Archive for August 2020


Scott Lincicome on the China shock

Scott Lincicome has just published a paper at Cato on the effect of liberalizing trade with China. He clearly demonstrates that much of what you’ve read on this topic is wrong or misleading. It’s the best economics paper that I’ve read in quite some time—comparable in quality to the trade research of Doug Irwin.

Also note that I have a new column at The Hill. It discusses the recent proposal to add a racial equality mandate to the Fed’s responsibilities.

I have no comment on Kamala Harris. Her views don’t matter, just as Mike Pence’s views don’t matter, and just as Joe Biden’s views don’t matter. There’s only one issue in the campaign.

Should we believe our intelligence services on China?

Two more scandals:

1. It looks like the intelligence service’s views on Russia are changed to reflect the political preferences of Trump:

The White House last year forced changes in a pointed intelligence conclusion that the Kremlin wanted President Donald Trump reelected, according to The New York Times Magazine.

Wording was dramatically watered down concerning Russia’s strong backing for Trump shortly after then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was forced into early retirement when he refused to make the changes, the Times reported. The classified document reportedly also discussed Russia’s ongoing efforts to influence U.S. elections in 2020 and 2024.

“I can affirm that one of my staffers who was aware of the controversy requested that I modify that assessment,” Coats told the Times. “But I said, ‘No, we need to stick to what the analysts have said.’”

A short time later, Coats was surprised to learn in a tweet by Trump that he was being forced into early retirement, several weeks before he planned to leave his position, the magazine reported. The language was changed after Coats left, according to the Times.

Let’s all remember this when Trump tries to gin up some sort of “Gulf of Tonkin crisis” right before the November election.

2. The Trump administration likes to blame China for covering up the Covid-19 epidemic. They also like to suggest that Taiwan is our friend and mainland China is our enemy. But actions speak louder than words.

On January 14, 2020, Taiwanese officials held a news conference to warn the US (and indeed the entire world) that the coronavirus could be transmitted between humans. This fact became obvious after Taiwanese officials visited Wuhan and evaluated the situation first hand.

But the Trump administration ignored these warnings, choosing to believe the lies of the communist Chinese government. While the Taiwanese installed tight controls to protect their island, US officials took no meaningful steps to prevent an epidemic:

Taiwan was ready. On Jan. 20, a Taiwanese woman returned from Wuhan with a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Health officials knew exactly what to do: She was taken from the airport to a designated hospital by a quarantine officer and treated in an isolation room.

Her test came back positive. Health officials alerted the public and contacted 46 people from her flight, Taiwan’s CDC said in a detailed news release.

Later that day, the United States reported its first case — but did not raise the same alarm. In a Jan. 22 interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Trump said everything was “totally under control.”

“It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control,” he said. “It’s going to be just fine.”

Trump praised China’s handling of the crisis 14 times in late January and all through February. Today, Taiwan has had 7 deaths from Covid-19. The US toll exceeds 167,000.

The Chinese government is wrong to criticize the visit of a US health care delegation to Taiwan. We need to learn from the Taiwanese. I wish the Taiwan visit had occurred in mid-January. Although I suppose even if we had known of the problem we probably would have done nothing—which is exactly what we did do once we found out (January 23rd) that the disease could be transmitted between humans.

About Australia’s second wave

Australia is being hit by a fairly sizable second wave of Covid-19, while New Zealand has no significant community transmission. (Just a few imported cases in quarantine.) As of today, New Zealand has only 22 active cases. Australia has 9238.

Those are the facts, but facts can be misleading. Outside of the two states of Victoria and New South Wales, Australia has only 22 active cases, exactly the same number as New Zealand. And while the other Australian states are not particularly populous, their combined population is close to 12 million, vs. 5 million in New Zealand.

(Taiwan has 30 active cases in a population of 24 million. It is also free of community transmission.)

So while Australia is having a second wave, so far it’s mostly in Melbourne. (Knock on wood.) It will be interesting to see if they can keep it contained.

The stupidity epidemic

I know that people will insist that it’s always been this bad, but it hasn’t. Here are two examples from the left and two from the right.

1. The snowflakes, er, I mean the students in Amherst, Massachusetts are outraged that a local mayor had sex with some consenting adults who are college students. That’s it. That’s the “scandal“. Apparently ideological witch hunts are not enough; we will now experience a wave of sexual witch hunts conducted by fragile Massachusetts puritans who are horrified by “power imbalances”, i.e., by reality.

2. Tulane students got their university to ban a speaker promoting his highly acclaimed anti-racist book because they were confused by the title and thought it was a pro-racist book. And the university went along with the ban, even after the issue was explained. The left are devouring their own.

3. Here’s USA Today:

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to use executive orders to provide relief to people impacted economically by the coronavirus pandemic, arguing his hand had been forced by congressional inaction. 

“The Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders because of partisan bickering and divided government. That’s what we have here,” Navarro said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

Jesus also wants Trump to issue an executive order stopping all those refugees and asylum seekers from coming into the country, as Jesus believed that charity begins at home. Didn’t he? 

4. Larry Kudlow was asked to explain the president’s recent executive order, and made one laughable mistake after another. Here is just a small portion of the interview:

“You keep saying $1,200 per person, are you talking about in addition to the unemployment that they’re already getting?” Ms Bash asked Mr Kudlow.

“No, that’s the payroll — no, I’m sorry, I beg your pardon, the $1,200 will come from the payroll tax deferral, on top of this — yeah, I’m sorry,” Mr Kudlow responded.

He then once again asserted that unemployment benefits would amount to “$800 bucks,” leaving the anchor appearing confused.

“$800 or $400?” she asked.

“No, it should be four — it should be $800,” Mr Kudlow said. “If the states step up, we’re prepared to match, that should come out $400 federal, $400 states.”

What difference does it make? Nothing the administration says has any correspondence with reality. You Americans should just wait patiently at home and be happy with whatever amount of money Trump sends you. Just sit tight. As Trump says, it is what it is.

Are they really this clueless?

I’ve always had a low opinion of our intelligence community, but I was nonetheless taken aback when commenter Mark directed me to the recent public assessment of election interference by foreign powers:

CHINA – We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China. Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues. For example, it has harshly criticized the Administration’s statements and actions on Hong Kong, TikTok, the legal status of the South China Sea, and China’s efforts to dominate the 5G market. Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.

Let’s work backwards:

Beijing recognizes that all of these efforts might affect the presidential race.

Says who? Do the spooks know this, or are they just speculating?

For example, it has harshly criticized the Administration’s statements and actions on Hong Kong, TikTok, the legal status of the South China Sea, and China’s efforts to dominate the 5G market.

So we are to believe that these public statements are an attempt by “China”, or is it “Beijing”, to tip the election toward Biden? The masterminds in Beijing realize that if voters find out that Trump spoke out against China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, they’d be more likely to vote for . . . Biden? Do the Chinese believe that the American public is favorably inclined toward the Chinese Communist Party, and doesn’t like it when our government takes a tough stand with China?

This stuff doesn’t even pass the laugh test. Start with the fact that a public complaint about US policy is not “election interference”. Then add in the fact that if they wanted to help Biden they would not complain about the Administration’s tough stance on China’s HK crackdown, rather they’d gloat about the fact that Trump encouraged the Xi Jinping to put vast numbers of Uighurs into concentration camps. Are we really to assume that that the Chinese are so clueless that they don’t know what sort of things will influence American voters? Or is it someone else who is “clueless”?

In the future, when I hear people tell me that I should “listen to the experts in the US government who understand the threat from China”, I’ll think back to this report.

And laugh.

PS. I need a vacation. Ever since the Italians elected Berlusconi I’ve have this perception that the world is getting steadily stupider. Or am I getting more senile? (Probably both.)

And check out today’s Bloomberg headline:

I wish I had a job that allowed me to “fix” racial wealth gaps. And what does “fix” mean? Eliminate?

Seriously, do I need to consult a psychiatrist? Is the whole world going crazy or is it just me?

PPS. And this:

After all, the president had told her in the Oval Office that he aspired to have his image etched on the monument. And last year, a White House aide reached out to the governor’s office with a question, according to a Republican official familiar with the conversation: What’s the process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore?

Dying would help.