New fluvoxamine results from McMaster University (and Fast Grants)

From Kelsey Piper at Vox:

In a large, randomized clinical trial conducted with thousands of patients over the past six months, researchers at McMaster University tested eight different Covid-19 treatments against a control group to figure out what works.

One drug stood out: fluvoxamine, an antidepressant that the Food and Drug Administration has already found to be safe and that’s cheap to produce as a generic drug.

…This study, called the TOGETHER study, is a lot bigger — more than 3,000 patients across the whole study, with 800 in the fluvoxamine group — and supports the promising results from those previous studies. The authors released it this week as a preprint, meaning that it is still under peer review.

Patients given fluvoxamine within a few days after testing positive for Covid-19 were 31 percent less likely to end up hospitalized and similarly less likely to end up on a ventilator. (Death from Covid-19 is rare enough that the study has wide error bars when it comes to how much fluvoxamine reduces death, meaning it’s much harder to draw conclusions.) It’s a much larger effect than any that has been found for an outpatient Covid-19 treatment so far.

The role of Fast Grants is discussed toward the end, note that for us this was a major investment and done on very short notice, as befits the name Fast Grants.

Does the expectation of technological progress worsen the experience of the present?

Various domains of life are improving over time, meaning the future is filled with exciting advances that people can now look forward to (e.g., in technology). Three preregistered experiments (N = 1,602) suggest that mere awareness of better futures can risk spoiling otherwise enjoyable presents. Across experiments, participants interacted with novel technologies—but, via random assignment, some participants were informed beforehand that even better versions were in the works. Mere awareness of future improvement led participants to experience present versions as less enjoyable—despite being new to them, and despite being identical across conditions. They even bid more money to be able to end their participation early. Why? Such knowledge led these participants to perceive more flaws in present versions than they would have perceived without such knowledge—as if prompted to infer that there must have been something to improve upon (or else, why was a better one needed in the first place?)—thus creating a less enjoyable experience. Accordingly, these spoiling effects were specific to flaw-relevant stimuli and were attenuated by reminders of past progress already achieved. All told, the current research highlights important implications for how today’s ever better offerings may be undermining net happiness (despite marking absolute progress). As people continually await exciting things still to come, they may be continually dissatisfied by exciting things already here.

That is a newly published paper by Ed O’Brien, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

My emails to Arnold Kling about the correct inflation model

After I cited low ten-year securities yields, Arnold asked for my basic model of inflation, here was my first email:

  • Price level dynamics and money supply processes are murky, at least in recent times
  • The median voter hates inflation
  • The Fed won’t let inflation happen

…is my model.

I would add a dose of “inflationary pressures really do seem to be distributed pretty unevenly.”

End of email!  Here was my second email to Arnold:

I think the Fed knows the true model in gross terms.
I also think there is a good chance the Fed will create a recession in limiting inflation.

But look at Japan. The EU. Even Italy. It’s not just the US.

Temporary inflation pressures all over the place, due to Covid and post-Covid adjustments. No fiscal financial crises. No long-term inflationary expectations of much note. Not in the developed nations.

The stock of saved wealth is now quite high relative to debt and deficits, especially if you count human capital.

So both the basic model and the markets predict no catastrophe, and also no run-away inflation. And central banks know how to boost the demand for money when needed.

Seigniorage returns from inflation are especially low in the contemporary environment, checking another motive for inflation. No “Assignats” revenue is in the works here.

I just don’t see what we’ve got “in the toolbox” to override all of that.

End of email!  I should note that I agree with Summers that inflation is higher than it needs to be, that is bad, and it is because we overshot on our combined monetary/fiscal response.

I’ll also repeat my standard challenge: are you short the long bond?  Are you buying those puts?  I’m not so convinced if all you’ve got is “I’m not buying so many equities any more!”

Thursday assorted links

1. Vaccination rates and air travel are not correlated as they should be.

2. If I understand this correctly, UT Austin professors are now free to pay students to wear masks in their classes.  Many are outraged.

3. South Australia Trials App To Monitor Quarantine Compliance Through Facial Recognition and Geolocation.  And New South Wales update.

4. Truly amazing that Australia is just sitting on six million doses of AstraZeneca [Covishield] — it might be the most effective vaccine right now!

5. The rhetoric here is not entirely safe for work, but the piece is about the behavioral economics of the cam sector.  Startlingly good.  And Alex’s earlier post.

6. Will rural America see a lot of rapid change soon?

7. Corporate America’s $50 billion vow — surprisingly good feature story, requires only a modicum of Straussian reading.

8. Why the press is (sort of) hawkish on Afghanistan (Bloomberg).

*Smashing the Liquor Machine*

The subtitle is A Global History of Prohibition, and the author is Mark Lawrence Schrad.  I blurbed the book with this:

The best book on Prohibition, period. It is a revelation on the causes and nature of the Prohibition movement, and takes a properly international perspective, considering colonies and indigenous peoples as well. You will never look at Prohibition the same way again.

Highly recommended, you can buy it here.

Labor supply is behaving strangely

In an unusual job posting on Facebook, a pizzeria in Alabama has offered to “literally hire anyone,” a sign of how restaurants are still struggling to attract workers.

“We will literally hire anyone,” Dave’s Pizza, in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, said in a Facebook post Wednesday. “If you’re on unemployment and can’t find a job, call us; we’ll hire you.”

What if they gave a job and nobody came?  Here is the story, via the excellent Samir Varma.  And elsewhere, via Heather Long:

Face masks are required again in major US auto factories and, according to Ford CEO Jim Farley, that has some workers deciding not to show up for work. In some factories, absentee rates can exceed 20%, he said in an interview with CNN Business.

“When a fifth of your workforce isn’t coming in, in a manufacturing operation where everyone has their job and you don’t know who’s going to be missing every day, man, it’s really challenging,” Farley said.

Labor supply is…behaving strangely. And here is a very good Scott Sumner post on unemployment insurance.  Might one of the simpler lessons here be that when job circumstances and working conditions remain uncertain, it is much harder for markets to make good job matches?

My Conversation with Zeynep Tufekci

Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is part of the summary:

Zeynep joined Tyler to discuss problems with the media and the scientific establishment, what made the lab-leak hypothesis unacceptable to talk about, how her background in sociology was key to getting so many things right about the pandemic, the pitfalls of academic contrarianism, what Max Weber understood about public health crises, the underrated aspects of Kemel Mustapha’s regime, how Game of Thrones interested her as a sociologist (until the final season), what Americans get wrong about Turkey, why internet-fueled movements like the Gezi protests fizzle out, whether Islamic fundamentalism is on the rise in Turkey, how she’d try to persuade a COVID-19 vaccine skeptic, whether public health authorities should ever lie for the greater good, why she thinks America is actually less racist than Europe, how her background as a programmer affects her work as a sociologist, the subject of her next book, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Max Weber — overrated or underrated as a sociologist?

TUFEKCI: Underrated.


TUFEKCI: Part of the reason he’s underrated is because he writes in that very hard-to-read early 19th-century writing, but if you read Max Weber, 90 percent of what you want to understand about the current public health crisis is there in his sociology. Not just him, but sociology organizations and how that works. He’s good at that. I would say underrated, partly because it’s very hard to read. It’s like Shakespeare. You need the modern English version, conceptually, for more people to read it.

I would say almost all of sociology is underrated in how dramatically useful it is. Just ask me any time. Early on, I knew we were going to have a pandemic, completely based on sociology of the moment in early January, before I knew anything about the virus because they weren’t telling us, but you could just use sociological concepts to put things together. Max Weber is great at most of them and underrated.

COWEN: Kemal Mustafa — overrated or underrated?

TUFEKCI: Underrated.


TUFEKCI: Why? My grandmother — she was 12 or 13 when she was in the Mediterranean region — Central Asia, but Mediterranean region, very close to the Mediterranean. She was born the year the Turkish Republic had been founded, 1923, and she was 13 or so. She was just about to be married off, but the republic was a little over a decade — same age as her. They created a national exam to pick talented girls like her. The ones that won the exam got taken to Istanbul to this elite, one of the very few boarding high schools for girls.

The underrated part isn’t just that such a mechanism existed. The underrated part is that the country changed so much in 13 years that her teacher was able to prevail upon the family to let her go. To have a 13-year-old be sent off to Istanbul, completely opposite side of the country, to a boarding school for education — that kind of flourishing of liberation.

I’m not going to deny it was an authoritarian period, and minorities, like Kurds, during that period were brutally suppressed. I can’t make it sound like there was nothing else going on, but in terms of creating a republic out of the ashes of a crumbling empire — I think it’s one of the very striking stories of national transformation, globally, within one generation, so underrated.

There are numerous interesting segments, on varied topics, to be found throughout the dialog.

Wednesday assorted links

1. The cotton tote crisis (NYT).

2. Autistics are less subject to sunk cost fallacy.

3. A growing heap of evidence that natural infection is more protective (not recommending it, to be clear!).

4. David Trotter on Elizabeth Bowen.

5. “Tetlock and the Taliban,” on the nature of expertise, excellent Richard Hanania piece.

6. The new NIMBY: Judge freezes Berkeley’s enrollment growth until further study is done.

7. Nirvana is being sued by that baby in the pool.  (OH: “So the baby chasing a dollar was literal!”)

8. Delta (the airline!) will charge unvaccinated employees higher premia.

Why Doesn’t the United States Have Test Abundance?!

We have vaccine abundance in the United States but not test abundance. Germany has test abundance. Tests are easily available at the supermarket or the corner store and they are cheap, five tests for 3.75 euro or less than a dollar each. Billiger! In Great Britain you can get a 14 pack for free. The Canadians are also distributing packs of tests to small businesses for free to test their employees.

In the United States, the FDA has approved less than a handful of true at-home tests and, partially as a result, they are expensive at $10 to $20 per test, i.e. more than ten times as expensive as in Germany. Germany has approved over 50 of these tests including tests from American firms not approved in the United States. The rapid tests are excellent for identifying infectiousness and they are an important weapon, alongside vaccines, for controlling viral spread and making gatherings safe but you can’t expect people to use them more than a handful of times at $10 per use.

We ought to have testing abundance in the US and not lag behind Germany, the UK and Canada. As usual, I say if it’s good enough for the Germans it’s good enough for me.

Addendum: The excellent Michael Mina continues to bang the drum.


Is the scolding equilibrium shifting, and if so why?

As the pandemic evolves, so is the tendency of people to take moral positions they would not normally endorse. Most notably, many left-wing commentators are becoming moral scolds, stressing ideals of individual responsibility.

Consider these words:

“So it’s time to stop being diffident and call out destructive behavior for what it is. Doing so may make some people feel that they’re being looked down on. But you know what? Your feelings don’t give you the right to ruin other people’s lives.”

If I had read that paragraph two years ago, I might have thought it was a conservative columnist lamenting inner-city crime, or perhaps complaining about the behavior of homeless people in San Francisco. But no: It is Paul Krugman discussing those who will not get vaccinated or wear masks. He calls it “the rage of the responsible,” and it is emblematic of a broader set of current left-wing attitudes, most of all toward the red state responses to the pandemic.

To be clear, I agree with Krugman’s point, and I frequently express similar sentiments. All the same, I wonder about the rules here. When exactly are “the responsible” allowed to express their quiet rage, on which issues and on which terms?

The alternative to this rage is the language of victimhood. For example, many on the left tend to portray the homeless as hostages to circumstances largely beyond their control: the high cost of housing, unjust eviction policies, a tattered social welfare state, perhaps mental illness or drug addiction.

There is some truth in all those hypotheses. Still, when it comes to the homeless, am I also allowed to express the quiet rage of the responsible? Or is only the rhetoric of victimhood allowed?

There is no doubt that homeless people suffer very real injustices. But it could be argued that allowing oneself to become homeless is a greater abdication of responsibility than refusing to be vaccinated. It is also worse for your health and bad for the community, as anyone from San Francisco can tell you.

One rejoinder might be that a pandemic is different. Maybe so, but if this were the 1980s, during the peak of the HIV-AIDS epidemic, one could imagine a Moral Majority advocate expressing sentiments similar to Krugman’s about gay men who engage in unsafe sex. Today such a view would be considered uncouth, at least in the mainstream media, and that’s not only because there are now effective treatments against HIV-AIDS. This kind of scolding has mostly gone out of fashion, especially when the recipients have been victims of prior or current social discrimination.

Or consider the question of suicide. There was a time in America when it was common to view suicide as a violation of Christian doctrine. Now there is largely sympathy for those who have killed themselves. Is this change for the better? Maybe, but it’s not clear that this issue has been given serious evidence-based consideration. Scolding sometimes helps to limit the number of wrong deeds, and everyone does it to some degree, even when it is sometimes not appropriate.

Then there are alcohol and drug abuse, which have some features of epidemics in that they exhibit social contagion. Your drunkenness, for example, on average encourages some of your friends to experiment with the same. But scolding alcoholics also is out of fashion, even though the social costs of alcohol abuse are extremely high, especially when considered cumulatively. As a teetotaler, I sometimes express my own quiet rage of the responsible, and my reaction is mostly considered a strange curiosity.

It is not only left-wing thinkers who have ended up in strange ideological positions. Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, a conservative Republican and one of America’s leading right-wing politicians, has essentially expanded public health-care coverage in his state by setting up mobile units to administer monoclonal antibodies to Covid-19 sufferers. I’m all for that. At the same time, I notice he continues to oppose Medicaid expansion in Florida.

What explains the attitudinal shifts we are seeing? One possibility is that left-wing thinkers are getting more puritanical and are more comfortable in their new role as scolds, including with respect to sex and vaccination and mask-wearing. That would leave Trumpist Republicans as the defenders of medical choice and the sexual libertinism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Another possibility, not mutually exclusive, is that few of us are intellectually consistent, and so our scolding is increasingly shaped by affective political polarization. The left will scold the practices of Trump supporters, while the right will scold the woke, and views on any particular issue will be adjusted to fit into this broader pattern. If an issue is not very partisan, such as alcohol abuse or suicide, scolding simply will decline.

Here is an article on the movement to treat vaccinated patients first. Fine by me! But what exactly are the egalitarians supposed to say? Is meritocracy now allowed to rear its ugly head?  Or do no other social outcomes have anything to do with your merit? Only this one? Really?

Tuesday assorted links

1. Jason Crawford’s Roots of Progress is now a non-profit organization.

2. Fresh Vitalik: “Ergo, we should take the efficiency benefits of market and auction-based pricing, and the egalitarian benefits of proof of personhood mechanics, and combine them together.”

3. “Tyra, who is 37 and originally from rural Idaho, is clear with any potential dates that making babies is just a business transaction for her—albeit an all-encompassing one.”  Recommended.  And: “When Reeder’s not pregnant, she drives heavy machinery for a private logging company. She uses the money from her baby-making side hustle to travel to places like South East Asia and Zanzibar, where she has also donated her leftover breast milk to an orphanage.”

4. Freddie on education spending, also recommended.

5. How Nike ads have evolved the ongoing feminization of American society.  And yet another recommended, one of the best and most important essays of the year.

6. There is a “new” Vermeer, take a look.

7. What do we know about “nudgeability”?

8. I do indeed favor most mergers.

More on Australia, from an MR reader

“A random observation, in four sentences:

  1. I continue to see huge numbers of Australians (e.g. politicians like Dan Andrews, the Victorian Premier, and also huge numbers of random people on my facebook) say “if we don’t continue to lockdown, the health system will be overwhelmed; we have no choice”.
  2. Most of the at-risk population in Australia has already been vaccinated with at least one dose, which reduces hospitalisation/mortality risk by something like 70% (or perhaps even better in practice; the SMH today reports 94 people in ICU, 83 unvaccinated, 11 have one dose, and ~50% of adults have 1 dose and obviously are very negatively selected on age)
  3. The US never saw widespread overwhelming of the hospital system (lots of media reports of “hospitals in X about to hit capacity”, but it to date has always been one of those “just wait two weeks” things)
  4. People in Australia widely believe the quality of the US hospital/healthcare system is substantially inferior to the single payer hospital/healthcare system in Australia

It would seem extremely difficult for these four things to mutually coexist.”

TC again: Here is a short video from Australia, how about some AstraZeneca and a bit of testing regime instead?  GG is right that the video resembles a bad dystopian science fiction movie from past decades.  You will note that some segments of the American intelligentsia are so invested in criticizing the U.S. “red state” approach, and so warm toward collectivist mandates, that they won’t raise a peep about what is going on here.

Thailand and The WHO on Fractional Dosing

Thailand will study fractional dosing:

Thailand is studying the possibility of injecting coronavirus vaccines under the skin to try to stretch its limited supply, a health official said on Thursday, as the country races to inoculate the public faster amid a worsening epidemic.

“Our previous experience shows that intradermal injections uses 25% of a muscular injection, but triggers the same level of immunity,” head of the medical science department, Supakit Sirilak told reporters.

I am also pleased that the WHO’s SAGE has issued an interim statement on fractional doses:

WHO, with support of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization and its COVID-19 Vaccines Working Group, is reviewing the role of fractionating doses as a dose-sparing strategy in light of global vaccine supply constraints. SAGE is continuously reviewing the literature and has reached out to vaccine manufacturers and the research community for available information.

….While SAGE acknowledges the potential public health benefits of dose-sparing strategies to increase vaccine supply and accelerate population-level vaccination coverage, and possibly also a reduction in reactogenicity, SAGE considers there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend the use of fractional doses. Any use of a fractional dose at this point in time constitutes an off-label use of the vaccine. SAGE encourages research in the area, with a particular emphasis on research into using fractionated doses as potential boosters and fractional doses in children and adolescents.  Programmatic and operational considerations should be considered from the start.

The statement is reasonable but could have used some cost-benefit analysis. Given shortages, I’d push for a challenge trial or some field trials. I agree that if we are to have boosters and to vaccinate young children we should be looking very hard at fractional doses as they are likely to be sufficient for purpose and to preserve as much supply as possible for the rest of the world.

By the way, I think you can also see some status quo bias in the WHOs position on boosters: they are not (yet) enthusiastic about increasing supply with fractional doses but they are very negative about reducing supply with boosters. What a miracle that the status quo is just right!

In the context of ongoing global vaccine supply constraints, administration of booster doses will exacerbate inequities by driving up demand and consuming scarce supply while priority populations in some countries, or subnational settings, have not yet received a primary vaccination series.

The WHO also doesn’t note that if developed countries go for boosters then the case for fractional doses elsewhere to make use of the even more limited supply is likely even stronger.

Here’s my paper with co-authors on fractional doses.

Hat tip: Witold.

How to tell when you are reading a truly great history book

When it treatment of secondary topics is better than what you can find anywhere else.  For instance I am reading Alexander Mikaberidze’s The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History.  Just in the span of a few pages, his treatment of Dessalines and his plan to rule Haiti is excellent.  Then his discussion of the French motivations for allowing the Louisiana Purchase is amazing. Yet a page later his take on the evolution of the Swiss confederation, while offered only in passing, is more instructive than I’ve found in books written solely on Switzerland.

This is in the very top tier of history books I ever have read.  Highly recommended.