Another Covid Panic – WSJ

The latest variety of Covid fear-mongering is tied to the so-called Delta variant strain of the virus, and now some investors are wondering if the new health threat could dent global economic growth. Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, tries to add some useful context in the Washington Post:

As something resembling normal life resumes in the United States, many Americans are wondering how concerned they should be about the delta variant of the coronavirus. Reports from Britain and Israel suggest that this mutation is more contagious than previous versions of the virus, and it is already on the rise in this country. But there is good news: The vaccines work against this frightening new variant, and they remain our best, most powerful tool to extinguish the pandemic here and worldwide…

The reason it has so quickly dominated is that it is more “fit” than other variants — outcompeting them when it comes to reaching and infecting unvaccinated people. Although this means delta is more easily transmitted than the other variants, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness. It has not resulted in higher rates of hospitalization among the infected, and it is not resistant to a full course of vaccines.

Meanwhile in the U.K. there’s a timely reminder that Covid is not the only threat to human health. The country’s socialized National Health Service is now beginning to reckon with the large volume of ignored cancer cases since the start of the pandemic. Laura Donnelly and Henry Bodkin report in the Telegraph:

The NHS is planning a £10 billion cancer blitz amid warnings from the Chief Medical Officer that the “indirect effects” of the Covid pandemic are “as major” as the crisis itself…

NHS backlogs are at a record high, with more than five million people waiting and estimates of an extra seven million “hidden” people who have yet to join the lists.

Health officials are particularly concerned about “missing” cancer cases, with the latest NHS figures showing 37,000 fewer patients receiving treatment since the start of the pandemic…

Charities have warned that Britain is at risk of “replacing the Covid crisis with a cancer crisis”, with 300,000 fewer urgent checks since the start of the pandemic…


Speaking of Panics

This week brings yet another entry in the voluminous catalog of overwritten and inaccurate media reports on the subject of climate. A headline from the Associated Press proclaims:

Study: Northwest heat wave impossible without climate change

On the one hand, one could say that of course a heat wave involves a change in climate because temperatures are higher than they were before the wave. But this wouldn’t be news, so most people would read the headline as saying that a larger global warming trend has created a heat wave that otherwise would not have been possible.

But the story from the AP’s Seth Borenstein refutes that idea in the very first sentence by adding an additional word before “impossible”:

The deadly heat wave that roasted the Pacific Northwest and western Canada was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change that added a few extra degrees to the record-smashing temperatures, a new quick scientific analysis found.

It sure was quick, so quick in fact that the analysis has not yet been subjected to the standard vetting by scientists not involved in the research. The AP story adds that the study is “not yet peer reviewed”. Perhaps the AP would also benefit from peer review.


Who Benefits From the Federal Student Loan Program?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and her husband aren’t the only people who have made a small fortune while working in higher education. But for the customers of such enterprises, the math doesn’t always work out so well. The Journal’s Melissa Korn and Andrea Fuller report:

Recent film program graduates of Columbia University who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000.

Yet two years after earning their master’s degrees, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 a year.

The Columbia program offers the most extreme example of how elite universities in recent years have awarded thousands of master’s degrees that don’t provide graduates enough early career earnings to begin paying down their federal student loans, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Education Department data.

Lawmakers like Sen. Warren are bound to respond by demanding even more federal assistance for education, and guess who would end up collecting any additional taxpayer funds.


Do We Dare to Dream of a Do-Nothing Congress?

The old saying is that no one is safe while the legislature is in session. But even before a congressional recess, taxpayers may be relatively safer as long as elected officials are focused on tweeting rather than lawmaking.

Andy Laperriere, Melissa Turner and Don Schneider of Cornerstone Macro write today in a note to clients that “there is plenty of evidence the trend toward twitter governance is accelerating in both parties. Politicians in Washington – including the congressional leadership – devote more of their time and energy on virtue signaling to their political base and less on legislating. The bottom line for investors: fewer new laws.”

Sounds good to your humble correspondent, but the Cornerstone crew writes, “Fewer bills becoming law is not necessarily good or bad for financial markets.” Regardless, readers who believe the best government is that which governs least may have reason to cheer. According to the authors, “the environment in Washington is not conducive to passing legislation.” They add:

The signs of twitter governance are everywhere. Most of the significant bills passed by the House this year have essentially no chance of being enacted… the number of “messaging” bills compared to the number of bipartisan compromises is high.

Given the lack of interest in legislating, its no surprise the House and Senate are meeting less often this year. The House will be in session with potential floor votes only nine days between July 2 and September 19. Some of this is due to Covid, but nearly all members of Congress have been vaccinated for months.

The fact the House has had about half as many recorded votes so far this year compared to 2009 and 2017 (the beginning of presidential terms with unified government) underscores the paucity of substantive legislation that has been considered in the House.

The temperament of congressional leaders also points to how the environment is evolving. Not that long ago, most bomb-throwing backbenchers wouldn’t use the kind of… rhetoric that is commonplace from congressional leaders today. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent out this tweet a couple of weeks ago: “Democrats are desperate to pretend their party has progressed from their days of supporting slavery, pushing Jim Crow laws, and supporting the KKK. But today, the Dem Party has simply replaced the racism of the Klan with the racism of Critical Race Theory.” Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Schumer say the same kinds of things all the time.

If congressional leaders can’t find a way to get along, enormous damage can still be done on partisan votes. And it’s hard to argue that Twitter has improved America’s public discourse. But considering the roughly $5 trillion in new debt the federal government has run up since March of 2020 amid a frenzy of emergency legislating, gridlock certainly has its virtues.


James Freeman is the co-author of “The Cost: Trump, China and American Revival.”


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(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web.)


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