Not Good Enough

I don’t find the data on wealth inequality in the U. S. quite as encouraging as the editors of the Wall Street Journal do:

In the 40 to 59 age group that is the paper’s focus, the top 5% of households control 63.5% of “market wealth”—liquid assets, housing, and accounts like 401(k)s. But include future pension and Social Security income, and the top 5% share is a more modest 45.4%, the authors find.

Under this measure of wealth, the increase in inequality over time has also been less steep. While the share of “market wealth” held by the top 5% of households age 40 to 59 increased 15% over the last 30 years, their share increased only 10.2% with Social Security and defined-benefit pensions included.

Graphs explain the source of my concern:

I wasn’t able to locate the graph I was actually looking for quickly. Hard as it may be to believe 50 years ago 50% of the population held 50% of the wealth. We’re now getting back to Gilded Age, pre-industrial levels of inequality.

It’s easier to illustrate income:

In my view three things are necessary

  1. Reduce the growth in income and wealth subsidies for the top 10% of income earners. Over the last 20 years those subsidies, largely from the Federal Reserve, have been prodigious.
  2. Restrict immigration. As I’ve said before there is no way to reduce wealth and income inequality when we’re importing poor people as quickly as we have been for the last 40 years.
  3. Revitalize the U. S. industrial sector. We can’t remain a great nation on the basis of retail sales and services.

Living With a Virus

I see that Andrew Sullivan has settled on the view of COVID-19 not unlike the one I encouraged more than a year ago:

Living with a virus — rather than defeating it — is not emotionally satisfying. It does not, in our minds, remove the threat. But the truth is: humans have no choice but to live with viruses. We always have. I’ve lived with a potentially fatal one buried in my bone marrow for almost 30 years. I still test HIV-positive. Almost certainly, I will die HIV-positive. But I will not die of HIV. And that’s ok. As long as I can prevent it wreaking havoc on my immune system, and ruining and ending my life, I’m content to live with it. We’re almost friends at this point.

These viruses challenge the psyche, and the trick, it seems to me, is not to deny their power and danger, but to see past them to the real goal: the living of your life. If you are not careful, this one viral threat can crowd out all other perspectives, distort your judgment of risk, and cause you to be paralyzed by excessive caution and fear. But defeating a virus often does mean living with it. We already do this with the flu. There’s no reason we can’t do it with Covid as well.

which is consistent with the view expressed the other day by the editors of the Wall Street Journal:

But let’s be clear, unlike the CDC: The virus will never be eradicated. It will eventually become endemic, and the public-health goal is to protect people from getting severely ill.

For the info from the Centers for Disease Control to which they are both reacting see here.

Be responsible. Take prudent action. Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is prudent even though we don’t know the vaccines’ long term effects, especially if, like me you don’t need to worry about the vaccines’ effects 30 years down the road. Wearing a mask in a store or office building is prudent, too. Big cities look a lot less prudent than they used to. Presently, Lollapalooza, a large four-day music festival is under way in Chicago. IMO not cancelling the event was not just imprudent on the part of city officials it was cynical.

A six week lockdown a year ago was prudent under the circumstances. A 20 week lockdown was less prudent. A restoration of lockdowns would be darned hard to justify. Refusing to enforce the lockdown or, worse, enforcing it on some but not on others was grossly imprudent.

Based on the best information we have available right now “herd immunity” against COVID-19 is beyond our grasp for the foreseeable future. That will be true as long as vaccinations do not convey immunity. We’ve been spoiled by the experience with smallpox and polio, even measles. We need to learn to live with SARS-CoV-2 and its descendants.



The editors of the Washington Post summarize the recent findings of rapid expansion of China’s nuclear weapons capability:

One month ago, a disturbing report based on satellite imagery showed that China was building about 120 silos for intercontinental ballistic missiles near Yumen in Gansu province, some 1,300 miles west of Beijing. At the time, we raised questions about China’s intentions. Now, a new report has identified a second field taking shape, with about 110 silos near Hami in eastern Xinjiang, 240 miles northwest of the first site. Considering other locations where missile silos are under construction, China seems to be aiming for a tenfold increase in intercontinental ballistic missiles if each silo were filled. What is going on?

and remark:

An unanswered question is what China thinks it will gain by vaulting to a nuclear posture closer to that of the United States and Russia. The response by the United States and the West is either more nuclear weapons — a new arms race — or nuclear arms control, in which China has not shown much interest. The new missile silos are an ominous sign of a growing challenge, made even more vexing by the other tensions between Washington and Beijing.

In my view while we should be modernizing our nuclear deterrence and missile capabilities, we should refrain from taking more strenuous actions in response to this Chinese build-up but that wasn’t the question that occurred to me on learning of it. I wondered what would Japan do?

I would not be a bit surprised if we saw Japan working on a nuclear deterrent of its own. Not to mention Taiwan. India, which already has a nuclear arsenal, may start increasing it. Cold War II, indeed.


Question of the Day

Yesterday the Senate passed its version of the infrastructure spending bill on a bipartisan basis with 17 Republicans joining all of the Democrats in voting in favor of it. What will the outcome be?

  1. True to her word Nancy Pelosi will not take the bill up in the House until the Senate moves on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That doesn’t happen and the bill dies.
  2. The Senate approve the $3.5 trillion with no Republican votes and Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
  3. The $3.5 trillion bill passes the Senate with one or more Republican votes.
  4. The $3.5 trillion bill does not receive 50 Democratic votes in the Senate.
  5. Other

Place your bets.



I don’t know whether this report by Lingling Wei in the Wall Street Journal indicates a change in tone by the Chinese leadership, a change in reporting by the U. S. press, or differences in personal styles between individuals and with relationships between individuals:

NEW YORK—China’s new envoy to the U.S. struck a conciliatory note upon his arrival in Washington on Wednesday, pledging to repair the increasingly testy relationship between the two world powers days after Chinese Foreign Ministry officials greeted a visiting senior State Department official with a chilly lecture on diplomacy.

Qin Gang, a veteran diplomat and trusted aide to President Xi Jinping, said in remarks posted on the website of China’s embassy in the U.S. that he will “endeavor to bring China-U.S. relations back on track, turning the way for the two countries to get along with each other…from a possibility into a reality.”

His tone contrasted sharply with the tense exchange between senior Chinese and U.S. diplomats in the port city of Tianjin on Monday, when a Chinese vice foreign minister gave U.S. Deputy Secretary of the State Wendy Sherman an earful, saying Washington was entirely to blame for the souring bilateral relationship.

The more placating remarks by Mr. Qin—in which he said he would “seek to build bridges of communication and cooperation with all sectors of the U.S.”–show that Beijing still hopes to reset relations with Washington—but on its own terms.

In a commentary that roughly coincided with Mr. Qin’s remarks, China’s official Xinhua News Agency urged the U.S. to “discard its habitual bullying of China.”

Relations between the U.S. and China have continued to deteriorate after having plummeted during the Trump administration. President Biden has been trying to build alliances to confront a more self-confident and assertive China on issues as diverse as human rights, technology and geopolitics, while Mr. Xi is intent on reshaping the relationship as one between two head-on competitors.

I agree with Churchill. Talking is better than the alternative. I just wish that more Americans including American diplomats recognized that China has its interests, we have ours, they rarely coincide and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We should worry less about China pursuing its own interests and devote more attention to pursuing our own. Spoiler alert: those aren’t always the same as Apple’s or Walmart’s.

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I’m going to admit to being puzzled by this report in the Washington Post from Karla Adam and William Booth:

LONDON — This is a puzzler. Coronavirus cases are plummeting in Britain. They were supposed to soar. Scientists aren’t sure why they haven’t.

The daily number of new infections recorded in the country fell for seven days in a row before a slight uptick Wednesday, when the country reported 27,734 cases. That’s still almost half of where the caseload was a week ago.

The trajectory of the virus in Britain is something the world is watching closely and anxiously, as a test of how the delta variant behaves in a society with relatively high vaccination rates. And now people are asking if this could be the first real-world evidence that the pandemic in Britain is sputtering out — after three national lockdowns and almost 130,000 deaths.

Public health experts, alongside the government, predicted that cases would be rising in Britain at this point, perhaps even exponentially.

The highly contagious delta variant of the virus, first detected in India, accounts for almost all new cases here. On July 17, the number of new day cases reached 54,674, the highest since January.

Two days later, dubbed “Freedom Day” by the press, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government ended almost all government mandates in England for mask-wearing and social distancing. Pubs are serving pints at the rail and night clubs have reopened with maskless youths packed on the dance floors. Viral defense is now a “personal choice.”

And so some of the best infectious-disease modelers on the planet warned that 100,000 new cases a day this summer could be expected.

But the trend since then has been on a sharp decline.

The reason for my confusion is not just that Britain’s COVID-19 cases are “plummeting”. That’s good news and I hope it continues. Neither is it that the Brits declared “Freedom Day”.

My confusion is that the number of daily cases in the U. S., adjusted for population, is actually considerably lower than the UK’s. And yet here, rather than rejoicing, political leaders are warning us that things are getting worse. Which they are. They’re worse than the best it has been but that’s still considerably better than it was as recently as May 2021.

I wouldn’t proclaim “Freedom Day” or say we’re rounding a corner but I see little reason for doom and gloom, either. People are still getting sick but many fewer are dying; people should get vaccinated but many continue to be. Our health care system has not been brought to its knees.


It Will Never Be Over

This post is a reaction to this post by Cheryl Rofer to which she linked in the comments thread of this post by James Joyner. The particular passage to which I am reacting is this paragraph:

People who are not vaccinated will become sick and die. Those who recover will be immune to the disease. Either way, they will be removed from the susceptible pool. People are being vaccinated every day. They are removed from the susceptible pool after the appropriate number of shots and waiting period. The numbers of the susceptible decrease every day.

With all due respect I think that Cheryl is mistaken in almost every particular in that statement. The population is not divided into two groups (the vaccinated and the unvaccinated). There are many groups. We do not know whether those who do not elect to be vaccinated will become sick but we can be pretty confident that most who contract COVID-19 will not die because that has been the experience to date. We do not know whether some proportion of the population is simply not susceptible to the disease without either previous contracting of the disease or vaccination. We can be pretty confident, again based on present experience, that people who have been vaccinated can, in fact, contract the disease. At this time we cannot say with confidence whether vaccinated individuals who nonetheless contract COVID-19 are able to spread it to others. We are hopeful that they cannot but we do not actually know. We do not know whether those who have been fully vaccinated and nonetheless contract COVID-19 may die of the disease. We have fair confidence they will not but we do not actually know.

All of these reasons point to why my view differs dramatically from Cheryl’s. I don’t believe that the pandemic will ever be “over” in the sense that we will return to the status quo ante September 2019. The pandemic will technically be over but it will be endemic. “Zero COVID” is not an achievable goal. It probably was not an achievable goal as early as December 2019 and it may never be achievable. People will contract COVID-19, spread it to others, and some will die of it and all of those will be true regardless of how many people are vaccinated.

Just for the record I am fully vaccinated, I believe it is prudent to do so, and I wear a facemask when entering stores or other buildings in which I encounter the public. I do not see my self as either a “anti-vaxxer” or even as a pessimist. I think I am a realist and an empiricist.


Things Fall Apart

The report on the situation in South Africa made by William Shoki in his op-ed in the New York Times paints a pretty discouraging picture of conditions there:

In fact, the events of the past weeks have demonstrated a bleak truth about the country. The deep rot of South Africa’s social and political order — rife with racial tension, communal mistrust, injustice and corruption — is now on full display. The rainbow nation, supposed beacon of reconciliation, is falling apart.

At the heart of the discord is the ruling African National Congress. In the 27 years since it steered South Africa to democracy, it has carried the hopes of millions of South Africans. Drawing on its reputation as the party of liberation, it has strong support and remains electorally unassailable. But it has now become squarely a source of division. A devastating battle for its soul is underway, with the country as the battlefield.

The riots there last week have been the worst in decades, basically since the end of apartheid. He concludes:

An uneasy calm has settled. How long it lasts is anyone’s guess. Yet the past few weeks have conclusively dispelled many illusions about the country, none more so than the myth of South African exceptionalism — of a South Africa more peaceful than its African neighbors, more developed and with a future that bends inevitably toward good and triumph. The reality, as we await the next outbreak of violence, is much uglier.

A few observations. The seriousness of instability in South Africa can hardly be overstated. There aren’t a lot of functioning economies in sub-Saharan Africa. The closest things may be Mauritius (barely African), Equatorial Guinea (oil rich), Botswana, and South Africa. Civil disorder in South Africa could be very bloody and might devolve into race war.

A South Africa going the way of Zimbabwe would be good for no one other than the ruling elite which is largely what the present disorder is about.

The weak opposition parties tend to be market-friendly. No wonder Mr. Shoki, no supporter of a market economy, is discouraged.

Finally, I recognize that we’re not talking about Nigeria but South Africa. Somehow the title of this post fits.



I found this post by Haley Zermba at satisfying in a perverse sort of way:

While you can cut down your carbon footprint by a massive margin by switching over to an EV, you just can’t get away from using finite resources completely. EV batteries contain a litany of expensive and finite rare earth metals and minerals, most notably cobalt and lithium, which cause tricky negotiations with global supply chains and which are not without their negative environmental externalities thanks to sometimes messy mining operations.

The energy revolution’s dependence on rare earth metals, which is only set to intensify, has inadvertently put a huge amount of control into the hands of China, which controls around 90% of the market for some of these resources, and has shown that it is not afraid to use that power to sway international politics and diplomacy. In fact, it has been posited that China’s dominance of these supply chains, and other countries’ reticence of that dominance, could potentially lead to a new clean energy resource war if world powers don’t tread lightly.

And now, according to a new Bank of America Global Research report, the global EV battery supply is in danger of running out completely as soon as 2025. “Our updated EV battery supply-demand model suggests the global EV battery supply will likely hit [a] ‘sold-out’ situation between 2025-26, with its global operating rates reaching above 85%,” the report reads ominously. The supply shortage will be largely a product of rapidly increasing demand in a market that is simply unprepared for the levels of EV adoption coming down the pike in the immediate term.

As world leaders feature incentives and imperatives for electric car adoption in their post-pandemic recovery policies and economic stimulus packages, and the private sector leans further into Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment principles, the transition away from gasoline and diesel combustion engines is expected to go into overdrive. “We forecast the global operating rates of EV battery will rise to about 121% by 2030, based on announced capacity so far, implying another round of substantial CapEx cycles will likely kick in the next 2-3 years,” the BoA report went on to say.

The world needs to ramp up its EV battery production, and it needs to do it essentially overnight.

since it’s something I’ve been pointing out for over a decade now. The reject rate for EV batteries is alarmingly high and scaling production up will like as not increase the reject rate.


They’re All the DMV

After any organization reaches a certain size, it becomes a bureaucracy. That is true in representative democracies, authoritarian states, absolute monarchies, companies, churches, clubs, benevolent societies&mdaash;the lot. That “certain size” isn’t particularly big. That was true in Hammurabi’s time and it’s true today. The very small companies for which I’ve worked have not been bureaucracies but once a company reaches 50-100 employees it inevitably becomes a bureaucracy. Maybe there is some other way of organizing human enterprises but to the best of my knowledge it hasn’t been invented yet.

It takes Anne Lowrey quite a bit of verbiage to blame the complexity of dealing with federal or state agencies in her article at The Atlantic on racism but she gets there eventually. She calls the time, attention, and, frankly know-how that it takes to navigate bureaucies “the time tax”:

The time tax is also racist, a straightforward instantiation of bias against Black and Latino families. Racism was a primary reason that the United States did not create universal benefit systems, as many European countries did a century ago. Today, programs used disproportionately by Black Americans have more complicated enrollment criteria and more time-consuming application processes than programs used disproportionately by white Americans. An application for cash assistance might involve an in-person interview, a drug test, and ongoing compliance with a work mandate; one third of recipients are Black, and another third Hispanic. Setting up a 529 requires no application and has no annual litmus-testing; the program’s participants are overwhelmingly white. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 targeted “tests and devices,” such as a literacy tests, that discouraged voting among minority groups. Yet such “tests and devices” live on in the safety net.

In this way, the time tax undercuts public confidence in government, turning people away from civic life. People think that government cannot work, because government does not work. So what reasonable person would trust government to work? Uncle Sam “is making people’s lives difficult,” Jamila Michener, a professor of government at Cornell, told me.

I suspect that’s the very optimistic in its own way view of government held by many progressives. I wonder how they explain the complexities of such agencies in extremely homogeneous countries? Clearly, she has never been to a post office in Denmark.

Contrariwise I attribute “the time tax” to bureaucracies. The principles under which bureaucracies operate have been well-known for a century. They’re more like single-celled organisms than they are like either mustachio-twirling villains in Victorian melodramas or philosopher-kings. They only live to eat, reproduce, and keep on living. Their putative missions were largely forgotten long ago.

Don’t bother looking for the perfect, efficient benevolent government agency. They’re all the DMV.

Please don’t interpret my remarks as a condemnation of government. I believe that government is necessary. We need governments to secure personal rights, make markets possible, and to promote the common good. I just don’t expect much of it. I certainly don’t expect it to function flawlessly.