Who Decides?

Who decides what we eat, drink, and how to go about being merry? Societies range from those that rely heavily on government determination to those that leave most choices to individuals. At one end of the spectrum, the government determines what it is healthy or safe for us to consume and do and at the other end each person freely makes their own decisions about most aspects of their life.  Neither of these extremes is absolute, of course. At the freedom end we are not free to violate the freedom of others (steal their property, assault their bodies, etc.).  At the cradle-to-the-grave -government-protection end we safely eat, drink, and enjoy the activities the government allows us to.

America flourished economically and culturally because we were largely free to make our own decisions. Government largely enforced property rights and public safety and provided information on which we could make better informed private choices. We innovated and took calculated risks with the deployment of our ideas and flourished.

In recent decades the government has increasingly restricted our choices to what it determined was good or safe.  The superiority of our private choices depends on how well informed and responsible we are. While we and the government may both think we are motivated to act in our personal best interest, the incentive to get it right is stronger for the individual actor.  And incentives always matter.

Take but one example—the “War on Drugs.”  Despite this war, 11,712 people died from drug overdoses in 2000 rising in two decades to 83,558 in 2020 (from 6,190 to 64,183 for opioids). “Drug overdose deaths-fentanyl-Greenville NC” I believe, with many others, that ending the drug war (legalizing the purchase and consumption of them) and instead educating the public about their effects (honest, fact-based information) would reduce such deaths.

The growing, selling and consuming of Cannabis is now legal in 21 states. When I gave into the social pressure in college to take a drag as a joint was passed around, I learned that it makes me less social. Wine was my better option. Not only do I enjoy wine, but I appreciate its socializing properties.  So, it has probably been 50 years since I have smoked marijuana. Its not clear whether its legalization along with better information and education on its pros and cons will increase or decrease or leave unchanged its consumption. The destructive prohibition of alcohol and the organized crime syndicates that grew up to circumvent it and its subsequent repeal did not eliminate the damage that alcoholism visited on some people.  However, Americans have generally benefited from the reliance on education and persuasion rather than government coercion.  Rather than crime syndicates to distribute illegal booze, we have AA and health facilities to help those who have not been able to resist overusing it.

Challenging and sensitive examples concern racial, sexual and religious discrimination.  The Civil Rights Law of 1964 attempted to address racial discrimination but in some ways overreached. The case of same sex marriage and the cake baker come to mind. We are still struggling to find the best balance between potentially conflicting individual rights.  I fail to see how the refusal of a baker to cook for the marriage of two men (which violates his religious beliefs), interferes with their right and ability to marry —an arrangement society has always seen as beneficial and important (and thus not to be denied to homosexuals).

The case of affirmative action also provides a challenging example of addressing a problem with social attitudes vs coercion. The Supreme Court decided in 1978 that the prohibition against racial discrimination could be violated for a temporary period in the interest of greater racial diversity and balance.  Harvard University chose to discriminate against Asian students, who would have been overrepresented if admitted on the basis of academic merit only, in order to admit a larger number of African Americans.  Asian students have challenged Harvard’s policy and the Supreme Court is expected to rule next year in “STUDENTS FOR FAIR ADMISSIONS, INC., Petitioner, v. PRESIDENT & FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE, Respondent” on the question “Should this Court overrule Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003), and hold that institutions of higher education cannot use race as a factor in admissions?”

I believe that a public discussion of the benefits of diversity to schools and other institutions as well its contribution toward overcoming earlier and existing negative discrimination against African Americans is the more promising and flexible approach to this issue than government coercion. I find it interesting that many federal court judges take race into account in hiring their clerks.  “Appeals court judges consider race of their clerks”  This is also an interesting perspective: “How liberals lost their way on affirmative action”

The times are changing

In 1978 China began to free up and open its economy to move its economic policies toward ours. Although the Communist Party of China remained in complete control of the political domain, the growth in China’s economy was dramatic. “According to the World Bank, more than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty; China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015, as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms.” “Poverty in China”

As I wrote 11 years ago: “Chinese people strike me as more like us than most any other people (including Europeans) I have met. And who do I mean by “us?” I don’t mean just Anglo Saxons like myself. I mean the hard working, innovative, entrepreneur types who are creating most of the wealth in this country like Google founders, Larry Page (American born Jew) and Sergey Brin (Russian born Jew), or Steve Jobs, who was born in San Francisco to a Syrian father and German-American mother, as well as many Anglo Saxons like myself.” ‘My G20 trip to China”

Sadly, Xi Jinping has been reversing this free market trend with very damaging results to economic growth and personal privacy and freedom in China.  

Sadder still, the United States has reversed direction since 9/11 as well, though more slowly. Not only has our government increasingly intruded into our privacy (it didn’t end with Edward Snowden’s revelations:  “Civil rights-Brennan-domestic terror-white supremacy”), but it has flooded the economy with excessive regulations, increasing trade restrictions and even the launch of industrial policies and subsidies that violate WTO rules. “US chip war to hit allies as hard as it does China”   “Competing with China” Our championing of the rule of law is growing increasingly hollow. Asset forfeiture provides but one example: Coats on the abuse of civil forfeiture”  and George Will on civil forfeiture nightmare”

How can this be? Why do we seem to want to be more like China? Many of today’s voters had not been born when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. We must make the case for free markets and limited government again and again, but in a way that is understood by, and appeals to the concerns and sensitivities of, generations X and Z and our future children.   “Global protests-democracy-autocracy”

Econ 101:  Student Loan Forgiveness

“The Biden administration recently announced it will forgive roughly $500 billion in student debt…. Borrowers whose income was under $125,000 ($250,000 if married) in either 2020 or 2021 are eligible.” “Does Biden’s student debt forgiveness achieve his stated goals” Biden would forgive this government guaranteed debt by executive order. Congress has not passed a law authorizing it. In my opinion, it should be and presumably will be overturned by the Supreme Court as an overreach of executive authority. 

Many people who claim to champion social justice and more equal income distribution favor Biden’s proposal. I assume that they don’t really understand what they wish for. While I covered these issues seven years ago, perhaps some memories should be refreshed:  “Two approaches to American governance-the case of higher education financing”

The basic facts are that, aside from the idle rich who might attend college solely for cultural enrichment (which is nice if you can afford it), people attend college to acquire the knowledge and skills that enable them to earn higher incomes than otherwise. “According to new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median annual wage for a full-time worker ages 22 to 27 with a high school diploma is $30,000. For a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree, it’s $52,000…. The return on investment for a college degree is substantial — worth upwards of $800,000 or more in increased earnings over a lifetime.”   “Wage gap-college-high school grads”  For taxpayers to pay for this education would transfer income from the middle-income class to the higher-income class, not something that social justice champions can justify. Multiple private and government programs pay for low-income students to attend college.

As the amount of student borrowing has skyrocketed, so has the cost of college. “Over the past several decades, the cost of higher education has increased dramatically, more than doubling since 1985 at both public and private universities.” While some have attributed the incomes in the cost of college to the easy access to government guaranteed loans (especially if they don’t have to be repaid), evidence: “points instead to administrative growth as reactive to consumer demand and regulatory requirements….    Most colleges today operate their own systems of justice to comply with federal regulations like Title IX, and HR departments have grown apace with changes in federal regulations about hiring practices.” “A new theory of rising college costs”

“Administrative spending comprised just 26% of total educational spending by American colleges in 1980-1981, while instructional spending comprised 41%. Three decades later, the two categories were almost even: administrative spending made up 24% of schools’ total expenditures, while instructional spending made up 29%…. The factors that drive universities to hire more administrators can be boiled down to a few main explanations, often reflecting a shifting landscape in the higher education, including government regulations, competition between schools, and a modern population of students with increasing needs…. Perhaps most controversial is an increasing raft of federal and state regulations that universities must abide by: the Clery Act, which requires campuses to report their crime activity; new Title IX regulations that govern the handling of sexual assault; and Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requirements for providing educational records….   A Vanderbilt study of 13 colleges and universities found that regulatory compliance comprises 3 to 11% of schools’ nonhospital operating expenses, taking up 4 to 15% of faculty and staff’s time….  And on a deeper level, colleges and universities are simply being asked to do more. Families expect their sons and daughters to have access to career assistance, readily available health services or counselors if they’re struggling with a mental illness.” “Bureaucrats and buildings-the case for why college is so expensive”

Those choosing to invest in college who are not helped by family and friends and have not worked and saved enough to cover the cost, generally have no credit record or collateral to offer banks or other outside lenders. This is what motivated the government guaranteed student loan program. For the future we should consider college financing arrangements in which the lender has “skin in the game.” To repeat from my blog seven years ago: Milton Friedman in 1955 and repeated in Capitalism and Freedom in 1962 made an interesting proposal for sharing the risk of investing in higher education between the borrowing student and the lender. “Enter income-share agreements ( ISAs ), which are essentially equity instruments for human capital. Investors finance a student’s college education in return for a percentage of their future income over a fixed period. ISAs are not loans and there is no outstanding balance. If students earn more than expected, they will pay more, but they also will pay less—or nothing—if their earnings do not materialize.”   “from the Wall Street Journal”

The Student Success Act proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Rep. Tom Petri (R., Wis.) almost a decade ago (but never adopted) would provide for the collection and publishing of information on the cost and average earnings of graduates of different colleges and fields, which would help students choose where and how to invest in their futures. We need to improve the information on which young people base their college and career choices and ensure that those who would benefit from college but can’t afford it at the time are not there by prevented from doing so. But otherwise, students choosing to benefit from college should pay for their investment.

The difference between Bitcoin and FTX

Bitcoin is a digital currency (cryptocurrency) that can be paid to another bitcoin user willing to accept it via a blockchain account.  It is backed by nothing and promises nothing. Its US dollar value has fallen from $65,496 on November 14, 2021, to $15,630 on November 21, 2022.

“FTX Exchange was a leading centralized cryptocurrency exchange specializing in derivatives and leveraged products. Founded in 2018, FTX offered a range of trading products, including derivatives, options, volatility products, and leveraged tokens. It also provided spot markets in more than 300 cryptocurrency trading pairs such as BTC/USDT, ETH/USDT, XRP/USDT, and its native token FTT/USDT.12 In early November 2022, the exchange and the companies in its orbit began a steep fall from grace….  According to its bankruptcy filing, FTX, which was once valued at $32 billion and has $8 billion of liabilities it can’t pay, may have as many as 1 million creditors…. On November 16, a class-action lawsuit was filed in a Florida federal court, alleging that Sam Bankman-Fried created a fraudulent cryptocurrency scheme designed to take advantage of unsophisticated investors from across the country. ” “FTX exchange”

The difference between Bitcoin and FTX is that Bitcoin is a digital coin/token that some believe might achieve wide adoption as money and thus a stable demand that could stabilize its price. In my opinion, this is HIGHLY unlikely. I explained this potential eight years ago: “Cryptocurrencies the bitcoin phenomena”   “The future of bitcoin exchanges”  But most people buying Bitcoin are gambling that they can sell it for a higher price than they paid for it (first cousins to slot machine addicts).

On the other hand, FTX and its related products and services promised real things and to play by known rules (contracts). On November 11, FTX and its affiliated firms were put into bankruptcy. Billions of dollars where missing? Founder Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) claims that he was just careless. It appears more likely that he was a lying fraudster. “An attorney also said the firm had been run as a ‘personal fiefdom’ of Bankman-Fried with $300 million spent on real estate such as homes and vacation properties for senior staff.” “Crypto lender genesis says no plans to file bankruptcy imminently”  Presumably to promote himself as a good guy and to win influential friends, SBF also contributed millions to charities and politicians. 

Most crypto product and service providers want regulations that will give potential investors and customers more confidence in their products but that will not stifle the potential creativity of a dynamic industry.  Hopefully congress will get on with it — carefully. “Crypto bill criticized”

“Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the FTX exchange and Alameda Research, a cryptocurrency trading platform, seemed to confuse his bank and his companies. According to John Ray, the new CEO in charge of the restructuring of his empire which went bankrupt on November 11, Bankman-Fried received a personal loan of $1 billion from Alameda. He is not alone: ​​the firm, which is a kind of cryptocurrency hedge fund, has also lent $543 million in personal loan to Nishad Singh, an associate of Bankman-Friend, and $55 million to Ryan Salame, the co-CEO of FTX Digital Markets, one of FTX’s affiliates.  

“’Never in my career have I seen such a complete failure of corporate controls and such a complete absence of trustworthy financial information as occurred here,’ Ray wrote. ‘From compromised systems integrity and faulty regulatory oversight abroad, to the concentration of control in the hands of a very small group of inexperienced, unsophisticated and potentially compromised individuals, this situation is unprecedented.’”  “Bankman-Fried received 1bn in personal loan from his company”

“Bankman-Fried’s net worth peaked at $26 billion.[11] In October 2022, he had an estimated net worth of $10.5 billion.[12] However, on November 8, 2022, amid FTX’s solvency crisis, his net worth was estimated to have dropped 94% in a day to $991.5 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, the largest one-day drop in the index’s history.[13][10] By November 11, 2022, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index considered Bankman-Fried to have no material wealth.[14]”  “Sam Bankman-Fried”

I assume that jail is next, perhaps in the cell previously used by Bernie Madoff.

If you subscribe to The Economist you can read fascinating details here: “The failure of ftx and Sam Bankman-Fried will leave deep scars”

We are shrinking

It seems that many Gen Xers and Gen Zs do not understand the huge benefits of free markets and trade that have lifted millions out of poverty. As someone who cares about the poor and about my own liberty and well-being, I do my best to help educate them. Here are two of my blogs on trade:  “Tony Judt on trade”   “Trade protection and corruption” 

Unfortunately, the Trump and Biden administrations have increasingly moved us in the wrong direction of “protecting” American producers from foreign competition. See for example the following report from the excellent news aggregator and reporter Semafor  https://www.semafor.com/

A transatlantic EV trade dispute

President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act threatens Europe’s electric car industry, according to the EU. One concern is the introduction of tax credits for U.S. EV manufacturers. The EU says this will harm overseas automakers such as Germany’s Volkswagen. South Korean officials have similar concerns for Hyundai’s exports. A few weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron suggested a “Buy European Act” to counteract U.S. and Chinese protectionism, while his finance minister said that the entire “level playing field between the United States and Europe” is at stake.”

With the excuse of national defence, we are playing dirty in our competition with China. We are giving up some of the win win benefits of trade to protect relatively inefficient domestic producers. We should not let our government and the crony capitalists it is protecting get away with such short sighted corruption. “Competing with- China”

Lockdown Lessons Learned During Covid

We are two and a half years into the Covid-19 pandemic. Data has accumulated on the effectiveness of lockdowns in reducing deaths and of the costs associated with lockdowns. The overall effectiveness of lockdowns must consider both aspects. Moreover, lockdowns took different forms in different places—total, targeted, etc.  Dyani Lewis has provided a very careful review of the major studies of these data in Nature  “What Scientist have Learnt from Covid Lockdowns

To overcome issues of correctly attributing deaths to Covid, excess deaths is generally used (excess from all causes each period over the recent—usually five year– average for the same period). “The pre-vaccine period of the pandemic does show that countries that acted harshly and swiftly — the ‘go hard, go fast’ approach — often fared better than those that waited to implement lockdown policies. China’s harsh lockdowns eliminated COVID-19 locally, for a time.” But the economic and public moral costs in China are very large and continue to mount. “The most effective measures were policies banning small gatherings and closing businesses and schools, closely followed by land-border restrictions and national lockdowns. Less-intrusive measures — such as government support for vulnerable populations, and risk-communication strategies — also had an impact. Airport health checks, however, had no discernible benefit….

“The impacts of lockdowns also differed from one pandemic wave to the next. By the time second waves emerged, so much had been learnt about the virus that people’s behaviour was quite different…. These changes dampened the extent to which countries benefited from lockdowns” because people adjusted on their own.

“There’s a fundamental difficulty with analysing the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns: it is hard to know what would have happened in their absence…. [Many studies] could have overstated the size of the benefit because it assumes that without lockdown mandates, people wouldn’t have reduced their social contacts. In reality, rising deaths would probably have changed people’s behaviour….

“And lockdown policies did bring costs. Although they delayed outbreaks, saving lives by allowing countries to hang on for vaccines and drugs, they also brought significant social isolation and associated mental-health problems, rising rates of domestic violence and violence against women, cancelled medical appointments and disruption to education for children and university students. And they were often (although not always) accompanied by economic downturns….

“Pure economic analyses of whether lockdowns were worth it generally try to estimate the value of lives saved and compare that with the costs of economic downturns. But there is no consensus on how to make this comparison…. Not all harms can be [objectively measured]. Loss of education because of school closures might indirectly harm children in the long run, potentially decreasing their future earnings and placing them at greater risk of poorer health outcomes…. Such harms are so far off — decades, in some cases.”

Learning the lessons that experience teaches us is very important when formulating public policy. But extracting those lessons can be difficult. Lewis’s summary is the best I have read, and I urge you to read it. I continue to believe that when we are provided the best understanding available (which obviously grows over time) we will each make the best decisions for ourselves and our families, striking the balance that is best for each of us.

Competing with China

China is now our main economic and political rival. Our proper and honorable response should be to strengthen our side—to be the best that we can be—in the way that one athletic team would fairly compete with another. Instead, we seem to be following the Michael Corleone—God Father—script of knee capping the enemy. Worse still, rather than pulling China into compliance with the international rules of commerce, we are moving toward their failing system of central guidance (industrial policy) of investment.

Deng Xiaoping, who served as the “paramount leader” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from December 1978 to November 1989, ended Mao’s repressive economic policies thus freeing up much of the economy under policies dubbed “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Deng became known as the “Architect of Modern China.” “Since China began to open up and reform its economy in 1978, GDP growth has averaged almost 10 percent a year, and more than 800 million people have lifted themselves out of poverty.” When Xi Jinping took the throne in 2013, China’s annual GDP growth rate was 7.8%. As he increasingly reversed Deng’s economic liberalizations, China’s growth rate has steadily declined and is expected to average 2.8% in 2022. “World Bank – China”

The dramatic economic growth around the world since the start of the industrial revolution is founded in private property and trade. Trade enables individuals (and families) to specialize in what they have a comparative advantage in producing and trade it for what their neighbors are better at. Both are wealthier as a result. “Econ-101-Trade in very simple terms”    “Benefits of free trade”

Following President Richard Nixon’s page turning first visit to the Peoples Republic of China in 1972, when China’s total exports had drifted down from 4.3% of China’s GDP in 1960 ($2.6 billion) to 3.25% ($3.7 billion), until the U.S. formally established full diplomatic relations with the PRC under Deng in 1979, when its total exports were 5.16% of its GDP ($9.2 billion), exports remained a small part of China’s economic output. U.S. diplomatic recognition opened the door to increased trade with China.

At the time, a friend asked me what China could possibly produce that we would want to buy (I swear). While Chica’s exports changed little over those 19 years as a share of its GDP, it increased threefold in dollar value as a result of Chica’s overall economic growth.

Over the next 19 years (1979-1998) following Deng’s economic liberalization, China’s exports rose to 18.34% of its GDP and to $188.8 billion in absolute terms (over 20 times its exports in 1979). Income growth in developing countries normally reflect investment in capital, but in China’s case the larger share of its spectacular growth after its liberalization resulted from the improved efficiency of its resource allocations (increased labor and capital productivity). According to an IMF study “Analysis of the pre- and post-1978 periods indicates that the market-oriented reforms undertaken by China were critical in creating this productivity boom…. Prior to the 1978 reforms, nearly four in five Chinese worked in agriculture; by 1994, only one in two did. Reforms expanded property rights in the countryside and touched off a race to form small nonagricultural businesses in rural areas.” “Why Is China Growing So Fast”

But to maximize the win-win feature of trade, each person/firm must make its decisions about what to produce and trade without distorting outside interference (taxes, subsidies, buy American, etc.). Thus, communities develop rules and norms for “fair” trade. When trade extended beyond the community to the entire world, individuals and countries could maximize the mutual benefits of trade by extending such rules internationally. The U.S. had high protective tariffs on some Chinese goods under the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 (the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act of 1934 allowed the US President to negotiate bilateral tariff reductions). China had many restrictions on foreign investments in China and a variety of government interventions in its export markets. These restrictive measures needed to be addressed as part of granting China membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

From joining the WTO at the end of 2001, China’s $272.1 billion in exports exploded to almost $3,550 billion over the next 19 years (2020), an increase of 13 times (essentially the same share of its GDP as the result of its extraordinary growth in total output). China’s imports followed a similar, but modestly lower, path, raising from 4.4% of GDP ($2.6 billion) to 17.42% of GDP ($3.090 billion) in 2020.  Prior to China’s admission into the WTO what had historically been generally balanced trade (imports and exports generally balanced) rose to a trade surplus of 4.45% in 1997. China sold more abroad than it bought from abroad and bought U.S. debt and property with the resulting surplus. It was hoped and expected that China’s pursuit of an export promotion policy based on an undervaluation of its exchange rate would be reined in by its adoption of WTO rules.

The Peoples Bank of China requested technical assistance from the IMF with complying with WTO requirements. In July 2002 the IMF sent me to discuss and organize the assistance for what was one of my most enjoyable missions (VIP tours of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and some fabulous dinners). They wanted an American banking supervisor. One of my conditions was that he be given an office with an open door with the rest of the Chinese supervisors. The Deputy Governor approved our agreement, but the Governor vetoed it reflecting the existence of conflicting views on China’s way forward. The primary difference with the officials I talked to was how fast China should liberalize. They all agreed on the direction. The IMF report cited above stated that: “By welcoming foreign investment, China’s open-door policy has added power to the economic transformation. Cumulative foreign direct investment, negligible before 1978, reached nearly US$100 billion in 1994; annual inflows increased from less than 1 percent of total fixed investment in 1979 to 18 percent in 1994.” Direct foreign investment in 1994 was $34 billion and in 2020 it was $253 billion.

China’s gradual liberalization of its restrictions on capital outflows have resulted in larger outflows than inflows since early 2020. Between February and July of this year (2022), China suffered a record net outflow of US$81 billion via the Stock Connect and Bond Connect mechanisms, according to data from the Institute of International Finance (IIF). 

As developing countries catch up to the developed country leaders, their growth rates are expected to slow. But China’s continued heavy government direction of investment, while producing impressive high-speed trains and many thousands of high-rise apartments, and the resulting level of wasteful malinvestment is increasingly taking its toll. After speaking at a People’s Bank of China and Reinventing Bretton Woods conference in Hangzhou in 2014, I continued West to participate in the Astana Economic Forum, in Astana, Kazakhstan, stopping overnight in Urumqi, China, to celebrate my 72 birthday and change planes. Driving from the airport into a lovely Sheraton Hotel in downtown Urumqi, I passed row upon row of empty high-rise apartments (it was evening, and they were all dark) now the source of a major real estate crisis.

When Xi Jinping took over as China’s leader in 2013, the unfinished project of economic liberalization was stopped and put into reverse. The slowing of China’s growth rate accelerated. Clyde Prestowitz reported that: “The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has long operated the economy on the basis of five year plans. In 2015, the new five year plan included the objective of: Made in China 2025. It listed a range of hi technology items with a target for making them in China by the year 2025. Semiconductors were high on the list, and as an advisor at the time to Intel, I can say that China exerted enormous pressure on that company and many others to move their production of semiconductor chips to China” “Tom Friedman has Biden and China Backward”

We are competing with China just as every firm competes with every other firm. It is mutually advantageous for both economies to grow. It is win win. But neither of us fully plays by the rules of fair trade. What should we do? While adopting policies to strengthen our own economy, we should encourage China to fulfil its WTO obligations. We are doing the opposite. We are taking the God Father mobster approach. As Edward Luce put it in the Financial Times: “Imagine that a superpower declared war on a great power and nobody noticed. Joe Biden this month launched a full-blown economic war on China — all but committing the US to stopping its rise — and for the most part, Americans did not react”  “Containing China is Biden’s Explicit Goal”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared that “Globalisation has been a success story that enabled prosperity for many people. We must defend it…. Decoupling is the wrong answer…. 

We don’t have to decouple from some countries,… I say emphatically we must continue to do business with China.” “Decoupling China wrong answer says German leader”

“Mr. Xi and President Biden should focus their efforts on the future they seek, rather than the one they fear…. If a peaceful — if competitive — coexistence is the ultimate objective, Washington and Beijing do not need to knock each other out to win.” Jessica Chen Weiss in NY Times

We are restricting and reducing trade rather than encouraging its expansion. Not only has President Biden left former President Trump’s unjustified and damaging steel and aluminum tariffs in place (including on Canada) on national security grounds, but we have also directly knee-capped Chinese industries (Huawei, semiconductor chip supplies, etc.). “On 7 October, the Biden administration imposed a sweeping set of export controls that included measures to cut China off from certain semiconductor chips and chip-making equipment. Under these rules, US companies must cease supplying Chinese chipmakers with equipment that can produce relatively advanced chips unless they first obtain a licence.” “What do US curbs on selling microchips to China mean for the global economy”

Historically, such measures, as well as tariffs and bans on certain imports, have been motivated by protecting domestic firms or industries. “The Reign of Polite Protectionism”  The Jones Act of 1917, which forbids shipping goods between US ports in anything other than US built ships, is one of the most useless and embarrassing such laws (ask Puerto Rico). Banning the sale of some items to China can have a military justification but drawing the line between justifiable security concerns and the protection of uncompetitive domestic firms can be difficult. Trump’s 25% tariff on Canadian steel was (but cannot honestly be) justified on national security grounds. Whither justified or not, such restrictions make China and the U.S. (and the rest of the world) poorer. “Next salvo in Biden’s tech war on China expected to aim at quantum computing parts and artificial intelligence software.”  “US mulling bans to stunt China’s quantum computing”  Such restriction are examples of the knee-capping approach to competing with our rivals. “Trade protection and corruption”

But worse still we are now increasingly adopting China’s approach to economic management by the state—so called industrial policy. The recently adopted Inflation Reduction Act, for example, along with measures to reduce carbon omissions, subsidizes the domestic production of solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, and the processing of some critical minerals. A good economic case can be made for encouraging the use of low or non-carbon emitting sources of energy such as with the carbon taxes imposed in Europe. But there is no good case for incurring the higher cost of subsidizing the manufacture of low carbon emitting energy sources in the U.S. The same applies to subsidizing the domestic production of semiconductor chips as is established in this Act. The historical experience with government selection and support of particular products or technologies is not good to say the least. The Trump administration’s promise to buy successful Covid vaccines was a much better and very successful approach to encouraging the private sector.

“French President Emmanuel Macron slammed US trade and energy policies for creating “a double standard” with Europe…. He complained that ‘they allow state aid going to up to 80% on some sectors while it’s banned here — you get a double standard…. It comes down to the sincerity of transatlantic trade….’ The EU has been chafing over the US stimulus package known as the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides subsidies for electric cars made in North America.” “Macron accuses US of trade double standard amid energy crunch”

The financial incentive for corruption in obtaining government financial support is obvious. But even without it, government agents are at best just as good at determining and funding the best new and promising technologies for the future as are private entrepreneurs. The difference is that the private entrepreneurs are risking their own money and the government is risking yours and my money. The vast majority of such undertakings fail. When funded by the government, however, there is less financial pressure to fold and move on when outcompeted by better products. The government landscape is littered with white elephants.  “Questioning industrial policy”

Our China related policies have become damaging to the US and the West in almost every respect. “The China Initiative, launched in 2018 by the administration of former US president Donald Trump, aimed to fight suspected Chinese theft of technical secrets and intellectual property as competition between the two countries intensified…. At least 1,400 US-based ethnic Chinese scientists switched their affiliation last year from American to Chinese institutions,… The US had been ‘losing talent to China for a while and particularly after the China Initiative’,” “1400 US based ethnic Chinese scientists exited American institutions”  Not only do they return with Western technical knowledge but they also return with a fondness for Western values and freedom. Many Chinese retain that fondness and the desire to import more of it into China. We should not kill off those desires.

Doug Bandow offers sound advice: “There is still much for the West to do. The future is not set, and contra Xi’s boastful rhetoric, freedom still is the better bet for the world. Washington should start by addressing its own weaknesses. Free and allied states can constrain the PRC when necessary while cooperating with Beijing when possible, addressing Chinese abuses without adopting the PRC’s authoritarian and collectivist strategies. Americans should continue to engage the Chinese people, especially the young, showing respect for a great civilization while making the case for a free rather than totalitarian society. America can remember the crises she has overcome in the past, and confidently confront the China challenge today.” “Xi plays Mao without the madness”

A land of Immigrants

Ken Burns’ latest documentary (with his co-directors Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein), “The U.S. and the Holocaust” is a well-timed reminder of Americans mixed views on immigration. As we all know, aside from the native Americans living here when Europeans began arriving, all of us, or our ancestors, are immigrants. But once here, many Americans decided that was enough and further immigration should be significantly curtailed.

The Burns’ documentary also reminds us of immigration seen from the perspective of those wanting to come.  Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, some of us will remember cheering as East Germans escaped from East Berlin in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). We were happy to see them escape their communist oppressors, but some were less happy to see them arrive in their own countries. But logically, if someone leaves one country, they must enter another. “Emigration and Immigration”

Immigrants fall into two broad categories: those fleeing persecution or mistreatment and those seeking better opportunities in new countries (America’s promised land). Some combine both motives. Not all asylum seekers desire to move to wealthier lands. Many Jews fleeing Germany hoped to return to their homeland after the era of Hitler. They chose to move temporarily to nearby countries such as the Netherlands, France, Poland, and Belgium. Otto Frank of the “Diary of Ann Frank” fame moved his family to Amsterdam.

“The U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 44.8 million in 2018.  Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Today those born abroad account for 13.7% of the U.S. population, nearly triple the share (4.8%) in 1970. However, today’s immigrant share remains below the record 14.8% share in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S…. More than 1 million immigrants now arrive in the U.S. each year….  New immigrant arrivals have fallen, mainly due to a decrease in the number of unauthorized immigrants coming to the U.S. The drop in the unauthorized immigrant population can primarily be attributed to more Mexican immigrants leaving the U.S. than coming in.” “Key findings about U.S. immigrants”

The American economy and the standard of living of the average household have benefited enormously from immigration. Those seeking better opportunities are disproportionately the best and the brightest from their home countries. The founders and heads of some of our best fintec companies were born abroad.  In fact, surprisingly, population growth in general in countries with free markets, property rights and rule of law has increased the standard of living enormously for almost everyone. From the emergence of humans individual living standards barely changed. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago created a small improvement. That changed with discovery of the “new world” and related expansion of trade 530 years ago and accelerated with the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution just 350 years ago. In the last 60 years per capita real incomes increased 2,414% in Ireland and 232% in Mexico (the least growth of those countries for which there was data). Over the last 40 years alone per capita real income in China doubled every 7.1 years. Between 1900 – 2018 the average real income of unskilled workers in the U.S. increased 1,473%. These and other amazing data can be found in “Superabundance” and extraordinary collection of very interesting income and resource data.

Accepting refugees has a different purpose and motivation. We accept immigrants for our benefit and we accept refugees for their benefit. Countries have an obligation to provide asylum to anyone who arrives at their territory with reason to fear persecution under the convention’s criteria. Ken Burns Holocaust documentary confronts us graphically with why this is necessary.   “Asylum in the United States”

Asylum seekers are a small fraction of total immigration each year. In FY 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year with available data, 46,508 individuals were granted asylum.  Most immigrants entering the U.S. each year are joining family already here or looking for better opportunities (better lives).  As noted above they invariably contribute to raising incomes of those of us already here.  

There are many problems with our immigration rules and their administration. Congress has tried for decades to address them without success. But the recent political stunts by the governors of Texas and Florida reflect America at its ugliest.

“The group of 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week had nearly all recently arrived from Venezuela. Another group of 100 dropped outside the vice president’s Washington, D.C., residence this weekend also included those fleeing the country. And buses sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) largely included Venezuelans. 

“The U.S. in recent weeks has seen an even greater shift in migration from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.”  “GOP stunts with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce”

Governor DeSantis and Abbott where not helping these refugees await their court hearings in greater comfort. They did not alert the authorities in Martha’s Vineyard, Chicago, or DC to prepare for their arrival. Their purpose was to share the burden with (and punish) “sanctuary cities”. Their purpose was to make a political statement using the refugees as innocent pawns.

A “suit was filed in federal court in Massachusetts. It takes aim at DeSantis, Florida Secretary of Transportation Jared Perdue and the state of Florida.

“The core of the case is the allegation that the migrants were coaxed onto the flights by false promises — “fraudulent inducement” in legal terms — and that this means DeSantis and his allies infringed those migrants’ rights and committed fraud.

“It asserts that migrants were approached outside a shelter in San Antonio by mysterious people who won their trust by supplying them with minimal benefits such as McDonald’s vouchers.”   “What you need to know about the complex legal challenges to DeSantis’s migrant flights”

Nunca from Texas provides important information on who these refugees are and understanding those facts is important: 

“I volunteer as a translator with asylees coming through the Texas border and I wanted to make a thread on who these migrants are, what help is actually needed and why what DeSantis and Abbott are doing is so needlessly cruel….

“The first and most important thing you should understand, these are LEGAL asylum seekers. They are not illegals. They are not undocumented.

“They have been given permission by our government to enter the US pending their official court date. The law ONLY requires that asylum seekers be present on US soil and that they present themselves to officials to request asylum.  That is it.

“Anyone who calls them illegal immigrants is really telling on themselves and deliberately trying to confuse the issue. 

“Once they present themselves to border officials, they are processed and then given a court date to officially plead their case.  This court date is almost always a year away and in a major city far from the border, like Boston, NY, Miami, Chicago, etc. 

“You can always spot the asylum seekers coming out of detention facilities because they don’t have shoelaces (story for another day) and they have court papers in one hand.

“Another thing I would note, the Biden admin is STILL immediately deporting the vast majority of asylees. The folks that make it through come from the most harrowing conditions you can imagine. I have met whole families who had to flee El Salvador on foot because gangs threatened to kill them if their son did not join.

“I met a man who was attacked by police for leading a protest. In almost every case, these are smart, hard working CHRISTIAN refugees. Their ability to assimilate into America and thrive is limitless. They love America. They just want a chance to live and thrive in peace. 

“WHAT HELP DO THEY NEED?

“Because these groups already have court dates and in almost every case, they have family they can stay with, they only really need two things: short term food and shelter and transportation. And I mean short term. Usually less than 12 hours. 

“In most cases, these asylees only need help getting to the bus station and maybe a bite to eat while they wait. Sometimes they need to stay overnight until the next bus leaves and sometimes they need help buying a ticket, though family usually buys the ticket for them. 

Border towns and local non profits have been dealing with this for 4 years. This did not start with Biden. It was actually worse under Trump.

“But these areas already know what to do with these transient asylees and they already have the resource networks in place to manage them. In most cases, an asylee will leave detention and organizations like Catholic Charities are right there to greet them and figure out if they can go straight to the bus station or if they need temporary shelter. Local municipalities & non profits here have gotten real good at it 

“WHY IS “BUSSING” ASYLEES AROUND THE COUNTRY SO BAD?

“Initially, I didn’t complain too much about Abbott’s decision to bus immigrants because it actually helped them. It gave them a free ticket to get closer to family. And they weren’t being forced to go.

“But…. The problem with Abbott’s approach is that they are often lying to the migrants about where they are going and what will be waiting for them. And even worse, when they get to NY or DC, Abbott is deliberately choosing to drop them off far away from the resources they need.  Abbott could easily notify DC that they are coming and then he could drop the migrants off right at the doorstep of the bus station or non-profit ready to greet them. It would cost him nothing.

“But he is choosing to dump them where it harms the City and migrants the most. 

By dumping them in front of the VPs house, like he did this week, now local officials have to figure out, without any notice, how to get 50 people in the heart of the City out to where the resources are ready to receive them. 

“And what DeSantis did yesterday takes it up another notch. He deliberately lied to immigrants in Texas who were already being managed by non-profits and shipped them into MV where no one was ready to help them. It was deliberately cruel and created to maximize pain. 

“Credit to the people of Martha’s Vineyard who stepped up in a huge way and responded. They did exactly what they were supposed to: they took care of their immediate needs and helped them get on their way. What folks here in Texas have been doing for years. 

“If Abbott and DeSantis actually cared about helping relieve the burden created by asylum seekers, they could just as easily and far more cost-effectively funnel the millions they are spending on their cynical stunt and give it to the non profits already doing the job. 

“Do asylees create a burden on border communities? Sure. But it is a burden we have already learned how to manage and the only thing we really need is more resources. It would be far more effective to just buy migrants a sandwich and a bus ticket than a private plane to MV. This is the kind of deliberate misinformation Conservatives are being fed.

“These migrants SHOULDN’T stay in MV because they have family and court dates in other places. They were TRICKED into being there.”

***********  

In an interview with the Washington Post about his new documentary, Ken Burns said:  I made a comment about the [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis play in Martha’s Vineyard as being a kind of an authoritarian response, just as it was when Disney says we don’t agree with you, he punishes them. When a state employee doesn’t do what he says, he fires them. That’s the authoritarian thing. It’s not the democratic way that you handle it. But the right-wing media has said that I’ve equated what DeSantis did with the Holocaust, which is obscene. I mean, literally obscene to do that. But it is also classic authoritarian playbook to sort of lie about what somebody just said in order to make it so outrageous that then you can deny the complexity of what’s being presented.”  “Ken Burns holocaust documentary”

What DeSantis and Abbott are guilty of is fraud. They lied to those sent to Martha’s Vineyard and Washington DC about where they were being sent and what they would receive when they got there. Fortunately, most of us still believe in the rule of law where fraud is punished.

“’The Republicans are so quick to bash the Venezuelan government and to say, ‘But we love the Venezuelans.’ And then the minute that vulnerable populations from Venezuela arrive in our country, they then use them as political pawns. It’s really beyond reprehensible. It’s a really repugnant motivation,’ Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told The Hill.”   “GOP stunts with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce”

“Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based legal advocacy group, filed the lawsuit on Tuesday challenging what it called the “fraudulent and discriminatory” scheme to charter private planes to transport almost 50 vulnerable people, including children as young as two, from San Antonio, Texas, via Florida, to Martha’s Vineyard last week without liaising to arrange shelter and other resources.

“The two charter flights cost about $615,000 – $12,300 per person – of taxpayers’ money, according to the legal filing….

“’This cowardly political stunt has placed our clients in peril. Numerous laws were brazenly violated to secure media headlines,’ said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for LRC.” “Martha’s Vineyard immigration lawsuit”

Immigration is a very complicated and fluid issue and what I have pointed out above is just one part of many parts of the problem. Racial and religious discrimination is another avenue of contention in the immigration debate. One wonders whether deSantis (or anyone opposed to immigration in general) would behave differently if these asylum seekers where of a different color and from a different country. My Afghan friends unable to escape from Kabul look enviously at the Western welcome of Ukrainian refugees. But that’s a discussion for another article.

May justice be done.  “Immigrants from hell”

Econ 101: Price Caps

On June 6 this year, the average price of regular gasoline in Maryland was $4.85 per gallon. Two years earlier it was $1.94 per gallon. If we assume that the cost to the gasoline producers and sellers was the same in the two periods, gas suppliers were reaping a huge profit in June. As I write this article, Maryland’s price is $3.91. Should the government impose a price cap of, say, $2.00 to take away Shell and Chevron’s excess profits?

The economics of this situation are very simple. At the $2.00 price cap people will demand more gas than they did at the $4.85 price but the supply will be the same. Thus, not everyone who wants to buy gas will be able to. How will the excess demand (supply shortage) be resolved?

If prices are not allowed to ration supply among demanders such that everyone willing to pay $4.85 gets all they want, an alternative rationing mechanism must be imposed. Ration coupons might be issued randomly, or by lottery, or by the first letter of your last name, or to friends and relatives of the government civil servants handing out the ration coupons. Unlike any of these formulas, price rationing provides the available supply to those with the most pressing need for it. Less important trips will be canceled or postponed.

The supply side of the market is important as well. Increasing the supply of most things incurs increasing costs per unit (per gallon). Suppliers of anything will produce up to the point that the cost plus normal profit of additional output matches the market’s demand price. The supply response to price increases for gasoline can be very long. At a higher price oil companies will invest more in searching for new sources and in developing them (drilling new wells, pumping and delivering the crude oil to refineries, etc.). A limited, quick response can be achieved by increasing the rate of extraction from existing wells, but this may reduce their long run capacity. At $4.85 per gallon, oil companies have a strong incentive to increase supply as rapidly as possible. At $2.00 per gallon oil companies have virtually no financial incentive to increase supply thus the unsatisfied demand will persist over time.

Price caps are a dumb idea.

Review of Thomas Sowell’s “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”

Thomas Sowell, a prolific and highly respected economist, wrote Black Rednecks and White Liberals in 2005, but I have only recently encountered and read it.  I wish I had read it earlier, but better late than never. The book is a collection of six essays on the role and dominance of culture over race in the experience of black Americans and other racial groups (Germans, Lebanese, Chinese, Jews, and other middlemen minorities). Like most good U of Chicago economists, he builds his arguments empirically. Digesting the book’s rich collection of data is worth the read.

Sowell documents that most slaves, who have existed from almost the beginning of humanity, have not been black, nor has being a slave, as unacceptable as it is in the modern world, necessarily impeded the futures of slaves once freed. Most interestingly, Sowell argues that the self-destructive behavior of America’s black ghetto culture is not genetic but rather the learned bad habits of the “Cracker culture” of the North Britons, Welsh, and Highland and Ulster Scots who immigrated to the American South and were its dominant slave owners. Sowell argues that the income and educational gaps between white and black Americans reflect the perpetuation by “ghetto” blacks of this culture and its remedy must come from blacks.

A review of the book by Neil Shenvi states that:

“Sowell’s first essay, which shares the book’s title, begins with this provocative quote:

‘These people are creating a terrible problem in our cities. They can’t or won’t hold a job, they flout the law constantly and neglect their children, they drink too much and their moral standards would shame an alley cat. For some reason or other, they absolutely refuse to accommodate themselves to any kind of decent, civilized life.

“Sowell continues: ‘This was said in 1956 in Indianapolis, not about blacks or other minorities, but about poor whites from the South… A 1951 survey in Detroit found that white Southerners living there were considered ‘undesirable’ by 21 percent of those surveyed, compared to 13 percent who ranked blacks the same way’.

“Sowell’s main thesis in this essay is that what we know today as ‘black culture’ is actually ‘white redneck culture’ or ‘cracker culture’ which ‘originated not in the South but in those parts of the British Isles from which white Southerners came. That culture long ago died out where it originated in Britain, while surviving in the American South. Then it largely died out among both white and black Southerners, while still surviving today in the poorest and worst of the urban black ghettos.’”

Shenvi’s review notes that: “[t]he 1970 census showed that black West Indian families in the New York metropolitan area had 28 percent higher incomes than the families of American blacks. The incomes of second-generation West Indian families living in the same area exceeded that of black families by 58 percent. Neither race or racism can explain such differences. Nor can slavery, since native-born blacks and West Indian blacks both had a history of slavery.”  “A review of Sowell’s Black Rednecks and White Liberals

Sowell’s chapter on “Black Education: Achievements, Myths, and Tragedies” makes the exact same points and criticism of “modern” education made by my mother who was an elementary school teacher in the 1970s and 80s who believed in teaching basic skills and knowledge to a well-disciplined class. Any student who bullied a fellow student only had a chance to do it once while under the supervision of my mother’s strict disciplinary style. At her request she was assigned to classes with behavior problems and by the end of the year they loved her (as did I).

William Raspberry (1935-2012), one of my favorite Washington Post columnists, who like Sowell was black, wrote in a review of Black Rednecks… “[o]ne thing seems beyond dispute: Maybe we haven’t laid racism to rest, but we have reached the point where what we [i.e., blacks] do matters more than what is done to us. That’s great, good news.”

Econ 101:  Oil Price Cap

Among U.S. (and E.U. and some other primarily Northern countries) objectives in reacting to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is to diminish its capacity to continue this war, in part by reducing its export (largely oil and gas) income with minimum damage to the U.S. and other embargo supporters and to pressure it to the bargaining table sooner rather than later (we are trying to do that aren’t we??). As you can see from the previous sentence, this is not a particularly simple issue.

One measure being promoted by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is to cap the price at which we are willing to buy Russian oil.  If we just stop buying Russian oil all together (effectively a price of zero), global oil supply would presumably fall, and oil prices would rise. We know, of course that Russia will redirect its sales to countries not participating in the embargo, such as China and India, to the extent it can and the oil these countries would have purchased from Saudi Arabia and other suppliers would then be available to us and global oil supply would not fall as much as we might have expected nor would prices increase as much as otherwise. Much could be written about this (the limited potential of embargoes if not everyone participates), but I won’t.

The idea of Secretary Yellen’s cap is that rather than buying no Russia oil we (and all embargo participants) would continue to buy it but at an agreed price that is below normal market prices in normal time (the price cap). Thus, hopefully, Russia would still sell its oil to the West but would earn less foreign exchange from it and the West would have more oil than with a total blockage and thus avoid sharp market price increases.

“There are several outstanding issues to settle on the price-cap idea. Those include figuring out exactly how to enforce it, convincing other nations to subscribe to it and deciding the sales price at which Western countries would permit the purchase of Russian oil. Looming over the proposal is also the presumption that Russia would continue to sell oil at a price mandated by the U.S. and its allies.”  “WSJ: Janet Yellen begins Asia trip to win support for cap on Russian oil price”

“Some economists and oil industry experts are skeptical that the plan will work, either as a way to reduce revenues for the Kremlin or to push down prices at the pump. They warn the plan could mostly enrich oil refiners and could be ripe for evasion by Russia and its allies. Moscow could refuse to sell at the capped price…. 

“Mr. Biden… moved swiftly to ban imports of Russian oil to the United States and coordinate similar bans among allies. In some ways, the price-cap proposal is an acknowledgment that those penalties have not worked as intended: Russia has continued to sell oil at elevated prices — even accounting for the discounts it is giving to buyers like India and China, which did not join in the oil sanctions — while Western drivers pay a premium….

“The cap plan seeks to keep the Russian oil moving to market, but only if it is steeply discounted. Russia could still ship its oil with Western backing if that oil is sold for no more than a price set by the cap.”  “NYT Biden gas price cap Russia”

John Bolton, whose view I don’t generally share, said about Yellen’s oil price cap: “The proposal, academic and untried, faces multiple practical obstacles and uncertainties. Widespread sanctions violations by Russian maritime cargoes already exist, with no reason to think the oil-price cap is more enforceable.” “WP: Biden oil price cap-Russia Sanctions”

Such efforts to “hurt” Russia cannot avoid also hurting us. What other approaches might the Biden administration consider?

“The White House… has held off for months on backing a gas tax holiday, amid divisions within the Democratic Party and skepticism a roughly 18.4 cent-per-gallon discount would be passed on to consumers….  In private meetings with senior Energy Department officials to discuss ideas for boosting supply and lowering prices, some industry representatives have instead used the sessions to push for longer-term priorities like building pipelines and easing environmental restrictions.”  “Politico: White House-Biden-gas prices”

“Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash.,… called it “infuriating” that spikes in gas prices were “happening at the same time that gas and oil companies are making record profits and taking advantage of international crises to make a profit. This must stop.″ “PBS: House approves bill to combat gasoline price gouging”

When the supply of a product falls short of its demand, the gap can be closed in one of two ways. Both involve rationing a scarce commodity as is required for anything in limited supply which is virtually everything. The first approach—the market approach of price rationing—allocates the product to those who want it the most, i.e. those who are willing to pay the most for it. The second approach—the administrative allocation approach—allocates the product to those the government agency responsible for choosing who gets it, determine are most worthy or in most need of it based on the criteria the agency sets (which in practice invariably includes friends and relatives). History has clearly documented which of these methods of allocation works best.  Some of you will remember the long lines at gas stations when President Richard Nixon capped gasoline prices (another form of rationing).

That leaves measures that encourage increased supply from everywhere except Russia or that facilitate reducing demand. “Biden officials are openly pleading with Big Oil to pump more, not less. ‘We want them to get their rig counts up. We want them to increase production so that people are not hurting,’ [Energy Secretary Jennifer] Granholm said.”  “CNN: Gas prices-Biden-inflation” A higher price at the pump provides the market a strong incentive to increase supply, but that generally takes years to achieve much of an increase. In the interim profits of the suppliers will be higher than usual.

Some months back policy sought to reduce the consumption of carbon omitting products as part of our effort to slow global warming. For that objective an increase in gasoline prices would be a good thing, whether from a gas tax or restrictions on finding and pumping more oil out of the ground.

For the moment, encouraging more production by Saudi Arabia and other (non Russian) members of OPEC would be helpful. Finally rejoining the JCPOA (Iran deal), Trump’s withdrawal from which Max Boot called the “single worst diplomatic blunder in U.S. history” “WP: Trump-Biden Iran nuclear deal dead with no alternative”, would, among other important things, increase an important source of oil supply, as would dropping sanctions on Venezuela. If we can make deals with Saudi Arabia, given all it has done, deals with Iran and Venezuela should be no brainers.

Ending the war in Ukraine promptly is the most important measure for addressing the shortage of oil (and food more generally). “End the war in Ukraine”