Monthly Archives: July 2021

Pros and Cons of Mandatory COVID Vaccination Rules

America’s Finest News Source investigates and offers this list:


  • Fake vaccination cards very lucrative business opportunity
  • Good way to keep HR department busy for a few months
  • Would saves millions of innocent profits
  • Always fun to piss off Eric Clapton
  • Surely there’s at least some benefit in taking rudimentary public health measures


  • Cruise ships more exciting when there a public health threat on board
  • Could cripple America’s burgeoning ventilator industry
  • Just came up with new argument about how this is related to Holocaust
  • Waste of perfectly good needles intended for intravenous opiate use
  • Violates deeply held American values of recklessly endangering others

I suppose we could add some items, but it’s a start.

Needle photo © and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License Creative Commons License .

Posted in Completely Different, COVID-19 | 29 Comments

Dystopian Fiction in Everyday Life

The Tampa Bay Times has the scoop on a new surveillance plan in Pasco County, Florida.  The Sheriff’s Department there is targeting people for enhanced police scrutiny based on what it claims is an “unbiased, evidence-based risk assessment designed to identify prolific offenders in our community.”

“As a result of this designation,” the Sheriff’s office warns targeted residents, “we will go to great efforts to encourage change in your life through enhanced support and increased accountability.”

Naturally, there’s a federal lawsuit.

Indeed, last year, the paper reports, “a Tampa Bay Times investigation revealed that the Sheriff’s Office creates lists of people it considers likely to break the law based on criminal histories, social networks and other unspecified intelligence. The agency sends deputies to their homes repeatedly, often without a search warrant or probable cause for an arrest.”  In addition, there’s “a separate program that uses schoolchildren’s grades, attendance records and abuse histories to label them potential future criminals.”

To rub salt in the wound, the Sheriff’s Office has a video telling the program’s victims of increased harassment that inclusion is “good news” because it will give them opportunities to receive “assistance”. A hint of what that looks like comes in its letter to the surveilled, which warns, “Our desire to help you will not hinder us from holding you fully accountable for your choices and actions,” and promises that recipients’ names and criminal histories with get sent to local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to ensure “the highest level of accountability” for any future crimes they commit.

Spotted via Crooks & Liars’s Susie Madrak, Dept. Of Pre-Crime: Florida Sheriff Harassing Pre-Criminals — What could possibly go wrong, other than civil rights violations?. Photo Licensed via Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License by Fabius Maximus Blog

Posted in Law: Criminal Law, Law: Privacy, Surveillance | 5 Comments

Troubles Under the Hood suffered a bad crash yesterday [Friday, July 23].

[UPDATE: Wed July 29. I’m hoping it’s fixed now?]

It should all be sorted out soonish, but until then, please be patient with site weirdness.

Sorry about that.

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The Real Inflation Crisis: Flattery Inflation

Like Digby, I found a lot to like in Paul Krugman’s recent column on how the Trump wing of the GOP (can you call it a ‘wing’ if it’s more than 3/4 of the whole?) has for several years increasingly resembled a cult of personality as exhibited in dictatorial regimes.

Signaling is a concept originally drawn from economics; it says that people sometimes engage in costly, seemingly pointless behavior as a way to prove that they have attributes others value. For example, new hires at investment banks may work insanely long hours, not because the extra hours are actually productive, but to demonstrate their commitment to feeding the money machine.

In the context of dictatorial regimes, signaling typically involves making absurd claims on behalf of the Leader and his agenda, often including “nauseating displays of loyalty.” If the claims are obvious nonsense and destructive in their effects, if making those claims humiliates the person who makes them, these are features, not bugs. I mean, how does the Leader know if you’re truly loyal unless you’re willing to demonstrate your loyalty by inflicting harm both on others and on your own reputation?

And once this kind of signaling becomes the norm, those trying to prove their loyalty have to go to ever greater extremes to differentiate themselves from the pack. Hence “flattery inflation”

Krugman points to Xavier Márquez’s paper, The Mechanisms of Cult Production as the go-to reading here, but anyone who remembers Trump’s creepy cabinet meetings 1 will find the current reality distortion field in Mar-a-Lago to be just more of the same.

  1. For an example, see In Cabinet meeting, Pence praises Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes straight.[]
Posted in Politics: US | Comments Off on The Real Inflation Crisis: Flattery Inflation

The Rent is Too Damn High

Lots of news outlets picked up on this report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition stating that there is no place in the USA where a person with a 40-hour minimum wage job can afford a two-bedroom rental.

I’m very much for greater equity, and I think it’s likely true as a general matter that this is a particularly bad time for new renters due to the house-buying mania plus the moratorium on evictions (both of which restrict supply of available rentals), but at a first glance this report seems to have some issues.

For starters, they stacked the deck by pricing 2 BR rentals with one worker with one job and no overtime. Why does a single person need a 2 BR to live? Or even a couple without kids? I agree that in a wealthy country like ours, decent housing ought to be a basic right, but does decent housing mean a 2BR for everyone?

What this report suggests to me is how tough things can be for a single parent, but even then in most states a single parent on 40hrs minimum wage ought to get various kinds of aid, e.g. food stamps, sometimes section 8 housing vouchers [which admittedly can be hard to use] or maybe the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), plus Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), plus now child subsidy. There’s no sign the report took account of any transfer payments at all nor that it took any account of family circumstances.

Also is it weird to think that maybe many single minimum wage job holders might live in shared housing? Have half of a 2BR? Or a share of a house? When I was a single law clerk I lived in an efficiency, not even a 1BR.

Yes, a two-parent household with kids often has to have at least 2 jobs, maybe more, to hope to make ends meet, and that is a real problem, but that isn’t what this study says, and that isn’t what got into the headlines (e.g. CNN, “Minimum wage workers can’t afford rent anywhere in America“).

And, oh yes, the numbers they used probably are too general to support the scare headline. To identify the cost of rent they use a HUD number, the FMR, which is based on an entire metro area. As the report itself notes, “The FMR is usually set at the 40th percentile of rents for typical homes occupied by recent movers in an area. FMRs are often applied uniformly within each FMR area, which is either a metropolitan area or nonmetropolitan county. Therefore, the Housing Wage does not reflect rent variations within a metropolitan area or nonmetropolitan county”.

In other words, in a large metro area, there could be less expensive parts of town with substantial amounts of more affordable if less desirable housing, but the FMR for the city/county could be pulled up by having lots of more expensive housing too.

This is not my subject, so I’m very open to correction, and I don’t want to suggest there is not an unequal income crisis, which in turn feeds a housing crisis, but I think this particular report is more advocacy than serious research. And thus, I suspect, it’s not actually the case that there are no places in the US where adequate housing can be afforded by a single person on a minimum wage and by couples on two minimum wages. Maybe it won’t be a great neighborhood, it likely will not be a 2BR, maybe even shared housing, it may be older, but I have a strong suspicion that it often exists. Not, perhaps, in San Francisco and a few other outliers, but likely much more often than this scare headline suggests?

Posted in Econ & Money | Comments Off on The Rent is Too Damn High

SSRN has The New Authoritarianism in Public Choice

For a good time, see David Froomkin and Ian Shapiro, The New Authoritarianism in Public Choice (July 10, 2021).

Much early public choice theory focused on alleged pathologies of democratic legislatures, portraying them as irrational, manipulable, or subject to capture. Recent years have seen the emergence of a new strand of argument, reaffirming the old skepticism of legislatures but suggesting that transferring power from legislatures to chief executives offers a solution. Just as the earlier prescriptions ignored the pathologies of the agencies empowered to check and constrain legislatures, so the new scholarship overlooks the pathologies of executive power. The primary sources of congressional dysfunction call for reforms that would strengthen Congress instead of hobbling it in new ways that exacerbate the drift toward authoritarian presidentialism in the American system. Executive aggrandizement is a consequence of decades of institutional malfunction, worsened by right-wing attacks on legislative capacity. This has been the enduring impact of the public choice movement since the 1950s, but its twenty-first century offshoot is especially malign.

Note: I am not related to Ian Shapiro.

Posted in Readings | Comments Off on SSRN has The New Authoritarianism in Public Choice