How many lives were lost because of the vaccines holdup?

…economist Garett Jones recently opined that Trump’s scuttled hopes to release a COVID-19 vaccine a few weeks earlier “likely would have saved at least 100,000 American lives.”

…Pfizer did not reveal its trial’s favorable results until November 9—six days after the election. The company had originally planned to consider submitting an EUA request to the FDA with just 32 data points; instead it gathered 94, and it waited another 11 days to accrue the requested safety data, plus even more data showing how well the vaccine worked, before making its filing.

…If a compassionate use program for COVID-19 vaccines had gone forward, doctors would have been able to prescribe them to nursing-home residents, even as the vaccine makers completed their clinical trials with integrity and gathered all the safety data requested under the “EUA Plus” requirements.

According to Marks, Birx asked Anthony Fauci and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to encourage Pfizer and Moderna to apply for that program…

The actual timing of the COVID-19 vaccines’ release resulted from a complicated mix of bureaucratic caution, political calculations, and the choices made by vaccine manufacturers. While the benefits of the vaccines have become very clear since then, the precise human cost of that short delay remains a mystery.

Here is the full Brendan Borrell piece in The Atlantic, excellent throughout.  And don’t forget Brendan’s new and exciting book The First Shots: The Epic Rivalries and Heroic Science Behind the Race to the Coronavirus Vaccine.

Via Rich Dewey.

Thursday assorted links

1. These Lina Khan remarks are less than impressive.

2. Are they building a single-stage-to-orbit space plane?

3. That was then, this is now: the Carolinas let 16-year-olds drive school buses back in the 1980s.

4. The historians that are Australian:

In Serbia today, few people realise that we gave Djokovic unusual privileges. In all Australia last week, he was probably the only questionable migrant allowed to leave his hotel and take outdoor exercises and even practise his profession in the actual tennis stadium. And on his last free day he received a rare privilege, the convening on his behalf of a special sitting of the Federal Court of Australia presided over by Chief Justice James Allsop and two of his fellow judges. They had agreed at short notice to sit on a Sunday, a day when courts rarely open.

That is from Geoffrey Blainey (gated).  How many Australian intellectuals have spoken up for liberty?  Or for that matter science (natural immunity is protective too, maybe more so)?  Or simply for telling people in advance whether their visas will be honored?  How about not interrogating him for seven hours in a shut room in the middle of the night?

5. Atlantic profiles Arc Institute, Arcadia, and Alexey Guzey’s New Science.  Excellent piece, more kudos for Derek Thompson.

6. What percentage of Americans were infected with Covid-19 on January 10?

Student Loan Forgiveness is Regressive

Medical school graduates typically owe six-figure student loans but that doesn’t mean they are poorer than high-school graduates who did not go to college. Wealth, properly measured, should include the value of educational investments students borrowed to make. Measured appropriately, student debt is concentrated among high-wealth households and loan forgiveness is regressive whether measured by income, educational attainment, or wealth. Across-the-board forgiveness is therefore a costly and ineffective way to reduce economic gaps by race or socioeconomic status.

…Accounting correctly for both human capital and effect of subsidies in student lending plans, almost a third of all student debt is owed by the wealthiest 20 percent of households and only 8 percent by the bottom 20 percent. Across-the-board student loan forgiveness is regressive measured by income, family affluence, educational attainment—and also wealth.

That’s from those well known right-wing misers at Brookings.

Are artificial wombs a left-wing or right-wing proposal?

On one hand, it is pro-natalist, so that makes it right-wing.

On the other hand it is (ostensibly?) feminist, relieving a burden on women, so that makes it left-wing.

It also could be construed as trying to “equalize family,” which would be left-wing or even communist.

Under another reading, it is about “corporate babies,” which pushes it a back into the right-wing camp.

From yet another perspective, no one really thinks it will happen, at least not soon.  So the symbolic message for the world of today is “Women are not that important and they could be replaced by machines.”  Maybe neither the right-wing nor the left-wing like that message (albeit for different reasons), but it has a tinge of “someday this differential burden will be gone and then you left-wing feminists will need to stop whining.”

Which puts it back a bit into the right-wing camp.

So which is it?

Modeling Vladimir Putin

That is the subject of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Economists typically define rationality as the effective use of means to achieve ends — spending your money for maximum enjoyment, for example. That is fine for some purposes, but it fails when it comes to understanding those political leaders, Putin included, who are obsessed with power.

The economic framework doesn’t work well when power is the end itself. While no one can truly know what’s in the mind of Putin, he has ruled Russia for 22 years, a pretty good sign that he cares about power. Putin also grew up in an era — as a KGB agent behind the Iron Curtain — when power was the currency of status.

So how does the quest for power make Putin difficult to deter?

Deterrence, by its nature, attempts to limit the power of the deterred person. If a person cares about many things, not just power, they will respond to deterrence by seeking less power and spending more on other things, such as quiet contemplation or time with family. If a person cares mainly about power, however, the induced response to deterrence is to try to seize back more power.

In other words, trying to make power “more expensive” for Putin is not guaranteed to work. The price of enjoying power might go up — say, because of threatened sanctions — but the thirst for renewed power goes up too, precisely because some power has been taken away.

Deterrence does not always work in international affairs, or in other situations with power-mad individuals. Napoleon and Hitler faced high costs from their blunders, but still they proceeded with ambitious and ultimately foolish military plans. Many revolutionaries try to seize power and die doing so.

…It is a common economic trope to insist that “incentives matter.” While true, it does not necessarily follow that deterrence therefore works. Putin isn’t looking to retire and spend more time on one of his luxurious yachts. The full consequences of that fact are just now becoming clear.

Note that as a powerful leader crosses the “will be allowed to retire peacefully” line, as Putin certainly has, he has to become obsessed with power all the more, even if the demand for traditional goods and services does not fade away.  Without ongoing power, the life of that leader simply will end and all consumption will fall to zero, therefore cementing in a kind of power addiction all the more.

My Israel-only Conversation with the excellent Russ Roberts

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is the CWT summary:

In this special crossover special with EconTalk, Tyler interviews Russ Roberts about his new life in Israel as president of Shalem College. They discuss why there are so few new universities, managing teams in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers, how Israeli society could adapt to the loss of universal military service, why Israeli TV is so good, what American Jews don’t understand about life in Israel, what his next leadership challenge will be, and much more.

We didn’t shy away from the tough stuff, here is one question:

COWEN: Let me ask you another super easy question. Let’s say we think that under current circumstances, a two-state solution would not lead to security either for Israel or for the resulting Palestinian state. Many people believe that. Let’s say also, as I think you believe, that a one-state solution where everyone votes would not lead to security for a current version of Israel or even a modified version of it.

Let’s say also that the current reliance of the Palestinian territories on the state of Israel for protection, security, intelligence, water — many important features of life — prevent those governing bodies from ever attaining sufficient autonomy to be a credible peace partner, guaranteer of its own security, and so on. From that point of view, what do we do? We’re not utilitarians. We’re thinking about what’s right and wrong. What’s the right thing to do?

Do read Russ’s answer!  (Too long to excerpt.)  And:

COWEN: Now, the United States has about 330 million people, yet there are more Israeli TV shows I want to watch than American TV shows. There’s Srugim, there’s Shtisel, there’s Prisoners of War, there’s In Judgment, there’s Tehran. There’s more. Why is Israeli TV so good?

ROBERTS: I’m glad you mentioned Prisoners of War, which doesn’t get enough — Prisoners of War is in my top five. If I had to list my top five, I’d pick Shtisel, Prisoners of WarThe Americans, probably The Wire, and The Crown. Do you have a top five that you could reel off?

COWEN: The Sopranos would be my number one. Srugim and Prisoners of War plausibly would be in my top five.

We then consider the Israeli topic at hand.  Interesting throughout, a very good dialogue.

*Talent*, my new book with Daniel Gross

Due out May 17, you can pre-order here for Amazon, here for Barnes & Noble.

The subtitle is How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, and my co-author is the Daniel Gross from venture capital and Pioneer.

From Amazon:

How do you find talent with a creative spark? To what extent can you predict human creativity, or is human creativity something irreducible before our eyes, perhaps to be spotted or glimpsed by intuition, but unique each time it appears?

The art and science of talent search get at exactly those questions.

From the new Kirkus review:

Personality, they note, is revealed during weekends. Another good one: “What are the open tabs on your browser right now?” The aim is to assess the applicant’s thought processes and willingness to embrace new thinking.

And:

A useful and entertaining map for companies looking toward a creative future.

Definitely recommended.

School Closures Were a Catastrophic Error

Jonathan Chait brings the fire:

In the panicked early week of the pandemic, the initial decision to close schools seemed like a sensible precaution. Authorities drew on the closest example at hand, the 1918 Spanish flu, which was contained by closing schools.

But in relatively short order, growing evidence showed that the century-old precedent did not offer much useful guidance. While the Spanish flu was especially deadly for children, COVID-19 is just the opposite. By the tail end of spring 2020, it was becoming reasonably clear both that remote education was failing badly and that schools could be reopened safely.

What happened next was truly disturbing: The left by and large rejected this evidence. Progressives were instead carried along by two predominant impulses. One was a zero-COVID policy that refused to weigh the trade-off of any measure that could even plausibly claim to suppress the pandemic. The other was deference to teachers unions, who were organizing to keep schools closed. Those strands combined into a refusal to acknowledge the scale or importance of losing in-person learning with a moralistic insistence that anybody who disagreed was callous about death or motivated by greed.

…the Democratic Party’s internal debate on school closings was making room at the table for some truly unhinged ideas. The head of the largest state’s most powerful teachers union insisted on the record “there is no such thing as learning loss” and described plans to reopen schools as “a recipe for propagating structural racism.”

Within blue America, transparently irrational ideas like this were able to carry the day for a disturbingly long period of time.

Chait is completely correct, of course. It really was remarkable watching in real time how supporters of public education suddenly started shouting that education didn’t matter and how supporters of structural racism suddenly started arguing that it was the people who wanted to open the schools who were racist despite the obvious deficits that closing the schools was causing.

It was almost as if there was a formation of a mass psychosis.

Read the whole thing.

Raise your hand if you think this is a good idea

…if the Food and Drug Administration decides to update Covid-19 vaccines to take better aim at Omicron or other variants, it is unlikely to go it alone.

Instead, a senior FDA official told STAT, the agency expects to take part in an internationally coordinated program aimed at deciding if, when, and how to update Covid-19 vaccines. The approach would ensure decisions are not left solely to individual vaccine manufacturers.

“We can’t have our manufacturers going willy-nilly [saying], ‘Oh well, the EMA decided they wanted this composition, but FDA wanted that composition,’” the official said, referring to the European Medicines Agency. “So we are very much of the mind that we would like to be part of a more global process in helping to come to what vaccine composition there should be now.”

Designed for flexbility and speedy response?  I guess we’ll see.  Here is the full StatNews article.  And obviously, the entire public health community is up in arms about this…

What should I ask Lydia Davis?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, and here is part of her Wikipedia page:

Lydia Davis (born July 15, 1947) is an American short story writer, novelist, essayist, and translator from French and other languages, who often writes extremely brief short stories. Davis has produced several new translations of French literary classics, including Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

So what should I ask her?

What will Austro-Sri Lankan business cycle theory look like?

The world’s poorest countries face a $10.9bn surge in debt repayments this year after many rebuffed an international relief effort and instead turned to the capital markets to fund their responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of 74 low-income nations will have to repay an estimated $35bn to official bilateral and private-sector lenders during 2022, according to the World Bank, up 45 per cent from 2020, the most recent data available.

One of the most vulnerable countries is Sri Lanka, where the rating agency S&P Global last week warned of a possible default this year as it downgraded the country’s sovereign bonds. Investors are also concerned about Ghana, El Salvador and Tunisia, among others.

Here is more from the FT.  Not surprisingly, China is warning against rapid Fed rate hikes.

Dominant Assurance Contracts and Quadratic Funding

Here is my keynote talk for the ACM Advances in Financial Technologies conference. I discuss Two Novel Mechanisms for Funding and Discovering Public Goods, namely dominant assurance contracts (with experimental support here) and the Buterin, Hitzig, Weyl work on quadratic funding.

Lots of other excellent talks on blockchains, AMMs, decentralized finance and so forth are at the link.

When is a prediction right or wrong?

When I lived in Germany in the mid-1980s, it seemed obvious to me that the chances of a pending German reunification were pretty high.  West Germany seemed obsessed with its status as a separated twin.  That seemed everywhere in the serious literature and film of the time.  Yet all my German friends insisted that my expectations were nonsense and that they absolutely had moved on and did not care one whit about East Germany.  Still, to me the yearnings were obvious.

At that time I was expecting an overture from the Soviet Union, bringing the two Germanies together and cementing a status somewhere between Finlandization and outright Soviet sympathies.  Neutral de jure, but never much upsetting the larger neighbor to the east.  The United States wouldn’t much like that arrangement, and would be preparing to pull out its troops, but what could it do?

I simply could not imagine that the USSR would give up its East Germany prize and so 1989-1992 came as a major shock to me.  I traveled to the new, free East Germany as soon as I could, not long after the Wall came down, because I wanted to witness what was happening.

For many years, while I was pleased by the unfolding of events, and pleased to have seen an inkling of reunification, I felt my prediction was absolutely, totally wrong.

But these days!?  My prediction was maybe not so wrong after all.  There are even reports — not yet confirmed — that Germany will not allow the UK to use its airspace to ship arms to Ukraine.