Tabarrok On Macro Musings

I talk COVID-19 with David Beckworth on the latest episode of Macro Musings. We cover quite a bit of material including the real Corona threat that we are totally unprepared for and no one is talking about. Self-Recommending.


Iceland has the highest rate of testing per million population. We are at 1/3 that level and climbing.

According to, we have around half the level of testing of Italy, a bit over half Germany's level, and 2/3 of Spain's level. But we are beating the pants off France and the UK.

And NY is interesting - it has a significantly higher level of testing than Italy or Germany, but there is another considerably more disturbing number - death per 1 million population in NY is currently 513, 338 in Italy, and 38 in Germany.

The business about testing appears to be the fad-fetish of economists.

Anybody know whether total deaths from all causes is up over last year at the same time in hard hit countries or where I can find that info?

It's beautiful data:

"The business about testing appears to be the fad-fetish of economists."

There are good reasons for more testing. This article spells out why we should be testing a random sample of 10,000 Americans.

OUTSTANDING interview, Alex.

Tabarrok, who is not an engineer, posits we will lose electrical power for months in the event of a solar storm. The hook for this anxiety is a pair of two day disruptions in telegraph service.

Tabarrok is apparently not the only one who is not an engineer. Telegraph systems 160 years ago were amazingly straightforward, without any electronic components at all. Some of which continued to function after the power supply was disconnected, according to reports. Meaning that even a major power surge did not lead to electronic parts being destroyed, taking telegraph networks completely offline.

There are obviously a lot of variables involving intensity and effects, but the Internet will not be unaffected by a Carrington level event after it ends. Electrical systems are in general is better protected, but keeping in mind that such an event could be (theoretically, at a minimum) considerably more intense than that in 1859, there is no reason to be completely complacent about major disruptions lasting until destroyed items are replaced. And replacing millions of ruined distribution transformers would not be done in a few days.

iirc, it is the electrical sub-station transformers (or some other (multi?)million dollar component) that takes months to build that is the bottleneck. IOW, it isn't the case that after the CME EMP we'll just "replace the fuses and flick the switch", but that restoring the grid requires months to mfg the critical components (at the scale necessary).

Wow, I didn't know about " a coronal mass ejection, which is a big solar flare" that would knock out power for months or even years. OMG! But Tabarrok provides some hope: solar power. There's at least one large power company I am familiar with that is making an enormous bet on solar power, developing massive solar farms in relatively remote areas. The company's motto is 30 million by 2030, the 30 million referring to the number of solar panels the company intends to have in place by 2030. Since I am involved in a transaction related to that project, I have contemplated whether this corona crisis will affect that transaction. I think and hope not, but I was looking at it solely from the perspective of what's best for my client. Now that I know about a different corona, I will see it in an entirely different light.

I think remote solar would have the same problem. Long transmission lines would pick up the induced current. And anything attached to long lines would potentially burn out. Which means everything A/C connected.

Yes, Tabarrok describes decentralized solar power, on roof tops and auto tops for example. Even if solar can be stored, I suppose the transmission lines wouldn't work. I had a power surge at my house several days ago, which fried my irrigation controller. Where I live I can't wait until the pandemic is over to have the panel replaced; indeed, my "expert" was at my house house even though neither he nor I was comfortable with the (not so) close contact. The message I am getting from this discussion of one-time, catastrophic events is that we need to plan a future with much, much greater independence (off the grid, for example so my irrigation panel isn't fried for reasons unrelated to my house). Does this mean a future of more self-reliance and less cooperation?

An aside, I did not know that Tabarrok had devoted such mush time and effort studying one-time, catastrophic events (which is a reason for this interview of him). It gives me an entirely different perspective on Tabarrok's "permissive" attitude about research, in particular research into new drugs (he is highly critical of the FDA's restrictive approach). I put "permissive" in scare quotes because it doesn't seem so permissive in context (of one-time, catastrophic events).

Anything that "takes out" the North American power grid is a Mad Max scenario.

And what are we going to do, keep a steampunk infrastructure and reserve?

I think both major parties dropped the ball in tje coronavirus case and should punished. I think the best way to do that is initiating a Draft Representative Gabbard for an Independent Run movement. She has been a Democrat, but she is pro-freedom, pro-America and anti-UN.

I heard that Trump is thinking of making her Proconsul of Brazil.

But only if Princess Ivanka agrees.

At least we know TR hasn't succumbed to the hoax virus.

When somebody is the president of the United States, the authority is total.

Why stop at Proconsul? She could be the new Brazilian Grand Moff. Or an Imperial Muppet Plenipotentiary.

It is not how it works. Brazil is a successful independent country, which is bigger than the Roman Empire at its height, but somehow boasts fewer coronavirus deaths than New York. Trump has sought Brazilian aid to deal with the crisis.

David Beckworth called Climate Change a "small probability event". Ruh-roh. Don't tell Greta.

Rationally, climate change is a real problem with too flat a curve.

So flat that no one dying in the next couple decades can care very much. They might even be able to pretend it isn't happening.

Still, it's pretty rich to blame the young because they will see more of it unfold.

Alex, that really was great. Thank you for sharing it. Well worth an hour of my time. Thanks.

I listened to the entire interview and have 3 questions. {1} Am I un-informed that we do NOT have good & specific data showing that "small doses" of SARS-CoV-2 are significantly less lethal than "normal" doses? (and if not, wasn't it unprofessional, especially as an admitted non-expert in the field, to fail to note that before opining?) Claiming that variolation is possible with this specific virus may in fact be false - based on current data; or am I mistaken? {2} You repeatedly mentioned a good MOOC could be produced for ~$1 million. You also mentioned that many video games (which deliver 10`s of hours of content) cost ~$40 million or more. Why this (seeming) disconnect? I have been and continue to be enormously unimpressed with the quality of on-line courses. I envision a sci-fi future where the production studio (i.e. "University") uses instructors (aka actors), as well as support staffs of dozens, if not hundreds - with the individuals being as replaceable as cogs in a watch. Noting that we'll need fewer PhD professors is likely correct, but do you really think the cost per student will only be on the order of $10?? {3}Speaking of rent seeking, I know you have a strong opinion about the FDA, but I wonder if you've fully explored the side-effects of your prescription for its restructuring. There will still be corruption and rent seeking, fraud and manipulation, right?

Alex will happily defend any vaccine developer who kills children test subjects.
"Two separate teams, led by John Kolmer and Maurice Brodie respectively, developed polio vaccines and reported their results at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in November 1935. Despite promising results, both were cancelled as a result of the angry reaction from other researchers, as vaccinated children had died in both studies; no researchers dared attempt a polio vaccine for another 20 years.[58]

Professor John Kolmer, MD (1886–1962), of Temple University in Philadelphia, presented his findings first. He had developed an attenuated poliovirus vaccine, which he tested in about 10,000 children across much of the United States and Canada.[58] Five of these children died of polio and 10 more were paralyzed, usually in the arm where the vaccine was injected, and frequently affecting children in towns where no polio outbreak had occurred.[58] He had no control group, but asserted that many more children would have gotten sick.[58] The response from other researchers was uncharacteristically blunt; one of them directly called Kolmer a murderer.[58]

Maurice Brodie, MD (1903–1939), a young researcher at New York University and the New York City Health Department, presented his results afterwards, but the feelings of the researchers were already unfavorable before he started because of Kolmer's report.[58] Brodie and his team had prepared a formaldehyde-killed poliovirus vaccine, testing it first on himself and five co-workers, and eventually on 7,500 children and adults, with another 4,500 people serving as a control group.[58] In the control group, Brodie reported that one out of 900 developed polio; in the group receiving the vaccine, only one out of 7,500 developed polio, making the vaccine 88% effective during the first year. However, other researchers believed that the one case was likely caused by the vaccine, and two more possible cases were reported later.[58]

After this meeting, Brodie, whose polio vaccine was at least partially effective and reasonably safe, and who developed several ground-breaking ideas about vaccination whose validity was confirmed two decades later with the development of the Salk vaccine, was immediately fired and had trouble finding employment again. Brodie died three and a half years later.[58] Kolmer, an established researcher whose vaccine was unsafe and probably ineffective, kept his job, was given a second appointment as professor of medicine at the Temple University School of Dentistry the next year, continued to publish research papers, and received multiple awards throughout his academic career.[58][59]"

The vaccine candidates either in first human trials or in process exist because of a dozen years of NIH/CDC funding to develop vaccines for SARS, MERS, like coronavirus epidemics.

Obama benefitted from the Bush efforts following SARS as well as anthrax, etc, and obama and Democrats continued the programs Bush started and responded to several epidemics, including MERS and Ebola and Zika with both specific vaccine development, plus general vaccine development and new production methods, annd capacity in the US.

However, the Tea Party movement fought this funding, and Senate Leader McConnell worked to cut this funding.

In response to the current crisis:
"The package includes more than $3 billion for research and development of a vaccine, diagnostics and therapeutics to treat coronavirus. Specifically, that total figure includes more than $2 billion for the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to support advanced R&D of vaccines, prioritizing platform-based technologies with U.S.-based manufacturing capabilities. Additionally, $826 million would be allocated for the National Institutes of Health to support basic R&D for a coronavirus vaccine."
Note, the Trump request was only $1.25B

And nothing related to the CDC/FDA prevents getting tests, vaccines, etc approved if the administration is committed to action. Just look at the timeline for the 2009 H1N1 response which had multiple tests approved in less than a month and widespread testing done in less than two months. And a 100 million dose order for a vaccine made in less than two months.

Obviously, flu vaccines have a century of experience, while no coronavirus has completed human trials, but that was due to no government funding to test government funded vaccines in humans in 2016 when candidates were ready.

Bill Gates is not just now taking action. He has been working globally since he started working full time at the foundation on getting coordinated political action and funding. The past five years has been a period of regression thanks to Tea Party and nationalist and anti global movements. Gates with Clinton and many others got agreement on drug and vaccine production without the rent extraction favored by conservatives in the US that cause prices of tens of thousands for drug doses costing maybe $100 to produce.

There are satellites that would provide some warning - 15-60 minutes according to NOAA. As to how effective the response to that warning would be ...

As noted above, loss of transformers may be a big problem. The lead time to replace some larges ones is a year or more, and I seem to recall they are no longer manufactured in the US. Of course, if the grid is severely disrupted, manufacturing may have some issues.

I don't think distributed solar solves this problem - the controllers get fried, and perhaps the panels themselves. As semiconductors have evolved to be more dense, they have also become more vulnerable to voltage surges.

During the Cold War, there was considerable effort to harden military electronics against EMP effects from nuclear weapons. Not sure to what extend that has been continued, but I think there is little if any hardening in the civilian sector.

Didn't listen to the interview but judging by the comments it looks like 'Super Volcano' explosion disaster has been overlooked. That's why I think nuclear +geothermal +possibly wind would be best to be the majority of power generation. This way prolonged blocking of the sun is slightly less of a disaster with a crazy amount of remaining disaster to deal with.

Nuclear energy does not work. The best option is a mix of hydroelectric, wind, coal and oil.

You'll have to remind them in France that the electric power they think they enjoy is an illusion.

It can not work at large scale. It needa to be thorough subsidised, accidents happen, et. Coal, oil, wind and solar have a much cleaner slate.

I'm by no means a fan of nuclear, I just see it as the lowest risk in a disaster situation. Coal/Oil have air pollution/climate change/buying source issues. Hydro electric has major ecological issues.
That's why I narrow down to nuclear, geothermal and wind with a question mark. Only because I don't know how wind does in that type of scenario. I imagine it's fine, but haven't looked into it.
I think homes should be solar+battery off the grid BUT with a connection to grid if necessary such as in this situation. The other option is to charge the car elsewhere and have the car charge the batteries although I don't think that would be super feasible in a disaster scenario as everyone would need to do that.

At a minimum the house should be built to Passivhaus standards so heating/cooling is not a major issue. One less thing to worry about in a disaster.

I agree with the subsidy part.

The statement it doesn't work at scale is incorrect as France is 72% nuclear. I think maybe you meant it's not profitable?

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