Joe Biden has moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and one of his administration’s most difficult tasks is going to be the restoration of trust in the American government. Even though the foundations of U.S. democracy withstood the events of January 06, cracks are still in place, as shown by continuing suspicion and accusations on Capitol Hill. Along with distrust inside government, Statista’s Niall McCarthy notes that the nation is divided with a recent survey finding that a mere 42 percent of the U.S. public trusted the government in late 2020.
The findings come from Edelman Research’s latest Trust Barometer which polled 33,000 people in 28 countries about their trust in various institutions between October 19 and November 18, 2020. Globally, ‘trust’ collapsed in the second half of 2020…
However, despite the turbulence of 2020, a year where hundreds of thousands of Americans died from Covid-19, the research found that trust in U.S. government actually grew three percent.
Still, the U.S. figure is far lower than many other countries with trust in government in Australia and Canada standing at 61 percent and 59 percent, respectively. It is also slightly lower than the UK where the government’s Brexit strategy has proven highly controversial with public approval of the institution 45 percent in late 2020.
Some of the highest levels of trust in government were seen in Asia where 82 percent of Chinese respondents trusted the institution, along with 79 percent of people polled in India. Japan was among the lowest at 37 percent while the figure was lower still in Spain and Russia at just 34 percent.
South Korea, UK, and China saw the biggest collapses in trust of government in 2020…
“Business” is now the only institution that is seen as both ‘competent’ and ‘ethical’, with government seen as neither…
The stakes are high for 2021 and improvement will likely hinge on how the pandemic plays out, particularly when it comes to the efficiency of vaccination programs and getting economies back on track without compromising public safety.
Top pathologist Dr. Roger Hodkinson told government officials in Alberta during a zoom conference call that the current coronavirus crisis is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public.”
Hodkinson’s comments were made during a discussion involving the Community and Public Services Committee and the clip was subsequently uploaded to YouTube.
Noting that he was also an expert in virology, Hodkinson pointed out that his role as CEO of a biotech company that manufactures COVID tests means, “I might know a little bit about all this.”
“There is utterly unfounded public hysteria driven by the media and politicians, it’s outrageous, this is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public,” said Hodkinson.
The doctor said that nothing could be done to stop the spread of the virus besides protecting older more vulnerable people and that the whole situation represented “politics playing medicine, and that’s a very dangerous game.”
Hodkinson remarked that “social distancing is useless because COVID is spread by aerosols which travel 30 meters or so before landing,” as he called for society to be re-opened immediately to prevent the debilitating damage being caused by lockdowns.
Hodkinson also slammed mandatory mask mandates as completely pointless.
“Masks are utterly useless. There is no evidence base for their effectiveness whatsoever,” he said.
“Paper masks and fabric masks are simply virtue signalling. They’re not even worn effectively most of the time. It’s utterly ridiculous. Seeing these unfortunate, uneducated people – I’m not saying that in a pejorative sense – seeing these people walking around like lemmings obeying without any knowledge base to put the mask on their face.”
The doctor also slammed the unreliability of PCR tests, noting that “positive test results do not, underlined in neon, mean a clinical infection,” and that all testing should stop because the false numbers are “driving public hysteria.”
Hodkinson said that the risk of death in the province of Alberta for people under the age of 65 was “one in three hundred thousand,” and that it was simply “outrageous” to shut down society for what the doctor said “was just another bad flu.”
“I’m absolutely outraged that this has reached this level, it should all stop tomorrow,” concluded Dr. Hodkinson.
Hodkinson’s credentials are beyond question, with the MedMalDoctors website affirming his credibility.
“He received his general medical degrees from Cambridge University in the UK (M.A., M.B., B. Chir.) where he was a scholar at Corpus Christi College. Following a residency at the University of British Columbia he became a Royal College certified general pathologist (FRCPC) and also a Fellow of the College of American Pathologists (FCAP).”
“He is in good Standing with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, and has been recognized by the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta as an expert in pathology.”
In case the above video gets deleted by YouTube, a backup via Bitchute is available here.
The governors of all 50 states, and the mayors of many large cities, have assumed unto themselves the powers to restrict private personal choices and lawful public behavior in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
They have done so not by enforcing previously existing legislation but by crafting their own executive orders, styling those orders as if they were laws, using state and local police to enforce those so-called laws and — presumably when life returns to normal and the courts reopen — prosecuting the alleged offenders in court.
It is hard to believe that any judge in America would permit a criminal trial of any person for violating a standard of behavior that has not been enacted into law by a legislature. We know this because under our system of representative government, separated powers and guaranteed liberties, only the legislative branch can craft laws and assign punishments for noncompliance. This is Constitutional Law 101. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has written that the executive branch cannot enforce a law that it has written. If it does, we will have approached tyranny.
Have we approached tyranny already?
During the past eight weeks, governors and mayors have closed most businesses, public venues and houses of worship, prohibited public assembly and restricted travel — all of which they have unilaterally decreed to be nonessential.
In his terrifying novel “1984” — which posits a future of total control of all persons by the government and total control of the government by one political party — George Orwell argued that he who controls the meaning of words controls the laws as well.
That Orwellian truism has been manifested like never before here in America, where executive branch officeholders have used state and local police to restrain people from engaging in private and public behavior which they concede was lawful two months ago because today it is not deemed “essential.”
Frankly, I am surprised at the ferocity of police enforcement and the lameness of police compliance. The police have taken the same oaths to uphold the same Bill of Rights — it’s not the Bill of Safety; it’s the Bill of Rights — as have all other officeholders. The police also know that it is unlawful for them to obey an unlawful order, particularly when they use force.
The lockdown orders are all unlawful because none of them — none — has been enacted by a legislature, and all of them — all — interfere with fundamental liberties, each of which is guaranteed — guaranteed — by the Constitution.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I recognize the scientific value of personal efforts to control contagion. But under the Constitution, these social-distancing, wear-your-mask, shut-your-business, stay-at-home edicts constitute mere recommendations that should induce rational voluntary compliance, because the government in America is without lawful power to compel compliance.
The governors complain about resistance. They need to know that Americans will resist efforts to interfere in behavior that remains as moral, natural, lawful and constitutional as it was 60 days ago.
Last week, President Donald Trump, sounding fed up with gubernatorial lockdown orders, declared that religious worship is essential — meaning, in his opinion, all houses of worship should be opened — and he offered that he was prepared to “override” any governors who disagreed with him.
When he realized that he lacked any authority to override even unlawful gubernatorial decrees, he dispatched the Department of Justice to begin filing challenges to governors in federal courts and to argue that constitutional freedoms are being impaired by the states.
I applaud this, but it is too little, too late. Where was the DOJ when Catholic priests were threatened with arrest for saying Mass or distributing palms and when Jewish rabbis were put in COVID-19-infested jails for holding funerals? At all these religious events, folks freely chose to exercise their freedom to worship; and to take their chances.
These DOJ interventions provoked the question: Who should decide what goods, services or venues are essential — the states or the federal government? The question is Orwellian, as the answer is: neither of them. The government in America — state or federal — has no power and no right to determine what goods, services and venues are essential.
Those determinations have been for individuals to make since 1776, and those individual choices have been constitutionally protected from the feds since the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 and from the states since the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868.
What is essential to the laborer or student or housewife may not be essential to the former Goldman Sachs partner who was elected governor of New Jersey, and who decreed last week, “It shall be the duty of every person or entity in this State… to cooperate fully” with his orders, or essential to the ideologue who is mayor of the Big Apple and who, for all his professed liberality, threatened to close permanently — permanently — businesses and houses of worship that flaunt his guidelines.
A duty is undertaken voluntarily or by nature, not by executive command, Governor Murphy. And the government cannot take property away from its owners except for a legitimate public use and only for just compensation, Mayor de Blasio.
Governors and mayors can make all the dictatorial pronouncements and threats that they wish. But they cannot use public assets to enforce them. And when they seek to use force, those from whom they seek it should decline the offer.
In America, we decide for ourselves what produces happiness. We have never delegated to the government — ever — the power to make personal choices for us.
And some of us are willing to take chances and even do “nonessential” things. The essence of the freedoms for which we have fought since 1776 is the liberty to be ourselves.
I warned recently that the events of 2020 were killing political moderation in America by bankrupting millions of small business owners, the hardy yeomen entrepreneurs who have so long formed the solid center of American politics.
A new study from Baylor’s b-school — tellingly one begun well before the current pandemic — suggests that the policy response to COVID-19 may kill America’s long tradition of entrepreneurship too. That is not as far-fetched as it sounds. It has happened before, in many countries.
What authors Daniel Bennett and Boris Nikolaev show in “Historical Disease Prevalence, Cultural Value, and Global Innovation” (Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 2020) is that peoples who suffered from higher levels of disease pathogens, especially the nine nasties (dengue, filariae, leishmania, leprosy, malaria, schistosomes, trypanosomes, tuberculosis, typhus — and, yes, they are all real, and real bad), became more collectivist and xenophobic and less likely to interact with members of other groups.
Less interaction meant less trade, which meant a smaller Smithian extent of the market, which meant a less well-developed division of labor, which meant lower per capita output, which meant more susceptibility to pathogens. Living in a germy place did not necessarily spring a steel trap of impoverished economic inertia, but it certainly did not help to create a vibrant entrepreneurial environment.
Jared Diamond also highlighted the power of pathogens in his epic Guns, Germs, Steel and various development economists have been pointing to the negative effects of malaria for decades. They clearly have a point: if a disease changes the genome, as malaria does by creating selective pressures in favor of debilitating sickle-cell anemia, or wipes out a culture, society, and economy, as occurred in the New World after the arrival of European diseases, it clearly delivers a negative economic shock. What the Baylor boys show is that those shocks can reverberate for centuries.
Granted, their study looks at seriously deadly pathogens. But the mere fear of disease can be just as powerful by increasing neophobia, or fear of novelty, and nepotism, or bias in favor of family and friends. Instead of individual freedom, people in high fear environments favor conformity and authority, traits not conducive to innovation or entrepreneurship. Or, I would add, to modern democracy.
As a global pandemic, COVID-19 by definition raised everyone’s PSTV (Parasite Stress Theory of Values) by a little bit. But the overreaction to the pandemic by much of the media and most governments is a far bigger threat to entrepreneurship than the virus itself. For months, people have been bombarded with bad news, seemingly always on the heels of every little hopeful sign. Much of the world’s population is literally cowering at home afraid to go to church, school, or work, the very places that provide humans the most distractions, if not outright joy.
Innovation, except for COVID-related stuff, is now at a low ebb and may never rebound if the crisis lasts long enough to change cultural values. Or, in a generation we may see less innovation because the crisis has turned our young people into collectivists, more concerned about “staying safe” than “taking risks.”
The irony is that innovation could have saved us all from the bulk of the economic costs and deaths from, and with, COVID-19. With rational discussion instead of top-down direction from the CDC, NIH, WHO, etc., we could have ascertained even before the virus hit our shores that a voluntary live vaccine would provide sufficient herd immunity. Live vaccines are easy to make as they are just a small dose of the real thing. It would have been far safer than the DIY alternatives, like partying hardy, that many young people eventually opted for anyway.
Unfortunately, though, the strength of property rights has been eroding for generations in the face of government mandates and have sunk even lower of late, especially in large cities that privilege the right of assembly over property protections. That dip also does not bode well for the future of innovation in America because the Baylor authors also show that “property rights institutions are a strong positive predictor of national innovation” levels, a finding well known to those who study the strong connection between economic freedom scores and innovation.
It is possible that we will get through this, as politicians assert ad nauseum, as if it wasn’t a cliched non sequitur. Yes, America has seen worse times than this and what not. But most of the current batch of Americans hasn’t seen worse than this and no group of Americans since the New Deal has had to look into the faces of politicians who implemented colossally bad policies and then doubled down on them, extolling their obvious failures as successes.
This is not the America of Valley Forge or D-Day, it is the America of Pickett’s Charge, where people die needlessly without any hope of “victory” because their reputed superiors told them it was the only way. It is the America where farmers destroyed food while other Americans went hungry. It is the America that purports to help the downtrodden and poor while grinding their faces, this time behind essential job classifications and mandatory masks.
America’s saving grace may be that most of the rest of the world, even Anglosphere countries like Australia and New Zealand, screwed up even worse. But the biggest threat was never a mass exodus of entrepreneurs, it was the loss of entrepreneurship itself.
Robert E. Wright is the (co)author or (co)editor of over two dozen major books, book series, and edited collections, including AIER’s Financial Exclusion (2019).
In recent congressional testimony Dr. Anthony Fauci, the primary architect of the Trump administration’s COVID response, painted a bleak picture about the United States’s ability to contain the pandemic. According to Fauci’s narrative, the United States is experiencing a resurgence in regional COVID outbreaks because it failed to sufficiently lock down back in March, and failed to comply with the existing lockdown orders. Fauci specifically contrasted this situation to several European states that imposed lockdowns around the same time, claiming the latter as a successful model for COVID containment.
So how does the evidence behind this narrative stand up under empirical scrutiny? Let’s consider the claims.
Did the United States react too late?
According to the pro-lockdown narrative, the United States is experiencing a second COVID wave because it took a lackadaisical approach to locking down. We allegedly closed too late and reopened too early, leading to a failure to tame the virus in the spring. This same narrative often holds up Europe as a counterpoint for what a cautious, responsible, and evidence-based reopening process supposedly looks like.
Most of the United States went into lockdown during the second and third weeks of March, following a set of Trump Administration recommendations that were based on the now-discredited Imperial College epidemiology model of Neil Ferguson. In total, 43 of 50 American states imposed shelter-in-place style lockdowns, with the holdouts consisting almost entirely of rural western states with low population density and few signs of the outbreaks that plagued the cities of the northeast at that time.
As far as timing goes, the US lockdowns came into effect at almost exactly the same time as not only Europe but the majority of the world. A few early outbreak hotspots such as Italy preceded this shutdown by about 2 weeks, and a handful of countries (Sweden, Taiwan, Belarus) bucked the international trend. But otherwise, the timeline clearly confirms that the American response directly coincided with most other countries.
Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon River in 49 BC in defiance of Roman law placed him and his army on a direct collision course with Rome, leading to the Civil War which established him as Roman dictator. It is a well-established metaphor for a point at which there is no going back and at which things will never be the same.
I predicted a few weeks ago that the UK Government would in the near future try to force everyone to wear facemasks in public. Leave aside the plethora of information that makes it clear face masks are of practically zero benefit in everyday circumstances, and may, in fact, be dangerous, the forced wearing of facemasks is a transgression so fundamental and of such significance that it is difficult to adequately express.
It implicitly hands your body over to state control, and renders one of your most basic existential freedoms subject to state interference. For the first time, the right to exercise a choice of whether you should inhibit your respiratory faculties and hide your face in public is taken out of your hands. If you doubt the significance of this, try to remember the public outcry that followed a debate regarding banning the wearing of burkhas and hijabs in the face of Islamic terrorism, and the connotations this had for civil liberties at the time.
Facemask wearing is the visible hallmark of Asian states perceived in the West as repressive and authoritarian. It is a badge of serfdom, akin to the yellow star that Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany. There is no greater invasion of your person possible short of tattooing you with a number.
This astonishing about-turn in policy has not happened overnight or without preparation. It has been preceded by a cleverly-orchestrated media campaign which seeks to bizarrely turn established professional and scientific research on its head, making virologists, infection-control bodies and academics who have published papers for the medical profession into liars and charlatans.
This campaign has included editorials and blogs which talk in disapproving and accusatory tones of “mask-shirkers” and “mask-deniers” allegedly “refusing” to wear face masks. Leave aside the obvious fact that refusal cannot take place without a demand: in other words someone has to give you an instruction to which you reply, “No, thanks.”
Absent such a demand, you are not refusing anything, merely making a choice. And until now there has been no such demand. But those making this choice are now psychopaths and enemies of humanity without a shred of integrity, respect or regard for their fellow human beings. When I returned from Asia early this year the advice was clear: face masks do not protect you from infection and it is not advised that you wear them.
What is more, face mask wearing was actively discouraged because of limited supplies required for hospital environments, where infection control is king and every precaution makes sense. Above all the only situation in which it is appropriate to wear a facemask in public is if you are unwell and have a cough, in which case why not stay at home?
But this piece of simple logic has been covered by the mask-advocates whose logic runs like this: “You may have coronavirus without knowing it, and may infect others with your breath even at unlimited distances so you need to wear a mask.” This covers all bases despite the evidence for this being at best negligible and at worst manipulated and dishonest.
It is part of the greater logic that renders every societal value worthless unless it contributes to the impossible task of making sure that not one single individual anywhere, ever, is infected with Covid-19. None of this means I think we should do nothing about this pandemic. But there is now a growing awareness that the cure proposed is not indefinitely sustainable and may in fact be worse than the disease.
The virtue-signaling of face-mask advocates is easily refuted. Facemasks have been available for decades for use in industry and ideas generally considered good are taken up by the public. Nobody needed the government to tell them to go out and buy a car or a television set.
So if you’re so convinced face masks are a good idea why has it taken the State to tell you before you came to this Eureka moment?
And for how many years or decades have you been going around disrespectfully infecting your fellow human beings by going out without a mask when you had a cold or the flu?
However, apparently all the established research is now wrong and face mask wearing is essential. It is a vast game of “Simon Says,” in which we only do anything when Simon says. And it won’t stop there. Expect newspapers like the Guardian to run sanctimonious editorials demanding that face-mask wearing be extended to pubs and restaurants, and eventually to every departure from your home.
Following this such a move will become policy: indeed, the British public will do what they are already doing, gleefully embracing this perverse doctrine, boasting of buying colorful face masks for their children, and showering anyone who has a different point of view with disapproval.
I’m forced now to doubt that we, the British people value our freedom as much as we profess to. We take to the streets in droves to embrace new forms of repression, such as an anarchistic movement that seeks to rewrite history and dismantle our police forces, or an anti-human death cult that seeks to suppress all human activity by frightening us all into believing we are destroying the Earth by existing.
But in the face of mounting attacks on our liberty and our freedom, we are silent. We have had our liberty taken away from us. Our movements are monitored. Our discussions are censored via social media. We are no longer free even to make fundamental choices about our bodies. A public that will silently accept these things has learned nothing from history, will accept anything and deserves its fate if that is a dystopian world-state.
We are no longer entitled to lecture other nations about being repressive states. Their representatives, quite rightly in my view would laugh in our faces. There is a growing fear in the minds of many of us that Western lockdowns may be permanent. The specters of identity cards, martial law and forced vaccination now hover over us.
Dismissing this as “conspiracy theory” and accusing those who feel this way of an inhuman disregard for life is the rhetoric of fascism, a force that always thrives in the face of a perceived threat. I believe forced face-mask wearing in British streets is a brutal act that crosses the Rubicon, and finally signifies our descent into a de facto repressive state.
Mark Chapman is an artist and educator based in the UK. This article first appeared at off-guardian.org. You can read more of his work at his blog Humanism
t’s always funny to hear economists and pundits obsess on television shows about what the Federal Reserve will do next. Implicit in their excitement is that the economy’s ability to grow is a consequence of Fed expertise with interest rates. Back to reality, the Fed cannot increase the supply of tangible resources that businesses seek when they borrow money, it can’t increase the human capital that is the source of all economic progress, and it also can’t increase time.
Thoughts of time’s finite nature came up while reading a recent New York Times piece on “The High-Wire Act to Build the World’s First Flying Taxi.” Such a machine would potentially increase the productivity of individuals by virtue of increasing the amount of time they can dedicate to productive work.
About this, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Mark Mills has made the point that as humans, there are limits to the productive work hours we’ll be able to expend over a lifetime. As a result, Mills properly cheers rising automation, robots, AI, and all other things related to extra “hands” entering the marketplace. He’s wise on the matter. The more that human exertion can be automated, the more that humans can specialize their work output. And the more we humans are specialized in what we do, the more we can productively utilize our unique gifts.
Flying taxis will plainly enable more robust output. Think about it. The island of Manhattan is arguably populated by some of the most enterprising individuals on earth, but whether billionaire or newly minted working stiff, getting around the island is nightmarish thanks to traffic. Arguably the typical worker willing to utilize New York’s subway system can get around more quickly than the chauffeured billionaire, though presumably some of Manhattan’s richest of the rich utilize helicopters.
Which brings us to flying taxis. The Times’ Adam Satariano reports that at least twenty companies are in the market to produce these transportation machines. Satariano cites a Morgan Stanley study which says flying taxis will drive an $850 billion market by 2040, which means the obscure luxury that is taxi transport will soon enough be made available to the masses. Such is the genius of capitalism. Wealth earned in such a system is a consequence of the mass production of former luxuries.
Assuming a market as large as the one Morgan Stanley projects, one can guess that many more than twenty companies will enter what has the potential to be a highly lucrative space; one that will expand the productive use of time for it substantially limiting time wasted getting from point A to point B. Here’s hoping flying taxis, or something much more advanced than a flying taxi, soon enough become the norm. How very exciting, and life enhancing if so. Transportation advances like this can’t arrive soon enough.
That flying taxis aren’t yet viable is a reminder of the crucial role investment plays when it comes to progress. This truth exposes much of modern left-wing orthodoxy as anti-progress.
Consider excitement on the left about a “wealth tax.” Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, the New York Times, and other pillars of the left proudly support cutting billionaires down to size, but such policy logically runs counter to transportation advance.
As Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas put it to Satariano, the path toward accessible flying taxis “is going to be a test of staying power – an ability to lose money, an ability to ride out failure.” Translated, of the companies today pursuing this innovative mode of transport, most will lose copious sums of money before failing.
Lefties like to say the superrich have “more money than they know what to do with.” They unwittingly explain why wealth taxes suffocate advance. The richest of the rich have money they can lose on the ideas of tomorrow that, while promising, have high odds of failure. Flying taxis won’t be immediate, there will be endlessly expensive experimentation with them, so the more that the rich have “more money than they know what to do with,” the more that intrepid investment will find flying taxis, along with all sorts of other presently unimaginable services. A wealth tax will shrink the amount of “crazy” wealth aggressively pulling the future into the present, all so politicians can fail in flamboyant fashion when it comes to improving the lives of others.
One of the flying taxi companies of some prominence is Lilium. According to Satariano Lilium has 300 employees, a very expensive “research and development budget,” and is “years away from making money.” Funny, one of Hillary Clinton’s issues when she ran for president was that we in the U.S. practice too much “quarterly capitalism.” Clinton’s laughable point was that investors are so greedy and now focused that U.S. companies can’t develop the ideas of the future. It seems Clinton never listened during visits to Silicon Valley where over 9 out of 10 start-ups die, plus she was plainly never made aware of flying tax concept. Investors are backing all sorts of companies that, assuming they ever make money, are years away from it. Contrary to what Clinton presumes, investors in American ingenuity are among some of the most patient individuals on earth.
All of which leads to government spending. In considering it, think again about what Jonas said regarding the eventual success of the flying taxi industry: this “is going to be a test of staying power – an ability to lose money, an ability to ride out failure.” Many on the left reject the notion that high tax rates exist as a barrier to entrepreneurial innovation, and they may have a point. It’s hard to imagine Steve Jobs sat up nights thinking about tax rates, and it’s hard to imagine Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg do now. Fair enough, it’s arguable they would feverishly innovate regardless of individual tax rates. But as the Jonas quote makes plain, the big barrier to huge transport leaps will be availability of capital. Tax rates may not deter Bezos, Zuckerberg, and the enterprising of tomorrow, but limited capital will.
Stating the obvious, there are no entrepreneurs without capital. No economic school can get around this truth, yet government spending consumes what’s precious. The left view spending cuts as austerity, many supply siders on the right do too, but it’s not said enough that government spending itself is austerity when it’s remembered that advancement is always and everywhere a consequence of investment.
Looking ahead, the dreamers of today are presently working tirelessly to make our abundant present seem primitive relative to the future. The future will arrive more quickly the sooner the talented are matched with capital. Readers should remember this the next time politicians promise to create good times by fleecing the rich. They’re lying, and worse, they’re robbing you of a much better tomorrow.
John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, and Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks. AP Photo Marcio Jose Sanchez.
A groundbreaking study by Just Facts has discovered that after accounting for all income, charity, and non-cash welfare benefits like subsidized housing and food stamps, the poorest 20 percent of Americans consume more goods and services than the national averages for all people in most affluent countries. This includes the majority of countries in the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), including its European members. In other words, if the US “poor” were a nation, it would be one of the world’s richest.
Notably, this study was reviewed by Dr. Henrique Schneider, professor of economics at Nordakademie University in Germany and the chief economist of the Swiss Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. After examining the source data and Just Facts’ methodology, he concluded: “This study is sound and conforms with academic standards. I personally think it provides valuable insight into poverty measures and adds considerably to this field of research.”
The “Poorest” Rich Nation?
In a July 1 New York Timesvideo op-ed that decries “fake news” and calls for “a more truthful approach” to “the myth of America as the greatest nation on earth,” Times producers Taige Jensen and Nayeema Raza claim the US has “fallen well behind Europe” in many respects and has “more in common with ‘developing countries’ than we’d like to admit.”
“One good test” of this, they say, is how the US ranks in the OECD, a group of “36 countries, predominantly wealthy, Western, and Democratic.” While examining these rankings, they corrupt the truth in ways that violate the Times’op-ed standards, which declare that “you can have any opinion you would like,” but “the facts in a piece must be supported and validated,” and “you can’t say that a certain battle began on a certain day if it did not.”
The Times is not merely wrong about this issue but is also reporting the polar opposite of reality.
A prime example is their claim that “America is the richest country” in the OECD, “but we’re also the poorest, with a whopping 18% poverty rate—closer to Mexico than Western Europe.” That assertion prompted Just Facts to conduct a rigorous, original study of this issue with data from the OECD, the World Bank, and the US government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. It found that the Times is not merely wrong about this issue but is also reporting the polar opposite of reality.
Poor Compared to Whom?
The most glaring evidence against the Times’ rhetoric is a note located just above the OECD’s data for poverty rates. It explains that these rates measure relative poverty within nations, not between nations. As the note states, the figures represent portions of people with less than “half the median household income” in their own nations and thus “two countries with the same poverty rates may differ in terms of the relative income-level of the poor.”
The OECD’s poverty rates say nothing about which nation is “the poorest.” Nonetheless, this is exactly how the Times misrepresented them.
The upshot is laid bare by the fact that this OECD measure assigns a higher poverty rate to the US (17.8 percent) than to Mexico (16.6 percent). Yet World Bank data show that 35 percent of Mexico’s population lives on less than $5.50 per day, compared to only 2 percent of people in the United States.
Hence, the OECD’s poverty rates say nothing about which nation is “the poorest.” Nonetheless, this is exactly how the Times misrepresented them.
The same point applies to broader discussions about poverty, which can be measured in two very different ways: (1) relative poverty or (2) absolute poverty. Relative measures of poverty, like the one cited by the Times, can be misleading if the presenter does not answer the question: Poor compared to who? Absolute measures, like the number of people with income below a certain level, are more straightforward and enlightening.
Unmeasured Income and Benefits
To accurately compare living standards across or within nations, it is necessary to account for all major aspects of material welfare. None of the data above does this.
The OECD data is particularly flawed because it is based on “income,” which excludes a host of non-cash government benefits and private charity that are abundant in the United States. Examples include but are not limited to:
Health care provided by Medicaid, free clinics, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program
Nourishment provided by food stamps, school lunches, school breakfasts, soup kitchens, food pantries, and the Women’s, Infants’ & Children’s program
Housing and amenities provided through rent subsidies, utility assistance, and homeless shelters
The World Bank data includes those items but is still incomplete because it is based on government “household surveys,” and US low-income households greatly underreport both their income and non-cash benefits in such surveys. As documented in a 2015 paper in the Journal of Economic Perspectives entitled“Household Surveys in Crisis”:
“In recent years, more than half of welfare dollars and nearly half of food stamp dollars have been missed in several major” government surveys.
There has been “a sharp rise” in the underreporting of government benefits received by low-income households in the United States.
This “understatement of incomes” masks “the poverty-reducing effects of government programs” and leads to “an overstatement of poverty and inequality.”
Likewise, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis explains that such surveys “have issues with recalling income and expenditures and are subject to deliberate underreporting of certain items.” The US Census Bureau says much the same, writing that “for many different reasons there is a tendency in household surveys for respondents to underreport their income.”
There is also a wider lesson here. When politicians and the media talk about income inequality, they often use statistics that fail to account for large amounts of income and benefits received by low- and middle-income households. This greatly overstates inequality and feeds deceptive narratives.
Relevant, Reliable Data
The World Bank’s “preferred” indicator of material well-being is “consumption” of goods and services. This is due to “practical reasons of reliability and because consumption is thought to better capture long-run welfare levels than current income.” Likewise, as a 2003 paper in the Journal of Human Resources explains:
“[R]esearch on poor households in the U.S. suggests that consumption is better reported than income” and is “a more direct measure of material well-being.”
“[C]onsumption standards were behind the original setting of the poverty line,” but governments now use income because of its “ease of reporting.”
The World Bank publishes a comprehensive dataset on consumption that isn’t dependent on the accuracy of household surveys and includes all goods and services, but it only provides the average consumption per person in each nation—not the poorest people in each nation.
However, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published a study that provides exactly that for 2010. Combined with World Bank data for the same year, these datasets show that the poorest 20 percent of US households have higher average consumption per person than the averages for all people in most nations of the OECD and Europe:
The high consumption of America’s “poor” doesn’t mean they live better than average people in the nations they outpace, like Spain, Denmark, Japan, Greece, and New Zealand. This is because people’s quality of life also depends on their communities and personal choices, like the local politicians they elect, the violent crimes they commit, and the spending decisions they make.
For instance, a Department of Agriculture study found that US households receiving food stamps spend about 50 percent more on sweetened drinks, desserts, and candy than on fruits and vegetables. In comparison, households not receiving food stamps spend slightly more on fruits & vegetables than on sweets.
The fact remains that the privilege of living in the US affords poor people more material resources than the averages for most of the world’s richest nations.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that the privilege of living in the US affords poor people more material resources than the averages for most of the world’s richest nations.
Another important strength of this data is that it is adjusted for purchasing power to measure tangible realities like square feet of living area, foods, smartphones, etc. This removes the confounding effects of factors like inflation and exchange rates. Thus, an apple in one nation is counted the same as an apple in another.
To spot-check the results for accuracy, Just Facts compared the World Bank consumption figure for the entire US with the one from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. They were within 2 percent of each other. All of the data, documentation, and calculations are available in this spreadsheet.
In light of these facts, the Times’ claim that the US has “more in common with ‘developing countries’ than we’d like to admit” is especially far-fetched. In 2010, even the poorest 20 percent of Americans consumed three to 30 times more goods and services than the averages for all people in a wide array of developing nations around the world.
These immense gaps in standards of living are a major reason why people from developing nations immigrate to the US instead of vice versa.
Why Is the US So Much Richer?
Instead of maligning the United States, the Times could have covered this issue in a way that would help people around the world improve their material well-being by replicating what makes the US so successful. However, that would require conveying the following facts, many of which the Times haspreviously misreported:
High tax rates reduce incentives to work, save, and invest, and these can have widespread harmful effects.
Abundant social programs can reduce market income through multiple mechanisms—and as explained by President Obama’s former chief economist Lawrence Summers, “government assistance programs” provide people with “an incentive, and the means, not to work.”
The overall productivity of each nation trickles down to the poor, and this is partly why McDonald’s workers in the US have more real purchasing power than in Europe and six times more than in Latin America, even though these workers perform the same jobs with the same technology.
Family disintegration driven by changing attitudes toward sex, marital fidelity, and familial responsibility has strong, negative impacts on household income.
In direct contradiction to the Times, a wealth of data suggests that aggressive government regulations harm economies.
Many other factors correlate with the economic conditions of nations and individuals, but the above are some key ones that give the US an advantage over many European and other OECD countries.
“The Truth Is Worth It”
In reality, the US is so economically exceptional that the poorest 20 percent of Americans are richer than many of the world’s most affluent nations.
The Times closes its video by claiming that “America may once have been the greatest, but today America, we’re just okay.” In reality, the US is so economically exceptional that the poorest 20 percent of Americans are richer than many of the world’s most affluent nations.
Last year, the Times adopted a new slogan: “The truth is worth it.” Yet, in this case, and others, it has twisted the truth in ways that can genuinely hurt people. The Times makes other spurious claims about the US in this same video, which will be deflated in future articles.
James Agresti is a contributing writer at Intellectual Takeout.
Justice Stephen Breyer lamented last week that the Supreme Court had overturned “a well-reasoned decision that has caused no serious practical problems in the four decades since we decided it.” Dissenting from Justice Clarence Thomas’s majority decision in Franchise Tax Board v. Hyatt, Justice Breyer added: “Today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next.”
Court watchers assumed the two justices were arguing about abortion, although the case had nothing to do with that issue. But the clash over stare decisis—the doctrine that courts must respect precedent as binding—runs far deeper. It is a manifestation of the crisis of legitimacy that has split Americans into two increasingly hostile camps.
On Justice Thomas’s side is the belief that the government’s authority rests on the written Constitution. This view regards a self-governing republic—designed to protect the individual’s right to pursue his own happiness in his own way, in his family and local community—as the most just and up-to-date form of government ever imagined, even 232 years after the Constitutional Convention.
Justice Breyer, by contrast, assumes America is rightly governed by a “living Constitution,” which evolves by judicial decree to meet modernity’s fast-changing conditions. Judges make up law “with boldness and a touch of audacity,” as Woodrow Wilson put it, rather than merely interpreting a Constitution he thought obsolete.
Wilson also established a corps of supposedly expert, nonpartisan administrators in such agencies as the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, to make rules like a legislature, carry them out like an executive, and adjudicate and punish infractions of them like a judiciary. Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who supersized this system, considered it the cutting edge of modernity in the protection it afforded workers and the disadvantaged. Call it the Fairness Party, as distinct from Justice Thomas’s Freedom Party.
The Freedom Party does not view the rule by decrees of unelected officials, however enlightened, as an advance over democratic self-government. If the framers had wanted such a system, they could have stuck with the unwritten British constitution, which had governed the American colonists for 150 years and evolves by judicial precedent. They wanted a written constitution, strictly limiting federal authority, because they knew that human nature’s inborn selfishness and aggression not only make government necessary but also lead government officials to abuse their power if not restrained.
U.S. history justifies the framers’ caution, as Justice Thomas has argued in hundreds of opinions since joining the court in 1991. At crucial junctures, the Supreme Court has twisted the Constitution that guarantees liberty toward government oppression.
Start with The Slaughter-House Cases (1873) and U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876), which blew away the protection of the Bill of Rights with which the 14th Amendment’s framers and ratifiers thought they had clothed freed slaves against depredations by state governments. The result was 90 years of Jim Crow tyranny in the South. “I have a personal interest in this,” Justice Thomas once said. “I lived under segregation.” He grew up in 1950s Savannah, Ga., where the law forbade him to drink out of this fountain or walk across that park. If the Fairness Party thinks Supreme Court distortions can twist only to the left, it should think again. Far better to stick to the original meaning, as Justice Thomas urges.
Look what happened when the court allowed Congress and the president to proliferate administrative agencies with no political accountability. The justices have “overseen and sanctioned the growth of an administrative system that concentrates the power to make laws and the power to enforce them in the hands of a vast and unaccountable administrative apparatus that finds no comfortable home in our constitutional structure,” Justice Thomas wrote in a 2015 opinion, the first of a series that argued for reining in the administrative state.
Such lawless power ends in tyranny, as in the case of Joseph Robertson. As these pages recently reported, the Montana rancher dug two ponds fed by a trickle that ran down his mountain acres, only to be prosecuted and imprisoned for polluting “navigable waterways,” as absurdly defined by bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Beginning with the Warren Court in the 1950s, bold and audacious justices began making up law out of the Constitution’s “emanations, formed by penumbras”—literally, gas and shadows. As Justice Thomas has objected, the court invented rights that sharply curtailed the traditional order-keeping authority of police and teachers, making streets, schools, and housing projects in poor neighborhoods dangerous, and depriving mostly minority citizens of the first civil right—to be safe. The justices have even trampled the Bill of Rights, sanctioning campaign-finance laws that curtail the political speech at the core of First Amendment protections.
It’s as if the Court respects no limits. Thus the hallmark of Justice Thomas’s jurisprudence is his willingness to overturn prior decisions when he thinks his predecessors have construed the Constitution incorrectly. The justices readily overturn unconstitutional laws passed by a duly elected Congress. Why be more tender toward judicial errors?
“Stare decisis is not an inexorable command,” Justice Thomas observes in Hyatt. He has said elsewhere: “I think that the Constitution itself, the written document, is the ultimate stare decisis.” Justice Breyer asks which cases the court will overrule next. Justice Thomas’s reasonable answer: Whichever ones go against the Constitution.
Mr. Magnet is editor-at-large of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, a National Humanities Medal laureate and author of “Clarence Thomas and the Lost Constitution.”
As the 20th century drew to a close, democracy was on the march. The Soviet Union was gone, Nazism was a distant nightmare and every continent showed signs of moving toward free elections and the rule of law. All of humanity was finally coming to recognize the transcendent principles of democratic liberty and equality—or so many observers concluded.
Looking back, the reasons for democracy’s appeal in those heady days appear more complicated. A big part of it had to do not with noble ideals but with economic success. The world’s richest countries were democracies, and the rest of the world wanted to be rich too. Today, global wealth is shifting to more authoritarian parts of the world—and it isn’t clear how well democracy, without every material advantage on its side, will fare in the competition.
Since the 1890s, countries like the U.S., Great Britain and a small band of other democracies have dominated the global economy. As recently as 1995, 96% of all people who lived in a country with a per capita income over $20,000 (in today’s terms) were citizens of a liberal democracy. With the exception of a few oligarchs perched atop stagnant and repressive societies, only democrats got to enjoy real affluence.
Today’s reality is very different. Our analysis of International Monetary Fund projections shows that sometime in the next five years, the total GDP of countries rated “not free” by Freedom House will surpass that of Western democracies. The combined economies of democratic countries like the U.S., Germany, France and Japan will be smaller than those of autocracies like China, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
If the West is to navigate this new world successfully, it will need to understand how the scales tipped so rapidly from democratic dominance to authoritarian resurgence. One part of the explanation is democratic reversals in large economies, thanks to the efforts of strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If democracies like Brazil, India and South Africa experience similar erosion in the years ahead, the relative power of autocratic rulers will keep growing.
The Growing Economic Power Of Autocracies
The Growing Economic Power of AutocraciesPercentage of global gross domestic product, at purchasing-power paritySources: Statistics on World Population, GDP and Per Capita GDP, 1-2008 AD (1946–1989); International Monetary Fund(1990–2023); Polity (autocratic/democratic status, 1946–1971); Freedom House (1972–2018). Note: 2018–23 are projections
But an even more important factor has been the rise of authoritarian capitalism. Before the 21st century, autocratic regimes that reached a relatively high level of per capita income tended either to stop growing, like the Soviet Union, or to become democratic, like military regimes in Asia, Latin America and southern Europe. Countries such as Singapore, which kept growing without becoming a true democracy, were explained away as small exceptions that proved the rule.
This limitation still applies to autocratic regimes like North Korea and Venezuela, which have clung to strict state control of the economy. But a growing number of countries have learned to combine autocratic rule with market-friendly institutions, and they have continued growing economically well beyond the point at which democratic transitions used to occur.
At the famous “Kitchen Debate” in Moscow in 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon debated their countries’ economic systems.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Today, 376 million people live in deeply unfree countries—including Russia, Kazakhstan and the Gulf states—that have per capita incomes above $20,000 in terms of purchasing-power parity. In China’s coastal region, average incomes have already risen above this level, and the major cities have surpassed $35,000. When China as a whole crosses above $20,000 in per capita income, which the IMF estimates will happen next year, 1.8 billion people around the world will live in upper-income authoritarian regimes.
This development carries enormous implications for the future of democracy. The last time the democratic world faced a serious challenge to its economic and technological primacy was after the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, in 1957. Buoyed by postwar reconstruction and the addition of seven new vassal states in Eastern Europe, the Soviet bloc had seen its GDP increase from one-fifth of the U.S. level in 1945 to over half that level by 1958. A few years later, Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, predicted in his widely used introductory textbook that the GDP of the Soviet Union would surpass that of the U.S. by 1984.
Hopes for the U.S. to grow its way out of the current predicament are no more than fantasies.
It never happened, of course. By 1969, an American flag was fluttering on the moon and economic growth in the U.S. once again outpaced that of the Soviet bloc. Living standards under communism never reached those of the West. Subsequent editions of Samuelson’s textbook kept pushing the point at which he projected the Soviet economy would overtake that of the U.S. into the ever more distant future.
Today, however, there is less reason for confidence in the eventual economic triumph of democracy. In 1957, the U.S. and its democratic allies in Europe and Japan accounted for almost two-thirds of the global economy—three times more than the Eastern bloc plus China. Sputnik may have made Americans nervous, but the West was still economically dominant. The real question was whether it had the political resolve to translate its material power into geopolitical hegemony.
In 2019, by contrast, no amount of political resolve will reverse the fact that Western democracies account for little more than a third of the world economy. Given the radical shift in world-wide population and productivity that we have witnessed in the recent decades, it would be naive to expect North America and Western Europe to reign supreme again anytime soon. Hopes for the U.S. to grow its way out of the current predicament are no more than fantasies.
Whether democracy or autocracy rules the world in the 21st century is thus likely to depend on a number of pivotal countries that could end up as part of either camp. If countries such as India, Nigeria and Indonesia manage to build stable and affluent democracies, the principles of liberty and equality have a chance to maintain and extend their influence in the coming decades. But if these crucial “swing states” turn autocratic while becoming rich, democrats will have a harder time making their case.
As the history of the 20th century shows, freedom tastes much sweeter when it seems to be the gateway to prosperity.
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