Good Friday Morning, at the end of the first of the hard weeks, according to Donald Trump. He was right on that point. Last week at this point, we had just experienced a few days where 1,000 or more people died from the virus a day. This week, we’re just shy of 2,000 dying a day. That means, according to the IHME modeling used by the White House, we’re nearing the peak terrible days for this virus. That’s the bad news. The good news is this: the models keep revising estimates down.
You may recall that the White House projected possibilities of 1-2 million dead early on in the process. Then those estimates went down to 100,000 – 250,000. Early this week, the models started projecting below the 100,000 mark, and right now, as I write this newsletter, the models are estimating around 60,000 people dying. That’s still awful — but well below projections, which means the extreme social distancing measures are working.
Sandwiched with that is the fact that in only three weeks, we’ve gone from historically low unemployment rates to nearly 17 million people applying for unemployment benefits. At the height of the Great Recession, 15.4 million people were unemployed, and it took us over a year to reach that point. The economic pain right now is unlike anything this country has ever experienced, and until the mandatory stay-at-home orders go away and we start reopening, the pain will continue. As I said on the podcast this week, these two weeks are when we’ll feel the most economical and public-health related pain. One more week (hopefully) to go.
This week, I’m going to talk through one of my pet peeves in American politics: The Founders designed three separate but co-equal branches in competition with each other. This notion isn’t quite right—links to follow.
- Keep the European Union on your radar. Italy is requesting help from the EU, and some countries don’t want to give it. I have a column coming out about this at the Conservative Institute. But the overarching point is this: the EU struggled with the Great Recession and the European Migrant Crisis. COVID-19 potentially poses another existential threat to the EU.
- Here’s something to look forward to in the coming months. Let’s assume the United States continues to beat the worst modeling prediction, and though there is considerable loss of life, it’s below projections, and all the social distancing measures pay off. Donald Trump is going to take credit for saving millions of lives. 100%. And he’ll have charts and projections to prove it. I bet he pulls out a sharpie and starts drawing where he intervened. Everyone on the right arguing the response to the virus is bunk/hoax will immediately switch sides and praise him and those models. And all the media/politicians on the left scaremongering over these models will quickly downplay them. It’s still early before this show starts, so grab the popcorn, and you’ll get an excellent front seat to the coming hilarity.
- For an early example, see a viral tweet from Chris Hayes of MSNBC: “The most cynical interpretation of all this, one I can’t quite bring myself to accept, is they rolled out the model showing 100k deaths after they knew it would be less than that so they could anchor everyone to that # and take a vicotry [sic] lap when “only” tens of thousands died.” [chef kiss]
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter and become a subscriber at The Dispatch, where I’m a contributor.
This piece was published on Tuesday and ended up getting a ton of play because Trump started suggesting we should go after WHO. I offer up three options in the piece. For the record, Trump has proposed using option one. In very cool news: Karl Rove and Steve Hayes both sent this piece out to followers, and The Morning Dispatch featured it twice, on Tuesday and Wednesday. A big thank you to everyone who has liked, emailed, or shared this piece.
This week on the show, host Daniel Vaughan talks through the latest numbers on the coronavirus and lessons to take from them. He also talks through the latest IHME models and what they’re saying. The second segment of the show is devoted to the economy under COVID-19, what the impacts are, and the balancing act the United States is doing.
China’s global charm offensive – The Conservative Institute
There’s a reason China is pushing a global initiative trying to help other countries. It’s not out of the goodness of their heart.
The coming populist backlash against China – The Conservative Institute
Populism is hard to predict, but all the ingredients are present for a severe populist backlash against China in a post-Corona world.
The Separate Kinds of Government
One of the many enlightening things about the coronavirus has been learning how many people don’t understand what a federalist form of a government is and how it works. Many people are discovering that their Governors and Mayors have more direct police power over their lives than the President of the United States. As a longstanding member of the Federalism fan club, I’m pleased to see people learn this fact.
One of the significant problems of our time is how distorted and unmoored the three branches of government have come from their original foundations. For instance, it’s pervasive now to refer to the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court as three separate but co-equal branches of government. That’s mostly a modern myth that I believe first came into fame during the Nixon administration.
Congress is the most powerful of the three, just purely based on the fact that it has both the power of the purse and the ability to make war. These powers and the administrative state have managed to distort that power to make the President and the Supreme Court more potent than ever before. If you want to go down a long rabbit hole, check out the nondelegation doctrine (that’s getting active debate time at Federalist Society events right now).
But all that’s a digression from where I want to go. The point is people think of three separate branches that the Founders wanted to make equally powerful. One branch of government would not become more powerful than another. This idea is partially true — that’s what the branches are doing. But the underlying point is different.
The Theory of Anacyclosis
In the Founding generation, one of the primary questions in political philosophy was how to create a lasting form of government that protected liberty. You see, up until then, everyone looked at the fullness of history, and all lessons pointed to governments eventually collapsing and restricting freedom.
The two bigs ones were Greece and the Roman Empire. Rome was the most significant government in all of antiquity, and it lasted a long time. But even though it continued, it also collapsed. The overarching question was: why? Enter the philosophy of history. Instead of focusing on abstract ideas and building upon them, like Plato, Aristotle, or Socrates, people started trying to glean philosophical insights from history.
The Greeks had started developing the idea that the government followed a pattern called Anacyclosis. Broadly defined, this theory said there were three primary forms of government: Rule of One, Rule of the Few, and Rule of the Many. You’d know them more closely as monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. These specific three were the good forms of government. The harmful types were tyrants, oligarchy, and mob rule. A government tends not to be static entity, it tends to move in cycles and good governments devolve over time into the harmful forms.
The Greek historian Polybius took a step further. In Book VI of Histories, he argued that there was a larger pattern:
We should therefore assert that there are six kinds of governments, the three above mentioned which are in everyone’s mouth and the three which are naturally allied to them, I mean monarchy, oligarchy, and mob-rule. Now the first of these to come into being is monarchy, its growth being natural and unaided; and next arises kingship derived from monarchy by the aid of art and by the correction of defects. Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series.
The cycle then repeats, when a single ruler can take control of a mob, reestablishing a monarchy. The ancients believed anacyclosis was an iron-clad law. That unless government and statemen took proactive steps, every state would devolve into the lower version of itself over time.
The moderns, and the Founding generation, were obsessed with preventing this scenario.
The Founding Generation
As modern philosophy started to come into focus, it was believed that the only way to prevent a government from devolving from one form to another was to set up a mixed form of government. That is a government that had all three proper forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in place so that at all times, in case one devolved, you had a right style in place to check the others.
The 18th Century jurist and philosopher Montesquieu laid this out perfectly in his masterpiece: The Spirit of the Laws. Early on, he’s writing about despotic governments. He points out that the most common form of government was the tyrant, and he surveyed everything known on earth from Japan, to the Middle East, to all of Europe. He observed in a section talking about tyrants:
After what has been said, one would imagine that human nature should perpetually rise up against despotism. But, notwithstanding the love of liberty, so natural to mankind, notwithstanding their innate detestation of force and violence, most nations are subject to this very government. This is easily accounted for. To form a moderate government, it is necessary to combine the several powers; to regulate, temper, and set them in motion; to give, as it were, ballast to one, in order to enable it to counterpoise the other. This is a master-piece of legislation, rarely produced by hazard, and seldom attained by prudence. On the contrary, a despotic government offers itself, as it were, at first sight; it is uniform throughout; and, as passions only are requisite to establish it, this is what every capacity may reach.
A mixed form of government is not something that happens by chance. The closest thing we have is the United Kingdom, and they aren’t perfect on that front. The Founding generation, specifically James Madison, looked at this and tried to figure out how to build a constitutional republic that checked all types of government.
A mixed form of government has monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy present in it simultaneously. That’s what we’re balancing in a mixed form of government — not various powers of legislative, judicial, or executive. When James Madison talks about checking factions and using ambition against ambition, he’s talking about monarchs, aristocracy, or the crowd.
Put another way — a mixed government has all stages of anacyclosis in it. The rule of one, rule of the few, and rule of many are present in the entire government. Each one has a stake and tries to advance itself against the interests of the others. When we’re balancing government, we’re balancing these specific interests.
The US Government
The President is the monarchial piece. The Senate and Judiciary form the aristocracy, and the House of Representatives forms the democratic branch. At least in theory. Congress representatives two forms at once: aristocracy and democracy. The design here is to unite two branches against the executive to prevent a monarch from getting too powerful.
Are there distortions in the current context? Sure. The President is easily the most powerful official in all of government now. The administrative state of bureaucrats that all answer directly to the President, and get promoted on meritocratic grounds, has created a new quasi-aristocratic class. The progressive era of the early 20th century claimed they wanted more democracy in everything — but what they actually did was develop agencies that were apart from democratic political reach.
The judicial branch has gained more power over time, though it still primarily fills an aristocratic function. Congress, however, is the one that has fallen. Congress has the least amount of power it ever has in all American history. Why? That’s a piece for another day.
It’s a pet peeve of mine to hear about balancing three co-equal branches of government. There’s some truth to it — but in reality, we’re trying to balance specific forms of government within ourselves. Maintaining that harmony is hard and takes a conscious effort. The Greeks believed that everything eventually devolves to its worst state — which means if we did that: we’d have a tyrant up top, oligarchs in the middle, and mob rule at the bottom.
That’s pretty much a worst-case scenario. So when you’re looking at our government, see it for what the Founders saw: monarchs, aristocrats, and democracy all weaving into a purposeful democratic republic. It takes work to keep it. That’s why Jefferson and others point out: we’re always one generation away from losing it. Democratic republics don’t have grandkids — it takes active propagation.
Links of the week
Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – the data – Our World In Data
Does President Trump Have an Interest in the Company That Makes Hydroxychloroquine? Yes, but the most recent information shows it’s not significant. – Alec Dent, The Dispatch Fact Check
New Study: The Human Version of SARS-CoV-2 Is Closer to the One in Bats than the One in Pangolins – Jim Geraghty, National Review
How Worried Should We Be about Reinfection or Reactivation of the Virus? – Jim Geraghty, National Review
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire piece of the week
Biden Cuts Hole In Mask So He Can Still Sniff People’s Hair – The Babylon Bee
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Joe Biden has committed to wearing a mask in public to be a good example and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Aides were disappointed and a little frightened, however, when Biden immediately cut a large hole in the middle of the mask so he could continue to invade people’s personal space and sniff their hair, necks, and faces.
Staffers usually don’t let Biden play with sharp objects, but he managed to find some safety scissors stashed behind the Metamucil in his campaign bus. Using the purple plastic scissors, he cut a large hole and then fitted the mask to his face, confident that he was protecting himself and others from the virus.
Thanks for reading!