Applying Coase Theorem to Refute the Externality Argument Used to Defend Covid-19 Mandates and Lockdowns

(p. A17) The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “anti-vaxxer” as “a person who opposes the use of vaccines or regulations mandating vaccination.” Where does that leave us? We both strongly favor vaccination against Covid-19; one of us (Mr. Hooper) has spent years working and consulting for vaccine manufacturers. But we strongly oppose government vaccine mandates. If you’re crazy about Hondas but don’t think the government should force everyone to buy a Honda, are you “anti-Honda”?

. . .

. . ., early in the pandemic the Food and Drug Administration used its coercive power to discourage the development of diagnostic tests for Covid-19. The FDA required private labs wanting to develop tests to submit special paperwork to get approval that it had never required for other diagnostic tests. That, in combination with the CDC’s claims that it had enough testing capacity, meant that testing necessitated the use of a CDC test later determined to be so defective that it found the coronavirus in laboratory-grade water.

With voluntary approaches, we get the benefit of millions of people around the world actively trying to solve problems and make our lives better. We get high-quality vaccines from BioNTech/ Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna, instead of the suspect vaccines from the governments of Cuba and Russia. We get good diagnostic tests from Thermo Fisher Scientific instead of the defective CDC one. We get promising therapeutics such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir.

. . .

The supposed trump card of those who favor coercion is externalities: One person’s behavior can put another at risk. But that’s only half the story. The other half is that we choose how much risk we accept. If some customers at a store exhibit risky behavior, then we can vaccinate, wear masks, keep our distance, shop at quieter times, or avoid the store.

Economists understand how one person can impose a cost on another. But it takes two to tango, and it’s generally more efficient if the person who can change his behavior with the lower cost changes how he behaves. In other words, to perform a proper evaluation of policies to deal with externalities, we must consider the responses available to both parties. Many people, including economists, ignore this insight.

For the full commentary, see:

David R. Henderson and Charles L. Hooper. “Coercion Made the Pandemic Worse.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 28, 2021): A17.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 27, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Mars Can Be Terraformed to Reduce Costs of Colonization

(p. D5) Since joining NASA in 1980, Jim Green has seen it all. He has helped the space agency understand Earth’s magnetic field, explore the outer solar system and search for life on Mars. As the new year arrived on Saturday, he bade farewell to the agency.

Over the past four decades, which includes 12 years as the director of NASA’s planetary science division and the last three years as its chief scientist, he has shaped much of NASA’s scientific inquiry, overseeing missions across the solar system and contributing to more than 100 scientific papers across a range of topics. While specializing in Earth’s magnetic field and plasma waves early in his career, he went on to diversify his research portfolio.

. . .

Ahead of a December [2021] meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans, Dr. Green spoke about some of this wide-ranging work and the search for life in the solar system. Below are edited and condensed excerpts from our interview.

. . .

    You’ve previously suggested it might be possible to terraform Mars by placing a giant magnetic shield between the planet and the sun, which would stop the sun from stripping its atmosphere, allowing the planet to trap more heat and warm its climate to make it habitable. Is that really doable?

Yeah, it’s doable. Stop the stripping, and the pressure is going to increase. Mars is going to start terraforming itself. That’s what we want: the planet to participate in this any way it can. When the pressure goes up, the temperature goes up.

The first level of terraforming is at 60 millibars, a factor of 10 from where we are now. That’s called the Armstrong limit, where your blood doesn’t boil if you walked out on the surface. If you didn’t need a spacesuit, you could have much more flexibility and mobility. The higher temperature and pressure enable you to begin the process of growing plants in the soils.

There are several scenarios on how to do the magnetic shield. I’m trying to get a paper out I’ve been working on for about two years. It’s not going to be well received. The planetary community does not like the idea of terraforming anything. But you know. I think we can change Venus, too, with a physical shield that reflects light. We create a shield, and the whole temperature starts going down.

For the full story, see:

Jonathan O’Callaghan, interviewer. “Inhabiting Mars? He Calls It ‘Doable.’” The New York Times (Tuesday, January 4, 2022): D5.

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

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 2, 2021, and has the title “NASA’s Retiring Top Scientist Says We Can Terraform Mars and Maybe Venus, Too.” The first three paragraphs, and the block-indented sentence and question, are by the interviewer Jonathan O’Callaghan. The answer after the question is by Jim Green.)

Californians Move to Texas, to Prosper

(p. 5) A Californian will feel right at home in Dallas even before touching the ground. Like the suburbs around Los Angeles, San Diego and across the Bay Area, Dallas and other Texas metros are built on the certainty of cars and infinite sprawl; from the air, as I landed, I could see the familiar landscape of endless blocks of strip malls and single-family houses, all connected by a circulatory system of freeways.

. . .

My guide through the Dallas suburbs was Marie Bailey, a real estate agent who runs Move to Texas From California!, a Facebook group that helps disillusioned Californians find their way to the promised land. Bailey is herself a Californian. She and her family moved in 2017 from El Segundo, a beach city next to Los Angeles International Airport, to Prosper, a landlocked oasis of new housing developments north of Dallas. In El Segundo, the median home list price is $1.3 million; in Prosper, it’s less than half that.

And in Prosper, the houses are palatial, many of them part of sprawling new developments that brim with amenities unheard-of in California. “It’s like living in a country club,” Bailey told me, which sounded like hyperbole until she showed me the five-acre lagoon and white sand beach in the development where she and her husband purchased a home. Their house is 5,000 square feet; they bought it for about the same price for which they sold a home they owned in Orange County, which was 1,500 square feet.

Bailey’s move gets to the heart of the great California-Texas migration: housing. As she drove me around Dallas’s suburbs, Bailey would point out cute house after cute house now occupied by a Californian. I had been talking about the idea of choosing between California and Texas, but for many people moving here, Bailey suggested, there really was not much choice at all — it was simply that, economically, they could not make their lives work in California, and in Texas, they could.

. . .

Texas, now, feels a bit like California did when I first moved here in the late 1980s — a thriving, dynamic place where it doesn’t take a lot to establish a good life. For many people, that’s more than enough.

For the full commentary, see:

Farhad Manjoo, Gus Wezerek and Yaryna Serkez. “Is Texas the New California?” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, November 28, 2021): 4-5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Nov. 23, 2021, and has the title “Everyone’s Moving to Texas. Here’s Why.”)

Butterworth Made “Steady Forward Progress” an “Ingenious” Business Model for Tractor Success

(p. A15) The story of Ford’s dream of perfecting an affordable, all-purpose tractor—or, as Ford later imagined it, a gasoline-powered “automobile plow”—is seldom told. Neil Dahlstrom’s “Tractor Wars” tells it well.

. . .

By 1918 there were many competitors in America’s great tractor pull. Most were small or mid-sized firms, including the Gas Traction Co. of Minneapolis, and the Moline (Ill.) Plow Co. and the Waterloo (Iowa) Gasoline Engine Co. Two ultimately broke out of the pack with loud, gas-guzzling chugs.

. . .

Early attempts by International Harvester to develop a gas-powered tractor were only moderately successful, but in 1920 its engineers made a breakthrough, converting the two front wheels into “traction wheels,” moving the engine from the rear to the middle, and adding three reverse speeds. All of this, plus enhancements to compatible cultivating attachments, made Harvester’s Farmall tractor competitive with the Fordson.

Ford’s other chief rival was the John Deere Co. Its earliest claim to fame was becoming the “world’s largest manufacturer of steel plows.” The company shifted course in 1907 when William Butterworth, the son-in-law of Charles Deere, took control. According to Mr. Dahlstrom, Butterworth was “cautious with the family money that still financed the company, pushing for long-term gains in a cyclical, low-margin, weather-dependent business.” While some outsiders “mistook Butterworth’s preference for steady forward progress as indecision,” his business model turned out to be ingenious.

. . .

Mr. Dahlstrom, to his credit, has written a superb history of the tractor and this long-forgotten period of capitalism in U.S. agriculture.

For the full review, see:

Michael Taube. “BOOKSHELF; American Power Pull.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 30, 2021): A15.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 29, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tractor Wars’ Review: American Power Pull.”)

The book under review is:

Dahlstrom, Neil. Tractor Wars: John Deere, Henry Ford, International Harvester, and the Birth of Modern Agriculture. Dallas, TX: Matt Holt Books, 2022.

The “Adventure” and “Fun” of Driving Cars

(p. B6) For one Monday in early December, the New York Stock Exchange played the role of vintage car museum. At one end of Broad Street, outside the exchange, sat a high-roofed and stately 1921 Duesenberg coupe. At the other, a fearsome 1966 Ford GT40 racecar. Between them, encased in a glass vitrine, was an imperturbably cheery 1967 Porsche 911S.

Shaking hands by the coffee stand was McKeel Hagerty. The chief executive of the classic car insurance company that bears his name, Mr. Hagerty was there to ring the opening bell, and celebrate the first day of trading for his newly public company (HGTY). Later, at a brunch in the Big Board’s boardroom, Mr. Hagerty wielded a ceremonial gavel and said, “This is only just the beginning.”

The origins of Hagerty, the company, are far humbler. It was founded by his parents, Frank and Louise, in 1984, in their basement in Traverse City, Mich., as a boutique insurer of wooden boats.

In the early 1990s, the company began insuring collectible cars. With Mr. Hagerty at the helm, it has become one of the largest indemnifiers of vintage vehicles, with over two million classics on its rolls. The actuarial data necessary to determine repair and replacement costs on these cars has also made it a foremost authority on their valuation.

. . .

Hagerty went public via a SPAC, or special-purpose acquisition company, raising roughly $265 million in the process with a goal of expanding. So, what are Hagerty’s ambitions now? And why did it need to become a publicly traded company in order to achieve them?

“The purpose of the company is to save driving and car culture,” Mr. Hagerty said flatly, as we piloted a zippy, Hagerty-insured 1972 BMW 2002 tii toward the tip of Lower Manhattan. “If we’re going to save car culture, we have to make investments outside of the core business, and really help create a whole ecosystem.” Achieving this lofty goal required hundreds of millions of dollars in additional investment, he said: “That would have been tough for us to afford just as a private company.”

. . .

Outside experts agreed with this assessment of Mr. Hagerty’s vocation. “They encourage driving. Their tag lines all the time are, ‘Drive your cars,’” Mr. Gross said. “In some ways, you think, that’s a little strange for an insurance company. You think they’d want you to drive as little as possible to minimize the risk.” He laughed.

Instead, Mr. Hagerty said he sincerely wants to help people find the pleasure in “the experiential sides” of the automobile, those organized around adventure, preservation, culture and legacy. “I think that if we can help steward along the reasons that people drive and love cars, other than to get from Point A to Point B, then we win.”

Mr. Gross concurred with this plan. “I don’t know how many companies there are that take the long way around. And that’s what Hagerty is doing here. They’re not only selling insurance. They’re trying to make sure that the reason you need that insurance is viable and fun, and lots of people are doing it,” he said. “As a business strategy, it’s pretty smart.”

For the full commentary, see:

Brett Berk. “A Classic Car Insurer’s Vision to ‘Save Driving’.” The New York Times (Friday, Dec. 17, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 16, 2021, and has the title “A Classic Car Giant With a Lofty Mission: Save Driving.”)

Scientists Should Not Censor Contrarian Conjectures from Outsiders

On Nov. 3, 2021 I presented my paper “Galilean Science: The Impediment to Progress When Science as Doctrine Wins Over Science as Process” at Day 3 of the Organisation [sic] for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) “Workshop on AI and the Productivity of Science.” The OECD has 38, mainly European, governments as members and has the objective of finding policies to advance the economic progress of the world.

The link above is to OECD’s recently posted YouTube Zoom recording of all of Day 3. My presentation starts at about 1:23.

In the session where I presented my paper, we were asked to answer one of a couple of questions. I chose to focus on the question: “What is the most important impediment to raising the productivity of science, and why?” My answer, in brief, was that science is impeded when authorities require adherence to the dominant doctrines, censoring rather than permitting the contrarian conjectures from outsiders who advance us toward truth.

Galilean science is also discussed on p. 129 of my Openness book:

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

Concentrating at the Office Can Be Harder than Concentrating at Home

(p. A4) Many people returning to offices are starting to wonder how they ever managed to be productive in a place with so many distractions. On top of standard interruptions to the workday that have long existed—say, small talk while making a fresh cup of coffee—there are now new temptations and annoyances (depending on whom you ask) spawned by staggered schedules, hybrid work, and the pandemic-induced realization that socializing can be exhausting.

. . .

Valerie Warshaw, 40, an interior designer with an architecture firm in Richmond, Va., also has trouble focusing with people chatting near her desk, but for different reasons.

“I get distracted just from hearing other people’s conversation and then I’m like, ‘Ooh! I want to chime in on that,’ ” she said. “The group that I’m in is very social.”

. . .

Her noise-canceling AirPods can help but have a downside: she gets startled when people come up behind her desk without warning. Ms. Warshaw has learned the best way to get anything done is to barricade herself in a conference room.

“People don’t disturb you because they think you’re on a call,” she said.

For the full story, see:

Katherine Bindley. “Working From Work Can Be Hard.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021): A1 & A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated December 17, 2021, and has the title “Working From Work Is Harder Than It Sounds.”)

E-Mobility Devices Offer Consumers “Lower Virus Risk” and More Convenience Than Public Transit

(p. A9) A boom in electric-powered mobile devices is bringing what is likely to be a lasting change and a new safety challenge to New York’s vast and crowded street grid.

The devices have sprouted up all over. Office workers on electric scooters glide past Manhattan towers. Parents take electric bikes to drop off their children at school. Young people have turned to electric skateboards, technically illegal on city streets, to whiz through the far corners of New York.

Though many of these riders initially gave up their subway and bus trips because of the lower virus risk of traveling outdoors, some say they are sticking with their e-mobility devices even as the city begins to move beyond the pandemic.

“I use the scooter for everything, it’s really convenient,” said Shareese King, 41, a Bronx resident who deleted the Uber app from her phone after she started running her errands on an electric scooter.

Electric bikes, scooters and other devices are in many cases made for urban life because they are affordable, better for the environment, take up little, if any, street space for parking and are just fun to use, said Sarah M. Kaufman, the associate director of the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at New York University.

For the full story, see:

Winnie Hu and Chelsia Rose Marcius. “As Personal E-Mobility Spreads, Safety Challenges Grow.” The New York Times (Tuesday, October 28, 2021): A9.

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Nov. [sic] 8, 2021, and has the title “As E-Scooters and E-Bikes Proliferate, Safety Challenges Grow.”)

Small Modular Reactors Are Safer and Cheaper Than Older Reactors and Generate More Predictable Carbon-Free Energy Than Can Wind and Sun

(p. B13) Nuclear energy is a rare thing—a carbon-free energy source that isn’t hyped and enjoys bipartisan support in Washington. The big question now is whether new technologies that might lower the costs actually work.

Governments are reconsidering nuclear power, given its ability to provide predictable carbon-free energy.

. . .

“Modular” nuclear fission plants are where the real promise lies. Simpler designs, standardized components and passive safety features all help reduce costs. Being smaller can make it easier to find sites and integrate into a grid with intermittent renewables. Proponents estimate that modular reactors could more than halve the cost and build time associated with traditional ones.

One approach uses existing technologies to build small modular reactors, known as SMRs. They generate anything from a few megawatts to 500, compared with around 1,000 or more for a typical conventional reactor. The controlled fission reaction splits uranium, which heats water into steam, driving a turbine to generate electricity. Water also cools the reactor. SMRs use passive safety features, such as placement underground or in a pool of water, to reduce the need for some more expensive measures. It makes them cheaper to build, but opponents worry it could be a recipe for more disasters.

. . .

Others are trying to build modular reactors with new technology, such as novel nuclear fuels or cooling systems involving gas or salt instead of water. These advanced designs are intended to reduce the risk of accidents and build in more flexibility for intermittent power.

. . .

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program co-founded two advanced nuclear reactor demonstration plants to be completed by 2027. The first is designed by Bill Gates-backed TerraPower in partnership with GE-Hitachi. It will feature a 345 MW sodium-cooled fast reactor with integrated energy storage on the site of a retiring coal plant in Wyoming. The second will be built in Washington state by X-Energy using four of its 80 MW helium gas-cooled reactors fueled by special uranium pebbles.

. . .

There is also innovation in nuclear fusion—combining atoms to generate energy—which comes with fewer safety and waste concerns. This month, Commonwealth Fusion Systems secured $1.8 billion in funding with promises to build reactors in the 2030s. But many think commercially viable fusion remains a very long shot.

For the full commentary, see:

Rochelle Toplensky. “Nuclear Power’s Second Chance.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021): B13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date December 20, 2021, and has the title “Nuclear Power Has a Second Chance to Prove Itself.”)

Wisconsin Hospitals Increasingly Sue Patients

(p. A8) Hospitals in Wisconsin have sued patients over medical debt at a rate that amounts to one out of every 1,000 residents a year, especially people in low-income areas and who are Black, a new study found.

The study, published Monday [Dec. 6, 2021] in the health-policy journal Health Affairs, found some hospitals were more likely than others to take patients to court and low-income and Black patients were disproportionately sued.

The findings highlight how the financial and legal jeopardy that patients face depends on which hospital they go to. The findings also add to mounting research on the consequences of medical debt, a problem that research shows is more acute among people who are uninsured.

Medical-bill lawsuits “are not a fait accompli,” said Zack Cooper, an economist with the Yale University School of Public Health and an author of the new lawsuit analysis. “This is very much a choice that these hospitals are making.”

. . .

Hospitals were suing people more for unpaid bills, the study also found. The rate increased to 1.53 lawsuits for every 1,000 residents in 2018, up from 1.12 lawsuits per 1,000 residents in 2001.

. . .

Dr. Cooper called for more data to better understand potential factors driving the disproportionate number of lawsuits among Black patients.

“First, Black patients could have a higher burden of unpaid medical bills, which leads them to get sued more on a per-capita basis,” he said. “Second, Black patients could have a similar amount of debt, but were more likely targeted by hospitals.”

For the full story, see:

Melanie Evans and Tom McGinty. “Hospital Debt-Collection Practices Vary.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Dec. 07, 2021): A8.

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

(Note: the online version of the story was updated December 6, 2021, and has the title “Hospitals in Wisconsin Pursued Medical Debt Collection Widely but Unevenly, Study Finds.” The online version says that the title of the New York print version is “Hospitals Faulted on Medical-Debt Suits.” The title of my National edition of the print version is “Hospital Debt-Collection Practices Vary.”)

The article co-authored by Cooper, and discussed above, is:

Cooper, Zack, James Han, and Neale Mahoney. “Hospital Lawsuits over Unpaid Bills Increased by 37 Percent in Wisconsin from 2001 to 2018.” Health Affairs 40, no. 12 (Dec. 2021): 1830-35.

“Overwhelmed” Volunteers Struggle to Fix Log4j Bug in Open Source Software

In Openness to Creative Destruction, I argue that open source software has severe drawbacks, compared to a system where firms receive higher profits for selling better software. The severe Log4j bug, discussed in the quoted passages below, is an example that strongly supports my argument. Blog entries posted on Dec. 17 and on Dec. 25 also discussed the Log4j bug.

(p. B6) Gary Gregory, a volunteer for the Apache Software Foundation, is spending time off from his day job glued to his computer, striving to help contain the harm from a security flaw in the Log4j tool underpinning much of the digital economy.

. . .

Mr. Gregory, who works from the dining-room table in his Ocala, Fla., home, fueled by black coffee and accompanied by his hound-pit-bull mix, Bella, said he is overwhelmed with hundreds of requests for help from businesses. While Apache is trying to assist companies in updating their systems, he said, the nonprofit’s resources are limited.

“This puts to the forefront the whole issue with open-source [software] and commercial users,” said Mr. Gregory, who is on the Apache Logging Services Project Management Committee of 16 elected members who vote on changes to the software. “The expectations are somewhat out of whack.”

. . .

Many developers rely on the free Log4j framework to help record data such as users’ behavior and applications’ activity in software built with the Java programming language. Cybersecurity experts say the inclusion of the open-source logging tool within so much interconnected software—often embedded without developers’ knowledge—yields a threat that spans economic sectors and national borders.

. . .

Cybersecurity firm Mandiant Inc. said it has observed Chinese government hackers trying to exploit the flaw.

After Apache released its planned patch on Friday, Mr. Gregory said he worked through the weekend on a new update along with other volunteer software developers in Japan, New Zealand, Virginia and Arizona. Unveiled Monday, the new version disabled a problematic software module by default and removed a message-lookup feature that could be used to exploit the flaw.

The Apache volunteers are designing another update to Log4j for users who rely on an older version of the Java programming language, meaning more work for Mr. Gregory while he is on vacation from his day job.

“That translates to me getting five hours of sleep last night,” he said of his time off. “Some of the other guys got two or three.”

For the full story, see:

David Uberti. “Fight Against Bug Relies on Volunteers.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, December 16, 2021): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Dec. 15, 2021, and has the title “Global Fight Against Log4j Vulnerability Relies on Apache Volunteers.”)

My book, mentioned above, is:

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