Month: October 2021

FDA Approves American Rapid Antigen Test

I wrote earlier:

What makes the FDAs failure to approve more rapid antigen tests even more galling is that the test being sold cheaply in the Amsterdam supermarket is the Flowflex, an American test made by Acon Labs in San Diego.

Well the FDA has finally approved the Acon test! Apparently it is good enough for the Germans and for US citizens. Hoorah! USA Today notes:

ACON expects to make 100 million tests per month by the end of this year. Production could double to 200 million monthly tests by February, according to the FDA.

…The United Kingdom and Germany have made significant purchases of home tests and widely distributed them to their residents to slow the spread of coronavirus. Such large government purchases allowed manufacturers to continue making tests even when demand softened as cases dropped.

The Biden administration will spend nearly $1.2 billion to purchase up to 187 million home tests from Abbott Laboratories and Celltrion Inc., company officials confirmed. The Department of Defense announced additional contracts totaling $647 million to buy 60 million kits from Abbott and three other testing vendors: OraSure Technologies, Quidel and Intrivio Holdings.

The FDA has authorized seven antigen-based tests that can be used at home without a prescription. The EU has authorized 21 tests beginning with the letter A (I am not sure all of these are authorized for home use but you get the idea.) Turtle slow. Still this is a big improvement.

Frankly, I think all the pressure from people like Michael Mina amplified by myself and others over 18 months and culminating in David Leonhartd’s NYTimes article Where Are the Tests? finally pushed them over the edge.

More details on Instagram being underrated

Contrary to The Wall Street Journal’s characterization, Instagram’s research shows that on 11 of 12 well-being issues, teenage girls who said they struggled with those difficult issues also said that Instagram made them better rather than worse.

That is from…Facebook, but it seems to be true.  Here is some further exposition:

In fact, in 11 of 12 areas on the slide referenced by the Journal — including serious areas like loneliness, anxiety, sadness and eating issues — more teenage girls who said they struggled with that issue also said that Instagram made those difficult times better rather than worse. Body image was the only area where teen girls who reported struggling with the issue said Instagram made it worse as compared to the other 11 areas. But here also, the majority of teenage girls who experienced body image issues still reported Instagram either made it better or had no impact.

The mainstream media, not surprisingly, are interpreting all this as a big takedown for Facebook, one of their main competitors I might add.  Here is one relevant image:

I would make two more general points.  First, you could very easily argue that eyeglasses make (many not all) teenage girls feel worse about their body image.  Lots of things will.  Automobiles.  Parties.  Clothes shops.  Such costs are not zero, but they have to be put in perspective.

Second, the lives of teenage girls are messy and complex.  Anything that plays a noticeable role in said lives also will have effects that are messy and complex.  Deal with it.  The same used to be true of the (old-fashioned) telephone as well, not to mention birth control pills and automobiles.

Instagram is a huge “universe,” and I have only a fragmentary knowledge of it.  Yet virtually everything I have seen, read, and heard indicates it is one of the more positive corners of the internet.

All via Nir Eyal.  And do note that I write for Facebook at  Not afraid to tell you, though, that this post is what I really think.  I argued similar points years earlier in my book Big Business: Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.

p.s. Every now and then tylercowenfairfax does some Instagram Stories…

From my email

You sometimes draw attention to lookism––that is, discrimination based on a person’s physical attractiveness. I would say discussion of this form of discrimination is more taboo than others because of how deeply entangled it is with our intuitive perceptions of each other. And thus, that it is harder to overcome than other forms of prejudice. But I would like to suggest an even more subtle and intractable form of discrimination yet: interesting-ism. Have you ever considered how individuals and society discriminate against the boring and the mediocre? Have you ever considered that the more discriminating one’s taste, intelligence, and eye for talent is, the more one is apt to dismiss most people? Would you agree the most degrading slur you can receive in our culture is: “you’re boring”?
— Anonymous

Monday assorted links

1. Redux of my March Bloomberg column on supply constraints.

2. Plagiarist’s keyboard.

3. “Although our work cannot be used to put a price on cryptocurrencies, it provides the first systematic quantitative evidence that the transactional use of cryptocurrencies constitutes a fundamental component of their value, at least under the current regulatory regime.”  Link here.

4. Survey of work on corporate culture.

5. Malmendier survey on the relevance of personal history for economic issues.

DNA Virus Creates Computer Virus

From Wired:

…a group of researchers from the University of Washington has shown for the first time that it’s possible to encode malicious software into physical strands of DNA, so that when a gene sequencer analyzes it the resulting data becomes a program that corrupts gene-sequencing software and takes control of the underlying computer. While that attack is far from practical for any real spy or criminal, it’s one the researchers argue could become more likely over time, as DNA sequencing becomes more commonplace, powerful, and performed by third-party services on sensitive computer systems. And, perhaps more to the point for the cybersecurity community, it also represents an impressive, sci-fi feat of sheer hacker ingenuity.

UV-C and the Future

Are you surprised that the airport pictured below (I assure you, it is a real place) has also installed high-capacity air filters and UV sanitization?

Since the onset of COVID-19, the air-conditioning system filters across the passenger terminals have been upgraded from MERV-7-rated models to MERV-14-rated ones. These higher grade filters can effectively remove about 85 per cent of the particles of 0.3 to 1.0 micrometres in size in the air, smaller than the size of a COVID-19 particle in a respiratory droplet.

To ensure the MERV-14 rated filters continue to operate at effective efficiency, they are replaced every one to two months, depending on the condition of use. All used filters are sealed for proper disposal by maintenance workers donning the highest level of personal protective equipment (PPE) for safe handling.

In addition, fresh air intake for the air-conditioning systems have also been maximised by fully opening the dampers to admit outdoor air.

As a further layer of protection, Changi Airport is installing Ultraviolet-C (UV-C) sanitisation equipment in Air-Handling Stations (AHS) and Air-Handling Units (AHU) progressively across all terminal air-conditioning systems. The UV-C kills any remnant virus traces in the mixture of fresh and returned air passing through the cooling coil, providing a second level of defence after the MERV-14 rated filters.

Singapore will thus have air filtration and UV sanitization in the airport before we have it in the hospitals.

Is the future slipping away from the United States? It seems that way sometimes. Only the high-tech sector is keeping us afloat and, of course, that is under attack by the elites.

Here and here are my previous posts on UV-C sanitization.

Hat tip: Randall Parker.

Photo Credit: Matteo Morando.

Depression and shopping behavior

By Katherine Meckel and Bradley Shapiro:

Using a large survey panel that connects household shopping behavior with individual health information, this paper documents correlations between self reported depression and the size and composition of shopping baskets. First, we find that roughly 16% of individuals report suffering from depression and over 30% of households have at least one member who reports suffering from depression. Households with a member suffering from depression exhibit striking differences in shopping behavior: they spend less overall, visit grocery stores less and convenience stores more frequently and spend a smaller share of their baskets on fresh produce and alcohol but a larger share on tobacco. They spend similar shares on unhealthy foods like cakes, candy, and salty snacks. These cross-sectional correlations hold within counties, suggesting that they are not driven by region specific demographics or preferences that are incidentally correlated with depression status. They also hold when considering only single-member households. However, we rule out large differences in shopping behavior within households as they change depression status throughout the sample. Further, using the take-up of antidepressant drugs as an event, we document little change in shopping in response to treatment. With our results, we discuss the takeaways for health policy, decision modeling and targeted marketing.

There should be much more research on the intersection between economics and mental health.

More energy shocks, and it was crazy to move away from nuclear power

The global energy crunch forced a German electricity producer to halt a power plant after it ran out of coal.

Steag GmbH closed its Bergkamen-A plant in the western part of the country this week due to shortages of hard coal, it said by email. The closure is the first sign that Europe may need to count on mild and windy weather to keep the lights on as the continent faces shortages of natural gas and coal is unlikely to come to rescue.

Energy prices are soaring from the U.S. to Europe and Asia as economies rebound from a pandemic-induced lull and people return to the office. The shortage is so acute that China ordered its state-owned companies to secure supplies at all costs and Europe is burning more of its already depleted stocks of the dirtiest of fossil fuel, a move that may complicate climate talks next month.

Here is much more from at Bloomberg.  Coal is trading at record-high prices, but is this doing us or the environment much good?  You need something to substitute into!

I would like to repeat my earlier question in earnest.  Was anyone forecasting all these energy shortages even a month ago?

Via Anton Maier.

Sunday assorted links

1. Bills before Congress — “model this” (if you dare).

2. Claims about pending crypto regulation.  How exactly is all that supposed to work?  Makes no sense to me!

3. Ross D (NYT), worth reading and thinking about.

4. Water markets, the Colorado River, and the Walton Foundation (WSJ).

5. “According to his official biography, he is related to every royal family in Europe.” (NYT, interesting throughout)  LOTR makes an appearance too.

6. Power cuts in China (WSJ).  And from the FT: “Power crunch looms in India as coal stocks reach crisis point. More than half the country’s power plants have less than three days of supplies remaining.”  Is this now “a thing”?  Was anyone predicting this a month ago?

7. Steve Levitt does personal interviews with his two oldest daughters.

From Kalshi Markets

I wanted to reach out and provide some updates about new markets on the Exchange that may be of interest. We have a new market on whether the FDA will approve a vaccine for kids, in addition to a market on whether the CDC will identify a “variant of high consequence” (Delta is only a “variant of concern”). We also have markets about whether the Fed will taper at its next meeting, whether the U.S. will raise the debt ceiling before October 19, and whether or not Jerome Powell will be replaced….We also have markets on whether the capital gains and corporate tax will be raised, in case that’s of interest.

Go trade!

New issue of Econ Journal Watch

In this issue:

Critical conditionRobert Kaestner examines two articles in the Quarterly Journal of Economics on the effects of health insurance on mortality, saying that both lack statistical power and raising issues of external validity and anomalous results. Jacob Goldin, Ithai Lurie, and Janet McCubbin reply to the criticisms of their QJE article, and Sarah Miller and Laura R. Wherry reply to the criticisms of theirs.

Nonconvergence on machine learning and corporate fraud detection: In the previous issue, Stephen Walker investigated findings for the effectiveness of machine learning in detecting accounting fraud, and Yang Bao, Bin Ke, Bin Li, Y. Julia Yu, and Jie Zhang replied to Walker. Here, Walker explains why he finds the reply unsatisfying.

Classical liberalism in Finland in the nineteenth centuryJens Grandell tells of the blooming of liberalism in nineteenth-century Finland, highlighting the issue of language (Finnish versus Swedish) and the related issue of nationhood for Finland, then within the Russian empire. The article extends the Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country series to 21 articles.

The General Directing of Trade Cannot Be a Science: Benoît Malbranque presents an essay by René Louis de Voyer de Paulmy, Marquis d’Argenson (1694–1757), arguing against the general directing of economic affairs and against what Friedrich Hayek would one day call the fatal conceit. First appearing in 1751 and in English in 1754 and 1762, d’Argenson’s article was a commentary on another article extolling work by Girolamo Belloni. The anonymous author of that article subsequently replied to d’Argenson. Rendered here into English by Malbranque is that reply, in which the anonymous Bellonian argues that government influence over the economy is inevitable and is improved by science.

Hume’s Manuscript Account of the Extraordinary Affair Between Him and Rousseau: Published here is David Hume’s original manuscript account of his tangle with Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Hume was quite dissatisfied with the rushed version of the account, published in London in 1766, which, apart from the letters therein, was a retranslation of a French translation of Hume’s manuscript. Hume “expresses himself bluntly and forcibly,” as one scholar said about this never-before-published manuscript.

To Tolerant England and a Pension from the King: Daniel Klein proffers an explanation for the remarkable lengths to which Hume went to settle Rousseau in England with a pension from King George III, namely, that Hume felt that doing so would diminish Rousseau’s influence and legacy, and consequently improve the lot of humankind.

EJW Audio:

Jens Grandell on Liberalism in Finland in the Nineteenth Century

Austin Sandler on Quality Control in Anthropometry

Who are the best Irish artists?, part IV, other names

Francis Bacon was born in Ireland, but not of Irish parents, he did not grow up in Ireland, and he did not consider himself Irish.  So I do not count him as a contender for my exercise.

Sean Scully is a contemporary abstract painter of renown, and his works are held by many major museums.  He was born in Dublin, and now his paintings may go for $600,000-$800-800.  To me they seemed like a bargain, in the 1990s, at one tenth that price.  I like his work, but to my eye he could just as easily be a “New York painter” and in a way he is.  He even pops up on Google as “American artist.”  His family moved to England when he was four years old, and Wikipedia calls him a “British artist.”  Whatever.  I’m not going to award him first prize, but if you are curious here is one not atypical image:

Louis le Brocquy (1916-2012) counts as a “real Irish artist,” and some of his best works sell for a million pounds or more.  I can’t help but find his major work clunky rather than revelatory.  To me the figures are not so much “ugly,” as was suggested in Ireland during his time, but rather pointless.  He is somehow not even a true radical.  And dare I confess that I prefer my Irish artists not entirely cosmopolitan?  Here is one image of his:

Nope, he won’t be my number one.  I’ll be considering two more individuals in this series, coming soon I hope.

*The Many Saints of Newark*

Much better than its reviews, though the drama only works for those with an intricate knowledge of The Sopranos proper, and perhaps of Northern New Jersey as well.  The performances are uniformly excellent and the historical detail remarkable (where did they get that Bamberger’s delivery truck?  The store disappeared in 1986.)  The younger versions of the characters are simply uncannily accurate, though perhaps young Carmela struck me as a bit too modern looking?  I view the core theme as one of unfreedom and determinism.  As a viewer, you see the characters as unfree because you already know what is going to happen to them.  As the story unfolds, you see how much they are unfree in a more fundamental sense as well.  No one talks conceptually, except for the uncle in prison, who also is the only free person in the story.  Recommended, but probably for the dedicated only.  To really follow and understand the film, you need to have all the images of the earlier Sopranos scenes, including settings and not just characters, filed away in your mind.