Zoning Regulations Restrict Building Affordable Homes

(p. A25) Although zoning may seem like a technical, bureaucratic and decidedly local question, in reality the issue relates directly to three grand themes that Joe Biden ran on in the 2020 campaign: racial justice, respect for working-class people and national unity. Perhaps no single step would do more to advance those goals than tearing down the government-sponsored walls that keep Americans of different races and classes from living in the same communities, sharing the same public schools and getting a chance to know one another across racial, economic and political lines.

Economically discriminatory zoning policies — which say that you are not welcome in a community unless you can afford a single-family home, sometimes on a large plot of land — are not part of a distant, disgraceful past. In most American cities, zoning laws prohibit the construction of relatively affordable homes — duplexes, triplexes, quads and larger multifamily units — on three-quarters of residential land.

For the full commentary, see:

Richard D. Kahlenberg. “Zoning Is a Social Justice Matter.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 20, 2021): A25.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 19, 2021, and has the title “The ‘New Redlining’ Is Deciding Who Lives in Your Neighborhood.”)

Defending the Enlightenment

(p. C7) The dishonoring of Hume, and attacks on other Enlightenment luminaries such as Jefferson and Kant, indicate that the case against the Enlightenment has escaped the faculty lounge and is now in the streets. This turbulent context will inevitably frame any modern history of the Enlightenment, and so it is with Ritchie Robertson’s “The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790.” Mr. Robertson’s study is part of a growing rearguard action. He is determined, alongside colleagues such as Jonathan Israel and Anthony Pagden, both to defend the Enlightenment on its own terms and to promote its “particularly urgent message for our time.”

. . .

What the Enlighteners offered was reason alloyed with sentiment. “In this book,” writes Mr. Robertson, “I try to present the Enlightenment not only as an intellectual movement, but also as a sea change in sensibility, in which people became more attuned to other people’s feelings, and more concerned for what we would call humane, or humanitarian values.”

. . .

He uses the sentimental revolution to explain important reformist causes, such as the suppression of cruelty to animals, penal reform and new models of education. A “feeling” for humanity in all its diversity, among figures such as Diderot and Burke, informed powerful critiques of European empire. Even Adam Smith—(p. C8)often misremembered as a pitiless capitalist—made feeling central to sociability in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759). According to Smith, as Mr. Robertson puts it, social and economic life was not powered by “cold calculations” but by “desire, which had to be properly channelled in order to produce happiness.”

The postmodernist attacks on the Enlightenment as coercive, disciplinarian and hierarchical, Mr. Robertson claims, ignore its softer dimension, its humane sympathy and its concern to ameliorate suffering.

For the full review, see:

Jeffrey Collins. “Let’s Be Reasonable, and Humane.” The New York Times Book Review (Saturday, March 13, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 12, 2021, and has the title “‘The Enlightenment’ Review: Daring to Feel.”)

The book under review is:

Robertson, Ritchie. The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790. New York: Harper, 2021.

Mundell and Laffer Agreed High Taxes Hurt Poor

(p. A12) Robert A. Mundell began to make his name in the 1960s as a maverick economist eager to challenge his more orthodox colleagues. He ended up influencing mainstream economic policy in the U.S. and Europe in profound ways that few of his peers could have imagined.

. . .

Dr. Mundell’s influence on U.S. economic policy also dates to the 1960s. He was teaching at the University of Chicago when he met Arthur Laffer in 1967. Dr. Laffer, a Stanford-educated economist, later recalled their first meeting as a shock. “In walked a sallow, tousle-headed, pipe-smoking figure wearing a faded trench coat belted with a clothesline cord,” Dr. Laffer wrote.

The disheveled Dr. Mundell and the buttoned-down Dr. Laffer agreed that steeply progressive taxes were deterring investment and employment in ways that hurt the poor.

In the 1970s, Dr. Mundell argued that the U.S. should defy conventional economic wisdom by raising interest rates to protect the dollar’s value while reducing taxes to stimulate the economy. “I knew I was in the minority,” he said in an 1988 interview. “But I thought my vote should count much more than the others because I understood the subject.”

Dr. Laffer introduced Dr. Mundell and his ideas to Jude Wanniski and Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal editorial pages, whose work influenced Republican politicians including Jack Kemp and Mr. Reagan.

For the full obituary, see:

James R. Hagerty. “Canadian Economist Inspired U.S. Tax Cuts.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, April 6, 2021): A12.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Robert Mundell Helped Inspire U.S. Tax Cuts and the Euro.” In the last paragraph quoted above, the online version mentions Jack Kemp. The print version did not.)

Amazon Workers Can Flourish Without Unions

(p. A1) Amazon workers at a giant warehouse in Alabama voted decisively against forming a union on Friday, squashing the most significant organizing drive in the internet giant’s history and dealing a crushing blow to labor and Democrats when conditions appeared ripe for them to make advances.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to emphatically defeat the effort. Ballots in favor of a union trailed at 738, fewer than 30 percent of the votes tallied, according to federal officials.

. . .

(p. A17) William and Lavonette Stokes, who started work at the Bessemer warehouse in July, said the union had failed to convince them how it could improve their working conditions. Amazon already provides good benefits, relatively high pay that starts at $15 an hour and opportunities to advance, said the couple, who have five children.

“Amazon is the only job I know where they pay your health insurance from Day 1,” Ms. Stokes, 52, said. She added that she had been turned off by how organizers tried to cast the union drive as an extension of the Black Lives Matter movement because most of the workers are Black.

“This was not an African-American issue,’’ said Ms. Stokes, who is Black. “I feel you can work there comfortably without being harassed.”

In a news conference organized by Amazon on Friday, Mr. Stokes and other workers said they had concerns that they wanted the company to address, like better training and anti-bias coaching for managers.

“We just feel like we can do it without the union,” he said. “Why pay the union to do what we can do ourselves?”

For the full story, see:

Karen Weise and Michael Corkery. “Major Setback to Labor As Amazon Employees Reject Unionization Bid.” The New York Times (Saturday, April 10, 2021): A1 & A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Amazon Workers Vote Down Union Drive at Alabama Warehouse.”)

Clean-Energy Requires More Transmission Lines Which Requires More Use of Eminent Domain to Seize Private Property

(p. B12) President Biden’s infrastructure plan proposes some tried-and-trusted methods to spur clean-energy development such as a 10-year extension of existing tax credits for solar and wind energy. More interestingly, it introduces an investment tax credit for high-voltage transmission lines.

. . .

The administration is certainly looking in the right direction: To reach President Biden’s net-zero emissions goal by 2050, the U.S. will need to expand electricity transmission systems by 60% by 2030 and may need to triple it by 2050, according to research published by Princeton University in December [2020]. That is because renewable energy-rich places such as the windiest regions aren’t necessarily close to population centers, where electricity demand is.

While the clean-energy industry probably won’t complain about a new subsidy, the tax-credit proposal is a bit of a head scratcher given that the real roadblocks to transmission lines have to do with permitting, much of which is in the hands of state and local authorities.

A shift toward e-commerce should push up productivity by eliminating workers needed in bricks-and-mortar stores, Mr. Gordon said. Videoconferencing should also help, though the public-transit sector could offset some of the gains because buses and rail transit will carry fewer riders, he said.

“For most transmission we need in the country, it’s not a cost issue or an access-to-capital issue, although transmission can be delayed because of cost allocation debates,” said George Bilicic, global head of power, energy and infrastructure at Lazard.

. . .

The proposed plan also calls for a so-called Grid Deployment Authority within the Energy Department to “better leverage existing rights of way” along roads and railways. That would be a good first step, though eminent domain—the power of the government to take private property and convert it for public use—remains largely within state regulators’ hands. While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to grant natural-gas pipelines the right of eminent domain under the Natural Gas Act, there is no equivalent authority for electricity transmission under the Federal Power Act and little momentum in Congress to grant that provision.

For the full commentary, see:

Jinjoo Lee. “Productivity Looks Ready to Pick Up.” The Wall Street Journal Tuesday, April 6, 2021): B12.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 4, 2021, and has the title “Biden’s Grid Proposal May Be a Square Peg in a Round Hole.”)

The Princeton research mentioned above is:

Larson, Eric, Chris Greig, Jesse Jenkins, Erin Mayfield, Andrew Pascale, Chuan Zhang, Joshua Drossman, Robert Williams, Steve Pacala, Robert Socolowi, Ejeong Baik, Rich Birdsey, Rick Duke, Ryan Jones, Ben Haley, Emily Leslie, Keith Paustian, and Amy Swan. “Net-Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure, and Impacts, Interim Report.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, Dec. 15, 2020.

How Chuck Yeager Acquired the ‘Right Stuff’: “I Worked My Tail Off”

(p. A1) Chuck Yeager, the most famous test pilot of his generation, who was the first to break the sound barrier and, thanks to Tom Wolfe, came to personify the death-defying aviator who possessed the elusive yet unmistakable “right stuff,” died on Monday [December 7, 2020] in Los Angeles.

. . .

His signal achievement came on Oct. 14, 1947, when he climbed out of a B-29 bomber as it ascended over the Mojave Desert in California and entered the cockpit of an orange, bullet-shaped, rocket-powered experimental plane attached to the bomb bay.

An Air Force captain at the time, he zoomed off in the plane, a (p. A23) Bell Aircraft X-1, at an altitude of 23,000 feet, and when he reached about 43,000 feet above the desert, history’s first sonic boom reverberated across the floor of the dry lake beds. He had reached a speed of 700 miles an hour, breaking the sound barrier and dispelling the long-held fear that any plane flying at or beyond the speed of sound would be torn apart by shock waves.

. . .

Mr. Wolfe wrote about a nonchalance affected by pilots in the face of an emergency in a voice “specifically Appalachian in origin,” one that was first heard in military circles but ultimately emanated from the cockpits of commercial airliners.

“It was,” Mr. Wolfe said, “the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager.”

In his memoir, General Yeager said he was annoyed when people asked him if he had the right stuff, since he felt it implied a talent he was born with.

“All I know is I worked my tail off learning to learn how to fly, and worked hard at it all the way,” he wrote. “If there is such a thing as the right stuff in piloting, then it is experience. The secret to my success was that somehow I always managed to live to fly another day.”

. . .

At a time when the administration of President John F. Kennedy was encouraging diversity in the Air Force, a former test pilot, Edward Dwight Jr., became the only African-American astronaut candidate at the school. But he was never selected for the astronaut corps, retired from the Air Force in 1966 and became a sculptor, specializing in bronze representations of heroic figures in Black history.

In July 2019, Mr. Dwight told the New York Times that General Yeager had never given him a fair chance. “Every week, right on the dot,” Mr. Dwight said, “he’d call me into his office and say, ‘Are you ready to quit? This is too much for you, and you’re going to kill yourself, boy.’ Calling me a boy, and I’m an officer in the Air Force.”

Responding to those remarks, General Yeager said that he had never told anybody that he would get Mr. Dwight out of the program, that he had not held weekly meetings with him, and that he had never called him “boy.”

But he did question Mr. Dwight’s ability. “Isn’t it great that Ed Dwight found his true calling and became an accomplished sculptor?” he wrote in an email.

. . .

In his memoir, General Yeager wrote that through all his years as a pilot, he had made sure to “learn everything I could about my airplane and my emergency equipment.”

It may not have accorded with his image, but, as he told it: “I was always afraid of dying. Always.”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Goldstein. “Fighter Ace and Test Pilot Embodied ‘the Right Stuff’.” The New York Times (Wednesday, December 9, 2020): A1 & A23.

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

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated December 9, 2020, and has the title “Chuck Yeager, Test Pilot Who Broke the Sound Barrier, Is Dead at 97.” The paragraphs quoted above about Edward Dwight appear in the print, but not in the online, version of the obituary.)

Tom Wolfe portrayed Yeager as the exemplar of the “right stuff” in:

Wolfe, Tom. The Right Stuff. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc., 1979.

Yeager’s memoir is:

Yeager, Chuck, and Leo Janos. Yeager: An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1985.

More Evidence Xi Jinping Believes in Marx’s Communism

(p. A11) Mr. Biden this month published his Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. The document puts China in a category by itself as “the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.”

In his signed introduction to the document, Mr. Biden wrote: “I believe we are in the midst of a historic and fundamental debate about the future direction of our world. There are those who argue that, given all the challenges we face, autocracy is the best way forward. . . . We must prove that our model isn’t a relic of history; it’s the single best way to realize the promise of our future.”

This candor is helpful. Beijing’s dirty secret is that Mr. Xi, in his internal speeches, has for years been describing the competition in precisely these ideological terms. Consider a passage from his seminal speech—kept secret for six years—to the Communist Party Central Committee on Jan. 5, 2013.

“There are people who believe that communism is an unattainable hope, or even that it is beyond hoping for—that communism is an illusion. . . . Facts have repeatedly told us that Marx and Engels’s analysis of the basic contradictions in capitalist society is not outdated, nor is the historical-materialist view that capitalism is bound to die out and socialism is bound to win. This is an inevitable trend in social and historical development. But the road is tortuous. The eventual demise of capitalism and the ultimate victory of socialism will require a long historical process to reach completion.”

The Biden and Xi quotations are almost mirror images of each other. The president’s quotation serves as a belated American rejoinder to Mr. Xi’s furtive call for the defeat of capitalism and democracy, which he made during President Obama’s first term.

For the full commentary, see:

Matt Pottinger. “Beijing Targets American Business.” The Wall Street Journal Saturday, March 27, 2021): A11.

(Note: ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 26, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Chinese Chip Central Planning Creates “Stunning Absurdities That Defy Logic and Common Sense”

(p. B1) Liu Fengfeng had more than a decade under his belt at one of the world’s most prominent technology companies before he realized where the real gold rush in China was taking place.

Computer chips are the brains and souls of all the electronics the country’s factories crank out. Yet they are mostly designed and produced overseas. China’s government is lavishing money upon anyone who can help change that.

. . .

(p. B2) In a way, China is hoping to achieve the same kind of liftoff that helped it progress from making plastic toys to crafting solar panels.

With semiconductors, though, “the model starts to break down a little bit,” said Jay Goldberg, a tech industry consultant and former Qualcomm executive. The technology is eye-wateringly expensive to develop, and established players have spent decades accumulating know-how. Europe, Mr. Goldberg noted, once had many “incredible” chip companies. Japan’s chip makers are leaders in certain specialized products, but few would call them bold innovators.

“My point is, there is a ladder — China’s moving up it,” Mr. Goldberg said. But it’s “unclear which outcome they go to.”

. . .

At a top-level meeting on the economy last week, the Communist Party’s leaders enshrined technological self-reliance as one of the country’s “Five Fundamentals” for economic development.

Complete self-sufficiency in chips, however, would mean recreating every part of the lengthy supply chains for some of the most complex technology on earth — a mission that would seem to lead, if not to madness, at least to waste.

. . .

“Up until very recently — this year — the goal had been: With state backing, move up the value chain, specialize where China has a comparative advantage, but don’t really try and fall down the rabbit hole of trying to build everything yourself,” said Jimmy Goodrich, the vice president for global policy at the Semiconductor Industry Association, a group that represents American chip companies.

Now, “it’s very clear that Xi Jinping is calling for a redundant domestic supply chain,” Mr. Goodrich said. “And so the rules of economics, comparative advantage and the supply-chain efficiencies have basically been thrown out the door.”

The government is conscious of the dangers. State-run news outlets have amply covered the recent semiconductor flameouts. The message to other upstarts: Don’t mess it up.

When the state broadcaster China Central Television visited one stalled project in the eastern city of Huai’an recently, it found dozens of giant machines idling on the factory floor, many of them still sheathed in plastic.

“There have been some stunning absurdities that defy logic and common sense,” China Economic Weekly said.

. . .

“There is definitely a bubble in China,” he said. “But you can’t overgeneralize.”

. . .

“Something is bound to accumulate, whether it’s equipment, talent or factories, right?” Mr. Liu said. “If not you or the other guy, then it will be someone else who ends up using it. I think this might be the government’s logic.”

For the full story, see:

Raymond Zhong and Cao Li. “China’s Frenzy to Master Chip Manufacturing.” The New York Times (Monday, December 28, 2020): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Dec. 24, 2020, and has the title “With Money, and Waste, China Fights for Chip Independence.”)

Differences in Study Results Are Seldom Due to Whether Study Design Is Observational or a Randomized Clinical Trial

(p. A17) The health system would be less burdened if more patients were treated before they require hospitalization, and there are promising therapeutic options that patients can administer themselves at home. This was the subject of a Nov. 19 [2020] hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Testimony from the hearing underscored an important issue: Too many doctors have interpreted the term “evidence-based medicine” to mean that the evidence for a treatment must be certain and definitive before it can be given to patients. Because accusing a physician of not being “evidence based” can be a career-damaging allegation, fear of straying from the pack has prevailed, favoring inertia and inaction amid uncertainty about Covid-19 treatments.

For diseases with established treatment options, holding out for certainty may be prudent. But when options are limited and there are safe treatments with evidence for effectiveness, holding out for certainty can be catastrophic. Requiring a high degree of certainty during a crisis may elevate the augustness of medical organizations and appease the sensibilities of medical professionals, but it does nothing for patients who need help.

The penchant for certainty is visible in the frequently updated treatment guidelines for Covid-19 from the National Institutes of Health. These guidelines were developed by scientists around the country, but because of a mentality that is biased toward virtually irrefutable evidence, no distinction is made for treatments with evidence for effectiveness that falls below the mark of certainty. This framework almost certainly has contributed to many avoidable deaths during this pandemic.

. . .

While some health officials dismiss nonrandomized studies, the Cochrane organization, an international leader in evidence-based medicine, published a review of several hundred studies showing that randomized clinical trials and nonrandomized studies of treatments generally yield similar findings. Modern epidemiologic and statistical methods can usually overcome biases inherent in nonrandomized study designs.

For the full commentary, see:

Joseph A. Ladapo. “Too Much Caution Is Killing Covid Patients.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020): A17.

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

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date November 24, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Cochrane organization review mentioned above is:

Anglemyer, Andrew, Hacsi T. Horvath, and Lisa Bero. “Healthcare Outcomes Assessed with Observational Study Designs Compared with Those Assessed in Randomized Trials.” In Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014.

“A Public Choice Analysis of Mandated Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trials”

My “A Public Choice Analysis of Mandated Randomized Double-Blind Clinical Trials” was presented on April 13, 2021 in the Law & Economics session of the Association of Private Enterprise Education meetings. I am grateful to Ray DeGennaro and Matthew McClanahan for including me in McClanahan’s session and to Lauren Nicole Hughes for recording the session on her smartphone.

To some extent, the presentation was an outgrowth of my book:

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

Etsy and Shopify Platforms Enabled Many Small Businesses to Survive the Pandemic

(p. B4) While the year has been a struggle for small businesses, some companies that host their transactions have been soaring.

Shares in Etsy Inc. and Shopify Inc., whose e-commerce platforms primarily cater to small businesses, have surged during the pandemic. Etsy has more than quadrupled this year, while Shopify has tripled.

. . .

For many small-business owners, the technology platforms have served as a lifeline as their companies shift to a focus on online sales.

Matthew Cummings owns a glass-blowing company that makes custom beer glasses in Knoxville, Tenn. He has been on Etsy since 2012, but didn’t move fully online until the pandemic hit and he had to close the doors of his bricks-and-mortar store. He said his Etsy sales are about 10 times higher this year.

Mr. Cummings said that his sales on Etsy have helped him cover his business expenses and that he was able to come out of 2020 with a profit because of his online store. He plans on selling through the platform after the pandemic, with his business now reaching as far as Australia. He has seen a new wave of repeat customers seeking to complete sets of his custom beer glasses.

. . .

One type of sale that might not last beyond the pandemic is masks.

Etsy reported that masks accounted for 11% of overall gross-merchandise sales in the third quarter.

For the full story, see:

Amber Burton. “Sales Platforms Etsy, Shopify Thrive From Small Businesses.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, Dec 24, 2020): B4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date December 23, 2020, and has the title “Etsy and Shopify Buoyed as Covid-19 Boosts Online Sales.”)