Pandemic Economics

The COVID-19 pandemic has now reached over three million confirmed cases, with almost two hundred and twenty thousand deaths. For the United States, which has shown a not-unexpected failure of policy, there are now more American deaths than the Vietnam war, keeping in mind that the United States had fewer than sixty cases and zero deaths as late as February 28. Whilst some countries - such as Australia, New Zealand, and even China - have had a high degree of success in significantly "flattening the curve" of new cases, the sickness opens up new fronts - now we see the numbers climb in Russia, Brazil, Turkey.

The pandemic still represents an existential risk for much of the world, and of course, that comes with a particular and special priority. But there is also a secondary battle that is being fought; and that is not just to save lives, but also to save livelihoods, with around half the world's workers at risk. That reified abstract noun, the economy, is also subject to critical care attention. As the best form of protection has been the graduated levels of social isolation, to restricted movements, to partial lockdowns, economies have come under enormous strain. Let us consider a report from the respected Grattan Institute in Australia:

Researcher Brendan Coates said the institute's analysis found between 14 and 26 per cent of the entire Australian workforce will lose their job, if they haven't already, as a result of government shutdowns and physical distancing rules... This week, Federal Treasury forecast unemployment would rise to 10 per cent in the June quarter - a figure which hasn't reached double digits since 1994.

Challenges often provide opportunities, and this is no exception. Revolutionary situations, as the name implies, a return to reconsider fundamentals, and in this case, the way that we protect and enhance our economic welfare and security. It is obvious that under our shared radical circumstances that continuing as were did not provide sufficient protection against the shocks that are being experienced. Some new thinking is required, even if this is disruptive to existing vested interests who will inevitably move to protect their power and privilege. The opportunity is taken here to explore some of the approaches being used or advocated around the world; (a) stimulus packages, (b) Universal Basic Income (UBI), and (c) a Job Guarantee (JG).

Property-Owning Democracy and Welfare

I just finished re-reading Hilaire Belloc's An Essay on the Restoration of Property and The Way Out. Belloc is a writer that I would place within the traditional conservative movement. He is also, in my estimation, one of the most important political thinkers of all time. While I do not agree with his religious views and do have some disagreements with him policywise, Belloc is one of the few writers on political economy that I believe actually has his head securely on his shoulders. Alongside Belloc's works, I have re-read Noel Skelton's Constructive Conservatism, and, while I do recognize that Belloc's "distributism" and Skelton's "property-owning democracy" are not entirely synonymous, I will be using them interchangeably for the purpose of this essay. I will tell you right here at the outset that the thesis of this article is that the best ideas of Hilaire Belloc and Noel Skelton ought to be combined with the best ideas of F. A. Hayek and Milton Freidman.

The Third Way

Hilaire Belloc is famous for being, alongside G. K. Chesterton, one of the most vocal proponents of Catholic social teachings. His political ideas are based on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, he sought to justify his views by appealing to history and political economy. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he was a social critic who turned economics against the economists.

Belloc notes that the concentration of ownership into the hands of the few under industrial capitalism has deprived most people of their economic freedom. He speaks of the "two evils of insecurity and insufficiency" which society must eliminate in order to be sustainable. He argues that these can be eliminated in two ways without a restoration of "economic freedom" (which consists of ownership, independence, and self-sufficiency).

The Case for a Land-Based Income Tax

A while back, it had come to my attention that the imposition of a conventional land value tax would require a Constitutional Amendment in the United States since there are Constitutional constraints upon the federal government with regard to imposing direct taxes. (Cf. U. S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 2 & Section 9) However, the 16th Amendment allows the federal government to tax income from any source whatsoever without those same constraints. The conclusion that I reached was that a tax on income derived from land — a land-based income tax (LBIT) — may be a more feasible alternative to conventional land value tax (LVT). I discussed this idea in my article The Holy Trinity of Taxes. Recently, it has come to my attention that the case for an LBIT as an alternative to an LVT may actually be much stronger than I originally thought.

The LBIT proposal has four main strengths relative to conventional LVT:
(1) It does not require a Constitutional Amendment and, therefore, would be easier to pass.
(2) It could be used to tax banks on income they derive from mortgage interest.
(3) It would exempt owner-occupants and, therefore, would encounter little popular resistance.
(4) It would effectively constitute a differential tax on land value. The amount of the tax and the rate would be higher on rentiers than on owner-occupants and charitable organizations.

Why Rothbard Is Not Representative of the Austrian School

Modern libertarians and anarcho-capitalists like to play revisionist history with the Austrian School of economics and pretend that Murray Rothbard was a pure Austrian. If you ask modern libertarians, Rothbard is the guiding light of the Austrian School. However, the reality is that laissez-faire fundamentalism is not an essential characteristic of the Austrian School of economics. The Austrian School laid the foundation for "classical neoliberalism," ordoliberalism, and the German social market model. The hallmarks of classical neoliberalism were the rejection of the doctrine of laissez-faire, the insistence on the need for government to create the rules and framework within which a market can function optimally, and the insistence on the need for a welfare state based on social insurance. And F.A. Hayek, the best known of the Austrian economists, was among the founders of classical neoliberalism.

Carl Menger, the founder of the Austrian School, was a supporter of progressive taxation. Friedrich von Wieser advocated government regulation of the economy and a progressive income tax. Carl Menger's brother was the chair of the Habsburg government's tax commission in the 1890s. The commission was overseen by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Friedrich von Wieser, and Emil Sax, all of whom supported and wrote in defense of the idea of a progressive income tax. So, the founders of the Austrian School actually gave the Habsburg Empire its first-ever progressive income tax.

COVID-19, Vaccinations, and Politics

The Isocracy Network is dedicated to "liberty and common wealth". We take these principles seriously, that is the equal distribution of individual liberty, both positive and negative, in all its variation and diversity, is established within a commonwealth of democratic management of the productive forces of land and capital. On every possible occasion members of the Isocracy Network have argued for rights of individual self-ownership, even if the actions are destructive to the self. Indeed it is the very first item of "Our Ten Point Plan"; let this repeated in case there is any doubt:

Personal Liberty. Self-ownership, full and exclusive right and responsibility over oneself for adults of adult-reasoning, and by extension, consensus in participation. As John Locke famously wrote, "every man has a Property in his own Person." We are advocates of free speech, within the limits of defamation etc, following Rosa Luxemburg's "Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden", ("Freedom is always the freedom for dissenters"), and even includes "destructive" rights (e.g., voluntary euthanasia), as long as third party expert assessment declares the individual as being compos mentis [2].

But what are the limits to this principle individual liberty? This is typically established pragmatically, that liberties are limited to the degree that they directly and physically affect others. As noted, this should exclude all self-regarding actions and other-regarding actions, albeit with some due diligence to ensure that the actors are of sane and responsible minds. But it also means that there are democratically-decided rules - and restrictive rules - for to the "free movement" of individuals in public areas in proportion to the danger involved (e.g., road traffic rules). But to what degree do we restrict individuals where there is contagious outbreak? And do not individuals have the right to refuse vaccinations, something that is very much a self-referential intrusive medical procedure? To what degree to parents, for example, have a right or responsibility over their children?

Andrew Yang is the Champion of UBI

While everyone is praising Bernie Sanders over this pandemic relief stuff. I'd just like to point out that the most important measures are the cash transfers, and what we really need is an emergency UBI. It was Andrew Yang who ran on a universal basic income platform, while Bernie opposed such cash transfers on principle. Bernie opposes UBI because he is fundamentally a supporter of wage-slavery. Instead of UBI, he wanted a Federal Job Guarantee. Even as a temporary emergency measure, Bernie was late getting on board. Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell all got on board with some sort of cash transfer or emergency UBI before Bernie did. Bernie kept dragging his feet because he is opposed to UBI on principle.

It is Andrew Yang who has consistently argued that a universal cash transfer (or universal basic income) is the best measure to guarantee security and stability in the midst of all crises, whether individual crises like losing a job or getting injured or general crises like a recession or pandemic. It’s nice that Bernie and AOC got on board with a temporary UBI as an emergency measure, but Andrew Yang and Scott Santens are the true champions of these measures.

While Bernie and AOC are currently getting credit for the idea of an emergency UBI and expansion of unemployment benefits, it ought to be remembered that one of their core policy proposals during non-crisis times—the Federal Job Guarantee proposal—is designed to replace cash transfers with workfare and is being put forth as an alternative to universal basic income. And we ought to keep in mind that in any other recession—in any recession not caused by a pandemic that requires self-isolation—Bernie and AOC would have preferred a workfare program to cash transfers.

The Fear of Socialism is Irrational

I'm not a socialist, but I'm also aware that your fear of socialism is completely unwarranted. Americans hate "socialism" because they are ignorant of the subject and know absolutely nothing about it. They have been brainwashed by Cold War propagandists and Fox News into hating something they know absolutely nothing about.

Yes, Marxist-Leninism and Maoism suck, but most "socialism" isn't that! Tankies are garbage, but most "socialists" aren't tankies. If you look at libertarian socialism (Kroptokin, Proudhon, Chomsky, Graeber, Zinn, Bookchin) or market socialism (Oskar Lange, Abba Lerner, John Stuart Mill, Richard Wolff, Yanis Varoufakis), it’s actually quite sophisticated and pretty brilliant. Also, it’s worth noting that some socialists see no role for the state in socialism at all, while others see the state as playing a central role in their model. Libertarian socialism and Marxism are basically antithetical models of socialism, and some forms of democratic socialism are quite similar to neoliberalism.

Coronavirus disease 2019 and a Case for Environmental Socialism

Writing about the politics of public health whilst we are the midst of a major global pandemic is a peculiar combination of churlishness and critical necessity. At the time of writing, there are 425,000 confirmed cases, and 19,000 deaths, and in a few days that number will double, and then double again, and then double again. It is worth remembering that the first 100,000 diagnoses took from December to March, the second from March 5 to 17, and the third from March 18 to 21, and the fourth from March 22 to 24. It is the single greatest health risk of this century, in part due to the relatively high rate of fatalities (approximately 4.1% of diagnosed cases), and significantly due to the relative ease of transmission. Most of all, however, the greatest risk is the effects of the ease of transmission and fatality rate combined, that is, how it overwhelms our health-care systems, which are woefully unprepared for an event such as this.

But it is not as if that the knowledge was not there. There have been plenty of warning signs, such the previous outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in late 2002 to mid-2003, which is related to COVID-19, to the extent that academics warned of SARS as "an agent of emerging and reemerging infection". SARS had a fatality rate of 9.6% across 17 countries, with approximately 8,000 people infected. SARS was also highly infectious (R0 value of 2-4), but was successfully contained. Then in 2009, there was the Pandemic H1N1/09 virus ("swine flu"), which had a higher infection rate than seasonal influenza, and a similar fatality rate. In comparison Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also a coronavirus, has a high fatality rate (36%) but a low transmission rate (R0 value of 0.3 to 0.8).

Recognising these rather impressive precursors, certain individuals also have tried to raise concerns. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, argued in 2005 that "Time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic. We must act now with decisiveness and purpose", and in 2017 had his book, "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs" published. Virologist and flu expert Robert G. Webster warned of an upcoming 'flu pandemic, “Flu Hunter: Unlocking the secrets of a virus" late last year. The US Intelligence Team has warned about the possibility of a pandemic for years. Dr. Luciana Borio, once a member of the White House National Security Council (NSC) team responsible for pandemics, warned of pandemic threats; the team was disbanded under the Trump administration. Famously, Bill Gates argued in a TED talk in 2015, that we simply were not prepared.

Problems with Bernie's Climate Plan

Bernie's climate plan is deficient in three respects and, consequently, is guaranteed to fail. Firstly, he has abandoned carbon pricing, which was a central part of his platform in 2016. Secondly, he has vowed to ban all nuclear energy (including thorium). Thirdly, he has sworn off any reliance on carbon capture or geoengineering. These three deficiencies make Bernie's plan not just imperfect but destined for failure. It will be impossible to meet our energy needs under his plan without reliance on nuclear and it will be impossible to meet the emissions reduction goals he has set without carbon pricing and carbon capture.

Emissions & Carbon Pricing

The problem of climate change demands a political solution and one that is certainly not laissez faire. This is why conservatives and right-libertarians — people who advocate laissez-faire capitalism — reflexively reject the claims of climate science. The problems posed by climate change, as well as the other ecological crises that mankind has caused, simply cannot be dealt with in an individualistic manner. You cannot convince all the individuals and all the corporations in the world to stop polluting. In order to stop climate change and turn back the clock a bit, it will be necessary for social action to be taken. It will be necessary to alter our social relations and our economic relations!

This essay is going to be a bit longwinded and full of wonky details, but it is necessary to understand climate policy a little bit in order to understand why Yang's plan is so much better than Bernie's. If you are a climate change skeptic, check out my four-part series of articles on The Ecological Crisis & Its Solution, where I explain the science in a simple and easy-to-verify way.

February 18 is Bramble Cay Melomys Day

The 18th of February 2020, is the first anniversary of the Bramble Cays melomys being pronounced extinct. This was the 100th species to be driven to extinction since European colonisation of Australia and the first Australian species to go extinct as a direct result of climate change.

The recent fires have also pushed many of our endangered animals perilously close to extinction. Many Australians have been grief-stricken by the deaths of more than a billion Australian animals in these fires. This particularly includes our fire-fighters and first responders who have personally witnessed the agonising deaths of many iconic Australian animals, the conservation scientists who have seen decades of work destroyed, the wildlife carers and vets treating injured animals, and the First Peoples of Australia to whom Australia's plants and animals are of immense cultural importance, but also includes all the everyday Australians who have done what they can to confront our incalculable losses.


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