Month: July 2021
Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur, and Arvind Subramanian calculate excess mortality in India since April 2020 based on three different datasets (each with their own challenges.) Each estimate indicates that excess mortality is more likely around 4 million than the official figure of 400,000. These figures accord with what everyone on the ground has been telling me. Nearly all my Indian friends report deaths among their family or friends.
…the most critical take-away is that regardless of source and estimate, actual deaths during the Covid pandemic are likely to have been an order of magnitude greater than the official count. True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence.
Photo Credit: REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI
It turns out that Homo Sapiens is not all that different from other, early proto-human species, such as Neanderthals. They are the “closest things to us.” Denisovans, etc. We killed them off. (We also are likely to mostly kill off chimpanzees, zoos and research labs excluded.) Therefore the best prediction is that we kill us off too. The other species like us died through mass violence at the hands of humans. We don’t have many data points, but they all seem to end the same way.
You might think a) “we are really good at killing off other species,” rather than b) “we are really good at killing things off.” Therein lies some hope. Signs of cross-national solidarity thus should make you much more optimistic about the future.
How’s that African vaccine distribution program coming?
Malaysia’s Ministry of Health said yesterday that the country will stop administering the COVID-19 vaccine produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech once its current supplies run out, amid mounting evidence that the vaccines have limited efficacy against the Delta variant that is currently ravaging Southeast Asia.
They will switch mainly to Pfizer. Thailand also will not be relying on Sinovac, and Turkey and UAE are moving in similar directions. Here is the article, via Rich D.
I have a simple question, namely how to solve for the Chinese equilibrium. Are they too supposed to switch away from Chinese vaccines to the Western vaccines? Could the government stand that loss of face?
Seriously people, how is this one supposed to develop? Inquiring minds wish to know.
1. “…the evolution of peer review is best understood as the product of continuous efforts to steward editors’ scarce attention while preserving an open submission policy that favors authors’ interests.”
4. Myhrvold says Portland is the best pizza city in the U.S.; I say eastern Connecticut.
5. Mastercard partners with Circle to settle stablecoin payments. Are we seeing “the rails built before our eyes”?
6. UAPx: new non-profit to monitor UFOs.
A very good graph from the New Statesman. The vaccines give the body a huge advantage in fighting the virus so even when there are infections the number of deaths is dramatically reduced. This is UK data but the same type of relationship should hold everywhere.
I’ve long wondered about this, and explore that question in my latest Bloomberg column. I’ve discouraged this for a long time:
…I have insisted that my graduate students call me “Tyler.” My goal has been to encourage them to think of themselves as peer researchers who might someday prove me wrong, rather than viewing me as an authority figure who is handing down truth.
Some of the strongest norms are around the title “Doctor.” Just about everyone calls their physician “Doctor,” though the esteemed profession of lawyer does not receive similar treatment. As a Ph.D.-toting academic, I’ve even had people say to me — correctly — “You’re not a real doctor.”
I fear that by ceding this unique authority status to doctors we are making it easier for them to oversell us medical care, a major problem in the U.S. If your doctor suggests that you need a procedure done, it can be hard to say no, especially if you have been deferring to that person for years through the use of an honorific title. On the upside, perhaps all that deference has encouraged many people to get their vaccinations.
There are some arguments for titles:
Sometimes a title can be used to suggest a subordinate position, such as the use of Nurse. It can be an honorific, but it also places the person below the Doctor. The advantage, however, is one of greater anonymity and remove. A woman in particular might prefer “Nurse Washington” over the use of her real full name, given the potential risk of harassment.
Title issues and gender issues intersect in tricky ways. A title such as doctor or professor can give a woman newfound respect, but perhaps the practice hurts respect for women as a whole, since they are titled at lower rates than men.
What I expect we will see is that “established” women and minorities will insist on title usage all the more, to command respect, and under the guise of societal feminization we will evolve a new set of non-egalitarian hierarchies, presented and marketed to us under egalitarian pretenses. On related ideas, see my earlier post on the first date book walk out meme.
Civil-Rights Law as Lawyer Full-Employment Act The data that Eric Kaufmann presents and explains about ideological prejudice, social intolerance, and “affective polarization” (“Political Discrimination as Civil-Rights Struggle,” July 12) are as disturbing as they are depressing. Progressive authoritarianism is a growing problem, particularly among young elites and thus at the commanding heights of business, culture, and education. But the solution Kaufmann proposes – expanding anti-discrimination law to cover political belief – is worse than the disease.
There’s a reason why legal protections for ideology are currently found only in places such as Seattle and Washington, D.C.: They’re progressive innovations, one more barnacle on the crusty hull of employment law. Each time a new protected category is added to civil-rights laws that were originally enacted to break Jim Crow – talk about “systemic racism”! – it further burdens employers and enriches lawyers. Indeed, Kaufmann’s proposal is a lawyer full-employment act, with easily foreseeable litigation about whether a particular ideological belief is a “bona fide occupational qualification.”
“Legislators and courts would need to define terms tightly,” Kaufmann allows, but how confident are we that they would, or will long continue to do so? If discrimination “on the basis of sex” can be read 50 years later to include sexual orientation and gender identity – see last year’s Bostock v. Clayton County, which did just that to federal employment law – then even the tightest statutory definitions will loosen over time. In other words, the idea that narrow exemptions for political parties (what about think tanks?) from a ban on political discrimination won’t eventually be read to allow forced adherence to corporate diversity/equity/inclusion statements is laughable. And then we’re back where we started, except with more billable hours.
That is his letter to National Review, the response of Kaufmann can be found at the same link.
Here is a very good post from Noah Smith on that topic, opening excerpt:
As recently as 1960, the two countries had similar standards of living. Today, the D.R., by some measures, is eight times as rich as Haiti, while Haiti’s standard of living hasn’t advanced at all since 1950.
The D.R. has already surpassed Brazil and Colombia; if Covid doesn’t knock it off its growth trend, it’ll soon pass Mexico and Argentina.
A forensic exercise then follows, for instance:
When Haiti won its independence from France, France sent warships to demand reparations for Haitian expropriation of French property (i.e. slaves and land). Haiti agreed to pay a considerable sum, and to give France cheap exports as well. Some people blame this monumental act of extortion for Haiti’s poverty. It makes a simple, intuitive sort of sense — if someone takes your money, it’s hard to get rich right?
But there are some big problems with this thesis. First of all, Haiti finished paying back this debt (which France reduced) in 1947. That’s at least a decade before Haiti and the D.R. started to diverge economically, and four decades before the divergence became pronounced. Furthermore, Haiti’s total external debt in 2019 was only about 15% of GDP, while the D.R.’s was about 40%! The D.R. is far more indebted to foreign countries now than Haiti is.
I agree with the points made by Noah in the longer post, and would add a few factors. First, Haiti’s moments of extreme political weakness happened to coincide with a major increase in drug trafficking in the region. Second, the DR has done an especially good job of mobilizing Special Economic Zones to support its economic growth, at least relative to Haiti. That in turn had broader feedback effects on subsequent political economy and thus economic growth. Haiti, in contrast, ended driving out its MNEs — Disney manufacturing was once in the country, baseball production was once significant, and so on, but none of those gains have compounded and mostly they went away, due to bad governance and infrastructure. (And the massive corruption at Haiti’s main port is a striking contrast with DR export procedures through the SEZs.) Third, and this one may be as much symptom as cause, but the DR managed to decentralize its power structures somewhat through economic growth on its peripheries, through both tourism and SEZs. In Haiti, the second- and third-tier cities have not developed, and have turned into backwaters, while centralization in Port-au-Prince has continued unabated, thereby intensifying the logic of Haitian rent-seeking.
2. Post 9-11, subsidizing higher education didn’t do much for veterans.
5. Dating without looksism? (NYT)
6. Very good Interfluidity post on how crypto might work (but not dominate).
Nightmare Scenario opens with Anthony Fauci stripped to his skivvies and wondering whether the white powder he has just been exposed to in his NIH office is anthrax, ricin, or a hoax. The first and last he can survive, ricin is a death sentence. A security team douses him with chemicals and moves him to another office where a portable shower has been deployed. Fauci showers, calls his wife, and waits for the test results.
Nightmare Scenario is the best of the recent books on the pandemic (I earlier reviewed Lewis’s The Premonition and Slavitt’s Preventable). Based on hundreds of interviews it’s a true inside account. It doesn’t contain much in the way of analysis but that’s a strength in a journalistic history. Rather than a strict review, I will note a couple of things that jumped out to me.
An astounding amount of time was spent at the highest level of government on what do do about the Americans stuck on the Diamond Princess and other cruise ships. I was almost screaming at the book at this point “there’s just 437 Americans on the cruise ship! Pay attention to the 328 million Americans at home!” It’s ridiculous that 437 Americans should occupy the President’s time but that’s what happens when people think the President is their father (or mother) who needs to show them that he cares.
Governance by the 24 hour news cycle is by no means solely a Trump failing. Biden doesn’t need to know anything about the Miami tower collapse, for example. It’s a tragedy but a state and local matter. But the 24-hour news cycle means that politicians don’t think more than a step ahead, often to a bizarre extent. When the Dow dropped, Larry Kudlow rushed to get on the news to say the “virus is contained”. What was he thinking? If true, this would reveal itself in time and the Dow would rise. If false, he gains at best a couple of days of bump and then lose credibility. Similarly, what was Pence thinking when he wrote in a June of 2020 WSJ op-ed “There Isn’t a Coronavirus Second Wave.” You can’t confidence game a virus.
The CDC botched the initial test and when Joe Grogan at the Domestic Policy Council questioned Azar, Redfield and Fauci he was told “Everything is taken care of. The CDC is remedying the situation.” After repeated delays, the FDA sent an expert to investigate what was going on with the CDC test:
When Stenzel gained access to three key labs developing the test, he couldn’t believe what he saw. In two of the three labs, the agency wasn’t following standard operating procedure. And he discovered the CDC had put together the test in the same lab where it was running the test on live virus samples. That was a violation of the most basic manufacturing practices… “If you were a commercial entity, I would shut you down.” p.81
The CDC failing to use standard operating procedures wasn’t Trump’s fault. The rot is deep.
I was hoping to get more information from Abutaleb and Paletta about Pfizer’s peculiar change in study design. Pfizer released their trial design in mid-September. Articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times were clear that Pfizer planned to look at their data once 32 trial participants had been infected. President Trump, following Pfizer CEO Bourla, thus predicted that there would be vaccine news in October, before the election. Instead Pfizer announced their terrific results on Monday November 9, after the election. When the announcement came people were surprised that between mid-September and November the trial design had been changed. STAT News, for example, noted:
In their announcement of the results, Pfizer and BioNTech revealed a surprise. The companies said they had decided not to conduct the 32-case analysis “after a discussion with the FDA.” Instead, they planned to conduct the analysis after 62 cases.
Abutaleb and Paletta report that the Trump team was furious when they discovered that the good news had been delayed and then they say the following:
FDA officials, of course, had no control over when Pfizer reported its results, because the company could report them only after a certain number of people in the trial had contracted coronavirus.
This is blatantly false. FDA officials have only to signal what they want from a company and the company will comply. Moreover, it was precisely by changing the number of people who needed to have contracted coronavirus that control was exerted. What exactly was said in this “discussion with the FDA” that caused Pfizer to wait? Probably not coincidentally it was also in October that Nancy Pelosi began to worry that British immune systems were different than American immune systems.
Abutaleb and Paletta have nothing good to say about Jared Kushner (unlike Birx who was obviously a source) but if you read between the lines Kushner comes off surprisingly well. At the very least, he moves quickly and sometimes gets things done. Abutaleb and Paletta offer this critique:
Kushner was correct that the normal processes for procuring supplies were cumbersome and slow. But circumventing those processes risked wasting taxpayer money, buying faulty supplies, or running afoul of government contracting laws. There were protections in place to try to prevent the government from overpaying for products or supplies and to try to ensure that companies did not receive unfair advantages…” p. 258.
Oooh, overpaying for products. As if that never happens when the processes are followed. All of this makes it clear that there would have been big errors under other administrations but they would have been different errors like moving even slower so as not to run “afoul of government contracting laws.”
One thing which comes through in The Premonition, Preventable and Nightmare Scenario is that quite a few people understood the crisis early. On January 18, Scott Gottlieb texted Joe Grogan to warn him about the virus in Wuhan. Grogan takes it seriously (it may have been Grogan who was responsible for inviting Kremer and I to speak to the DPC on accelerating vaccines.) On January 28, deputy national security advisor Matthew Pottinger warned Trump that he could be facing the deadliest pandemic since the 1918 flu. But Gottlieb had already left the administration, Grogan would resign early, and when Pottinger started wearing a mask to work he was considered an alarmist and was frozen out of decision making. Many others had or would soon leave:
Who was left? A mix of family members, twentysomethings, hangers-on, fourth-stringers, former lobbyists, sycophants…That created tremendous pressure on the government officials who remained in their positions in 2020. Many of them were totally unprepared for what was coming. Many of them were so focused on their own survival that it never occurred to them to focus on anyone else’s. p.31.
Overall, Nightmare Scenario is an excellent read.
This paper uses an econometric approach to examine the inflation consequences of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. Price equations are estimated and used to forecast future inflation. The main results are: (1) The data suggest that price equations should be specified in level form rather than in first or second difference form. (2) There is some slight evidence of nonlinear demand effects on prices. (3) There is no evidence that demand effects have gotten smaller over time. 4) The stimulus from the act combined with large wealth effects from past household saving, rising stock prices, and rising housing prices is large and is forecast to drive the unemployment rate down to below 3.5 percent by the middle of 2022. 5) Given this stimulus, the inflation rate is forecast to rise to slightly under 5 percent by the middle of 2022 and then comes down slowly. 6) There is considerable uncertainty in the point forecasts, especially two years out. The probability that inflation will be larger than 6 percent next year is estimated to be 31.6 percent. 7) If the Fed were behaving as historically estimated, it would raise the interest rate to about 3 percent by the end of 2021 and 3.5 percent by the end of 2022 according to the forecast. This would lower inflation, although slowly. By the middle of 2022 inflation would be about 1 percentage point lower. The unemployment rate would be 0.5 percentage points higher.
As I do not think the correct answers here are close to certain, I am happy to continue to survey a broad range of opinion. Stay tuned…
“So we’re at 1.2% 10-year Treasury yields with 5.4% year-over-year inflation. Very normal very cool.”
As I interpret those numbers, the market expects inflationary pressures, the Fed to respond, but that response will induce a recession. Stay tuned…
Using US Census Household Pulse Survey data for the period April 2020 to June 2021 we track the evolution of the mental health of nearly 2.3 million Americans during the COVID pandemic. We find anxiety, depression and worry peaked in November 2020, coinciding with the Presidential election. The taking of prescription drugs for mental health conditions peaked two weeks later in December 2020. Mental health improved subsequently such that by April 2021 it was better than it had been a year previously. The probability of having been diagnosed with COVID did not rise significantly in the first half of 2021 but COVID infection rates were higher among the young than the old. COVID diagnoses were significantly lower in States that had voted for Biden in the Presidential Election. The probability of vaccination rose with age, was considerably higher in Biden states, and rose precipitously over the period among the young and old. Anxiety was higher among people in Biden states, whether they had been diagnosed or not, and whether they were vaccinated or not. The association between anxiety and depression and having had COVID was not significant in Biden or Trump states but being vaccinated was associated with lower anxiety and depression, with the effect being larger in Biden states. Whilst being in paid work was associated with lower anxiety, worry and depression and was associated with higher vaccination rates, it also increased the probability of having had COVID.
That is a new NBER working paper from the highly regarded David G. Blanchflower and Alex Bryson. Model that!
In Britain people are now being warned *not* to get their second dose at 3 or 4 weeks because this offers less protection than waiting 8 weeks or longer.
Warnings over the lack of long-term protection offered by jab intervals shorter than eight weeks come as scores of under 40s continue to receive second doses early at walk-in clinics, contrary to Government guidance.
…“There is very good immunological and vaccine effectiveness evidence that the longer you leave that second dose the better for Pfizer and eight weeks seems to be a reasonable compromise.”
Professor Harnden emphasised that “you’re definitely less protected against asymptomatic disease if you have a shorter dose interval”.
I’m so old I can remember when first doses first wasn’t “following the science.”
3. Novavax update.