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I’m frustrated by the politicization of the coronavirus discussion. Here’s an example:

Flavio Bartmann writes:

Over the last few days, as COVID-19 posed some serious issues for policy makers who, both in the US and elsewhere, have employed statistical models to develop mitigation strategies, a number of non-statisticians have criticized the use of such models as useless or worse. A typical example is this article by Victor Davis Hanson; other conservative pundits like Andrew McCarthy, Peter Bernstein and Bill Bennett also wrote about the “flaws” of the models. Perhaps you could comment on this. People would appreciate it.

First, sure, all these models are flawed. So you don’t want to put yourself in the position of taking the side of the models, just because people are attacking the models for bad reasons. And of course it’s not just conservative pundits who come up with bogus criticisms of conclusions they don’t like.

Now onto the specifics. I read Hanson’s article, and it has some good points and some bad points.

The good point is that he’s right that we’re all in this together, or at least we should be, and I think it’s fair that he’s considering the position of people who make the recommendations. His main argument is that any of us can die from coronavirus, but some people are are much more susceptible to the economic devastation that the disease is causing. The (U.S.-style) liberal response to this is to set up some sort of social insurance to share the economic pain and protect vulnerable people from the worst of it. But Hanson is a conservative, and I expect that he’d argue that any such government programs would just be counterproductive, so his preferred solution to the problem is to minimize the economic disruption in the first place. The problem is that minimizing short-term economic disruption could increase coronavirus deaths.

There’s a tradeoff, and the balance is in different places for different people. If you have a comfortable job and money in the bank, the economic risks are low. If you’re self-employed or just got fired, it’s another story. And Hansen points out that the experts mostly have comfortable jobs. That’s no surprise: if you’re an expert in an area that is technical and in demand, it’s likely that you’ll get paid well in America. There’s an asymmetry here, and Hansen is right to point this out.

The place where I disagree with Hanson is the one-sidedness of his presentation. He’s really annoyed at the experts who say that we should be doing extreme anti-coronavirus measures. Fine. He’s taking a position, and he’s annoyed with people who disagree with him. But . . . what about the people on his side of the issue, the people who’ve been going around comparing coronavirus to the flu, the people telling us to just relax about it? They’re comfortable people too! Do you think that Cass Sunstein or Richard Epstein or Bill Bennett or Sean Hannity are, to use Hanson’s words, “plagued by worries whether there will be enough deliveries this month to pay the mortgage”? No, of course not.

What I’m saying is that there are comfortable people on both sides of this debate. Indeed, pretty much all the people we’re hearing from on this are comfortable people—myself and Hanson included. That’s how our news media, and social media, work. The NYT doesn’t have a regular Ask a Poor Person column—and neither does American Greatness magazine (that’s where Hanson published his article). We’ve gotta go to war with the pundits we have.

Hanson does have some discussion about how Ph.D.-level pundits are overrated—and I can go with him on that! He pulls a Chesterton or an Orwell and compares ivory-tower epidemiologists with commonsensical, salt-of-the-earth truck drivers, plumbers, electricians, and car mechanics. But . . . is that really the right comparison here? There are no truck drivers, plumbers, electricians, and car mechanics offering their views in NYT, NPR, Fox, American Greatness, etc. Instead we have Victor Hanson, who has written books about ancient Greece and modern America and says, “I know a plumber and an electrician.” And Thomas Friedman, who famously knows a lot of taxi drivers. And Cass Sunstein and Richard Epstein, who know a lot of . . . law professors. And Sean Hannity and various NPR announcers, who I guess know a lot of journalists.

Hanson writes, “Whatever the end result of this crisis, few at the WHO, CDC or the state health directors are going to lose their jobs in a way the small restaurateurs and Uber drivers most certainly will.” For better or worse, Victor Hanson, Cass Sunstein, Richard Epstein, etc. probably don’t have to worry about losing their jobs either.

To turn this inside out: Above I cautioned my correspondent not to leap to an instinctive defense of “the models.” We should be vigilant about the models, find their flaws, and work to improve them. Similarly, I’d like to caution Hanson not to try to divide the world into two parts and put everything he loves on one side of the ledger and everything he hates on the other. He hates comfortable people who credulously spread B.S. That’s fine, but he, and a lot of people on his side of the issue, are comfortable people who credulously spread B.S. That doesn’t mean that he’s wrong on the merits and that Gavin Newsom is right—but it does mean that his argument against “elite wisdom” and “high priests” and “corporate lawyers” are empty. Hanson saying we can’t trust the CDC or the state health directors because their jobs are not at risk—but then I don’t think he should be trusting me, or himself! You see the problem here. Until truck drivers and car repairmen have their own NPR shows and are writing columns in American Greatness, what do we do? And even if we do attain Hanson’s idea of truck-driver-ocracy, this just pushes the problem back one step. Which truck driver or car repairman do we listen to? The one who thinks that coronavirus is no worse then the flu and just wants to go back to work, or the one who is scared of possibly being a disease vector and wants government support to stay home until the disease is under control?

I looked up Victor Hanson on wikipedia and found this: “His mother, Pauline Davis Hanson, was a lawyer and a California superior court and state appeals court justice, his father was a farmer, educator and junior college administrator.” Victor Hanson has been a prolific writer and a successful college professor. He won a teaching award and has received various awards for his scholarly work. In his article he expresses a keen appreciation for the intelligence and common sense of truck drivers and car repairmen. According to wikipedia, “Hanson’s 2002 volume An Autumn of War called for going to war ‘hard, long, without guilt, apology or respite until our enemies are no more.'” I don’t know that Hanson has himself worked in truck driving or car repair, or that he’s been a soldier in a war, but maybe he has—and, even if he hasn’t, he has every right to appreciate the labor of people whose careers are entirely unlike his own. I’ve never done those jobs either, but I appreciate their labor. For that matter, I’ve never learned ancient Greek, but I’m impressed with people such as Hanson who’ve achieved that feat.

According to wikipedia, Hanson also apparently wrote that “Trump’s bulk fueled a monstrous energy; Hillary’s girth sapped her strength.” OK, it’s hard to explain away that one. But, I looked up Hansen on the web, and he’s pretty thin. Thin people are the worst! They seem to honestly believe that being fat is some sort of sign of virtue or vice. Don’t you thin people get it? Fat is just fat; it is what it is; don’t be so quick to make it a symbol of your own obsessions.

As to William Bennett . . . The topic here is decision making under uncertainty. Should we really take advice in this area from a blowhard who claimed that he put millions of dollars into Las Vegas slot machines and broke even? Or political advice from a sage who said, “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down,” and then followed this up with the qualification, “That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.” Whew! Good thing he clarified that forced abortion is morally reprehensible. I just looked this guy up on wikipedia and, what’s really amazing is, he’s only 76 years old! I thought he’d be something like 90 or 100 by now. Only 76, he’s still ready to run for president. Maybe that’s his plan: hide away in some cabin in the woods, infect everyone with coronavirus, and then be the only over 75-year-old remaining, and he can just scoot right into the Oval Office. In the meantime, he can play the slots as much as he wants—he breaks even, remember?

Anyway, setting aside the details of the arguments—as Hanson says, we’ll never know if there would’ve been coronavirus carnage had the schools not been closed etc.—I’m not happy with the politicization of science, or in this case the politicization of ideas of evidence. On one hand we have people like Hanson who criticize all experts who happen to disagree with him and who’d rather rely on the common sense of truck drivers—but who don’t actually consult with truck drivers on the matter. On the other hand we have people like Dr. Oz who are trading their academic credibility for fame and $. And then someone sent me this ridiculous twitter war between two rich guys who are just soooo sure of themselves (see here and here).

I think we can all agree that Ph.D. academics, M.D.s, and rich tech guys are the absolute worst. I don’t think I know anyone whose job title is “electrician,” but the people who repair things in our building ore pretty good. The don’t seem so overconfident, though, so I doubt they’ll be offering any coronavirus opinions. I do know some epidemiologists who seem pretty clueful and not so ivory-tower—they get down and dirty with the data—but it’s possible they don’t agree with Hanson on the science, so I’m guessing that he’d disparage them as being inconsistent with the ancient Greek verities, or whatever. The whole thing just makes me want to barf. These problems are hard enough to deal with even without all the politics. As a political scientist, I recognize that politics are unavoidable. But I don’t have to like it.

P.S. Let me clarify that what is bothering me is not the politics; it’s the direction of the reasoning. If Hanson were to say, Sure, coronavirus is a problem, but let’s be careful not to let our fear cause a drift away from the rugged individualism that made this country great, or if Bennett were to say . . . ok, let’s not waste any time on Bennett . . . if Hanson wants to say that Trump is still better than Biden or whatever . . . sure, go for it. Make your case! Maybe if we had lower taxes and less government, we’d be better prepared for the coronavirus and we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today. It’s not a completely unreasonable argument: maybe with no CDC, we wouldn’t’ve had any false sense of security, with everyone assuming that Big Daddy Government would take care of us. It’s a position. If Hanson wants to make that case, then make the damn case. And if he has specific problems with any particular models, tell us. Just don’t bring in all that b.s. about truck drivers and electricians. If we had a minimal federal government and all the epidemic preparation were being done by the states, or by companies, or labor unions, or whatever, you can bet they’d want do get some experts on the case. They wouldn’t be asking lawyers, classics professors, poets, or truck drivers.

“I know a plumber and an electrician.” Give me a break.

152 Comments

  1. david rothman says:

    To paraphrase Socrates, “He who knows he does not know is the wisest.” And as an aside, I wish more would use the word “forecast” rather than “predict”. (a) it’s more correct; (b) “predict” likely leads to thoughts of Dunninger, Uri Geller & your corner palm reader. I believe the distinction between the words may be slightly different now (due to the data scientist view of the world) than what it was back in the day (when i was studying econometrics/finance/OR), to my ear it’s irksome.

  2. One of the most ridiculous aspects of the economic arguments is the apparent cluelessness of people who don’t acknowledge that the economic situation doesn’t just represent an enforced collapse in supply. If you let every restaurant in New Orleans open how many people would flock to sit around eating gumbo in crowded rooms? Give me a break. Either they’d be nearly empty in such a way that you’d lose less keeping it closed, or if you could get enough business it’d be a superspreading event and thousands would die 2 weeks out.

    who is going to hang out in movie theaters? who is going to shop for sunglasses and cute little bikinis in malls?

    The demand went away, or it will go away after the second wave and a major death toll. There is no going back to normal, we need to align the supply and demand as it actually exists today.

    • jim says:

      I have suggestion: lets just seal off Michigan and let them do a little experiment. When school gyms start filling up with sick people, they might change their minds.

    • Jonathan says:

      Similarly, it’s not rational to expect businesses will open to run at a loss. So, the issue is self-limiting. I have friends who own food businesses. They tried, realized they were being expected to lose money to stay open, and closed.

      But the poor quality of the discourse means we aren’t exploring the costs, like subsidies, necessary for businesses to open with a fraction of the turnover they need. Many can now not afford to stock.

      • Rahul says:

        I think there will be a strong nimbleness premium in this crisis.

        The restaurants that reinvent themselves to delivery or other models will fare better. Not easy I know.

        I’m seeing a bit of this out here in India. Uber and ola are delivering groceries. Food delivery apps offering concierge and runners.

        Smaller delivery sites erstwhile shadowed by Amazon seeing a sudden resurgence. Farmers coops delivering direct to households eliminating the middleman distribution hubs.

        Stuff like that.

    • anon says:

      Good point.

      The health v economy trade-off is completely misrepresented in the media. Many of those criticising the economic damage caused by government responses simply ignore that the health and confidence of the people who do the consuming and producing is rather important for the economy.

      • jim says:

        Well for goodness sakes if we want to know the economic consequences of not acting we just look at Spain and Italy and NYC, where they were forced to act to stem the tide of disaster. As Taleb noted, lockdowns **are** the economic consequence of not acting.

        I guess the faithful will try to sell this stuff regardless of whether or not it’s true, but these people are trying to rewrite history that just occurred yesterday. I really don’t think the public will buy that.

        I’d love to debate one of these dudes in front of a live audience, but I’d need a Brazilian tuxedo.

    • Rahul says:

      @daniel

      I’m not so sure. People aren’t always rational about these things. Did you see the difficulty they had over in UK to close down the pubs in the first place?

      I’m wagering that if the Brits opened the pubs again ( not that I reccomend it!) we would see a decent footfall if not a crowd. Sure it won’t be the risk averse, 50 something banker with a family but there’s a diverse set of people out there!

      Life keeps surprising us.

      • That’s why I mentioned the second wave… Sure in the first wave people might not understand that when they go back, there’ll be a second wave… But after all those people are sick or dead, I doubt the enthusiasm would continue.

        Also, it should be totally ok for all the medical staff to simply go home and refuse to treat people who go to the pub. No point in medical staff dying because people wanted to jump out of an airplane without a parachute.

        • Rahul says:

          Well I don’t know if you said the second bit in jest, but by that logic shouldn’t medical staff also be able to refuse treating smokers with lung cancer or alcoholics with cirrhosis?

          • Martha (Smith) says:

            Treating smokers with long cancer or alcoholics with cirrhosis doesn’t pose a risk to the medical staff.

            • Martha (Smith) says:

              Double oops:
              1. I meant lung cancer, not long cancer
              2. I hadn’t get gotten to Daniel’s response below: “There’s no danger to the medical personnel from treating lung cancer or cirrhosis. there is SIGNIFICANT danger to treating COVID patients.”, which makes the same point I was making.

        • Rahul beat me to it, but I hope you’re kidding with the second part. Also, ranting about people’s “apparent cluelessness” above doesn’t help.

        • I have medical personnel in my close family or close friends, and the idea they might die because some people were too clueless to stay away from the pub is pretty horrific to me.

          There’s no danger to the medical personnel from treating lung cancer or cirrhosis. there is SIGNIFICANT danger to treating COVID patients.

          • Rahul says:

            Yeah, not directly but I could frame it as a waste of my taxpayer dollars due to a known foolhardy activity.

            Same difference.

            Look, my point is not that we should encourage recklessness. But on the other hand I don’t think we have ever as a society allowed this sort of retribution that you are suggesting.

            It’s the equivalent of let’s hang the rapists that I hear a lot in the Indian press.

            • What exactly is it you are proposing? Nurses who quit their jobs because it’s too dangerous and they prefer to stay alive should have military or police show up and drag them to the hospital and force them to work?

              I’m fine with saying you don’t get to choose who to treat and who not to. That’s a red herring, because during major outbreaks they are all COVID patients. The real issue is people walking off the job because they simply don’t think the personal risk is acceptable and they no longer feel an altruistic need to take that risk for a short time to help stabilize a country that by its actions indicated it doesn’t want stabilization and prefers to blow through a couple million deaths rather than do a cost benefit analysis and figure out a reasonable social strategy.

              Nurses will say to themselves “if these fools want to go out and get sick doing stuff that they 100% knew was going to get them sick… Then they will have to take care of themselves because I’m not going to die for them”

              To think otherwise is naive.

              • Rahul says:

                @Daniel:

                “I’m fine with saying you don’t get to choose who to treat and who not to. “

                That’s fair then, we agree on the substantive issues.

                Your specific prescription contrary to this was what I disagreed strongly about when you wrote: “it should be totally ok for all the medical staff to simply go home and refuse to treat people who go to the pub”

        • Let me put it another way. it WILL happen that people leave the medical profession if they feel that people are out there putting everyone at risk and winding up in the ER not breathing all for the sake of pubs and music festivals and shopping malls.

          It’s already the case that I’ve read one state nursing board’s email to nurses saying essentially “you don’t have to stay at work if your employer isn’t keeping you safe”… I expect this first bolus of patients the medical staff are thinking “this isn’t their fault, we need to help these people”. A second bolus of patients and medical staff will start thinking “you know what, I like still being alive and taking care of my kids”

          • As a doctor (I also work with models) it goes against our teaching to refuse to treat a patient because of their vices (smoking, alcohol, etc) including a patient being in jail, being on the wrong side of the border, belonging to the other political party, and not social distancing. Of course I may not speak for Gen z, millennials etc.

            AMA, AAN, AHA, may get my dues but do not represent me. Physicians, nurses, technicians do not walk off the jobs. If they do, they are in the minority. My colleagues, friends, relatives, trainees are not leaving the profession in droves are trickles.

            • Rahul says:

              +1 to that and bravo.

              @Daniel:

              If you see nurses threaten with this sort of thing, I wish the right response would be condemnation and not justification.

              It’s like a soldier deciding which war to fight in based on whether he thinks the rationale is justified. Or a cop deciding which offenders to go after based on a subjective and personal risk assessment not mandated by protocol.

              What you are justifying here is the first step to a social breakdown.

              • JEFF says:

                I refused induction into the US military during the “war” in Vietnam based upon my “thought” that the rationale(s) were unjustified. True, I was not yet a soldier, but if that was the “first step to a social breakdown” it was aligned with what I (we) were trying to do though I would change “social breakdown” to “social change”.

              • +1 to jeff. Soldiers should never fight wars so that powerful people can make a lot of money. When it was illegal to harbor fugitive slaves cops should never have arrested people for that and juries should never have convicged.

                The first step to social breakdown was to decide it was ok to conscript kids and send them to vietnam, or ok to make it illegal to harbor fugitive slaves. The social breakdown was a necessary consequence of terrible policy.

              • Rahul says:

                @Daniel

                Yeah, but the time for being a conscientious objector is *before* you join and not in the midst of a war! If a active serviceman says “I won’t fight this war because I disagree with the cost-benefit analysis” I think that isn’t viewed too kindly.

                So also, I am ok with a young kid saying: “Risking my life in a pandemic is not my cup of tea, I’ll become a accountant instead”.

          • That’s just not true taken more broadly. First of all, there have been several hundred physicians and nurses who are simply dead now due to coronavirus just in the last month. If we do this again, we’ll get a few hundred more at LEAST. But probably more, because PPE is dwindling, not increasing!

            Second of all, looked at in the bigger picture, physician and nurse suicide rates are at an all time high.

            https://nam.edu/nurse-suicide-breaking-the-silence/

            Furthermore physicians and nurses are already walking off around the country:

            https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/2020/04/06/nurses-walk-off-job-while-protesting-staffing-numbers-for-covid-19-patients-at-sinai-grace-hospital-in-detroit/

            https://www.medpagetoday.com/infectiousdisease/covid19/85760

            https://paydayreport.com/after-42-test-positive-for-covid-19-nurses-in-western-pa-walk-off-job/

            https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/2020/04/06/dmc-sinai-grace-hospital-workers-told-leave-over-sit-in/2953168001/

            I’m really not talking about refusing to treat certain patients vs other patients… I’m talking about in the medium term if we do something stupid and tens of thousands of new covid 19 patients per day start coming into hospitals while PPE supplies dwindle. there WILL be
            mass walk-offs, or mass deaths at hospitals. Walk offs are preferable!

          • When nurses realize there is maybe a 2% chance of death per month. they will start to intuitively calculate that they need to get paid about 2% of expected lifetime earnings per month… supply will go towards zero at leas than 100k per MONTH

            in the short term that won’t happen but it won’t take long for them to figure it out. either ppe drops that risk to a normal maybe 2% per year and wages stay more or less constant, or supply of nurses crashes.

          • The “for the sake of pubs and music festivals and shopping malls” has a strong moralizing tone that seems increasingly common in a lot of coronavirus discussions, unfortunately. It’s clear that you don’t value these, and that’s fine. I despise shopping malls, I rarely go to pubs, and I don’t think I’ve been to a sports arena in two decades. But I can recognize that these things do, in fact, give value and joy to many people, and that should, in fact, count for something. My kids bike on their own, running the risk of being killed by drivers. (I bike too, but my kids are more valuable than I am.) On many (normal) weekends there lots of cars in Eugene, Oregon, on their way to football games. Clearly the risk of children dying would be lower if we banned football games, but I would not advocate for that.

            If you want to make the essentially economic argument that the supply of medical staff will dwindle if they feel their risks are too great, or are not compensated for, that’s certainly fine. It’s a very good point! (Possible counterpoint: there are *lots* of recently laid off medical personnel, since hospitals in much of the country are quite empty. Locally e.g.: https://www.wweek.com/news/state/2020/04/09/oregon-clinic-lays-off-820-employees-including-nurses-and-nurse-practitioners/) However, we can do this without the implicit looking down our noses at those for whom social interaction is a major part of being human.

            • Andrew says:

              I’m mad at the local govt for shutting down the basketball courts.

            • People like shooting guns too, but we force them to do it at shooting ranges. If we find a lot of people discharging their weapons in the air because it’s enjoyable we can look down our noses at that.

              I have no problem with any of those things being a part of human life *when they aren’t a direct and sincere threat to others*.

              COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in America today. I think hanging out at shopping malls is basically the same thing as walking out and firing off a few thousand rounds of .308 into the air because you like to hear the gun go bang.

            • Effectively many of these arguments come down to “other people should die so I can be happy” and not just small quantities of people. We really need to do some cost benefit analyses so that we can realize that a bunch of this stuff comes down to valuing certain classes of human life at ~ $15/head or whatever it is. I think it’s fine to moralize against people who act as if other people are worth $15, or even $1500 or $15000, by the time we get into the 1.5 Million range now I think we can talk about you’re not a psychopath.

              Right now people are acting like psychopaths without even knowing it. I mean Dr Oz is on tv saying that opening up schools would be a great opportunity if we could make it so that only 2% of the population died… 2%, that’s 6.6 Million people, or about 100 times the combat deaths from Vietnam.

              If that were a sincere belief rather than just innumeracy, it’d be psychopathic. It deserves moralizing against just like we moralize against drug kingpins who send out death squads to local villages so they can keep their drug market flowing.

              • Simple back of the envelope: suppose 100 people go to a pub and each spend $100 on entertainment. They all have a great time. It all seems good, until two weeks later when 2 of them die of COVID-19. So now we’re valuing those 2 lives at $10k, or about $5000/head.

                Imagine instead one of those people said “hey I hear you’re getting a divorce, you want me to bump off your wife and her new boyfriend? just $10000 and I’ll get it done” we’d be moralizing all over that person. In fact they’d wind up in jail for many years.

            • I feel like maybe I’m coming down a little hard here. I should probably clarify that a bunch of the work I do is related to forensic issues in which I quantify the causes of accidents and the damages that are due.

              For example, people get badly burned or killed in industrial accidents. Suppose their employer has taken a lot of care to try to prevent this, and the end result was an unfortunate and unforseeable mixture of problems where the information about the problem was simply lacking… This gets a different treatment than if the employer kept telling the employee “shut up and do the job like you’re told, and we’re not buying you any safety equipment, and you gotta work on the live system because it’s millions of dollars an hour to shut it down”.

              One of those is morally OK compared to the other. And when you deal with those kinds of situations a couple times a year, you get used to the idea that people who don’t value lives very highly are not very good people even if they didn’t actually go out and pull a trigger and kill their employee.

          • Navigator says:

            Exactly.

            I am in touch with some health workers and a few are intentionally opting to stay away from this mess. Can’t blame them.

            The strongest economy in the world should have a govt. capable of providing 100% protection for health workers during pandemics. It’s not like we don’t know what a pandemic is and what resources are required.

            If the world economy is so fragile that a virus like COVID -19 can collapse it, it deserves to disappear, as it’s not built on robust foundations. FFS, we can have similar or worse virus anytime, anywhere, and twice a year on top of that.

            Mindless consumerism (aka: normal economy before corona) we all want to return needs to be re-structured. Looks like any little hiccup can destroy it.

            Anyway, we’ll see how bad it can get.

            • Rahul says:

              100% protection, whenever that comes up, is a fantasy.

              It isn’t possible for medical workers. It isn’t possible for anyone.

              Reality dictates a risk cost tradeoff. In disasters and crises the optimal point is often not attained.

              The solution is not a knee-jerk deliriction of duty but to wait for quieter times to return and then fix the shortcomings.

              • Ben says:

                > a few are intentionally opting to stay away from this mess. Can’t blame them.

                I’m with Navigator and DLakeland on this.

                > The solution is not a knee-jerk deliriction of duty but to wait for quieter times to return and then fix the shortcomings.

                Isn’t the point we were in a quiet time and hate a fair bit of time to react to this?

                My thinking on this goes back to NY not raising taxes (1) when the state needs money (2) and is instead asking for volunteers to fix the problem (3).

                1. https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-signs-fy-2021-budget
                2. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/02/new-york-gov-cuomo-says-coronovirus-outbreak-in-long-island-is-troubling-as-state-cases-surge-to-92381.html
                3. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/helpnownyc/index.page

                It really does feel like this is being piled on Heroic Workers. I don’t see the state doing what it can to help these people out. And so I can totally see if they don’t want to risk themselves for a pat on the back. Budgets like that are long term too. Presumably it’ll extend into quiet times (whatever that means). I take it as solid evidence there will be no fix (whatever these are) in the quiet times.

                Like, if you have a budget in the middle of a crisis and you can’t find a way to tax people — I don’t get it. If healthcare people want to bail on this mess, seems like a reasonable decision to me.

        • Another perfectly good analogy. My sailing teachers emphasized to me that if you go out in gale force winds when there’s a small craft advisory and you get dismasted or otherwise in danger, you can call the coast guard all you want but they won’t necessarily come. They might, especially if you were out before the forecast and are just caught in it, but they will weigh the risk of leaving you against the risk of going to get you. If more people are likely to die if they go get you, they won’t go. As well they should. If we kill off coast guard personnel to rescue irresponsible pleasure cruisers then later there are no personnel to rescue responsible people who have unforseeable sudden emergencies.

          One of the basic principles of emergency responders is you don’t go out when there’s nothing that can be done, and turn a tragedy into a double tragedy.

          • Rahul says:

            Yeah, but think of your prescription as equivalent to the air-rescue-team declaring they will not fly for help-calls involving off piste skiers (because they are taking needless risks to enjoy an adrenaline rush, which by many people’s value-judgement would be foolhardy to risk rescuer lives for; being a medivac is quite a risky job!)

            The point is, if you start going down this track of “first responder unions to make moral judgments / cost-benefit analysis about who “deserves” to be helped and who not to” you are sliding down a very slippery slope indeed.

            • What I’m saying is that as far as I’ve been told, the Coast Guard *already does this*.

              If you were given fair warning that there were major winds coming, and you chose to leave the harbor, the coast guard doesn’t come get you.

              Maybe I’m wrong, but certainly this is the message being given to sailors: do not rely on the coast guard to come get you if you do something you were strongly warned by the coast guard against doing.

              • Rahul says:

                …which is already the case with Covid: There’s a good chance of a full hospital and triage. What I find repugnant is the specific bit you wrote:

                “it should be totally ok for all the medical staff to simply go home and refuse to treat people who go to the pub”

    • Mark Palko says:

      I don’t have the link available, but there’s data supporting your point coming out of Sweden.

    • Chris says:

      Maybe, maybe not. The keep the shutdown argument is pretty silly too.
      All I know is businesses can adapt to a reduced demand.
      And people staying at home, whether by compulsion or not, mitigates the spread.
      After all, that’s all this is anyway: a reflexive and mitigative retreat, based on the best guesses of certain parochial epidemiologists, and enforced by public servants operating under the asymmetric risk-reward framework commonly known as “C-Y-A”, without any knowing (or precedent) if any of this actually works, or if it just delays/worsens the inevitable.
      Oh, and the endgame? There is none.
      What we do know for certain is that for obvious reasons a nationwide shutdown is not a viable solution.
      If you’re scared, stay home.
      What is stopping you and grandma from maintaining personal shelter-in-place orders?

      • What’s needed is strategies to reopen, including massive testing, like in SKorea. What we have is bumbling ineptness. Reopen without a strategy is simply like watching a whole wave of troops be mowed down by cannons and then yelling chaaaaarge to get a second wave mowed down.

        If the force is superior, retreat to safety and formulate an alternative counterattack. But the person who needed to be on board is Trump. God help us all. He couldn’t formulate a strategy to find his way out of a paper bag.

        • Martha (Smith) says:

          “Reopen without a strategy is simply like watching a whole wave of troops be mowed down by cannons and then yelling chaaaaarge to get a second wave mowed down.”

          Scary, but true. And many of the “troops being mowed down by cannons” would be medical personnel, the last people we need to lose when there is a pandemic.

      • Zhou Fang says:

        Economies of scale mean it’s more costly to partially shutdown than entirely shut down. An empty pub still needs staff, electricity, replacement of food that goes bad unconsumed, and so on.

  3. Ben says:

    I think the job descriptions were my favorite.

    “An appreciation of practical knowledge accrues from watching central-heating mechanics come out in the evening to troubleshoot the unit on the roof, battling the roof grade, the ice, and the dark while pitting their own acquired knowledge in a war with the latest computerized wiring board of the new heating exchange unit that proves far more unreliable than the 20-year-old model it replaced.”

    1. You get “an appreciation of practical knowledge” from watching! Aha! A loophole!

    2. Given the preponderance of flat roofs in New York, do we even have a chance?

    3. “central-heating mechanics come out in the evening” – this has a very National Geographic feel to it

    Apparently the editors have no sense of humor or they would have added an “Central heating mechanic practicing his craft” photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Honnold#/media/File:Alex_Honnold_at_Yosemite.png

    I guess I’m not a commercial A/C person, or whatever, but when I was in high school I’d help my dad with residential stuff. I don’t remember off hand ever getting on a roof. It was more of a basement/closet sorta job. I suppose you could probably write something dramatic about crawlspaces.

    • Phil says:

      My HVAC guy, who was just here to do some work, and he did have to go on the roof! That’s where the compressor lives, for our ducted mini-split.

      As long as I’m here, I’ll say hey, I know a plumber and an electrician and an HVAC guy too, so that makes me an expert. I’ve actually had some pretty long discussions with the HVAC guy, standing at an appropriate distance. He’s a small businessman, or rather a small-business man — he himself is not small — who I believe, based on conversation, has somewhat Trumpish tendencies. But his wife is a nurse. If not for her, I’m pretty sure he’d be opposed to a government-mandated shutdown, but he’s worried about his wife and understands the factors in play.

      He’s trying to find a way to keep his business going, sort of exploiting the gray areas around what is considered to be ‘essential’ work: even here in California, heat is considered essential, for example. He’s about 50 years old, has several employees, does about $2 million a year gross. He is trying to anticipate what is coming (aren’t we all). He said he was slow to respond to the 2008 crash and it just about ruined him: the company, which had been smaller at around $500K per year, did only $60K in business in 2009. He said he had figured he would just keep doing things the way he had been doing them and things would work out, but things did not work out at all and he had to make some big changes to survive, so he wants to be more adaptable this time and he realizes that may mean cutting wages or even letting some people go.

      He is pulled both ways about social distancing. He wants to be able to have his employees do their work, but, in part because of his wife, he really understands what is at stake and he knows that if people try to go back to business-as-usual, the number of deaths will skyrocket and social distancing will be imposed again. He is trying to be responsible while still keeping his business alive, and he has implemented measures that he hopes will do that: send only a single employee to a job even if it takes a lot longer that way; when he has two employees go out together it’s always the same two, so one of them getting sick will only put one other at risk; they all wear gloves and masks and use sanitizer; and so on. One of his guys takes it really seriously, one doesn’t, and the others obey the rules (he says) but don’t feel as personally committed to them as he and the serious employee do.

      The guy was in my house to do non-essential work, and the risk of disease transmission was not literally zero. But he and I were both careful. I think that if everyone were like him, feeling they really have skin in the game (in this case, his wife’s exposure to risk), we could already take some cautious steps towards re-starting the economy by letting some non-essential work get started again, such as work that involves fewer than 5 in-person interactions per day, none of them requiring close physical proximity. I dunno, don’t really have an idea of how to make it workable, I’m just saying that this guy was doing the right things and trying to make his employees do them too.

      • Andrew says:

        Phil:

        I’m thinking that American Greatness magazine could have a whole series of articles that begin, “I know a plumber and an electrician . . .” and go from there.

        Victor Hanson wrote the first article in the series and you could write the second. After that . . . hmmm, according to Google there are 625,000 electricians and 480,000 plumbers in the U.S. That’s about a million. From our survey research, we’ve estimated that Americans know on average about 600 people, which makes me suspect that most Americans know an electrician or a plumber. But of course what makes you and Hanson special is that you know an electrician and a plumber. Still, I’m guessing there are millions of Americans who’d qualify. So American Greatness magazine could keep this column running for a long time!

      • Ben says:

        In the theme of the discussed article, I should deny the existence of ducted mini-splits, roofs, and California, and make up some manly crawlspace adventure stories.

        > at around $500K per year, did only $60K in business in 2009

        That’s an interesting data point.

        > He’s a small businessman, or rather a small-business man — he himself is not small

        That too is an interesting data point.

        > we could already take some cautious steps towards re-starting the economy

        Yeah I really don’t know. I guess the thing I’d add is since this has had an unequal impact on different areas and different things, we should probably be mapping out the different parts of re-opening. Re-opening a restaurant vs. a retail store vs. HVAC place etc. etc.

        This essential vs. non-essential classification maybe needs to evolve a bit. I dunno how any of it works if we can’t guarantee food/utility/housing security for people.

  4. jim says:

    This is the nature of all modern political discourse. It’s all crap. It’s all biased to “my side”. Hanson makes a few fair points. But like (almost) all modern pundits, he’s conveniently leaving out the facts that disagree with his POV.

    My newspaper is kind of interesting in that regard. It chooses “conservative” columnists who are more “truth-oriented”, but it has no equivalent consideration for liberal columnists. It’s not clear why this is: is there a real quality test for the right, but none for the left? Or is this just an artifact of pleasing its readership (that is, the “conservatives” it chooses are more truthful, thus more likely to present a centrist viewpoint)? It must be the latter.

    • Terry says:

      This is the nature of all modern political discourse. It’s all crap. It’s all biased to “my side”.

      Therefore, you have to let both sides speak. If only one side is allowed to speak, you can never be sure you caught all their dishonesties, so they are never fully convincing.

  5. D Kane says:

    Or political advice from a sage who said, “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down,”

    This is unfair to Williams Bennett.

    1) The academic research which Bennett is referencing is summarized here. You can disagree with Donohue–Levitt but this is serious work.

    2) Do you think that the causal effect of aborting all babies of type X on the crime rate is exactly zero? I doubt it!

    3) Bennett was mocking Donohue–Levitt! He thought their work was garbage and he was attacking it with a reductio ad absurdum argument.

    • Andrew says:

      D:

      I discussed this in the linked thread. Short answer is “I do know that it’s true” is ridiculous for this sort of out-of-sample extrapolation. Bennett’s not just some guy shooting the bull at the local country club. He’s supposed to be some kind of intellectual. But, sure, it’s just something he said one day on the radio. Indeed, Levitt’s follow-up was even more ridiculous, and Levitt didn’t even have the excuse of speaking contemporaneously. I wouldn’t trust Levitt’s takes on public health interventions either!

      • Rahul says:

        Akin to the experts bias isn’t there an age bias? What’s the average age of the pundit / op ed writer / politician etc.?

        I’d be curious to know but looks like it will be upwardly skewed from the population median in most locales.

        Not just from a mortality perspective but also regarding having comfortable nest eggs or close to retirement does that bias the descision making?

        I wonder.

      • RudyB says:

        Also, according to Bennet’s and Levitt’s logic aborting citizen’s babies will reduce crime since non-citizens have a lower crime rate (same with White vs Asian etc). It’s the same illogic used with terms like black on black crime (like Sri-Lankan on Sri Lankan crime). Their stupidity has no end. Sigh!

    • Steve says:

      D Kane writes:

      “2) Do you think that the causal effect of aborting all babies of type X on the crime rate is exactly zero? I doubt it!”

      No, I think it is exactly unpredictable. Believing X is correlated with Y therefore reducing X will result in reducing Y, is magical thinking. The world is complex. Sometimes simple linear relationships hold, often they don’t.

      I get your point that Bennett is anti-abortion and trying to make an anti-abortion argument, but he still made a claim that killing African-Americans would reduce crime. He is still reinforcing a racist stereotype. It is still appalling.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        ““2) Do you think that the causal effect of aborting all babies of type X on the crime rate is exactly zero? I doubt it!”

        No, I think it is exactly unpredictable. Believing X is correlated with Y therefore reducing X will result in reducing Y, is magical thinking. The world is complex. Sometimes simple linear relationships hold, often they don’t.”

        +1

    • jrkrideau says:

      you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down

      The same would apply if it was white babies, just that it would give less white-collar crime as well as street crime.

    • somebody says:

      The reductio ad absurdum wasn’t to say that the preceding statement is untrue. The logic is

      “Suppose abortion reduces crime. Some would say that might justify legalizing abortion. But there are other things that will reduce crime that we would say are unjust. Therefore, legalizing abortion just because it reduces crime is not necessarily justified.”

      His argument relies on the statement about aborting black babies reducing crime being true. He claims to “know it’s true.” At the very least, if that policy were effected, it would increase my crimes, up to and including rebellion against the government. There are lots of consequences to a policy that sweeping and oppressive. All this to say, I know that he doesn’t know it’s true, that the only way you could be that certain about something like that is severe racism or the confidence of stupidity.

      So no, it’s not unfair. The quote is terminally stupid in context..

  6. Bill Spight says:

    I took a look at Hanson’s article. I couldn’t continue to read it because of his insistence in comparing apples to oranges and other logical and rhetorical problems. However, one thing that I agree with wholeheartedly is his emphasis on humility. The problem is that he only focusesl on the presumed lack of humility among experts. He ignores the lack of humility among non-experts who proclaim that they know better than the experts. He assumes the humility of the uneducated, unaware, perhaps, of the pride of ignorance. Where is the humility of the protestors in Michigan? As I said, I didn’t read the whole article, but he is apparently ignorant of the fact that physical distancing has a shown track record of effectiveness in mitigating the spread of epidemics and pandemics from the Black Plague in the middle of the 14th century to the influenza pandemic of the early 20th century, to our current pandemic. The actions of governors and mayors to issue distancing and stay at home directives are not a sign of elite arrogance, but of humility before the force of a deadly disease. If he is aware of those facts, which do not take higher education to understand, then what are we to make of his scurrilous screed?

    • Phil says:

      I, too, have been struck by the fact that the protestors, and the pundits claiming the response is overblown, seem so sure of their ground. Ok, fine, you don’t like the models, neither do I, but if you want to claim we should be doing Y instead of X, tell me what you think the consequences would be. What’s -your- model? They’re so sure things would be better if we did Y, if they will even spell out what that is. It’s ridiculous.

    • Steve says:

      +1 The real irony here is that despite a seemingly coordinated attempt by right wing media to convince the nation that COVID-19 was not a big deal, it was unsuccessful. FOX and others had to reverse themselves because ordinary people understand the need to stay away from sick people. If we could be fooled to ignore an infectious disease outbreak, our species would probably not lasted so long. The truth that Hanson ignores is that it is only the elites that are really debating the issue as an intellectual issue. Most people are correctly scared and operating on instinct. It is only where evidence of the infection is invisible that people can debate this issue. Those are the real “elites” — communities where people haven’t died.

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      “However, one thing that I agree with wholeheartedly is his emphasis on humility. The problem is that he only focusesl on the presumed lack of humility among experts. He ignores the lack of humility among non-experts who proclaim that they know better than the experts. He assumes the humility of the uneducated, unaware, perhaps, of the pride of ignorance. “

      +1

      • jrkrideau says:

        But, but, Martha, I have spent 30 years studying gerard Manly Hopkins’ use of sprung rhythem as a poetic device and I have a Ph.D in Sanskrit psycho-linguistics.

        This definitely qualifies me to criticize epidemiological models.

  7. Jonathan says:

    These two stories appeared in my new feed almost next to each other:

    1. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/health/coronavirus-obesity-higher-risk.html
    2. https://www.wired.com/story/covid-19-does-not-discriminate-by-body-weight/

    I also note something out of the UK, that 30% of the deaths are from minority populations. These populations total 10% of the population. I note this because a blizzard of articles points at the lack of national health as causing racial death disparity in the US.

    I assume nearly everything written in the moment is wrong, and that anything written after is only correct within specific parameters.

  8. David J. Littleboy says:

    “They wouldn’t be asking lawyers, classics professors, poets, or truck drivers.”

    The only time you ask lawyers, classics professors, poets, or truck drivers is when you know you won’t like the answers a real expert would give.

    (And it’s actually worse than that, because you only as the lawyers, classics professors, poets, or truck drivers who would give you the answer you want. This is David Brooks’ modus operandi: he is mostly dead wrong about those sorts of people, but has the nice gig of writing for a paper that refuses to insist their right-wing writers print corrections to their (mostly intentional) mistakes.)

    • zbicyclist says:

      “you only ask the lawyers, classics professors, poets, or truck drivers who would give you the answer you want”

      My favorite along these lines is the opinion of taxi drivers — an opinion given before you determine the amount of tip they will get.

  9. jd says:

    “I think we can all agree that Ph.D. academics, M.D.s, and rich tech guys are the absolute worst.”
    I thought you said “Thin people are the worst!”?
    So what I got from this post was that if you are a thin, rich, tech guy, with a Ph.D., then you really are the dregs of society…

  10. Eric Kades says:

    Andrew Gelman is a freaking national treasure.

  11. Dale Lehman says:

    Yes, I hate the politicization of COVID-19 policy. But I do think that politics largely reflects the public, and it is the public response that is most disturbing. There are legitimate issues involved with choosing between more health safety and economic livelihood. Many of the people I respect on this blog have strong feelings about that tradeoff (including whether there really is a tradeoff), but I have reservations about the costs of mitigation. I feel it is the right policy, given the massive uncertainty about almost every aspect of the pandemic and mitigation seems the wiser choice – although at some point we need to decide when and how to relax it. I very much doubt that using the statistical value of a life will help make better decisions. Nor do I think that we can afford to keep things shut down if we can save a single life. I’ve seen both arguments appear and reappear.

    Now that the protests have broken out, I’ve hear more than one protestor claim “if we are healthy we should be allowed to go back to work.” That is what I find the most disturbing of all – it shows a complete inability to think abstractly (can they define “asymptomatic”). I also see an absence of believing that there is a public good that can be distinguished from their own private well-being. This is what government has become – just another “business” designed to promote our narrow self-interest. When our politicians act like that, we are horrified – but they are merely acting the way that most people act themselves. We seem incapable of having civilized discussion (yes, I share Andrew’s disgust with the instant tirades on Marginal Revolution).

    It is right to be skeptical of science and scientists. We’ve seen too many examples where they are mistaken, most often because they mistakes, but too often out of intentional deceit. But that doesn’t mean we should make decisions without them – it means they have a burden to explain what they have done, as well as its limitations. To deny the relevance of the science (the models are all bad, the data is no good, it is all an elitist plot) will certainly not cure the problems, it will merely further entrench them. I’m afraid this crisis has revealed just how bad our institutions have become (to be sure, there are bright lights and we should celebrate them, but it is hard to be optimistic from what I am seeing).

    • Kyle C says:

      I am equally frustrated with smart people who with good liberal intentions keep writing that we should “keep in mind” that distancing measures will hurt people in (say) Africa whose food supply chains and subsistence livelihoods are being disrupted. Yes. We should keep that in mind. But how, exactly? When and in what decisions?

      Even among some intellectuals (e.g, academics) I see resistance to the notion that we face only bad options in all directions. Criticizing one policy outcome as bad does make alternatives good.

      • Dale Lehman says:

        “Criticizing one policy outcome as bad does (not) make alternatives good.” Paraphrase to: “Rejecting one hypothesis as bad does not make the alternative good.”

        • Kyle c says:

          Thanks for the “not,” yes. It is very much null hypothesis thinking. I also have a longer theory that it is encouraged by narrative devices on shows like Star Trek, but I will spare you that.

    • Right on to Dale!

      It feels to me like we just had a Pearl Harbor type event that wiped out not just the fleet but devastated all of Hawaii, and now all the whole world can talk about is how to rebuild our pineapple plantations.

      To hell with the pineapple plantations, focus on the actual needs in this situation!

      A number one most important thing is to protect the food supply. Ten thousand people drove in their cars to get food at food banks that didn’t have enough supply in San Antonio

      https://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Thousands-hit-hard-by-coronavirus-pandemic-s-15189948.php

      At the same time, growers everywhere are mulching their vegetables and dumping milk: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/04/05/food-waste-coronavirus-pandemic-164557

      meat packing plants are closing due to infections or infection risk (see above politico article).

      We need to protect growers, transportation workers, and the flow of information (demand/supply) between consumers and producers.

      Second most important is to protect the health of health-care workers. We need to hold distancing in place long enough to reorient production towards sufficient PPE. We need Powered Air Purifying Respirators for hospital workers, because those can be worn all day, have tremendously high efficiency and can reduce the risk to workers down to a minimum. They also don’t need to be replaced every time you move from one room to another. (N95 masks are just the wrong thing here)

      Third, we need to protect the infrastructure that keeps people safe: electricity, water, gas, home repairs.

      Fourth: we need to put in place a dramatic improvement in our public health capacity. Testing, tracing, management, data-sharing, public alerting systems, and of course research specific to coronavirus treatment and vaccines and mitigation strategies.

      Fifth: we need to expand internet capacity to homes that currently have marginal connections, so that people can do more distance activities to make money. Whether that’s coaching people through how to give a haircut or cook meals or yoga classes or telemedicine for minor to medium health emergencies or telepsych to help people deal with the stress of being cooped up, or expanding teaching capacity in schools by hiring more and teaching more technology skills to teachers…

      Finally when we have those things in place, things will be stabilized enough that we can talk about how to do more of the other pieces of the economics puzzle.

      Fail to follow the proper priorities, and we’ll be arguing over the pinapple plantations when the next round of warplanes flies over and carpet bombs us.

      • Terry says:

        It’s time to start thinking about the extent of the economic devastation. We don’t have good models for what is going to happen (or, to put it more mildly, our heuristics derived from economic history are out the window).

        This is a shock that has hit almost all businesses in the entire world simultaneously and instantaneously. That is scary. The mortgage market losses of 2008 were far more isolated. Is the Great Depression and the other depressions pre-1929 the appropriate way to think about things? There, the collapse of the financial system affected a wide swath of the country. Plus, they had the somewhat similar vicious circle of drops in production depressing demand.

        • There isn’t a question in my mind that the danger of something at least as bad as the great depression is possible here, if not substantially worse. but here just like then it’s economic policy that will make it better or worse. in my mind the bankruptcies we will see in the next few months will crush the money supply as loans become worthless the correct policy response to that could make things kind of ok, or it could trigger WWIII or anything in between.

          if we don’t protect the food supply actual street level armed combat could occur. no question.

          • Andrew says:

            Daniel:

            I know what you mean. Back in 2008, the economic crisis was considered to be a major, major thing, threatening not just “the economy” but the stability of the free world. There was a huge pressure on the government to “do something.” And what we have now is so much more.

            • Indeed, my biggest concern back then was that the transportation industry would lock up due to liquidity problems and food would stop getting shipped. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I’m now eating dried beans I bought back then ;-)

          • jim says:

            “the danger of something at least as bad as the great depression is possible here, if not substantially worse.”

            What’s the model for that? The 1918 was pandemic had about 10x more fatalities in the US than the latest projections for this one and didn’t even register on the depression scale. If a depression worse than the great depression happens, we would have to attribute that to the shutdowns, not the virus.

            I read that manufacturing declined by 18% during pandemic, but it doesn’t seem to registeron GDP charts. Granted it would have to be big to be visible, but I guess that’s the point.

            We all remember what the post-pandemic decade was called, right?

            It’s not going to be anywhere near as bad as touted. We just have another month to get through, then we’ll be on the mend.

            • What will determine whether we have a meltdown or not is whether people get to the place where they fear their neighbors, fear leaving their houses, no one can find food because it’s all rotting in the fields and no-one will pick it or deliver it. Landlords call for police to evict people who don’t pay their rents… riots.

              All of those things can be avoided, but it’s also possible to at every step where something good could be done, just do the opposite of good. Our current federal govt seems great at that.

              • jim says:

                Up to now I’ve supported the lockdowns. But we’ve stalled the rampant transmission of the virus. Another few weeks to get contact tracing in place and that’s it – especially on the west coast where things are more or less under control already. Things have to start opening.

                It won’t ever get to the point where people are afraid to leave their homes. That didn’t happen in 1918. People go on about their lives, that’s how people are.

            • Terry says:

              “What’s the model for that? The 1918 was pandemic had about 10x more fatalities in the US than the latest projections for this one and didn’t even register on the depression scale. If a depression worse than the great depression happens, we would have to attribute that to the shutdowns, not the virus.”

              Precisely. A million extra deaths would hardly dent economic activity. An economy-wide shutdown, on the other hand would very much dent it. (Almost 3 million people a year die in the US.) A lot of people died in 1918-1919, but the economy did not shut down en masse.

              If we just shut down for a month or two, it might have no big long-term consequences. Everyone just hibernates a bit, wakes up and goes about doing what they were doing before. You operate at 50% capacity for a month or two.

              What I don’t know, though, is what sort of long-term disruptions we will see. 2008 taught us that a modern economy can come unglued because of obscure mechanisms that shut down activity for no seemingly good reason. The financial sector is prone to this, and we had many depressions pre-1929 because of this as well as the Great Depression. Add to financial malfunctions the possibility that some sectors will not function well for a long time because of the virus itself (theaters, cruise ships).

              Then, the real zinger: what if we get recurring waves of infection and recurring shutdowns? The US economy is about $2 trillion per month. If we lose a few months here and a few months there, pretty soon we’re talking real money. What if we go nuts every few years when a new virus comes down the road? We hardly blinked when SARS, MERS, H1N1, and Ebola popped up, but what if we freak out the next time an Ebola outbreak occurs. (There is a small Ebola outbreak going on now.)

              I have no idea. I just know that we sailed into 2008 with no idea of how hinky the economy can be. But I’m a worry wart by nature.

              Maybe we will come to accept a few hundred thousand extra deaths every few years. We don’t even blink when flu kills 80,000 (2017-2018). Maybe our blink reflex will become trained to a higher level of deaths.

              • jim says:

                Yes, you’re right, we can’t keep screwing the hundreds of millions of living for the thousands that might perish. Surely there will be waves of infection. We’ll just have to cope.

                The idea of the shutdown is to buy time for the health care system to catch up with testing, procedures, equipment, meds, beds, etc. Unfortunately it’s a one shot deal, so the bumbling has been damaging. IMO the best way is – sorry – to do what Trump is advocating: set a target and get it done. We can maintain social distancing and mask use etc.

                The benefit of a gradual opening is debatable. If we mean gradual over a month or six weeks, OK. If we mean gradual over three months, no, that’s **WAY** too long. If people don’t want to go to restaurants, OK, they don’t go.

              • Terry says:

                Jim:

                Could be, could be.

                We will have to adjust continually to circumstances as they change, trying not to run suffer another Black Death or a super-Depression.

                Which brings us to the point of the original post. There is a huge amount we don’t know and we are learning continually. In such circumstances, we should be cautious and careful to act and willing to change course as circumstances change. This is precisely what Hanson ignores. Now that ventilators are falling from favor, we can be more optimistic about hospital capacity. There is some evidence that mortality rates are not as high as feared. So we should probably dial back the lockdowns. This doesn’t mean the original model guesses were wrong given their information. It just means things have changed.

              • It’s not what if… There will be another wave and then another shutdown and another wave and another shutdown… Unless we can test 300M tests a week… We are doing what, 700k? And let’s not forget the maybe 10-30% false negative rate which is current thinking I’ve been reading.

                The fact is we had as many deaths in one month as we get in a whole year of very bad flu season. EVEN THOUGH we locked the whole country down.

                Do you really think that we will just have to put up with 3M deaths this year so ideologically we don’t have to do Universal Basic Income, which would solve the extreme economic pain overnight?

                3M unnecessary deaths is easily worth borrowing 1x GDP to prevent. We arent talking about exclusively 90 year olds here. And it’s not just deaths, weeks of illness for tens to hundreds of millions?

                The problem is we need to actually do the damn cost benefit analysis and no one has even started that work as far as I can see.

              • Ben says:

                > If we just shut down for a month or two, it might have no big long-term consequences.
                > Then, the real zinger: what if we get recurring waves of infection and recurring shutdowns?

                The way I interpret this is the economy as constructed isn’t going to survive these things and we need to rethink it real quick so at least there’s food and utilities and the people do have to do face to face jobs aren’t just hopping into an X% woodchipper or whatever.

                So I think the things DLakeland said here are big, long-term consequences: https://statmodeling.stat.columbia.edu/2020/04/17/the-politicization-of-the-coronavirus-discussion/#comment-1302908

                I’d prefer to pick those longer term consequences than have scarcity pick some other ones.

              • Terry says:

                Daniel:

                “Do you really think that we will just have to put up with 3M deaths this year so ideologically we don’t have to do Universal Basic Income, which would solve the extreme economic pain overnight?”

                I think you meant to reply to someone else. I have not said this.

            • Brent Hutto says:

              Jim,

              I totally agree with your take on providing context but I do feel like I need to point out there was a World War going on at the same time as the 1918 pandemic.

              Another difference is we did not have people in 1918 glued to their broadcast media and social media 24×7 having their fear stoked by continuous, repetitive images and bluster about how bad things are going to get if they leave the house.

              I agree that if a month or so from now economic activity is gradually returning to something like normal we’re talking recession and not depression. But if some combination of people being scared to interact in public and governmental policies forbidding businesses to open persists through the summer and into the fall, the economy will be well and truly crashed for the long haul.

              • Dale Lehman says:

                It is entirely possible (perhaps even likely) that things will soon return to some sort of normal. However, they should not. This crisis has made some things clear to me: we are under-invested in public health, under-invested in a social safety net, ill-prepared to deal with existential ecological threats (think global warming, EMPs, pandemics, massive species extinction etc.). Now, the more rational among us will ask whether it is worth preparing for all of these low probability, high consequence events. Indeed, it may not be “worth” it. But, in my opinion, the idea that we should not change our priorities so that we can keep our consumer-centric lifestyle intact, seems irresponsible, and frankly, uninspiring. It is like our lives have no purpose other than buying the latest smartphone and spending our hours twittering away.

                Will this be the last and worst pandemic we will see? I am almost certain the answer is no. Might the “optimal” policy be to go on as we did before and just periodically suffer disruption when a pandemic occurs? That may be optimal, given that there is so much uncertainty about when the next one will occur and what type it will be. However, I prefer to think that we now see a number of things that need to be changed. Whatever form the next pandemic takes, it would make sense to have more investment in public health, better social safety nets, universal service for broadband, more resilient supply chains, more sensible educational policies, etc. Some of these will probably happen, but I fear the more likely reaction will be isolationism, decreased tolerance for those that have different skin colors, different languages, diseases, etc. It is precisely the politicization that Andrew is posting about that makes me pessimistic about our responses to this crisis.

              • Martha (Smith) says:

                Someone above (sorry, I forget who) said,
                “A lot of people died in 1918-1919, but the economy did not shut down en masse.”
                Brent added, “I do feel like I need to point out there was a World War going on at the same time as the 1918 pandemic.”

                And there are other differences: For example, current populations (of whatever entities are being compared) are likely to be larger than in 1918. And the economy (at least in the U.S. and Canada) now is more large-corporation and city based, and in 1918-1919 was more rural and small farming based.

              • Martha (Smith) says:

                Dale said,
                “it would make sense to have more investment in public health, better social safety nets, universal service for broadband, more resilient supply chains, more sensible educational policies, etc. Some of these will probably happen, but I fear the more likely reaction will be isolationism, decreased tolerance for those that have different skin colors, different languages, diseases, etc. It is precisely the politicization that Andrew is posting about that makes me pessimistic about our responses to this crisis.”

                I agree. And this ties in with what I said above about the differences in the economy between 1918-1919 and now. The more rural culture then was more “helping each other” than the current more urban culture now.

    • Martha *Smith) says:

      “I very much doubt that using the statistical value of a life will help make better decisions. Nor do I think that we can afford to keep things shut down if we can save a single life. I’ve seen both arguments appear and reappear.”

      +1

      “Now that the protests have broken out, I’ve hear more than one protestor claim “if we are healthy we should be allowed to go back to work.” That is what I find the most disturbing of all – it shows a complete inability to think abstractly (can they define “asymptomatic”). I also see an absence of believing that there is a public good that can be distinguished from their own private well-being.”

      There is a good point involved here, but the sentence, “That is what I find the most disturbing of all – it shows a complete inability to think abstractly (can they define “asymptomatic”)” sounds snarky, condescending, unnecessary, and prejudiced. This is blaming people for being ignorant, for not having an education adequate to understand the complexities and counter-intuitiveness of the realities of an epidemic (let alone a pandemic). The blame here lies not with the individuals who are inadequately educated, but with the deficiencies of our educational system.

      • Even more so the deficiencies of government leadership in providing useful messaging, providing plans, resources, thoughtful anything.

        Contrast anything that’s come out of the US govt with Angela Merkel’s speech.

        https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/angela-merkel-nails-coronavirus-speech-unlike-trump.html

        • Martha (Smith) says:

          I think there is currently a “feedback loop” between the deficiencies of our educational system and the deficiencies of government leadership.

          Thanks for the link. It really shows how things could (and I think should) be done.

      • Andrew says:

        Martha:

        Yes, that is similar to the point I made here about thinking of individual vs. social decision making—in particular, the problem of trying to use individual decisions to solve social problems.

      • jim says:

        I support the shutdowns but it’s true that they’re coming with no plan whatsoever – just shutdown indefinitely – and obliviousness to the price the majority is paying. I don’t see an education problem or a selfishness problem. People have a right to be pissed off about that. (things I’ve heard today have moved my position on this)

        If they’re healthy, why can’t they go back to work? Healthy people don’t spread the virus.

        The reason healthy people can’t go back to work is that we don’t have the capacity to test them. It’s been six weeks since the fatality count started climbing and still no one seems to know why this is or how to fix it. I understand the ventilator issue – that’s a complicated piece of equipment – but testing being held up because of swabs? That’s just plain stupid.

        So what people are protesting, and justifiably so, is that the government (Fed especially but also states) isn’t delivering.

        My bet is that if, say, the governor of Michigan would offer people a plan – “we need two weeks to….” they would be more amenable to waiting. But they should expect execution on that plan.

        So I think people saying they lack education or they’re selfish or whatever – actually that’s kind of what I was saying yesterday morning – maybe that’s not right. Maybe the gov should get off it’s ass and get this crap figured out.

        • Dale Lehman says:

          “Healthy people don’t spread the virus.” True, but how do we know they are healthy? It currently appears that about half of the infected population shows not symptoms. So, the only way we know they are or are not healthy is by testing – which is the point of your post, I believe. I concur, but do we know enough about how accurate the tests are? I do agree that the lack of progress on testing is startling, given its importance to moving forward. But I’d like to see more about how accurate the tests are, and how feasible it is to move to large scale testing of an adequately accurate test.

          • Martha (Smith) says:

            “So, the only way we know they are or are not healthy is by testing – which is the point of your post, I believe. I concur, but do we know enough about how accurate the tests are? “

            I have heard (sorry, I don’t have references — maybe someone else can give them?) that the false negative rate of the current test(s?) is high — i.e., a lot of people who actually have the virus test “negative”.

            • Zhou Fang says:

              It depends on the type of test. Generally speaking the issue is with rapid antibody testing that can fail to pick low-symptom or early stage infections.

              Daniel wrote earlier about the possibility of pooling samples. If you adopt that approach, with a good test, you can have fairly good estimates of the presence/absence of the virus within a community, though sacrificing the specific knowledge of who has the virus. Such regimes would give data on when lifting lockdowns makes sense.

        • I think Martha’s point about education is that people don’t understand what viruses are, what false negatives are, how viruses are spread, the difference between viruses and bacteria, blablabla. Most doctors will tell you that people still want antibiotics for the flu.

          Yes they’re frustrated but that falls 100% on the feds. They are the ones who screwed up testing. States aren’t allowed to make up their own tests etc. But Trumps strategy is just deflect.

          Right now I’m hearing talk about false negatives at the ~ 10-30% range. If that’s true we can’t send people back to work without maybe 3 consecutive separate negative tests. We have about 1% of the capacity we need…

          I’m frustrated like anyone else, but I don’t see a solution short of forcing Trump out of office and then hiring some competent people very quickly.

  12. Michael Nelson says:

    I think a huge bias in Hanson’s thinking has been overlooked here.

    Let’s grant Hanson that “regular people” are a better source of wisdom on the subject of pandemic response. Fine. And let’s even grant that plumbers, truck drivers and electricians would agree with him.

    This is not exactly a random sample of workers.

    They are, disproportionately, men. Manly men, whose work is generally characterized by manipulating machines, often toiling independently or even in isolation.

    Do we really think that restaurant servers, childcare providers and other pink collar workers would have the same viewpoint? People, mostly women, whose jobs require frequent human contact and, often, emotional intelligence? People far more likely to be single parents and/or to already have been on a financial precipice?

    And yeah, scientists tend to be men working with machines, but everyone knows we are effete school marms–the exception that proves the rule.

    • Steve says:

      Michael Nelson writes: “Do we really think that restaurant servers, childcare providers and other pink collar workers would have the same viewpoint?”

      I have been struck by how many takeout joints that we have in Manhattan have been closed. I thought that they could make it. Some stayed open for awhile and then closed. I am not sure why exactly. People in my neighborhood want to give business to those restaurants. I have been told that some of those restaurants could not get enough workers to come in. Our local grocery store built glass walls in front of all of the clerks, with a whole to put the money through, and the workers have been given high quality masks. I am sure this wasn’t done just because the boss is a super great person. It was essential to keep his clerks coming to work. Obviously, workers, low wage workers, are not just going to show up for a job. They value their safety and their families safety too. So, I think these guys who pretend to be speaking for the working class, may be full of it.

      • zbicyclist says:

        “many takeout joints that we have in Manhattan have been closed”

        I wonder how much of this is one person in the household being like my wife, who has insisted we not get takeout or delivery. She regards it as an unnecessary risk.

        I don’t agree, but marriage involves compromise, and this is an easy one for me to make. I do one grocery trip a week and we eat my cooking.

  13. Anoneuoid says:

    I haven’t seen a single model (except mine and Daniel’s from a week or so ago) that takes into account the rate of testing… That is what you need to fit the data to.

  14. Fat Ted says:

    A random sampling of interviews with essential workers or currently out of work “normal” people would probably show that these people want these steps to be taken, just like the experts. Polls show significant agreement that the current measures are a good idea.

  15. Bob76 says:

    The ideal analyst was out there once. Eric Hoffer—the longshoreman philosopher.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Hoffer

    Bob76

  16. Michael Nelson says:

    In the end, it all comes down to a bunch of power-hungry scientists who think THEY know best, and thank god we have news personalities to unmask them:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3IA8FRZWqw

  17. atezcan says:

    I am also frustrated with the politicization of covid-19 conversation. In addition to your points and comments, there is another danger to politicizing scientific inquiry. I am observing a tendency to sticking to one side of the argument or defending original conclusions even after new evidence emerges because recalibrating may make the person agree/support an opposing political view. Legitimate questions, often upon developing evidence, are labeled as conspiracy theories or non-scientific without consideration or investigation if they were argued by people with opposing political views – granted there are also legitimate conspiracy theories. Consequently, instead of prioritizing a quest for the truth, the scientists unintestionally become activists.

  18. Terry says:

    I found the David Hanson article to be quite convincing because it was so unconvincing.

    He had his chance to make his argument forcefully and at length. But what he came up with was weak, with perhaps some worthwhile observations. After reading a number of similar articles, I was fully convinced that the more alarmist commentary was right.

    Once again, you have to let both sides speak. It’s better for everyone.

    • paul alper says:

      Terry wrote: “Once again, you have to let both sides speak. It’s better for everyone.”

      Because this blog tends to have educated, informed people commenting, it begs the question of uninformed, dangerous people and what constitutes a side. Despite my wife’s objections, I watch a great deal of Alex Jones’s Infowars.com. He, his guests and those that call in know it is a self-evident globalist, Chi-com, George Soros, Bill Gates, Clinton plot to emasculate the planet and only patriots such as Jones stand in the way. And, before you brush aside these self-styled patriots as the outermost fringe of lunacy, note the size and expansion rate of his audience. What is even more terrifying is that from time to time, Jones has a guest such as David Icke who makes Jones appear conventional.

      https://www.davidicke.com/article/566768/covid-19-real-truth

  19. Jonathan (another one) says:

    There was a time, long, long ago, when we elected people as our representatives and their actual jobs were to listen to experts and, recognizing that experts weren’t the people they were representing, filtered the experts’ opinions and made decisions which reflected what the people would do if they had the same information and knew how to process it. Of course, the people are not monolithic and might, quite properly, take divergent views of the same information and opinions, even optimally. That’s why we chose the elected by majority rule, to frustrate the minimum number of people.

    That’s sort of the system we still have. But the amplified voices of the disenchanted, the amplified voices of the punditry, and the lack of truly disinterested expert opinion combine to produce the things Victor Davis Hanson is writing. In a low trust age, the truck drivers and electricians have a few choices: (a) assume that the measures are for their own good, or at least society’s good, and accept them, or at least prepare to vote out the guys promulgating them (that’s the old paradigm); (b) assume that the politicians and experts are in it for themselves in one way or another…. that doesn’t mean that the decisions they made are wrong, but it does mean that if they’re right, they’re right for the wrong reasons. There’s been a massive shift to (b), and Hanson (and Trump) exploit it every chance they get.

  20. Terry says:

    This Hanson article is a lot like the Shen article. Extravagant generalizations based on vaporous assertions.

    I know a plumber and an electrician, both skilled in the pragmatic engineering of pipes and wires, who would not dare to think they could offer a model of plumbing or electrical prediction if they had no idea of the real size of the denominator and were likewise unsure that the numerator was widely accepted as accurate and clearly defined.

    Hanson is holding up plumbers and electricians as exemplars of honesty? Source? I have met some unbelievably dishonest plumbers in my short time on this earth.

    Hanson also doesn’t seem to understand (or perhaps doesn’t want to acknowledge) the concept of uncertainty and that stochastic variables evolve over time.

  21. BenK says:

    One of the issues is the dissection of ‘who is at risk.’ Both health-wise and economically. Different perspectives lead to massively different conclusions on both sides. Do we focus on rural and small town small business owners? Minority homeless on city streets? Elderly in full-time nursing care? Single parents with grandparents providing child care? This isn’t something that can be ‘politicized.’ It is inherently political.

  22. David Chorlian says:

    Andrew speaking of Hanson:
    “The good point is that he’s right that we’re all in this together, or at least we should be, and I think it’s fair that he’s considering the position of people who make the recommendations. His main argument is that any of us can die from coronavirus, but some people are are much more susceptible to the economic devastation that the disease is causing.”

    My impression from casual reading is that Hanson’s first clause “any of us can die from coronavirus” is false. We see high rates in the poorest areas of NYC, racial disparities (which I think are primarily income inequality effects) in Detroit and New Orleans. (I have not done the research to support this impression). People in nursing homes seem also to be particularly at risk. This of course affects how we are to respond to the remainder of his argument.

    An unrelated but important point is that economic effects seem to be considered on the aggregate level and not on the distributional level. Targeted economic efforts by government could ensure food and shelter for everyone without the high risks associated with a general reopening of the economy. A general reopening would simply reproduce the previous levels of inequality. I will refrain from further comment on this point because I don’t think ranting is very useful

    • Brando says:

      It is not false. Anyone can contract the virus, and anyone with an underlying condition that compromises the immune system are at risk of complications and certainly death. How much money you have in the bank or your accumulated assets have no bearing on it, including “income inequality.” Your “race” has no bearing on it either per se – the only reason there have been some disproportionate numbers in certain minority areas is because of lifestyle choices and higher rates of pre-existing conditions like diabetes and heart conditions. This is reflected in the extremely high numbers among Native Americans, who have astronomical numbers suffering from diabetes in particular.
      What I’m confused about though is, why it ultimately matters where people are dying right now? There is no treatment or vaccine as of yet, so it will eventually hit everyone at some point – that’s the idea with flattening the curve, right? When he writes: “The problem is that minimizing short-term economic disruption could increase coronavirus deaths.” Doesn’t he mean increase in the short term? The number in the end will be the same, just when it happens will be spread out as opposed to a spike. But all the people, sans a vaccine, who are going to die will die – it’s just a matter of when…

  23. Arlene says:

    It’s true that Hanson’s parents were well educated, but he grew up and still lives on a farm held by his family for 5 generations. So I am sure he is acquainted with many non-elite people. Seems like alot of the critique here is argument ad hominem.

    • Andrew says:

      Arlene:

      So, let me get this straight. He grew up on a farm, and his great-grandparents were farmers . . . so we should believe what he’s saying? That makes no sense to me. I can accept the statement that, just because someone has a Ph.D. or whatever, that doesn’t mean that we should automatically trust what he has to say. But I don’t think it moves the ball forward to replace this by the assumption that we should trust what someone has to say, just because he grew up on a farm and his great-grandparents were farmers. Lots of people grew up on farms! We can’t trust all of them. Ultimately we have to evaluate Hanson’s arguments on their own merits, and there, as I said, I agree with one of his points (that we’re all in this together, or at least we should be, and I think it’s fair that he’s considering the position of people who make policy recommendations) but I disagree with the other (the one-sidedness of his presentation, in which he focuses in on the comfort and security of the people who disagree with his policy views, while ignoring the equal comfort and security of the people who agree with him). Anyway, if American Greatness magazine wants to start running columns by electricians and plumbers, rather than just people who employ electricians and plumbers, that’s fine by me.

      • Arlene says:

        My point was that many comments here are mocking Hanson about mentioning electricians and plumbers assuming he has little contact with non-elites implying that his take on non-elite opinion is ill-informed. I am pointing out that not only did he grow up on a farm but he still lives there (presumably part-time) so that his contact with non-elites is more extensive than the commenters give him credit for. Having said that I agree that critiques should be made on the merits of the arguments and not ad hominem, which I stated explicitly.

  24. Arlene says:

    Also you argue that Hanson is saying
    “we can’t trust the CDC or the state health directors because their jobs are not at risk”. I think he is saying we shouldn’t blindly trust them because they have been seriously wrong in many of their statements during this crisis, and BTW there will be little accountability because their jobs are not at risk. The lack of vulnerability of elite people who agree with him does not seem very relevant to me.

  25. Gelman Fan says:

    Or political advice from a sage who said, “I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could — if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down,” and then followed this up with the qualification, “That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.” Whew! Good thing he clarified that forced abortion is morally reprehensible. I just looked this guy up on wikipedia and, what’s really amazing is, he’s only 76 years old! I thought he’d be something like 90 or 100 by now.

    A little disappointed to see this sort of performative wokeness on one of my favorite blogs. Be the lack of politicization you want to see in the world, Andrew!

    • Gelman Fan says:

      You were my shining lighthouse of sanity in a pitch black world!

    • Andrew says:

      “Performative wokeness” Huh? Is that some kind of slogan? I’m not performing; this is how I really feel. William Bennett is a buffoon who had some good connections and somehow ended up as Secretary of Education many years ago. He’s been coasting ever since. He’s an entirely political figure. To speak of William Bennett in a political way is not to politicize him; he’s already as politicized as anyone can possibly get.

      • Gelman Fan says:

        The more mud that people see others throwing, the more inclined they themselves will be to throw mud, and the less possible it is to have a rational discussion. It breaks me heart to see you succumbing to/contributing to this.

        • Andrew says:

          I don’t see this as throwing mud. I mocked the guy for saying something mockable. I think the world would be a better place if Bennett would just stop going on TV entirely.

          More generally, though, you might be right. There’s a tradeoff. On one hand, mockery makes the blog more readable and also helps motivate me to write. On the other hand, I accept your point that some people will be turned off by the mockery, and also the mockery can lower the quality of the subsequent discussion. It may well be that the optimal level of mockery for this blog is lower than its current setting.

          If you want a blog with a more no-nonsense, journalistic style, I recommend the Monkey Cage. I used to post there frequently, but in recent years I’ve posted a lot less, because they’ve shifted to a style that is less “bloggy” than I’m comfortable with.

        • somebody says:

          Mud slinging? He’s demonstrating that this is a person who’s opinion on the coronavirus should not be listened to. This is a person who claims to have beaten quite impossible odds at a casino and demonstrably doesn’t understand causal inference. If we need to pretend that the statements someone has made in the past do not predict the worth of their statements in the future, we make all productive discourse impossible, and I don’t think anyone should do that to protect the sensitive feelings of William Bennett or you or me. People who bullshit repeatedly will probably bullshit again. That’s not mud slinging, it’s a fact, and it doesn’t care about your feelings. If you make stupid statements in public repeatedly, it hurts your credibility. Grow up and deal with it.

          • Andrew says:

            Somebody:

            Not to get too lost on the weeds on this one . . . but, no need to tell someone to “grow up”! I appreciate when people disagree with me here, and I don’t want to discourage that. Also, as a former kid myself, I don’t like the whole “grow up” thing. Thanks for understanding.

  26. D. E. Murray says:

    I have a big picture question here, which might actually be of interest to you.

    The argument that you satirize (I mean that in a good way) here is “the working classes are going to suffer and that’s worse than dying from the coronavirus.” But then I hear and see (I live in NYC) that the working class is still working. They are working in grocery stores, pizza shops (an essential business in NYC, yes, still open), driving trucks, delivering FedEx and UPS packages. In fact, that’s probably why they are being infected at higher rates than the middle-class.

    So, who is going to lose their jobs? It strikes me that this will hit those people who have the lower-end semi-pro type positions. Not the high rollers but the guys who occupy the lower tiers of the service economy.

    But this is just a hunch. What do you say, Professor Gelman?

    P.S. “Performative wokeness” is a right-wing portmanteau slogan taken from two popular words from the left. It’s meant as a slur. It’s too stupid and tedious to explain. Just google each word and use deductive reasoning.

    • Andrew says:

      D.E.:

      “The working class” is a broad category. It includes people who work at the local supermarket and hardware store that are open, but it also includes people who work at stores and restaurants that are closed, etc. I have not looked at the economics of all this, but I’d guess that your livelihood is at risk if you work for a company that has had to shut down or that’s lost most of its customers, your livelihood is at risk if you run one of these businesses, if you’re a landlord that’s no longer getting rent, if you’re working for one of these landlords, etc. More generally, you’re in trouble if you don’t have savings or the ability to move, either geographically or laterally to another industry, and if you don’t have friends and relatives who you can stay with or who can lend you money, etc. I’m sure I’m missing some other categories too.

      I guess this is the kind of problem that the micro and macro economists have to study together.

      • D.E. Murray says:

        Yes, the phrase “working class” isn’t exact. A small landlord isn’t usually included in that inexact phrase, but many of them are getting slammed and may well go bankrupt.

        I freely admit that I’m biased by living in Manhattan. But it strikes me that many of the people whose jobs are on the line aren’t really working class – they are the lower level semi-professionals who are still carrying loads of debt for soft college degrees. These people will be in very bad shape indeed.

        Truck drivers? I think they’ll be OK, until Yang World takes over and all the trucks are self-driven. (Never.)

        Electricians? Plumbers? Guys whose jobs involve basic infrastructure? I think they’ll be in good shape.

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