How Did Forecasters Get the Pandemic Economy So Wrong?

The stock market and the consensus of forecasters are two sources of economic intelligence that are often enough at odds. But history hardly ever saw a gulf as wide as what occurred in this year of pandemic. Just before the general shutdown began in March, the market’s plunge corroborated the influx of popular fear and pessimism. Then economic views quickly diverged. As the market clawed back its lost ground the gap became dramatic. 

California Prisoners Score Fraudulent Unemployment Benefits

Scamming COVID unemployment benefits from California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) isn’t just for celebrity rappers any more. Serial killers, rapists, and child molesters can cash in too!

Just before Thanksgiving, a law enforcement task force discovered that thousands of fraudulent COVID unemployment claims had been filed by residents of California’s state prisons. Worse, the EDD’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which operates the state’s pandemic unemployment system, had paid out hundreds of millions of dollars for these fraudulent claims. The New York Times reports:

Supreme Court Grants Injunctive Relief to New York Churches and Synagogues

In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court granted injunctive relief to Catholic and Jewish houses of worship affected by an executive order issued by New York governor Andrew Cuomo to battle the spread of the COVID-19. The governor’s order imposed restrictions on attendance at religious services in areas classified as “red” or “orange” zones. A church or synagogue in the red zone may have no more than 10 persons attending a service; in an orange zone, the cap is 25 persons. It does not matter if the house of worship is a cavernous cathedral with a 500-person capacity or a hole-in-the-wall with no windows or ventilation.

State Employment Development Department Empowers “Biggest Fraud on Taxpayers in California History”

California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) doesn’t develop much employment beyond those who work there. On the other hand, as Katy Grimes shows in the California Globe, EDD performs well at perpetrating fraud on California taxpayers. Since Gov. Newsom ordered a lockdown in March, “millions and quite possibly billions of dollars has been sent to inmates in California’s county jails, and state and federal prisons, while legitimate claimants are stiffed for months.” 

No-Ho-Ho: The Economics of Holiday Gift Giving

With holiday gift shopping in season and the COVID-19 pandemic rampant, consider the relative merits of giving cash instead of presents.

A study of gift giving found that recipients undervalue presents by as much as 30 percent of the purchase price. Givers, by contrast, implicitly value them more or less fully ex ante; otherwise they wouldn’t have been purchased. Worldwide, this measure of undervalue (an economic “deadweight loss”) totaled $25 billion, a figure that ignored both the givers’ cost of time and other resources spent shopping, and the recipients’ cost of returning undervalued presents for store credit.

Thanksgiving for California’s Paradise Lost

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s “Guidance for Private Gatherings” limits the number of participants at Thanksgiving celebrations and even warns Californians to keep their voices down. That should not be a problem because, as this Independent Institute video shows, Californians have little to shout about these days. 

Gov. Newsom Launders COVID-19 Restrictions

On October 9, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued “Guidance for Private Gatherings,” which restricted the number of families attending the same non-public event, recommended a time limit of two hours, and demanded masks and social distancing. Any singing or chanting should be done in a low voice, wind instruments are banned, and the host is to take names of “all attendees,” should contract tracing be needed later. The next month, Gov. Newsom showed how serious he was taking the guidelines.

Stem Cell Boondoggle Bloats by $5.5 Billion

Proposition 14, California’s $5.5 billion Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative, was declared a victor last week by a margin of 51-49 percent. How much post-election ballot harvesting contributed to the margin is unknown, and voters have cause to wonder how the measure landed on the ballot. As we noted, backers Americans for Cures needed more than 600,000 signatures by April 18, and they resorted to desperate measures. As this writer twice verified, signature gatherers falsely claimed the measure sought only $1.5 billion. As the deadline approached, Don Reed, Americans for Cures vice president of public policy, began pushing for mail-in signatures.

Populism Is Far From Over

Many people overseas infer from President Trump’s electoral defeat that most Americans are finally fed up with populism.

They miss the fact that populism is just as powerful in the Democratic Party as it is in the Republican Party and that Trump got some 70 million votes. Populism has been a defining trait of anti-Trumpism these past few years, just as it is defining trait of Trumpism. The polarization of U.S. society and politics sometimes makes it hard to see that populism invades a large part of the political spectrum.

Free Will: Getting the Economics Right

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein [Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 1921; Philosophical Investigations, 1953] famously argued for the analytical necessity of “getting the grammar right.” By his lights, the inadequacy of language for representing ethical, aesthetic, and metaphysical concepts unavoidably creates philosophical pseudo-problems; genuine problems were said to be scientific rather than philosophical. Philosophy’s task, therefore, is to expose meaningless nonsense. Problems that cannot be resolved linguistically were deemed to be intrinsically insoluble, and so should be abandoned.

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