Monday, March 23, 2020

If you want to feel some people have a worse grasp on this than you, ask a libertarian

Cheerful libertarian. Via David Brin.

Libertortionist economist Tyler Cowen wrote his own not-so-short Shorter for a piece at Bloomberg arguing for a silver lining to the Covid-19 cloud: it may destroy us all, but at least it will definitely destroy that noxious progressive left, forcing all its adherents, if any of them survive, to realize that Dr. Cowen was right all along:
— The egalitarianism of the progressive left ... will seem like a faint memory. Elites are most likely to support wealth redistribution when they feel comfortable themselves, and indeed well-off coastal elites in California and the Northeast are a backbone of the progressive movement. But when these people feel threatened in their lives or occupations, or when the futures of their children suddenly seem less secure, redistribution will not be such a compelling ideal…
I'm not interested in arguing that his ghoulish prediction is wrong, beyond noting that it's self-evidently silly, like people in some French town in 1348 wondering whether the Black Death would bring people to reject religion or cling more tightly to it (it clearly helped to bring on both, the secularization of the Renaissance and the theocracy of the Inquisition, along with a third option nobody foresaw, the creation of the new religion we call Protestantism).

But I would like to give some serious attention to the undeclared assumption that there is some crucial overlap between some or all (depending on which sentence you look at) of the members of the undefined class of "the progressive left", and some of the members of the undefined class of "elites" who are frequently well-off and frequently live in California or "the Northeast", which begs so many questions it ought to be arrested for vagrancy.

In the first place, who are those "elites" exactly? In my simple sociological understanding, "the" elite are a "small group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power, or skill in a society" (that's Wikipedia and don't @ me) enabling them to control the society, which seems to run a little counter to Cowen's assertion that some of them are well off (the ones who are likely to support egalitarianism and serve as one of the various spines of the progressive left if they live in the right states) while others are not (and therefore not a spine, and does that mean they are some other bone or not progressive at all?). And if feeling threatened makes them less willing to share—in sort of the opposite of the traditional paradigm that holds that a man who is not a socialist at 20 has no heart and a man who is still a socialist at 50 has no brain—why do they build a politics on the basis of threatening themselves? And why do the badly off elites or those who live in Oklahoma and Ohio disagree, if they do? How do the backbone elites manage to destroy redistributionist principle on their own, while the frontbone and midbone egalitarians look on helplessly?
— The case for mass transit also will seem weaker, because subways and buses will be associated with the fear of Covid-19 transmission. In a similar fashion, the forces of NIMBY will become stronger, relative to those of YIMBY, because people secure in their isolated suburban homes will feel less stressed than those in densely packed urban apartment buildings.
The elites who gladly rode the subway before the virus will start changing their minds, once they grasp the previously unsuspected possibility that disease could be hitching a ride on those trains! Or not, because the very wealthy and powerful never did, though quite prosperous lawyers and financial advisors were always heading downtown on certain train lines in the morning and comfortably-off old ladies didn't hesitate to use the crosstown buses. Tyler Cowen may take mass transit himself, for all I know, but the real elite is never going to pay for their servants to take taxis to the Upper East Side.
— There is likely to be much more government intervention in some parts of the health-care sector, but it will focus on scarce hospital beds and ventilators, and enforce nasty triage, rather than being a benevolent move toward universal coverage. If anything, it will drive home the message that supply constraints are binding and America can’t have everything — hardly the traditional progressive message.
This is where I venture to see Cowen being really wrong, because it seems to me that the exact opposite may be going on politically, where the Democrats I regard as elites, people who actually dwell in the corridors of power, like Senator Schumer and Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Biden, taking an increasing interest in real socialism, not just Bernie socialism, precisely in response to that logistics issue where the free market has been doing such a terrible job, demanding the invocation of the 1950 Defense Production Act to put the production of primary protective equipment on a war footing and seize, if you'll pardon my French, the means of production.
And more.

The influence of Warren has been growing, as I hoped it might, in the Biden campaign as well, as she pretty clearly planned it should. The thing that leads to national universal health care in a wartime situation isn't the compassion Cowen regards as his scariest enemy, but the need for efficiency, as I've been trying to explain, often makes government a really good choice:

That's how Churchill's Conservative war cabinet ended up creating the conditions for Atlee's Labour government to socialize medicine after the 1945 election.

— — The climate change movement is likely to be another victim. How much have you heard about Greta Thunberg lately? Concern over the climate will seem like another luxury from safer and more normal times. In addition, the course of anti-Covid-19 efforts may not prove propitious for the climate change movement. If the fight against Covid-19 suddenly improves (perhaps a vaccine working very quickly?), Americans may come to expect the same in the fight against climate change.
LOL. Concern over the climate already seems like concern over the new virus, something conservatives keep telling us to ignore when it's clearly important. People are, if anything, starting t think of the novel coronavirus as Mother Nature saying "Enough is enough—you humans deal with this or you're out of here." As for the unexpected success of a vaccine against Covid-19 changing people's minds about the value of scientific research, (a) it's not going to happen and (b) if it does it's not going to have that effect.

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