Category: Current Affairs

UK fact of the day

#COVID19 mortality in UK hospital patients has been falling steadily from >6% in March to ~1% now, with similar trends elsewhere. The reasons behind this pattern remain unclear, but #COVID19 Infection Fatality Rates will likely have to be revised downward.

That is from Francis Balloux.  And again here is the source link.  And please do not conclude the virus is becoming less dangerous, that is not a necessary implication of the above!  Alternative explanations are given at the latter link.  Most broadly, I will say it again: if your model does not have long-run elasticities as much greater than short-run elasticities, it is likely to be off in some significant ways.

The Long-Term Belief-Scarring Effects of COVID-19

The largest economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic could arise from changes in behavior long after the immediate health crisis is resolved. A potential source of such a long-lived change is scarring of beliefs, a persistent change in the perceived probability of an extreme, negative shock in the future. We show how to quantify the extent of such belief changes and determine their impact on future economic outcomes. We find that the long-run costs for the U.S. economy from this channel is many times higher than the estimates of the short-run losses in output. This suggests that, even if a vaccine cures everyone in a year, the Covid-19 crisis will leave its mark on the US economy for many years to come.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Julian Kozlowski, Laura Veldkamp, and Venky Venkateswaran.

We are living in a (very temporary) dining paradise

Of course current arrangements are terrible for restaurants, and pretty soon they will be bad for your dining too, as more restaurants close up for good.  But right now we live in a window of opportunity.

The owner and/or best chef is in the restaurant at a higher rate than usual — where else can he or she go?

Menus have been slimmed down, so there are fewer dishes, which means fresher ingredients and less delegation of cooking tasks.

Most menus have new dishes, not otherwise available, often in the direction of comfort food, which is a comfort because it tastes good!

They are cooking just for you, yum.

Show up for lunch at 11 a.m. or for dinner at 4:30 p.m.  Please only eat outside.  Bring a mask as well.  And please don’t linger at the table, so that others may follow in your footsteps.

Note which places have good outdoor dining arrangements, and which have nice park benches right nearby.  (Don’t drive the food back home as it becomes soggy and non-optimal for human consumption.)  You won’t end up with that many options to choose from.

Nonetheless I’ve had some very good and special meals as of late.

Why Americans Are Having an Emotional Reaction to Masks

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, easier read through than excerpted, but here is one bit:

When no one can see our countenances, we may behave differently. One study found that children wearing Halloween masks were more likely to break the rules and take more candy. The anonymity conferred by masks may be making it easier for protestors to knock down so many statues.

And indeed, people have long used masks to achieve a kind of plausible deniability. At Carnival festivities around the world people wear masks, and this seems to encourage greater revelry, drunkenness, and lewd behavior, traits also associated with masked balls. The mask creates another persona. You can act a little more outrageously, knowing that your town or village, a few days later, will regard that as “a different you.”

If we look to popular culture, mask-wearing is again associated with a kind of transgression. Batman, Robin and the Lone Ranger wear masks, not just to keep their true identities a secret, but to enable their “ordinary selves” to step into these larger-than-life roles.


The tension of current mask policy is that it reflects a desire for a more obedient, ordered society, for public health purposes above all, but at the same time it creates incentives and inclinations for non-conformity. That is true at least within the context of American culture, admittedly an outlier, both for its paranoia and for its infatuation with popular culture. As a society, our public mask-wearing is thus at war with its own emotional leanings, because it is packaging together a message based on both discipline and deviance.

What can we do to convince people that a mask-laden society, while it will feel weird and indeed be weird, can be made stable and beneficial through our own self-awareness?


Why the sudden uptick in cases?

From Nate Silver, I am smushing together his tweet storm:

Something to think about: re-openings have been occurring gradually since late April in different states/counties. If you had a metric averaging out how open different states are, it would likely show a fairly linear pattern. So why is there a nonlinear increase in cases now?

Obviously some of that gets to the nature of exponential growth. An R of 1.3 isn’t *that* different than an R of 1.1, but played out over a few weeks, it makes a lot of difference. Still, a more complete story probably includes premature re-openings coupled with other stuff.

What other stuff? Two things seem worth pointing out. First, there seems to be some correlation with greater spread in states where it’s hot and people are spending more time indoors with the AC on. That *is* a bit nonlinear; there’s much more demand for AC in June than May.

And second, the conversation around social distancing changed a lot in early June with the protests and Trump making plans to resume his rallies. And COVID was no longer the lead story. Not blaming anyone here. But the timing is pertinent if people felt like “lockdowns are over”.

Here is the link, including a good picture of how the demand for air conditioning rises.

Lead headline and sub-header for The New York Times

“Overlooked No More: Valerie Solanas, Radical Feminist Who Shot Andy Warhol

She made daring arguments in “SCUM Manifesto,” her case for a world without men. But her legacy as a writer and thinker was overshadowed by one violent act.”

The piece itself notes she argued for the wholesale extermination of men, that other people treated it as satire, but she defended its seriousness.  And of course she shot and tried to kill Warhol and came very close to succeeding.  The nature of her other contributions is far from clear, although toward the end of her life she was eating from a dumpster bin in Phoenix.

Later, she moderated her views, and the NYT piece ends with this:

…the author, Breanne Fahs, writes about an exchange between Solanas and her friend Jeremiah Newton. Newton asked Solanas if her manifesto was to be taken literally. “I don’t want to kill all men,” she replied. But, using an expletive, she added: “I think males should be neutered or castrated so they can’t mess up any more women’s lives.”

Loyal MR readers will know that this is not a media-bashing site, nor is it a NYT-bashing site.  I remain proud to have written there for ten years, and I remain a loyal subscriber, as I have been since I was ten years old.

But…come on.  If you work for The Times, I hope you are in some way able to raise your voice against what can only be described as a grotesque embarrassment, not to mention a contradiction of Black [Men’s] Lives Matter.  Maybe the headline will be gone or changed by the time you read this, but the saddest part is that this seems to be part of a pattern, not just a one-off mistake.  I’ve known many people at the NYT, at various levels, and each and every one has seemed like a good (and talented) person to me.  I can only conclude that something has gone very very badly wrong in the editorial control process.

Addendum: Timothy Noah comments.

Betting markets in as many different critters as you need

Last Wednesday, MyBookie, an online sportsbook, invited gamblers to place wagers on the summer migration patterns of nine great white sharks. The company’s website displayed odds on various aspects of each shark’s travel itinerary, using data mined from Ocearch, a nonprofit that’s been tracking the animals’ movements for years. An interactive map on Ocearch’s website monitors shark migration in near-real time, providing gamblers ample fodder for wagers — akin, perhaps, to a virtual horse race, conducted entirely at sea.

With most public sports out of commission because of the coronavirus pandemic, the betting market has been thin in recent months. Wagering on sharks could give gamblers an outlet, and some conservationists wonder if it might result in positive press for oft-maligned great whites.

Here is the full NYT story, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Cheer up

I know that quite a few of you are distressed about recent events, although perhaps you do not agree entirely which are the good and bad developments.

From my vantage point, both American politics and economics look much better than they did a month ago.  To be sure that is relative but nonetheless this should be cheering you up.  China and India have sought to deescalate their conflict. Most of Europe continues to reopen without a surge in cases, and American death rates still are falling.  The advantages of police reform are much overstated, but still I think we will get something modestly better than the status quo.

The worst news, as far as I can tell, is how poorly Pakistan is doing against Covid-19, relative to some initial expectations.  If that is what has got you down, by all means continue. But how many of you can say that?

Otherwise, probably your feelings are irrational, and thus you should not be so down.

Except about that of course.

The course of Covid-19 in the United States

Via Amihai Glazer.  And if you wish to verify, here is another (non-smoothed) presentation of the data.

In terms of the delta this picture is not as bad as what you sometimes hear, though data on cases are far worse, with a very long and indeed continuing plateau. And since deaths lag cases by a few weeks, you still might see reason to be alarmed.  Nonetheless, the trend we can see is one of improvement, at least for a little over two months.

Do note it is better for everyone if you think the death rate is still rising!

My Conversation with Rachel Harmon

Rachel Harmon is a Professor at University of Virginia Law School, and an expert on policing.  Here is the audio and transcript, and here is part of the CWT summary:

She joined Tyler to discuss the best ideas for improving policing, including why good data on policing is so hard to come by, why body cams are not a panacea, the benefits and costs of consolidating police departments, why more female cops won’t necessarily reduce the use of force, how federal programs can sometimes misfire, where changing police selection criteria would and wouldn’t help, whether some policing could be replaced by social workers, the sobering frequency of sexual assaults by police, how a national accreditation system might improve police conduct, what reformers can learn from Camden and elsewhere, and more. They close by discussing the future of law schools, what she learned clerking under Guido Calabresi and Stephen Breyer, why she’s drawn to kickboxing and triathlons, and what two things she looks for in a young legal scholar.

And here is one bit:

COWEN: Should we impose higher educational standards on police forces?

HARMON: There’s mixed evidence on that. Slightly older police officers tend to be better in certain respects, at least, and education is often associated with age. But, again, I don’t think that we can select our way out of problems in policing.

COWEN: But why can’t we? Because different individuals — they behave so differently. They think so differently. Why is it that there’s no change in selection criteria that would get the police to be more the way we want them to be, whatever that might be?

HARMON: I think we could do some things. We could screen out people who have committed misconduct in the past, for example, by decertifying them at the state level and therefore discouraging departments that can’t or don’t care very much about quality of their officers from hiring those officers.

It’s not that we can’t select against problems in policing at all. Sometimes we know that an officer’s problematic, and still he’ll wander around from department to department. I think we should set minimum age standards that are above 18, which many states have as a minimum age standard.

But in terms of education or other more subtle factors, I think the effects can often be subtle, and when we look at what creates problems in policing, departments create officers. The officers don’t preexist a department, really, so what you’re really looking at is the culture of the department, the incentive structures, the supervision, discipline. You can make good officers with imperfect people.

Recommended, interesting throughout, and yes we discuss San Francisco and Singapore too.

Why non-distanced social and commercial interactions have resumed so quickly

People have solved for the equilibrium.

First, the socially-distanced goods, such as food delivery, are starting to rise in price.  The non-distanced goods have been falling in relative price, and so now people are moving along their demand curves and engaging in less distancing.

Second, the longer the pandemic will run, the harder it is to use intertemporal substitution as a “make up.”  “I won’t go to a bar for two months, but then I’ll go a lot to make up for it” is a plausible story to tell oneself.  “I won’t go to a bar for a year and then I’ll go a lot…” is harder to swallow and act upon.  It starts to become a habit, and at some point you can’t drink enough to make up for what you have lost.  And so people are more inclined to go to the bar right now.

Most importantly, peer effects are remarkably strong.  Most people are not willing to accept a small additional risk of death to say eat in a particular restaurant.  But they are willing to accept a small additional risk of death to live life as other people are living life.

So once enough people are not respecting social distancing, most of the others will follow.

Some wag on Twitter said we can no longer use the expression “to avoid like the plague,” because apparently people do not take so much care to avoid the plague.

Claims about equities (and gamblers)

Mr. Young, 30, has only about $2,500 invested, making him a guppy among whales. But some Wall Street analysts see people who used to bet on sports as playing a big role in the market’s recent surge, which has largely erased its losses for the year.

“There’s zero doubt in my mind that it is a factor,” said Julian Emanuel, chief equity and derivatives strategist at the brokerage firm BTIG. “Zero doubt.”

Millions of small-time investors have opened trading accounts in recent months, a flood of new buyers unlike anything the market had seen in years, just as lockdown orders halted entire sectors of the economy and sent unemployment soaring.

It’s not clear how many of the new arrivals are sports bettors, but some are behaving like aggressive gamblers. There has been a jump in small bets in the stock options market, where wagers on the direction of share prices can produce thrilling scores and gut-wrenching losses. And transactions that make little economic sense, like buying up the nearly valueless shares of bankrupt companies, are off the charts.

File under “speculative,” here is the full NYT story.

China-U.S. fact of the day

Some 54 scientists have resigned or been fired as a result of an ongoing investigation by the National Institutes of Health into the failure of NIH grantees to disclose financial ties to foreign governments. In 93% of those cases, the hidden funding came from a Chinese institution.

The new numbers come from Michael Lauer, NIH’s head of extramural research. Lauer had previously provided some information on the scope of NIH’s investigation, which had targeted 189 scientists at 87 institutions. But his presentation today to a senior advisory panel offered by far the most detailed breakout of an effort NIH launched in August 2018 that has roiled the U.S. biomedical community, and resulted in criminal charges against some prominent researchers, including Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s department of chemistry and chemical biology.

“It’s not what we had hoped, and it’s not a fun task,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in characterizing the ongoing investigation. He called the data “sobering.”

Here is the full story, and there are further points of interest at the link.