We are very short staffed and no one wants a job right now

“Biden and Republicans Spar Over Unemployment as Job Gains Disappoint” (NYT):

The president said he saw no measurable evidence that a $300 federal boost in unemployment benefits was hurting the labor market, amid criticism from conservatives and business groups.

From a Mexican restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina (Biltmore Village, actually) last month. The sign on the door: “We are very short staffed and no one wants a job right now. … ITS THE NEW PANDEMIC! Most of us are working doubles everyday.. PLEASE BE KIND to the ones that did show up for their job today!!”

Is it better elsewhere in the nation? A friend owns a multi-state chain of restaurants. April 30, 2021 email from him:

It’s impossible to hire people right now. The people that want jobs and want to work have them. Everyone else is happy to collect unemployment, which, apparently, can still pay you damn close to what you were making pre pandemic. We post applications and get piles of responses. None show for interview. Turns out you have to approve you ‘applied’ not ‘interviewed to keep the checks flowing.

Anecdotally, it has been difficult to get Ubers and drivers say that their peers have quit to collect unemployment, welfare, etc. Uber XL pays enough to compete with Uncle Joe and therefore it is usually easier and quicker to get an Uber XL (minivan or pavement-melting SUV). We used Uber around Atlanta in mid-April and it was often slow to get any kind of ride, but 10 minutes faster to get an XL than a regular UberX. Example from a downtown location where, pre-coronapanic, you’d expect a regular Uber to be available in 2 minutes, not 12:

We’re currently fixing up a house in order to sell it. There are a lot of tradespeople happy to work, but only if paid in cash. They say that they don’t want to upset their unemployment benefits.

The New York Times did an analysis of the $600/week supplemental dole a year ago (“Workers in more than half of states will receive, on average, more in unemployment benefits than their normal salaries”):

Now that the supplemental dole has been cut to $300 per week, in theory working should pay a little more than not working. In practice, though, the American collecting unemployment can do some work for cash and end up with a higher spending power. Also, not working might be a lot more fun than working, depending on the job. Maybe at $300/week plus the standard unemployment check the overall lifestyle is better even if spending power is a little lower. If the unemployed person’s slightly lower reportable income results in lower prices for means-tested housing and means-tested health insurance, spending power might actually be higher.


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Why not tiered real estate commissions?

From this blog in 2005:

People who sell $1 million condos often complain that paying a 6 percent standard (read “fixed by collusion” among realtors) commission is too much ($60,000 for what might only be a few days of work). Economists who have studied the real estate market, however, find that in some ways the commission is too low because realtors don’t work very hard to sell clients’ houses compared to their personal houses. In other words they sell a customer’s house relatively cheap so that it will sell quickly rather than work for many weeks to get the best price and 6% of the extra.

Why haven’t we seen anyone propose a commission structure that says the realtor gets a 25% commission… but only on the amount above the assessed value of the property? Your typical $1 million NY or Boston apartment is assessed at maybe $850,000 and could be sold for that price with almost no effort in a few days so the commission paid on such a sale shouldn’t be more than $1000. If a realtor could sell the place for $1.2 million via clever marketing, however, she should be entitled to a fat commission.

In the intervening 16 years, various Internet services have made it easier for owners to sell their own houses. We can assume that realtors add value, since most people still do hire realtors, but they’re adding value on top of an easy-to-establish base, e.g., 10 percent below the Zillow Zestimate. Presumably a “for sale by owner” (free) listing on Zillow could easily sell a house at 90 percent of its Zestimate. (5 minutes of marketing effort!) If so, the structure that would align sellers’ interests with agents’ interest is a commission that was 0 percent of the first 90 percent of expected value and 15-25 percent of the sales proceeds above that.

How can it still be case that an agent who does a terrible job, selling a house for 95 percent of its value, gets paid almost as much as an agent who does a superb job, selling a house for 115 percent of its value?

This is the kind of question I am pondering as we declutter and pack up for Jupiter, Florida!

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Mint a $5 Covid coin showing Jon Brower Minnoch?

I’m wondering if it is time to make a $5 coin suitable for tipping essential workers. The U.S. has a history going back to 1795 with $5 coins; just over 100 years ago, a $5 coin had a quarter ounce of gold in it, which today would be worth $430. The $5 coin wouldn’t blow away if left on the outdoor restaurant tables that are now mandatory. It could also be left on a front step for an Amazon delivery contractor.

What to put on the new coin? With Americans fatter than ever thanks to coronapanic shutdowns (see “How Much Weight Did We Gain During Lockdowns? 2 Pounds a Month, Study Hints” (NYT)), how about Jon Brower Minnoch, an American who was literally great, for the obverse? At 1,400 lbs., Minnoch was the heaviest human ever recorded.

That leaves the reverse. Our greatest scientist (Dr. Fauci) is the obvious choice, but an 1866 law prevents the living from taking up space on U.S. currency. Perhaps a scene of struggle for racial equity. Here’s a recent quarter design:

The U.S. government says the Tuskegee Airmen “fought two wars” (one of which was against racism). (This is the opposite of what Charles McGee said at Oshkosh back in 2019; asked “What was it like to be black in 1940 when segregation prevailed?” he answered “I went to high school in the North and we didn’t have segregation.”)

How about a series with scenes of a modern-day hero? The double-masked soldier for social justice sits at a desk eating Doritos. After looking both ways to make sure nobody is within 100′, the N95-masked hero takes a break from Zoom to add a #StopAsianHate sign in among the rainbow flag, BLM banner, and “In this house we believe…” sign in his/her/zir/their yard. The concerned citizen updates his/her/zir/their Facebook profile picture from #StopAsianHate (a week for this cause is enough) back to #StayHomeSaveLives. He/she/ze/they rolls up his/her/zir/their sleeve to accept the sacrament of investigational non-FDA approved vaccine. As in A Rake’s Progress, the story ends in tragedy. Our Mask and Shutdown Karen, now fully vaccinated, decides to attend a rally demanding justice for the BIPOC and stands closer than 6′ from his/her/zir/their brothers/sisters/binary-resisters in arms. The final scene for the reverse shows the felled-by-a-variant social justice warrior dying in the ICU, attended by a BIPOC physician and BIPOC nurse, an immigrant via the DREAM Act.

Separately, another potential advantage for the $5 coin is that if the $trillions of additional government spending generate inflation, it will be the right denomination for purchasing a drink from a vending machine (already at $3 at the Atlanta Zoo, April 2021; see photo below).


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Bitcoin has plenty of runway if we look back to the 1960s and 70s and the Great Society

When the U.S. was founded, minimum voting age was 21. A man might start work at age 13 or 14 and therefore a voter would be someone who’d worked for 8 years and who would experience higher taxes and a bigger government as a requirement to work longer hours. Since 1972, however, the 26th Amendment has ensured that 18-year-olds can vote and an 18-year-old may not begin working full time for 10 years (or ever, if he/she/ze/they has figured out that welfare yields a similar spending power). The majority of voters either work for the government or don’t work at all (too young, too old, in “means-tested” living (not “welfare” since it is only housing, health insurance, food, and smartphone that are received rather than cash), collecting alimony or child support from a defendant worker, married to a worker). So the big surprise is that this majority hasn’t voted itself a vastly larger government to be paid for by private sector suckers who will have to work longer hours.

(Imagine how different our government would be if, except for the disabled, 8 years of full-time work history was a requirement to vote!)

There have been three major episodes in U.S. history when the voters hungry for more government benefits prevailed over the beasts of burden (folks for whom the main consequence of bigger government will be longer hours). One was in 1930s (FDR and the New Deal). One was in the 1960s (Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, though arguably started by JFK). One was in November 2020. If we think that Episode 3 will be a lot like Episode 2, it is worth reading Great Society: A New History a 2019 book by Wall Street Journal reporter turned economic historian Amity Shlaes. I’m just digging into this, but the author seems to have anticipated our current situation (Episode 3). She looks at what happened to last the time that the U.S. decided to “go big” on addressing inequality. The economic and stock market stagnated while the dollar fell and gold surged. If Shlaes is right, every Federal spending initiative is great news for Bitcoin investors.

Some excerpts:

As Stalin was said to have joked, America was the only country in the world that could afford communism.

In a recent book the author had itemized the kinds of reform America needed. Laws that backed up organized labor so it might represent a greater portion of the American workforce, including black Americans or immigrants from Mexico. Higher minimum wages—the current levels were a cruel joke. Minimum wages that covered more workers, even those who did not work in an office or full-time. A dramatic change in the training of bigoted policemen in the big cities. A reinvigoration of the poor so that they became a force in political life. America was a country made of classes, the author thought; it just didn’t know it. The money was simply in the wrong hands. The writer wanted a tax system that captured the elusive wealth of the superrich. The moment had come to level incomes in a systematic fashion. Poverty was the obvious lunch theme. Just days before, the president had tapped the author’s host to lead a new campaign against poverty. In his State of the Union address, the president had told the country he wanted not only to alleviate suffering but to actually “cure poverty.” No American leader had ever taken on poverty in this way before.

The focus of the author’s book was the cycle of poverty in one region, Appalachia. The man had also seen poverty in the city where he grew up, St. Louis. In St. Louis the poverty was in part caused by government plans gone wrong, as in the case of the bulldozing of streets people loved in the name of moving them into public housing slums they didn’t love. America, the author thought, should invest billions to abolish poverty. It was incredible that America knew so much about poverty and had done so little. The state governments could not do this work. State governments were beholden to retrograde conservative legislatures. For systemic change, the author had come to believe, there was “no place to look except toward the federal government.”

Still, as he sat in the makeshift offices, the author kept returning to what he saw as the problem behind the problem, American capitalism. He and his friend took to concluding their memos with a half-serious line: “Of course, there is no real solution to the problem of poverty until we abolish the capitalist system.”3 At one point the author stopped censoring himself and wrote a few lines of what he actually felt: “that the abolition of poverty would require a basic change in how resources are allocated.” The boss actually took this bold call for redistribution to the president, who, the boss reported, proved remarkably friendly. The boss said that the president, a Roosevelt fan, told him that if serious economic redistribution was necessary to realize the long-delayed completion of the New Deal, then redistribution might be worth it.

The president being pitched on what today we might call transferism was Lyndon Johnson and the year was 1964. The author was Michael Harrington, whom Wikipedia describes as a “democratic socialist.”

The economic boom that had preceded JFK’s election gave Americans the confidence that anything was affordable. (I’ve seen this among quite a few folks in my parents’ social circle. Born in the 1930s, they don’t agree with Margaret Thatcher that it is possible to run out of other people’s money. They imagine the U.S. to be so wealthy that no spending proposal could ever exceed Americans’ ability to pay.)

Most Americans shared something else with Harrington: confidence. In the 1930s, the New Deal had failed to reduce unemployment. The prolonged periods of joblessness were what had made the Depression “Great.” But the memory of the New Deal failure had faded just enough that younger people liked the sound of the term. And memories of more recent success fueled Americans’ current ambition. Many men were veterans. They had been among the victorious forces that rolled across Europe and occupied Japan at the end of World War II. Compared with overcoming a Great Depression, or conquering Europe and Japan, eliminating poverty or racial discrimination had to be easy. American society was already so good. To take it to great would be a mere “mopping up action,” as Norman Podhoretz, who had served in Europe, would put it.

First came a campaign, led by President John F. Kennedy, to rehabilitate troubled youth. Soon after, President Johnson led the passage of series of federal civil rights laws. Around the same time came Johnson’s War on Poverty. Next were Johnson’s national housing drive and his health care drive. Richard Nixon followed up with a guaranteed-income campaign and an environmental drive.

When government accomplishes little, how do you persuade the public that enormous achievements are occurring?

Ambitious reforms needed time to succeed. It would be a shame if a project aborted because early results didn’t look good. So, for display purposes, presidents emphasized inputs, not outputs. Congress, too, as the Hoover Institution’s John Cogan has put it, “measured success by labels and dollars attached to legislation”—not by results. The political success of a project mattered more than empirical success. Occasionally, the effort got a new name. The “New Frontier” of Kennedy became Johnson’s “Great Society,” which became the “Great Nation,” and then the “Just and Abundant Society” of Richard Nixon.

We hear a lot about the various $2 trillion spending plans, but we never see a New York Times article on what Americans actually got from the preceding $2 trillion spending program. (exception?)

How did the dreams of the 1960s play out?

… by 1971, for the first time, federal spending on what we now call entitlements—benefits for the aged, the poor, and the unemployed, along with other social programs—outpaced spending on defense.

In 1966, the [Dow Jones Industrial Average] moved tantalizingly close to the 1,000 line, a landmark. Soon after, however, the index stalled, and stayed stuck below the 1,000 line, year in, year out. By the end of the decade, inflation, always present, was expanding to alarming levels. The same period brought another alarm, this time from abroad. Foreign governments started to turn more of their dollars in for gold from the United States’ coffers. The U.S. papers went into denial, quoting a Yale professor, Robert Triffin, who argued that the withdrawals were the result of crossed incentives in the international monetary arrangement, a technical, rectifiable flaw. What came to be known as the Triffin dilemma provided a convenient explanation for the mysterious outflows.

The 1971 run on American gold also, however, reflected foreigners’ insight. Outsiders knew a tipping point when they saw one. America had moved closer to Michael Harrington’s socialism than even Harrington understood. The United States had locked itself into social spending promises that might never be outgrown. Today, interest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies serves as a measure of markets’ and individuals’ distrust of the U.S. dollar. In those days there was no Bitcoin, but gold played a similar role. The dollar was the common stock of America, and foreigners used gold to short it.

The disastrous performance of the U.S. economy in the following years proved the foreigners’ 1971 wager correct. To pay for its Great Society commitments, the U.S. government in the next decade found itself forced to set taxes so high that it further suppressed the commercialization of innovation.

Eventually the market bounces back, right?

The Dow flirted with the 1,000 level throughout the decade, but did not cross the line definitively until 1982, an astonishingly long period to stagnate, nearly a generation.

You just had to wait from 1966 to 1982 to sell a stock for more than you’d paid… in nominal dollars. Shlaes fails to point out that you’d need $3 in June 1982 to have the same spending power as $1 in 1966. On an inflation-adjusted basis (chart), the DJIA didn’t exceed its 1966 high until 1996, i.e., 30 years later.

What about all the great stuff that happened in the 1960s? Going to war in Vietnam was a terrible decision, of course, but continuing Eisenhower’s work in desegregation wasn’t, surely. The author says “Well…”:

The early civil rights laws, as important as they were, set a precedent for federal supremacy over states to an extent some of the Constitution’s authors would have likened to tyranny. The later civil rights laws, with their emphasis on group rights, pitted Americans against one another. Both Johnson and Nixon conducted domestic policy as if they were domestic commanders in chief.

Already I can see some stuff that seems wrong or at least not supported.

For today, the contest between capitalism and socialism is on again. Markets do promise strong growth; we do live in a creative society, the most creative in the world, creative enough to lift the nation to new heights. Yet new, progressive proposals bearing a strong resemblance to those of Michael Harrington’s and his peers’, from redistribution via taxation to student debt relief to a universal guaranteed income, are sought yet again. Once again, many Americans rate socialism as the generous philosophy. But the results of our socialism were not generous. May this book serve as a cautionary tale of lovable people who, despite themselves, hurt those they loved. Nothing is new. It is just forgotten.

How does the author know that the U.S. is “the most creative in the world”? Why isn’t it equally plausible that our wealth was built on stealing a huge chunk of land from the Native Americans rather than on some sort of unique creativity? If it was the land that made us comparatively rich, combined with the wars and Communism consuming our competitors in the 20th century, then we aren’t guaranteed to get richer going forward. Taking the long view, it is the Chinese and Europeans who have

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We now know the price of freedom: $0

Continuing the Passover-Freedom theme… what is the actual price tag that Americans put on freedom? “The Curious Case of Florida’s Pandemic Response” (Atlantic) suggests that the value is $0.

To the extent that winning a pandemic is possible, Florida seemed to be winning the pandemic.

(the author does not consider the possibility that Floridians did not enter the COVID Olympics)

Governor Ron DeSantis bragged that Florida drew a straight flush of pandemic outcomes: “open schools, comparatively low unemployment, and per capita COVID mortality below the national average.”

But the closer I looked, the more holes I found in the simple pro-Florida narrative.

Yes, Florida is seeing falling COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. But so is just about everywhere else. And its overall pandemic performance is just about typical.

As far as I can tell, though, it didn’t. At 4.8 percent, its unemployment rate is 18th in the country, and not meaningfully different from that of the median states, South Carolina and Virginia, at 5.3 percent. Real-time data tracking state spending and employment show that Florida is doing, again, no better than average. Compared with January 2020, its consumer spending is down 1 percent, which is right in line with the national average. Its small-business revenue is down about 30 percent—again, almost exactly the national average. These statistics may be missing something. But the national narrative of an exceptionally white-hot Florida economy doesn’t match the statistical record of its performance.

What this nation desperately needs is low-skill immigration so that we have lots more people to house:

Since 2012, Miami home prices have increased by 94 percent, nearly the exact same as those in Los Angeles in that time. Prices are soaring as inventory melts away; Florida’s active listings fell by 50 percent last year, and it’s not doing enough to keep up with demand.

A rare moment of checking to see whether coronascience has any predictive value:

In 2020, smart media figures and scientists predicted that COVID-19 would especially ravage Florida, given its open economy and elderly population. They were wrong. Why? Did Florida just get lucky? Is this mostly about the salutary benefits of the outdoors, or the coronavirus’s sensitivity to heat and humidity? Do strict lockdowns simply fail the cost-benefit analysis? The answer to all three questions may be yes.

What’s most interesting to me is that the author implicitly values the freedoms to walk out of one’s door, walk outside without a mask, meet friends at a restaurant, host a party at one’s house, etc. at $0. If two people, one confined to his/her/zir/their home by a governor’s executive order and one free to send children to school, go to work, play a sport, socialize, have the same amount of money they are equally well off. So it makes sense to look at the statistics gathered by economists and pronounce a state (or a society) a success or failure based on those statistics. (We also see this applied to Sweden; people will look at a list of countries ranked by COVID-19-tagged deaths per capita and note Sweden’s position without pointing out that it avoided the lockdowns, masquerades, etc.)

From Wellington, Florida… (Why does the realtor rank “Pool” above “Hangar”?!?!)

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Did 10 percent inflation happen during 2020 without us noticing?

One of the miracles of 2020 was that the U.S. government could borrow/print money like crazy in response to coronapanic and yet inflation, as calculated by the U.S. government, did not go up.

But what if inflation did happen and we just didn’t notice because we were locked down and prevented from leaving the U.S.?

Here’s the USD versus the Euro:

A dollar was worth 0.92 euro a year ago. As of February 15, 2021 it is worth 11 percent less, 0.82 euro.

How about versus the yen?

The USD is down from 110 to 105 in yen.

The USD is down against gold and silver. On February 15, 2020 they cost $1583 and $18. On February 15, 2021 it took $1819 to buy the same ounce of gold and $28 to buy the same ounce of silver.

Is it fair to say that we’ve had 10 percent inflation over the last 12 months?

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Rich white Americans help themselves to subsidies from Black Americans

“Complacency and wasteful spending blight US higher education” (ft.com):

The push by American progressives to have Joe Biden’s incoming administration forgive $50,000 of student debt per borrower is deeply stupid, but at least clarifyingly so.

More polite language fails to capture the absurdity of singling out college attendees for an unprecedented $1tn transfer of wealth — equivalent to the total spent on cash welfare in the last 40 years. The top sources of US student debt are professional business and law degrees. [Brookings]

(The comparison to “cash welfare” is misleading because nearly all U.S. welfare spending is officially “not cash” and, for Democrats, “not welfare”. A person who gets a free “means-tested” house, a free “means-tested” health insurance policy, free food via SNAP/EBT, and free phone service via Obamaphone is not “on welfare” and is not receiving “cash welfare”.)

The article contains some other fun facts. College here costs 2X what it costs in Germany or France. Only one quarter of the folks who sign up at two-year community colleges earn a degree within six years. And the author points out that young people would be stupid not to take the opportunity to enjoy “sports and parties, sex and alcohol” for four years at taxpayer expense.

What the author doesn’t mention is that Black Americans will be paying for this while white Americans will be the ones primarily enjoying the sports, parties, sex, and alcohol.

If 2020 was the year that old white rich Americans stole a year of life from young healthy slender Black Americans (by locking them down to “protect” them from a disease from which they faced minimal risk), maybe 2021 will be the year that young white rich Americans steal massive quantities of cash from Black Americans via student loan forgiveness?


  • “Who owes the most in student loans: New data from the Fed” (Brookings): The highest-income 40 percent of households (those with incomes above $74,000) owe almost 60 percent of the outstanding education debt … The lowest-income 40 percent of households hold just under 20 percent of the outstanding debt. … education debt is concentrated in households with high levels of educational attainment. In 2019, the new Fed data show, households with graduate degrees owed 56 percent of the outstanding education debt—an increase from 49 percent in 2016. The 3 percent of adults with professional and doctorate degrees hold 20 percent of the education debt. These households have median earnings more than twice as high as the overall median.
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American central planners tackle vaccine scarcity

The problem with socialism is that it was never given a fair chance or a proper technocratic implementation, e.g., in the Soviet Union. Once President Harris or President AOC appoints properly credentialed agency heads, American Democratic Socialism will serve as a City on a Hill-style demonstration to countries around the world.

My Facebook feed is alive today with Bigger Government enthusiasts decrying the fact that state health departments (New York’s has more funding than the entire Russian military, but our media characterizes these departments as “chronically underfunded”) are not managing to distribute the vaccines that the Feds shipped to them. Presidents Biden and Harris will fix the problem starting on January 20, according to my friends, but we are still left with three weeks of what is, in their view, incompetent and slow distribution (at current injection rates, the U.S. is on track to lose 40% of the paid-for vaccines to expiration).

Stats from the NYT:

(Note that New York and New Jersey collect more in state/local taxes, as a percentage of residents’ income, than 47 other states, but they’re still on track to have expired vaccine doses.)

An interesting aspect of this is that the failure of central planning for vaccine distribution has not dimmed anyone’s enthusiasm for more central planning in other parts of the economy. The solution for dealing with scarcity is not a market and prices, but rather more and better technocrats.

Separately, I’m wondering how anyone who has recently gotten a flu shot in the U.S. thought that this would go quickly. From Do they still line up kids at school and give them shots? (2018):

The other day I was waiting for a friend at CVS so decided to use the time to get my “free” (i.e., included in my $10,000/year Obamacare policy) flu shot. Ten minutes later my friend showed up. It took roughly another ten minutes before the shot was “ready.” It turned out that three health care professionals had to process various forms on a computer screen, get a one-page questionnaire from me, and finally deliver the shot with a simple needle (less than one minute). A licensed pharmacist was required as part of the paperwork pipeline.

I wonder if something more like a market economy could have done this better. The bureaucrats can send free vaccine doses to hospitals, medical and dental offices, and nursing homes. Whatever is left over goes to whatever clinic or facility bids the highest. The bidding process is necessary to ensure that clinics that have the most streamlined and efficient procedures are the ones who will get the vaccine and also to ensure that clinics won’t let doses get spoiled or expire.

The auction-winning clinics and facilities can then use conventional web-based services to let people book slots and pay for vaccines at whatever prices they want to charge. Presumably the people who are at highest risk will recognize their risk and be willing to pay the most.

The obvious objection to the above is fairness. Rich people who aren’t scared of the barely tested vaccines will happily offer their Platinum cards. But maybe this is actually good from an epidemiological and economic point of view. Rich people tend to travel a lot (via private jet, of course, and including internationally throughout all of 2020) and, if the vaccines do stop transmission, vaccinating them will slow down the pandemic. Those rich people who are vulnerable and/or especially fearful and who have therefore been hiding in oceanfront bunkers will go out and spend a lot more money once vaccinated.

We could deal with the unfairness by simply sending out money to the people whom we want to get vaccinated. Use payroll data to send out checks to essential workers. Use Social Security data to send our checks to old people. Use insurance claim (including Medicaid and Medicare) databases to send out checks to those with BMIs over 30 (goal!) or other health conditions. The check recipients could decide whether to stay bunkered, N95-masked, bathed in hand sanitizer or to use the check to pay the going rate for the vaccine.

At least to judge by my Facebook feed, there are a lot of suburban white and Asian Americans who feel that the cost of lockdown is negligible. They’re happy to work from home (4,000 to 6,000 square feet), order deliveries, refrain from socializing in person. These folks don’t need a vaccine because if the government recommends that they stay home for the next 5 years they will cheerfully comply. But, on the other hand, there is no central database of the Happily Shutdown. Thus, the market would be the best way to keep these folks from clogging up the vaccine line. They know that they’ll be home for another year or two, so why should they pay $500 for a shot? They’ll wait for the price to come down to $100.

Update… We can watch the needle sticks unfold in real time:

Universal health care is plainly way better than whatever we want to call our system, since Israel, Bahrain, and the UK are well ahead of us. Also, universal health care is plainly way worse than the U.S. system: Denmark, Canada, Germany, Italy, and France are way behind us.

Second Update: We could also run this as a bounty-based system. The government gives away the vaccines to existing state-licensed clinics, such as CVS MinuteClinic, etc. Then the government says “You get $500 for every person over 80 whom you inject, $250 for every person over 70, and $100 for anyone else. There is a bonus of $200 for every shot in a person with a BMI over 40 and $100 for everyone with a BMI over 30.” Would we have vaccines expiring in freezers? The FAA did this with pilot briefings back in the 1980s. They let two contractors compete to offer computer-based weather information to pilots so as to discourage pilots from calling human briefers. The two contractors ran advertisements, enhanced systems, built web versions at around the same time as Amazon launched, etc. Other than writing checks, the FAA never had to do anything to get people to switch to briefing via computer system other than open up an API on their mainframes.


  • “Here’s Why Distribution of the Vaccine Is Taking Longer Than Expected” (NYT): Health officials and hospitals are struggling with a lack of resources. [18% of GDP is not sufficient to run a health care system] In Puerto Rico, last week’s vaccine shipments did not arrive until the workers who would have administered them had left for the Christmas holiday. [Coronaplague is an emergency, but not such a serious one that people should work through traditional vacation periods] In one notable blunder, forty-two people in Boone County, W.Va., who were scheduled to receive the coronavirus vaccine on Wednesday instead were mistakenly injected with an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment. [18% of GDP is not sufficient to run a system in which people get the intended shots]
  • Roughly half of the front-line health care workers whom the central planners targeted for #1 priority don’t want to be early adopters of these vaccines and are refusing to be injected: NBC
  • Update: a reader pointed me to “Free Market Vaccines”, a December 7, 2020 post by the always interesting John Cochrane: economics should start with “to the highest bidder,” and come up with some well documented market failure, and a public allocation system that mimics the highest bidder allocation. … In India, meanwhile, that bastion of… informal.. if not free markets, it appears you can sign up to buy the vaccine, for about $8.”
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Immigrants versus Black labor circa 1900

“Effects of Immigration on African-American Employment and Incarceration” (NBER, 2007):

For white men, an immigration boost of 10 percent caused their employment rate to fall just 0.7 percentage points; for black men, it fell 2.4 percentage points.

That same immigration rise was also correlated with a rise in incarceration rates. For white men, a 10 percent rise in immigration appeared to cause a 0.1 percentage point increase in the incarceration rate for white men. But for black men, it meant a nearly 1 percentage-point rise.

How was it different in the early 20th century? I’m reading Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America and the chapter on cotton plantations along the Mississippi has some relevant passages:

[Senator LeRoy] Percy declared: “The South must not be dependent for its prosperity upon the negro. There is not enough of him, and what there is is not good enough.”

Immigrants were then pouring into America by the millions, filling northern cities and factories, providing cheap, good, white labor. Percy decided to recruit Italians. In the 1870s, Delta planters had made a concerted effort to bring in Chinese from Hong Kong and from the labor gangs of the intercontinental railroads. The Chinese had left the fields, many opening tiny grocery stores, over fifty in Greenville alone.

in 1904 Percy boasted to the Manufacturer’s Record that Italians were “in every way superior to the negro…. If the immigration of these people is encouraged, they will gradually take the place of the negro without their being any such violent change as to paralyze for a generation the prosperity of the country.”

So far I recommend the book, most of which is about the efforts to understand and control the river.

Some photos taken from a Robinson R22 helicopter that I was ferrying from Los Angeles to Boston in December 2005, four months after Hurricane Katrina came through New Orleans. These include the FEMA trailers.

the Superdome…

the low-lying neighborhoods:

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Rent control is keeping rents high in San Francisco

A friend owns a three-unit building in San Francisco, occupying the top floor himself. The two tenants underneath have fled. One lost a job and the other kept the job, but decided to lose the California tax rates and mask/shutdown protocols. Both units are now vacant.

I asked how much rents have fallen and he responded with “30 percent.” Why not rent the units out at the current market rate? “If you ever rent to someone in San Francisco,” he replied, “you can never raise their rent more than about 2 percent per year after that. You’re locked it at whatever rate you start with. So I am waiting until the shutdown ends, hoping that market rents will come back closer to what they were when I bought the building.”

(Why not turn the vacant units into AirBnBs? San Francisco limits AirBnB to 90 days per year, requires them to be part of the owner’s residence, requires a variety of registrations and taxes, etc.)

If his experience is typical, there are a lot of landlords withholding supply and therefore the true market rents should actually be lower than what we’ve heard.

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