February 12, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Free trade and free labor markets (Scott Sumner, Feb. 12th, 2021, econ Lib)

Economists typically evaluate issues from both an equity and efficiency perspective.  Many economists favor policies that maximize efficiency (making the pie as large as possible), combined with some redistribution to compensate the losers.  Thus they favor free trade, combined with a program to help workers that lose their jobs due to import competition.

Oddly, Peter Coy seems to think this analogy points in the direction of boosting the minimum wage.  Exactly the opposite is true.  If we wanted to match the standard economic approach to international trade, we'd abolish the minimum wage and replace it with some sort of subsidy for low wage workers.  Even if that were politically impossible, you would definitely not want a $15 minimum wage.  A much superior policy would be a $10 minimum wage combined with a $5/hour wage subsidy, where the subsidy phases out at the rate of 50 cents/hour for each $1/hour pay raise, ending entirely when pay reaches $20/hour. 

...its distribution is a political question. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Kyrsten Sinema Joins Joe Manchin in Rebuking $15 Minimum Wage  (NATALIE COLAROSSI, 2/12/21, Newsweek)

Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a moderate Democrat, has rejected inclusion of a $15 minimum wage in President Joe Biden's coronavirus stimulus package, dashing hopes for progressive lawmakers who are pushing for the raise.

Sinema joined Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, a fellow moderate from West Virginia, in publicly rebuking the idea that raising the minimum wage is appropriate amid the ongoing stimulus bill negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Here's Biden's plan to reboot climate innovation: It includes developing cheaper and better ways to capture carbon emissions or draw them out of the atmosphere. (James Temple, February 11, 2021, MIT Technology Review)

The Biden administration announced its third major climate effort on Thursday, February 11, rolling out initiatives to accelerate innovation in clean energy and climate technology.

The White House has formed a working group to help set up the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Climate (ARPA-C), which Biden pledged to create during the campaign. Its mission will be to accelerate progress in tough technical areas, likely including technologies that can capture, remove, and store carbon dioxide as well as heating and cooling products that don't rely on highly potent greenhouse gases.

In addition, the Department of Energy plans to provide $100 million in funding for low-carbon energy projects through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a group funded in the first Obama administration to support clean energy technologies that aren't far enough along to form businesses or attract traditional venture capital.

The move could help revitalize a favorite target of the Trump administration, which repeatedly tried to eliminate ARPA-E's budget during the last four years. Congress, however, consistently maintained or even slightly raised its funding.

How the U.S. government bolstered Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine candidate (Brian Buntz | November 23, 2020, DDD)

The race to develop COVID vaccines has roots stretching back to the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed in the subsequent weeks. The events led the National Academy of Sciences to convene a set of committees to examine the twin threats of terrorism and pandemics. The committees "concluded that we were enormously vulnerable and we had to do a lot of different things [to] protect the country," said Bloom, who co-chaired a bioterrorism panel for the National Academy of Sciences at the time.

In 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) first appeared in China and took hold internationally within months. Effective public health interventions prevented SARS from becoming a pandemic.

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established the National Pandemic Influenza Plan to provide a blueprint for pandemic response. "At some point in our nation's future, another virus will emerge with the potential to create a global disease outbreak," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt at the time.

The pandemic plan stressed the importance of antiviral drugs and vaccines. "It is a wonderful plan," Bloom noted. But before COVID-19 hit, the report had "disappeared in a drawer somewhere in Washington," he added.

But the U.S. government's focus on vaccines to combat pandemics likely played a role in spurring further research into novel vaccine platforms.

Government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) would play a role in vaccine development. DARPA "invests in very long term science and technology [projects] that will pay off in 20 years," Bloom said.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) developed a stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike immunogen (S-2P) that Moderna would later use in its messenger RNA platform.

DARPA was instrumental in the development of RNA vaccines and provided $25 million in financial support to Moderna in 2013 to pursue messenger RNA-based antibody drugs and vaccines. DARPA announced it was committing up to $56 million in additional funding to Moderna this October.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Gina Carano and the hypocrisy of Hollywood: Why should a film star be sacked over her political opinions, however dumb or insensitive? (Tom Slater, 2/12/21, Spectator)

In the since-deleted post, she said:

Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbours... even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don't realise that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews.

She rounded off her little history lesson with a warning for today:

How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?

Given Carano is a conservative, who has previously echoed Trumpist views about voter fraud and mocked mask-wearing, it has understandably been interpreted as her comparing the plight of right-wingers to that of 1930s German Jews.

That this was not a good look is putting it lightly. Using the greatest crime in history to score points against one's political opponents is grotesque. It risks diluting the unique horror of the Holocaust. US liberals hardly hold the moral high ground on this point; they've been shouting 'Trump is Hitler' for years now. But that doesn't make what Carano said any less stupid.

But why should a film star be sacked over her political opinions, even if some of those opinions are dumb and insensitively expressed? 

Why should a company be required to employ someone whose values are antithetical to theirs and who is damaging to the brand? 

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Nikki Haley's Time for Choosing: The 2024 hopeful can't decide who she wants to be--the leader of a post-Trump GOP or a "friend" to the president who tried to sabotage democracy. (TIM ALBERTA, 2/12/21, Politico)

Walking out of the White House in the fall of 2018, Haley thought the worst was behind her.

No more briefings on presidential tweets. No more knife-fighting with administration officials. No more worrying that Trump would torpedo her career. Settling back into her beloved South Carolina after a 22-month stint in New York, equipped with a big boat and a luxury home and $200,000 speaking gigs galore, Haley counted her winnings. Joining the Trump administration had been a massive gamble, and she hit the jackpot--not merely emerging unscathed from a gauntlet that maimed many of her contemporaries, but looking all the smarter and sturdier for it. She had gained rare foreign policy experience, nailed the role of adult in the room and raised her visibility in front of donors and voters alike. Her political future wasn't just intact; it was brighter than ever before.

But there is no expiration date on a Faustian bargain. Haley knew from the moment she agreed to work for Trump, a man whose character she had lampooned mercilessly during his run for president, that she would never be rid of him. She knew that the scars of her own life story--from watching her immigrant family ridiculed, to being called a "raghead" by a fellow state lawmaker, to burying nine Black parishioners who were slaughtered by a white supremacist inside their Charleston church--were perpetually at risk of being ripped open by the president she allied herself with.

"Haley is in the same position as all these other Republicans who jumped on the Trump Train," said Chip Felkel, a longtime South Carolina GOP strategist. "Some of this s[***], you can never get clean from it. People will remember."

Since last fall, I've spent nearly six hours talking with Haley on-the-record. I've also spoken with nearly 70 people who know her: friends, associates, donors, staffers, former colleagues. From those conversations, two things are clear. First, Nikki Haley is going to run for president in 2024. Second, she doesn't know which Nikki Haley will be on the ballot. Will it be the Haley who has proven so adaptive and so canny that she might accommodate herself to the dark realities of a Trump-dominated party? Will it be the Haley who is combative and confrontational and had a history of giving no quarter to xenophobes? Or will it be the Haley who refuses to choose between these characters, believing she can be everything to everyone?

Every effective president has run because they wanted to do something, not just because they wanted to be president. It's why there have been so few and why Joe's presidency is nearly over. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Stimulus checks are so 19th Century: Give Americans automatic, electronic cash (Mark Blyth, 2/12/21, MarketWatch)

First, checks. Really? Practically every American has a smartphone. There are tons of banking apps from Paypal to Zelle to Venmo. The U.S. Treasury has a website called Treasury Direct that allows anyone to set up an account to buy Treasury bills and bonds. The government could simply reverse the direction of those transactions and send cash from the Treasury to those account holders. No holdups in the mail. No missing addresses. Best of all, we could make it recurring. 

We have all heard about the "K-shaped" economic recovery that the U.S. is experiencing. The top 20% of U.S. society commands 80% of the wealth. Whenever that is threatened by a market crash or a pandemic, the Fed swings into action to provide "support" for those markets. What that really means is buying lots of bonds and flooding banks and businesses with cash to stabilize them. The Fed can even promise to buy certain types of assets, such as corporate bonds, to stabilize their price.

The Fed is able to do this because its "pipes" flow from the Fed to the big banks and then out to big firms. The Treasury, what the rest of us rely on, has no pipes, hence the checks. This is not only unfair -- boosting the price of assets held by society's richest citizens while telling the vast majority to wait for a check is a first-rate inequality booster. It's also harmful and needlessly expensive. Recognizing this, we should rethink our financial plumbing and the purpose of our pandemic response. Not just for this crisis, but for the future.  [...]

Second, rather than pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking and corporate sectors, somehow hoping that this will impact employment, let's make these insurance payments electronic, automatic and targeted at families up to the 60th percentile of the income distribution.

Congress can set an employment target such that when U.S. unemployment reaches a certain level the Treasury automatically sends out checks. When the target goes back to its pre-recession peak, the checks automatically stop. This would impact families directly, and given that they will spend what they receive it will not all end up pumping up an asset bubble and ever greater inequality with it. This would be far cheaper than what we currently do and far more effective. It would give the Fed less to do and target Treasury resources far more effectively. Worried about cost or even future inflation? Easy. Once we return to the target, raise taxes. Both problems are solved. 

Direct payments to families are effective. The first check issued in the spring of 2020 was a primary reason that U.S. poverty fell at the start of the recession. 

And use the electronic system for voting, taxes, etc. 

How Estonia became an e-government powerhouse (Nick Heath, February 19, 2019, CXO)

The European country of Estonia is steeped in history--it's home to the best-preserved medieval capital in Northern Europe. But in the 21st century, Estonia is perhaps most famous for looking to the future, thanks to building an impressive system of e-government.

Estonia is among the elite group of countries in the highest echelons of the UN's E-Government Development Index (EDGI), with its citizens and public servants able to access a wide range of services online using secure digital IDs, including making payments, accessing full health records, and internet voting.

Estonia has been building out its e-government since the mid-90s, not long after declaring independence from the Soviet Union. The program continues to make headlines with bold new digital initiatives, such as its e-residency program, which gives anyone living anywhere in the world the ability to receive a government-issued digital ID and full access to Estonia's public e-services.

Today, 99% of the public services are available online 24/7, 30% of Estonians use i-Voting, and the country estimates the reduced bureaucracy has saved 800 years of working time.