What Are the Odds?

The Gallup organization has taken a poll of Americans’ beliefs about the risk of hospitalization due to COVID-19:

The American public’s understanding of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines may have been put to the test in recent weeks as national public health leaders openly debated whether a booster shot is needed for the general population. Meanwhile, a large gap in vaccination rates persists between Democrats and Republicans, possibly reflecting partisans’ different views on the relative risks of COVID-19 versus the vaccines.

In August, Gallup surveyed over 3,000 U.S. adults on their understanding of the likelihood of hospitalization after contracting COVID-19 among those who have versus have not been vaccinated. The results show that most Americans overstate the risk of hospitalization for both groups: 92% overstate the risk that unvaccinated people will be hospitalized, and 62% overstate the risk for vaccinated people. At the same time, U.S. adults are fairly accurate at estimating the effectiveness of vaccines at preventing hospitalization, with the median respondent putting it at 80%.

Democrats provide much higher and more accurate vaccine efficacy estimates than Republicans (88% vs. 50%), and unvaccinated Republicans have a median vaccine efficacy of 0%, compared with 73% for vaccinated Republicans. The results suggest that the low vaccine uptake among Republicans may be driven, at least in part, by an inaccurate understanding of the published data on vaccine effectiveness

which I found completely unsurprising. Just for the record the answers I gave to the questions they were asking were factually accurate which places me in a distinct minority among Americans.

There was one thing that I found pretty amusing—the self-reported vaccination rates which I think prove more than anything else that people lie to poll takers.

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What Is Evil?

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal Lance Morrow laments that the word “evil” has become so debased:

Here we are. The word evil has suffered from severe grade inflation in the 21st century. Just as every college student must now get an A, so, in the hysteria of social media, the most ordinary pipsqueak may now be flattered with the grand honorific. Evil, once an august item in the range of human possibilities, has been reduced to a cliché of political abuse.

How is the word being used today?

Recently I revived my question. I started by asking progressives whether they ever knew someone who was evil. Their number one answer—surprise—was Donald Trump. Do they really mean it? Are they being metaphorical? Hyperbolical? (If Mr. Trump is evil, what would be the word for Pol Pot ?) When they are through with Mr. Trump, progressives mention such lesser devils as Derek Chauvin and Dylann Roof. Then their eyes dart back and forth and less likely names fetch up, people they know from the screens: Josh Hawley, Tucker Carlson. In the end, there is no distinction in their minds between the mass murderer in the church in Charleston and someone with whose opinions they disagree.

Mr. Trump himself tosses around the word evil in a mindless way. He uses it almost as often as he does the word “incredible.” It is one of his six adjectives. Progressives and Trumpists accuse one another, batting the word “evil” back and forth like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck disputing whether it is “duck season” or “wabbit season.”

concluding:

f you are serious about evil, talk about consequences. You can’t call a person evil unless—as with Hitler or Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot—the evidence is there: the body count. Evil once belonged to the realm of reality. But the 21st century has lost its appetite for objective proof. Feelings are enough. If you feel that something or someone is evil, why then it is so. What you feel (the mirage of your emotions) acquires the status of reality. You must, after all, “speak your truth.”

Talking about consequences is only a gauge for consequentialists not for deontologists. And not for those who fling epithets as primates in captivity fling their feces which is a lot of what I think is going on these days.

I’m suspicious of consequentialism because I think there’s a knowledge problem with it. An act doesn’t suddenly become evil because bad things happened down the road or eventually came into the light. Hitler was widely thought of as a hero until the extent of his evil came to light and some of the very best people supported his “scientific” way of doing things. The same was true of Stalin and Mussolini. That doesn’t mean they became evil then; they were evil all along. And it was not their motives that made them evil; they all had good motives.

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The German Voters Have Spoken. What Have They Said?

The editors of the Wall Street Journal delve into that very question today:

Exit polls Sunday evening showed a race too close to call, although perhaps with a slight edge for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). They and Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU and Bavarian sister CSU) each have won roughly a quarter of the votes. Whichever of the two manages to form a government, it will be a choice voters have made without much evident conviction.

And with whom will that “winner” govern? The Greens came in a strong third with an estimated 15%, with the free-market Free Democrats (FDP) at 11% and quasi-communist Left waddling in at 5%. The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), at about 10%, lost ground compared to 2017’s 13% finish.

Because theirs is not a “first past the post” system as ours is, now the wrangling begins:

The possible coalition combinations are endless, and so are the policy outcomes. The SPD and CDU/CSU could reconstitute their current “grand coalition,” and perhaps voters would be happy with four more years of the status quo. Or the CDU/CSU could form an awkward coalition with the Greens and FDP.

Or the SPD could govern with the Greens and the FDP in a government that might pursue more aggressive environmental goals while limiting tax increases. Or the SPD, Greens and Left could form a left-wing government with heavier taxation but the tougher line on Russia and China that the Greens favor.

concluding:

Whoever ends up in charge, Berlin faces serious challenges over how to spur productive investment and innovation at home, absorb large migrant inflows, respond to mounting strategic threats from China and Russia, and maintain good relations with neighbors and the U.S.

As Germany settles in for lengthy coalition wrangling, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the parties and voters prefer a static status quo to a clear new direction.

Some of the possible coalitions are conspicuous by their absence. I will only point out that two of the “right” parties, the Christian Democrats (Merkel’s party) and the AfD, both lost ground yesterday while two of the “left” parties, the Social Democrats and the Greens, gained ground. But so did the “libertarian” Free Democrats.

The conclusion that the editors draw is only one of the possible conclusions. My speculation is that the CDU ran the wrong candidate for chancellor.

I plan to look around for some regional results, particularly in Bavaria and Saxony, because I think those are more important than the national ones.

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Clear As Mud

Today the editors of the Washington Post declaim confidently: “Immigration reform is back at square one. But the way forward is clear.” I don’t find it nearly as clear and this paragraph from their editorial illustrates why:

There are available solutions if Congress could overcome its horror of bipartisan compromise. The goal should be to establish a realistic annual quota of immigrant visas for Central Americans, Haitians and others desperate to reach this country who otherwise will cross the border illegally — a number that recognizes the U.S. labor market’s demand for such employees. That must be supplemented by a muscular guest worker program that enables legal border crossing for migrants who want to support families remaining in their home countries.

I support a “muscular guest worker program” and I also support “realistic annual quota” but, sadly, even if those were implemented effectively and rigorously, it wouldn’t resolve the problem. As Gallup found 750 million people would like to leave their home countries if they could. More than half of the population of the “Northern Triangle” wants to move. By far the greatest number (158 million)—greater than the next five countries put together—want to emigrate to the U. S.

Said another way there is no quota, no practical number that would result in some people not being turned away. What has blocked compromise to date is that there is one faction that is unwilling to accept any more immigrants and another that is unwilling to turn anyone away. There is no meeting of minds there.

A couple of years ago a compromise deal was available to resolve the conundrum of the “Dreamers”, the beneficiaries of President Obama’s DACA executive order. It failed because the progressives in Congress wanted to extend the order to the Dreamers’ parents (and maybe a general amnesty) and that was unacceptable to many Congressional Republicans.

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Rising or Declining?

I present this post at Foreign Policy by Hal Brands and Michael Beckley not because I believe it is true but because it presents a point-of-view that was, at least to me, quite counter-intuitive:

The idea of a Thucydides Trap, popularized by Harvard political scientist Graham Allison, holds that the danger of war will skyrocket as a surging China overtakes a sagging America. Even Chinese President Xi Jinping has endorsed the concept arguing Washington must make room for Beijing. As tensions between the United States and China escalate, the belief that the fundamental cause of friction is a looming “power transition”—the replacement of one hegemon by another—has become canonical.

The only problem with this familiar formula is that it’s wrong.

The Thucydides Trap doesn’t really explain what caused the Peloponnesian War. It doesn’t capture the dynamics that have often driven revisionist powers—whether that is Germany in 1914 or Japan in 1941—to start some of history’s most devastating conflicts. And it doesn’t explain why war is a very real possibility in U.S.-China relations today because it fundamentally misdiagnoses where China now finds itself on its arc of development—the point at which its relative power is peaking and will soon start to fade.

There’s indeed a deadly trap that could ensnare the United States and China. But it’s not the product of a power transition the Thucydidean cliché says it is. It’s best thought of instead as a “peaking power trap.” And if history is any guide, it’s China’s—not the United States’—impending decline that could cause it to snap shut.

and

A dissatisfied state has been building its power and expanding its geopolitical horizons. But then the country peaks, perhaps because its economy slows, perhaps because its own assertiveness provokes a coalition of determined rivals, or perhaps because both of these things happen at once. The future starts to look quite forbidding; a sense of imminent danger starts to replace a feeling of limitless possibility. In these circumstances, a revisionist power may act boldly, even aggressively, to grab what it can before it is too late. The most dangerous trajectory in world politics is a long rise followed by the prospect of a sharp decline.

and

Over the past 150 years, peaking powers—great powers that had been growing dramatically faster than the world average and then suffered a severe, prolonged slowdown—usually don’t fade away quietly. Rather, they become brash and aggressive. They suppress dissent at home and try to regain economic momentum by creating exclusive spheres of influence abroad. They pour money into their militaries and use force to expand their influence. This behavior commonly provokes great-power tensions. In some cases, it touches disastrous wars.

They go on to present both Imperial Germany and Imperial Japan as examples of just that dynamics.

They conclude:

To be clear, China probably won’t undertake an all-out military rampage across Asia, as Japan did in the 1930s and early 1940s. But it will run greater risks and accept greater tensions as it tries to lock in key gains. Welcome to geopolitics in the age of a peaking China: a country that already has the ability to violently challenge the existing order and one that will probably run faster and push harder as it loses confidence that time is on its side.

The United States, then, will face not one but two tasks in dealing with China in the 2020s. It will have to continue mobilizing for long-term competition while also moving quickly to deter aggression and blunt some of the more aggressive, near-term moves Beijing may make. In other words, buckle up. The United States has been rousing itself to deal with a rising China. It’s about to discover that a declining China may be even more dangerous.

I will only make one observation. In the entire history of the world there has never been a country that has been rising in power while declining in population and China’s population is already declining. Perhaps China is the exception that proves the rule.

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To Make Things Clearer

If you listened to the talking heads programs this morning you may have been a bit confused by what you heard. I know I was. In the interest of clarity I wanted to make a few points:

  1. Neither poverty, chaos, nor crime in your country of origin constitute legitimate cases for asylum under U. S. law. Legitimate cases require persecution or fear of persecution in their countries of origin due to race, religion, being a member of a particular social group, nationality, or political opinion.
  2. Similarly, a refugee under U. S. law is an individual who is unwilling or unable to return to his or her home country due to a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin.

It should be manifestly clear that very few if any of the Haitians who somehow made their way to our southern border were either legitimately seeking asylum or refugees. Taking the most charitable possible view they were economic migrants. Less charitably, they were venue shopping for the best deal.

They went from Haiti to Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, or elsewhere because those countries had very lax immigration laws.

90% of Haitians speak only Creole. Creole is not French. Of the adults among those, again charitably, at most 62% are literate in Creole. Relatively few Americans speak Creole. The demand for workers who speak a language intelligible to very few in the U. S. and who are illiterate in that language is quite low in the 21st century. Like the Somalis before them the only thing they are really prepared for is to be clients of the state for life.

I believe that the United States should be giving more aid to Haiti and should be providing it in a more prudent manner so that it actually reaches those for whom it is intended. I do not believe that the proper way to to ameliorate the living conditions of the people of Haiti is to bring them here.

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Defense Spending Priorities

Something else you may not have noticed. Last week the House passed a $768 billion defense appropriations bill. Connor O’Brien reports at Politico:

The House on Thursday easily passed a $768 billion defense policy bill that endorses a major budget boost, dealing the biggest blow yet to President Joe Biden’s Pentagon spending plans.

Lawmakers approved the National Defense Authorization Act in a 316-113 vote with broad support from Democrats and Republicans as momentum builds on Capitol Hill to add upwards of $25 billion to Biden’s defense proposal.

What did it include?

In all, the legislation would authorize $768 billion for national defense programs, including $740 billion for the Pentagon base budget — an increase of $25 billion from what Biden requested — and $28 billion for nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.

On the House floor this week, Armed Services leaders touted the legislation as a key step in shedding aging weapons and helping the Pentagon pivot toward emerging technologies that help match threats posed by China and Russia.

“Everybody here will find something that they do not like,” House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said on the House floor. “But it is also the nature of the legislative process, in this case, that we have produced a product that everybody in this House can be proud of.”

The top Armed Services Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, added that the bill is “laser-focused on preparing our military to prevail in a conflict with China.”

and

The bill also would:

— Authorize $28.4 billion for 13 new Navy ships, including three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and two Virginia-class attack submarines.

— Authorize the purchase of 85 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters, matching the Pentagon’s budget request.

— Procure 24 Boeing F-15EX jets for the Air Force, double the number requested by the Pentagon.

— Prohibit private funding for cross-state National Guard deployment except for emergency or disaster relief efforts.

— Require generals and admirals to be out of the military for 10 years before they can serve as defense secretary, up from the current seven-year cooling off period.

— Provide a 2.7 percent troop pay raise.

$768 billion sounds like a lot of money and it is. It’s about 3.5% of GDP which is a lot less than it has been in the past but not nearly as much as some hawks in the U. S. think we should be spending. My priorities would be, well, different than those reflected in the article. I think we should be downsizing the Air Force, and the Army, sharply cutting the size of the general staff, and focused more on readiness, which has suffered somewhat during 20 years of continuous deployment and warfare, than on big ticket item spending.

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About That German Election…

You might not have been aware of it with all of the partisan bickering going on in the U. S. but today the Germans went to the polls to elect a new chancellor. For the first time in sixteen years Angela Merkel is not on the ballot. NPR reports:

Early exit polls from Germany show an extremely close race between the center-left Social Democratic Party and the center-right Christian Democratic Union, in an election that will decide the next chancellor of the country after 16 years of Angela Merkel in office.

Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its partner, the Christian Social Union, have 25% of the vote, placing them in a tie with the Social Democratic Party. Following behind is the Greens with 15%.

Additional context if provided by Reuters:

BERLIN, Sept 26 (Reuters) – Leaders of Alternative for Germany (AfD) put on a brave face after projected election results showed support for the far-right party dropping and said they rejoiced in seeing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives slump to their worst-ever result.

The mood was subdued at a restaurant in Berlin where party leaders and a few dozen members had gathered after the party failed to improve on the 12.6% it secured four years ago, settling instead on 10-11%.

“Should this result stand this would mean that Merkel has ruined my former party,” said AfD honorary leader Alexander Gauland, who was a member of the outgoing chancellor’s Christian Democrats (CDU) before joining the far-right party.

“Despite our relatively weaker result we have accomplished our mission: Merkel is out,” added Gauland, drawing applause.

Although only the election for chancellor is on the ballot there are actually two questions: who will be elected chancellor and will Germany move farther to the right or to the left? Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is generally described as “far-right”. A better description would be nationalist, Eurosceptic, and anti-immigration. I will be interested in seeing the election returns in Bavaria and Saxony, where AfD is particularly strong.

I do wish that Americans would stop trying to understand foreign political parties through the prism of our own politics. None of the parties above is much like either of our major political parties. In particular both the SDP and CDU are farther to the left than our Democratic Party while AfD is in some ways farther to the right than our Republican Party and in some ways farther to the left. There’s just no comparison.

It’s pretty much the same with all political parties in other countries. Britain’s Tories are more like our Democrats and more like our Republicans than than Labour is like either.

A German chancellor who is not Angela Merkel will unquestionably provide important challenges for Europe, the United States, and the world. We’ll need to see how it all turns out before making any predictions.

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The Struggling Supply Chains

I thought you might find some of the observations in Costas Paris and Jennifer Smith’s Wall Street Journal article on the ongoing issues in our supply chains interesting:

Participants in each link in the U.S. chain—shipping lines, port workers, truckers, warehouse operators, railways and retailers—blame others for the imbalances and disagree on whether 24/7 operations will help them catch up. All of them are struggling with a shortage of workers.

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are managed separately and operate 13 private container terminals. Long Beach officials said last week they would try operating 24 hours a day from Monday to Thursday. Gene Seroka, executive director of the larger Port of Los Angeles, said his port will step more cautiously, keeping existing hours while waiting for truckers and warehouse operators to extend their hours.

with this particularly telling:

Union Pacific Corp. , one of two main railroads moving freight from the West Coast into the country, is primarily seeing delays, or dwell, when it picks up cargo from ports and hands it off to trucks at destinations, Chief Executive Lance Fritz said in a recent interview. “Where we see dwell is on either end,” he said.

Nike executives said Thursday that the amount of time it takes to move a cargo container from Asian factories to North America is now about 80 days, or twice as long as it was before the pandemic. Moving items such as paper towels or furniture within the U.S. is also a challenge, with Costco executives saying it can be difficult to find trucks or drivers on short notice.

The “dwell time” refers to how long a container sits waiting to be unloaded from transport or loaded into transport for the next stage in its journey. A doubling of dwell time is a lot.

Interpretations of all of this may vary but mine is that “just-in-time” inventory (JIT) has come back to bite us in the butt. JIT requires predictable and, indeed, short dwell times. A doubling of dwell time means that factories are idled or store shelves empty.

JIT enables both manufacturing and retail to operate smoothly with a lot less warehousing and, consequently, significantly lower capital investment. If JIT no longer works or can’t be made to function acceptably it will have grave repercussions that echo through the economy. This is just about the worst time to be increasing corporate income taxes or increasing the cost and risk of capital investment.

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Is It Just Me?

Is it just me or have the opinion pieces (editorials, op-eds, blog postsl, etc.) of today become incredibly boring and repetitive? As I’ve pointed out before a lot of blogging is reaction and it’s hard to post when there’s so little to which to react. If it were August, I could understand it.

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