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One of the questions of economics teaches you to ask is ‘compared to what?’ Someone might tell you that a job paying $10 an hour is bad, but any reasonable…
I wrote recently about how American ‘liberals’, who claim to be so much more worldly than their ‘conservative’ countrymen and women, can be so thoroughly parochial themselves. Senator Kamala Harris, now running for Vice President, illustrated this perfectly on Twitter this week:
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 13, 2020
It is true that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the United States has taken a battering this year. When you shut large chunks of your economy down to combat a pandemic, that can only be expected. That is why other countries have seen similar hits to their GDP. Indeed, for many the damage has been greater than in the United States.
Figure 1 shows the total percentage change in GDP for countries for whom the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has numbers for the first two quarters of 2020 (admittedly, a somewhat motley selection at present). We see that, so far in 2020, the United States’ economy has actually fared better than that of Germany, Canada, the European Union and Eurozone generally, Italy, France, and Spain, to name some of the bigger countries. It has done better than the United Kingdom, where GDP fell by an eye watering 20.4% in the second quarter of 2020. And if you believe China’s numbers, I have some magic beans to sell you.
Figure 1: Change in real GDP from Q4 2019 to Q2 2020
Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
How do we explain these uniformly awful numbers? Let us list the possibilities in order of plausibility:
1 – Covid-19 and the policy responses to it is responsible for these economic contractions
2 – All these countries except China have bad leaders who, quite coincidentally, are responsible for record breaking economic contractions in multiple nations all at the same time
3 – President Trump is to blame for the economic contractions in all these countries
You will see that Sen. Harris is trying to push one of the thoroughly implausible options. If President Trump is responsible for the 10.6% reduction in the United States’ GDP in 2020, but not for the contractions in other countries – option 2 – we have a historic coincidence requiring further explanation. If he is responsible for GDP tanking in, say, the Czech Republic – option 3 – we have to ask: How?
These ‘explanations’ simply call forth further things to be explained. Much better is to apply the principle of Occam’s Razor which Merriam-Webster defines as:
…a scientific and philosophical rule that entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily which is interpreted as requiring that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities. [Emphasis added]
This leads us to option 1: that a once-in-a-century pandemic will damage the economies of affected countries and would do so whichever president was in charge, even President Obama.
You will hear arguments like Sen. Harris’ often. They pretend that a given phenomenon, in this case Covid-19, is only affecting the United States. They are banking on their ‘liberal’ constituents not knowing that this isn’t true, on their parochial ignorance, in other words. All to often it is a safe bet.
John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.