Month: April 2020
Yes, that is the title of a new paper and it is excellent indeed. Lydia Cox et.al bring you a fresh and original look at some properties of government spending:
“Big G” typically refers to aggregate government spending on a homogeneous good. In this paper, we open up this construct by analyzing the entire universe of procurement contracts of the US government and establish five facts. First, government spending is granular, that is, it is concentrated in relatively few firms and sectors. Second, relative to private expenditures its composition is biased. Third, procurement contracts are short-lived. Fourth, idiosyncratic variation dominates the fluctuation of spending. Last, government spending is concentrated in sectors with relatively sticky prices. Accounting for these facts within a stylized New Keynesian model offers new insights into the fiscal transmission mechanism: fiscal shocks hardly impact inflation, little crowding out of private expenditure exists, and the multiplier tends to be larger compared to a one-sector benchmark aligning the model with the empirical evidence.
Via the still excellent Kevin Lewis.
Fast Grants has now made over 100 grants and contributed over $18 million in funding biomedical research against Covid-19, all in a little over two weeks’ time since project conception. If you scroll down the home page, you can see a partial list of winners (we are more concerned with getting the money out the door than keeping the list fully updated, but it will continue to grow).
Fast Grants is part of Emergent Ventures, a project of the Mercatus Center, George Mason University. And I wish to thank again all of those who have contributed to this project, either financially or otherwise. A partial list of financial contributors can be found at the above link as well.
The U.S. higher education sector will also be hard hit, with U.S. universities increasingly dependent on tuition from Chinese students. According to the Institute of International Education, China has remained the largest source of international students for ten years running,44 with 369,548 Chinese students enrolled in U.S. higher education programs in 2018 and contributing $15 billion in tuition payments.45 The postponement or cancellation of U.S. college entrance examinations in China, indefinite travel restrictions, and continued uncertainty surrounding when U.S. college campuses will reopen are expected to reduce Chinese demand for U.S. higher education in the 2020-2021 academic year.46 University administrators report that cancelled recruitment events in China and inability to work with local recruitment agencies could further depress Chinese student enrollment in U.S. university programs.
Here is the full document, on cascading economic impacts from China more generally. For the pointer I thank a loyal MR reader.
For years, there’s been talk about making the clinical trial process more standardized, and cheaper, so that the same rules would apply each time a study needed to be run. There’s even been discussion that what are known as pragmatic trials — large, simple, randomized studies in which less data are collected — might be conducted using electronic health records. But that hasn’t happened at the pace it should.
The reason involves another part of the problem. Clinical trials are principally run by drug and medical device companies in order to obtain regulatory approvals, with public health authorities only picking up the slack in rare examples. But the result is that we have not built a system that would make studies simpler; most patients have little opportunity to participate in research; and we are too slow to figure out what works.
What would the system look like if we fixed it? It would make it easier to study drugs for heart disease, where studies are so large and expensive that many companies don’t test their medicines. It would ease studies for rare cancers, which are currently problematic because the right patients are hard to find. And it could create a medical information superhighway that would power health care through the next century.
That is from Matthew Herper in StatNews. Via Malinga Fernando.
Here is the opening of a lengthy abstract of a new paper by Ofer Perl, et.al., and it may help explain why it is so hard to avoid touching your face:
All primates, including humans, engage in self-face-touching at very high frequency. The functional purpose or antecedents of this behaviour remain unclear. In this hybrid review, we put forth the hypothesis that self-face-touching subserves self-smelling. We first review data implying that humans touch their faces at very high frequency. We then detail evidence from the one study that implicated an olfactory origin for this behaviour: This evidence consists of significantly increased nasal inhalation concurrent with self-face-touching, and predictable increases or decreases in self-face-touching as a function of subliminal odourant tainting. Although we speculate that self-smelling through self-face-touching is largely an unconscious act, we note that in addition, humans also consciously smell themselves at high frequency.
File under Questions that are Rarely Asked, via Michelle Dawson.
We find that the number of daily tests carried out is much more important than their sensitivity, for the success of a case-isolation based strategy.
Our results are based on a Susceptible-Exposed-Infectious-Recovered (SEIR) model, which is age-, testing-, quarantine- and hospitalisation-aware. This model has a number of parameters which we estimate from best-available UK data. We run the model with variations of these parameters – each of which represents a possible present state of circumstances in the UK – in order to test the robustness of our conclusion.
We implemented and investigated a number of potential exit strategies, focusing primarily on the effects of virus-testing based case isolation.
The implementation of our model is flexible and extensively commented, allowing us and others to investigate new policy ideas in a timely manner; we next aim to investigate the optimal use of the highly imperfect antibody tests that the United Kingdom already possesses in large numbers.
There is much more at the link, including the model, results, and source code. That is from a team led by Gergo Bohner and also Gaurav Venkataraman, Gaurav being a previous Emergent Ventures winner.
For 28 days, they did not leave — sleeping and working all in one place.
In what they called a “live-in” at the factory, the undertaking was just one example of the endless ways that Americans in every industry have uniquely contributed to fighting coronavirus. The 43 men went home Sunday after each working 12-hour shifts all day and night for a month straight, producing tens of millions of pounds of the raw materials that will end up in face masks and surgical gowns worn on the front lines of the pandemic.
…Nikolich said the plants decided to launch the live-ins so employees could avoid having to worry about catching the virus while constantly traveling to and from work, and so the staff at the factory could be closed off to nonessential personnel.
The article also indicates why price increases are critical to increase supply:
They were paid for all 24 hours each day, with a built-in wage increase for both working hours and off time, the company said. It did not disclose the specific percentages.
Hat tip: Jonathan Meer.
2. “We show irradiance and in particular solar zenith angle in combination with cloudopacity explain COVID-19 morbidity and mortality growth better than temperature.” Interesting, though still more interpretation is needed there.
5. “Southern New Hampshire University, known for being on the cutting edge of collegiate learning, plans to slash tuition for incoming freshmen as it drastically revamps how it conducts on-campus learning beginning in the fall.As part of the changes, tuition will be cut 61%, from $31,000 to $10,000 starting in the 2021-2022 academic year.” Link here.
7. Is the internet economy going to crash as the real economy shrinks? Several interesting points in that one.
9. Bundled insurance markets in everything: “COVID-19 insurance comes free with food delivery in Hong Kong now.”
If we keep the economy closed at current levels, it will continue to decay, and at some point turn into irreversible, non-linear damage. No one knows when, or how to model the course of that process. That decay also will eat into our future public health capacities, and perhaps boost hunger and poverty around the world.
If we keep people locked up at current levels, fewer of them will be exposed to the virus, and in the meantime we can develop better treatments, and also improve test and trace capabilities. No one knows how quickly those improvements will come, or how to model the course of that process, or how much net good they will do.
The relative pace of those two processes should determine our best course of action. No one knows the relative pace of either of those two processes. Yet commentators pretend to be increasingly knowledgeable, moralizing based on the pretense of knowledge they do not have.
That is where we are at! And here is my earlier post Where We Stand.
…while I have written about Taiwan’s use of cellphone-enforced quarantines for recent travelers and close contacts of those infected, I should also note that every single positive infection — symptomatic or not — is isolated away from their home and family. That is also the case in South Korea, and while it was the case for Singaporean citizens, it was not the case for migrant workers, which is a major reason why the virus has exploded in recent weeks.
Here’s the thing, though: isolating people is hard. It would be very controversial. It would require overbearing police powers that people in the West are intrinsically allergic to. Politicians that instituted such a policy would be very unpopular. It is so much easier to let tech companies build a potential magic bullet, and then demand they let government use it; most people wouldn’t know or wouldn’t care, which appears to matter more than whether or not the approach would actually work (or, to put it another way, it appears that the French government sees privacy as a club with which to beat tech companies, not a non-negotiable principle their citizens demand).
So that is why I have changed my mind: Western governments are not willing to take actions that we know work because it would be unpopular and controversial (indeed, the fact that central quarantine is so clearly a violation of liberties is arguably a benefit, because there is no way people would tolerate it once the crisis is over). And, on the flipside, that makes digital surveillance too dangerous to build. Politicians would rather leverage tech companies to violate liberty on the sly, and tech companies, once they have the capability, are all too willing to offload the responsibility of using it wisely to whatever government entity is willing to give them cover. There just isn’t much evidence that either side is willing to make hard choices.
That is from Ben’s Stratechery email newsletter, gated but you can pay to get it. There is currently the risk that “test and trace” becomes for the Left what “chloroquine” has been for Trump and parts of the political right — namely a way to make otherwise unpalatable plans sound as if they have hope for more than “develop herd immunity and bankrupt the economy in the process.”
To be clear, I fully favor “test and trace,” and I’ve worked hard to help fund some of it. That said, I wonder if we will anytime soon reach the point where it is a game changer. So when people argue we should not reopen the economy until “test and trace” is in place, I increasingly see that as a kind of emotive declaration that others do not care enough about human lives (possibly true!), rather than an actual piece of advice.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
If an infected but asymptomatic worker shows up at work and sickens coworkers, for example, should the employer be liable? The answer is far from obvious. Liability exists not to shift unmanageable risk, but rather to induce management to take possible and prudent measures of precaution.
Another problem with liability law in this context is that the potential damages are high relative to the capitalization of most businesses. Covid-19 cases often pop up in chains; there have been many cases from a single conference, or in a single church choir, or on a single cruise ship. If a business or school is host to such a chain, it could be wiped out financially by lawsuits. In these cases the liability penalties do not have their intended deterrent effect because the money to lose simply isn’t there…
Another problem with liability in this setting has to do with jury expertise. Are random members of the public really the best people to determine acceptable levels of Covid-19 risk and appropriate employer precautions? Juries are better suited for more conventional applications of liability law, such as when the handyman fixing your roof falls off your rickety ladder. Given the unprecedented nature of the current situation, many Covid-19 risk questions require experts.
Finally, there is the issue of testing. Businesses could be of immeasurable help by testing their employees for Covid-19, as additional testing can help limit the spread of the virus (if only by indicating which workers should stay home or get treatment). Yet the available tests are highly imperfect, especially with false negatives. If businesses are liable for incorrect test results, and their possible practical implications, then business will likely not perform any tests at all, to the detriment of virtually everybody.
I recommend modest liability for some sectors, and zero liability, bundled with a New Zealand-like accident compensation system, for other sectors. And of course some very dangerous sectors should not be allowed to reopen at all, though I am more sympathetic to regional experimentation than are some people on Twitter.
“Health inspectors cited roughly 75% of nursing homes nationwide for failing to have or follow a plan to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in the past four years, between 2016 and January 2020”
“A report released by academics at the London School of Economics (LSE) on April 15 said between 42 percent and 57 percent of deaths from the coronavirus in Italy, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium have been linked to care homes for the elderly.”
From the (since updated) report: “In the remaining 5 countries for which we have official data (Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland and Norway), and where the number of total deaths ranges from 136 to 17,167, the % of COVID-related deaths in care homes ranges from 49% to 64%).”
Those are all from an email from Michael A. Alcorn.
2. Further doubts on the LOA and Santa Clara serology stories, it now seems they really do not establish any particular results.
9. Various forms of presenting state-level data. What exactly is going on with Ohio?
11. Department of Why Not?: “Former Labradoodle breeder tapped to lead U.S. pandemic task force.”
13. The Fed and saving cities (NYT).
Earlier I suggested that that we offer unemployed people jobs that could be done from home:
A 21st century jobs program would pay people to stay home and isolate, support people without work, and produce some useful output all at the same time.
Writing at Brookings, Apurva Sanghi and Michal Lokshin provide some more ideas:
Another high-potential area is document digitization: Only 10 percent of the world’s books are digitized. Even with the current level of optical character recognition (OCR) technology, for a book to be digitized, an independent person needs to check it for errors, problems with tables and images, tagging, and oversee the look of the resulting text. Handwritten documents, images, and tables, even in printed books, require manual processing, proofreading, careful checking, and quality control. A person would receive scanned images of, let’s say, old letters to decipher and type into the electronic document. Comparing the results of several independent people working on the same document would assure the quality of transcription.
I want to add one more item to the list: contact tracing. In addition to tracing apps, we are going to need hundreds of thousands of people doing contact tracing and most of it can be done with email and phone from home. Two birds, one stone.
From a Kevin Kelly email to me:
Another weird data point on the highly heterogeneous nature of this virus.
A friend of mine who lives in Bali says there have been 2 confirmed Covid-19 deaths on their island of 4.3 million residents. Yet according to him:
That makes it around 25.000 tourists from mainland China every week.
And until mid-January 2020, before the outbreak of the Corona pandemic, there were 5 direct flights from Wuhan per week.
During January 2020, 113,000 tourists from China visited Bali. During December 2019 when the Coronavirus was already spreading the number of arrivals from China was even higher because December is very busy in Bali.
So during the months of December 2019 and January 2020, approximately 220,000 tourists arrived from China alone.
Here are the official Covid-19 numbers as of 17th April 2020.
Confirmed cases: 113 | Recovered: 32 | Deaths: 2
The Crematorium in Bali’s capital city Denpasar does not see any increase in the number of cremations.
The hospitals do not have a flood of patients. There is hardly any talk on Social Media by people reporting about folks falling ill with Corona like symptoms.
The only thing I could find in Social Media groups is that business owners in Bali have reported an unusually high number of employees falling ill during November and December 2019.