Locking Down Against “Out of Control” COVID in China Is “Not Worth Sacrificing . . . Our Freedom”

(p. A7) After Leona Cheng tested positive for the coronavirus late last month, she was told to pack her bags for a hospital stay. When the ambulance came to her apartment in central Shanghai to pick her up two days later, no one said otherwise.

So Ms. Cheng was surprised when the car pulled up not to a hospital but to a sprawling convention center. Inside, empty halls had been divided into living areas with thousands of makeshift beds. And on exhibition stall partitions, purple signs bore numbers demarcating quarantine zones.

Ms. Cheng, who stayed at the center for 13 days, was among the first of hundreds of thousands of Shanghai residents to be sent to government quarantine and isolation facilities, as the city deals with a surge in coronavirus cases for the first time in the pandemic. The facilities are a key part of China’s playbook of tracking, tracing and eliminating the virus, one that has been met with unusual public resistance in recent weeks.

Footage circulating on Chinese social media on Thursday [April 14, 2022] showed members of one Shanghai community protesting the use of apartment buildings in their complex for isolating people who test positive for the virus. Police officers in white hazmat suits could be seen physically beating back angry residents, some of whom pleaded with them to stop.

. . .

Ms. Cheng said she had once admired the government’s goal of keeping the virus out of China. It meant that for more than two years, she could live a normal life, even as cities and countries around the world had to lock down.

Now, she’s not so sure.

“This time I feel it is out of control and it’s not worth controlling the cases because it is not so dangerous or deadly,” she said, referring to the highly contagious Omicron variant. “It’s not worth sacrificing so many resources and our freedom.”

For the full story, see:

Alexandra Stevenson. “Covid Patient In Shanghai Describes Life In Isolation.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 16, 2022): A7.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 15, 2022, and has the title “‘Too smelly to sleep’: Thirteen days in a Shanghai isolation facility.”)

Jobs and Wages Improved for Black Americans During Pre-Pandemic Trump Years

(p. A11) Over the first three years of Mr. Trump’s presidency, blacks (and Hispanics) experienced record-low rates of unemployment and poverty, while wages for workers at the bottom of the income scale rose faster than they did for management. Whether that was the goal of the Trump administration or an unintended consequence is a debate I’ll leave to others. But there is no doubting that the financial situation of millions of working-class black Americans improved significantly under Mr. Trump’s policies.

. . .

. . . job growth accelerated, unemployment kept falling, and economic growth improved. In early 2017, the new president set about implementing what he had promised during the campaign: lower taxes and lighter regulation. He nominated Kevin Hassett, who had published research showing how corporate taxes depress wages for manufacturing workers, to lead the Council of Economic Advisers. He urged Congress to reduce the tax rate on corporate profits, which at 35% was one of the highest in the developed world.

. . .

Between 2017 and 2019, median household incomes grew by 15.4% among blacks and only 11.5% among whites. The investment bank Goldman Sachs released a paper in March 2019 that showed pay for those at the lower end of the wage distribution rising at nearly double the rate of pay for those at the upper end. Average hourly earnings were growing at rates that hadn’t been seen in almost a decade, but what “has set this rise apart is that it’s the first time during the economic recovery that began in mid-2009 that the bottom half of earners are benefiting more than the top half—in fact, about twice as much,” CNBC reported.

Citing a graph included in Goldman’s analysis, CNBC added that the “trend began in 2018”—the first year that the corporate tax cuts were in effect—“and has continued into this year and could be signaling a stronger economy than many experts think.”

For the full commentary, see:

Jason L. Riley. “The Trump Boom Lifted Black Americans.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 29, 2022): A11.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date January 28, 2022, and has the same title as the print version.)

The passages from Riley’s commentary quoted above were adapted from his book:

Riley, Jason L. The Black Boom. West Conshocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2022.

Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Identify as Ukrainians, Instead of as Russians (They Choose Freedom and Prosperity)

(p. A8) LSTANYTSIA LUHANSKA, Ukraine—The Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions were once the engines of the country’s economy and dominated its politics.

They produced its richest man, billionaire industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, as well as former President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted by the street protests that triggered the Russian invasion in 2014.

Since then, however, the two areas—now nominally independent “people’s republics” inside the larger regions of Luhansk and Donetsk—have turned into impoverished, depopulated enclaves that increasingly rely on Russian subsidies to survive. As much as half the prewar population of 3.8 million has left, for the rest of Ukraine, more prosperous Russia or Europe. Those who remain are disproportionately retirees, members of the security services and people simply too poor to move. Current economic output has shrunk to roughly 30% of the level before the Russian invasion, economists estimate.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin is massing more than 100,000 troops for a possible broader invasion of Ukraine, the developments in Donetsk and Luhansk show what many fear could happen to the rest of the country if he were to carry that out. The dismal record of Russian rule is one reason so many Ukrainian citizens, including Russian-speakers, are ready to take up arms so that their hometowns won’t meet the same fate.

. . .

Isolyatsiya used to be a popular contemporary art space in Donetsk, hosting exhibitions and performances at a Soviet-era insulation materials factory. When Russian-backed militants took it over in 2014, saying the space was needed to store Russian humanitarian aid, they allowed staff to rescue a collection of Soviet-period social-realist paintings but smashed the contemporary art pieces, melting some of the statues and installations for scrap metal.

. . .

Weeks later, Isolyatsiya’s compound turned into a detention facility operated by the Donetsk republic’s ministry of state security. One of the hundreds of prisoners there was Ukrainian novelist and journalist Stanislav Aseev, who was detained in 2017 after local security officials discovered he was contributing under a pen name to Ukrainian news outlets. Mr. Aseev, who says he was repeatedly tortured with electric shock, was freed in December 2019 as part of a prisoner exchange and now lives near Kyiv.

“They’ve managed to rebuild a Soviet system in the occupied territories—and not the Soviet system of the 1960s and 1970s, but a Soviet system of the 1930s and 1940s, with dungeons, with torture chambers, a system where lives are ruined if you dare to write or say something negative about these republics and their authorities,” Mr. Aseev said.

. . .

Unlike in the wars of the former Yugoslavia, where religion and ethnicity created a permanent identity marker, here whether to consider oneself Ukrainian or Russian is a matter of choice and ideology rather than blood.

. . .

At the Slovyansk local museum, a room is dedicated to the 84 days when the town remained under the control of Russian militias in 2014. Exhibits include rocket-propelled grenades, artillery fragments and ballots of the referendum on independence from Ukraine that pro-Russian forces carried out at the time. Some 100 local residents died in Slovyansk, and more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in the fighting. A suburb along the main highway still stands in ruins.

“It’s a big stress. Everyone is afraid, God forbid, that it will happen again,” said one of the museum’s curators, Oleksandr Gayevoy, who lived through the fighting in 2014. “People now prefer not to talk too much, because who knows who will come here next.”

Mr. Gayevoy added that one of his brothers, who remained in the Russian-controlled town of Yenakiyevo, former President Yanukovych’s hometown, was an ardent supporter of the Russian-installed regime there but has since changed his views.

“There used to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Donetsk people’s republic in the beginning, everyone chanted DPR, DPR, DPR! Now, there’s just a lot of disappointment,” said Mr. Gayevoy, who last visited the Russian-held areas in 2019. “My brother now tells me that they are ruled by cretins. The economy there has crumbled, the jobs are gone. There’s nothing good over there.”

For the full story, see:

Yaroslav Trofimov. “Dismal Life in Russian-Occupied Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, February 5, 2022): A8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 4, 2022, and has the title “Dismal Russian Record in Occupied Eastern Ukraine Serves as Warning.”)

Economic Growth Reduces the Harms from Global Warming

(p. C3) Long-term economic growth is associated with both rising per capita energy consumption and slower population growth. For this reason, as the world continues to get richer, higher per capita energy consumption is likely to be offset by a lower population.

A richer world will also likely be more technologically advanced, which means that energy consumption should be less carbon-intensive than it would be in a poorer, less technologically advanced future. In fact, a number of the high-emissions scenarios produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change involve futures in which the world is relatively poor and populous and less technologically advanced.

Affluent, developed societies are also much better equipped to respond to climate extremes and natural disasters. That’s why natural disasters kill and displace many more people in poor societies than in rich ones. It’s not just seawalls and flood channels that make us resilient; it’s air conditioning and refrigeration, modern transportation and communications networks, early warning systems, first responders and public health bureaucracies.

New research published in the journal Global Environmental Change finds that global economic growth over the last decade has reduced climate mortality by a factor of five, with the greatest benefits documented in the poorest nations. In low-lying Bangladesh, 300,000 people died in Cyclone Bhola in 1970, when 80% of the population lived in extreme poverty. In 2019, with less than 20% of the population living in extreme poverty, Cyclone Fani killed just five people.

Poor nations are most vulnerable to a changing climate. The fastest way to reduce that vulnerability is through economic development.

So while it is true that poor nations are most vulnerable to a changing climate, it is also true that the fastest way to reduce that vulnerability is through economic development, which requires infrastructure and industrialization. Those activities, in turn, require cement, steel, process heat and chemical inputs, all of which are impossible to produce today without fossil fuels.

For the full commentary, see:

Ted Nordhaus. “Ignore the Fake Climate Debate.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, January 25, 2020): C3.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 23, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Nordhaus’s commentary is related to the manifesto that he co-authored with many others:

Asafu-Adjaye, John, Linus Blomqvist, Stewart Brand, Barry Brook, Ruth DeFries, Erle Ellis, Christopher Foreman, David Keith, Martin Lewis, Mark Lynas, Ted Nordhaus, Roger Pielke Jr., Rachel Pritzker, Joyashree Roy, Mark Sagoff, Michael Shellenberger, Robert Stone, and Peter Teague. “An Ecomodernist Manifesto.” April 2015.

Price Controls Still Won’t Work Against Inflation

(p. A19) Asked about his plan for a dangerous opponent, boxer Mike Tyson once said: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” President Biden has proposed various plans to deal with inflation.

Prices rise when goods become scarce or the money supply expands rapidly. Pandemic-induced holdups in the supply chain have caused scarcity; . . .

. . .

On the money-supply front, the Fed is making noises about backing off on aggressive expansion. But a CNBC report estimated that more than $5 trillion in cash is sitting in corporate coffers and bank accounts. Middle-class savers who have been holding cash will see its value eaten away—effectively a tax on the middle class, which progressives promised not to levy. Some of the rich will put their cash in real estate, heightening shortages of housing.

Whatever you think of Congress’s bipartisan infrastructure initiative, its timing is unfortunate. It will be sharply expansionary on the fiscal front, with new demands on labor markets straining to find workers. All that cash from Fed monetary expansion is out there ready to be spent. Mr. Biden’s Build Back Better plan would make these problems worse by injecting trillions into the economy.

Things aren’t yet so bad that a plan can’t make them worse. In a recent paper for the Law and Economics Center at George Mason University, I evaluated one policy for managing prices—a top-down approach directed from Washington. I found that such plans are thwarted by information problems (officials don’t know enough to direct resources or decide prices) and incentive problems (the power to decide which prices will be allowed to increase, and which will be held down, will be corrupted by politics).

For the full commentary, see:

Michael C. Munger. “A Biden Plan For Prices? No Thanks.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Dec 15, 2021): A19.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 14, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Xi’s Micromanaging “Zero Covid” Policy Hurting Chinese Economic Growth

(p. A1) Earlier this year, Xi Jinping issued brief instructions to education officials in Beijing. China’s leader wanted to reform the country’s $100 billion private tutoring industry, which the state worried was helping well-to-do families gain advantages for their offspring and creating anxiety among families that couldn’t afford the help.

Education officials drafted a plan that included new limits on tutoring for children up to the equivalent of ninth grade, said people familiar with the effort.

The plan was too soft, Mr. Xi said, in a one-sentence note to the education ministry, according to the people.

Scrambling to please him, the ministry expanded the limits to include students up to the equivalent of 12th grade. In addition, it required all private education companies to re-register as nonprofits.

The more extreme rules, issued in July [2021], triggered panic selling that erased tens of billions of dollars from the value of education com-(p. A14)panies listed on U.S. and Hong Kong stock exchanges. Officials from the China Securities Regulatory Commission hastily scheduled meetings with foreign investors to calm them down, according to people familiar with the conversations, and promised that Beijing would consider market impact before introducing future policies.

The episode is just one example of Mr. Xi’s evolving management style as the Chinese president consolidates control of the world’s second-largest economy. He is widely considered the most powerful Chinese leader in a generation. He is also a micromanager who intervenes often, unpredictably and sometimes vaguely in policy matters big and small.

. . .

Behind the scenes, many officials question some of Mr. Xi’s decisions.

In late July [2021], a Covid-19 outbreak caused more than 1,200 infections after months of nearly zero reported cases. Some central government officials, eyeing other countries, suggested it might be time for China to stop its strategy of pursuing “zero Covid” and learn to live with the virus, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Xi was furious, said people familiar with the issue. In a note to underlings, he asked if officials were becoming “lax and numbed” in fighting the virus, according to these people and to state media reports. “Zero Covid” would remain the policy.

Local officials intensified their efforts. In late October [2021], they locked more than 30,000 visitors into Shanghai Disneyland and forced them to undergo Covid-19 tests after one customer tested positive. Authorities temporarily shut one of China’s biggest container ports after a single case, hurting global supply chains.

China’s economic growth slowed to 4.9% in the third quarter from the previous quarter’s 7.9% rate. Economists have said China’s zero-tolerance pandemic measures, including lockdowns of residential compounds and cancellations of public events, are likely to have a significant impact on China’s growth if they don’t succeed in snuffing out the virus soon.

Some local government officials have warned against “excessive pandemic prevention” measures, according to speeches quoted on websites. Yet officials keep pressing, fearful they might be punished if a Covid-19 case emerged in their area.

. . .

Mr. Xi later “personally planned, personally proposed, personally deployed and promoted” the development of Xiongan, a new “eco-city,” out of farmland about 60 miles from Beijing, according to state media, and urged state firms to move there. Despite billions of dollars of investment, it hasn’t matched the quick success of Deng-era special economic zones such as Shenzhen.

To comply with the new regulatory regime for after-school tutoring this year, education companies have laid off tens of thousands of employees, including teachers. Given the impact on the industry, officials have been enforcing the rules on tutoring for children only up to the equivalent of ninth grade—as originally proposed.

. . .

“Some only act when the party’s central leadership has instructed them to do so,” Mr. Xi said in a speech to the party’s top disciplinary officials last January, made public only recently. He complained that many officials aren’t competent to deal with complicated issues, and that if he didn’t issue so many instructions, little would get done.

“I issue instructions as a last line of defense,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Josh Chin. “Xi Jinping’s Style: Micromanagement.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021): A1 & A14.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the December 15, 2021, and has the title “Xi Jinping’s Leadership Style: Micromanagement That Leaves Underlings Scrambling.”)

No Clear Evidence That Tornadoes Are More Frequent or Intense Than 40 to 60 Years Ago

Damage from tornadoes depends on the strength of buildings, which depends on broad economic growth. To reduce harm, the level of economic growth matters as much or more than the frequency and intensity of tornadoes.

(p. A12) Some studies have concluded that as global warming advances, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, favorable conditions for severe storms in the United States will increase this century.

. . .

It remains less certain as to whether those increasingly severe storms might lead to more tornadoes. These complex events are harder to model, and so far there doesn’t appear to be clear evidence that, for instance, tornadoes have changed in frequency or intensity over the past 40 to 60 years.

. . .

“We might not know exactly how climate change is going to affect tornadoes going forward, but we do know that there are lot of things we can do to protect people today,” said Stephen Strader, a disaster scientist at Villanova University.

. . .

“There are always two sides of the coin when it comes to disasters,” Dr. Strader said. “There’s the climate itself, but there’s also society vulnerability. We can work to address climate change, but we shouldn’t lose focus on what we can do today to improve survivability against these extreme events.”

For the full story, see:

Brad Plumer, Winston Choi-Schagrin and Hiroko Tabuchi. “As World Warms, Bracing for More Extreme Weather.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 18, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 17, 2021, and has the title “Examining the Role of Climate Change in a Week of Wild Weather.”)

Malnutrition of Poor Is Reduced More by Economic Growth Than by Ending Climate Change

Source of graph: online version of WSJ commentary quoted below.

(p. A17) The Paris climate agreement is projected to keep 11 million more people in poverty come 2030 than otherwise would be. If the Glasgow climate conference in November leads to the adoption of much stronger climate measures, policy makers will raise that total to 80 million additional people in poverty by 2030, which will inevitably cause even more malnutrition deaths.

Climate change deserves our attention, but policy makers need to be realistic. What really protects the world’s poor from malnutrition is getting out of poverty. It’s not expensive climate regulations.

For the full commentary, see:

Bjorn Lomborg. “Climate Change Barely Affects Poverty.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, October 7, 2021): A17.

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated October 7, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

“The Best Recipe for Economic Growth Is” Freedom and Opportunity

(p. C3) Migration has been central to the American story since the beginning. In the early 19th century, New Englanders left the rocky soil of Massachusetts for the more fertile Ohio River valley. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, farmers fled Oklahoma for California. In the early 20th century, millions of African-Americans left the Jim Crow South to find work in the factories of northern cities. Through the 20th century, mobility was an American tradition: In every year between 1950 and 1992, according to the Current Population Survey, more than 6% of Americans moved across county lines.

In recent years, however, the engine of American migration has been grinding to a halt. People often move to get ahead, which makes mobility a reasonable measure of economic dynamism. So it’s a troubling sign that since 2007, geographic mobility has dropped by one-third, with fewer than 4% of Americans changing counties annually. The reason is clear: In the most prosperous cities and regions, insiders have figured out how to use regulations, laws and institutions to make life easier for themselves and harder for everyone else. In the process, they have made the U.S. a far less dynamic society.

. . .

Most important, we need to stop thinking of growth as a zero-sum game. Today, insiders worry about getting their share of the pie instead of growing the economy for everyone. The best recipe for economic growth is the traditional American one: freedom, combined with robust investment in opportunity for the least advantaged.

For the full commentary, see:

Edward Glaeser and David Cutler. “The American Housing Market Is Stifling Mobility.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 17, 2021): C3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 2, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

The commentary quoted above is based on the authors’ book:

Glaeser, Edward L., and David Cutler. Survival of the City: Living and Thriving in an Age of Isolation. New York: Penguin Press, 2011.

Chinese Local Governments Run Up $6 Trillion in Debt, Partly to Build Giant Statues and a Full-Size Replica of Titanic

(p. B1) To officials in her corner of China, the statue of Yang Asha, a goddess of beauty, serves as a tribute to the rich culture of the local people and, they hope, a big draw for sightseers and their money. To many others in China, she is another white elephant in a country full of expensive monuments, gaudy tourist traps and wasteful vanity projects that draw money away from real problems.

Those critics point to the statue of Guan Yu, a general from antiquity, in the city of Jingzhou, where he also towers higher than the Statue of Liberty and wields an enormous polearm called the Green Dragon Crescent Blade.

They point to the Jingxingu Hotel, a 24-story wooden building with lots of empty balconies and open spaces but few actual rooms — and it has not accepted guests beyond a few tourists who come to gawk.

They point to the construction of a full-size, $150 million replica of the Titanic in a reservoir deep in China’s interior, 1,200 miles from (p. B5) the ocean.

. . .

Singling out the $38 million Jingxingu Hotel and the $224 million Guan Yu project, which also included an elaborate base and surrounding park, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development ordered on Sept. 29 [2020] that communities may not “blindly build large-scale sculptures that are divorced from reality and the masses.”

Chinese government officials have long prized big projects. China now has four-fifths of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, more miles of ultramodern expressways than the American interstate highway system and a bullet-train network long enough to span the continental United States seven times. Those projects have employed millions of people and helped fuel the country’s breakneck growth.

But local officials borrowed heavily to fund those projects. Estimates put the amount of local debt as high as $6 trillion, raising fears of financial bombs lurking in the ledgers of far corners of the country.

Beijing has doubled down on further investment spending this year in an initially successful bid to shake off an economic hangover from the outbreak of coronavirus in China last winter.

Yet with each passing year, as projects are built in ever-more-remote places, the economic kick from each project becomes less and less. China is on track this year to add debt equal to four months’ economic output while its economy grows by an amount equal to less than two weeks’ output.

Local government borrowing “is still out of control,” said Gary Liu, an independent economist in Shanghai.

For the full story, see:

Keith Bradsher. “As China Battles Poverty, Colossal Projects Draw Ire.” The New York Times (Fri., Nov. 27, 2020): B1 & B5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Nov. 26, 2020, and has the title “A Soaring Monument to Beauty in China Is Stirring Passions. Mostly Anger.”)