Mercatus call for short papers

Today, the Mercatus Center put out a call for policy briefs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope to gather short, actionable analyses for decision makers in the public, civil society, and private sectors regarding both immediate response (what’s working or could be done immediately), as well as in the medium term (what do we need to be thinking about now so that we’re prepared in six to twelve months).

More information can be found here.

Papers will be published quickly (within 24 hours in most cases), and authors will receive a $1,000 honorarium.

The list of possible topics is advisory and by no means comprehensive; our goal is to assemble the smartest actionable analyses as quickly as possible.

Hedgehogs in particular: what do you know here that the foxes should hear?

Note that research need not directly relate to public policy, but also how the business sector and civil society can and should respond.


A quil for the foxes: if you command me I will desire the opposite

Wohh I love your content, saved too fav!

Every day 3,700 people die in car accidents world wide. Since the coronavirus started back in October, probably half a million lives have been lost in car crashes. We want fewer car deaths but we don't shut down the economy to get them (because that has its own costs in lives).

I thought those who deal in risk would keep these things in perspective? Now, if you are dealing with a potential 50 million dead I get it. But it seems pretty clear that was never going to happen. Regular flu will take 300,000 to 400,000 lives this year. Doesn't look like coronavirus will get close. Haven't the policies we've pushed created a risk of economic depression?

Reasonable precautions, early travel bans, social distancing, yes. Quarantining entire populations, shutting down businesses, and subsequently crashing the stock market looks like a bad approach.

Agreed. I wish Tyler and other would stop calling it a pandemic. This is most over-hyped disease in my lifetime. China Covid-19 cases and deaths is maybe 1% of the number of seasonal flu cases in the U.S. since October. U.S. Covid-19 got high initial - skewed - mortality rate from one nursing home in Washington State. We've seen drastic decline in mortality rates in recent days. This is fear-mongering, bad science, bad math, and bad government policy.

When has Tyler been right about anything? I'll bet Tyler that total number of U.S deaths from Corona virus doesn't exceed 1,000.

@Alvin - good post but your numbers are wrong. Since about 30k Americans die in traffic accidents you should bet at least 30k, and arguably up to 1M. Seize the bull by the horns! Your proposal is very "American", very "nice', very "no animals were harmed in the production of this motion picture" but reality doesn't work that way. Quit handicapping yourself that way, I see it all the time with fellow Americans. You're just playing into the hands of the PC crowd when you quote a number like 1000, and that's a losing strategy. Say 1M doesn't matter, not 1k.

Alvin and Tim Burr, how old are you guys? You don't understand that health is wealth. Death is literally a cheap way of looking at the situation. In the short term, people that can't be part of the economy because they are sick or don't want to risk getting sick will crash the economy. Businesses that can't survive a few months with no cash flow will also crash the economy. There's no getting around that. People that survive with permanent impairment will become every taxpayer's problem forever. There's no getting around that. The damage of auto accidents is local but the damage of a pandemic is global. Don't be an idiot and pretend they are the same.

You're actually making my point. It's these forced closures and "shelter in place" orders by government that is crashing the economy. All based on faulty projections and bad models. Let businesses decide if they want to stay open and individuals assume the risk...with self-help measures like washing hands, social distancing, wearing masks, etc. for employees and customers and those sorts of things.

I am a Gen Xer, which means I'm tough and realistic.

@Tim Burr - +1, yes, the "Benjamin Cole" solution, aka the "UK strategy" which poster dearime points out was a UK white paper in 2011. Covid-19 is not the common flu, but for analytical proposes about the same, with say a 30x higher death rate. Hence it should be public policy that crowds be banned under penalty of a fine, that people be tested and allowed back to work (perhaps even pubs and social gatherings can be allowed if all participants have been tested for nCoV19 and have certificates to prove it), and so on. Just like the fact road accidents in Africa claim more victims than malaria, so too shutting down the entire economy will, long term, kill more people than Covid-19.
A final heartless comment that's nevertheless true: Covid-19 kills the elderly, and, sad but true, from a strictly economic point of view they've outlived their usefulness. Not that I (also getting old) nor any of mine wish to see the bitter end from Covid-19, and as a member of the 1% I will take precautions to avoid it. Just speaking from economics.
This proposal should win the 1000 USD but sadly it won't. People like exotic solutions when sometimes the simplest solution is best, pawn captures queen, and you're up material (chess analogy).

It is way too late to avoid the deaths that are coming. Yes, of course we must try to keep the numbers as low as possible, but I'm worried that we might include the world-wide destruction of commerce and industry as a defense tactic. That would be far more harmful than whatever comes from the course of Covid 19. I recommend the rhyme "Humpty-Dumpty".
It's entirely possible prosperity will not return in any of our lifetimes.

The mistake with Humpty was to let the horses try first.

(Are old jokes the best?)

"so too shutting down the entire economy will, long term, kill more people than Covid-19."

The entire economy isn't shut down though. I just came back with a nice package of toilet paper and few cans of chili. Stuff that doesn't matter like a 10 day cruise or Disneyland is shut down. It might kill some people to not see Mickey Mouse but it won't kill most. Let's not get dramatic now.

Is the term for this collective euthanasia?

Before you drink the drink offered to you by Jim Jones of the Jonestown massacre, why don't you have a public referendum on this.

A snap poll. Get some politicians to stand up and support it.

Otherwise you may be just speaking for the wealthy who are afraid of losing money, not lives.

I suppose you could argue that if enough people die, the GDP per person will increase.

Wouldn't that be wonderful.

To piggy back on Tim Burr's points, see:

if the deep surveillance state can adjust our televisions then they could
use covid patients cell phone tracking data epidemiologically .
might help answer the questions of asymptomatic spreaders and
the effectiveness of self quarantine, social distancing and closing stuff

Step right up, and enter the Emergent Ventures sweepstakes.

It's Mercatus, so shouldn't all the papers be about how price gouging is good?

Hospital beds and toilet paper should be prohibitively expensive so that there are no shortages and markets clear at the right high price.

+1. Mercatus will stick to their ideology and publish a paper on why the price gouger with 17,000 bottles of sanitizer deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

Please, not a Nobel prize, but the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Good idea for this project. Thanks for doing it.

The foxes should hear that smart people don't let a good crisis go to waste, and instead see it as an opportunity. And the next guy who complains he can't find a 10% dividend yield stock deserves to be exiled.

Good News.

You can plug in your risk factors and see how many people are likely to die around from covid under various scenarios.

You can run simulations and see how many friends around you (but, not you of course) you won't have to send Christmas cards to next year.

Here it is, along with caveats, but based on demographic, epidemic and other data:

"Carrot Health's COVID-19 Critical Infection Risk Dashboard ranks the populations most likely to have a critical illness after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This interactive dashboard identifies who is most likely to be vulnerable to the critical form of this illness – it does not predict where and when a COVID-19 outbreak will occur."

CarrotHealth advises insurers and health plans.

Maybe I’m worrying too much. I think about grocery stores. Doing their best to keep everything in stock, but I’m wondering if they are not thinking enough about their employee health, and if there is anything that can be done to fortify their health that is low hanging fruit. I asked a manager recently why they weren’t wearing masks already, and she said something about need to be OSHA compliant or something about possible liability. Seems that attitude ought to change and they ought to be operating with every prudent PPE.

I think about keeping their employees safe as possible and getting reserve employees ready to fill in when people start getting sick who work there. I don’t know if they are thinking about what the most effective way to manage a store (ensuring that store stays open) when somebody gets sick. Would everyone who was working with that person have to self isolate immediately? After a few rounds of that, chain grocery stores would be massively depleted of tacit knowledge of how stores are run. What’s the best management strategy to make sure stores stay open and minimize them as disease vectors. They are where a lot of people will be forced to meet in the coming months.

Good thoughts.

Unfortunately, I don't know if masks would be practical. I'm pretty sure that there are already worldwide shortages for healthcare workers.

How about, though, at least something for the hands of cashiers? They handle items which a customer has definitely touched and could conceivably have coughed or sneezed on. I'd recommend a supply of hand sanitizer for each cashier and instructions to sanitize after each customer. That helps protect both the cashier and customers (including the risk of cross-contamination from one customer's items to the next). Employees should also be wiping down registers with something like a Clorox wipe whenever switching from one cashier to the next and probably also doing so periodically (every 30 minutes - I don't know a reasonable time limit?) based on a timer.

We should also ideally - if practical - try to move higher risk people (older workers, immunocompromised individuals) away from interaction with customers to the extent possible. This might require a federal/state waiver stating this wouldn't be construed as violation of discrimination laws. A practical problem is that I'm not sure if there are many jobs in a store with minimal customer contact. Perhaps overnight stockers, but that could elicit understandable feedback from people who would rather work during the day.

I've noticed that many grocery stores have shortened their hours. The claim I've seen is that it's to allow more time overnight for cleaning and re-stocking, but perhaps an unstated reason is that they've thought ahead to plan for having to staff fewer hours of the day if/when a bunch of staff are out sick.

While it would cost money, maybe there's some value to chains deciding to hire more employees and reduce the number of weekly shifts for existing employees. They would presumably need to pay those existing employees more per hour so that weekly pay comes out the same, so it would cost money. I'm thinking that, given all the closings of restaurants, bars, and other retail stores, there's a decent-sized pool of people available to them. The idea is (1) have more than the needed number of workers, at fewer than full hours (so some can increase hours if needed) and (2) slightly lower the risk of exposure (number of shifts) for experienced employees.

We may need to have stores help enforce a social norm against visibly ill people inside stores. If they have greeters or security monitoring the door, part of that job is to ask anyone coughing or sneezing not to enter the store. If they won't/can't shop from home and get things delivered, they can still get their products by providing a list of items, which staff will then gather and bring to them while they wait outside the store (staying a fair distance away from others).

We should also strongly consider asking people to stop bringing reusable bags to the store because they're one more item that's handled by both customers and employees (baggers). At a minimum, it seems wise to request that people wash them in a washing machine between store visits.

I wonder about HIPAA waiver during pandemic for food workers too. If somebody is sick, you want them out of there quick. Untie regulatory burden.

Re: "Papers will be published quickly (within 24 hours in most cases), and authors will receive a $1,000 honorarium."

1. Can you guarantee me that it will not be peer reviewed.

2. Are lobbyists eligible to submit papers.

3. Do I have to disclose conflicts.

4. Can you indemnify me for any damage I cause.

Immediately start a randomised controlled trial on people stopping their statin medication.

Note that stopping a medication is free of worries about supply of medication, licensing of medication, cost of medication. Note that people on statins are (I assume) predominantly in the vulnerable groups i.e. old or ill or both.

If candidates other than statins suggest themselves just add them to the list.

That's a thousand bucks, please.

How are you going to get that one through the ethics review panel?

Bribery. This is an emergency.

That's a thousand bucks, please.

A wise use of the award money AND if you get caught you get quarantined in jail with FREE food.

Free food *and* a stay in a place that is well-suited for transmission of CV.

Anyone who hasn't read Imperial College London paper that came out last night should do that right now. It lays everything out very clearly.

Until there is a vaccine, which they say could be 12-18 months, the choice is fairly harsh social distancing or an overwhelmed health service. The best you can do is intermittently relaxing the social distancing requirements, but we're still looking at most service industries being closed for 9 of the next 12 months. The article is very clear and addresses many questions. It seems to me that the most obvious policy responses are to increase ICU capacity at all costs, speed up vaccine developments at all costs, and to experiment with different social distancing combinations in different regions to see which combination leads to the best balance between critical care rates and socio-economic damage.

Plus a freely available test for "infected, recovered and now immune". So those people can come out of isolation and get the economy going again.

An instant test would seem to help with various situations. If it were cheap enough and widely enough available, I could imagine testing everyone coming into certain businesses that are still operating, such as factories producing food products and medical supplies. We want to avoid outbreaks that shutdown these facilities for a couple weeks.

I don't hear a lot about rapidly scaling up medical staff. How about the government pick up some percentage of any hospital new higher salary for the next six months.

Schools have shut down so there are school nurses that could be hired for the duration, also medical schools are shuttered, let those students get some real experience ahead of time.

Colleges should give course credits to anyone who goers to work at a medical facility. They already have processes to give credit for life experiences so it should be easy.

Instead of giving people Emerging Ventures grants concerning Corona or paying them for short papers, TC should invest the money in the stock market right now, both reducing panic/propping it up and earning a healthy ROI. Go long with leveraged call options and you could make billions. The proceeds should go to more effective altruism next year. There's more than enough bending over to give money for Corona right now. Effective altruism might mean doing something about third world dictators, maybe pay to get stealthy Corona patients into a position to shake hands with Assad, Dump, Kim & Co.

We should probably be thinking about conditions we ought to impose on loans granted by the government and also explore who might be the unintended beneficiary of a loan or guaranty and ask whether that is a risk that they knew when they assumed it.

So, as for conditions, let's use a no interest loan to a restaurant be conditioned on the kitchen staff getting trained on food safety.

If we give a no interest loan to an air carrier, let's condition it on wider seating (that'll never happen)

If we guarantee corporate airline bonds, and someone sold insurance to cover the risk of default for those bonds, we should get paid for the risk we are taking off their shoulders.

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