Great Moments in California Lockdowns

The Marie Antoinette edition.

This was sent to me by a friend last month in response to California governor Gavin Newsom’s order to shut down salons and even outdoor restaurants.

I talked to my wife last night and she said that she has 3 close friends in the personal care service business (2 hairstylists and 1 esthetician). Only 1 of them kept working underground during the first shutdown in March. My wife said that all 3 are planning to defy the order since they won’t be able to make it financially this time around. Also, my wife talked to one of them this week and she said that she had called the county health office to discuss various options on how to stay afloat. This is how the conversation went:

Friend: Is there anything we could do to stay open (additional safety measures, operating outside, etc.)?
County health office: I’m sorry, no.
Friend: We are on our last legs and don’t have the funds to stay afloat any longer. In fact, we will have to close down permanently if this goes into effect. What should we do?
County health office: You’ll have to apply for food stamps.

End of conversation.


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The Big Lesson of 2020

The year 2020 gave us a huge amount of evidence about the relative merits of government intervention and free markets. The bottom line is that government failed massively and free markets triumphed spectacularly (with one major exception) within the constraints that government placed on them. The one apparent exception to government failure is Operation Warp Speed but, as we shall see, that apparent exception may not be an exception at all.

This is the opening paragraph of David R. Henderson, “Markets Work, Government Doesn’t,” Defining Ideas, January 7, 2021.

An excerpt:

Yet a look at the evidence as of January 4 gives little basis for the view that lockdowns reduced deaths. It’s true that the COVID-19 death rate for locked-down California, at 675 per million residents, is well below the 988 and 1,029 for, respectively, Texas and Florida, which are relatively open. But the death rates for locked-down Michigan, New York, and New Jersey, at 1,341, 1,980, and 2,180 respectively, are well above the rates for Texas and Florida. To be sure, a more careful analysis that sifts through the data and accounts for factors other than lockdown—maybe climate matters—is needed. But on their face, the data give cold comfort.

Moreover, what if a more careful analysis did show that lockdowns prevented COVID-19 deaths? That’s not a slam-dunk case for lockdowns because the costs of lockdowns are huge. They are shattering the careers and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers, haircutters, gymnasium workers, and others. One might argue that the sacrifice is worth it, but isn’t it easier for vulnerable people, most of whom are old and have co-morbidities, to stay home? They would have to stay home anyway, so why insist that others who are younger and have fewer co-morbidities also stay home? Interestingly, California’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, Mark Ghaly, let the mask (pun intended) slip on December 9 when he admitted that the newly imposed ban on outdoor dining was “not a comment on the relative safety of outdoor dining.” You read that right. What, then, was his and Newsom’s purpose in putting tens of thousands of restaurant livelihoods at risk? Ghaly ’fessed up that the measure had to do “with the goal of keeping people at home.” But wouldn’t he and the other officials need to know what people prevented from dining out would do? What if a number of them instead went to other people’s houses and dined in? We were told again and again that policy decisions must be based on science, only to learn that many such decisions were made by politicians and bureaucrats who had no scientific basis for their decisions.

Another excerpt:

Consider, by contrast, the private sector. One reason that millions of people have been able to stay at home is that companies like Zoom have made our work from home possible. Note also that one reason we have Zoom is that years ago the US government allowed the founder of Zoom, Eric Yuan, to immigrate from China. If you want to count that as a success of government, you should note that the US government denied his visa applications eight times. The ninth time was the charm. And one reason we have been able to buy items when stores are closed is that Amazon has heroically stepped up to sell us items over the web and, although deliveries are slower than they were, presumably because of volume, they are still relatively quick. In case you’re worried that Yuan and Amazon pioneer Jeff Bezos are getting rich off us, they are. But our wealth from them is forty-five times their wealth from us. In 2004, Yale University economist and Nobel Prize winner William D. Nordhaus found that innovators keep for themselves approximately 2.2 percent of the value they create and that the rest goes to consumers.

Read the whole thing.

The list of government failures and market successes in the article is not nearly complete. Both areas are target-rich.



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Hypocrisy Over Lockdowns

At pickleball recently, I made the following point to a fellow player: every instance I can think of where a politician imposed or supported lockdowns yet violated the letter or spirit himself of herself is a Democrat. Art Carden talks about the hypocrites here. Notice the names: Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Washington mayor Muriel Bowser, Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, New York governor Andrew Cuomo, and California governor Gavin Newsom. All are Democrats. Art could have also mentioned Denver mayor Michael Hancock and U.S. Senator from California Dianne Feinstein.

My pickleball friend had a comeback. She said, “That’s because it’s Democrats imposing the lockdowns. Republican governors aren’t.”

I answered, “That’s not true. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland have pretty extreme lockdowns and I haven’t heard or seen any evidence that they’ve been hypocritical.”

I made this point to a fellow libertarian the other day, a man who is generally nuanced. He answered, “I have no desire to defend Republicans.” Neither do I. I do want, though, to note and report evidence.

I think the hypocrisy about lockdowns is almost entirely one-sided: it’s Democrats.

This doesn’t mean that Republicans can’t be, and aren’t, hypocritical.  Ted Cruz often talks about this father escaping from Cuba and there’s no doubt that he wants people to think it was good for his father to escape from Cuba. But Cruz has been horribly hypocritical recently in trying to prevent Chinese people from escaping from Hong Kong to come here.

So the hypocrisy is on both sides.

But on lockdowns, it’s not.


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Judith M. Hermis Letter to Governor Newsom


Earlier this month, Judith Hermis, one of my junior colleagues at the Naval Postgraduate School, wrote a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and sent me a copy.

I edited it and she accepted my edits. So the letter you see below is not the same one she sent. But it is true to the spirit and argument of her original letter. We talked on the phone and agreed that people need to speak out against Newsom’s and other officials’ wholesale infringements on our freedom of association. That’s why Judith gave me permission to quote it here.

By the way, she sent this well before either of us knew that Newsom did not practice what he preached when he went to the French Laundry with a lot of people and dined indoors without masks–and then lied about it.

Here it is:

Dear Governor Newsom,

I hope this message finds you and your family well. I am writing in response to the November 13 statement issued by the California Department of Public Health in connection with private gatherings. I am opposed to these mandates on freedom grounds. The Declaration of Independence states that Americans have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are impossible to maintain under the conditions of a coercive nanny state masquerading as a free republic. Second, and as important, government derives its just powers from the governed, not the other way around.

If you think your office has the right to issue rules pertaining to the activities that go on within private individuals’ homes, you have sorely misestimated the bounds of your authority. I fail to find Constitutional grounds for your office or any administrative branch to whom legislative authority is delegated to issue mandates, proclamations, guidelines, or statements bearing the imprimatur of governmental authority to regulate the activity of individual citizens within private homes.

The Declaration of Independence assures life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It does not assure perfect physical safety from infectious agents. Moreover, as billions of humans from authoritarian societies, including members of my own immediate family, will willingly testify, perfect safety and perfect liberty are mutually exclusive goals. Many Americans, myself included, prefer liberty to safety because under liberty, those who wish to take additional precautions and private actions against, for example, contagious illness, are free to do so, while those who wish to live differently may also pursue their desires. Liberty maximizes the wellbeing of all citizens, including those who are more cautious and safety-oriented, and those who chose to live according to other priorities. Government mandates, by contrast, unreasonably deprive citizens of liberty under the guise of safety and force all citizens to comply with the desires of the most frightened members of society with no corresponding derivation of the government’s power from the governed. In plain English, the state government is attempting to coerce citizens to comply with the concerns of the most frightened individuals. This is antithetical to the conception of freedom America has long protected.

In closing, I would like to remind you of the wise words of Benjamin Franklin, who stated that, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Please defend our liberty by immediately denouncing the actions of the Department of Public Health. Are they free to make suggestions? Yes. Are they free to issue binding guidance? No. Sacrificing liberty for safety is an unacceptable arrogation of private rights by the government of our beautiful state.


Judith M. Hermis
Private citizen




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Just Say No to State & Local Bailouts

Why is the HEROES bailout so much greater than the states’ losses? Simple: State governments would likely use a large part of the bailout money to make up for shortfalls in their funds for state government pensions. In April, Illinois Senate Democrats, for example, asked Congress for a bailout of over $40 billion, $10 billion of which would go the state pension fund. A famous Illinois politician, Rahm Emmanuel, famously said “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” His fellow Illinois Democrats’ motto could be “Never let a crisis go to waste when you can use it to subsidize waste.”

This is from my latest Hoover article, “Just Say No to State & Local Bailouts,” Defining Ideas, June 3.

Another excerpt:

Governor Newsom, in a May 17 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, asserted that the $54 billion budget deficit the state government is facing “is a direct result of the impact from the coronavirus pandemic and not because of existing financial troubles.” Close but no cigar. There are three problems with this statement.

First, in claiming that California’s government would have a $54 billion deficit, Newsom contradicted the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). That office, which has a stronger incentive to tell the truth than the governor has, estimates that the budget deficit will be a much more manageable $18 billion to $31 billion. The $18 billion estimate is based on a U-shaped recession, with the recovery starting this summer. In case you think that’s too optimistic, the LAO’s U-shape assumes that economic activity stays “below pre-recession levels well into 2021.” The $31 billion estimate assumes an L-shaped recession, with the economy in recession well into 2021 and gradual recovery not beginning until the second half of 2021. Now that’spessimistic! In 2019, California’s gross state product was $3.2 trillion. Of course, it will be lower this year. But I point that out to note that the pessimistic $31 billion deficit is only about one percent of last year’s gross state product.

Second, although much of the budget deficit is due to the pandemic, a large part is also due to Newsom’s extreme lockdown, which he began on March 19. In attributing the deficit to the Covid-19 disease, Newsom, like many politicians and pundits, failed to distinguish between the voluntary social distancing measures that people undertook before the lockdown and the lockdown itself. Those voluntary measures certainly reduced economic activity, with the decline in spending on restaurants and bars being one of the main ways that happened. But the Newsom lockdown went much further, causing a closure of many retail outlets that people would have still been inclined to patronize, albeit with social distancing. In short, part of the economy’s decline is on Newsom.

If you want to know the third reason, read the whole article.

Thanks to Eileen Norcross of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University for a helpful conversation and for providing some good links to state data on budgets.


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