I was born in St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City, the Philippines during a Halloween typhoon. My mother, a Westinghouse Science Talent Search finalist who probably would have gone to Harvard or Yale had that been allowed back then, was teaching math in the city of Baguio when she met my father. We arrived in New Rochelle, New York several months later.
On my mother’s side, I am a mix of various Northern European countries. My maternal grandfather, Royal Davis, was descended from Welsh Quakers who came over with William Penn, yes the guy who put the Penn in Pennsylvania (wuh!), and by extension…Pennzoil (I think). He married Marion Goodkind, his fellow student at the Ethical Culture School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. On the maternal side, she was of Alsatian Jewish descent, her family having emigrated after the Franco-Prussian War since the patriarch didn’t want his sons serving in the Prussian Army. But they couldn’t escape the Germans completely and ended up intermarrying with the eponymous Goodkinds.
I got to meet my Pilipino relatives in 1979, when we took a 3-week trip to Japan and the Philippines. The country was in the throes of the Marcos dictatorship, but everything seemed fairly orderly for a kid. I’m sure I saw poverty, but I don’t remember it. The trip from Baguio to visit my grandparents in Bontoc — a cold nighttime trek in an open truck along a dirt road on the side of a precipice — was certainly not something you would do in the States. I suppose the fact that our uncle, a colonel in the military, was able to ferry us to Cebu on an air force cargo plane wasn’t either.
I had a more extended stay in the Philippines in 1993 after two years teaching English in Japan on the JET program. I had many more cousins now — 15 as opposed to the 2 on my American side. The Philippines was recovering from the Marcos dictatorship, which had looted the country and left it with creaking infrastructure. There were brownouts and water cutoffs most every day. You would just hope the power was on for the Simpson’s at 7pm, those being pre-Youtube day, when if you missed it, you missed it. Driving was an interesting experience when the traffic lights went out, but order developed. The cars on one street at the intersection would go for a while, then the cars on the other side would start honking and edging their way in, and so it would continue.
In what I’m sure is a similar experience to young Americans visiting their middle to upper-middle class relatives in other developing countries, I found myself reverting to the — how should i put it — more independent, plebeian lifestyle I was used to in the States than that of my relatives. My aunt the general’s wife was very impressed (with perhaps a touch of condescension) that I figured out the jeepney routes from her house to where I was staying with my other aunt. She of course had a driver and was chauffeured everywhere, and most middle-class families had helpers to do mundane daily tasks like food shopping and prep.
Many of my relatives are happy in the Philippines which, while still not a rich country, has seen its growth rate accelerate. Many other relatives have migrated here and have successful careers in healthcare, the military, and we have one lawyer.
The immigrant tradition continues with me. My two kids have a Colombian mother, my best friend Karla. My partner, Lily Ying Meng, hails from Tianjin, China. She became a citizen in 2018.
I sometimes wonder, when immigration is so deeply woven into the American experience, why there is such the backlash against it we see today. But then I reflect that opposition to immigration has just as venerable a pedigree that dates back to at least the 1840s and the Know Nothings. Just about every major ethnic group which has come to our country has faced discrimination, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that a president with an immigrant wife who naturalized her parents rails against chain migration. Not that he’s the only one. Anti-immigration spans the political spectrum and ranges from MAGA supporters to labor activists claiming immigrants are stealing American jobs. And perhaps immigration should be seen within the wider context of exclusionary policy. US communities of all political stripe make nimbyism and exclusion a fine art, from redlining to Mara Gay telling “gentrifiers” they don’t belong.
I suppose the battle to keep our country and neighborhoods open will be a constant struggle despite the great benefits we get when people move. I, for one, will remain true to my immigrant roots and favor openness and dynamism.
I got my Covid antibody test today. Funny how usually when you get tested for something disease-related you’re hoping for negative, but in our topsy-turvy covid world, we of course hoping for positive and the prospect of immunity.
I got my test at the Northwell GoHealth clinic on West 23rd Street based on this Gothamist article. I chose GoHealth because it is using the very accurate Abbot and Roche tests and insurance should cover. Chelsea was the closest to my apartment that is taking appointments.
When I arrived for my Saturday 9:34am appointment, I was the only patient there, and as far as I could tell they were staffed only by a receptionist, nurse and PA. I had already done the paperwork online, so after a short wait, I was taken to an exam room. There I was left for a few minutes but could hear the nurse and PA discussing procedures outside. Should I worry they don’t have their act together, I mused? But sounded like this was the first time these particular people were working together and the discussion sounded rational, so I didn’t worry too much.
The nurse was efficient and friendly. I did remark she didn’t have a device so was writing my medical history on a post-it. I asked her which part of town she lives in, because that’s what you do as a candidate. Queens – not my district unfortunately! I asked her if she subways in and she said yes. She wasn’t too happy about the delays, but at least it isn’t too crowded in the mornings. After drawing blood, she realized the band-aid she had was the kid-oriented kind with dolphins. I jokingly demanded a new one, but then had to convince her that I was in fact ECSTATIC about the dolphins and not to trouble herself getting a new one.
The PA came in next and seemed poised to give me the long script on testing. I told him he could abbreviate which he did happily. I asked to verify which test was used and he said he thinks Chelsea uses Abbott. He mentioned other offices he works in uses other ones. On the way out, I asked if it was hard traveling from office to office. He said not too bad — he had actually been unemployed for six weeks! Hard to imagine in a health crisis, but he had been working at a neurological institute and like many other things, non-Covid-related healthcare is in the dumps. He mentioned that this job allows him to help with the crisis and also secure his income.
It takes 2-3 days for the lab to do their work, so I should have results by the middle of the week. Hopefully it will accentuate the positive!
Should you really need to worry about your chef’s hairstyle to get a good restaurant grade?
Regulations like these are a waste of money, time, and life. They breed special interest and corruption. We need to ditch them. When we consider new regulations, no matter how well-meaning, let’s consider whether they add real value, or just complication.
One problem when discussing capitalism is that definitions vary. I’ve had many discussions where I assumed someone supported capitalism because we agreed on a policy, such as getting rid of a government handout to industry. But when I welcomed them as a capitalist, they vociferously denied it.
Then we have examples like this:
When I say capitalism, I mean markets function with minimal government involvement. A huge bailout is not capitalism by my definition. For AOC apparently it is. Again, we agree on the policy — less bailouts for well-connected companies. — but disagree on definitions.
What about the following?
the mortgage bailout
corporate private jet fuel perks
carried interest deduction used by hedge funds to reduce taxes
Many call these capitalism, or crony capitalism. I call them cronyism, and in my book are the exact OPPOSITE of capitalism.
What is my definition of capitalism? Basically a marketplace like Etsy, where artists are free to create what they want and price as they wish, and consumers decide what they like and are willing to pay. This doesn’t describe all markets. Healthcare has political, maybe even economic, concerns that make market capitalism difficult. And we definitely need to adjust markets for bad things like pollution (there are simple market-based solutions for this). But it should be easy to distinguish my capitalism from what some call capitalism, and I call cronyism.
Going forward, we could continue to argue about terminology, but since most of us agree that cronyism sucks, how about we get rid of that first? Later, we can discuss terminology over a beer.
Should Libertarians embrace a role of government in a crisis?
Absolutely. Libertarians, along with everyone else, should all embrace a role for whoever can productively and efficiently help to solve the crisis–whether that be government, private enterprise, private individuals, charities, or foreign entities. Even if you believe, as I do, that government should be have narrower responsibilities, in a crisis you fight with the hand you’re dealt. Our hand is a big government with lots of underutilized resources. We should employ those resources to their fullest.
Efficiency? Shouldn’t we just worry about saving as many as we can and worry about the cost later, you may ask? Yes, we should discount (but not ignore) future costs. But efficiency means using strained resources as effectively as possible now. Every hospital bed, respirator, mask, and hour of a healthcare worker’s time that we lose through waste can mean the difference between life or death. Inefficiency forces stark choices like those that had to be made in Italy. Using resources efficiently means either saving MORE lives now or LESS lives now. Let’s target saving more.
In our current system, only government has the power to take certain steps to stabilize the economy, such as providing cash to individuals and businesses on a large scale, and loaning liquidity to financial institutions. This does not mean we shouldn’t be thinking about how to build a more resilient economic system involving less government intervention. But that’s a post-crisis conversation (and a very important one).
Using underutilized government resources such as the military should be a no-brainer. While this may not be a shooting war, it is an emergency for which unused military manpower is well suited, for instance, in building field hospitals and sending hospital ships to places of need.
Stabilizing the economy can be done in many different ways. In a crisis, the knee-jerk response is to do something, anything, and not to worry about the cost, or the aforementioned efficiency which is so important to saving lives. This will cost lives now and hamstring us in the future. Thankfully some of the worst attempts to dump non-virus related agenda items into the first stimulus bill, such as Democratic attempts to sneak in parts of the Green New Deal, were squelched. But other measures, such as the $500 billion to US corporations, was passed with little oversight, and that oversight has subsequently been weakened. Corporate bailouts will be expensive and toxic, and much of the aid will go to well-connected corporations, rather than the most needy.
The bailouts show government is a haphazard way to distribute resources, and it is not always great at getting even its own resources into play. The USNS Comfort coming to New York City should be a great success story. As of early April, however, it had only a few patients. Field hospitals have done even worse.
These difficulties should make us very wary when people suggest things like nationalizing the large swathes of healthcare industry. A wholesale takeover would require a very messy transition process and the scaling up of a whole new administrative department to manage the nationalized industries. It would take weeks or months to get this behemoth functioning smoothly, if it could be done at all.
In crises, individuals and businesses answer the call. One of the best things government can do is to facilitate that outpouring of energy, and set aside regulations which hinder their efforts.
As Caleb Watney details, the Defense Production Act, which allows nationalization, has more agile provisions which allow government to set macro goals, then lets individual firms decide how best to contribute. Individual firms have much better knowledge of their abilities and cost structures, so given a target, can respond more efficiently than a bunch of badly informed bureaucrats.
A great example of a private sector initiative and government coordination is South Korea. An enterprising entrepreneur started work on virus tests on December 31, as first news of a virus in Wuhan got out. When South Korea registered its first case on January 27th and the Korean CDC called, the test was ready. KCDC expedited approval and it was ready for use on February 12th, which allowed Korea to track the virus and contain its spread.
And then there are the failures. Critical elements of our virus response have been severely hampered by our government’s outsized role. In contrast to Germany and South Korea, which relied on private firms to make tests, our reliance on the CDC has been a horror story. Masking has been a fiasco. Even hand sanitizer, which is easy for distilleries to make was being severely limited until March 20th because of FDA regulations. These agencies need a thorough reorg after the crisis, and we should really consider whether the benefit of the FDA preventing bad drugs getting on the market is worth the cost of not getting treatment getting to people in a timely manner.
After the Crisis
One government institution we might consider adding is an emergency council of medical experts, which could be convened in an emergency and have the power to set aside regulations which are wholly inappropriate in a crisis. If it could be done effectively, it would be great to have a council with the power to coordinate government response to a crisis, to supersede the FDA and CDC, and direct whoever is needed to wherever the crisis needs most attention; without regard to who’s turf it is. Like with all government agencies, we must be wary that this doesn’t turn into yet another roadblock. South Korea offers an example of how this could be successful.
We should also recognize that we live in a disruptive world and government may have a role in helping individuals buffeted by disruption. Even without pandemics, capitalism’s creative destruction and the march of technology and trade, while creating the wealth that will end poverty and make us all better off, disrupt people’s means of support. We must remember those affected by disruption, and have some efficient, always-on safety net for the coal miners, the frackers, steel workers, taxi drivers and anyone else affected by disruption. And doubly so in a pandemic. Just imagine how much easier it would have been if we didn’t have to wait for Pelosi to come to terms with McConnell and even afterwards, wait up to five months to get a check. A basic income would solve this problem and be the first line of defense to give people the chance to get back on their feet.
Done properly, a basic income would not be an extension of government, but a radical simplification. It would replace the (at least) 79 capricious, badly-managed support programs which are a breeding ground for more bureaucrats. It would be a bulwark against calls for ever more tariffs, and farm supports, and Jones Acts, because the argument that people will starve without these would have no force.
We might also consider standards for government aid in times of crisis. Pillage your balance sheet to do stock buybacks and pay large dividends during the good times? Well sorry, but no bailout for you.
The bigger issue is making sure we return and even further promote the efficient market-based economy which is our source of wealth (if you are not sure markets create wealth, please refer to discussions here and here). We should also use this crisis to address structural problems which make life hard normal times and push us to the brink in crisis. Examples:
Housing: even before the crisis, many people were paying 30-50% of their income in rent, which puts them on a knife’s edge even in good times. We need to build the housing our communities need so rents go down. This will require a radical reduction of the obstacles to building including zoning laws, preservation, needless environment review and the endless NIMBY lawsuits. It will also require a return to the belief that houses are a utility, not a continually appreciating investment vehicle.
Decrim: putting people in prison needlessly is first and foremost a horrible injustice. It is also a hugely expensive unnecessary financial burden. Among other non-crimes, we need to recognize people engaged in sex work as productive citizens rather than criminals, and we need to stop punishing people for using non-addictive, low-risk drugs like marijuana and psychedelics. Desperately needed in normal times, a smaller prison population means we avoid the overcrowded conditions which are ideal for spreading the disease, and are extremely cruel for prisoners, prison workers, and the health of the general population.
Military Spending and Foreign Wars: we have wasted trillions in extended foreign wars for very little return. With our strained finances, can we really justify the amounts we are spending?
Fossil Fuel Subsidies: under our straightened circumstances, can we justify shoveling money to companies ruining the environment and saddling us with higher healthcare costs?
Licensing: as mentioned, during the crisis our elected officials have set aside many healthcare licensing regulations which were preventing people getting care. This is no different in normal times and these regulations need to be tossed. This illustrates the need to radically rein in licensing, which blunts competition and boosts income inequality far beyond the medical field
The list goes on and on and we will have to make some hard choices. Actually the choices are clear. Dumping programs such as the aforementioned will have very obvious benefits for American society as a whole, and very obviously hit the pocketbooks of the special interests feeding off them. These interests will fight to the death to keep their wheezes. The question is whether American voters have the stomach to take on cronyism en masse, and fight for a system where all have equal market opportunity, and where producing something useful, not government patronage, determines which enterprises prosper and create prosperity for our consumers.