Some scattered thoughts on the great social media purge of 2021 and the calls to repeal Section 230.

1) What’s the counterfactual?

Let me open by saying that I do not think repealing Section 230 would be earth shattering to big tech or “end the open internet as we know it.” When people say stuff like that, they’re either being hyperbolic or assuming an unlikely, worst-case counterfactual, a bit like when people claim overturning Roe v Wade would lead to an explosion in back-alley abortions. Advocates and activists will always tend to catastrophize, but such rhetoric is uniformly unhelpful.

Decisions are made at the margin, which requires having a conception of the realistic next-most-likely alternative. In 230's case, the realistic alternative is…

Containing the epidemic and stabilizing the economy will require further action from Congress and the administration.

Epistemic Status: Moderate. I am an economist by training who works on national public policy, not a medical professional or epidemiologist. Defer to infectious disease experts for information on the likely evolution of the virus and on how best to protect yourself from infection. While I have high confidence in the specific mechanics of the proposals below, I cannot be 100% sure of their appropriateness given the complex and unprecedented nature of this epidemic.

The U.S. government’s response to COVID-19 has so far left a lot to be desired. Lab testing for the virus was initially restricted by arcane Food…

I sometimes describe myself as Hegelian. This confuses a lot of people, so I decided to write out a concise explanation of what it means to me. Take this essay as a radical simplification of the ideas contained within. It reflects my amateur understanding, and merges Hegel’s thought with interpretations that came much later, but are clearly in the same tradition. That said, given that Hegel is hard to understand, I hope my reconstruction of his thought is reasonably accessible and clarifying of my own views.

Since the Enlightenment, philosophers have been grappling with two related problems: Cartesian dualism, i.e. bridging the objective / subjective dichotomy; and the origin of normativity, i.e. bridging the fact / value dichotomy.

Anglo empiricists like Hume generally embraced these dichotomies, leading to theories of perception as a bunch of sense data, and theories of morality as a bundle of noncognitive sentiments, desires, or prejudices. But this approach runs into problems: How do you motivate human action from a bunch of sentiments? How do you reason with others about right and wrong actions except in purely instrumental terms? How do you…

It seems natural to ascribe a deep Christian influence to G.W.F. Hegel’s understanding of political enlightenment, given his strong Lutheranism and statements to the effect that the absolute ideal’s realization can be found in Christianity (Hegel, 1988). Yet any claim of their inseparability must reconcile Hegel’s apparent acceptance of alternative religions in the spiritual make up of societies, as well as his own pluralistic reading of the Gospels. The solution is Hegel’s surpassing belief in the power of philosophy: While Hegel may find the philosophical ideal of freedom perfected within Christianity, philosophy is the highest calling, to which his interpretation…

Last week, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) released a new bill to convert the Child Tax Credit into a fully-refundable, monthly child allowance. Whether you call it a “UBI for Kids” or a “Little-BIG” (Basic Income Guarantee), the American Family Act is the first proposal of its kind from sitting U.S. Senators, and sends a strong signal that the tide is turning in favor of basic income-style proposals among our elected.

Under the Bennet-Brown plan, households would receive $300 per month for every child under the age of six, and $250 per month for children ages…

Medicaid waivers provide a model of “executive federalism” that works.

Medicaid was signed into law in 1965 alongside Medicare.

If the defeat of the American Health Care Act (ACHA) of 2017 proves anything it’s that the politics of healthcare in America have irrevocably changed. As Niskanen Center Senior Fellow Ed Dolan recently argued, the expectation of universal coverage is here to stay. The discussion we ought to be having is how to make universal coverage work while controlling costs and preserving the innovativeness of the U.S. medical system.

The place to start that discussion is Medicaid, our largest public health program by enrollment. The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) gave states the option of expanding Medicaid to…

Social insurance is about solving market failures, not forced philanthropy.

Safety-nets help pool and transfers different kinds of risk.

Writing at Forbes, Adam Ozimek has a useful post on the topic of libertarians and charity. When asked what will replace the welfare state once it’s been abolished, the most common libertarian line is to argue that a combination of private charity and voluntary clubs will fill the gap. Moreover, charities, churches, and mutual aid societies would all be doing that work already, were government spending not crowding them out.

Ozimek gut-checks this argument by considering an area where virtually everyone agrees that the United States is falling short: K-12 education.

If private charity is willing and able to step…

Ending the ban on supersonic overland is the key to achieving affordable, faster-than-sound air travel.

Concept art of NASA’s quiet “QueSST” supersonic jet.

Imagine flying from New York City to Los Angeles in two hours, and for the price of a normal business class ticket. It should be possible with today’s technology, and yet a 1973 ban on civil supersonic flight overland has prevented it from becoming a reality.

To understand the importance of the overland market to supersonic transport we have to take a step back and relearn some lessons from history. The conventional wisdom, ever since the Concorde’s retirement in 2003, has been that supersonic transport simply isn’t commercially viable. …

The ideals of liberalism seem increasingly under threat these days, so it’s worth reviewing what they are, where they come from, and why it’s essential that they make a comeback.

(a PDF version of this essay is available here)

The first step is to recognize that they were not invented by some obsolete English philosopher. Rather, in their most general form, liberal principles have been rediscovered repeatedly and throughout history as practical tools for reconciling two basic social facts:

  • Many of our deepest moral and metaphysical beliefs, like how to live a good life or which God to worship, are inherently contestable — reasonable people can and will disagree;
  • We nonetheless all stand to benefit (on our own terms) from a social structure that enables peaceful cooperation.

Take, for instance…

The idea of a Universal Basic Income — an unconditional cash stipend from the government that could, in principle, greatly simplify the existing system of means-tested programs — has come under fire for being antithetical to one of America’s strongest values: Work.

The argument, most recently articulated by Josh Barro at Business Insider, states that while a cash transfer may be able to provide subsistence, it cannot provide the sense of purpose and dignity that only a job can. The problem with these arguments is that they simply assume a UBI would significantly undermine the incentive to work, shifting the debate to the red-herring of work’s relationship with purpose. Noah Smith, for instance, responded to Barro by pondering the difficulties of empirically measuring an abstract sense of dignity, while Matt Bruenig responded by pointing out all the ways the rich receive vastly…

Samuel Hammond

Ensnared in a web of belief / Poverty @NiskanenCenter / Tech @mercatus /

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