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Eric Kramer

Articles by Eric Kramer

Meanwhile, back in the authoritarian hellhole of Australia . . .

23 hours ago

According to American libertarians, the dangers of covid authoritarianism are clearly on display in Australia.  We’ve looked at some of these claims before.  Here is some additional context from Van Badham, writing in today’s New York Times:

Last week, the myth of our enslavement propelled aspirational allies into the streets. In the United States,  Poland  and Britain, distinctly non-Australian protesters assembled outside Australian diplomatic missions, denouncing the country’s decline into thuggish autocracy. A #SaveAustralia hashtag trended.If Australians on Twitter were confused about what they required saving from — the sunshine? free health care? low Covid deaths? — it was perhaps because they weren’t visiting the dark corners of the

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The Brownstone Institute is just asking questions . . .

5 days ago

Steve Bannon:

“The Democrats don’t matter,” he had said to me over our lunch. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

This piece by Genevieve Newton published by the Brownstone Institute is a masterclass in innuendo and misdirection: 

At the core of my concern is that despite what we’re being told by our government and policy makers, this is not a black and white issue. I have many questions about whether the current Covid trajectory is justified. . . .Does a “one size fits all” approach to vaccination fail to take into account that some people are at a higher risk of serious outcomes from Covid, or that some people are at a higher risk of adverse events from vaccination? Does it

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The war on the war on covid should make you worry about democratic stability

8 days ago

Consider these excerpts from a recent piece by Jeffrey Tucker at the Brownstone Institute with the understated title “The Purges Have Begin”.  Would someone who took these extreme, apocalyptic arguments to heart oppose efforts by a faction of ethno-nationalist Republicans to steal an election or entrench themselves in power?

The policies have been bad enough but the political polarization has been the real poison. In history, we’ve seen where this leads. New and random mandates from political leaders become loyalty tests. Compliant people are viewed as enlightened and obedient. The noncompliant are regarded as stupid and probably politically threatening. They are purgeable. . . .Regardless, the effects of the mandates are real and devastating for

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Obstructionism is its own reward

8 days ago

Over at 538, Nathaniel Rakich points out that Biden’s approval rating is continuing to decline, despite the fact that Afghanistan coverage has declined. 

It’s hard to know what is going on here, but my guess is that two factors outside Afghanistan are important.  First, the pandemic is dragging on, and people tend to blame the President and his party for not fixing problems.  This reflects what Brendan Nyhan called the Green Lantern theory of the presidency – the belief that the President can accomplish anything if he just tries hard enough.  This general tendency to blame the President may be exacerbated in the case of covid because Biden promised more than he delivered.

Second, I suspect that some people are simply reacting to the interminable

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Natural immunity, vaccine mandates, and “following the science”

12 days ago

In October 2020, three public health academics published the Great Barrington Declaration, which argued that policymakers should focus on protecting those most vulnerable to covid, while encouraging those at low risk of death or serious disease to resume normal activities.  This would result in a rapid spread of natural immunity through the population, hastening an end of the epidemic.

I will discuss the Great Barrington Declaration – both its substance and what it teaches us about libertarianism – eventually.  But for now let’s catch up with Martin Kulldorff, one of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, and a professor at Harvard Medical School:

How can hospitals best protect their patients from Covid disease? It is an enormously

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Climate change and insurance markets: let’s focus on real solutions, not finger-wagging

14 days ago

I don’t know why I’m writing about this when our democracy is on fire.  Maybe I need to focus on something cheery, like climate change.

The American Prospect has a couple of pieces up on insurance and climate change.  One identifies a genuine issue, the other misses the mark.

In this piece, Alexander Sammon asks why insurance companies aren’t taking steps to fight climate change, given that catastrophes like wildfires and hurricanes cost insurance companies money. 

The answer is simple.  Insurers pay out claims when their insureds suffer losses due to natural catastrophes, but they charge premiums that cover those loss payments and leave insurers with a profit.  In fact, more catastrophes will mean a bigger market for insurance and related

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Yes, libertarians are encouraging vaccine hesitancy

16 days ago

From the Brownstone Institute:

Moreover, there appears to be declining confidence that the latest promised “cure” to the disease (mRNA injections) are acting as a cure in any way, shape, or form. 

The entire piece is so crazy I can’t even tell what the point is, other than it turns out that the optimal policy for dealing with a pandemic is to . . . do nothing. Surprise! The author is a self-described “Independent investigative journalist”. It seems like Jeffrey Tucker is having trouble finding stuff to publish.

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For enterprising libertarians, the war on the war on covid is the gift that keeps on giving

18 days ago

In a recent post I suggested that distrust in the government’s handling of covid and in the safety and efficacy of vaccines is mainly the result of a deliberate messaging campaign by conservative media, libertarian propaganda organizations, and Republican politicians to gain political or ideological advantage by fostering distrust.  To illustrate this, I want to examine an essay by Jeffrey Tucker, the founder of the newly created Brownstone Institute, which is dedicated to spreading hard-right libertarian takes on covid policy. 

In a previous post, I pointed out that Tucker seemed to be encouraging vaccine hesitancy.  In the essay I will focus on today, Tucker is ostensibly telling his readers what to make of the recent resignations of two top

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Means-testing the Child Tax Credit

18 days ago

Matt Yglesias has published an interesting essay at his substack by Simon Bazelon and David Shor arguing that Democrats should introduce stricter means testing into the Child Tax Credit. Their key points are as follows:

The current CTC design already has means-testing for very high incomes, which means that the administrative burdens associated with means-testing (making low-income people file tax returns, etc.) are already being incurred.Means-testing will lower the cost of the program and allow Democrats to make it permanent now, rather than letting it expire to reduce its budgetary cost and creating a serious risk that Republicans will block an extension.Means-testing increases the political popularity of the program substantially.I would add

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What goes around, comes around . . . election theft as fair play

19 days ago

People really, truly hate being played for suckers.  Rick Hasen:

“You could look at 2020 as the nadir of American democratic processes, or you could look at it as a dress rehearsal,” says Hasen, a professor of law at UC Irvine.To understand this fragile moment for American democracy, you could take a 30,000-foot view of a nation at the doorstep of a constitutional crisis, as Robert Kagan recently did for the Washington Post. Or you could simply look around you at what’s happening at the ground level, in broad daylight, visible to the naked eye, as Hasen has been doing. As he sees it, it’s time for us all to wake up.“I feel like a climate scientist warning about the Earth going up another degree and a half,” Hasen told POLITICO Magazine in an

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Yes, the covid epidemic is undermining trust in government . . . just not for the reason you may think

25 days ago

Disasters and threats tend to be politically unifying.  Public approval of George W. Bush jumped after the 9/11 attacks, and trust in government increased.  Donald Trump’s approval rating was highly stable due to increasing polarization, but even he enjoyed a small increase in approval at the start of the covid epidemic, and trust in government edged up slightly.  With covid, however, the rally-around-the-flag effect was short-lived.  For many Republicans covid policy under Biden has fueled distrust of politicians, public health officials, the efficacy of policies like masking, and even the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. 

An important question is why this has occurred.  One possible answer is that trust has been frayed because officials have

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The anti-democratic tenor of the criticism of Australian policy is troubling

September 16, 2021

In prior posts, I argued that Australia’s covid policy can be criticized, but that it cannot simply be dismissed on the grounds that it is “authoritarian”.  Here I will argue that some criticism of Australian covid policy has a distinct and troubling anti-democracy flavor to it.

Tyler Cowen argues that Australia should be investing in rapid testing and pushing harder on vaccines and treatments.  Fair enough, especially on vaccines.  But then he continues (my bold):

If Australia implemented all of those policies, or even just one of them, they could attain a much better “liberty vs. lives” frontier, no matter where you think the government should end up on that frontier.  They could save lives, and enjoy more liberty.  [EK – I agree.]And that is

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Is Australia an autocracy? Is it on the Road to Serfdom? And what about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?!?!

September 14, 2021

In my previous post, I argued that the only plausible way to criticize covid policy is to explain why some alternative policy mix (possibly a policy with a big dose of “no regulation”) will lead to better outcomes than the current policy regime.  Libertarians often refuse to engage in this type of policy analysis.  Instead, they often claim that government efforts to fight covid are illegitimate because they are authoritarian, or violate rights, or in some vaguely specified way may put us on the Road to Serfdom.  Let’s take a look at a couple of arguments, again focusing on Australia.

In the Atlantic, Connor Friedersdorf had a column up recently questioning whether Australia is still a liberal democracy:

Australia is undoubtedly a democracy,

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Criticizing covid policy is fine, but you need to roll up your sleeves and do some policy analysis

September 12, 2021

Libertarians criticize covid policy in broad, uncompromising terms.  These arguments are unproductive at best; at worst they are divisive and potentially destructive.  Many are just propaganda.

This does not mean that criticism of the government response to covid is off limits.  The alternative to the libertarian approach is policy analysis:  evaluating specific policies on their own merits by marshalling evidence and estimating their likely effects, and then supporting policies that seem beneficial and fair, opposing policies that seem harmful and unfair, and suggesting alternative policy ideas that are not receiving due attention.  This is the approach taken by non-libertarian economists. 

To see why policy analysis is essential, consider the

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Does the Brownstone Institute produce reasoned arguments or propaganda? We report, you decide.

September 11, 2021

There is good money in libertarianism.  The Brownstone Institute was recently founded by Jeffrey Tucker, a libertarian who most recently has spent his time criticizing covid lockdowns.  He just published an article criticizing Biden’s support for a vaccine mandate.  He lists five problems with Biden’s policy, but is it analysis or propaganda? Let’s take a look.

1. The Biden mandate pretends that the only immunity is injected, not natural. . . .

Nope.  The rules ultimately issued by federal agencies may or may not include exemptions for people with prior covid infections, but you can make an argument for not including such an exemption without denying the existence of natural immunity.  For example, you could cite administrative simplicity, or

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Why isn’t Biden politicizing vaccine mandates and abortion policy?

September 10, 2021

This is genuinely puzzling to me. 

This is from Biden’s statement about the Supreme Court’s decision on Texas Law SB8:

One reason I became the first president in history to create a Gender Policy Council was to be prepared to react to such assaults on women’s rights. Hence, I am directing that Council and the Office of the White House Counsel to launch a whole-of-government effort to respond to this decision, looking specifically to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to see what steps the Federal Government can take to ensure that women in Texas have access to safe and legal abortions as protected by Roe, and what legal tools we have to insulate women and providers from the impact of Texas’ bizarre scheme

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Covid testing failure and the state of American democracy

September 10, 2021

A little-noticed part of Biden’s covid address last night covered testing.  He promised to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of rapid tests, to make at-home tests available through retailers at cost, and to increase the availability of free pharmacy-based tests. (A few details here.)

Making testing faster, cheaper, and easily accessible seems like such an obvious thing to do.  In fact, it was an obvious thing to do months ago.  If the authority and funding have been available to do this, why on earth wait?  Yet instead of acting to get ahead of the curve, the administration appears to have stood on the sidelines and allowed manufacturing capacity to shut down.  And why didn’t Congress specifically demand the use of advanced

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The case for political pragmatism: Ibram X. Kendi on anti-racism

September 3, 2021

In a recent post I argued for political pragmatism, which I described as follows:

I believe that politicians have some discretion to set policy, and that they should use that discretion to enact the substantively best policies they can, taking account of political and policy constraints.  Political constraints include the need to satisfy voters and win elections, the status-quo bias in public opinion, low levels of political trust, and the limited policymaking capacity of our institutions.  (In the words of political scientist John Kingdon, “Congress is easily fatigued”.  The same goes for the executive branch.) Policy constraints include the difficulty of identifying beneficial policies, the risk of unintended consequences, and problems of

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Libertarians do math: the war on covid + climate change = the end of civilization!

September 2, 2021

On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a program to study the health effects of climate change, especially on disadvantaged communities (NYT):

The Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which the administration announced on Monday, will be the first federal program aimed specifically at understanding how planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels also affect human health.  It will fall under the Department of Health and Human Services.It’s an area that medical experts have urged the government to take more seriously, and public health leaders said the new office was long overdue.

What should we make of this?  Without studying this in any detail, I think a reasonable person could be initially

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JAQing off, Tucker Carlson vaccine edition

September 1, 2021

John Oliver had a great segment a while back on vaccine hesitancy, in which he shows Tucker Carlson asking absurdly loaded questions about the safety and efficacy of the covid vaccines.  You can see the clip here, the Tucker Carlson bit is around 6:15 to 7:45.

I bring this up not to praise Oliver or dump on Carlson, but to point out that Carlson’s disingenuous schtick has a name – “just asking questions”, or JAQing off:

Just asking questions (also known as JAQing off) is a way of attempting to make wild accusations acceptable (and hopefully not legally actionable) by framing them as questions rather than statements. It shifts the burden of proof to one’s opponent; rather than laboriously having to prove that all politicians are reptoid scum, one

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Breaking news from the front lines of the war on the war on covid . . .

September 1, 2021

Via Boudreaux, over at Reason, we can read this – evidence, Boudreaux tells us, of “covid hysteria”:

Amherst College in Massachusetts is welcoming students back to campus by implementing some of the most restrictive COVID-19 mitigation efforts anywhere in the country.  Administrators will now require students to wear two masks while indoors, get tested every other week, eschew large social interactions, and generally refrain from leaving school grounds.

Well, so what?  Is this an over-reaction?  Maybe.  I might have chosen a somewhat less restrictive policy, but really, who cares?  The restrictions are only temporary; I am confident that the administration will dial them back if less stringent measures are effective at other campuses.


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Political pragmatism and public opinion: Yglesias on “popularism” and Afghanistan

August 31, 2021

I believe that politicians have some discretion to set policy, and that they should use that discretion to enact the substantively best policies they can, taking account of political and policy constraints.  Political constraints include the need to satisfy voters and win elections, the status-quo bias in public opinion, low levels of political trust, and the limited policymaking capacity of our institutions.  (In the words of political scientist John Kingdon, “Congress is easily fatigued”.  The same goes for the executive branch.) Policy constraints include the difficulty of identifying beneficial policies, the risk of unintended consequences, and problems of implementation.

Let’s call this view pragmatism.  Pragmatism in this sense is committed

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People really, really hate being played for suckers

August 30, 2021

This is one of the great truths of politics, one that political actors exploit for advantage or ignore at their peril.

Suppose that there is a moral norm against littering in your neighborhood.  You support the norm even when it is not convenient for you to do so.  When someone litters, you could be upset simply because littering is harmful (the pure utilitarian attitude), or you could be upset that they are getting an unfair advantage by breaking the (unwritten) rules.  People hate the feeling that others are gaining an unfair advantage over them by failing to live up to relevant norms or exploiting legal loopholes, they will sometimes incur significant personal costs to prevent being taken advantage of.

Some recent political examples:


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The ShotSpotter system and the value of diverse juror perspectives

August 24, 2021

Erik Loomis points to this AP story on ShotSpotter, a system that police and prosecutors use to identify gunshots, react to potential crimes, and prosecute suspects. The AP story raises serious questions about the accuracy and integrity of the system. You can click through for their story, which is gripping and definitely worth a read.

The ShotSpotter story reminded me of an experience I had as a juror several years ago. The charges in the case were pretty straightforward. Four college kids were walking home from a bus terminal when they were approached from behind by three men. There was a loud bang that the victims interpreted as a gunshot. They turned around, their assailants said they were armed and robbed them. The cops quickly found the

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The war on the war on covid intensifies: an attack on vaccine mandates

August 18, 2021

Yesterday Donald Boudreaux published a letter to the Wall Street Journal about the Zywicki lawsuit against George Mason University that I posted about here.  Let’s take a look at classical liberalism in action:

Today’s edition contains three letters critical of my colleague Todd Zywicki’s defense, in your pages, of his lawsuit against George Mason University’s vaccination requirement. Each letter-writer, alas, misses a point that’s central to the broader case against vaccination mandates – and, indeed, against all Covid restrictions: Because vaccination is indeed quite effective at protecting each vaccinated person against suffering serious consequences from Covid, there’s no good reason to require anyone to be vaccinated. Each individual has easy

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The war on lockdowns versus the evidence

August 17, 2021

Over at NBER, Helliwell et al have a paper comparing the virus elimination strategy of China, Australia, New Zealand, etc., with the more common mitigation strategy followed by most countries (footnote omitted):

Our analyses show that Eliminators experienced lower death rates from COVID-19. But to what extent were these reductions in COVID-19 deaths obtained at the expense of other aspects of economic and social life, and of the mental and physical health of the general population? To answer this question, we shall compare various aspects of life in the two groups of countries.. . .What do the data show? First there has been a surprisingly wide-spread resilience of life evaluations in the face of deep and uncertain threats to lives and livelihoods.

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The Afghan situation . . .

August 15, 2021

I have no special insight on any foreign policy issue, but if you’re interested in a no-nonsense defense of Biden’s policy see this post by Scott Lemieux.

His key points are (my interpretation/paraphrase):

Long term low-engagement occupation was not a serious option, the only choices on the table were long term escalation or pulling out. (This is an important point to me. If low-engagement occupation could have worked long-term, that would have been worth serious consideration, given the suffering the Taliban are going to inflict on the Afghan people.)The military was strongly in favor of continued occupation, which meant that they could not be trusted to implement a pull out of Afghan civilians in a timely way. (Josh Marshall makes a similar

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The war on the war on covid continues: vaccine mandates and judicial review

August 15, 2021

George Mason University law professor Todd Zywicki has filed suit against GMU over its policy of requiring students and staff to be vaccinated against covid. 

Zywicki does not argue that any vaccine mandate is unconstitutional.  Instead, he claims that GMU’s vaccine mandate violates his constitutional rights to bodily integrity and medical choice because he has recovered from covid and has natural immunity.  In his view, only a mandate with an exception for people with natural immunity should be constitutionally permissible. (He also makes a statutory pre-emption claim, which I will not address.)

Let us assume that the constitution should be read to grant each of us a right to bodily integrity and medical choice.  In this case, the critical

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The libertarian crusade against lockdowns: the case of Australia

August 12, 2021

For months now, hard-core libertarians have been crusading against covid lockdowns in uncompromising terms.  This is a topic that merits careful study, but let’s take a brief look at some of their arguments, focusing on Australia.

The libertarian case against lockdowns can be summarized as follows:

Benefits:  The benefits of lockdowns are low, because 1) covid is not terribly dangerous to begin with (not much more dangerous than seasonal flu, we are frequently told), and 2) lockdowns do not substantially reduce the spread of covid.Costs:  The costs of lockdowns are high – they harm sick people who need access to medical care, students who need in-person classes, people who need to earn a living, etc.Conclusion:  The high costs of lockdowns

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Using insurance to encourage vaccination

August 9, 2021

The most common proposals for pressuring people to vaccinate involve either vaccine mandates or vaccine passports. 

As some of the comments on my previous post suggest, there is another option, viz., making the unvaccinated responsible for the cost of their covid treatment.

In theory, this can be done either by denying insurance coverage to people who are unvaccinated without medical justification, or by raising health insurance premiums for the unvaxxed.  The first would be politically problematic and might not be very effective at inducing vaccination – a small number of people would be ruined financially, but many others might just continue to resist getting shots.

So why not charge people more for insurance if they are unvaccinated, or

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