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Self in Society Roundup 8

College loan cancellation, Covid damage, minimum wages, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
August 25, 2022; ported here on June 4, 2024

College Loan Cancellation

So the Biden administration has partially cancelled student loans, specifically "$10,000 in debt for those making less than $125,000 a year."

"You're thinking 'But wait, I don't have any college debt. . .' Well, now you DO!" notes Timothy Sandefur. My six-year-old will be thrilled.

Something I Tweeted: "College would be cheaper for students if governments stopped supporting it completely. This is a paradox the left does not understand and, further, does not wish to even consider."

I pointed to a couple of relevant books, The Case Against Education by Bryan Caplan, and Cracks in the Ivory Tower by Jason Brennan and Phillip Magness.

Obviously the political aim of the move is to motivate Democratic voters for the midterms. But I think a lot of people who work for a living who didn't go to college, didn't accumulate debt, or already paid off debt might feel a little bitter about being forced to pick up the tab for others' education.

Even Noah Smith writes, "[S]tudent debt cancellation [is] an ad-hoc, one-off move that does absolutely nothing to fix the deep pathologies in the way America financed undergraduate education."

A lot of lefties are defending the student loan cancellations on grounds that the federal government also offered Covid loans and subsidies. Those were bad too!

Ah, yes, but may Republicans are extremely hypocritical on the matter of subsidies. Ian Silverrii points to the "White House . . . dunking on every Republican member of congress who cashed gigantic checks signed by the taxpayers but who revile $10k–$20k student loan forgiveness." Apparently we're at the "two wrongs make a right" stage of politics.

Covid Damage

National Geographic has out a series of articles about the damage that Covid can do to the body. Its article, "How multiple COVID-19 infections can harm the body," is paywalled. Another shows in high-resolution images the extensive damage that Covid can cause to various organs. I found a third article, "How COVID-19 harms the heart," the most interesting and disturbing. Here are some key passages:

Even in March 2020, physicians were seeing unexpectedly high rates of blood clots in their patients, leading to a rise in heart attacks and strokes. Autopsies also revealed masses of tiny blood clots in places where doctors don't normally see them, such as the liver and the kidneys. . . . For some patients, MRI scans show signs of inflammation months after clearing the virus. . . .

In a study published in Science Advances, the researchers showed that the virus can enter megakaryocytes, the bone marrow cells that make platelets. The infected cell then alters the genetic material in the platelets so that they become more active and give off protein signals that make the lining of the blood vessels sticky and inflamed. This makes the vessels prone to developing clots that can spread throughout the body.

Scientists also learned that the virus weakens connections in the tissue that lines blood vessels, making them leaky instead of sealing them up. . . .

However, continues the article, the risk of myocarditis, although elevated, remains low. But people also can have problems with heart regulation, increased heart rate, and fatigue.

On the same topic. . . Here's what Nature has to say:

[P]eople who had had the disease faced substantially increased risks for 20 cardiovascular conditions—including potentially catastrophic problems such as heart attacks and strokes—in the year after infection with the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Researchers say that these complications can happen even in people who seem to have completely recovered from a mild infection.

Minimum Wage

Jason Abaluck has a bit of fun with Bryan Caplan for presenting the minimum wage debate as simple. Fair enough. He also summarizes some of the important papers on the topic. A few things stood out to me.

Abaluck assumes that welfare redistribution is a legitimate aim of wage controls. He writes, "The minimum wage redistributes money from firms to existing workers. . . . Were the federal government to increase the minimum wage . . . the total amount of redistribution would increase."

I simply reject Abaluck's premise that such redistributionism is a legitimate function of government. Rather, I think that people have a right to freedom of contract and that wage controls straightforwardly violate people's rights. I am not claiming here that wage rates always are "efficient." Generally I think inefficiencies should be addressed via voluntary means, such as voluntary unions and educational campaigns.

Abaluck reviews one study that suggests (in Abaluck's words) that with a minimum wage "workers reallocate to higher-paying, more productive establishments, an efficiency increase." The paper finds "empirically that small businesses with few employees and lower wage-premia exit the market in areas more exposed to the min[imum] wage. . . . Min[imum] wages may also induce exit of low-paying firms which improves efficiency." So . . . that minimum wages can drive out small businesses is taken as a good thing?

Abaluck concedes, "Firms may respond to minimum wage increases by reducing amenities or other benefits among many other margins."

This brings us to what I think often is ignored in minimum-wage debates. These discussions of alleged "efficiency" often leave out people's actual values. If someone gets a lot of joy out of running an "inefficient" small business, why is that a problem? If someone would rather take a low-stress, low-pay job rather than a high-stress, higher-paying job, why should government outlaw the former?

Tyler Cowen has a discussion of Abaluck's remarks (that are interesting but that I don't fully endorse).

Quick Takes

Rush: That's quite a lot of pressure of Les Claypool to put on Matt Stone. At a South Park celebration concert at Red Rocks, unexpected by Stone, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson showed up on stage to perform "Closer to the Hearth"—with Stone playing drums. Stone knew he was playing that song but thought it was with others. He did fine. But it's pretty hard filling in for the greatest rock drummer in history. Neil Peart died of cancer in 2020.

Housing: U.S. housing is so expensive that some people are fleeing to Mexico for cheaper housing, often working illegally. Some locals complain that migrants aren't assimilating and are driving up prices, CNN reports.

Space: SpinLaunch wants to "throw" satellites into orbit. Robert Wiblin: "This video about a company trying to fling things into space by spinning them in a centrifuge incredibly quickly and then letting them go is both inspiring and insane."

Education: Phonics works. Direct instruction works. Naturally, teachers hate them.

Rationality: Robert Tracinski reviews Steven Pinker's Rationality. He also defines "game"!

Guns: Dave Kopel has a twenty-page discussion of the important Second Amendment case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

Free Speech: "In which David French, an actual free speech lawyer, takes a posturing huckster to school" (Tracinski): Under the Stop WOKE Act, "Universities would adopt sweeping restrictions banning specific viewpoints (or, more commonly, adopting overbroad and subjective definitions of harassment) and then say, 'This is civil rights law.' It wasn't. It isn't. Yet that's what DeSantis is doing, and that's why defenders of the First Amendment are taking him to court" (French).

Aliens: Robin Hanson is one of the very few people I'll listen to regarding space aliens. He recently recorded a very-long podcast with Lex Fridman. Here's his main thesis, as I understand it: At some point in the future, some species will start expanding rapidly through space, and these spheres of influence will meet and comingle. Whether humans become such an expansionary species is up to us.

Health Care: Summarizing a Financial Times article, John Burn-Murdoch writes, "Our estimate of as many as 500 non-Covid excess deaths every week in England, due to the dire situation in emergency departments. These will be people with conditions including but not limited to heart problems, complications from diabetes or liver disease."

Schools: The Covid school closures caused enormous harm. Big surprise. Mary Katharine Ham has the story.

Galileo: Two documents thought to have been written by Galileo have turned out to be forgeries. (I don't know Galileo's work well enough to judge how much the findings impact the overall interpretation of the scientist.)

Long-Termism: Will MacAskill has out a book on long-termism in which he basically argues that we should spend more time and energy making the future, including the distant future, better. He explains this in podcast episodes with Tyler Cowen, Robert Wiblin, and others. Scott Alexander reviews the book. I write a bit about this in my review of Cowen's book.

Government: "Nearly $400 million in covid aid went to a veteran retraining program as part of the American Rescue Plan. Only 397 landed jobs" (Washington Post).

'Merica: "High energy costs and strained health-care systems are taking their toll on Europeans already stressed by the pandemic," writes Robert Burgess, summarizing Tyler Cowen's article for Bloomberg.

January 6: "Yes, it was an attempted coup."

Police: Three Arkansas police officers were filmed brutally beating someone in their custody. Where are the charges?

Abortion: "South Carolina Republican, Rep. Neal Collins, realiz[ed] that the anti-abortion bills he supported are now forcing women and girls to carry nonviable pregnancies at risk of sepsis, death, and loss of the uterus" (Mark Joseph Stern).

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