Mask Up or Drop Dead

Some readers may remember the dispute I had here back in April with Jason Brennan and Phil Magness over the use of lethal force to enforce social distancing orders. The issue was: are there any circumstances such that lethal force would be justified in enforcing such orders?

I said yes: if someone refuses compliance, and then not only resists an order to comply, but escalates resistance to the point of serious physical danger to others, it can be justifiable to shoot them dead. I say “shoot them dead” because under the rules of engagement that apply in police work, every shot is intended to be a kill shot: if an officer draws a weapon, it’s understood she had no choice but to do so; if she fires, she aims at the subject’s torso, which is the largest and most easily-hit target; and given the nature of standard police firearms, and the likelihood that the officer will fire more than once, the subject’s death is highly likely, whether literally intended or not. Continue reading

Natural Law Libertarianism in Two Flavours

My two latest Agoric Café videos:

In the first one, I chat with philosopher Eric Mack about walking out on Ayn Rand, clashing with Nazi Sikhs in Seneca Falls, libertarian rights theory, Kantian vs. Aristotelean approaches to fixing Randian ethics, Nozickian polymathy, the unselfishness of Samuel Johnson, the ethics of COVID lockdowns, physical distancing in Durango, the CIA as an argument against anarchism, shoving someone in front of a bus as a form of restitution, and the edibility of matter.

In the second video, I chat with philosopher Gary Chartier about Robin Hood, left-wing market anarchism, natural law, free speech and employer power, libertarian secularism, Seventh-day Adventism, religious epistemology, long-arc television, urban fantasy, Lawrence Durrell, Iris Murdoch, Whit Stillman, the evils of giving extra credit and taking attendance, and the attractions of being emperor.

COVID-19 Narratives (9): From Nebraska to New Jersey and Back

From Nebraska to New Jersey and Back: College Life Under Pandemic
Catherine Lentsch

The COVID-19 pandemic first became a reality for me when I was flying back from my home state of Nebraska to New Jersey after spring break. I was chatting with members of the Columbia University baseball team on our plane when they received a notification that Columbia was canceling school for the next few days, and would then be holding online classes for the next two weeks. We were all a bit shocked. It was a bit hard to believe that they’d cancel school over a virus. Nor was it clear what this meant for the future. Continue reading

Moneytalks (1): Essential Workers, Inevitable Death

It’s reasonable to be skeptical of the idea that a single semester’s worth of students is representative of general trends in the larger population. But for whatever it’s worth, this New York Times article really rings true for me. Though focused on Latinos in California, the pattern it describes seems to apply to the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area as well. The headline reads: “Many Latinos Couldn’t Stay Home. Now Virus Cases are Soaring in their Communities.” Continue reading

Sometimes a Fantasy Is All You Need: The NCAA Tackles COVID-19

A recent article in The New York Times illustrates the magical thinking that prevails in the NCAA, and indeed, throughout much of higher education, on the topic of the coronavirus:

When Kansas State opened the doors to its athletic facilities, welcoming its football players back to campus starting the first weekend in June, administrators breathed a sigh of relief once the first batch of coronavirus tests came back.

The first wave of athletes spent a week in quarantine before voluntary workouts, as all players were required to do, and the scorecard was pristine: 90 tests, zero positives.

Another six players straggled in a day or two later and were swabbed. Again, no positives.

Then by June 12, the final group of 24 arrivals–largely freshmen–was tested. But just a week later, Kansas State shut down its workouts until at least mid-July after two positive cases in that final group morphed into four and then eight before leaping to 14, as nearly half the team needed to be checked again.

With its announcements on Saturday, Kansas State became the first school from a Power 5 conference to shut down football activities. Two other Football Bowl Subdivision schools did the same after outbreaks among their athletes, with Houston making the decision on June 12 and Boise State on Monday.

Continue reading

COVID-19 Narratives (8): Pizza and Public Works in a Pandemic

Pizza and Public Works: Making Ends Meet in a Pandemic
Anonymous DPW Guy from Monmouth County, New Jersey

I’ve been privileged to able to work during the COVID-19 pandemic. You might think that “privileged” is the wrong word, since anyone going out to work during the pandemic is probably at risk of getting infected. But “privilege” seems like the right word to me: millions of Americans are unemployed right now, unable to support their families. Unlike them, I have two jobs–one in public service, and the other in the food industry, both regarded as “essential” by the government, both state and federal. Continue reading

Hayek at the Hospital: The Use of Knowledge in Hospital Discharge Decisions

A live update from The New York Times on the COVID-19 situation in Peru:

Peru has more than 170,000 confirmed cases, despite taking the virus seriously early on. The president, Martín Vizcarra, ordered one of the first national lockdowns in South America. Though the official virus death toll stands at around 5,000, Peru had 14,000 more deaths than usual in May, suggesting that a growing number of people are dying at home as hospitals struggle to handle a flood of cases.

So should the Peruvians be taking to the streets to express outrage at the incompetence of all those heads of households where excess mortality has taken place? Or alternatively, should Peru’s hospitals just have warehoused up to 14,000 post-acute COVID patients in the excess space they had as they were struggling “to handle a flood of cases”? Continue reading

Cowen on Nursing Homes: A Postscript

I continue to be baffled by Tyler Cowen’s views on the COVID-19 nursing home controversy. Here’s a relevant excerpt from a piece of his that’s just come out in Bloomberg Opinion:

If I have learned one thing over the last few weeks, it is that the psychology of the American public is weirder — and perhaps more flexible — than I ever would have thought.

Consider, as just one example among many, the issue of nursing homes. According to some estimates, about 40% of the deaths associated with Covid-19 have occurred in nursing homes, with more almost certain to come.

You might think that those 40,000-plus deaths would be a major national scandal. But so far the response has been subdued. Yes, there has been ample news coverage, but there are no riots in response, no social movement to “clean up the nursing homes,” no Ralph Nader-like crusader who has made this his or her political cause.

Nor has there been much resulting vilification. There are plenty of condemnations of technology billionaires, but very few of nursing-home CEOs. Many of the state and local politicians who oversee public-sector nursing homes have been rewarded with higher approval ratings.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, of those 40,000 deaths, surely a considerable number are African-American (data by race is hard to come by). This could be an issue for Black Lives Matter, but somehow it isn’t.

Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (61): Tyler Cowen on the Nursing Home Controversy

In a much-read and much-discussed interview in The Atlantic, the economist Tyler Cowen argues that the COVID-19 crisis proves that “the regulatory state is failing us.” Here is his Exhibit A for that claim:

Friedersdorf: What are the most significant failures of America’s regulatory state as it relates to the pandemic?

Cowen: Let me give you a few examples:

  1. New York state regulations, until very recently, forced nursing homes to accept COVID-19-positive patients being discharged from hospitals. Nursing homes, especially in the northeast, have been an epicenter for COVID-19 casualties. By law, they were forced to accept more than 4,500 COVID-19-positive patients, often without proper PPE for their staff.

I don’t find this convincing. Why, exactly, does this very partial description of the issue prove that government failed? And why does Cowen regard the matter as so obvious that a summary this brief should suffice to make the case? Continue reading

Coronavirus Diary (60): The NY/NJ Nursing Home Controversy

I’ve been pressed for time lately, as I do my share to add to the unemployment rate, but I couldn’t resist one thought in the form of a bleg, or query. For a month now, I’ve been seeing social media posts by people I respect (and many I don’t)–left, right, center, libertarian, and otherwise–criticizing Governors Cuomo and Murphy of New York and New Jersey of responsibility for mass death in the case of the the nursing homes in those states. Indeed, Cuomo himself has issued a mea culpa of sorts for doing whatever he’s supposed to have done wrong. Continue reading