalities — an institutional decadence that predated Trump and will persist when he is gone.

. . .

. . . the third thing you see when you look beyond Trump [is] the fact that so many countries in Western Europe, to say nothing of our neighbors in the Americas, have had death rates similar to ours.

This reality speaks not of exceptionalism but of convergence — and the possibility that the trends of the early 21st century have left us sharing more in common not only with France and Spain but also with Mexico and Brazil than most Americans might expect.

This, too, may matter long after Trump is gone. Where there are crises, in this dispensation, they are likely to be general rather than just American. Where there is decadence, it is the shared experience of late modernity. And if renewal comes to an exhausted West, it will not necessarily come through America alone.

For the full commentary, see:

Ross Douthat. “What Isn’t Trump’s Fault.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, September 13, 2020): 11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 12, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

“Before the White People Left”

(p. A1) CHICAGO — The old guard of this city’s Roseland neighborhood, a community on the South Side famous for molding a young Barack Obama and infamous for its current blight, has never forgotten the fruit trees.

Back in the 1970s, before the full exodus of white residents, the erosion of local businesses, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the disinvestment that followed, it was the trees that signaled the societal elevation of Black families — separating those who moved here from the urban high rises they fled. An apple tree greeted Antoine Dobine’s family in 1973, he said. The tree meant a yard. A yard meant a home. And a home meant a slice of the American dream, long deferred for Black Americans.

“Pear trees, peaches, apples, it was beautiful,” Mr. Dobine recalled. “Before the white people left.”

. . .

The fruit trees have been replaced with overgrown lots. Residents say gangs use the abandoned areas to stockpile weapons, which children sometimes find.

For the full story, see:

Astead W. Herndon. “Black Area Embraces Protests But Still Has No Grocery Store.” The New York Times (Wednesday, August 12, 2020): A1 & A21.

(Note: ellipsis added. The online version say that the New York print version had the title “In a Black Chicago Community, Doubt Defies Hope for Change.” My National print version had the title “Black Area Embraces Protests But Still Has No Grocery Store.”)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 28 [sic], 2020, and has the title “‘A Smoking Gun’: Infectious Coronavirus Retrieved From Hospital Air.”)

“An Active Regulatory State Is a Playground for the Privileged Class”

(p. A17) . . . the poor would suffer most under Mr. Biden’s platform. Dividing U.S. households into five income groups, I have estimated the regulatory costs of each quintile and expressed them as a percentage of each quintile’s average income. The costs to the bottom group amount to 15.3% of its total income—representing a burden equal to all the taxes they currently pay. This group would experience part of the cost as lower wages, but the biggest bite would come in diminished purchasing power due to higher prices for energy, cars and other consumer goods.

The top quintile, by contrast, would suffer the least from regulatory restoration, with labor, energy and other consumer rules amounting to only a 2.2% implicit tax on the highest earners.

This estimate includes not only regulations Mr. Biden has explicitly said he would revive, but also many of those that would be necessary to meet the goals outlined in his platform.

. . .

An active regulatory state is a playground for the privileged class to indulge its own preferences at the expense of ordinary Americans.

For the full commentary, see:

Casey B. Mulligan. “The Real Cost of Biden’s Plans.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, September 17, 2020): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 16, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Manship’s Heroic Prometheus Sculpture Celebrates “the Promise of the Future”

I wanted to use a photo of Manship’s Prometheus sculpture on the cover of my book Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. My editor vetoed my choice on the grounds that Prometheus was a male and the cover design needed to be gender-neutral.

(p. C14) Think a minute, then name an outdoor sculpture in Manhattan. Chances are, you chose the gilded image of Prometheus at the heart of Rockefeller Center, . . .

. . .

In conceiving his urban commercial complex, John D. Rockefeller Jr. wanted to celebrate civilization, human achievement and the promise of the future.

. . .

It’s a very serious, and very handsome, Prometheus that Manship fashioned. He chose to depict the moment after the titan has stolen the fire and is descending to Earth, signified in the sculpture by the summit behind him, and by the sea as portrayed by the pool beneath him. Prometheus, eyes wide open, looks down toward his destination. His youthful, strong-featured face betrays not worry exactly, but acknowledgment that he will face consequences from an angry Zeus, who did not want mankind to rival the gods in any way. But Prometheus is determined to give humanity the flame in his right hand, held above his head, almost triumphantly. With his outstretched left arm, he balances himself—and Manship balances his heroic sculpture.

. . .

Manship also added an element to the whole: He suggested the quote from Aeschylus that is carved in bold capital letters on the wall behind his work, strengthening its seamless link to its setting: “Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends.”

Manship thus delivered a powerful piece of statement art.

. . .

. . . —Prometheus stands out. He is a marvel within a larger urban marvel.

For the full story, see:

Judith H. Dobrzynski. “MASTERPIECE; A Monument of Titanic Beauty.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, August 22, 2020): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 21, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Open Offices Reduce Productivity and Spread Diseases

(p. B4) When historians of the early 21st century look back on the pre-Covid era, one of the absurdities they might highlight is the vogue for gigantic, open-plan offices. The apotheosis of this trend of breaking down barriers between co-workers must surely be Facebook Inc.’s 433,555-square-foot Frank Gehry-designed open-plan office at its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Opened in 2015, it’s now a ghost town, a monument to offices vacated by the pandemic.

Cramming cavernous spaces with as many desks as they could hold might have increased serendipitous interactions, but it almost certainly reduced productivity and helped spread communicable diseases, including coronavirus.

. . .

Cue the “dynamic workplace,” a pivot away from the open plan, built on the idea that with fewer employees coming to work on any given day, offices can offer them more flexibility of layout and management.

While open offices and dynamic workplaces share similar components—privacy booths and huddle rooms to escape the hubbub, cafe-like networking spaces, etc.—they’re philosophically distinct. One is intended to be a place where people come (at least) five days a week, and get most of their work done on site. The other is planned for people rotating in and out of the office, on flexible schedules they have more control over than ever.

. . .

Research on hot-desking in office spaces, for example—where employees give up a dedicated space in favor of first-come-first-serve seating—finds that it decreases socialization and trust. This happens because employees figure they might never again see the person they sit next to on a given day, says Dr. Sander. In other studies, employees complain they can’t find their colleagues, that it’s a hassle to find a new spot to work every day, and that such arrangements ignore humans’ innate territoriality and desire to make a space their own.

For the full commentary, see:

Christopher Mims. “Goodbye, Open Office. Hello, ‘Dynamic Workplace.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 12, 2020): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

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

Whole Live Covid-19 Virus, Not Just Fragments, Found in Hospital Aerosols

(p. A4) Skeptics of the notion that the coronavirus spreads through the air — including many expert advisers to the World Health Organization — have held out for one missing piece of evidence: proof that floating respiratory droplets called aerosols contain live virus, and not just fragments of genetic material.

Now a team of virologists and aerosol scientists has produced exactly that: confirmation of infectious virus in the air.

“This is what people have been clamoring for,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne spread of viruses who was not involved in the work. “It’s unambiguous evidence that there is infectious virus in aerosols.”

For the full story, see:

Apoorva Mandavilli. “Scientists Find Respiratory Droplets in Hospital Air.” The New York Times (Wednesday, August 12, 2020): A4.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added. The online version say that the New York print version had the title “Scientists Retrieve Live Virus From Hospital Air.” My National print version had the title “Scientists Find Respiratory Droplets in Hospital Air.”)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 11, 2020, and has the title “‘A Smoking Gun’: Infectious Coronavirus Retrieved From Hospital Air.”)

Former FDA Commissioners Urge Early “Emergency Use Authorization” for Covid-19 Vaccine

(p. A17) As former FDA commissioners, we are confident in the FDA’s career scientists to oversee vaccine development rigorously.

If a Covid vaccine clears this process, it could be made available initially to specific groups of people through an Emergency Use Authorization. This emergency authority enables the FDA to make products available before a full application is approved by the agency. Congress created the emergency-use pathway as part of the Project BioShield Act of 2004, which provided for the development of medical countermeasures against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats. Following 9/11 and anthrax, lawmakers expected an urgent need for such defenses.

After the 2009 swine flu, Congress expanded this pathway in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, a bipartisan measure aimed at preparing the country to weather a pandemic. The law streamlined the application process for emergency use, expanded the classes of drugs eligible, and broadened the testing the FDA could require.

. . .

This authority enables the staged entry of a vaccine. It’s unlikely that a Covid-19 vaccine will receive full approval and broad distribution right away. Instead, the FDA will probably authorize vaccines for use in targeted groups of people at high risk from Covid and most likely to benefit from the vaccine. For them, it may make sense to provide access to the vaccine before long-term follow-up studies that address very remote risks.

This might include health-care providers or first responders, who face greater exposure, or older people, who are more prone to severe complications if infected.

. . .

This process exists precisely to deal with public-health emergencies like Covid-19. It isn’t a lower standard for FDA approval. It’s a more tailored, flexible standard that helps protect those who need it most while developing the evidence needed to make the public confident about getting a Covid-19 vaccine.

For the full commentary, see:

Mark McClellan, and Scott Gottlieb. “How ‘Emergency Use’ Can Help Roll Out a Covid Vaccine.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, September 15, 2020): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 13, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

A Forgotten Language Will Be Easier to Re-Learn

(p. 12) What makes sociolinguistics a subject worth engaging with are the surprises, and Kinzler’s book is full of them. She reveals the extent to which language imprints our brains and how we are neurologically programmed to be sensitive to it. Even if we lose a language after early childhood and no longer speak it in adulthood, learning it will be easier because of deep-seated neural settings permanently etched by that first language.

For the full review, see:

John McWhorter. “Fuggedaboutit!” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, August 2, 2020): 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21 [sic], 2020, and has the title “The Biases We Hold Against the Way People Speak.”)

The book under review is:

Kinzler, Katherine D. How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do―and What It Says About You. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.

Amazon Adds 100,000 Fulltime, Nonseasonal Jobs That Include Benefits and Bonuses

(p. A1) Inc. plans to hire 100,000 additional employees in the U.S. and Canada, continuing a rapid expansion that began as the coronavirus pandemic forced many people to stay home and shop online for work and other necessities.

. . .

New jobs will be added at dozens of Amazon locations (p. A6) paying at least $15 an hour and including benefits and signing bonuses of as much as $1,000 in some cities. Hiring for the jobs has already begun. The positions are all nonseasonal, Amazon said.

For the full story, see:

Ben Otto, and Sebastian Herrera. “Amazon Ramps Up Hiring Plans, Adds 100,000 New Jobs.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, September 15, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Sep. 14, 2020, and has the title “Amazon to Hire 100,000 in U.S. and Canada.”)