Month: October 2020

The class culture that is Britain

Universities must act to eradicate discrimination against working-class students, including the mockery of regional accents, equality campaigners have said.

A Guardian investigation has found widespread evidence of students at some of the country’s leading universities being ridiculed over their accents and backgrounds, in some cases prompting them to leave education….

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC), which monitors progress in improving social mobility in the UK, described the situation as unacceptable and said accents had become a “tangible barrier” for some students.

This week the Guardian reported complaints of a “toxic attitude” towards some northern students at Durham University. Last month the university launched an inquiry after wealthy prospective freshers reportedly planned a competition to have sex with the poorest student they could find.

Here is the full story, via a loyal MR reader.

Saturday assorted links

1. More on the multiple vaccines problem.  And sitting in on the FDA vaccine panel meeting.  And Arthur W. Baker, EV winner for his work on vaccines, now has a home page.

2. Escaped cloned female mutant crayfish take over Belgian cemetery.

3. Matthew Aucoin on Boulez.

4. The German tilt-and-turn window.  And Germany moves to improve ventilation.

5. Krugman short paper on the Trump trade war (analytical, not polemic).

6. Slovakia is trying to test everyone, and quickly (WSJ).

How to Vaccinate and Continue Clinical Trials

According to Helen Branswell writing at STAT:

There are serious signs the Food and Drug Administration is getting cold feet over the notion of issuing emergency use authorizations to allow for the widespread early deployment of Covid-19 vaccines.

…“We are concerned about the risk that use of a vaccine under an EUA would interfere with long-term assessment of safety and efficacy in ongoing trials and potentially even jeopardize product approval,” Gruber said. “And not only the first vaccine, but maybe even follow-on vaccines.”

This is nonsense. There are many ways to conduct clinical trials while releasing a vaccine—indeed, we can make the clinical trials better by randomizing a phased release. Suppose we decide health care and transit workers should be vaccinated first. No problem–offer the workers the vaccine, put the SSNs of those who wants the vaccine into a hat like draft numbers, vaccine a randomly chosen sub-sample, monitor everyone.This is the well known lottery technique for measuring causal effects often used in the school choice literature. If we use this technique we can greatly increase sample sizes and as we study each wave we will gather more confidence in the data. We won’t have enough vaccine in November to vaccinate everyone or probably even all health care and transit workers so a lottery is an ethically fair as well as statistically useful way to distributed the vaccine. We can also randomize across cities and regions.

Tyrone, never one to mince words, also has good suggestions:

First, they could simply pay people to partake in those trials.  Isn’t that in essence what the NBA did with its Covid testing in the bubble?  If the value of those clinical trials truly is so high, it should be possible to internalize enough of those benefits to encourage participation.  If institutional barriers stand in the way there, let’s obsess over fixing those.

Why should we force so many Americans to be sacrificial lambs, just to subsidize the trial costs?  Let those costs be taken out of grant overhead!  (And admin. salaries, if need be.)

…Second, there is another way to keep the trial up and running.  Approve use of the treatment, but allow the suppliers to charge very high prices!  Better yet, use the law to make them charge high prices and if need be forbid insurance coverage.

Or we could use human challenge trials. The ethical objections to such are now looking more and more like nonsense as thousands of people die weekly.

In short, the idea that releasing a vaccine in phases is a threat to clinical trials is a dangerous and false dichotomy and another example of how our leaders lack vision, imagination, and courage.

Minimum wage laws during a pandemic

From Michael Strain at Bloomberg:

In July 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that a $15 minimum wage would eliminate 1.3 million jobs. The CBO also forecast that such an increase would reduce business income, raise consumer prices, and slow the economy.

The U.S. economy will be very weak throughout 2021. The nation will need more business income, not less; more jobs, not fewer; and faster, not slower, economic growth. A $15 minimum wage would move the economy in the wrong direction across all these fronts.

I fully agree, and in fact would go further.  On Twitter I wrote in response to Noah:

Surely in a pandemic these businesspeople are right and the accumulated non-pandemic research literature doesn’t apply so much, right? Pretty much all models imply we should cut the minimum wage, if only temporarily, for small business at the very least.

Put in whatever exotic assumptions you wish, a basic model will spit out a lower optimal minimum wage for 2020-21, again for small business at the very least.  This is the advice that leading Democratic economists should be offering to Biden.

From the comments, on HCTs

The box most bioethicists are in is so small their thinking can’t extend beyond a few target people. In this case, the control group in a vaccine trial.

The subjects could be paid for the risk, which is what we do for jobs all the time. Those risk/reward amounts for risky jobs are used to make estimates for the value of human life. Life insurance would allow high-risk people (us geezers) to join the trials.

Their box doesn’t even consider human challenge trials (HCT) that give you very rapid and accurate data on efficacy even with pay and insurance to cover the risk. The lives saved by a month faster approval is in the 10’s of thousands more than offsetting and risk to a few people. Tracking the first million doses for side effects would provide the side effect data that is usually within days of injection.

Outside their mental box, 1000 people per day are dying for each day they study the issue and delay a decision, but those lives are not included in their thinking and analysis.

That is from Dallas.  I would stress there are higher costs yet from delay, noting the hundreds of millions of people in developing nations who are falling back into poverty while the pandemic continues to rage.  Some of them are dying too.

The AstraZeneca trial is allowed to resume

Federal health regulators have decided to allow the resumption of U.S. studies of a leading Covid-19 vaccine candidate from AstraZeneca PLC and the University of Oxford, according to a person familiar with the matter and materials reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Here is the WSJ article, no real explanation given by either the company or the FDA.

Friday assorted links

1. “Consistent with growing evidence of skin color’s importance for Whites, we demonstrate that darker-skinned Whites—measured via a light-reflectance spectrophotometer—identify more strongly with their White racial identity and are more likely to hold conservative political views on racialized issues than lighter-skinned Whites.”  Link here.

2. People unable to think outside the box (on vaccines).  And a further update: the FDA may delay EUAs for vaccines, in part because they don’t have the stones to endorse other ways of running the trials, such as HCTs or for that matter a massive increase in clinical trial infrastructure funding.

3. “Update: Manu called again. He is lost and needs directions.”  Link here,  You need to click through once or twice to read the whole thread, recommended.  At some point you will think you have read it all, but you have not.  Click through then for more.

4. “Findings suggest that, rather than making marriage less desirable, some forms of “low-cost sexual gratification” such as pornography use to predict a comparatively higher desire for marriage.

5. “We have a clear passion for the same things,” Mr. Blackwell said by phone. “We care about people. We care about equality.” (NYT)

6. New bookstore in Dujiangyan, China.  Good links today.

NYC vs Shopkeepers

The Economist has a good piece on NYC cracking down on corner shops which set prices higher than NYC thinks is just.

The story of your correspondent’s local corner shop offers a cautionary tale.

This type of shop was once familiar in New York, but has largely been squeezed out by chains and bank branches. The owner is an immigrant who opens early and closes late. In crises the shop stocks the products that customers need. When flooding from Hurricane Sandy caused a blackout in 2012, it sold batteries, torches, candles and board games. During the pandemic it has been piled high with boxes of sanitiser, bleach, masks and gloves.

Stocking up comes with risks. Acquiring inventory is costly. Demand drops off when normality returns—unwanted board games linger in the back of the shop. And this time, the rules changed. In March a woman bought a box of masks (each mask costing $2), and then said she was from the city’s office of consumer affairs, and charged the shopkeeper for violating new price-gouging rules. Two days later, says the shopkeeper, another inspector charged the shop again, this time offering guidance on the right prices. Masks should cost no more than $1; gloves selling at $19.95 should sell for only $14.95. Each package marked above the permitted price would be fined $500. There were many packages.

…Shortly before a rescheduled hearing, the shop’s proprietor received an offer to settle the first charge for a little over $7,000. That is much more than his monthly profit, he says from behind the plastic screen now distancing him from customers, looking glumly at a stack of legal papers on his counter. But the fines would be ruinous….The shopkeeper will settle…Justice in the Big Apple has been opaque and costly—and raises the question of who precisely is being gouged.

As Luis Saravia de la Calle said in 1544:

Those who measure the just price by the labor, costs, and risk incurred by the person who deals in the merchandise or produces it, or by the cost of transport or the expense of traveling… or by what he has to pay the factors for their industry, risk, and labor, are greatly in error, and still more so are those who allow a certain profit of a fifth or a tenth. For the just price arises from the abundance or scarcity of goods, merchants, and money… and not from costs, labor, and risk. If we had to consider labor and risk in order to assess the just price, no merchant would ever suffer loss, nor would abundance or scarcity of goods and money enter into the question. Prices are not commonly fixed on the basis of costs. Why should a bale of linen brought overland from Brittany at great expense be worth more than one which is transported cheaply by sea?… Why should a book written out by hand be worth more than one which is printed, when the latter is better though it costs less to produce?… The just price is found not by counting the cost but by the common estimation. (Grice-Hutichinson, 110-111).

The window tax

The window tax in Great Britain (1696–1851) provides a remarkable case of tax-induced distortions in resource allocation. Tax liabilities on dwelling units depended on the number of windows in the unit. As a consequence, people boarded up windows and built houses with very few windows, to the detriment of both health and aesthetics. Using data from local tax records on individual houses, the analysis in the paper finds compelling evidence of such tax-avoidance and goes on to make a rough calculation of the excess burden associated with the tax.

Here is the full paper by Robert M. Schwab and Wallace E. Oates.

What I’ve been reading

1. Martin Amis, Inside Story: A Novel.  Except it is a memoir rather than a novel, definitely fun, and has received excellent reviews in Britain, less so in the U.S.  Does not require that you know or like the novels of Amis.  Christopher Hitchens plays a critical role in the narrative.  Idea-rich, but somehow I don’t quite care, and this one feels like it would have been a much better book twenty years ago.

2. Tobias S. Harris, The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan (UK Amazon listing, I paid the shipping charge, here is the U.S. listing). Yes a good biography of Abe, but most of all a book to make Japanese politics seem normal, rather than something connected to a country with a Kakuhidou movement.

3. Donald W. Braben, Scientific Freedom: The Elixir of Civilization, Stripe Press reprint.  Here is the book’s home page.

4. Les Payne and Tamara Payne, The Dead Are Arising: the Life of Malcolm X.  I pawed through this book, and it gave off signals of being high quality.  But somehow reading it didn’t hold my interest.  I then googled to a few reviews, but I rapidly realized (again) that such reviews are these days untrustworthy.  Try this NYT review, starting with this sentence: “Les Payne’s “The Dead Are Arising” arrives in late 2020, bequeathed to an America choked by racism and lawlessness.”  The reviewer makes a bunch of intelligent observations, interspersed with gushing about Malcolm X (“It is hard not to want Malcolm back, because his charisma is undeniable”), but I am never told why I should read the book.  At the end I learn the reviewer is “…the dean of academic affairs and a professor of American studies at Wellesley College.”  Signal extraction problem, anyone?  I call the current regime a tax on my willingness to put more time into the book.

Adam Thierer, Evasive Entrepreneurs & the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments, extends the important idea of permissionless innovation.

Jason Brennan, Good Work If You Can Get It: How to Succeed in Academia.  My blurb said “The one book to read about trying to become a professor.”

The tubarial salivary glands

In case you think any of us understand the world very well:

Oncologists have stumbled on a “previously unnoticed” pair of salivary glands while studying the effect of radiotherapy on salivation and swallowing. The elusive glands are in an inaccessible spot and can be spotted only with very sensitive imaging, such as positron emission tomography and computed tomography. Researchers say the glands could help to explain why cancer treatment can cause dry mouth and swallowing problems, especially because doctors haven’t known to spare the organs from damage.

Here is the link, here is an associated NYT piece.  Here is the original research.

Thursday assorted links

1. Should there be more cats in prison?  (An installment of “Questions that are rarely asked.”)

2. AstraZeneca closer to a USA restart, not much further information however.

3. Is 5G overrated?

4. Jordan Schneider on what to do about Xinjiang.

5. The greatest stagnation?: “Decades of study at Olorgesailie by Potts’ team and collaborators at the National Museums of Kenya have determined that early humans at Olorgesailie relied on the same tools, stone handaxes, for 700,000 years. Their way of life during this period was remarkably stable, with no major changes in their behaviors and strategies for survival.”

6. German data: “Our main finding is that mandating shared governance does not lead firms to pay measurably higher wages.”

7. And a funny post on Boswell.

8. Christopher Balding on Biden/China.