18 Jun 2020


Potpourri 11 Comments

==> I know some libertarians still think masks are a sham, but FYI here is Fauci admitting the US government deliberately misled Americans early on, in order to reserve masks for health care workers. (Many of us were cynically speculating that this is what happened, but here he admits it.)

==> Speaking of masks, here is Nassim Taleb on why a lot of commentary is missing the point. E.g.: Even if masks only reduce the probability of transmission by x%, if two people are wearing them, then there is a compound effect.

==> The latest installment in my series on Money Mechanics for Mises. This one is on the Keynesian revolution.

==> My q&a with Ryan McMaken at Mises.org on the Fed.

==> A great Matt Taibbi article on how the media is destroying itself by canceling people who even modestly question some of the extreme justifications for violence in the name of BLM. Look at some of the examples.

==> A great Glenn Greenwald article on how public health officials totally reversed themselves about mass gatherings and coronavirus, once the protests began. Some of these quotes are shocking.

==> I actually know this guy whom Ben Swann interviews about the Infinite Banking Concept. For those interested enough to watch it, please give me your honest feedback.

11 Responses to “Potpourri”

  1. LB says:

    I built a small spreadsheet to look at Taleb’s idea.

    You have an interaction between two people. Both, one or none can wear a mask. Both, one or none can be infected.
    That’s 16 possible combinations.

    There will be no change if both are infected or not infected.

    So it boils down to. With or without a mask what’s the probability of someone infected passing the infection to a non infected person, with or without a mask.

    Receiving probability and passing on probability is not necessarily the same, but the compounding effect has a major effect.

    So I think Taleb is right.

  2. Harold says:

    The Taibbi article is less than convincing. I am sure there is over-reaction and excessive responses to assumed insults. There were a few incidents in the 1990’s of people getting in trouble for using the word “niggardly”, which some found offensive. Whilst the word is etymologically unrelated to the N word, some people do not know this and over-reaction happens. There are many other incidents, so lets look at the examples as Bob suggests.

    UCLA prof under investigation for reading MLK. This is a misleading headline. “”The lecturer also showed a portion of a documentary which included graphic images and descriptions of lynching, with a narrator who quoted the n-word in explaining the history of lynching.” Students found it distressing and asked him to stop, but he continued to show the documentary. The University responded “”We share students’ concerns that the lecturer did not simply pause and reassess their teaching pedagogy to meet the students’ needs.” This is under investigation, which seems reasonable. He was not investigated for reading MLK. The calls for him to be fired appear overblown to me, and I hope the University will act proportionately. I do not have all the details.

    Dadt scientist fired for re-tweeting. Who was this? The link is simply a tweet saying that some un-named data scientist was fired for re-tweeting the paper. More details needed. No results show up in a google search. This is just repeating unsubstantiated rumour.

    Lee Fang. This is of concern. Twitter campaigns have caused harm to quite a few individuals. The bandwagon effect is real and harmful – lots of people jumping on and calling for people to be fired when they have no idea what has happened.

    Bon Apatite magazine – the twitter photo is not the whole story, maybe the final straw. “For their part, staff members said both on social media and in interviews that the photograph was only the latest in a series of missteps and poor treatment of people of color at the publication.” i don’t know the full story, but neither does Taibbi.

    Refinery29. What is the story here? Lots of allegations of discrimination, top editor and co-founder steps down, saying that things have to change. Witch hunt or recognition that the ideals have not been lived up to? I don’t know and neither does Taibbi.

    “Mate especially was right to point out that officials had no evidence for a Trump-Russia collusion case.” there was lots of evidence. Mueller concluded it did not rise to level required for action, but there was lots of evidence.

    There is a problem, with enough clear-cut examples, that the lazy repetition of some of these does not help the argument.

    • Tel says:

      Dadt scientist fired for re-tweeting. Who was this?

      David Shor was fired from the company Civis Analytics.


      Kind of interesting to read … fortunately no Trump supporters were harmed in the making of this drama. When you rummage through the details it becomes clear this might be an excellent time for anyone involved in the “Progressive” movement to gently work their way towards the exit doors and not stand too close to the crazy people when they go off.

      • Harold says:

        From this source it does seem that Shor was a victim of excessive and misplaced zeal. There is sparse information avalable, but your lead at least gives some information about who it was

        Looking at the Twitter thread, Shor’s post had 1,600 likes and Ari Trujillo wessler’s criticism had 59 likes. Seems a very flimsy reason to fire someone.

        • Tel says:

          Neither Shor nor the company has given a public statement about the cause of the firing … it’s all based on connecting dots.

          That said … the dots do appear to point in one particular direction.

  3. Harold says:

    I agree with the main thrust of Taleb’s piece. I do think he is probably wrong about quite a lot. The compounding effect. Epidemiologists do know about this stuff and I very seriously doubt they missed this. The models do not work the way he describes. Similarly with the non-linearity.

    The absence of evidence point is good. This seems to have been adopted for some reason as a way to discourage masks. Possibly because of shortages. I have said for a while that even without conclusive evidence wearing masks seems to be a good idea on a cost/benefit analysis.

    The rapid disappearance of toilet rolls suggest to me that he is wrong about misunderstanding the market. If told masks would work it is a good assumption that people will buy them.

    the strong statistical signals, he may be right, he may be wrong. You have to take into account all the incidences – the statistics of coincidences for example. I do agree that the cumulative evidence is suggestive enough to recommend masks without conclusive evidence.

    The NAP is interesting, because I have wondered about this. Recommending masks ids different from compelling masks. It is OK for private property owners to impose restrictions – i guess it would be a good idea if they provided masks too. But for the Government to require masks is a different matter. Should they do so without sufficient evidence to show it would be useful? Should they do so even with that evidence?

    • guest says:

      “The rapid disappearance of toilet rolls suggest to me that he is wrong about misunderstanding the market. If told masks would work it is a good assumption that people will buy them.”

      But manufacturers want to make a profit off of you. You saw a huge increase in demand for masks, but no increased supply to meet it.

      So, either that means that manufacturers do not want to make a profit, or that something is preventing / disincentivising them from doing so.

      To Taleb’s point, if people are that desparate for masks, I will put a coffee filter in a rag and sell it to you. I might even buy up a ton of them to sell them to you at a high markup – oh wait, the government is preventing you from doing that through price-gouging laws.

      Here’s an excerpt from a book that’s dedicated to the negative effects of price controls. There is example after example of government failing to understand *the same* economic lesson time after time. And don’t let the title of the book fool you, because it reads like multiple stories, rather than a bunch of statistics:

      Forty Centuries of Wage and Price Controls: How Not to Fight Inflation


      In Pennsylvania, where the main force of Washington’s army was quartered in 1777, the situation was even worse. The legislature of that commonwealth decided to try a period of price control limited to those commodities needed for use by the army. The theory was that this policy would reduce the expense of supplying the army and lighten the burden of the war upon the population. The result might have been anticipated by those with some knowledge of the trials and tribulations of other states. The prices of uncontrolled goods, mostly imported, rose to record heights. Most farmers kept back their produce, refusing to sell at what they regarded as an unfair price. Some who had large families to take care of even secretly sold their food to the British who paid in gold.

      After the disastrous winter at Valley Forge when Washington’s army nearly starved to death (thanks largely to these well-intentioned but misdirected laws), the ill-fated experiment in price controls was finally ended. The Continental Congress on June 4, 1778, adopted the following resolution:

      “Whereas. . .it hath been found by experience that limitations upon the prices of commodities are not only ineffectual for the purposes proposed, but likewise productive of very evil consequences to the great detriment of the public service and grievous oppression of individuals. . . resolved, that it be recommended to the several states to repeal or suspend all laws or resolutions within the said states respectively limiting, regulating or restraining the Price of any Article, Manufacture or Commodity.”

      And when the controls were so removed, the repressed inflation immediately boiled out; prices rose to eighty times their pre-war level for a short period before settling down to a level just greater than the pre-war average, where they remained for the next decade.

      By the way, notice how whites suffer the same economic hardships as blacks when they (whites) choose to live by socialist policies. The same thing happened to whites when they first started to colonize North America.

      • Harold says:

        “You saw a huge increase in demand for masks, but no increased supply to meet it.”

        I am sure the supply will rise, but it takes time. In the interim there will be shortages.

        I basically agree with you on price gauging. Prices should rise when supply is limited. What I believe is wrong is, for example, some people exacerbating the shortage by buying up the limited supplies and re-selling at even higher prices becaue the shortage is now even more extreme. If someone can introduce a genuine new supply at the new high price when they could not have done so at the old low price, that is the market working. The key point is that the supply is actually increased.

        There are some situations where price gouging should be discouraged – where it is basically just re-distributing the existing supply. I agree that when toilet rolls are in short supply, the price should be allowed to rise.

        I don’t really understand yout blacks/whites comment.

        • guest says:

          “I am sure the supply will rise, but it takes time. In the interim there will be shortages.”

          When the price is high enough, due to high demand and out of stock stores, that incentivizes production.

          What would it take, like a week, maybe, to bring in the supply required to meet the demand? Assuming the price was high enough to justify an increase in production, that is.

          So, in the interim, the high price would incentivize people to, say, wash then tear up their bedsheets, clothes – whatever – to profit from the higher demand until the increased supply from manufacturers arrived shortly, thereafter.

          Also, there are stories in the “Forty Centuries …” book that show how, even during wartime, when prices were allowed to rise – when people needed those items for survival – those items may have been high priced, but they were at least available and it saved lives where a desire to outlaw price gouging on survival items would have meant that they never would have been created, and then people would starve to death instead of paying high prices.

          Here’s another excerpt from the book. And keep in mind that food is more life-saving than face masks:


          In the sixteenth century misplaced economic controls were decisive in determining the fate of the most important city in what is now Belgium. From 1584 to .585, Antwerp was besieged by Spanish forces led by the Duke of Parma who was intent on maintaining the rule of the Habsburg Empire in the Lowlands. Naturally, during a siege, food quickly becomes a scarce commodity and prices accordingly rise. The City Fathers of Antwerp reacted as many others in their position have done before and since: they passed a law fixing a maximum price for each item of food. Severe penalties were prescribed for anyone who attempted to charge the market price.

          “The consequences of this policy were twofold,” according to the historian John Fiske. “It was a long time before the Duke of Parma, who was besieging the city, succeeded in so blockading the Scheldt as to prevent ships laden with eatables from coming in below. Corn and preserved meats might have been hurried into the beleaguered city by thousands of tons. But no merchant would run the risk of having his ships sunk by the Duke’s batteries merely for the sake of finding a market no better than many others which could be reached at no risk at all. . . . If provisions had brought a high price in Antwerp they would have been carried thither. As it was the city, by its own stupidity, blockaded itself far more effectually than the Duke of Parma could have done.”

          “In the second place,” Fiske concludes, “the enforced lowness of prices prevented any general retrenchment on the part of the citizens. Nobody felt it necessary to economize. So the city lived in high spirits until all at once provisions gave out. . . .”10 In 1585 the city of Antwerp surrendered and was occupied by the forces of Spain.

          A similar but even worse disaster, made more costly still by government bungling, occurred in the Indian province of Bengal in the eighteenth century. The rice crop in 1770 failed completely and fully a third of the population died. A number of scholars attribute this disaster primarily to the rigid policy of the government which was determined to keep the price of grains down rather than allow it to rise to its natural level. …”

          “… For at least once in human history, however, government did learn by experience. Ninety-six years later, the province of Bengal was again on the verge of famine. This time the procedure was completely different, as William Hunter relates:

          Far from trying to check speculation, as in 1770, the Government did all in its power to stimulate it …”

          “… In the earlier famine one could hardly engage in the grain trade without becoming amenable to the law. In 1866 respectable men in vast numbers went into the trade; for the Government, by publishing weekly returns of the rates in every district, rendered the traffic both easy and safe. Everyone knew where to buy grain cheapest and where to sell it dearest and food was accordingly bought from the districts which could best spare it and carried to those which most urgently needed it.

          The experience of Bengal, which had two failed harvests of major proportions within a century, provided a laboratory for testing the two policies. In the earlier case, price-fixing was enforced and a third of the people perished; in the latter case, the free market was allowed to function and the shortage was kept under control.

          “I don’t really understand yout blacks/whites comment.”

          What I mean is that what blacks call “systemic racism” can easily be explained by the black community’s “systemic socialism”.

          As Joe Biden alluded, there are sets of beliefs to which blacks typically hold that are favored more by Biden than by Trump (which is not *as* true as Biden makes it out to be).

          Those beliefs are largely socialist. Well, socialism has bad economic consequences, and an entire race (generally speaking) has chosen to live by an economic system that doesn’t work.

          And since whites have generally not embraced socialism (at least not to the degree the black community has), they are generally going to do better than blacks.

          As soon as blacks embrace laissez-faire economics, so-called systemic racism will vanish.

          And by the way, now that South Africa has yet again taken white farmers’ lands (and apparently they can’t feed themselves, yet again, and are begging for help), as an experiment what they should do is continue to keep white people out, but this time embrace laissez-faire.

          Stay black. Try laissez-faire. See what happens.

          • Harold says:

            “What would it take, like a week, maybe, to bring in the supply required to meet the demand? ”
            For toilet rolls, the real demand did not change at all. People carried on wiping their arses at the same rate as before, but they now had 50 rolls on the shelf instead of 10 rolls. After 2 weeks, stock was as before, and there was no problem getting toilet rolls. There was no ral need to increae production, because the people will just be buying fewer toilet rolls in the future.

            A price rise as the short-term demand rose would have reduced the demand, and flattened the curve.

            That is not the situation for masks, where there was essentially no demand in the general population, then suddenly there would be a huge demand.

            The important take-away is thet even when there is no increase in real demand, temporary shortages arise when incentives to stock up occur. When real demand also rises, it would be almost bilnd to expect that it would not lead to shortages.

            “What I mean is that what blacks call “systemic racism” can easily be explained by the black community’s “systemic socialism”.”

            Unfortunately, you are revealing a fundamental and serious lack of understanding. I doubt there is any hope for you, but some others may yet be saved.

            I could go into a description if sytemic racism, but I think you are simply not able to understand it, so it would be a pointless exercise.

            But just as a quick execrcise, I presume you agree that racism existed during slavery? and tha racism existed during Jim Crow? I can personally attest that it was blatant in Philadelphia in 1989. In 2000 only 64% of americans approved of marriage between backs and whites. Yes, a huge “improvement” on the 4% who believed so in 1959, but revealing a large racist element. When do you think it disappeared?

            Don’t get me wrong, blacks and everybody else are racist too. It is not just white people. But in the USA, the white people essentially have the power, so their racism affects people more directly than the racism of black people. When (if) black people have the power, then we will have to pay much more attention to their racism.

            You may find it convenient to ignore the issue, by saying it is because of the politics black people adopt, so they desreve what they get. You do not need to address this issue -it is not race it is politics. You are simply burying your head in the sand and telling yourself comforting stories.

  4. skylien says:

    Jean Claude Juncker (Former President of the European Commission):

    “When it becomes serious you have to lie”

    Just for info: Politicians are serious almost all of the time!

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