That ugly word again “Nationalize”.

Yet again FEE.ORG, the Foundation for Economic Education, comes up with a winner. The headline is Senators Are Urging Trump to Nationalize the Medical Equipment Supply Chain. That Would Be Lethal. “As the famed British economist Lionel Robbins once observed, economics is about finding the best ways to allocate scarce resources that have alternative uses. While it’s tempting to believe that experts could coordinate the use of resources through a centralized government better than individuals can, centuries of studying economies has taught us that that just isn’t true.

“An economy is the result of millions of people’s constant interactions—cooperating and competing to produce goods and services, trading with each other, and coming up with entrepreneurial solutions to human problems. They are complex and organic, not machines that can be directed by policy-makers. No single producer and central authority can possibly know what is most needed in a given economy consisting of millions of people and products. We overcome this problem by relying on information that comes from price signals. Prices are knowledge wrapped in incentives, and they’re the best tool an economy has to allocate resources.” Read that again, my fine-feathered “price gouging” complainers. When was the last time you refused to buy buttered popcorn at the movies because of price gouging? You people need to think rather than sloganize!

“The solution to shortages of items such as respirator masks, ventilators, and protective eye gear is to harness the massively productive power of what produced them in the first place: profit-seeking entrepreneurs. This can be achieved by lowering regulatory barriers, which are inhibiting production and distribution of essential products, and by incentivizing more production through pricing. Despite easing of regulations in some areas of the economy, the market remains hogtied when it comes to ramping up production of needed medical supplies. It can take up to three months to approve facilities for production of essential products we need now. Elon Musk just delivered 1,255 life-saving ventilators that he purchased from China’s surplus, but it would be far better if he was allowed to produce ventilators that are in short supply world-wide. He’s indicated that this is something his team can do, but the Food and Drug Administration has to agree to waive their lengthy approval process.

“The FDA has been a major barrier to an effective coronavirus response from the outset, not only by restricting the production and distribution of life-saving medical devices like ventilators, but by imposing strict limits on who was allowed to develop and conduct tests. The outbreak in Washington State was only discovered once a Seattle lab went around the FDA and conducted tests in their own clinic. The lumbering regulatory structure of our healthcare system delayed the collection of essential information on the spread of the disease for weeks. Nationalizating the distribution of ventilators—or any other critical resource urgently needed by coronavirus patients—would put the entire country at risk. Central planners will never be able to match the efficiency of the marketplace, even with the help of Big Data. They simply lack the knowledge, though few are inclined to admit this, as the famed economist F.A. Hayek once observed.” Why is it that the bureaucratic mindset seems to be associated—as in conjoined, like Siamese Twins—with inefficiency, stagnation, shortages and inevitably, tyranny? The last one is simple: No populace would voluntarily tolerate the first three, so tyranny is necessary to put them in their place.

The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design,” the Nobel Laureate economist wrote in The Fatal Conceit. “To the naive mind that can conceive of order only as the product of deliberate arrangement, it may seem absurd that in complex conditions order, and adaptation to the unknown, can be achieved more effectively by decentralizing decisions and that a division of authority will actually extend the possibility of overall order. Yet that decentralization actually leads to more information being taken into account.” Instead of calling on the president to nationalize the medical supply chain, which is certain to exacerbate the shortages, lawmakers should be urging the president and the FDA to allow entrepreneurs like Musk to produce the equipment we so desperately need.”

We can’t leave this subject without hearing from The Babylon Bee: WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congress has asked all non-essential businesses to limit their hours or close entirely for an undetermined amount of time. But this shutdown mistakenly shut down the most non-essential entity of all: the government. For a brief period of time, all government in the United States was illegal, since it is completely non-essential to everything. “Oops,” said Senator Mitch McConnell. “We meant non-essential private businesses. Of course, the government is always essential, even when it’s not doing anything or is making things worse.”

Senators, congresspeople, and bureaucrats frantically rewrote the ban to include only businesses that actually produced something and not government agencies that just watched other people make stuff (and, I might add, take their cut off the top). Though they had dragged their feet on passing bills related to relieving the financial distress of the shutdown, they passed this revision in record speed, almost as quickly as they vote for pay raises for themselves. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said she would have caught the mistake but had passed the ban in a hurry, saying, “We had to pass the ban to see what it did.”

Is Sweden containing the virus without desperate measures?

Nyah Nyah, Coronavirus

Every now and then I read something that opens my mind and re-frames how I think of the world. Yesterday, Reason.com published Despite Coronavirus, Sweden Refuses To Shutter Businesses and Limit Gatherings, by Johan Norberg, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of the forthcoming book Open: The Story of Human Progress. It is worth re-quoting a lot of it here. “The lights are going out all over Europe, the U.S., and increasingly the rest of the world. Borders are closing, cities are shutting down, and governments are imposing export bans. It looks like one of the first victims of the new coronavirus is globalization. The World Bank has estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the economic damage from epidemics usually comes from aversion behavior, not from disease, deaths, and the associated loss of production. This time, due to the massive scale of the shutdowns, that cost is going to be much bigger.

“Perhaps not in Sweden, though. It’s hard to predict even the next few hours or days, but it is interesting that Sweden—the one European country that did not want to shut its borders, did not close schools, and has not banned gatherings of fewer than 500 people—so far seems to be containing the spread better than other countries have. Sweden did not do this out of libertarian zeal, but because of a tradition of listening to experts and health authorities, who thought it better to track individual cases within the country than to shut everything down. When everybody is awaiting the latest epidemiological data to make decisions, there is less room for political grandstanding and strongman rhetoric. 

“There is also a case to be made that the culture of personal responsibility and interpersonal trust makes it easier for the Swedish government to leave the ultimate decisions to the people. When the public health agency recommends working from home and avoiding unnecessary gatherings, most Swedes abide by it, even without putting police on the streets and imposing stiff penalties. That leaves necessary room for local knowledge and personal needs. Individuals, organizations, and businesses can go ahead anyway, if their particular situation makes it especially important that they remain open or move around freely. 

“Despite the popular perception, our best hope against pandemic is continued trade and cooperation across borders. Travel bans are mostly ‘political placebo’ as U.K. health researcher Clare Wenham puts it, and the World Health Organization is advising against it, for the simple reason that COVID-19 is already everywhere, but vital supplies and medical equipment are not. It is easy to see the political logic behind bans on the export of essential equipment, implemented by countries like Germany and France at an early stage. You have to serve your own population first, right? But it’s the same logic as toilet paper hoarding, and it has the same result. It forces others to do the same, which means that it is not on the market when you really have to go.

“Wealth, communications technology, and open science have made our response to new diseases faster than ever. In a poorer and more closed world, without mass transportation, microorganisms traveled slower but they traveled freely, recurring for hundreds of years, until they had picked almost all of us off, one by one. Today our response is also global, and therefore for the first time, mankind has a fighting chance. Hospitals, researchers, health authorities, and drug companies everywhere can now supply each other with instant information. They can coordinate efforts to analyze and combat the problem. By organizing clinical trials of therapeutics in many countries simultaneously, they can reach a critical mass of patients they would never have found at home.   

“When someone reveals the mechanism of the virus, researchers and algorithms everywhere can get to work on ways of attacking its weak spots. On March 25, not even three months after China admitted a new virus was on the loose, America’s National Library of Medicine lists 143 potential drugs and vaccines against the virus, already recruiting (or preparing to recruit) patients to participate in clinical trials. Globalization might even prevent many pandemics from happening. A 2019 study by researchers at the universities of Oxford and Tel Aviv showed that frequent travel between populations makes us catch a lot of bugs, but also increases immunity against new strains. So apocalyptic outbreaks become less likely. This is the reason why previously isolated populations are most at risk—from Native Americans after 1492 to the swine flu in 2009, when 24 of the 30 worst affected countries were island nations. Human mobility is like a “natural vaccination” says Oxford’s Robin Thompson. The researchers speculate that this might help explain the absence of a global pandemic as severe as the Spanish flu in the last 100 years. That doesn’t help at all when a virus that previously only affected animals mutates and jumps to humans, like the new coronavirus. Then we have no resistance and it can spread quickly.”

Then again, maybe not. Sweden alone had 3,447 reported cases as of Sunday, March 29, with 102 deaths. Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, has told Danish public broadcaster DR that his country’s approach is based on the belief that the virus has already spread too far within Sweden. Closing schools, he argues, could increase the risk of children spreading the virus to elderly neighbors. But experts worry Sweden might be setting itself up for a disaster. In March, five senior scientists and doctors criticized the country’s approach in a letter published in Läkartidningen, the journal of the Swedish Medical Association. “Sweden’s strategy for dealing with the situation seems to consist mainly in contact tracking and isolation of the sick,” they wrote. “The strategy can work if there are only a few cases.” It might already be beyond that stage. “More delays and chances can have fatal effects on public health in Sweden,” they cautioned.

Thomas Sowell, fresh and for this morning: (Perfectionist) Progressives think in terms of solutions and conservatives think in terms of trade-offs. (Perfectionist) Progressives ask what it will take to stop the virus, and conservatives ask what it will cost to stop the virus. And further, when conservatives ask what it will cost to stop the virus, the progressives immediately wheel on them, and accuse them of “being mercenary,” of “setting a price tag” on precious human life and, if the progressive involved is a woke evangelical lefty, he will hide his peculiar myopia by using terms like “Mammon.” When you raise concerns about “the economy,” and “lost revenue streams,” he says, you are revealing to the world that idol standing there in a recessed alcove of your heart, like you won an Oscar or something. No, actually The shutdown in California is costing billions of dollars a week in the restaurant business alone. We are talking about people. Conservatives who talk about costs are talking about costs to people. (Perfectionist) Progressives who ignore the costs are ignoring the costs to people. When you call the witch doctor and summon the aerie spirits of real solutions now, you will always be surprised by the appearance of the bill. What’s this? Why were we not informed?