Keeping up with the FITs, 1-8
Noah Smith on port backlogs; John Cochrane on fiscal inflation; Heather Heying on damsels in distress; Scott Alexander on epistemology; Default Friend on Internet harm
One thing to remember here is that in America, the ports are owned by the local city that they're in. Therefore, they're not managed as a strategic national asset, which they clearly are. We’re realizing the implications of this right now. For example, I live in San Francisco and our main port is the Port of Oakland, which is owned by the City of Oakland. The mayor of Oakland has a lot of local issues to focus on and probably won’t prioritize multi-billion-dollar investments in their port as the city simply can't afford it. So there's just an inherent underinvestment in many U.S. ports and until recently it was really hard to get the federal government to make major investments in our ports.
I’ll ask the question that Noah doesn’t ask. Why do we want ports to be owned by any level of government? Would not a private owner be more likely to prioritize investment—and invest more cost-effectively—than a government owner?
Peterson thinks differently. For him, the port situation is a market failure.
The first thing that I would do if I were in charge would be to actually put a team in charge. Right now, there isn’t a dedicated team within the federal government to coordinate all public and private sector activities to help resolve the supply chain crisis.
I would say that apart from Peterson’s proposals for deregulation, I am wary of his ideas. He seems to believe in a top-down, centrally planned approach.
Instead, I think that the price system should be allowed to work. When prices move freely, excess demand and supply bottlenecks go away. In the short run, consumers feel pain from the higher prices. In the long run, suppliers figure out better ways to deal with congestion.
Why did fiscal inflation not happen sooner? The government has been borrowing money like the proverbial drunken sailor, for decades. The Fed has been buying Treasury securities and turning the debt into reserves for a decade. Why now?
Inflation comes when government debt increases, relative to people’s expectations of what the government will repay. . .
The 2020–2021 borrowing and money episode was distinctive because, evidently, it came without a corresponding increase in expectations that the government would, someday, raise surpluses by $5 trillion in present value to repay the debt.
John is an economist who was brought up to focus on how people’s expectations of the future influence their behavior in the present. I agree with John that government deficits are Milton Friedman’s “helicopter drop.” But I think people’s behavior is rooted in the past. Consumers and businesses much prefer to deal in relatively stable prices. I would answer his “why now” question by saying that until recently, the preference for stable prices caused households and businesses to resist inflationary pressures. But the government’s response to the pandemic in 2020-2021, consisting of extreme use of “subsidize demand, restrict supply” policies, caused the dam to finally break this year.
Men who behave selfishly by lashing out in violence or hedging their bets or cowering in the corner should have no power to decide policy now. Similarly, women who behave selfishly by publicizing emotion-based fears should have no power to decide policy now. By publicizing their fears they are, in part, triggering many men to rush to protect them by…what? Mandating ineffective and unsafe medical treatments on children? Destroying a generation’s ability to empathize and sympathize by obscuring everyone’s faces into eternity? Undermining demonstrably effective treatments and underplaying behavioral modifications that render people less nasty, less brutish, and less short(-lived)?
…We are catering to the delusions of the weakest and most confused members of society. It is not the only place that we are doing this.
Scott Alexander reviews Don’t Look Up from the perspective of epistemology.
How are you so great at resolving questions about comets, when you know nothing about astronomy or orbital mechanics? Presumably because you have the right heuristics, the ones about which authorities to trust and which ones not to. But what are those right heuristics? The writers of Don’t Look Up spend 2 hours 18 minutes demonstrating that they have no idea and can’t even keep their answer consistent from one moment to the next.
why can the Internet inspire people to starve themselves, to identify as the opposite sex, and to name another related-but-less-harmful example, body build?
I do not have the answer. But think of ideas as infecting people. I can imagine that weird ideas can spread more easily on the Internet. Because you run across more people on line than in meat space, the Internet makes you more likely to run into someone infected with a weird idea. The more weird ideas that you encounter, the more likely you will be infected by one, and the more likely you will infect others.