Month: May 2020

Why is child abuse not opposed more passionately on the Right

From an email from Paul Foster:

From my perch, there are two primary reasons the right doesn’t more passionately oppose child abuse. The first has to do with parents’ rights. The general conservative view of the child welfare system is of a group of liberal ladies who think they know better than parents and who are especially skeptical of religious parenting, especially conservative Christian parenting. (The NYT op-ed opposing home schooling was an almost-too-perfect totem in that regard.) As a result, while many on the right will say “sure, flat-out abuse is bad,” they’ll assume that “abuse” will be defined eventually to include homeschooling, imparting religious views (especially on traditional gender roles), and the like. The early 20th-century attempt to eradicate the German language and culture through the public schools is often pointed to, as is (at least among the hipper conservatives (I swear we exist!)) that one Simpsons episode where a social worker gives demerits to Marge and Homer’s household for “toilet paper hung in improper overhand fashion.”

The second reason–and this is probably true for both the right and the left–is that you can’t even think of a solution by reasoning from your political views. “Adults shouldn’t beat kids” is universally accepted, but your views on taxes or your reading of Ayn Rand or that latest anti-Pelosi meme doesn’t give you anything helpful in actually stopping adults from beating kids. Without a political solution, it tends to fall by the political wayside.

Here are my previous recent posts on related questions concerning child abuse.

America’s reopening will depend on trust

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

The first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic brought serious economic damage for thinly capitalized face-to-face retailers, such as small family-owned restaurants. But many of those same institutions will lead the recovery — that is, if they have built up trust among their patrons. If they ask me to sit outside to eat my meal, I will trust that their kitchen procedures are “clean enough,” because I believe that the boss is watching [there I am referring to two of my favorite local places].

It is also worth asking whom I do not trust. When it comes to providing a fully clean and safe store, I do not trust most of the big-box retailers. I trust them just fine in ordinary times, but no single manager can oversee the entire cleaning and disinfectant operation. And can they monitor Covid-19 in the air? If they tell me that “all possible precautions have been taken,” I might believe their words, but I won’t believe that is enough.


The NBA is wondering if it can resurrect its playoffs at a dedicated location with television coverage but no audience in the stands. So far the teams are hesitant, in part because they are afraid of public resentment if the league’s millionaire players have access to Covid-19 tests while the general public does not.

The reality is that if the NBA announced it was buying up a lot of tests, it would boost the supply of tests. That could provide testing with valuable positive publicity, with the NBA serving as a role model for what other businesses might do. Yet the NBA does not yet trust its fans to see things in such a positive light, and so reopening is delayed. There might be some danger to playoffs games without fans, but surely less than in, say, collegiate or professional football, where injuries and concussions are built into the very nature of the competition.

Which are the businesses that you really trust in matters pandemic?

Thursday assorted links

1. Tips for slowing livestock growth due to plant closures.

2. “The Arizona Department of Health Services told a team of university experts working on COVID-19 modeling to “pause” its work, an email from a department leader shows.

3. Florian Schneider has passed away.

4. Source code for the Imperial College model.  And Sue Denim is very upset about the quality of that source code.  Another reader with a strong technical background wrote me equally critical remarks.  Are there further opinions on this?

5. Sujatha Gidla on her experience with Covid-19 (NYT), and here is my earlier CWT with her, one of my favorite episodes.

6. A new real-time journal COVID Economics.

7. Tankersley interviews Hassett and covers the brouhaha (NYT).

8. Effective Altruist forum ranks Fast Grants as one of their top two projects.

10. Jerry Seinfeld on success.

11. “A county in Washington State dealing with a coronavirus outbreak has identified a confounding new source of spread: “Covid-19 parties” organized so that people can deliberately mingle with an infected person in the hope of getting their own illness out of the way.”  (NYT link)  I wonder what they play for the music.

12. How are the social sciences evolving?  Less rational choice, for one thing.

13. Why are meatpacking plants hit so hard?  Holds true for numerous countries — is it the deliberate circulation of cool air?

14. Emily Oster and Galit Alter have a new Covid public health information site.

Save Grandma, Save the Economy

The meat supply is starting to fail. Meat processing factories seem especially susceptible to COVID-19 probably because of mist, chilled air circulation, the creation of aerosols and close worker contact. What other industries could be affected? What would happen if the energy, transportation, or pharmaceutical sector failed? We aren’t even sure which industries are critical. Who would have thought that nasal swabs would be a critical industry? In researching vaccine production I was stunned to learn that glass vials may be a bottleneck. Glass vials! How then do we best protect the workers in our critical industries? Should everyone else practice social distancing, closing of non-essential firms and work from home or should everyone else return to work as if everything were normal?

Social distancing, closing non-essential firms and working from home protect the vulnerable but these same practices protect workers in critical industries. Thus, the debate between protecting the vulnerable and protecting the economy is moot. “Lockdowns” protect vulnerable people and protect vulnerable industries. Save grandma, save the economy.

The point is simple but made formally in Social Distancing and Supply Disruptions in a Pandemic by Bodenstein, Corsetti and Guerrieri.

Abstract: Drastic public health measures such as social distancing or lockdowns can reduce the loss of human life by keeping the number of infected individuals from exceeding the capacity of the health care system but are often criticized because of the social and economic costs they entail. We question this view by combining an epidemiological model, calibrated to capture the spread of the COVID-19 virus, with a multisector model, designed to capture key characteristics of the U.S. Input Output Tables. Our two-sector model features a core sector that produces intermediate inputs not easily replaced by inputs from the other sector, subject to minimum-scale requirements. We show that, by affecting workers in this core sector, the high peak of an infection not mitigated by social distancing may cause very large upfront economic costs in terms of output, consumption and investment. Social distancing measures can reduce these costs, especially if skewed towards non-core industries and occupations with tasks that can be performed from home, helping to smooth the surge in infections among workers in the core sector.

Addendum: I wrote “lockdowns” because I am in favor of getting back to work with mass testing and safety protocols so I don’t think that a “lockdown” is necessarily the optimal policy. Indeed, I think we could get the meat processors back up and running with testing at the door and safety protocols. But we are not having a rational discussion about the tools and the investments that we need to reopen the economy. Instead, the people protesting to reopen the economy are also protesting against the use of a key tool to reopen the economy, masks! Welcome to crazy town.

What to Watch

My viewing habits are less hi-brow than Tyler’s, perhaps especially now when I am seeking escape and mind rest. Here’s a few things I have enjoyed and some that I have not.

DEVS on Hulu. If you know what the Everett interpretation is you will probably enjoy this science-fiction drama with big ideas on quantum computing and free will but also enough suspense, action and human relationships to drive the drama forward. From the director of Ex Machina. Sonoya Mizuno steals the show, super charismatic in an off beat way.

Westworld on HBO. A few interesting scenes but mostly disappointing.

Formula 1: Drive to Success on Netflix. I have no real interest in car racing but this documentary–each season is a season–is very well produced. Great shots from within the cars and each episode is tightly crafted, dare I say formulaic, so you want to watch the next. Popcorn but good popcorn. An extended version of Rush. I had no idea a team can cost $300-$500 million a year.

Bosch on Amazon. A police noir set in the real Los Angeles.  Bosch is the Sisyphus of police detectives, driven to find justice for the victims but the victims never thank him, justice doesn’t bring them back and each day brings another. A study in character.

Extraction on Netflix. Awful. Brainless. If you want action, watch Fauda about a special Israeli Defense Unit. It’s well done and you will learn something even if what you will learn is how decent people turn into terrorists in an endless cycle of retribution and misery.

Impostors on Neflix: A light con-woman caper. Good for one season but harder to sustain once you’ve seen behind the curtain.

Beforeigners on HBO: My only share with Tyler. I look forward to a second season.

Top Chef on Amazon (I bought the new Season). Still my go to for competence-porn and don’t we all need some of that? Plus makes me look forward to restaurants.

Labor market restructuring and its possible permanence

We find 3 new hires for every 10 layoffs caused by the shock and estimate that 42 percent of recent layoffs will result in permanent job loss.

That is from a new paper by Jose Maria Barrero, Nick Bloom, and Steven J. Davis, top experts on this and related topics.  As for policy:

Unemployment benefit levels that exceed worker earnings, policies that subsidize employee retention, occupational licensing restrictions, and regulatory barriers to business formation will impede reallocation responses to the COVID-19 shock.

Should South Africa lock down?

The lockdown will lead to 29 times more lives lost than the harm it seeks to prevent from Covid-19 in SA, according to a conservative estimate contained in a new model developed by local actuaries.

The model, which will be made public today for debate, was developed by a consortium calling itself Panda (Pandemic ~ Data Analysis), which includes four actuaries, an economist and a doctor, while the work was checked by lawyers and mathematicians. The process was led by two fellows at the Actuarial Society of SA, Peter Castleden and Nick Hudson.

They have sent a letter, explaining its model, to President Cyril Ramaphosa. In the letter, headed “Lockdown is a humanitarian disaster to dwarf Covid-19”, they call for an end to the lockdown, a focus on isolating the elderly and allowing children to go back to school, while ensuring the economy restarts so that lives can be saved.

The paper also is at the link, and it is perhaps more of a rough and ready calculation than a formal model per se.  Nonetheless South Africa has a relatively young population and the core points are well taken:

In SA, they estimate that 5.4 years of life have been lost per Covid-19 death. They then multiply this by the range of deaths which they predict – 20,000 – as well as the actuarial society’s prediction of 88,000 fatalities. They factor in that the lockdown will have reduced some deaths, but not all. In the end, their model translated into a minimum of 26,800 “years of lives lost” due to Covid-19, and a maximum of 473,500 years. (This, critically, shouldn’t be confused with the actual number of fatalities expected from Covid-19.)

The actuaries then used the figures predicted by the National Treasury to model the impact on poverty. On Friday, the Treasury estimated that between 3-million and 7-million jobs will be lost due to the measures taken to combat the virus. The actuaries then work out that, conservatively, 10% of South Africans will become poorer, and as a result, will lose a few months of their lives.

It is a good question how many of the models used for the West have taken into account the “demonstration effect,” namely that poorer (and much younger) countries will be tempted to follow the same policies.  I’ve yet to see a good discussion of this.

My Conversation with Adam Tooze

Tinges of Covid-19, doses on financial crises, but mostly about economic history.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the summary:

Adam joined Tyler to discuss the historically unusual decision to have a high-cost lockdown during a pandemic, why he believes in a swoosh-shaped recovery, portents of financial crises in China and the West, which emerging economies are currently most at risk, what Keynes got wrong about the Treaty of Versailles, why the Weimar Republic failed, whether Hitler was a Keynesian, the political and economic prospects of various EU members, his trick to writing a lot, how Twitter encourages him to read more, what he taught executives at BP, his advice for visiting Germany, and more.

Here is one excerpt:


Tooze’s discussion of his own career and interests, toward the end, is hard to excerpt but for me the highlight of the conversation.  He also provided the best defense of Twitter I have heard.

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday assorted links

1. The problem with Covid-19 and immunity?

2. Podcast with Marc Lipsitch.  And Unherd interview with a German virologist (have not heard yet).

3. Excellent FT piece on liability issues.

4. The multiple virus strains hypothesis reemerges, caveat lector, please don’t get too carried away with this one, but worth a ponder.  And here is a WaPo piece on the surrounding debate.

5. When will cancelled sailings impact U.S. ports?

6. Henry Farrell on what the public wants.

7. Are the Swedes epidemiological nationalists?  (Might others be too?)  And I don’t understand this Peter Turchin post on Denmark vs. Sweden, but maybe you will?

8. How the debate about herd immunity should proceed.

9. Model this (Australian camel plunge, multi-camel plunge in fact).

10. How much contact is required for transmission?

11. How do the CRISPR tests for Covid-19 work? (pretty amazing stuff).

12. Are panviral defenses a real option? (NYT)

13. The Quebec plan for school reopening — feasible or not?

Online Education is Better

The COVID-19 crisis is accelerating a long-term trend, the shift to online education. I’ve long argued that online education is superior to traditional models. In an excellent essay in the New York Times, Veronique Mintz, an eighth-grade NYC student agrees:

Talking out of turn. Destroying classroom materials. Disrespecting teachers. Blurting out answers during tests. Students pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground. This is what happens in my school every single day.

You may think I’m joking, but I swear I’m not…during my three years of middle school, these sorts of disruptions occurred repeatedly in any given 42-minute class period.

That’s why I’m in favor of the distance learning the New York City school system instituted when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

…Distance learning gives me more control of my studies. I can focus more time on subjects that require greater effort and study. I don’t have to sit through a teacher fielding questions that have already been answered.

…This year I have struggled with math. The teacher rarely had the patience for questions as he spent at least a third of class time trying to maintain order. Often, when I scheduled time to meet with him before school, there would be a pileup at his door of students who also had questions. He couldn’t help us all in 20 minutes before first period. Other times he just wouldn’t show up….With distance learning, all of that wasted time is eliminated. I stop, start and even rewind the teacher’s recording when I need to and am able to understand the lesson on the day it’s taught.

Veronique’s online courses were put together in a rush. Imagine how much more she will learn when we invest millions in online classes and teach at scale. The online classes that Tyler and I teach, using Modern Principles and the Sapling/Achieve online course management system, took years to produce and feature high quality videos and sophisticated assessment tools including curve shifting (not just multiple-choice), empirical questions based on FRED, and adaptive practice–plus the videos are all subtitled in multiple languages, they can be sped up or slowed down, watched at different times of the day in different time zones and so forth. Moreover, technology is increasing the advantages of online education over time.

Did non-pharmaceutical interventions actually help against the Spanish flu?

From three economics Ph.D students at Harvard, namely Andrew Lilley, Matthew Lilley, and Gianluca Rinaldi:

Using data from 43 US cities, Correia, Luck, and Verner (2020) find that the 1918 Flu pandemic had strong negative effects on economic growth, but that Non Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) mitigated these adverse economic effects. Their starting point is a striking positive correlation between 1914-1919 economic growth and the extent of NPIs adopted at the city level. We collect additional data which shows that those results are driven by population growth between 1910 to 1917, before the pandemic. We also extend their difference in differences analysis to earlier periods, and find that once we account for pre-existing differential trends, the estimated effect of NPIs on economic growth are a noisy zero; we can neither rule out substantial positive nor negative effects of NPIs on employment growth.

I am very willing to publish a response from the original authors on this one.

*Good Work if You Can Get It: How to Succeed in Academia*

That is the new Jason Brennan book, just out yesterday, here is a summary:

This candid, pull-no-punches book answers questions big and small, including

• Should I go to graduate school—and what will I do once I get there?
• How much does a PhD cost—and should I pay for one?
• What kinds of jobs are there after grad school, and who gets them?
• What happens to the people who never get full-time professorships?
• What does it take to be productive, to publish continually at a high level?
• What does it take to teach many classes at once?
• What does it take to succeed in graduate school?
• How does “publish or perish” work?
• How much do professors get paid?
• What do search committees look for, and what turns them off?
• How do I know which journals and book publishers matter?
• How do I balance work and life?

This realistic, data-driven look at university teaching and research will make your graduate and postgraduate experience a success.

Here is my blurb:

“In Good Work If You Can Get It, Jason Brennan tells it like it is. You will get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This is the one book to read about trying to become a professor.”

Self-recommended.  And here is Bryan Caplan’s excellent review.

Movies to watch under lockdown

I/we have been watching the following:

The Wedding Plan, Israeli movie about a religious woman who precommits to her future wedding, yet without having a particular groom in mind.  Full of subtlety, motivated by behavioral economics and game theory, poignant, recommended.  Israeli cinema and TV remain an underexploited profit opportunity.

Teorema, directed by Pasolini, this one makes no sense but is utterly captivating.  I say it is the devil rather than Christ, but you could argue it either way.  Don’t expect any scene to cohere, but this one is from the golden age of cinema and it shows.

The Lady from Shanghai.  Could this be my favorite Welles movie, as he had not yet started to take himself too seriously?  It spans sailing life, New York, Acapulco and Mexico’s Pacific coast, noir, and San Francisco’s Chinatown.  The look at 1947 SF is enough to scare some YIMBY into the most desperate protectionist.  This was a rewatch for me, and it seemed even better the second time around.

Rhapsody in August, late Kurosawa from 1991.  Not for neophytes but the frankest cinematic treatment of Nagasaki you are likely to find.  The best 2/3 of this film are very moving and indeed unforgettable.  It is sufficiently subtle that most of the reviews are suitably bad.

Beforeigners, a Norwegian television show with a unique twist on the usual immigration story.  Due to a time warp, migrants from earlier periods of history, such as medieval times and also the Stone Age, climb into current-day Oslo.  You are not allowed to call them “Vikings,” rather they are “people of Norse descent.”  And they cannot assimilate to a very foreign culture, though at least one of them ends up working in the Oslo police department.  Clever and original, I hope they make more than just the first six episodes.

On reopening, Robin Hanson suggests a political economy hypothesis

So while the public will uniformly push for more opening, elites and experts push in a dozen different directions. If elites would all back the same story and solution, as they did before, they would probably get it. If they would say “We agree that this is what we did wrong over the last few months, and this is the specific policy package that will produce much different outcomes over the next few months.” But they aren’t saying this.

So elites and experts don’t speak with a unified voice, while the public does. And that’s why the public will win.

While the public tends to defer to elites and experts, and even now still defers a lot, this deference is gradually weakening. We are starting to open, and will continue to open, as long as opening is the main well-supported alternative to the closed status quo, which we can all see isn’t working as fast as expected, and plausibly not fast enough to be a net gain. Hearing elites debate a dozen other alternatives, each supported by different theories and groups, will not be enough to resist that pressure to open.

Winning at politics requires more than just prestige, good ideas, and passion. It also requires compromise, to produce sufficient unity. At this game, elites are now failing, while the public is not.

Here is the full post.  To be clear, none of this implies that a speedy reopening is the correct plan.  More broadly, this is an example of why we need public choice/political economy in our models of this situation.  It is all about the plan you can pull off in the real world of politics, not the best plan you can design.  A lot of what I am seeing is a model of “all those bad Fox News viewers out there,” and I do agree those viewers tend to have incorrect views on the biomedical side.  Still, while that is a very real problem, if you see that as the fundamental problem I don’t think you will get very far understanding our current policy dilemma.