That was then, this is now, wartime casualties edition

U.S. Civil War combat deaths per day: 449

World War II U.S. combat deaths per day: 297

Covid-19 U.S. deaths per day: > 1,000

And rising, 1500 per day seems baked in, 2000 per day might also be within reach.  I just don’t get you people who say this isn’t a big deal.

By the way, deaths as a percentage of population isn’t the right metric here.  Losing 320,000 lives (including excess deaths) has about the same moral import, whether or not there are a billion Morlocks living under the earth’s surface, though that fact would change the loss greatly as measured in percentage terms and of course make it look much smaller.

If one thousand lives (and more) per day is not a big deal, then what is?  The global toll is much larger of course, and most of the gdp contraction has come from fear rather than lockdowns per se — see for instance Sweden.

And as Scott Gottlieb tweeted:

This is not a question of lockdowns vs no lockdowns. The question is how do we take targeted measures, get broader compliance to prudent steps like masks, distancing, avoiding large gatherings; to reduce, slow spread so that the healthcare system doesn’t risk getting overwhelmed.

You won’t do a bit of restraint to stem these losses, and shift infections into the future, while a good vaccine is coming not to mention other therapeutics?  Or try this simple question: If you are a limited government libertarian, then when would you deploy government action if not now?

Speaking of “that was then, this is now,” here is Jeffrey Tucker of AIER (of GBD fame) predicting, circa October 14, that there will never be a vaccine.

A love letter to law and economics education

“Quantifying Economic Reasoning in Court: Judge Economic Sophistication and Pro-business Orientation” (draft coming soon)

Abstract: By applying computational linguistics tools to the analysis of US federal district courts’ decisions from 1932 to 2016, this paper quantifies the rise of economic reasoning in court cases, ranging from securities regulation to antitrust law. I then relate judges’ level of economic reasoning to their training. I find that the significant judge heterogeneity in economic sophistication can be explained by attendance at law schools with a large presence of the law and economics faculty. Finally, for all regulatory cases from 1970 to 2016 I hand code whether the judge ruled in favor of the business or the government. I find that judge economic sophistication is positively correlated with a higher frequency of pro-business decisions even after controlling for political ideology and a rich set of other judge covariates.

That is the job market paper of Siying Cao, who is on the job market from the University of Chicago.  Here is her home page.

Wednesday assorted links

Right-thinking Henry Olsen on Trump voter fraud

Mass voter fraud should be relatively easy to detect, even if it might be difficult to prove. Since we elect presidents through the electoral college, political operatives trying to nefariously produce a victory would focus on states critical to an electoral college majority. Thus, if fraud were behind President-elect Joe Biden’s win, we should expect to see significantly higher turnout increases in key states when compared to the nation as a whole. Furthermore, we should expect to see higher turnout increases within those states in Democratic areas than in Republican areas, since those regions are places where Democrats are more likely to be able to hide any stolen votes. Finally, we should expect to see significantly larger shifts in voter margins toward the Democrats from other, previous elections as the fraud alters the area’s normal voting patterns.

None of these early warning signs of fraud appear in the results.

There is much more detail and argument at the link.  Via Ross Douthat.

Predictions of the herd immunity theorists

If you are still pondering the Great Barrington Declaration and related matters, let us try a simple empirical test about predictions.  Start with this from one of the authors of the Declaration:

…the professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, Sunetra Gupta. In May she declared: “I think that the epidemic has largely come and is on the way out in this country.” 

Link here.  The UK just hit 500 deaths a day, highest since May and about 2x the current U.S. rate. 

She also said:

“So I think the [infection fatality rate, or IFR] would be definitely less than one in 1,000 and probably closer to 1 in 10,000. That would be somewhere between 0.1% and 0.01%.”

Dominic Lawson continues:

As Sam Bowman, of the free-market Adam Smith Institute — and therefore far from an illiberal interventionist — observed: “By this point, 36,000 had died of Covid in the UK. If 100% of the UK’s population had had Covid by then, the UK would have had to have a population of 360 million people for her low-end IFR to be right.”

Or why not read that august institution The Otago Times?:

Sweden’s former top virus expert says lockdowns are just a way of delaying the inevitable and warns that New Zealand could face years of quarantining foreigners entering the country, even after wiping out Covid-19.

Johan Giesecke has defended his country’s coronavirus strategy, saying lockdowns do not prevent surges in cases or deaths, but merely delay them.

Giesecke believes it is “futile” to attempt to stop the spread and says most countries will end up in a similar position, regardless of their strategy, until treatment can be found.

He believes Denmark, Norway and Finland, which are in full lockdown, will end up with the same number of cases as Sweden, which isn’t, as soon as their restrictions ease.

He also says New Zealand will begin importing cases from overseas, after successfully suppressing the virus during lockdown.

To avoid that, quarantine measures will have to stay in place until a vaccine is developed – something he says could take a decade, or longer.

Come on people, you were wrong.  By the way, “Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States hit an all-time high of 61,964 on Tuesday,” and deaths running about 1,300 a day.  Not a nothingburger.  p.s. One in five survivors end up diagnosed with a mental illness.

The first global election?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the closing bit:

What kind of bargain is it for the country for the U.S. election to be the object of such global interest? We Americans may be flattered by the attention, but it is not clear that it is such a good thing. For one thing, it gives foreigners a greater incentive to try to manipulate U.S. elections.

Another possible problem is that political coalitions will, over time, be defined globally rather than nationally and locally. Is your presidential candidate attracting support from the wrong factions in France, Germany or South Sudan? On one hand that could be useful information, but it could also prove misleading. Foreigners support U.S. presidential candidates for their own reasons, and it could be distorting to have so many outside parties involved. That’s what happened in the Brexit debates, in which a pro-Brexit position was (and remains) all too quickly identified with populism, anti-globalization and support for Trump. The Brexit debate might have been more sane if it had been more local.

What if, come the next U.S. presidential election, most of the social media debate is among non-Americans? What if much of the world ends up with a common, one-dimensional political spectrum, rather than each country having its own (mostly) independent politics? We may be about to find out.

I’ll say it again: American soft power is rising, not falling.

Where We Stand

There is good news and there is bad news.

Let’s start with the good news.The early results from the Pfizer vaccine are very good, 90% efficacy. That will probably fall a bit but it’s very good news not just for the Pfizer vaccine but for most of the vaccines in the pipeline which target the spike protein.

The Pfizer vaccine does require very cold storage which means it won’t work for large parts of the world. A distribution plan is in place for most of the United States and Pfizer already has 50 million doses, which can cover ~25 million people, in storage.

Many thousands of people are dying every week so Pfizer should apply for and the FDA should issue a EUA without further delay.

One issue is, given limited supply, how to distribute the vaccine. I have suggested we randomize distribution across hospitals, police and fire stations, and nursing homes (see also my piece in Bloomberg with Scott Kominers, The Case for a COVID Vaccine Lottery.) A vaccine lottery is fair, it will make distribution easier by limiting the number of vaccination locations and it will in essence create a very large clinical trial. With millions of participants we will be better able to make fine distinctions between the vaccine’s safety and efficacy in different populations and the results will come in quickly. Thus, if we randomize and collect data, limited capacity has a silver lining.

Second issue. Manufacturing capacity. Pfizer will have enough capacity to produce 1.3 billion doses in 2021 which sounds like a lot but it’s a two dose vaccine and there will be losses in distribution so maybe 500 million people vaccinated. We need to vaccinate billions.

The cost to the world economy of COVID is in the trillions so we want to vaccine a lot faster. Faster than private markets are willing to go. There are other vaccines in the pipeline but we still need to ramp up capacity. Increasing capacity is something that Michael Kremer, Susan Athey, myself and others at Accelerating Health Technologies have been working on since the beginning of the crisis. It’s not too late to do more.

Third issue is testing. Trump got it into his head that more tests means more cases when in fact a lot more tests means fewer cases. There is a Laffer curve for testing. Our failure to get ahead of the virus with tests has meant hundreds of thousands of excess deaths. We are still failing this test. Winter is coming. Infections and deaths are both rising.

Biden won’t be president until late January but there are things he can do now. In particular, Congress already allocated $25 billion to testing in April—that was far too little. We spent trillions on relief and comparatively little fighting the virus. But here is the real shocker, most of the $25 billion allocated in April hasn’t been spent. Let me say that again, most of the money allocated for testing in April has not been spent. Biden can signal today that that money and more will be spent. He can also signal, as in fact he has, that he wants rapid antigen tests approved.

Rapid antigen tests are cheap, paper strip tests that can check for infectiousness and are ideal to getting things like the schools running again.

Even if we start vaccinating this year, we won’t vaccinate a majority of the US population until well into 2021. That’s true but what’s underappreciated is that testing, masks, social distancing and vaccines are complementary. The more people are vaccinated, for example, the greater our testing capacity rises relative to the population at risk.

The pandemic is getting worse not better but we did flatten the curve, albeit imperfectly, and now if we can summon the will, we have the tools including rapid antigen tests, vaccines and monoclonal antibodies to really crush the virus.

School choice in Los Angeles

By Christopher Campos and Caitlin Kearns have some very positive results on school vouchers:

This paper evaluates the Zones of Choice (ZOC) program in Los Angeles, a school choice initiative that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left traditional attendance zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. We leverage the design of the program to study the impact of neighborhood school choice on student achievement, college enrollment, and other outcomes using a matched difference-in-differences de-sign. Our findings reveal that the ZOC program boosted test scores and college enrollment markedly, closing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. These gains are explained by general improvements in school effectiveness rather than changes in student match quality, and school-specific gains are concentrated among the lowest-performing schools. We interpret these findings through the lens of a model of school demand in which schools exert costly effort to improve quality.The model allows us to measure the increase in competition facing each ZOC school based on household preferences and the spatial distribution of schools. We demonstrate that the effects of ZOC were larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel driving the impacts of ZOC. In addition, demand estimates suggest families place a larger weight on school quality compared to peer quality, providing schools the right competitive incentives. An analysis using randomized admission lotteries shows that the treatment effects of admission to preferred schools declined after the introduction of ZOC, a pattern that is explained by the relative improvements of less-preferred schools. Our findings demonstrate the potential for public school choice to improve student outcomes while also underscoring the importance of studying market-level impacts when evaluating school choice programs.

Here is a link to the paper, note that Christopher is on the job market this year from UC Berkeley.

Monday assorted links

1. A new argument against prison abolition (or is it new?).  Or try this joyous hymn to Engels.

2. The evidence for the male breadwinner norm maybe isn’t that strong.

3. Magnus is now doing “ultrabullet.” Watch some here.  That is fifteen seconds per game.  No increment.  The games are really quite remarkable to “watch.”

4. Alfred Russel Wallace, “How to Civilize Savages” (1865).

5. How do mRNA vaccines work?  And an eight-minute video.

The very good vaccine news

Very good news from Pfizer on the vaccine front.  And Zoom shares have been crashing.  Disney is soaring.  Book that wedding venue now!

Here is the woman who led the effortAnd:

If you want to tell positive stories about immigration, look no further than the BioNTech vaccine: company co-founders Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci are both children of Turkish Gastarbeiter who came to Germany in the late 1960s.

This also means a lot of the other vaccine candidates are quite likely to work.  Finally, please do note this:

In seriousness, the expected value of delaying getting sick just went way, way, way up.

Bravo to all those involved.  And from one reader:

What do you think of proposing a new holiday to your readers?

Most of them are going to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving with their families during the peak of the pandemic, when immunity is available just around the corner. Perhaps “Vaccinalia” a two day celebration two weeks after your entire family is vaccinated, with presents AND turkey…

What I’ve been reading

1. Gregory M. Collins, Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke’s Political Economy.  Burke is underrated as an economist, and also more generally.  This very thorough and thoughtful book goes a long way toward setting the record straight.  In the meantime, it is not sufficiently well known just how much Keynes was influenced by Burke.

2. Terryl Givens, Mormonism: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Perhaps if one needs to read this book, one is also under-qualified to comment on it.  Still it seemed very good to me and providing one of the better introductions.  I hadn’t know for instance that Abraham and even Adam to some extent were “in on” the covenant all along.

3. R.F. Foster, On Seamus Heaney.  A very good “short book essay” on one of my favorite poets.  That is a UK link, here is what you get when you search U.S. Amazon.  How can that be?  These days you can search Amazon better using Google than using Amazon itself.

4. Charles Camic, Veblen: The Making of an Economist Who Unmade Economics.  It makes sense that a biography of Veblen should be…somewhat verbose.  Nonetheless this is a valuable contribution for anyone interested in the topic.  To me the main question is why the libertarian right takes Veblen more seriously these days than does the Left, perhaps it is because they read Veblen and immediately think of Wokeism?

5. Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology.  From the 1830s, this remains one of the great scientific classics.  I had never known how well-reasoned or beautifully written it was, a big positive surprise for me.  Not just a bunch of crusty old rocks, though it is also about…a bunch of crusty old rocks.

There is Judith Flanders, A Place for Everything: The Curious History of Alphabetical Order.

John Fabian Witt, American Contagions: Epidemics and the Law from Smallpox to Covid-19 is a short but useful treatment of what its title promises.  I had not known that both Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X were opposed to compulsory vaccination.