Who Shall Live? Who Shall Die?

DETROIT–Over at Cafe Hayek, Russell Roberts looks at the ethics of distributing flu vaccines amid an artificial shortage and does a good job of cutting to the core question: why the hell is there a shortage? Roberts lays the blame at the feet of politicians — particularly state attorneys general — who have interfered with the market’s ability to make vaccines (like shoes, oranges, etc.) plentiful.

The ethical problems created by the artificial shortage of vaccines are like those created by the artificial shortage of transplantable organs (also a creature of government interference).  Once the shortage exists, and the state controls distribution, there’s really no good way — no “most ethical” way — to decide who should receive them. In other words, there’s no good way to decide who shall live and who shall die. If it’s ethics you’re interested in, try this: Don’t interfere with the market’s ability to supply vaccines and transplantable organs.

But as long as we’ve got these artificial shortages, my two cents is this: the politicians should be last in line.

Electing Women

A new study says that women are most likely to be elected to office in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. “At the other end are Gadsden, Ala., and Paducah and Bowling Green, Ky.”

Well, I grew up 25 miles from Paducah, and I wondered about that. Paducah had a woman mayor — no, Dolly McNutt was not a character in a Donald Duck comic book. That’s something that neither Los Angeles nor New York has had. In 1983, Kentucky elected Martha Layne Collins governor, only the third woman in American history to be elected governor without succeeding her husband. Neither New York nor California has yet had a woman governor. Collins carried McCracken County, home of Paducah, by a large margin over baseball star and future senator Jim Bunning. She also heavily carried Warren County, where Bowling Green is the county seat.

It sounds reasonable that, as the Washington Post reports,

Districts that elect women, according to [study coauthor Dennis] Simon, tend to be “upscale — more degrees, more professionals, urban.” Those less likely, he added, are “more rural, lower-income and more traditional.”

But I’m not sure. Aside from the above comparisons of Kentucky, New York, and California, I note that the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate who did not succeed her husband in Congress was Nancy Landon Kassebaum of Kansas. Kansas was also the first state where a woman defeated an incumbent governor, and it was the second state to have two female senators. Simon may be largely right, but it’s not a slam-dunk.

Andrew Sullivan in Multimedia

Andrew Sullivan gave a cogent and provocative speech this week at Cato based on his new book The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back. Prodded by a critique from David Brooks, he sharpened and clarified his argument during the question-and-answer session. Together, Sullivan and Brooks produced the kind of vigorous and intelligent discussion that think tanks strive for. You can catch the debate in RealAudio, RealVideo, or MP3 here.

Or if you prefer shorter bites on YouTube, you can find the first part of Andrew’s opening remarks here, the second part here, a closing back-and-forth with Brooks on conservatism, limited government, and the failure of the 1994 Republican Revolution here, and a short colloquy on same-sex marriage here. Finally, watch for the whole thing to appear on C-SPAN’s Book TV soon.

Enough with the H. W. Already

Through 25 years in public life, George Bush was always just that: George Bush. Rep. George Bush, Amb. George Bush, CIA Director George Bush, President George Bush. His son has always been George W. Bush in public life. But now journalists and others think we’re so dumb that we can’t tell them apart unless they add previously unknown initials to George Bush’s name. Today the U.S. Navy launched the USS George H. W. Bush. What an unnecessarily complicated name.

Let’s put a moratorium on renaming presidents after they retire. We can tell the difference between George Bush and George W. Bush. (Boy, can we tell the difference.) And if “Bill Clinton” was good enough for campaigns and bill-signings and orders to bomb countries that hadn’t attacked us, it’s good enough for history. Enough with the attempt to give Clinton retrospective gravitas as William Jefferson Clinton.

The Sun: Attracting Global Warming Complaints?

Would you believe the sun’s magnetic field is a culprit? 

According to a new study from the Danish National Space Center, cosmic rays created by the explosions of distant stars play an important role in cloud formation in the earth’s lower atmosphere. Those clouds have a cooling effect on the planet. The sun’s magnetic field, however, interferes with this process to some degree, and that field has doubled for some reason in the 20th century. 

According to the Space Center’s website:

The resulting reduction in cloudiness, especially of low-altitude clouds, may be a significant factor in the global warming Earth has undergone during the last century.

Grist for the mill. I’m sure it will only be a matter of time, however, before someone claims that the Danish National Space Center is secretly on the Exxon take.

Harvard Lawyers Soon to Know Even Less

I’m fond of my law school (which wasn’t Harvard) and proud of having gotten a legal education, but I am keenly aware of what they didn’t tell me in school. My training was noticably light on constitutional doctrines like separation of powers and federalism — protections of liberty as important as the Bill of Rights. (I had to go and learn them myself. Got a little help from an outfit called the Cato Institute and papers like this one.)

Indeed, I recall a college pre-law class where I was taught the “swirl cake” theory of federalism. ”Sure, there are layers of government, but they mix and overlap in mysterious ways.” Utter claptrap. ”Swirl cake” federalism obscures the workings of government from the people, allows politicians to avoid accountability, and fertilizes the growth of over-large government at every level.

Now comes news (via the Volokh Conspiracy) that Harvard is going to “overhaul” the education first-year law students get. Rather than basics like contracts, torts, property, civil procedure, and criminal law, they’ll learn such things as policy and international law.

In other words, Harvard-trained lawyers will know more about politics and less about law. A step backward for the legal profession and probably for many Harvard lawyers themselves. 

As a law review editor-in-chief, I was aware that many top journals had wandered away from doctrinal work that actually advances law. Maybe the whole legal academy is following suit.

Is Someone Trying to Buy Your Vote with Low Gasoline Prices?

For the few weeks now, I’ve received an increasing number of calls from reporters and TV & radio producers to discuss the latest of a never-ending spate of conspiracy theories regarding “Big Oil.” This one has it that somebody — oil companies, the Saudis, and/or Goldman Sachs — is manipulating the gasoline market downward in order to reduce public anger over pump prices. Lower prices = less angry voters, and the less angry voters are, the less likely they are to throw Republicans out of office. Or so the theory goes.

I’ve been content to dismiss this stuff as not worth my time, but lo and behold, the Washington Post thinks the story so significant that it warrants a spot on the front of today’s Business section. 

To be fair, Post reporter Steven Mufson does a nice job gently deflating this nonsense, but the fact that these claims need to be addressed is depressing. You know a market-conspiracy theory is really and truly whacked when even Tyson Slocum over at Public Citizen isn’t buying it.

While Mufson’s piece is fine, an even sharper rejoinder was made the other day by Professor James Hamilton, a noted economist who engages in energy economics (among other things) over at the University of California at San Diego. While Hamilton concentrates most of his fire on the Goldman Sachs variation of the conspiracy, he makes a nice point about these sorts of claims in general. To whit, no evidence is ever provided. To believe things without evidence is to be the world’s all-purpose dupe. 

Unfortunately, this particular conspiracy theory will probably continue to gain traction because I suspect gasoline prices will continue to drop at least until the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s because (i) gasoline prices have historically behaved in exactly this fashion for reasons that are utterly unmysterious to energy watchers, and (ii) the drop in crude oil prices has not yet been fully reflected in the drop in gasoline prices (and if you want to know why that probably is, check this out). Accordingly, pump prices may well continue to decline even if oil prices stabilize at current levels.

That ought to really drive the Dems around the bend. Expect a spate of “Big Oil Robbed Us!” stories if the Democrats fail to seize the Congress in November.