How many lives were lost because of the vaccines holdup?

…economist Garett Jones recently opined that Trump’s scuttled hopes to release a COVID-19 vaccine a few weeks earlier “likely would have saved at least 100,000 American lives.”

…Pfizer did not reveal its trial’s favorable results until November 9—six days after the election. The company had originally planned to consider submitting an EUA request to the FDA with just 32 data points; instead it gathered 94, and it waited another 11 days to accrue the requested safety data, plus even more data showing how well the vaccine worked, before making its filing.

…If a compassionate use program for COVID-19 vaccines had gone forward, doctors would have been able to prescribe them to nursing-home residents, even as the vaccine makers completed their clinical trials with integrity and gathered all the safety data requested under the “EUA Plus” requirements.

According to Marks, Birx asked Anthony Fauci and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn to encourage Pfizer and Moderna to apply for that program…

The actual timing of the COVID-19 vaccines’ release resulted from a complicated mix of bureaucratic caution, political calculations, and the choices made by vaccine manufacturers. While the benefits of the vaccines have become very clear since then, the precise human cost of that short delay remains a mystery.

Here is the full Brendan Borrell piece in The Atlantic, excellent throughout.  And don’t forget Brendan’s new and exciting book The First Shots: The Epic Rivalries and Heroic Science Behind the Race to the Coronavirus Vaccine.

Via Rich Dewey.

Thursday assorted links

1. These Lina Khan remarks are less than impressive.

2. Are they building a single-stage-to-orbit space plane?

3. That was then, this is now: the Carolinas let 16-year-olds drive school buses back in the 1980s.

4. The historians that are Australian:

In Serbia today, few people realise that we gave Djokovic unusual privileges. In all Australia last week, he was probably the only questionable migrant allowed to leave his hotel and take outdoor exercises and even practise his profession in the actual tennis stadium. And on his last free day he received a rare privilege, the convening on his behalf of a special sitting of the Federal Court of Australia presided over by Chief Justice James Allsop and two of his fellow judges. They had agreed at short notice to sit on a Sunday, a day when courts rarely open.

That is from Geoffrey Blainey (gated).  How many Australian intellectuals have spoken up for liberty?  Or for that matter science (natural immunity is protective too, maybe more so)?  Or simply for telling people in advance whether their visas will be honored?  How about not interrogating him for seven hours in a shut room in the middle of the night?

5. Atlantic profiles Arc Institute, Arcadia, and Alexey Guzey’s New Science.  Excellent piece, more kudos for Derek Thompson.

6. What percentage of Americans were infected with Covid-19 on January 10?

Are artificial wombs a left-wing or right-wing proposal?

On one hand, it is pro-natalist, so that makes it right-wing.

On the other hand it is (ostensibly?) feminist, relieving a burden on women, so that makes it left-wing.

It also could be construed as trying to “equalize family,” which would be left-wing or even communist.

Under another reading, it is about “corporate babies,” which pushes it a back into the right-wing camp.

From yet another perspective, no one really thinks it will happen, at least not soon.  So the symbolic message for the world of today is “Women are not that important and they could be replaced by machines.”  Maybe neither the right-wing nor the left-wing like that message (albeit for different reasons), but it has a tinge of “someday this differential burden will be gone and then you left-wing feminists will need to stop whining.”

Which puts it back a bit into the right-wing camp.

So which is it?

Modeling Vladimir Putin

That is the subject of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Economists typically define rationality as the effective use of means to achieve ends — spending your money for maximum enjoyment, for example. That is fine for some purposes, but it fails when it comes to understanding those political leaders, Putin included, who are obsessed with power.

The economic framework doesn’t work well when power is the end itself. While no one can truly know what’s in the mind of Putin, he has ruled Russia for 22 years, a pretty good sign that he cares about power. Putin also grew up in an era — as a KGB agent behind the Iron Curtain — when power was the currency of status.

So how does the quest for power make Putin difficult to deter?

Deterrence, by its nature, attempts to limit the power of the deterred person. If a person cares about many things, not just power, they will respond to deterrence by seeking less power and spending more on other things, such as quiet contemplation or time with family. If a person cares mainly about power, however, the induced response to deterrence is to try to seize back more power.

In other words, trying to make power “more expensive” for Putin is not guaranteed to work. The price of enjoying power might go up — say, because of threatened sanctions — but the thirst for renewed power goes up too, precisely because some power has been taken away.

Deterrence does not always work in international affairs, or in other situations with power-mad individuals. Napoleon and Hitler faced high costs from their blunders, but still they proceeded with ambitious and ultimately foolish military plans. Many revolutionaries try to seize power and die doing so.

…It is a common economic trope to insist that “incentives matter.” While true, it does not necessarily follow that deterrence therefore works. Putin isn’t looking to retire and spend more time on one of his luxurious yachts. The full consequences of that fact are just now becoming clear.

Note that as a powerful leader crosses the “will be allowed to retire peacefully” line, as Putin certainly has, he has to become obsessed with power all the more, even if the demand for traditional goods and services does not fade away.  Without ongoing power, the life of that leader simply will end and all consumption will fall to zero, therefore cementing in a kind of power addiction all the more.

My Israel-only Conversation with the excellent Russ Roberts

Here is the audio, video, and transcript, here is the CWT summary:

In this special crossover special with EconTalk, Tyler interviews Russ Roberts about his new life in Israel as president of Shalem College. They discuss why there are so few new universities, managing teams in the face of linguistic and cultural barriers, how Israeli society could adapt to the loss of universal military service, why Israeli TV is so good, what American Jews don’t understand about life in Israel, what his next leadership challenge will be, and much more.

We didn’t shy away from the tough stuff, here is one question:

COWEN: Let me ask you another super easy question. Let’s say we think that under current circumstances, a two-state solution would not lead to security either for Israel or for the resulting Palestinian state. Many people believe that. Let’s say also, as I think you believe, that a one-state solution where everyone votes would not lead to security for a current version of Israel or even a modified version of it.

Let’s say also that the current reliance of the Palestinian territories on the state of Israel for protection, security, intelligence, water — many important features of life — prevent those governing bodies from ever attaining sufficient autonomy to be a credible peace partner, guaranteer of its own security, and so on. From that point of view, what do we do? We’re not utilitarians. We’re thinking about what’s right and wrong. What’s the right thing to do?

Do read Russ’s answer!  (Too long to excerpt.)  And:

COWEN: Now, the United States has about 330 million people, yet there are more Israeli TV shows I want to watch than American TV shows. There’s Srugim, there’s Shtisel, there’s Prisoners of War, there’s In Judgment, there’s Tehran. There’s more. Why is Israeli TV so good?

ROBERTS: I’m glad you mentioned Prisoners of War, which doesn’t get enough — Prisoners of War is in my top five. If I had to list my top five, I’d pick Shtisel, Prisoners of WarThe Americans, probably The Wire, and The Crown. Do you have a top five that you could reel off?

COWEN: The Sopranos would be my number one. Srugim and Prisoners of War plausibly would be in my top five.

We then consider the Israeli topic at hand.  Interesting throughout, a very good dialogue.

*Talent*, my new book with Daniel Gross

Due out May 17, you can pre-order here for Amazon, here for Barnes & Noble.

The subtitle is How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, and my co-author is the Daniel Gross from venture capital and Pioneer.

From Amazon:

How do you find talent with a creative spark? To what extent can you predict human creativity, or is human creativity something irreducible before our eyes, perhaps to be spotted or glimpsed by intuition, but unique each time it appears?

The art and science of talent search get at exactly those questions.

From the new Kirkus review:

Personality, they note, is revealed during weekends. Another good one: “What are the open tabs on your browser right now?” The aim is to assess the applicant’s thought processes and willingness to embrace new thinking.

And:

A useful and entertaining map for companies looking toward a creative future.

Definitely recommended.

Raise your hand if you think this is a good idea

…if the Food and Drug Administration decides to update Covid-19 vaccines to take better aim at Omicron or other variants, it is unlikely to go it alone.

Instead, a senior FDA official told STAT, the agency expects to take part in an internationally coordinated program aimed at deciding if, when, and how to update Covid-19 vaccines. The approach would ensure decisions are not left solely to individual vaccine manufacturers.

“We can’t have our manufacturers going willy-nilly [saying], ‘Oh well, the EMA decided they wanted this composition, but FDA wanted that composition,’” the official said, referring to the European Medicines Agency. “So we are very much of the mind that we would like to be part of a more global process in helping to come to what vaccine composition there should be now.”

Designed for flexbility and speedy response?  I guess we’ll see.  Here is the full StatNews article.  And obviously, the entire public health community is up in arms about this…

What should I ask Lydia Davis?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, and here is part of her Wikipedia page:

Lydia Davis (born July 15, 1947) is an American short story writer, novelist, essayist, and translator from French and other languages, who often writes extremely brief short stories. Davis has produced several new translations of French literary classics, including Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust and Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

So what should I ask her?

What will Austro-Sri Lankan business cycle theory look like?

The world’s poorest countries face a $10.9bn surge in debt repayments this year after many rebuffed an international relief effort and instead turned to the capital markets to fund their responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

A group of 74 low-income nations will have to repay an estimated $35bn to official bilateral and private-sector lenders during 2022, according to the World Bank, up 45 per cent from 2020, the most recent data available.

One of the most vulnerable countries is Sri Lanka, where the rating agency S&P Global last week warned of a possible default this year as it downgraded the country’s sovereign bonds. Investors are also concerned about Ghana, El Salvador and Tunisia, among others.

Here is more from the FT.  Not surprisingly, China is warning against rapid Fed rate hikes.

When is a prediction right or wrong?

When I lived in Germany in the mid-1980s, it seemed obvious to me that the chances of a pending German reunification were pretty high.  West Germany seemed obsessed with its status as a separated twin.  That seemed everywhere in the serious literature and film of the time.  Yet all my German friends insisted that my expectations were nonsense and that they absolutely had moved on and did not care one whit about East Germany.  Still, to me the yearnings were obvious.

At that time I was expecting an overture from the Soviet Union, bringing the two Germanies together and cementing a status somewhere between Finlandization and outright Soviet sympathies.  Neutral de jure, but never much upsetting the larger neighbor to the east.  The United States wouldn’t much like that arrangement, and would be preparing to pull out its troops, but what could it do?

I simply could not imagine that the USSR would give up its East Germany prize and so 1989-1992 came as a major shock to me.  I traveled to the new, free East Germany as soon as I could, not long after the Wall came down, because I wanted to witness what was happening.

For many years, while I was pleased by the unfolding of events, and pleased to have seen an inkling of reunification, I felt my prediction was absolutely, totally wrong.

But these days!?  My prediction was maybe not so wrong after all.  There are even reports — not yet confirmed — that Germany will not allow the UK to use its airspace to ship arms to Ukraine.

Model this and who are the real liberals anyway?

– Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democratic voters would favor a government policy requiring that citizens remain confined to their homes at all times, except for emergencies, if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Such a proposal is opposed by 61% of all likely voters, including 79% of Republicans and 71% of unaffiliated voters.

– Nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters think federal and state governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines on social media, television, radio, or in online or digital publications. Only 27% of all voters – including just 14% of Republicans and 18% of unaffiliated voters – favor criminal punishment of vaccine critics.

– Forty-five percent (45%) of Democrats would favor governments requiring citizens to temporarily live in designated facilities or locations if they refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Such a policy would be opposed by a strong majority (71%) of all voters, with 78% of Republicans and 64% of unaffiliated voters saying they would Strongly Oppose putting the unvaccinated in “designated facilities.”

That is from a Rasmussen poll.  You might consider Rasmussen a right-leaning institution, but these kinds of results should not be possible even in somewhat slanted polls (methodology here).  Furthermore, this poll came out January 13, and it hasn’t exactly received a ton of attention from mainstream media, can you model that too?  Wouldn’t it be awful even if this poll were off by 2x?

One lesson is that it is not always good for your party if it is on the winning side of the culture wars.

Monday assorted links

1. Kevin Kelly lists some heresies.

2. The super-recognizers.

3. World’s largest cast-iron skillet travels down a Tennessee highway.  And the now-deleted thread on Big Tech, work from home, loneliness, Covid, etc.

4. “Under only the efficiency channel, the optimal minimum wage is narrowly around $8, robust to social welfare weights, and generates small welfare gains that recover only 2 percent of the efficiency losses from monopsony power.

5. The variability and volatility of sleep.

6. More Chris Blattman non-fiction recommendations.

7. “Even according to exaggerated figures, China’s total fertility rate in 2021 was only 1.1-1.2, far below the 1.8 forecast by Chinese State Council in 2016, the 1.6-1.7 forecast by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 2019, the 1.7 forecast by UN in 2019”  Link here.

8. Scott Alexander just got married.