Monday, May 25, 2020

Not static

In the time of pandemic, changes that had been underway speed up. People adapt and change a little faster, technology adapts and changes faster, even the rules-of-the-game change and adapt. The three prompt each other.

Rules-of-the-game involves politics and is the most sluggish of the three. The first two are dynamic and involve trial-and-error learning. (There is always some path dependence.) The third corner of the triangle, institutional change, involves all the problems of public choice. Early pandemic CDC and FDA missteps are well known.

But all three changes tug on and constrain each other. Even the severest critics of markets should (perhaps) appreciate the speed at which tele-medicine, remote work, on-line teaching and meeting as well as new modes of shopping have developed and adapted in just weeks. Hotels, restaurants, airlines, are scrambling to find new ways to perform and earn trust. Where will they be in two more months -- and beyond?

If you thought that less than 50 years from the Wright Bros. to the moon landing was fast, don't even think about long-run forecasts and what futurists say. Peak oil and peak population never came. Long-run sustainability is a worry if the world is static. But one lesson from the last two months, for those who need reminding, is that it is not static.

ADDED Yes, there's an app for that. Many more to follow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Common sense choices

Economists tell students and others that there are "needs" and "wants". And the distinction is subjective and personal for most people. "I need a drink." Likewise, who knows which are "essential services."?  Politicians, of all people?

The news have been full of examples of questionable calls by various politicians on this question. Daycare? Essential for many working parents. "Green" Teslas?  Essential for "Greens"?

The even tougher questions involve how and where and when.

"Fatal conceit" is a wonderful two-word gem. "Central planning is hard work" is too wordy. Both refer to the obvious fact that most knowledge is beyond the ken of politicians. This is one reason why we want to limit their powers. And why we rely on trial-and-error experimentation by people with "skin in the game" to figure things out.

Does the governor of California know what is essential for 40-million Californians? With the best of intentions, he cannot know. By now, he should know that not all individuals are equally at risk, not all environments are equally risky and that heavy doses of humility are in order.

My favorite local retailer has a special line for the over-60 folks.Fine. Perhaps require them to wear masks. Even take their temperature if you like. Let the over-60s and all others decide if they want to shop at such a place. My favorite grocers and my favorite restaurants have never given me food poisoning. They know their business.

The list goes on. Publish common-sense guidelines (even though they are well known) if you must. But rely more on common sense choices than what politicians prescribe.


Body temperature not enough. Face masks and social distancing until we are past the crisis.