Inflation: The Leftist “Tax the Poor” Policy

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Recent years have seen explosive growth in federal deficits along with growth rates in the money supply that would have made John Maynard Keynes blush. It’s no coincidence that a new school of thought has developed among certain “monetary economists”. But as someone trained in monetary economics, I wish I could make those quote marks larger. This new school of thought is known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), and it asserts that the money spigot is a perfectly legitimate means of financing government spending and, furthermore, that it is not necessarily inflationary. Here is how Scott Sumner and Patrick Horan describe MMT:

A central idea of MMT is that a government that issues its own fiat currency can pay its bills in that same currency. These governments need not worry about budget deficits when contemplating additional spending. Thus because the US government has a monopoly on money creation, our federal government does not need to raise all its revenue through tax or bond finance. A government with its own currency cannot go bankrupt because it can always issue more currency to cover any budget deficit. … MMT advocates argue that this why the US government can afford expensive programs such as a jobs guarantee and universal healthcare.

Spend and Print

Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion “social infrastructure” package would be just a start, but that’s likely to be more like $5.5T once the budget gimmicks are stripped out. We can be somewhat hopeful, because that initiative looks increasingly likely to fail in Congress, at least this time around. But the tax side of that bill was already $2.6T short of the latter spending figure, and the tax provisions keep shrinking. Now, it’s looking more like a shortfall of $3.5T would require financing. Moderate Democrats may not support this crazy bill in the end, but Dems from deep blue states want to reinstate state and local tax deductibility, which would cut the tax component still more. Well who cares? Print the money, say the brave MMT advocates.

Sumner gets to the heart of the problem in this piece. Progressives, with false assurance from MMT, want loose monetary policy to make their expansive programs “affordable”. As he explains, if this happens while the economy is near its production potential, inflation is a sure thing. These lessons were learned long ago, but have been conveniently forgotten by the political class (or they simply prefer to ignore them), instead jumping onto the MMT bandwagon.

Inflation Is Taxation

No conscientious observer of government finance should ever forget that inflation is a form of taxation. Assets whose values are either fixed or subject to some inertia are devalued by inflation in terms of purchasing power, or in real terms, as economists put it. Strictly speaking, this is true when inflation is unexpected… if it is expected, then lenders and borrowers can negotiate terms that will compensate for these changes in real value. But when inflation is unexpected, the losses to lenders are offset by gains to borrowers. Of course the federal government is a gigantic borrower, so inflation can represent a confiscation of wealth from the public.

It’s not small potatoes. Currently, about $22T of U.S. Treasury debt is held by the public, and its average maturity is more than 5 years. If the Federal Reserve engineers an unexpected 1% jump in the rate of inflation, it shaves over $1T off the real value of that debt before it’s repaid, and it reduces the real interest cost of that debt as well. Of course, the holders of that debt will suffer an immediate loss if they are forced to sell prior to maturity for any reason, since new buyers will be demanding higher yields to compensate for higher inflation if it is expected to persist.

The Poor Losers

Inflation causes redistributions to take place, especially when it is unexpected inflation. We’ve already discussed lenders and borrowers, but similar considerations apply to anyone entering into fixed price contracts for goods or labor. Here’s what Claudio Bario of the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) has to say about these shifts:

Inflation shifts income and wealth away from those who are least aware of it, or least able to protect against it. These segments of the population often coincide with lower-income groups, which explains why inflation has often been portrayed as a most regressive form of tax. The ‘inflation tax’ takes its toll through the erosion of the value of financial assets and contracts fixed in nominal terms.

Inflation is a regressive tax! In this respect, economist Noah Smith echos Bario in a recent op-ed in which he discusses “money illusion”, or the confusion of real and nominal income:

Workers … who are slow to perceive the rise in prices they pay for goods like cars and groceries, won’t realize this, and will be happy with their unusually large raises. But companies, whose accountants and managers certainly know the true inflation rate, will also be happy, because they know they’re not actually paying more for labor.

That information asymmetry between workers and employers may be exactly what keeps wages from rising faster than inflation. If workers take a year to realize how much prices have gone up, they may be satisfied with the raises they got during the time of high inflation — even if that inflation ultimately turns out to be transitory. By then, it might be too late to negotiate for a real, inflation-adjusted raise.”

Inflation taxes and redistributions become more acute at higher rates of inflation, but any unexpected escalation in the rate of inflation will take a toll on the poor. Bario elaborates on the mechanisms by which inflation inflicts budgetary pain on the those at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

“As regards wealth distribution, the financial assets that are most vulnerable to inflation are cash and bank accounts – the typical savings vehicles held by the poorest segments of the population. This is mostly because the poorest have access only to limited investment options to protect their savings. …

… wages and pensions – the main sources of income for a large majority of households and even more so for the poorest half of the population – are typically fixed in nominal terms and hence vulnerable to inflation. Indexation mechanisms, such as those adopted in many [advanced economies] in the 1970s, are no panacea: they may fail to keep pace as inflation accelerates; …”

In addition to the inflationary gains reaped by government, it’s clear that inflation gives rise to redistributions between private parties: generally from those with lower incomes and wealth to their employers, producers, financial institutions, and pension payers (businesses, state and local governments). An exception is some low income debtors might benefit if they owe long term obligations at fixed interest rates, but low income individuals are often constrained from obtaining this form of credit.

Causing, Then Exploiting, Inequality

Another especially galling aspect of the Left’s focus on money finance is how its consequences fly in the face of their concerns about income and wealth inequality. Inflation is typically manifested in rising equity prices: nominal stock values tend to escalate in an inflationary environment, protecting their owners from losses to the real value of their investments. Stocks are generally a good inflation hedge. Yet we know that stocks are disproportionately owned by those in the highest strata of the income and wealth distributions. Later, of course, the Left will seek to level the burgeoning inequality wrought by their own policies by “taxing the rich”! Apparently, for the Left, consistency is never considered a virtue. This is not unlike another trick, which is to blame “greedy corporations” for the inflation wrought by Leftist policies.

It’s a great irony that the Left, which purports to support the poor and working people, would propose a form of government finance that is so regressive in its effects. To be generous, perhaps it’s just another case of “progressives” unknowingly hurting the ones they love. The expansive programs they advocate will confer government benefits to many individuals in higher income brackets, not just the poor, but those government alms will help to compensate for higher inflation. But this too takes advantage of money illusion, because those benefits might well buy progressives the loyalty of beneficiaries unable to recognize the ongoing erosion in their standard of living, and who are unwilling to come to grips with their increasing dependency.

But Tut, Tut, They Say

Advocates of MMT, in combination with expansive government, also have a tendency to deny that inflation has ever been a consequence of such policies. As Sumner points out, they have forgotten historical episodes that run contrary to the theory, and most “popular” advocates of MMT fail to recognize the important role played by limits on the economy’s production potential. When money growth outruns the economy’s ability to produce real goods and services, the prices of goods will rise.

Infrastructure Or Infra-Stricture? The Democrats’ $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Bill

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The Socialist Party faithful once known as Democrats are pushing a $3.5 trillion piece of legislation they call an “infrastructure” bill. They hope to pass it via budget reconciliation rules with a simple majority in the Senate. The Dems came around to admitting that the bill is not about infrastructure in the sense in which we usually understand the term: physical installations like roads, bridges, sewer systems, power lines, canals, port facilities, and the like. These kinds of investments generally have a salutary impact on the nation’s productivity. Some “traditional” infrastructure, albeit with another hefty wallop of green subsidies, is covered in the $1.2 trillion “other” infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate but not the House. The reconciliation bill, however, addresses “social infrastructure”, which is to say it would authorize a massive expansion in the welfare state.

What Is Infrastructure?

Traditionally, public and private infrastructure are underlying assets that facilitate production or consumption in one way or another, consistent with the prefix “infra”, meaning below or within. For example, a new factory requires physical access by roads and/or rail, as well as sewer service, water, gas and/or electric supply. All of the underlying physical components that enable that factory to operate may be thought of as private infrastructure, which has largely private benefits. Therefore, it is often privately funded, though certainly not always.

Projects having many beneficiaries, such as highways, municipal sewers, water, gas and electrical trunk lines, canals, and ports may be classified as public infrastructure, though they can be provided and funded privately. Pure public infrastructure provides services that are non-rivalrous and non-excludable, but examples are sparse. Nevertheless, the greater the public nature of benefits, the greater the rationale for government involvement in their provision. In practice, a great deal of “public” infrastructure is funded by user fees. In fact, a failure to charge user fees for private benefits often leads to a tragedy of the commons, such as the overuse of free roads, imposing a heavier burden on taxpayers.

The use of the term “infrastructure” to describe forms of public support is not new, but the scope of government interventions to which the term is applied has mushroomed during the Biden Administration. Just about any spending program you can think of is likely to be labeled “infrastructure” by so-called progressives. The locution is borrowed somewhat questionably, seemingly motivated by the underlying structure of political incentives. More bluntly, it sounds good as a sales tactic!

$3.5 Trillion and Chains

Among other questionable items, the so-called budget reconciliation “infrastructure” bill allocates funds toward meeting:

“… the President’s climate change goals of 80% clean electricity and 50% economy-wide carbon emissions by 2030, while advancing environmental justice and American manufacturing. The framework would fund:
• Clean Energy Standard
• Clean Energy and Vehicle Tax Incentives
• Civilian Climate Corps
• Climate Smart Agriculture, Wildfire Prevention and Forestry
• Federal procurement of clean technologies
• Weatherization and Electrification of Buildings
• Clean Energy Accelerator

The resolution would also institute “methane reduction and polluter import fees”. Thus, we must be prepared for a complete reconfiguration of our energy sector toward a portfolio of immature and uneconomic technologies. This amounts to an economic straightjacket.

Next we have a series of generous programs and expansions that would encourage dependence on government:

“• Universal Pre-K for 3 and 4-year old children
• High quality and affordable Child Care
[free] Community College, HBCUs and MSIs, and Pell Grants
• Paid Family and Medical Leave
• Nutrition Assistance
• Affordable Housing

If anything, pre-school seems to have cognitive drawbacks for children. Several of these items, most obviously the family leave mandate, would entail significant regulatory and cost burdens on private businesses.

There are more generous provisions on the health care front, which are good for further increasing the federal government’s role in directing, regulating, and funding medical care:

“• new Dental, Vision, and Hearing benefit to Medicare
• Home and Community-Based Services expansion
• Extend the Affordable Care Act Expansion from the ARP
• Close the Medicaid “Coverage Gap” in the States that refused to expand
• Reduced patient spending on prescription drugs

Finally, we have a series of categories intended to “help workers and communities across the country recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and reverse trends of economic inequality.

“• Housing Investments
• Innovation and R & D Upgrades
• American Manufacturing and Supply Chains Funding
• LPRs for Immigrants and Border Mangt. • Pro-Worker Incentives and Penalties
Investment in Workers and Communities • Small Business Support

I might suggest that a recovery from the pandemic would be better served by getting the federal government out of everyone’s business. The list includes greater largess and more intrusions by the federal government. The fourth item above, grants of legal permanent residency (LPR) or green cards, would legalize up to 8 million immigrants, allowing them to qualify for a range of federal benefits. It would obviously legitimize otherwise illegal border crossings and prevent any possibility of eventual deportation.

Screwing the Pooch

How many of those measures really sound like infrastructure? This bill goes on for more than 10,000 pages, so the chance that lawmakers will have an opportunity to rationally assess all of its provisions is about nil! And the reconciliation bill doesn’t stop at $3.5T. There are a few budget gimmicks being leveraged that could add as much as $2T of non-infrastructure spending to the package. One cute trick is to add certain provisions affecting revenue or spending years from now in order to cut the bill’s stated price tag.

A number of the bill’s generous giveaways will have negative effects on productive incentives. It’s also clear that some items in the bill will supplement the far Left’s educational agenda, which is seeped in critical theory. And the bill will increase the dominance of the federal government over not only the private sector, but state and local sovereignty as well. This is another stage in the metastasis of the federal bureaucracy and the dependency fostered by the welfare state.

Taxing the Golden Goose

But here’s the really big rub: the whole mess has to be paid for. The flip side of our growing dependency on government is the huge obligation to fund it. Check this out:

American ‘consumer units,’ as BLS calls them, spent a net total of $17,211.12 on taxes last year while spending only $16,839.89 on food, clothing, healthcare and entertainment combined,

Democrats continue to dicker over the tax provisions of the bill, but the most recent iteration of their plan is to cover about $2.9 trillion of the cost via tax hikes. Naturally, the major emphasis is on penalizing corporations and “the rich”. The latest plan includes:

  • increasing the corporate income tax from 21% to 26.8%;
  • increasing the top tax rate on capital gains from 20% to 25%;
  • an increase in the tax rate for incomes greater than $400,000 ($450,000 if married filing jointly)
  • adding a 3% tax surcharge for those with adjusted gross incomes in excess of $5 million;
  • Higher taxes on tobacco and nicotine products;
  • halving the estate and gift tax exemption;
  • limiting deductions for executive compensation;
  • changes in rules for carried interest and crypto assets.

There are a few offsets, including the promise of tax reductions for individuals earning less than $200,000 and businesses earning less than $400,000. We’ll see about that. Those cuts would expire by 2027, which reduces their “cost” to the government, but it will be controversial when the time comes.

The Dem sell job includes the notion that corporate income belongs to the “rich”, but as I’ve noted before, the burden of the corporate income tax falls largely on corporate workers and consumers. Lower wages and higher prices are almost sure to follow. This would deepen the blade of the Democrats’ political hari-kari, but they pin their hopes on the power of alms. Once bestowed, however, those will be difficult if not impossible to revoke, and the Dems know this all too well.

The assault on the “rich” in the reconciliation bill is both ill-advised and unlikely to yield the levels of revenue projected by Democrats. Like it or not, the wealthy provide the capital for most productive investment. Taxing their returns and their wealth more heavily can only reduce incentive to do so. Those investors will seek out more tax-advantaged uses for their funds. That includes investments in non-productive but federally-subsidized alternatives. Capital gains can often be deferred, of course. These penalties also ensure that more resources will be consumed in compliance and tax-avoidance efforts. The solutions offered by armies of accountants and tax attorneys will tend to direct funds to uses that are suboptimal in terms of growth in economic capacity.

What isn’t funded by new taxes will be borrowed by the federal government or simply printed by the Federal Reserve. Thus, the federal government will not only compete with the private sector for additional resources, but the monetary authority will provide fuel for more inflation.

Fracturing Support?

Fortunately, a few moderate Democrats in both the House and the Senate are balking at the exorbitance of the reconciliation bill. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he would like to see a package of no more than $1.5 trillion. That still represents a huge expansion of government, but at least Manchin has offered a whiff of sanity. Equally welcome are threats from radical Democrats like Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Antonia Ocasio-Cortez that a failure to pass the full reconciliation package will mean a loss of their support for the original $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, much of which is wasteful. We should be so lucky! But that’s a lot of pork for politicians to walk away from.

Infra-Shackles

The so-called infrastructure investments in the reconciliation bill represent a range of constraints on economic growth and consumer well being. Increasing the government’s dominance is never a good prescription for productivity, whether due to regulatory and compliance costs, bureaucratization of decision-making, minimizing the role of price signals, pure waste through bad incentives and graft, and public vs. private competition for resources. The destructive tax incentives for funding the bill are an additional layer of constraints on growth. Let’s hope the moderate Democrats hold firm, or even better, that the tantrum-prone radical Democrats are forced to make good on their threats.

Note: This post also appears on The American Reveille.

Green Climate Policy Wreaks Poverty

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Have no doubt: climate change warriors are at battle with humanity itself, ostensibly on behalf of the natural world. They would have us believe that their efforts to eliminate the use of fossil fuels are necessary to keep our planet from becoming a blazing hothouse. However, the global temperature changes we’ve witnessed over the past 150 years, based on the latest Assessment Report (AR6) from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are well within the range of historical variation.

“Remodeled” History

Jennifer Marohasy posted an informative discussion of the IPCC’s conclusions last month, putting them into a broader climatological context and focusing in particular on measurement issues. In short, discussing “global” temperatures with any exactitude is something of a sham. Moreover, the local temperature series upon which the global calculations are based have been “remodeled.” They are not direct observations. I don’t think it’s too crude to say they’ve been manipulated because the changed records are almost always in one direction: to “cool” the past.

Judith Curry is succinct in her criticism of the approach to climate change adopted by alarmist policymakers and many climate researchers: 

In a nutshell, we’ve vastly oversimplified both the problem and its solutions. The complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity of the existing knowledge about climate change is being kept away from the policy and public debate. The solutions that have been proposed are technologically and politically infeasible on a global scale.

We need a little more honesty!

The Real Victims

I want to focus here on some of the likely casualties of the war on fossil fuels. Those are, without a doubt, the world’s poor, who are being consigned by climate activists to a future of abject suffering. Joel Kotkin and Hügo Krüger are spot-on in their recent piece on the inhumane implications of anti-carbon ideology.

Energy-poor areas of the world are now denied avenues through which to enhance their peoples’ well being. Attempts to fund fossil-fuel power projects are regularly stymied by western governments and financial institutions in the interests of staving off political backlash from greens. Meanwhile, far more prosperous nations power their economies with traditional carbon-based energy sources. Most conspicuously, China continues to fuel its rapid growth with coal and other fossil fuels, getting little pushback from climate activists. If you’re wondering how the composition of energy output has evolved, this time-lapse chart is a pretty good guide.

One of the most incredible aspects of this situation is how nuclear energy has been spurned, despite its status as a proven and safe solution to carbon-free power. This excellent thread by Michael Schellenberger covers the object lesson in bad public policy offered by the proposed closing of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California.

In both the U.S. and other parts of the world, as Kotkin and Krüger note, it is not just the high up-front costs that lead to the rejection of these nuclear projects. The green lobby and renewable energy interests are now so powerful that nuclear energy is hardly considered. Much the same is true of low-carbon natural gas: 

Sadly, the combination of virtue-signaling companies and directives shaped by green activists in rich countries – often based on wildly exaggerated projections, notes former Barack Obama advisor Steve Koonin – make such a gradual, technically feasible transition all but impossible. Instead, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that developing countries will be able to tap even their own gas.

Energy is the lifeblood of every economy. Inadequate power creates obstacles to almost any form of production and renders some kinds of production impossible. And ironically, the environmental consequences of “energy poverty” are dire. Many under-developed economies are largely dependent on deforestation for energy. Without a reliable power grid and cheap energy, consumers must burn open fires in their homes for heat and cooking, a practice responsible for 50% of child pneumonia deaths worldwide, according to Kotkin and Krüger.

Green Environmental Degradation

Typically, under-developed countries are reliant on the extraction of natural resources demanded by the developed world:

The shift to renewables in the West, for example, has increased focus on developing countries as prime sources for critical metals – copper, lithium, and rare-earth minerals, in particular – that could lead to the devastation of much of the remaining natural and agricultural landscape. … Lithium has led to the depletion of water resources in Latin America and the further entrenchment of child labor in the Democratic Republic of the Congoas the search for cobalt continues.”

Unfortunately, the damage is not solely due to dependence on resource extraction:

The western greens, albeit unintentionally, are essentially turning the Third World into the place they send their dirty work. Already, notes environmental author Mike Shellenberger, Africans are stuck with loads of discarded, highly toxic solar panels that expose both the legions of rag-pickers and the land itself to environmental degradation – all in the name of environmentalism.

Battering the Poor In the West

Again, wealthy countries are in far better shape to handle the sacrifices required by the climate calamitists, but it still won’t be easy. In fact, lower economic strata will suffer far more than technocrats, managers, and political elites. The environmental left leans on the insidious lever of energy costs in order to reduce demand, but making energy more costly takes a far larger bite out of the budgets of the poor. In another recent piece, “Jim Crow Returns to California,” Kotkin discusses the disparate impact these energy policies have on minorities. 

This surge in prices derives from the state’s obsession — shared by the ruling tech oligarchs — with renewable energy and the elimination of fossil fuels. Yet as a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) report has shown, over-reliance on renewables is costly, because it requires the production of massive (and environmentally unfriendly) battery-storage capacity — the price of which is invariably passed on to the taxpayer.

This is not bad news for the tech oligarchs, who have been prominent among those profiting from ‘clean energy’ investments. But many other Californians, primarily those in the less temperate interior, find themselves falling into energy poverty or are dependent on state subsidies that raise electricity prices for businesses and the middle class. Black and Latino households are already forced to pay from 20 to 43% more of their household incomes on energy than white households. Last year, more than 4 million households in California (30% of the total) experienced energy poverty.

Kotkin touches on other consequences of these misguided policies to minority and non-minority working people. In addition to jobs lost in the energy sector, a wide variety of wage earners will suffer as their employers attempt to deal with escalating energy costs. The immediate effects are bad enough, but in the long-run the greens’ plans would scale back the economy’s productive machinery in order to eliminate carbon emissions — net zero means real incomes will decline! 

Energy costs have a broad impact on consumer’s budgets. Almost every product imaginable is dependent on energy, and consumer prices will reflect the higher costs. In addition, the “green” effort to curtail development everywhere except in high-density transit corridors inflates the cost of housing, inflicting more damage on workers’ standards of living.

Tighten Your Belts

These problems won’t be confined to California if environmental leftists get their version of justice. Be prepared for economic stagnation for the world’s poor and a sharply reduced standard of living in the developed world, but quite unnecessarily. We’ll all pay in the long run, but the poor will pay much more in relative terms.

Note: This post also appears at The American Reveille.

In Praise of Voluntary Vaccination

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I was vaccinated in March and early April and I’m damn glad to have done it. I have certain co-morbidities, and I’m of an age at which contracting COVID seems like a very bad idea, I felt a little run-down on the day after my second jab, but that was my only side effect, notwithstanding the unending litany of antivax hysterics to which we’ve all been subjected (even on certain sites to which I contribute).

Freedom Without Misinformation

In the context of the pandemic, it’s important to take a stand for liberty. In that spirit, I oppose the imposition of mandates requiring face masks and vaccinations against COVID. Furthermore, vaccination is at best unnecessary for those having acquired immunity from infection and for those at low risk, especially children. In fact, the younger, healthier, and fitter you are, the less important it is to be vaccinated.

It’s disappointing, however, to see completely innumerate people cite statistics purporting to show that COVID-19 vaccines are deadly or even particularly dangerous to those lacking contra-indications. Far worse, and far more idiotic, is to suggest that a conspiracy is afoot to kill large numbers of people via vaccination! I’m truly embarrassed to hear individuals who otherwise share my libertarian ideals say such irresponsible bullshit.

While the COVID vaccines seem to have more frequent side effects than earlier vaccines, they are not particularly risky. I’ll discuss the safety of the COVID vaccines in what follows. Even minuscule risks are unacceptable to some individuals, which of course is their right. However, others find these risks acceptable considering the far greater dangers posed by the early strains of COVID and even the more recent but less deadly Delta variant.

Unverified Adverse Events

The vaccine scaremongers often quote statistics from the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Reporting Events System (VAERS). Here’s a disclaimer about the system from the CDC’s web site:

Healthcare providers, vaccine manufacturers, and the public can submit reports to VAERS. While very important in monitoring vaccine safety, VAERS reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable.”

All kinds of reports are submitted alleging adverse events. For example, one observer cites the following reports from the system:

The link above refers to the following report as “Hulk Syndrome”, which was alleged to have been a side effect of the MMR vaccine:

Finally, we have this report related to the Pfizer COVID vaccine:

In case that’s hard to read, it claims that a COVID vaccine caused a third arm to grow from the reporting individual’s forehead, which constantly slaps him or her while trying to sleep. This report is a case of wonderful sarcasm, but it was submitted to VAERS! The real lesson is that the VAERS system collects many unverified accounts of side effects, so the aggregate counts of adverse events are not reliable, even by the CDC’s admission.

A More Sober Risk Assessment

Therefore, the VAERS system has obvious limitations. But even stipulating the use of VAERS reports, the risks of the COVID vaccines are vanishingly low. For example, roughly 198 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a vaccine. As of last week, there had been about 13,600 reports of post-vaccination death in VAERS. The raw number is very high, and I don’t wish to minimize the seriousness of those losses. Nevertheless, if those deaths were all attributable to vaccination, and that is a BIG “if”, the risk of death from vaccination to-date is just 0.007%. That is seven thousandth of 1%

To put those VAERS deaths into perspective, I should first add the caveat that I am highly skeptical of the COVID case and death statistics. Nevertheless, let’s take the official U.S. COVID death toll of 646,000 at face value. I’m also treating reported vaccine deaths from VAERS at face value, which is a huge stretch. So, we have COVID mortality of 0.2% of the U.S. population, which is more than 28 times the risk of death from vaccination. I grant you the risk posed by COVID is lower going forward than in the past, which is due both to vaccinations and the declining virulence of the virus itself.

There are a range of vaccine side effects reported in VAERS, from pain near the injection site to such alarming conditions as anaphylaxis, Bell’s Palsy, and myocarditis/pericarditis. VAERS would attribute over 54,000 hospitalizations to the vaccines, a rate of 3 hundredths of one percent of those receiving at least one dose. Like COVID deaths, the number of COVID hospitalizations is likely inflated. Still, at 1.9% of the U.S. population, the risk of hospitalization from COVID is 68 times that of hospitalization from vaccine side effects reported in VAERS.

A large share of VAERS reports, covering all adverse events, are from middle aged individuals. It’s unclear how concentrated that reporting is among those with co-morbidities, including obesity, but I suspect they are heavily represented.

Coincidental Events

Perhaps less obvious is that many sincere reports to VAERS from both the public and health care providers represent coincidental events. A number of states have given heavy vaccine priority to the elderly and those with co-morbidities, and demand from those groups has been disproportionate in any case. Most of the VAERS-reported deaths also happen to be among the elderly and co-morbids.

For example, more than 38% of VAERS death reports come from the 80+ age cohort, accounting for roughly 5,200 deaths. That’s four hundredths of one percent of the 12.9 million people of ages 80+ in the U.S., most of whom have been vaccinated. Well over 1.2 million 80+ year-olds can be expected to die each year under normal circumstances. That a few would occur within days, weeks, or months of a vaccination should be expected. Furthermore, it would not be surprising, given the controversy surrounding vaccines and the suggestive power of antivax propaganda, for families or some caregivers to imagine a connection between vaccination and subsequent death. File a report! Who knows? Perhaps a class action award might be in it someday.

This is not to deny that a small number of individuals could be in such weakened states, or perhaps have unknown vulnerabilities, that the vaccines have catastrophic consequences. No doubt there are a few deaths precipitated by COVID vaccines in combination with other conditions. However, a large share of the deaths reported to VAERS are likely to have been coincidental. Likewise, people develop conditions all the time… sore joints, rashes, coughs, and headaches. It runs the gamut. Some of the VAERS reports of a less serious nature are undoubtedly coincidental, and perhaps some are due to the vivid imaginations of a subset of those having consented to the vaccine with great reluctance.

What Kills and What Doesn’t

Everything comes with a risk, and tradeoffs between risks must be balanced. The COVID pandemic was deadly, and I’ll be the first to admit that I underestimated its potential to kill. However, its deadliness was magnified by the non-pharmaceutical interventions imposed in many jurisdictions. Lockdowns and closures took a massive toll on the health of the population, cutting short many lives due to economic and personal despair as well as deferred and cancelled health care. While those interventions were deadly, I do not believe that kind of harm was intended. I do suspect the concomitant assault on liberty was welcomed in certain circles.

There are certainly downsides to the COVID vaccines. There have been more side effects and deaths than have ever been reported relative to earlier vaccines. It’s also a shame that public health authorities refuse to recognize the superior effects of natural immunity and the heightened risk of vaccinations to those with prior infections. And it’s a travesty that “vaccine passports” are now being demanded for various forms of travel, entertainment, and entry to some places of business. Despite these issues, it’s blatantly false to assert that the vaccines are generally harmful. Many more of the remaining vaccine-hesitant can benefit from vaccination. Let’s advocate for better assessments of risk by age and co-morbidity, and simply avoid the vaccines if that is your preference.

Addendum: I just came across this nice piece entitled “A Statistical Analysis of COVID-19 Breakthrough Infections and Deaths“. I thought I should share the link in case anyone supposes that so-called breakthrough infections somehow invalidate some of the comparisons I made above. This chart is particularly revealing:

Do You Chronically Feel Cheated?

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Economists are rightfully astonished when people act as if they’ve come up losers in almost every transaction they make. It’s often when they’re on the buying end, but here’s the paradox: almost all transactions are voluntary, a major exception being the coerced payment of taxes. There are few private transactions in which free choice is absent. A truly voluntary choice is an absolute proof of gain. In those trades, buyers reveal that they assign less value to choices not made, and foregone choices almost always exist, including the possibility of doing nothing. By their very nature, voluntary transactions are mutually beneficial. So why do people feel cheated so often?

Free To Lose?

Yes, we are free to choose and free to lose! But this isn’t about cases in which a product proves defective or quickly becomes obsolete. Nor is it about making a purchase only to learn of a discount later. Those are ex post events that might have been impossible to foresee. Here, I refer only to the decision made on the day and hour of the purchase, including any assessment of risk. 

A recent study confirmed a pervasive “loser’s” mentality in transactions: “Win–win denial: The psychological underpinnings of zero-sum thinking”, by Samuel B.G. Johnson, Jiewen Zhang, and Frank C. Keil. They also found that people judge the seller as the “winner” in most transactions. The authors considered a few explanations for these findings discussed in psychological literature, such as socially-ingrained mercantilist attitudes and a tendency to zero-sum thinking.

Roots of “Never-a-Buyer-Be” Phobia

Mercantilism was borne of zero-sum thinking — a belief in a hard limit to total wealth. Under those circumstances, accumulating gold or other hard assets was seen as preferable to spending on imports of goods from other nations. Imports meant gold had to be shipped out, but exports of goods brought it in. 

That uncompromising view led to efforts by government on behalf of domestic industries to stanch imports, and it ultimately led to decline. One nation cannot buy another’s goods indefinitely without corresponding flows of goods in the other direction. Nations gain from trade only by producing things in which they have a comparative advantage and selling them to others. In turn, they must purchase goods from others in which they do NOT have a comparative advantage. It’s cheaper that way! And it’s a win-win prescription for building worldwide wealth.

If You Gotta Have It…

People do have a tendency to regret money spent on things they reluctantly feel they must have. They suffer a kind of advance buyer’s remorse, but it stems from having to part with money, which represents all those other nice things one might have had, covering an infinite range of possibilities. This is the same fallacy inherent in mercantilism. The fact is, we purchase things we must have because they represent greater value than doing without. The phantom satisfaction of opportunities foregone are simply not large enough to keep us from doing the “right” thing in these situations.

The Contest For Surplus

There’s a more basic reason why people feel swindled after having engaged in mutually beneficial trade. The seller collects more revenue than marginal cost, and the buyer pays less than the item’s full “use value”. The latter is the buyer’s reservation price: the most they’d be willing to pay under the circumstances. The seller’s gain (over cost) plus the buyer’s gain (under reservation price) is the total “surplus” earned in the exchange. It’s the surplus that’s up for grabs, and both buyer and seller might view the exchange as a contest over its division. Competitive instincts and thrift being what they are, both sides want a larger share of the spoils!

So there truly is a sort of zero-sum game in play. You can try to bargain to capture more of the surplus, but not every seller will do so, often as a matter of policy or reputation. Or you can spend more time and incur greater personal cost by shopping around. Ultimately, if the offer you face is less than your “reservation price”, you’ll extract an absolute benefit from the exchange. Both you and the seller are better off than without it. You both do it voluntarily, and it’s mutually beneficial. Whatever the division of the surplus, you haven’t really lost anything, even if you have the gnawing feeling you might have been able to find a better bargain and captured more surplus.

Exceptions?

You might think the parties to a stock trade cannot both win. However, buyers and sellers have different reasons for making stock trades, which usually involve other needs and differing expectations. Ex ante, both sides of these trades earn a surplus, unless either the seller or buyer is at the losing end of a previous option trade now forcing them to buy or sell the stock.

There are other cases worthy of debate: buyers in monopolized or captive markets are unlikely to collect much of the surplus. Buyers at an informational disadvantage will gain less surplus as well, and they might incur greater risk to any gain whatsoever. Excise taxes allow government to capture some of the surplus, while government subsidies deliver “fake” surplus to the buyer and seller that comes at the expense of taxpayers. Now I feel cheated!

Beware Marxist Sympathies

Buyers and sellers both benefit by virtue of voluntary exchange. The gains might not be divided equally, but the false perception that buyers always get the “short end of the bargain” is a fundamental misunderstanding about how markets work. It also undermines support for basic freedoms allowing autonomous economic decisions and activity, and it strengthens the hand of statists who would fetter the operation of free markets. Like short-sighted mercantilists, those who would intervene in markets create obstacles to human cooperation and the creation of wealth. In fact, the idea that buyers are always cheated is a classist, Marxist notion. Policies acting upon that bias are rife with unintended consequences: small and large market interventions often strike at property rights, which ultimately inhibits the supply of goods and harms consumers. 

Note: This post also appears at The American Reveille.

Vax Results, Biden Boosters, Delta, and the Mask Charade

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If this post has an overarching theme, it might be “just relax”! That goes especially for those inclined to prescribe behavioral rules for others. People can assess risks for themselves, though it helps when empirical information is presented without bias. With that brief diatribe, here are a few follow-ups on COVID vaccines, the Delta wave, and the ongoing “mask charade”.

Israeli Vax Protection

Here is Jeffrey Morris’ very good exposition as to why the Israeli reports of COVID vaccine inefficacy are false. First, he shows the kind of raw data we’ve been hearing about for weeks: almost 60% of the country’s severe cases are in vaccinated individuals. This is the origin of the claim that the vaccines don’t work. 

Next, Morris notes that 80% of the Israeli population 12 years and older are vaccinated (predominantly if not exclusively with the Pfizer vaccine). This causes a distortion that can be controlled by normalizing the case counts relative to the total populations of the vaccinated and unvaccinated subgroups. Doing so shows that the unvaccinated are 3.1 times more likely to have contracted a severe case than the vaccinated. Said a different way, this shows that the vaccines are 67.5% effective in preventing severe disease. But that’s not the full story!

Morris goes on to show case rates in different age strata. For those older than 50 (over 90% of whom are vaccinated and who have more co-morbidities), there are 23.6 times more severe cases among the unvaccinated than the vaccinated. That yields an efficacy rate of 85.2%. Vaccine efficacy is even better in the younger age group: 91.8%. 

These statistics pertain to the Delta variant. However, it’s true they are lower than the 95% efficacy rate achieved in the Pfizer trials. Is Pfizer’s efficacy beginning to fade? That’s possible, but this is just one set of results and declining efficacy has not been proven. Israel’s vaccination program got off to a fast start, so the vaccinated population has had more time for efficacy to decay than in most countries. And as I discussed in an earlier post, there are reasons to think that the vaccines are still highly protective after a minimum of seven months.

Biden Boosters

IIn the meantime, the Biden Administration has recommended that booster shots be delivered eight months after original vaccinations. There is empirical evidence that boosters of similar mRNA vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) might not be a sound approach, both due to side effects and because additional doses might reduce the “breadth” of the antibody response. We’ll soon know whether the first two jabs are effective after eight months, and my bet is that will be the case.

Is Delta Cresting?

Meanwhile, the course of this summer’s Delta wave appears to be turning a corner. The surge in cases has a seasonal component, mimicking the summer 2020 wave as well as the typical Hope-Simpson pattern, in which large viral waves peak in mid-winter but more muted waves occur in low- to mid-latitudes during the summer months.

Therefore, we might expect to see a late-summer decline in new cases. There are now 21 states with COVID estimated reproduction rates less than one (this might change by the time you see the charts at the link). In other words, each new infected person transmits to an average of less than one other person, which shows that case growth may be near or beyond a peak. Another 16 states have reproduction rates approaching or very close to one. This is promising.

Maskholes

Finally, I’m frustrated as a resident of a county where certain government officials are bound and determined to impose a mask mandate, though they have been slowed by a court challenge. The “science” does NOT support such a measure: masks have not been shown to mitigate the spread of the virus, and they cannot stop penetration of aerosols in either direction. This recent article in City Journal by Jeffrey H. Anderson is perhaps the most thorough treatment I’ve seen on the effectiveness of masks. Anderson makes this remark about the scientific case made by mask proponents:

Mask supporters often claim that we have no choice but to rely on observational studies instead of RCTs [randomized control trials], because RCTs cannot tell us whether masks work or not. But what they really mean is that they don’t like what the RCTs show.”

Oh, how well I remember the “follow-the-science” crowd insisting last year that only RCTs could be trusted when it came to evaluating certain COVID treatments. In any case, the observational studies on masks are quite mixed and by no means offer unequivocal support for masking. 

A further consideration is that masks can act to convert droplets to aerosols, which are highly efficient vehicles of transmission. The mask debate is even more absurd when it comes to school children, who are at almost zero risk of severe COVID infection (also see here), and for whom masks are highly prone to cause developmental complications.

Closing Thoughts

The vaccines are still effective. Data purporting to show otherwise fails to account for the most obvious of confounding influences: vaccination rates and age effects. In fact, the Biden Administration has made a rather arbitrary decision about the durability of vaccine effects by recommending booster shots after eight months. The highly transmissible Delta variant has struck quickly but the wave now shows signs of cresting, though that is no guarantee for the fall and winter season. However, Delta cases have been much less severe on average than earlier variants. Masks did nothing to protect us from those waves, and they won’t protect us now. I, for one, won’t wear one if I can avoid it.

Note: This post also appears at The American Reveille.

Herd Immunity To Public Health Bullshitters and To COVID

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My last post had a simple message about the meaning of immunity: you won’t get very sick or die from an infection to which you are immune, including COVID-19. Like any other airborne virus, that does NOT mean you won’t get it lodged in your eyeballs, sinuses, throat, or lungs. If you do, you are likely to test positive, though your immunity means the “case” is likely to be inconsequential.

As noted in that last post, we’ve seen increasing COVID case counts with the so-called Delta variant, which is more highly transmissible than earlier variants. (This has been abetted by an uncontrolled southern border as well.) However, as we’d expect with a higher level of immunity in the population, the average severity of these cases is low relative to last year’s COVID waves. But then I saw this article in ScienceAlert quoting Sir Andrew Pollard, a scientist affiliated AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. He says with Delta, herd immunity “is not a possibility” — everyone will get it.

Maybe everyone will, but that doesn’t mean everyone will get sick. His statement raises an obvious question about the meaning of herd immunity. If our working definition of the term is that the virus simply disappears, then Pollard is correct: we know that COVID is endemic. But the only virus that we’ve ever completely eradicated is polio. Would Pollard say we’ve failed to achieve herd immunity against all other viruses? I doubt it. Endemicity and herd immunity are not mutually exclusive. The key to herd immunity is whether a virus does or does not remain a threat to the health of the population generally.

Active COVID infections will be relatively short-lived in individuals with “immunity”. Moreover, viral loads tend to be lower in immune individuals who happen to get infected. Therefore, the “infected immune” have less time and less virus with which to infect others. That creates resistance to further contagion and contributes to what we know as herd immunity. While immune individuals can “catch” the virus, they won’t get sick. Likewise, a large proportion of the herd can be immune and still catch the virus without getting sick. That is herd immunity.

One open and controversial question is whether uninfected individuals will require frequent revaccination to maintain their immunity. A further qualification has to do with asymptomatic breakthrough infections. Those individuals won’t see any reason to quarantine, and they may unwittingly transmit the virus.

I also acknowledge that the concept of herd immunity is often discussed strictly in terms of transmission, or rather its failure. The more contagious a new virus, like the Delta variant, the more difficult it is to achieve herd immunity. Models predicting low herd immunity thresholds due to heterogeneity in the population are predicated on a given level of transmissibility. Those thresholds would be correspondingly higher given greater transmissibility.

A prominent scientist quoted in this article is Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia. After backing-up Pollard’s dubious take on herd immunity, Hunter drops this bit of real wisdom:

We need to move away from reporting infections to actually reporting the number of people who are ill. Otherwise we are going to be frightening ourselves with very high numbers that don’t translate into disease burden.”

Here, here! Ultimately, immunity has to do with the ability of our immune systems to fight infections. Vaccinations, acquired immunity from infections, and pre-existing immunity all reduce the severity of later infections. They are associated with reductions in transmission, but those immune responses are more basic to herd immunity than transmissability alone. Herd immunity does not mean that severe cases will never occur. In fact, more muted seasonal waves will come and go, inflicting illness on a limited number of vulnerables, but most people can live their lives normally while viral reproduction is contained. Herd immunity!

Sadly, we’re getting accustomed to hearing misstatements and bad information from public health officials on everything from mask mandates, lockdowns, and school closings to hospital capacity and vaccine hesitancy. Dr. Pollard’s latest musing is not unique in that respect. It’s almost as if these “experts” have become victims of their own flawed risk assessments insofar as their waning appeal to “the herd” is concerned. Professor Hunter’s follow-up is refreshing, however. Public health agencies should quit reporting case counts and instead report only patients who present serious symptoms, COVID ER visits, or hospitalizations.

Note: This post also appears at The American Reveille (or will soon!).

Effective Immunity Means IF YOU CATCH IT, You Won’t Get Sick

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Listen very carefully: immunity does NOT mean you won’t get COVID, though an infection is less likely. Immunity simply means your immune system will be capable of dealing with an infection successfully. This is true whether the immunity is a product of vaccination or a prior infection. Immunity means you are unlikely to have worse than mild symptoms, and you are very unlikely to be hospitalized. (My disclaimer: I am opposed to vaccine mandates, but vaccination is a good idea if you’ve never been infected.)

I emphasize this because the recent growth in case numbers has prompted all sorts of nonsensical reactions. People say, “See? The vaccines don’t work!” That is a brazenly stupid response to the facts. Even more dimwitted are claims that the vaccines are killing everyone! Yes, there are usually side effects, and the jabs carry a risk of serious complications, but it is minuscule.

Vaccine Efficacy

Right out of the gate, we must recognize that our PCR testing protocol is far too sensitive to viral remnants, so the current surge in cases is probably exaggerated by false positives, as was true last year. Second, if a large share of the population is vaccinated, then vaccinated individuals will almost certainly account for a large share of infected individuals even if they have a lower likelihood of being infected. It’s simple math, as this explanation of base rate bias shows. In fact, according to the article at the link:

… vaccination confers an eightfold reduction in the risk of getting infected in the first place; a 25-fold reduction in risk of getting hospitalized; and a 25-fold reduction in the risk for death.

The upshot is that if you are vaccinated, or if you have acquired immunity from previous exposure, or if you have pre-existing immunity from contact with an earlier COVID strain, you can still “catch” the virus AND you can still spread it. Both are less likely, and you don’t have as much to worry about for your own health as those having no immunity.

As for overall vaccine efficacy in preventing death, here are numbers from the UK, courtesy of Phil Kerpen:

The vertical axis is a log scale, so each successive gridline is a fatality rate 100x as large as the one below it. Obviously, as the chart title asserts, the “vaccines have made COVID-19 far less lethal.” Also, at the bottom, see the information on fatality among children under age 18: it is almost zero! This reveals the absurdity of claims that children must be masked for schools to reopen! In any case, masks offer little protection to anyone against a virus that spreads via fine aerosols. Nevertheless, many school officials are pushing unnecessary but politically expedient masking policies

Delta

Ah, but we have the so-called Delta variant, which is now dominant and said to be far more transmissible than earlier variants. Yet the Delta variant is not as dangerous as earlier strains, as this UK report demonstrates. Delta had a case fatality rate among unvaccinated individuals that was at least 40% less than the so-called Alpha variant. This is a typical pattern of virus mutation: the virus becomes less dangerous because it wants to survive, and it can only survive in the long run by NOT killing its hosts! The decline in lethality is roughly demonstrated by Kelly Brown with data on in-hospital fatality rates from Toronto, Canada:

The case numbers in the U.S. have been climbing over the past few weeks, but as epidemiologist Larry Brilliant of WHO said recently, Delta spreads so fast it essentially “runs out of candidates.” In other words, the current surge is likely to end quickly. This article in Issues & Insights shows the more benign nature of recent infections. I think a few of their charts contain biases, but the one below on all-cause mortality by age group is convincing:

The next chart from Our World In Data shows the infection fatality rate continuing its decline in the U.S. The great majority of recent infections have been of the Delta variant, which also was much less virulent in the UK than earlier variants.

Furthermore, it turns out that the vaccines are roughly as effective against Delta and other new variants as against earlier strains. And the newest “scary” variants, Kappa and Lambda, do not appear to be making strong inroads in the U.S. 

Fading Efficacy?

There have been questions about whether the effectiveness of the vaccines is waning, which is behind much of the hand-wringing about booster shots. For example, Israeli health officials are insisting that the effectiveness of vaccines is “fading”, though I’ll be surprised if there isn’t some sort of confounding influence on the data they’ve cited, such as age and co-morbidities. 

Here is a new Mayo Clinic study of so-called “breakthrough” cases in the vaccinated population in Minnesota. It essentially shows that the rate of case diagnosis among the vaccinated rose between February and July of this year (first table below, courtesy of Phil Kerpen). However, the vaccines appear only marginally less effective against hospitalization than in March (second table below).

The bulk of the vaccinated population in the U.S. received their jabs three to six months ago, and according to this report, evidence of antibodies remains strong after seven months. In addition, T-cell immunity may continue for years, as it does for those having acquired immunity from an earlier infection. 

Breakthroughs

It’s common to hear misleading reports of high numbers of “breakthrough” cases. Not only will these cases be less menacing, but the reports often exaggerate their prevalence by taking the numbers out of context. Relative to the size of the vaccinated population, breakthrough cases are about where we’d expect based on the original estimates of vaccine efficacy. This report on Massachusetts breakthrough hospitalizations and deaths confirms that the most vulnerable among the vaxed population are the same as those most vulnerable in the unvaxed population: elderly individuals with comorbidities. But even that subset is at lower risk post-vaccination. It just so happens that the elderly are more likely to have been vaccinated in the first place, which implies that the vaccinated should be over-represented in the case population.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 vaccines do what they are supposed to do: reduce the dangers associated with infection. The vaccines remain very effective in reducing the severity of infection. However, they cannot and were not engineered to prevent infection. They also pose risks, but individuals should be able to rationally assess the tradeoffs without coercion. Poor messaging from public health authorities and the crazy distortions promoted in some circles does nothing to promote public health. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the current case surge in Delta infections will be short-lived and have less deadly consequences than earlier variants.

Note: This post also appears at The American Reveille.

Woke Activist Inroads In School Books & “Charities”

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Not long ago I wrote about the “woke middlemen” who are corrupting our institutions, especially education. A few related and disturbing stories have come to my attention since then, upon which I’ll elaborate below.

Lefty School Books

One of these stories has to do with the most obvious of educational middlemen: book publishers. Some of them have joined forces with the #DisruptTexts movement among leftist teachers, helping it to gain headway. These teachers are eliminating great literature from the curriculum on the thin pretext that those books are “too white” or involve “white saviors”, like Atticus Finch of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The publishers are only too happy to help, offering Zoom seminars on teaching “anti-bias literacy” for a fee and selling new texts for the classroom and guidebooks for teachers that promise to help them make the transition to a curriculum focusing on “advocacy”. That includes a fat dollop of “LGBTQIA” advocacy. One example:

“… replacing ‘The Great Gatsby’ with ‘Juliet Takes a Breath’–a book about a ‘queer Latinx woman’ interning under a feminist writer in Portland.”

Tony Kinnett, co-founder of The Chalkboard Review, is quoted extensively at the link above. He says:

Take all the racial stuff and set it aside. The Western canon is just objectively better literature. It is a higher form of language. It requires you to think. The plots aren’t spoon-fed to you. The moral of the story isn’t so black and white that it’s like watching a PBS after-school special. … In the #DisruptTexts movement, the big thing you’re going to see is ‘Culturally Relevant Pedagogy’, which is, at best, a pandering concept, and at worst, a horribly racist concept”

This is not confined to middle or high school. The idea is to inculcate “woke activism” from K-12 and beyond. To put it bluntly, the #DisruptTexts crowd promotes activist dumb-assery to our children to the exclusion of traditional lessons and the great writers of the past.

As Tom Knighton warns, the effort to get critical race theory (CRT) into schools is sometimes made with a cunning, as if designed to escape parents’ attention. It might be called by names other than CRT, but it is a danger to your child’s education and well being.

Not on Our Backs

Better news came in a recent article about a college that thumbed its nose at an accrediting association by simply eliminating a social work program, rather than complying with requirements that compromised the school’s values. Cairn University, a Christian school near Philadelphia, rejected the demands for accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Accreditors like CSWE are middlemen organizations that sometimes attempt to leverage educational institutions as tools for advocacy. A statement from Cairn explained that the CSWE standards are objectionable because they embody:

… a set of critical theory and intersectionality assumptions and values inconsistent with our biblical view of humanity, human nature, and the world.”

In May, the CSWE claimed that Cairn’s president was exaggerating the changes in the Council’s requirements, and noted that it was aware of efforts in various states to limit education in “racism, diversity, and equity”. Apparently, Cairn’s response was SO WHAT? The new standards are what they are, as noted at the link above. Good for Cairn U!

Big Charity

Finally, I previously overlooked another obvious set of “woke middlemen”: the charitable establishment, which often serves to promote and fund leftist causes, including election activism. The article at the link, by Hayden Ludwig, focuses primarily on the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF), which he describes as a 501(c)(3) “pass-through” philanthropy. It is funded by still other donor-funded vehicles and supported by such Big Tech luminaries as Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, among others. And to whom does SVCF “pass” these tax-privileged funds? According to Ludwig, some of the recipient organizations are local universities and arts organizations. However, billions of dollars have been awarded to the likes of the following left-wing nonprofits:

Voter Turnout

Political Dark Money

Other Leftist Political Grants

Ludwig rightly warns about the potential that large donors can alter election results by providing funds to activist organizations like these, quite apart from the pernicious leftist influence of their social media, news, or other business organizations:

Those are just the seven-figure grants from a single year, from a single organization. The left has dozens of mega-funders just like it, feeding hundreds of activist groups. Can the right boast the same? In my experience, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ … Too few realize that the professional left in this country is the best-funded, most well-coordinated political machine in the world, thanks to its weaponization of America’s generous nonprofit sector.

These days, leftist mega-donors like George Soros and Tom Steyer are even helping to field “fake-Rs” in Republican primaries in districts that Dems could never win. Fortunately, they haven’t prevailed … yet!

Conclusion

The kinds of “woke middlemen” I’ve discussed here and previously are too easy to overlook, often flying “under the radar” of both libertarians and conservatives. Unfortunately, they are highly effective and extremely dangerous to the education of our children and the information available to potential voters. They are a threat to our election process, and ultimately to all of our political institutions, not to mention individual freedom. Our republic’s saving grace is that the people often recognize when elites are pushing bad ideas or trying to gaslight them. But ultimately, the fight to preserve election integrity, educational balance, free speech, and individual rights is likely to require greater firepower.

Note: This post also appears at The American Reveille.

Notes From the Spousal Shotgun Seat

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I’m on a road trip with my spouse and it means some time for me in the passenger seat. That’s because we are such an enlightened, sharing couple. I have mostly resisted temptations to offer driving tips to my spouse, but it can be very challenging. This time, I decided to catalogue my spouse’s driving “issues” as a simple exercise in the interest of preserving my sanity.

Much of what you’ll see below takes the form of advice, only I cannot say much of it out loud without blowing our domestic tranquility to smithereens! Bad move on a long trip! So despite frustrations, the reticent approach is probably all for the good. After all, even troops of baboons are said to move at speeds less than ergonomically optimalin order to maintain social cohesion”. And it is just so in my marriage. Of course, this is about more than speed, but if I condense all of the issues into the single-most convenient dimension, it would come down to slower speeds. Like a long-striding baboon tolerating an angst similar to my own, I’m willing to sacrifice speed in order to keep the troop happy and together.

General Advice

Lest I be accused of favoring a certain recklessness, I’ll start by asserting that defensive driving does not mean you have to be timid. You’re not being hunted. Don’t constantly imagine a need for deference. Watch out for other vehicles, but take charge! Be deliberate. And fucking GO!

Ignore irrelevant information! If you’re trying to follow I-75, don’t freak every time you see signs for other roads or interstates, unless of course you’re trapped in an exit-only lane! You might not think this is a “thing” unless you’ve been on the road with a driver who’s unable to filter information!

Look Ahead

You wouldn’t walk down the sidewalk with your eyes fixed only on the area immediately before your feet. Don’t drive that way either! Plan and execute smooth transitions as circumstances and opportunities dictate. Look ahead!

My general mantra is, “The right lane is for losers!” Say it aloud! I actually managed to get a laugh out of my spouse with that line. Alright, when the right lane is empty, you should stay there, but…

Don’t get trapped in the right lane when you know traffic is entering the road just ahead of you.

Don’t get trapped in the right lane when you know it’s full of people planning to turn right, which is frequently the case!

Don’t get trapped in an exit-only lane! In general, if there’s a middle lane, you can improve your “optionality” by staying there.

If you’re changing to a middle lane, glance two lanes over before you move, not just one! This is exactly when drivers in different lanes don’t need a coincidence of wants. And don’t rely solely on your side mirrors.

Look Back

I can’t recount the number of times my spouse has been startled, dangerously, by drivers passing her at high speeds. “OhMyGOD!” This has happened to me too, and it can be quite dangerous. Try to glance in the rear view mirror on a regular basis to avoid nasty surprises like this, and don’t make sudden moves as other vehicles approach from behind unless you really want to confuse them!

Turns

Dual left turn lanes are especially tough for my spouse to negotiate. I think this stems from a failure to “look ahead”. Get a fix on the end point, and try to think of the whole turn… a sweeping curve. Do not search for each dashed line along the path. Just give cars turning alongside you a fair berth.

Right turns on red can be quick and painless. If, when you arrive at an intersection, the “oncoming” vehicles to your left are at a dead stop, then fucking GO! They will NOT suddenly leap across the intersection and smash into you. Of course, watch out for pedestrians near your corner!

And regarding right turns, if left-turning “blockers” are moving in the opposite direction, fucking GO!

You do not have to come to a near stop as you approach an empty roundabout! “Yield” matters only when there is someone to whom you might yield. So fucking GO!

When you have a dedicated or open lane to take after your turn, take it! Fucking GO!

Turn smoothly!! If you’re turning right, don’t get yourself out in the middle of the damn road before turning your wheels! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had my heart in my throat over this issue.

If you want to change lanes on a busy road, use your damn turn signal to indicate your intention to other drivers!

Stop Lights

As you approach a red light, always choose the lane with the fewest cars. PLEASE!

Never brake as you approach a green light. Fucking GO!

In a long line of cars at a light, don’t stop car-lengths behind the one in front of you (making allowances when on a steep incline). You probably do want to make the next green light, as do all the poor saps behind you.

When the light turns green, if you can go, fucking GO!

Make judicious use of your horn! Don’t be afraid to give it a little tap to rouse the distracted shmuck in front of you when the light turns green.

Parking and “Unparking”

Don’t park like an idiot! Park in one space between the fucking lines!

If you have a choice, don’t ever park next to anyone parked like an idiot.

On a hot day, don’t drive past shaded parking places in favor of spots in the blazing sun!

Refine your spacial orientation. It’s amazing how many two-point turns are made into three-plus point turns by drivers lacking these bearings. Get a handle on the fucking dimensions of your vehicle!

Use your rear camera and figure out what the colored lines mean.

Passing

Don’t linger alongside large tractor trailers, or any other vehicle for that matter. Especially do not linger toward the rear of those vehicles! Fucking pass them. Shoot the gap! GO!

And never linger on anyone’s right rear side … they don’t call it a blind spot for nothing!

When you pass, don’t shake the steering wheel back and forth as if you must thread a jumping needle!

If you are forced to pass on the right, get it done! Fucking GO!

Do NOT attempt to pass on the right if there’s an even slower vehicle ahead of you! You’ll get fucking trapped!

Don’t be shaken by drivers who would very much like to get around you. Use your turn signal and get out of the way at your earliest convenience.

Silence Not Always Golden

I don’t always suffer in silence while my spouse is behind the wheel, but I try to choose my spots wisely. Not that it’s easy! I react when I perceive danger, but there are times I regret it. And to be fair, my spouse hasn’t had an accident or a traffic citation of any kind in quite some time. That’s a big plus! My own driving record has a few … ahem … blemishes, but mostly speeding tickets, and it’s been a while.

I also note that this has nothing to do with gender. I have a few pals who are awful drivers. The difference is I can get in their ear about it without getting hours of the silent treatment!

We are hitting the road for home in a few days, and I’ll do my best to keep my nose out of the spouse’s driving when I’m riding shotgun. Hey, she’s my babe!!