Previous Articles

  • Thinking About Things: A [New England] Republican’s View of Policies for a Unified Way Forward July 7, 2020 by John DeQ. Briggs - So, here we are at last: on the verge of class warfare, racial warfare, gender and other identity warfare, political warfare, a war on police (crime having won the war on crime), the erasure of Western and American history, and the predominance of mob- and group-think. And that just describes the last week or two. There does not seem to be any consensus about anything. It is hard to imagine the speed with which all of this has gelled, although the elements have been building for years. Covid-19 seems to be making a resurgence and the economy seems ready to respond with further decline. Independence Day is upon us and July 4 no longer feels patriotic. One even wonders if the great American Experiment has actually failed. If so, where did it go wrong? Well, I don’t know. But I do feel that everything I read now is mired in analysis paralysis. Everybody has reasons to think other people are wrong. I have read virtually nothing recently about a possible path forward. Accordingly, this column is devoted to thinking about policies from a New England Republican’s conservative point of view, which might serve as a foundation for the future -…
  • Thinking About Things: June 20, 2020 by John DeQ. Briggs - The Ecstasy of the Mob, Moral Clarity, the Press, Virtue Signaling, the Fascism of the Intelligentsia, the 1619 Project comes to main street, a Letter from Istanbul, and the Hinge of History. A. The Ecstasy of the Mob: The murder of George Floyd by a handful of Minneapolis police officers and the reactions and counter reactions to this event around the country and around the world have provided more to think about than can be thought about in days, weeks or months. Nonetheless, one can observe some objective realities and reach some tentative conclusions.
  • George Floyd: Observations on a Recurring Tragedy June 8, 2020 by Matthew Daley - It is a movie that those in my age demographic (mid to late 70s) have seen too many times. These include, inter alia, the murders of civil rights workers, the killing of Emmit Hill, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the beating of Rodney King, the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and most recently the brutal murder of George Floyd by three white and one Hmong police officer. We know the general outlines of the script, this time staring George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. Outrage, followed by protests, sometimes violent, looting, followed by an investigation to identify and prosecute the guilty parties and sometimes by a study commission to identify the root causes of African American grievances and corrective steps. A Hollywood version will likely appear as a “docudrama” mixing fact, fiction and myth. Nonetheless, there are differences which merit note. At the outset, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones, there is a powerful video and audio record of the killing of Floyd. This led to an unusual, perhaps unprecedented national consensus that Floyd was murdered. Importantly, unlike many, if not most, police killings, this event did not unfold in a few seconds, but in nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded…
  • Thinking about Things: Lockstep Lockdowns and L’Affair Flynn May 26, 2020 by John DeQ. Briggs - I have been thinking in the last couple of weeks about two particular subjects, not as unrelated as at first glance they might appear. Lockstep Lockdowns The first has to do with the unusual demands, mostly on the left, for the continued lockdown of the economy and the quarantine of the citizenry based on public health concerns and the advice of elements of the medical profession. This view is being contested, more or less on the right, by various groups who decry the increasing economic wreckage being caused by the lockdowns; the disregard of First Amendment religious rights; and more broadly the loss of individual liberties that have resulted (putting to one side the fact that non-violent inmates are being released from crowded prisons in the name of social distancing - so there is that increase in liberty for some fortunate felons). What first got me thinking about this in a more than ordinary way was a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal about Freedom and Sweden’s Constitution. As many will know, there has been virtually no lockdown in Sweden and social life there proceeds largely under the pre-pandemic rules. The reasons for this are set forth in the…
  • Prudence Over Expertise May 13, 2020 by W. David Montgomery - The big news on May 12, 2020 was the apparent dissonance between President Trump and his expert on the COVID-19 epidemic, Dr. Fauci. President Trump has been encouraging the states to let economic activity resume, stating “We did the right thing…but now we have to get it back open.” Dr Fauci warned Congress about “the danger of trying to open the country prematurely” that would “risk needless suffering and death.” They are both right. A recent essay asked why it is that economists and public health experts cannot understand each other. Its very valid point was that “[u]nlike epidemiologists, who identify a biological enemy and try to defeat it without thinking much about the costs, economists live on trade-offs [and] embrace the hardheaded reality that helping one person often leaves another less well-off” Both disciplines train practitioners to think systematically, to develop mathematical models to explore how policy interventions might change the future, to rely on data when possible, and to use their expertise to recommend interventions with the potential to improve outcomes.
  • Thinking About Things: The Next New Normal April 28, 2020 by John DeQ. Briggs - Having been under house arrest for many weeks now, I have in recent days been thinking about what it might actually mean for all of us, as a practical matter, when the Governors of the various states decide to “open up” things. But I get ahead of myself. The stock market, while down by some indices more than 15% (having come back from being down plenty more than that), seems to have to a significant extent shrugged off the reality that economic activity in this country has substantially declined and in some segments disappeared. Aerial photographs of highways show few cars and no trucks. The skies are eerily silent, almost reminiscent of the time after 9-11; restaurants are closed. While some stores are open, JC Penny and other big-box department stores all seem headed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Amazon beat them up and the quarantine seems to be pushing them off the cliff. Layoffs are everywhere. A lot of the jobs will not come back any time soon. Maybe millions.
  • Could the Stock Market Be Rational? April 28, 2020 by W. David Montgomery - John Briggs observes early in this article that “the stock market seems to have shrugged off economic reality.” He puts his finger on the persistent problem of understanding what drives the stock market. Small blips on the economic horizon produce disproportionate reactions and corrections, as we saw when worries about trade wars dropped the market at the end of 2018. In this case, however, it strikes me that the market is evidencing almost unique far-sightedness and rationality in assessing the relative size of the real economic impacts of the China Virus, with a good bit of pessimism about the harm that political responses might do.
  • Revisiting Globalization April 14, 2020 by Matthew Daley - The conversation about globalization has begun anew with the onset of COVID-19 and will doubtless continue for a long time to come. The benefits of globalization for consumers have been obvious, even as elites finessed the concerns of American workers whose jobs were exported in the name of lower costs and better profits. Unions tried to hinder this export, but succeeded mainly in delaying its spread, which accelerated with the proliferation of free trade agreements (“FTA’s). (Advances in technology have probably been responsible for more job losses than globalization.) The value of FTAs to the United States became a subject of much debate with both 2016 presidential candidates pronouncing themselves in opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership, but globalization neither began with nor will end with FTAs.
  • Thinking About Things: Movies, Series, and Books March 31, 2020 by John DeQ. Briggs - Like everyone, I have been deluged with a tsunami of information about COVID-19. Each day the news delivers an endless Möbius strip of virus news, one day pretty much like the prior day but with slight differences. The cable opinion and media OpEd pieces hurling blame diatribes are the differences, and their onslaughts continue as if this were the normal response to a public health and economic catastrophe, teaching us at least two things: (1) there is no politician alive who will not seek a political advantage from a crisis, no matter how catastrophic (interesting opinion piece on that score here thanks to WDM) and (2) sadly, COVID-19 confirms what has been said for a few years now -- we have devolved into an unserious nation. We have a strong bipartisan preference for fixing responsibility and blame rather than fixing problems. Nero fiddled while Rome burned. In this country, our officials (and media siloed supporters) prefer simply to squabble while the systems begin to collapse. So, here we all are, more or less under house arrest. As a result, I have been thinking about how to pass the time and how I can make a modest positive and practical contribution…
  • The Energy Crisis and the Coronavirus Crisis March 17, 2020 by W. David Montgomery - There is a remarkable similarity between policy responses to the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s and the way responses to the Chinese coronavirus are developing. Both events were handled by Republican administrations with weak commitments to basic economic principles at their highest levels, that had to cooperate with Democratic majorities in Congress with their own ideas about how to manage markets. The oil embargo had a very small direct effect on the U.S. economy, and the direct effects of the coronavirus are not likely to be larger. The economic damage resulting from the Arab oil embargo was almost entirely self-inflicted, due to panic and poorly designed policies. Any economic damage from the coronavirus is also much more likely to arise from panic and policy errors than from the disease itself.