Musk Quickly Does “Lots of Dumb Things” at Twitter and “Will Keep What Works”

(p. B10) Elon Musk has been adding and tweaking features to Twitter Inc.’s platform at a rapid pace since taking over.

. . .

Mr. Musk has emphasized moving quickly. “Please note that Twitter will do lots of dumb things in coming months,” he tweeted in November [2022]. “We will keep what works & change what doesn’t.”

. . .

Mr. Musk’s approach is enabled by Twitter’s new status as a smaller, private company no longer beholden to Wall Street, a contrast to the public company that prided itself on carefully testing proposed changes—and at times was accused of moving too slowly.

For the full commentary, see:

Alexa Corse. “Musk Moved Fast on Changes at Twitter.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2023): B10.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 10, 2023, and has the title “Musk’s First 100 Days at Twitter Defined by Change, Challenges.”)

Famine Among the Inuit Led to “The Occasional Killing of Children Who Would Otherwise Starve”

Are we fundamentally better than the Inuit? Or has economic growth allowed us to have higher standards of behavior so we never must commit “the occasional killing of children who would otherwise starve”? In my Openness book I argue that people treat each other better when they live in a system of innovative dynamism that creates economic growth.

(p. 15) Peter Freuchen spent the winter of 1907 alone in the dark. A junior member of a Danish scientific expedition to northern Greenland, he was, in his own words, “just past 20, full of a lust for novel adventures,” and so, “like a fool,” he volunteered to spend the season manning a remote weather station. As wolves slaughtered his dogs and the icy condensation of his breath caused his cabin’s frozen walls to creep inward, his thoughts turned “sterile and unattractive” and he began having extended conversations with his cutlery. But the ordeal did not break him, for Freuchen had fallen in love with the Arctic.

Freuchen is the subject of Reid Mitenbuler’s “Wanderlust,” an attempt to reconcile the contradictions of, as Mitenbuler writes, “a highly sociable person who, somewhat inexplicably, was drawn to some of the most isolated places on Earth.” Mitenbuler paints Freuchen as the rare explorer who saw the world’s remote corners not as territory to be conquered but as a place to call home. Although narratively clumsy, it is a charming portrait of a man who traveled the world with an open mind, whose natural warmth never faltered in the cold.

As an explorer, Freuchen distinguished himself not through feats of heroism but by actually giving a damn about the people he met during his travels. After visiting Greenland on several lengthy expeditions, he came to stay in 1910, founding a trading post in Thule, in the island’s far north, in partnership with his friend Knud Rasmussen. He met the Inuit on their own terms, learning their language and eating their food, working alongside them to survive in an environment where one had to grow used to the reality of famine, starvation and even the occasional killing of children who would otherwise starve.

For the full review, see:

W. M. Akers. “The Land of Frozen Poop Chisels.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 5, 2023): 15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 26, 2023, and has the title “Frozen Poop Chisels and Amputated Toes: A Life of Arctic Adventure.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wanderlust: An Eccentric Explorer, an Epic Journey, a Lost Age. New York: Mariner Books, 2023.

Allow Entrepreneurial Competition in Medicine by Ending Obamacare’s Ban on Physician-Owned Hospitals

(p. A17) A tiny paragraph in the enormous Affordable Care Act prohibits physicians from building or owning hospitals. Any existing physician-owned hospital built before 2010 is prohibited from growing beyond the size it was when the bill passed. This law limits competition, defies common sense and is likely contributing to higher prices for Medicare and reduced access to treatment for millions of Americans.

. . .

. . . recent research affirms the power of American entrepreneurship to lower costs and improve quality. Doctors, whether at the bedside or the forefront of scientific innovation, are well-suited to reimagine healthcare operations, lower costs and improve the quality of care.

Specialty physician-owned hospitals focused on cardiology and cardiac surgery were found to deliver higher-quality care than nonprofit hospitals, with lower rates of hospital readmission or mortality for high-risk surgery. Physician-owned specialty hospitals for orthopedic procedures, such as hip and knee replacements, offered lower costs and higher quality than nonprofit counterparts.

. . .

Healthy competition drives job creation, innovation and long-term economic growth. The federal government doesn’t prohibit plumbers from owning plumbing companies, radio hosts from owning radio stations or farmers from owning farmers markets. It’s time to reopen the free market in healthcare and let the power of competition do its work.

For the full commentary, see:

James Lankford and Brian J. Miller. “End ObamaCare’s Ban on Physician-Owned Hospitals.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 20, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

State Bureaucracies Did Not Nimbly and Effectively Spend Massive Pandemic Crisis Funds

(p. A1) . . . when the Biden administration gave Mississippi $18.4 million in mid-2021 to hire public health workers — part of $2 billion in grants to bolster the Covid work force at state and local health agencies nationwide — it appeared that help had, at long last, arrived.

But as of January [2023], 18 months later, Mississippi had spent just $3.6 (p. A14) million of its grant — less than a fifth. Its attempts to hire epidemiologists, nurses and other soldiers in the war against Covid had largely fallen flat. The state has lost one in 224 residents to Covid-19, one of the nation’s worst death rates, including 122 people in tiny Scott County alone.

Mississippi’s woes are an acute example of a larger public health failure that is reprised nearly every time a major health threat grabs headlines. The problem, experts say, is that Congress starves state and local health agencies of cash for even basic needs in quiet times. Then, when a crisis hits, it floods them with millions or even billions of dollars earmarked to battle the disease of the moment. And the sluggish machinery of Capitol Hill often ensures that most of the aid arrives only after the worst of the crisis has passed.

The $2 billion in Covid hiring grants is the latest example. Nationwide, states and localities had spent only $371 million of the money by December, or about 19 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the conduit for the funds.

. . .

The record is replete with other such fumbles.

Six months after the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic over in mid-2010, states and localities had used just a third of the $1.4 billion in federal funds they had received to combat it. The outbreaks of the Ebola virus in 2014 and the Zika virus in 2016 also led to funding windfalls, but health experts say most of the money arrived late.

For the full story, see:

Sharon LaFraniere. “In Mississippi, Covid Millions Left Unspent.” The New York Times (Monday, Feb. 13, 2023): A1 & A14.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “Why Mississippi, a Covid Hot Spot, Left Millions in Pandemic Aid Unspent.”)

Progressives Want Us to “Reduce Consumption“ Because “They Believe Humans Are a Menace to the Earth”

(p. A15) Replacing all gasoline-powered cars with electric vehicles won’t be enough to prevent the world from overheating. So people will have to give up their cars. That’s the alarming conclusion of a new report from the University of California, Davis and “a network of academics and policy experts” called the Climate and Community Project.

The report offers an honest look at the vast personal, environmental and economic sacrifices needed to meet the left’s net-zero climate goals. Progressives’ dirty little secret is that everyone will have to make do with much less—fewer cars, smaller houses and yards, and a significantly lower standard of living.

. . .

The report concludes that the auto sector’s “current dominant strategy,” which involves replacing gasoline-powered vehicles with EVs without decreasing car ownership and use, “is likely incompatible” with climate activists’ goal to keep the planet from warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial times. Instead, the report recommends government policies that promote walking, cycling and mass transit.

. . .

Progressives’ ultimate goal is to reduce consumption—and living standards—because they believe humans are a menace to the Earth.

For the full commentary, see:

Allysia Finley. “The Climate Crusaders Are Coming for Electric Cars Too.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb. 13, 2023): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 12, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

The U.C. Davis report mentioned above that urges our return to the dark ages is:

Riofrancos, Thea, Alissas Kendall, Matthew Haugen, Batul Hassan, and Xan Lillehei. “Achieving Zero Emissions with More Mobility and Less Mining.” U.C. Davis: The Climate and Community Project, Jan. 2023.

“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?”)