Open Thread 151.25

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1,166 Responses to Open Thread 151.25

  1. Elena Yudovina says:

    There’s theories floating around about how maybe the pandemic is better in Japan and South Korea than in Italy because people in Japan and South Korea uniformly wear masks, and maybe this is really important. This makes intuitive sense — if masks are effective at stopping the wearer from infecting others, having everyone wear them in public should drive R0 way down. However, my intuition for mask-wearing was that it was uniformly high in East Asia, leaving me confused about “what’s the difference between China and Japan that meant that the Wuhan lockdown was necessary but the Tokyo lockdown isn’t”. A couple possibilities come to mind off-hand — maybe mask-wearing isn’t as prevalent in China (or in Wuhan specifically) as it is in Japan and South Korea; maybe mask-wearing only helps with coronavirus once *everyone* wears them, not just the visibly-sick people, so there had to be a change in the mask-wearing patterns even Japan; maybe mask-wearing is only effective if you start really early and also combine it with social distancing (at which point that’s enough and we don’t have to weld anyone shut in their apartment); maybe something else. Does someone know a good answer? If this has been asked and answered before, I’ll take a link to the previous thread.

    • Purplehermann says:

      1. Density, and lack of social distancing mean masks are less effective

      2. Maybe pollution makes it more deadly/ lowers people’s general health and makes the more susceptible?

    • EchoChaos says:

      Note as a counter-argument that Singapore has been doing quite well (although they are also tropical, which is a confounder) and they discouraged masks in public until this week, about the same time as the USA.

      • Matt M says:

        Note as a counter-argument that Singapore has been doing quite well (although they are also tropical, which is a confounder)

        If true, how do you account for New Orleans?

        • EchoChaos says:

          If true, how do you account for New Orleans?

          Mardi Gras is the polar opposite of social distancing, and despite that LA is nosing over already.

          If anything, it’s a bit of evidence for it, because despite having a massive cluster dropped in the middle of it, LA isn’t growing anywhere near as fast as the Northeast.

          Edit:

          Here is a chart. Notice that LA started doubling as fast as NY, then fell off less than a week later, way too early for social distancing to be the reason.

          https://twitter.com/AndyBiotech/status/1246970431355195392

        • matthewravery says:

          The National Academy of Sciences just put together a report on the question of how much/if warmer ambient temperatures will reduce the spread.

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t trust any of these large organizations. At all.

            The only thing that will settle this question is looking back after the smoke clears and seeing if there were significant differences in warm vs cold climates, controlled for population density, demographics, health care infrastructure, and government response.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think nearly all the people working in this area are doing their best. But we’re going to get a bunch of surprises, since this virus is new and the situation is pretty-much unprecedented. Expert consensus is probably the best available picture of reality, but:

            a. It’s less useful here than it is in fields where the experts have had a long time to converge on a consensus. (The best examples of expert consensus are places where we have a lot of practical experience–engineers really do have a pretty good idea how to build bridges.)

            b. It’s always less valuable when the outcome of the consensus has public policy or budgetary implications that the people involved care about.

            c. Often, there’s not a consensus. And large organizations will still make recommendations or issue protocols for how to deal with things anyway, because that’s their job. But I’ve seen genuine experts change disagree and/or change their minds on big issues over the last couple months w.r.t. COVID-19, and that will continue. That suggests little or no consensus on a lot of stuff.

        • bean says:

          The fact that, except for temperature, it appears to be the exact opposite of Singapore. Public health is a case where authoritarian, technocratic competence matters a lot, and nobody does that like Singapore does. Louisiana, on the other hand, is basically a byword for poor governance.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Singapore reimposed lockdowns this week.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Japan is a lot richer than China per capita, a lot of people forget that while China’s total GDP is among the top of the world’s its per capita is more middling.

    • Loriot says:

      Mask wearing probably slowed things down in Japan, but it’s too early to say they’ve beaten it. For a long time, they were covering things up in hopes of getting to host the olympics.

    • SolipsisticUtilitarian says:

      My recollection of China (mainly the bigger cities) is that on regular days, the vast majority of people will not be wearing masks. This probably changes once people realize that their is a deadly virus making the rounds, but it might have been too late for masks to really prevent the spread, so +1 for “start really early”. However, mask wearing is not the only factor, and we should not at all expect this one factor to dominate the other variables like household size, social distancing etc,not least because even in Japan people do not wear masks at home or at work.

    • Kaitian says:

      At the point when the Wuhan lockdown happened, we didn’t have as much data as we do now, and it was plausible that Covid would be just like SARS – very bad, but easy to contain with strong measures. Now we know that it’s different. It’s not as deadly, but spreads really easily. So:

      – We can’t lock up the whole world the way they locked up Wuhan. All other lockdowns aren’t as extreme.
      – It’s unavoidable that lots of people will get the virus, we just need to make sure they don’t all get it at once and kill our medical system. Social distancing can achieve that. Maybe masks contribute.
      – Everyone is aware of the threat now, and most people comply with social distancing and self isolation rules, especially in notoriously rule abiding nations like Japan and Singapore. In January, in Wuhan, the rules weren’t clear and most people weren’t aware of what was going on.

      So I think the masks aren’t at the heart of the difference. China was the first place where it spread, and Italy was the first major “first world” outbreak. So the consequences and measures were extreme. Other places can learn from their examples, and with better planning, preparation and cooperation, receive better results with less extreme measures.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Everyone is aware of the threat now, and most people comply with social distancing and self isolation rules, especially in notoriously rule abiding nations like Japan

        Unless you have some info about mass transit in Tokyo that I don’t, I do not believe social distancing compliance can be the answer in Japan. (They hadn’t instituted lockdowns).

  2. Brassfjord says:

    Estrogen has been suggested as a reason why men are three times as likely to die from Covid-19 compared to women. Would it be wise to test giving sick men estrogen as treatment, despite the side effects?

    • DinoNerd says:

      How about first checking the obvious – whether post-menopausal women have the same Covid-19 risks as men, and whether post-menopausal women receiving estrogen therapy do better than other post-menopausal women?

      I haven’t seen anyone making estrogen-related suggestions also pointing to research of this kind, making me think that this isn’t something that even appears plausible to medical researchers.

      But if the data is available (even age+gender would do for an initial sanity test, if we ignore women 40-55 or so), checking for correlations of this kind is a much safer first step.

    • rahien.din says:

      Estrogen is prothrombotic, and COVID-19 seems to cause hypercoaguability. So not unless you want to risk a bunch of (potentially lethal) blood clots.

    • Kaitian says:

      The same study that found that estrogen inhibits flu virus in female cells also found that it does not have that effect in male cells (in vitro):

      https://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2016/estrogen-protective-against-flu-virus-in-women-but-not-men-study-suggests.html

      So regardless of side effects, it would not be worth giving it to men. In women, it might be relevant to give them estrogen, or at least continue any existing estrogen treatment, when they have covid.

  3. Egregious Philbin says:

    Hey all,

    While home I’m looking to learn bits of music theory, audio engineering, and how to play guitar. What are some great beginner resources and exercises? (For example, I’ve picked out classic Beatles songs to fumble thru.)

    thanks much in advance.

    • dodrian says:

      I like the YouTube channel 8-bit Music Theory which showcases the music theory behind famous video game music.

      It’s not a great resource for learning the theory, but it’s a very accessible overview about how it’s applied in practice (I can understand and appreciate a lot of the channel despite no formal music theory training).

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      teoria.com has a ton of great “absolute music” learning exercises. Very classical musicianship focused but probably useful for folks with other tastes as well.

    • Eugleo says:

      When it comes to learning to play the guitar, I can vouch for this one: Justin guitar. I got up to intermediate some time ago, and it was a great resource (with exercises, songs to play and whatnot). And free!

  4. johan_larson says:

    So, the deal is they get to chop off one of your little fingers with an axe, and you get a million US dollars.

    Anyone taking this deal?

    • Statismagician says:

      Yeah, sure. I wasn’t really doing anything with the left one in the first place.

      • Brassfjord says:

        My father cut the tendon on his left pinkie finger and after it healed, he couldn’t bend the last joint of it. Before the accident, he could always hold a pig by the tail in his left hand and club it with his right hand, no matter the size of the pig. But afterwards he couldn’t always do that. So it’s not totally useless.

        • Statismagician says:

          Note that I said I wasn’t doing anything with it, not that it’s totally useless.

    • Randy M says:

      Yeah, seems a low impact trade-off. I’d check with my wife first, in case she has any weird hang-ups or whatever.
      I would want to see a demonstration of their axe swinging skills first. It’s not worth a hand.

    • DinoNerd says:

      The price isn’t high enough.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      If they’re doing it with an axe I’d be really worried about accuracy.

      • noyann says:

        Separate axe and yourself with a steel plate, with a hole for the finger.

        Everybody: You WILL REMEMBER THIS the next time when you are in front of a glory hole! 🙂

    • Jake R says:

      I’d want to look into potential long-term consequences like infection or phantom pain, but on the face of it yeah seems like a pretty good deal. My guess is learning to type differently would be the biggest impact.

    • MilesM says:

      I was going to say I’d seriously consider it – if it were carried out in close proximity of an ER under relatively aseptic conditions, and safety precautions (physically protecting my arm, hand and other fingers from being struck accidentally) were taken.

      …then I became very aware of what my left pinky finger was doing while I was typing, tried to imagine gaming using WASD with it missing, remembered claims I read that losing a pinky has a surprisingly big impact on grip strength and grip stability, and decided $1 million is probably not enough.

      Edit: And now I’m trying to imagine doing sterile tissue culture work with a finger missing. Decades of muscle memory out the window, possibly. It’d have to be “fuck you money”, not one million.

      • Kindly says:

        Is it weird that I don’t use my pinky finger at all for WASD? I’ve got my ring finger on A, my middle finger on W, my index finger on D, and my thumb on S.

        • mendax says:

          What if you need to crouch?

          • FLWAB says:

            Or sprint?

            I use the same WASD setup as Kindly, but you really do need that pinkly for running and crouching. Though you could probably keybind it to something your thumb could reach fairly easily.

        • Statismagician says:

          I’m mostly like this, but my thumb goes on the spacebar and I hit both W and S with my middle finger.

        • MilesM says:

          I use ring for A, middle for W and S and index for D – I was thinking of being able to hit Tab, Shift and Ctrl with the pinky.

          Guess I could hook up a controller, but I hate using those for anything requiring precision aim… Can’t line up headshots with one to save my life.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I have a Razer Naga mouse with 12 extra buttons on the side. Map any functions you can no longer hit with your pinky to your mouse.

            Or just lose the right pinky. My left pinky is too valuable because I play banjo.

    • Bobobob says:

      Would I become an honorary member of the Yakuza?

    • Statismagician says:

      It occurs to me that the deal doesn’t say I can’t have some gauze and a bucket of ice in my other hand, and head straight to the nearest ER to have the finger re-attached.

      • Anteros says:

        Splendid thinking. I was going to say yes to the deal anyway, but now I’m fighting to get to the front of the queue.

        And of course, I’ve just insured the digit for another million.

        • Statismagician says:

          I wonder, can you actually do that? I know weirdly specific insurance policies used to be a thing, but I don’t know if they still are or who’d offer them.

          • Randy M says:

            Maybe you can, but surely this is fraud.

            Like in that episode of Arrested Development, where they make the joke of “You mailed the insurance check, right?” after burning down their own property. (It would have been in character for any character except Michael, of course.)

          • Statismagician says:

            Is there a rigorous definition of what constitutes insurance fraud? I thought it was one of those ‘it’s a crime if the prosecutor can convince a jury it is’ types of thing.

          • Anteros says:

            Yes, I’m sure it would be fraudulent, and as soon as the finger was sown back on again, I’m fairly certain that the claim would be responded to with a ‘You’re ‘avin’ a laugh, mate..’

          • Randy M says:

            To be clear, I don’t think it would be legally fraud or morally wrong because you get it resolved afterwards–and paying for such procedures is surely part of what the insurance is for, like insuring your car for repairs.

            It’s because insurance is given on the (explicit? I haven’t read all the fine print, but surely…) assumption that you are trying to prevent the activity in question. This is why you get better rates for auto insurance if you keep your car maintained, have a good record, etc. All signs that indicate you are less likely to get into an accident. Planning to crash your car to collect insurance is basically theft, as is burning down your own house to collect the insurance or taking your own life so your spouse can get out of debt etc. That’s what insurance investigators are for (assuming they are a real thing and not just a Hollywood thing).

          • Anteros says:

            I think you’re right. The problem would arise when it became known that you’d received a million dollars for having your finger cut off. And the fraud would occur at the moment you take out the insurance, if at that point you’ve already made the ‘finger axed-off for a million dollars’ deal.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            @Statismagician

            While I wouldn’t claim to have a rigorous definition, I’d say that doing something intentionally to collect the payout would be fraud by any reasonable definition. Insurance is supposed to be for things that might or might not happen.

            Beyond that, I’d think it’s probably just down to how fraud is defined in the particular contract.

      • johan_larson says:

        I was going to call foul on this, but sigh I see I didn’t explicitly state the other party would be keeping the finger…

        I really hope the wound gets infected, your hospital bills the maximum, and your insurance company refuses to pay. You monsters.

        • Statismagician says:

          So what I’m hearing is, take the money, have the finger re-attached, use my cash as seed capital for a crazy giant-spaceship alien experiment consulting firm to keep this from happening to them again?

      • Evan Þ says:

        Last December, I might’ve taken that deal.

        But these days aren’t the best time to be heading to the ER.

        • JayT says:

          From what I’ve heard, unless you are in New York City, now is exactly the time to go to the ER. A friend of mine went the other day and he saw a doctor within minutes of showing up, because there was no one there.

          Which makes me wonder how the general health of people without CV will compare to this time last year, and if there isn’t a huge difference, does that mean most ER visits are unneeded?

          • KieferO says:

            I think that people are doing a lot fewer of the activities that cause ER visits like driving and getting into bar fights.

          • Statismagician says:

            You’d want to look at wound complications as the key indicator, I think – my sense is that many ER visits are obviously unnecessary, and many are obviously necessary, with the dividing line being for stuff like serious cuts where you could handle it with a good home medicine cabinet and some unnecessary pain, but the result will have worse scarring/reduced function in the future than you’d get if it had been treated in the hospital.

          • JayT says:

            That’s true. I was thinking about all the people that go to the ER because they have a mild fever, dizziness, or something like that.

          • Garrett says:

            > does that mean most ER visits are unneeded

            Yes! And the same with most 911 calls for an ambulance. All of us in emergency medicine are enjoying that we’re only dealing with actual emergencies now. And worrying that the system will collapse because the billing volume has dropped so significantly.

            > I think that people are doing a lot fewer of the activities that cause ER visits like driving and getting into bar fights.

            That also helps a lot. But that’s area-dependent. I’m used to dealing with a lot of vehicle crashes, but they are minor. Calling for an evaluation for your car hitting another car in a parking lot at 2 mph is annoying. Same with stop-and-go traffic collisions because you think it will improve your odds of striking it rich in a lawsuit. (It won’t). My EMS service areas don’t have major bars so I don’t have any references for fights.

      • FLWAB says:

        Interestingly enough, according to a random website doctors usually reccomend against re-attaching severed little fingers because “the goal of reattaching fingers is to restore hand function. A single finger that is cut off can often get in the way of grasping with the remaining digits. This is especially true if the one severed finger is the index or small finger.”

        Also interesting, apparrently about 70% of attempts to re-attach a finger are successful, though “most reattached fingers have only about 50 percent of normal motion, many have significant deficits of sensation, and many have difficulty with cold tolerance. Often that’s better than not having the finger, but not always.”

        Finally, you can’t reattach a finger if it has been crushed or mangled, so you’d probably want to check to see how sharp that axe is ahead of time.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Are these the aliens again?

      How far away are they when I’m swinging the axe? Can I ask them to stand real close to make sure I really do it? No, closer.

    • FLWAB says:

      Reminds me of a Roald Dahl short story, “Man from the South”.

      The moral of which is, of course, that if someone wants to cut off your finger you should probably think twice about whether they’ll actually pay up.

      • Anteros says:

        Does it work the other way round i.e. if someone says they’ll take a million dollars from you, should you think twice about whether they’ll let you cut their finger off?

        • Randy M says:

          Money is a very common and understandable desire. Finger chopping hints at some psychosis.

          • Statismagician says:

            What if the giant-spaceship aliens use fingers as currency, and the exchange rate just happens to be 1 finger:$1,000,000 USD?

          • Anteros says:

            @Randy M

            Ah, yes, silly me. Of course it does..

          • Jake R says:

            @Statismagician

            Well the obvious first question is: How fresh do the fingers have to be?

          • Randy M says:

            What if the giant-spaceship aliens use fingers as currency, and the exchange rate just happens to be 1 finger:$1,000,000 USD?

            Then I’m really confused about what all the catch-and-release anal probing was for.

          • albatross11 says:

            Randy:

            That was a *very* embarrasing translation error.

          • johan_larson says:

            What if the giant-spaceship aliens use fingers as currency, and the exchange rate just happens to be 1 finger:$1,000,000 USD?

            Then I’m really confused about what all the catch-and-release anal probing was for.

            Maybe their currency used to be analog, but they’re switching to digital.

          • Statismagician says:

            @johan_larson

            You win this thread.

    • yodelyak says:

      My pinkies are already very short, and almost useless for things like typing, where I heavily rely on my ring finger for many keys where standard training is to use the pinkie, e.g. the backspace,-, and =. Ditto for many chords I can play on the ukelele, and yes, where a fourth finger is essential, I’m usually unable to play that note at all. Plus it is the rotation of my wrist when using my pinkies to type (which otherwise are not nearly as strong as my other fingers, I guess?) that seems to build/exacerbate the extremely mild carpal tunnel I sometimes get, but which I’ve been warned usually goes from ‘extremely mild for years… suddenly debilitating’. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that carpal tunnel is rare in people without pinkies, although I’m not quite saying that as a prediction.

      Also I currently have to take work I don’t really believe is value-creating, which makes my life a joyless chore. (Unfortunately, I work in politics and the law, which is often a game of tricking other people into switching from positive-sum games where they keep much of the value the game creates, to negative-sum games where most people keep nothing.) If I weren’t in debt, I would likely switch professions immediately, but I can’t because debts… so yeah, pay me the balance of my current debt (~100k) plus $30k a year for five years to I can start one or even a second, if the first doesn’t work, careers, and yeah, sayonara pinky, it’s been great.

    • JayT says:

      I imagine I would probably do it. The question would be which pinky to do away with. I’m right handed, but I suspect I use my let pinky far more because of all the typing I do. I would have to completely retrain myself on that, which would be really annoying. However, if I lose the right one, I’d worry about my ability to grip things like a chef’s knife. I think I’d almost rather give up my left ring finger.

      Hmm…the more i think about this, the less certain I am that I’d go through with it. The down sides are pretty big. Could I give up a pinky toe for $500K instead?

    • Leafhopper says:

      Can I keep the finger? Do I get an ice bucket on standby?

      It’s possible I could reattach it. Even without that, though, cyborg tech advances. I’ll take the deal.

      • Lambert says:

        How much finger-sized laser does a cool million buy you?
        At least a few watts.

        • Leafhopper says:

          I was thinking of going more the Freddy Krueger route.

          …although for all I know he has a laser in the latest sequel/remake.

    • Three Year Lurker says:

      Is this part of some Saw style deal where you use your gigantic stockpile of money to find someone who can be bribed into gradually being chopped to pieces?

      The motivations of any entity offering a deal play a major role in the value of the deal.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      Hell no! My ability to engage in not one but two of the recreational activities I enjoy most–playing piano and playing computer games–would be greatly hampered, as well as my general typing ability–important for all the work I do on my laptop as well.

  5. meh says:

    The 2020 matchup seems to be set now. Many on the site have expressed very high confidence in what they think the outcome will be. How should you update if you turn out wrong?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I rescind all my predictions because of the coronavirus.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’ll make a small vague prediction.

        Who remains or becomes powerful is going to be very chaotic. I see people worrying about China becoming (more) dominant, and I just don’t know.

        My intuition, based on I don’t know what, is that small regions will become bigger players than anyone would have guessed.

        • BlazingGuy says:

          What do you mean by “small regions”?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I was imagining small countries that aren’t important these days. No real theory. Maybe some counties in less populated states.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think it’s quite possible that the handling of the COVID-19 epidemic will be a big PR boost for more China-like authoritarian governments rather than more US-like democratic governments.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Quite possible that it’s a boost for authoritarianism in general, but not China. Which are the most competent authoritarian societies?

    • EchoChaos says:

      Very high is too much. I think Trump will likely do very well against Biden given the states that matter, but this is now mostly the COVID election.

      How should you update if you turn out wrong?

      Depends on why I’m wrong and how Biden runs. If Biden runs to the left and wins, that will be a big surprise and would cause me to update how the Rust Belt feels in general.

      If Biden runs to the center and on competence and Trump’s COVID reaction gets worse, no updates necessary.

      • Matt M says:

        Earlier I made a very strong prediction that Biden would win easily. I still think that’s likely, less due to COVID, and more due to the economic devastation that I believe is sure to follow.

        However, I’m much less confident than I was back then, mainly due to Biden being a complete and total non-factor during all of this COVID stuff, and due to the election being largely knocked out of the news.

        • EchoChaos says:

          I still think that’s likely, less due to COVID, and more due to the economic devastation that I believe is sure to follow.

          The left is no longer able to pivot to “but the economic devastation”, because they have Biden supporting longer quarantines and Trump is trusted more on the economy.

          It’s possible that voters will punish him anyway, but this strikes me as a weaker line of attack for Biden.

          Additionally, historically Presidents in an externally caused event tend to get a “rally around the flag” effect. Americans are willing to sacrifice in order to fight something like this, and as long as Trump is able to keep relief flowing in order to keep folks’ heads above water, I do not see economics hurting him any more than it hurt FDR.

          • Matt M says:

            The left is no longer able to pivot to “but the economic devastation”, because they have Biden supporting longer quarantines and Trump is trusted more on the economy.

            I mean sure, that should matter, but I don’t think it will.

            The media narrative will be “A year ago, Trump was taking credit for the economy. Now, the economy is in shambles, because of Trump’s policies.” And to be clear, those statements will both be true.

            Fox News and other outlets will proceed to “Yeah but Biden wanted it even worse” but nobody mainstream will, and anyone who tries to bring that out will be dismissed as “whataboutism.”

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Matt M

            Oh, bonus reason this is harder for Biden. The American people have turned HARD anti-China.

            Harris poll today puts it at 67% of Americans wanting to fight China on trade.

            Biden is an old pro-China guy, which wasn’t a big deal in the free trade era but is a huge liability when even Democrats have turned that way.

          • Anteros says:

            @EchoChaos

            I’ve noticed that anti-China thing and put it down to me previously not picking up a feature of US discourse that had been there for a while.

            Trump could play on that big time – ‘Thank God I started a trade war with those virus people…’

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Anteros

            The hard right has been anti-China since Chiang lost the Civil War. There is a reason the preeminent right-wing society in the 50s was named after a Christian missionary in China (John Birch).

            Note that anti-China here means against the PRC, not racism. The hard right loves the Chinese for their sacrifices to help us in WWII and are the most ardent Taiwan supporters.

            The center-right moved to “trade with China will liberalize them” with Nixon, and the left has always been somewhat China-positive.

            But it’s never been anywhere close to these kind of numbers, and Biden’s combination of the Nixon message and other pro-China rhetoric won’t play well right now.

            Trump is no fool and he will absolutely run with this.

          • Anteros says:

            @EchoChaos

            Does that mean that the feelings behind McCarthyism were also directed at the PRC? I’d always assumed that although they were obviously ‘anti-communist’, they were quite specifically about Russia. I suppose at the time China was poor and not a military threat, but was it also subject to American feelings of antipathy?

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Anteros

            Does that mean that the feelings behind McCarthyism were also directed at the PRC?

            No, too early. Back then the USSR was the puppetmaster for all communist activity before the Sino-Soviet split.

            There is indeed plenty of “neo-McCarthyism” about Chinese spying these days. You can google for bunches of it, e.g. Dianne Feinstein being spied on, etc.

            I suppose at the time China was poor and not a military threat, but was it also subject to American feelings of antipathy?

            We had just engaged in a long and bloody war with China, so we definitely did not think they weren’t a threat, although we thought that before Korea, which is one of the reasons we were so caught by surprise by how well the Chinese performed.

            But unlike Russia, which had never been a US ally before communism (yes, I know they technically fought on our side in WWI, but that didn’t make an impression, they were out too soon), the Chinese had just fought valiantly beside us, many soldiers had even spent some time in China, and there was the narrative that they had been betrayed and left to the communists.

            So the anti-communist strain viewed China as a victim until much later, while it viewed Russia as the aggressor.

          • Anteros says:

            @EchoChaos

            Thanks

          • Ninety-Three says:

            @Matt M

            Fox News and other outlets will proceed to “Yeah but Biden wanted it even worse” but nobody mainstream will

            Have you looked at Fox’s viewer numbers any time in the last decade? By what possible definition are they not mainstream?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Republicans and Democrats were united in liking the Chinese people during WWII. You can find war propaganda made to educate GIs who were to serve in the Pacific on how to distinguish the subhuman Japanese from the good Chinese.[1]
            The Right liked China extra because Chiang Kai-Shek was a Christian. When the Communists won the Civil War four years after WWII ended, the Right was devastated and asked “Who lost China?”, a phrasing that sounds paternalistic, but Cold Warriors kind of had that attitude to all victims of Stalinism regardless of race (“I still curse Yalta!”).
            There was this dream that the Chinese people were impoverished and needed protection to realize their potential as a superpower of a billion Christians engaging in free market activity, which is precisely why a far-Right Cold War org was named after a Baptist missionary.

            [1]This racist propaganda comic was commissioned from Milton Caniff, who was a prestigious comic strip creator back then, when newspaper comics were more of a thing.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Excellent summary. Totally agreed, with the emphasis that for Right-wing cold warriors betraying Chiang and China was far worse than e.g. the Vietnamese because the Chinese were so staunchly our allies.

            As an example, when Donald Trump was elected, he spoke with President Tsai immediately afterward. This was mostly orchestrated by Cold Warrior and WWII vet Bob Dole: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/us/politics/bob-dole-taiwan-lobby-trump.html

          • Matt M says:

            From what I recall of the books I’ve read on communist infiltrators in the US government (mostly the state department), there was a much bigger problem in the China sphere than with the Soviet Union.

          • J Mann says:

            The left’s pitch is going to be “if Trump had gotten testing going sooner and/or used his bully pulpit to advocate distancing sooner and more aggressively, the damage would have been less.” (Basically, Obama’s pitch on the economy and the Middle East – Republicans mucked it up, now you need someone competent to fix it.)

            Not sure how it will sell. Our whole system was never designed to do what the South Asian relative successes did, but it’s not even apparent now that Trump recognizes the problem or plans to fix it.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        Depending on what you mean by “runs to the left,” I may or may not agree. My sense — which could be totally off — is that the Rust Belt still has a lot of “old left” sympathies with the main exception being that they’ve gotten wary of regulations. On the other hand, progressive social values tend to have a lot less currency outside of large urban centers, to put it mildly.

        If Biden for some reason pivoted to the left economically, he might well win. On the other hand, the more goes left on social issues, the worse his chances.

        I’m not predicting he’ll lose in the second case, so either way wouldn’t change my mind much, but I would change my views about the Rust Belt’s political sympathies if he proposed more jobs programs, wage subsidies, and other pro-working-class legislation and still lost.

        On COVID, my understanding is that Trump’s approval rating has (counter-intuitively) been going up throughout the pandemic. Has that changed?

        • EchoChaos says:

          On COVID, my understanding is that Trump’s approval rating has (counter-intuitively) been going up throughout the pandemic. Has that changed?

          Nope. That’s why I said “Trump’s COVID reaction gets worse”. Right now the general feel is that he’s doing a good job. If that changes, Biden running on centrist competence is a big winner.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            Ah, fair enough. By “gets worse” I thought you meant it had already taken a dive and was looking to fall some more.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Mixed signals (caveat: one CNN poll). Disapproval of Trump’s handling of coronavirus went from 48% to 52%, but his overall approval went up from 43% to 44%.

          You would think it would have a bigger effect one way or the other. Perhaps the correct conclusion is “coronavirus doesn’t matter much for the election?”

          • EchoChaos says:

            Gallup puts the approval of his handling higher, at 60%, so that’s new to me, but every poll agrees his overall rating has risen during this time.

        • matthewravery says:

          https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/02/democratic-leaders-win-surge-of-approval-during-covid-19-crisis

          Trump’s approval is up 2-3 points, and his net (approve – disapprove) is up 4-6. This is good for him, but there are caveats:

          – It’s been basically stagnant for a week-ish, so he’s not “going up” so much as he’s “up and stabilized”
          – He’s still underwater
          – His rating has gone up less than other world leaders, some of who have seen major spikes in popularity.

          So you can basically read this however you like. “Up is better than down” is certainly compelling. I think it matter less what people think during the crisis except insofar as views become calcified. It’s what people think after the crisis that matters more, and IDK that we have good data on what that will look like one way or another.

          I also don’t get what everyone wants Biden to do. “Lay low and pick your criticisms once you know the outcome” seems obviously correct politically. And soaring rhetoric and inspirational speeches about coming together as a nation in our time of need isn’t Biden’s comparative advantage.

          • J Mann says:

            Frankly, Biden seems like Hillary in at least one respect – the less people see or hear of him, the more they like him.

            I think if Biden were on the news every day telling us what to do about Covid, there’s a good chance he’d come across as less coherent than Trump.

      • Wrong Species says:

        With the caveat that it’s way too early to make a strong prediction, I just can’t see how Biden loses this. Trump was already unpopular and that was with a decent economy. People are going to wonder what Trump did to make their lives better and he’s not going to have a compelling answer. Biden always had a good “return to normalcy” thing going and that looks better than ever.

        • Loriot says:

          That’s would you’d expect, but it’s dangerous to count Trump out prematurely, as 2016 showed.

          • Wrong Species says:

            The 2016 election doesn’t mean you should question everything. Bernie looked a lot like Trump this year and then lost. Trump won 2016 by the thinnest of margins against another historically unpopular candidate and his approval rating has been underwater the entire presidency. I’m not saying that Trump is certainly going to lose but the factors working against him are extremely strong.

          • Loriot says:

            Yes, that’s why I’m not too worried. But it’s also important not to get complacent. You have to remember that at least 45% of the country does not think like you. You can find many of them on this very board.

    • A1987dM says:

      Without COVID-19, I would have given Trump an 80% chance of getting re-elected. Now I’d give him 40%.

    • Loriot says:

      The 2020 matchup was set a month ago. After Super Tuesday, Bernie’s best hope for the nomination was that Biden died.

    • salvorhardin says:

      I am less confident than before, roughly thinking it’s now 50/50 vs thinking it was abot 70% for Trump being reelected before the pandemic (for the boring outside view reason that an incumbent in a good economy is usually a shoo-in, and Trump’s unusual negatives reduce that advantage but not by enough).

      There are a bunch of new considerations affecting the probability of Trump’s reelection both ways. Those that could hurt him include:

      — severe recession, duh
      — Trump’s performance so far this year has already produced lots of attack ad fodder that wasn’t there before, and that may resonate more with voters than previous lines of attack
      — Douthat aptly described Biden as the candidate of a return to pre-2016 normalcy and/or “decadence” where people don’t have to think so much about politics anymore, and I expect a lot of folks traumatized by the pandemic will now find that more attractive

      Countervailing factors that could help him:
      — in times of uncertainty people tend to rally ’round incumbents even more than usual
      — we may have a sharp recovery going by November and the electorate might be short-memoried enough to index only on the direction of that recovery, and not to care about how badly the first half of the year was managed or how much worse off they still are vs a year or two ago
      — The Tara Reade accusations may yet get mainstream legs (not least if Trump brings them up a lot, which he may well, despite the extreme pot-and-kettleness of doing so)
      — ETA: and a resurgent pandemic could provide a golden opportunity for massive “your vote or your life” type voter suppression, which we’ve now seen in Wisconsin that Rs will shamelessly engage in and the Supreme Court will shamefully ratify; or even for more extreme forms of election-stealing covered up by crowding them out with pandemic-resurgence news.

      I have no idea which of these will dominate and I don’t trust anyone who claims to know.

      • Randy M says:

        — Douthat aptly described Biden as the candidate of a return to pre-2016 normalcy and/or “decadence” where people don’t have to think so much about politics anymore, and I expect a lot of folks traumatized by the pandemic will now find that more attractive

        Corona might make people wish to return to normalcy, but it might also make them realize they can’t close their eyes even to problems half a world away.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Biden resisted the worst of the open-border arguments during the debates.

          If he’s smart — and that’s not a given, but he knew how to avoid the stupid traps early, so I think he will be — he will seize a few of the inevitable conservative wishlist items that are coming (like border inspections and more on-shoring of industry) and sell them along with the inevitable liberal wishlist items that are coming (like stronger funding for health care and worker sick time).

          • salvorhardin says:

            … and unfortunately will probably not sell people on the things that would actually work best (resilience through redundancy and stockpiling as distinct from onshoring; funding for broad-spectrum antiviral research and step-change improvements to technology for new vaccine production; and the other stuff in https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/cassidy-nelson-12-ways-to-stop-pandemics/ and similar articles by people with actual expertise). One might hope that there will finally be a constituency for this stuff now, but I’m not optimistic.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            There’s a bunch of things that are going to happen. A bunch of things that go against your policy preferences, and mine. A bunch of things that are really expensive, but reduce the impact of two-trillion-dollar events.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      Far too soon to say. I can see lots of possible mechanisms by which coronavirus could affect the election, in either direction.

      One obvious one that I think is being underrated is that, as we’ve seen in Wisconsin, coronavirus gives Republicans an incredibly effective tool to suppress the vote in predominantly-Democratic urban areas; if either the lockdown or the epidemic is still going on in November (which I expect to be the case) and the Democrats aren’t able to neutralise that weapon by using federal-level powers to make voting by post easy, I think they’re in big trouble up and down the ballot.

      • albatross11 says:

        It’s sure not obvious to me that this will be a bigger problem for Democrats than Republicans–ISTR that Republicans depend much more on older voters, who have a legitimate reason to fear going to the polls on election day.

        More generally, I suspect it is very hard to make useful predictions about the political impact, because we’re in a really new and unusual situation. If we’re still mostly locked down (or on our third lockdown) on election day, we probably have a different result than if we seem to have weathered the storm with social distancing and extensive testing. If the economy bounces back much faster than expected, things will look very different from if the economy tanks massively–either one seems at least plausible from here.

        • Garrett says:

          In my area the powers that be have decided to remove polling places from retirement home or nursing homes “to protect the elderly”. I’m disappointed that nobody on the Right has filed a voter suppression lawsuit yet.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Honestly, at this point I don’t think it matters. The Coronavirus is basically a vindication of the kind of ideas Trump was talking about in his 2016 campaign. In so much as I ever “supported” Trump, it was because he was the only one saying that we shouldn’t be moving towards open borders. Joe Biden before might have been pressured towards that idea in his presidency otherwise but he’s certainly not going to now. This election is going to be a referendum on Trump and he is personally not popular. But whether Trump or Biden wins, people are still going to be more skeptical of internationalism than they were before.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      I was pretty confident Trump would win, contingent on the economy chugging along. Welp.

    • Chalid says:

      I think I’ve been pretty consistent thinking it’s about a 70% chance of a Biden win. That doesn’t require a massive update if Trump wins. (I felt the same way pre-coronavirus.)

      I don’t know how anyone can look at polling and be highly confident in a Trump win.

      • toastengineer says:

        I see where you’re coming from, but I don’t see how anyone can look at Biden and think there’s any chance of a Biden win.

        Maybe this is a bubble-distortion, but the narrative I’m getting from all sides is “Biden is clearly senile to the point where he can barely speak, and his campaign and the press are not going to be able to hide that forever.”

        • Chalid says:

          He just went through a whole Democratic primary campaign including multiple live debates. I don’t see how there’s going to be some kind of fantastic new revelation on that front. And it’s not like Trump is some model of erudition and clarity either.

        • Loriot says:

          I don’t see how anyone can look at Biden and think there’s any chance of a Biden win.

          And now you know how people on the left felt about Trump four years ago.

      • meh says:

        I don’t think national polling is very predictive, when its only about five states that matter.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Swing states matter way more than national polls, and Biden has really weak support, he is basically 2nd choice for half of the dems, and 3rd choice or worse for a quarter. If he really is in decline (which seems >50% right now) then he won’t be able to campaign effectively either.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          If you aren’t confident in a Biden win, okay.

          But it seems weird to see Biden leading national polls by 6 points and decide that Trump is nearly inevitable.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t see Trump as a lock or a heavy favorite, but I would forgive his fans who saw him win the nomination handily, then beat Hillary against heavy odds, then get through impeachment with rising popularity and then watched the Dems primaries.

          • Loriot says:

            This reminds me a bit of people seeing Sander’s unprecedented surge in Michigan in 2016 and expecting him to pull off a similar miracle this time around.

      • EchoChaos says:

        I don’t know how anyone can look at polling and be highly confident in a Trump win.

        Three reasons:

        Reason 1: We’re doing almost all Registered Voter polls right now. Democrats outperform between 3 and 6 points on those as compared to Likely voters. There is no reason to believe Biden is driving the kind of turnout surge that would invalidate historical LV screens.

        Reason 2: Trump’s swing state polls, even for RVs, are much stronger to the point of being seriously dangerous. He’s ahead in PA and WI, and basically tied in MI. I don’t think you can build me a realistic electoral map that Joe Biden loses PA and WI but still takes the Presidency.

        Reason 3: Trump is a really good campaigner. He was left for dead ~10 points behind Hillary in the summer and clawed back all of that gap. Biden has historically been a very poor campaigner (I know he won this campaign, I said historically).

        • Chalid says:

          You are way overstating reason #1. The effect is more like 1-2 points on average, though it’s not consistent year to year.

          In #2, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Trump was better in swing states than in the nation as a whole – after it was true in 2016, so it’s a natural thing to expect to happen again. But this is likely to be a 1-3 point effect not a 6 point effect.

          To the extent that #3 is true, it is to some extent already baked into existing polling.

          • EchoChaos says:

            You are way overstating reason #1. The effect is more like 1-2 points on average, though it’s not consistent year to year.

            That’s final polling, which comes a lot closer in line. Currently only one pollster is doing a LV screen, which is Change Research. They are about 8 points more Trump:

            https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/national/

            It also puts good Dem turnout years like Obama and Clinton in with Kerry/Hillary to make an average, so in years with a weak candidate, you’ll see a bigger R advantage. This is somewhat circular, but it makes sense when you think about it. Democrats need a big turnout advantage to win.

            In #2, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Trump was better in swing states than in the nation as a whole – after it was true in 2016, so it’s a natural thing to expect to happen again. But this is likely to be a 1-3 point effect not a 6 point effect.

            I agree, which means that either the state polls are off or the national polls are off.

            Trump is winning 3 of the last 4 polls of PA in 538, for example: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/polls/pennsylvania/

            Either Pennsylvania has moved sharply and startlingly to the right or the national scene is much closer than expected.

            To the extent that #3 is true, it is to some extent already baked into existing polling.

            I’ll politely disagree. We saw the difference with Obama, who was probably the best campaigner of my lifetime. His approval rating at this time in 2012 was close to Trump’s, but he turned it around by his campaign, which was magnificent. A re-election campaign really does matter and Trump has only barely started to campaign.

            Note that I’m not “highly confident”, as I said above. I think it’s more likely than not that Trump wins, though.

          • Chalid says:

            You are making big conclusions from too little data.

            I don’t want to harp on this, but I feel like every conversation I ever have with you comes back to this, ever since I was trying to convince you not to give Virginia to Trump based on one good poll a couple months ago. (I hope you are now convinced by the more recent polling.)

            Anyway, for Biden-Trump, yes, the very most recent LV poll is Trump +2 by Change Research on April 2-3 and if you only look at that single data point you see an 8 point spread between LV and RV. However, before that you have Seltzer’s LV screen on March 27-30 giving Biden +4. Before *that* you have Change Research, again, giving Biden +7, then a Biden +1 poll from Hofstra university, and as far as I can tell that is it. So you have four polls which average out to Biden +2.5, compared to an overall average in the neighborhood of Biden +6. That is totally consistent with an RV/LV spread of 1-2 points especially when you account for pollster house effects. It is crazy to believe the real spread is going to be 8 points on the basis of this data.

            either the state polls are off or the national polls are off.

            Well there are far more national polls. States are still being polled sparsely. This will change later, of course, but for now national polls are more trustworthy because there are more of them.

            You say the last three of four polls in PA have Trump beating Biden. Trump margins of victory were +2, +2, -6, +2, so the average margin of victory is 0; you absolutely cannot rule out a Biden lead in PA based on this data. If you choose not to cut off at four polls then the picture looks even better for Biden: you get Biden +5, even, Biden +1, Biden +8, Trump +4, Biden +9…

            It also puts good Dem turnout years like Obama and Clinton in with Kerry/Hillary to make an average

            No matter what you think of Biden, Trump will make this a big turnout year for both sides all by himself.

          • EchoChaos says:

            @Chalid

            I didn’t give Virginia to Trump against Biden (I did against Sanders and stand by that), just pointed out that any close polling there, in a state that Hillary won by 5 points is a bad sign for the Democrats.

            That is totally consistent with an RV/LV spread of 1-2 points especially when you account for pollster house effects. It is crazy to believe the real spread is going to be 8 points on the basis of this data.

            The real spread won’t be 8 points. It also won’t be 1-2. Right now I am putting a marker down that Joe Biden does not win this election by double digits. It’s simply not plausible. Clinton v. Dole was 9 points and Obama v. McCain was 7. All of those double digit leads are simply not realistic.

            And I am not making “big conclusions”, I am pointing out that the polling data, while favorable to Biden, is about at the level that Hillary was in August and September. It is perfectly reasonable to say that you are confident of a victory given last time.

            Now, you can be wrong, of course, but it’s at least reasonable.

            No matter what you think of Biden, Trump will make this a big turnout year for both sides all by himself.

            That is possible, of course. But lots of core Democrats (as opposed to the loudly online ones), have actually done pretty well under Trump. Their enthusiasm to throw him out may be less than you think. I’m not saying anything silly like “Trump will get 20% of the black vote”, but a lot of blacks are doing well now.

    • Lillian says:

      I have been predicting since 2018 that after taking everything else into account – the scandals, the results of the midterms, the lack of any major policy accomplishments – it’s going to come down to whether if things are going well for Americans come Election Day. If they are, then Trump will be reelected, and if they are not, then he will not. This is completely irrespective of who the Democratic candidate is, he just doesn’t matter, they could have run Mondale’s corpse for all the difference it makes.

      Now, generally speaking “tings not going well” would mean a recession, but nationwide disasters, major foreign policy reverses, or massive civil unrest all count. Therefore the ongoing pandemic is very likely to cost Trump the election if it’s still ongoing in November, however if we are on the road to recovery by then and things are looking up, then he will probably be re-elected. Note that all my predictions are based on the popular vote, since I consider the Electoral College only victories to be essentially random and unpredictable.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      I’d say it was a coin toss, but from the comments on Scott’s 2019 predictions I’ve learned that if I try to make a prediction with 50% odds I will probably summon the antichrist or something.

  6. Bobobob says:

    So I’ve spent the last few days bingeing Rick & Morty on Hulu, and it is freaking brilliant. (I’d never seen it before, just heard about it).

    Rick, describing an alien curse word: “It’s like the N word and the C word had a baby and it was raised by all the bad words for Jew.”

    • ManyCookies says:

      Yep. Some of the fanbase is pretty obnoxious about how it’s a clever and funny show, but it is in fact a clever and funny show.

      (My first R&M episode was the love potion one with absolutely no prior knowledge of the show. Holy shit was that a ride.)

      • FLWAB says:

        My first episode was “A Rickle in Time”. I had been avoiding the show because it was popular, but after watching that I realized “Huh, this show is very funny and very clever. Just like they said. Drat, now I’ll have to become a fan too.”

    • Lambert says:

      Not sure if R&M < Futurama

      Or R&M < My nostalgic memories of Futurama

      • Matt M says:

        Original Futurama > R&M > Futurama reboot is the answer you’re looking for

      • Well... says:

        How many seasons of R&M are there now? Maybe it got good again. Several years ago I watched the pilot, thought it was fantastic, then binged on another 6-10 episodes (not necessary in order of release) from the first couple seasons. Somewhere in there I started thinking these weren’t anywhere near as good as the pilot, and by the last one I watched I was pretty so-so on the whole thing. It struck me as growing stale and mediocre in the same way Family Guy did, like when instead of making jokes the show just badmouths Republicans. (Both shows did this at some point, IIRC.)

        • Bobobob says:

          I don’t recall any specific gags at the expense of Republicans, maybe just one or two aimed directly at Trump. But there is one episode (about an election in the Citadel of Ricks) that could potentially generate an entire year’s worth of SSC discussions.

  7. lejuletre says:

    I have an experience which is apparently not universal where when I first put food in my mouth, especially if it’s something I’ve never tried before, I can’t taste it for a few seconds or even until after I’ve swallowed. Does anyone else experience this ? (Optionally: include whether you’re ND/NT or any sort of synesthete or have any kind of sensory processing disorder)

    • Anteros says:

      I don’t know if this is exactly what you mean, but what we usually think of as tastes are more sensibly referred to as smells. Your mouth (or tongue) will let you know if it senses something sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or savoury, but for specific flavours you have to wait until some volatile aromatics have wandered up into your nostrils (having first to be produced, often by coming into contact with saliva) so you can ‘smell the taste’. This can take a surprising amount of time.

      I notice this most often when we have a blind tasting of something at home – which we do often enough just to settle arguments. I’m hyper aware of the time it takes for me to ‘get’ the taste of something, and it can seem like forever.

    • Well... says:

      If I’m trying something new and I have no idea what to expect, I will sometimes get a sort of nauseous shivery feeling when I first put the food in my mouth and swallow it. I wouldn’t say I can’t taste it, especially if it has a very strong flavor, but I do kind of recall my sense of taste feeling sort of muted during those experiences.

      I don’t have any sensor processing disorder that I know of, and typically have a fairly sensitive palate.

  8. Well... says:

    Repeating my question about meetups: presumably many meetups will still convene but on a virtual platform, which creates an opportunity for those who are interested to attend meetups in other parts of the country/world we couldn’t normally get to.

    If you are an organizer and you’re open to having outsiders attend, will you please post the dates/times and how to get in touch with you? (I figure the actual instructions on how to join the meetup are best withheld until you grant permission, presumably after an email exchange or something.)

  9. baconbits9 says:

    Simple definition: Recession is a drop in economic activity followed shortly by a recovery be it V shaped (early 90s recession) or U shaped (2008 recession), while a depression has a failure to recover. You can get a partial recovery followed by new drops in activity or a long and slow recovery that hits another recession before the economy is up to full strength again.

    The case for economic depression coming out of the Covid-19 induced shutdown.

    The basic visualization of the economy being a flow of money where a failure of demand causes a recession is wrong. Recessions are where part of the economic system fails, and that something is almost always the job creation section of the economy. Without the job creation portion of the economy the US would perpetually be in a recession, job losses (layoffs and discharges) averaged ~1.8 million per year in the US from 2010 to 2020, meanwhile layoffs didn’t really accelerate during the 2008 recession until ~ 6 months in, and didn’t peak above the expansion period peak for 10+ months. Quits also average ~ 1.8 million a year from 2010 to 2020, but much less evenly with 2010 in the 1.3-1.4 million range and 2019 in the 2.2-2.3 million range.

    Simplistically thinking that we can pause most of the economy and then reopen it in a few months is very naive. Under good conditions we would expect a month of shut down to result in ~150,000 people finding out that their jobs have been eliminated in any given month, and we went into this event with total unemployed people at ~ 5.8 million. A 2 month shut down with no other long term impacts at all would eliminate the past 1-1.5 years worth of net job gains, and no other long term impacts is not a best case scenario, its an impossible case scenario. Just a lack of job creation for 2 months puts you in ‘low level recession’ and we are talking low job creation plus a massive negative shock to the travel/leisure/restaurant/energy industries right now, with shocks to every other sector. The most likely case scenario will have millions of people discovering that their former employers aren’t reopening or reopen and cut staff/close quickly as they figure out the damage.

    These issues point to a pretty steep and scary recession on its own but there have been massive frictions added to the economy over the past month which will drag on the recovery. Unemployment benefits have been expanded greatly, not just the increase in maximum payout which is substantial but forbearance programs for debts will significantly increase the reservation wages of the labor pool as well pushing up labor costs at a time when businesses will be forced to cut costs to regain profitability.

    Then there is the massive increase in government debt is occurring in virtually every major economic power (every?), and this type of debt increase inhibits economic growth on the other side. Debt is quite simply a cost and it must be payed directly or indirectly, and as most of the debt is being incurred to pay people not to work and companies not to produce the costs are going to be high. A major issue here is that the US government has long since switched to indirect costs making it harder to calculate your response as a business. Yes direct taxation is tough and causes major dislocations but at least it is measurable and workable, and the worst economic crises happen when prices are no longer predictable.

    Since we are talking about debt we should also mention that few wealthy countries are coming into the situation with healthy balance sheets. Some high gdp/capita countries (Sweden, Australia) are in good shape but aren’t large enough (even cumulatively) to offset the issues or lead the worldwide economy forward.

    Some will point to Japan and claim that government debt can expand to multiples of GDP without causing a depression, which is niavely optimistic. Japan’s growth rate over the past 30 years would have qualified as a depression for substantial chunks had they started out with a large, negative GDP print. What they got was a drop from 5-6% annual growth down to a ~0-2% annual growth range with frequent dips below zero, and a similar drop for the US would put in a persistent downward trend. Japan also had two advantages that the US (and ROW) won’t have this time, first a booming world economy during that time, and a better (though not great) national balance sheet going into the 1990 crisis.

    Another unsettling thought is the way the great depression played out, there were rolling shocks where an individual country would show signs of returning to growth only to have another country fall into crisis, sending ripples and smothering those weak recoveries.

    The best case scenario from this viewpoint then is a repeat of 2008 financial crisis, with a deep recession followed by a slow slog up for several years with multiple countries constantly on the brink of another crisis, and that seems overly optimistic right now.

    • Jake R says:

      Everything here makes sense to me but despite all this the market appears to be recovering. Why is none of this priced into the market currently? That plus the historical success of buy and hold strategies makes me reluctant to adjust my position too much.

      • Loriot says:

        I’m not sure about the job loss stuff, but the debt argument does not make much sense, and does not appear to be consistent with how massive government debts among rich countries have worked in practice.

        Likewise, if you think there aren’t enough jobs to go around, UI is a *good thing*, since it means at least demand is supported instead of going into a Great Depression style deflationary spiral.

        • baconbits9 says:

          but the debt argument does not make much sense, and does not appear to be consistent with how massive government debts among rich countries have worked in practice.

          It is consistent with how massive government debts work in practice, higher and rising debt levels correlate with lower future growth, with only major war years as counter to that trend (and major war years are shit years to live through as consumers and only get good marks because government spending auto boosts GDP and shortages don’t push up inflation for CPI calculations).

          Likewise, if you think there aren’t enough jobs to go around, UI is a *good thing*, since it means at least demand is supported instead of going into a Great Depression style deflationary spiral

          Only if you treat them as independent and the Great Depression was not an example that supports this position.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Markets bounce and move, after the October crash in 1929 the Dow rallied ~45% in a 5 month stretch and every major crash has a bounce of some kind shortly thereafter. The important thing to note if you are just looking at market returns is the lack of stability, yesterday the S&P gapped up a large amount at the open and then dropped 80 points or so. This is not normal market behavior, and is not indicative of stability and good furutre prospects without even getting into how the market reactions are largely Fed/Federal government based and not fundamentally based. The largest stock market gains by % all happen around crises, they occur on (dow)

        3/15/1933
        10/6/1931
        10/30/1929
        3/24/2020
        9/21/1932
        10/13/2008
        10/28/2008
        10/21/1987
        8/03/1931
        2/11/1932
        3/13/2020

        Of the 20 largest daily dow gains 3 have come in 2020, 2 came in October 2008, 1 in 1987, 1 in 1939 and the rest came between 1929 and 1933.

        • Jake R says:

          I still can’t bring myself to sell with where the market is right now. I’m too risk averse. I won’t need to get my money out for at least 10 years and probably more like 20. My thought is holding is probably a mistake but it probably isn’t a very big mistake.

          • baconbits9 says:

            I don’t know your personal situation but my opinion is that staying in the market now is courting massive risk. The Dow didn’t get back to 1929 levels for 25 years, and that is just nominally and most people who in 1929 thought they wouldn’t need money for 10-20 years found themselves needing it an awful lot sooner.* My guess would be that you are loss averse, not risk averse which are two different things and commonly mixed up in discussions about the markets.

            *While UE% peaked in the mid 20s estimates are as high as 80% of people spent time unemployed during the GD

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I think it’s a mistake to just frame the economy in terms of money flows and employment– the economy also includes useful work getting done, or in this case, not getting done. that’s going to cause a lot of damage.

      • albatross11 says:

        It also includes knowledge and habits and arrangements. Those haven’t faded much by now, but stay locked down for a year, and I think that will also become important.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The case of getting stuff done and production is important, but a short term shut down is going to have an impact limited to its duration and section of the economy. How bad it will get will be based on how things go when the lock downs are lifted.

  10. Statismagician says:

    Hot (?) take: political campaigns do not work in the US. They don’t persuade (any significant fraction of) voters to support particular candidates, they don’t really boost turnout, they don’t even usefully affect fundraising. These are accomplished by, roughly, historical accident, demographics, and (personal relationships with big donors*how viral your candidate goes on Facebook).

    Prompted by this 538 article. Maybe this isn’t a hot take, maybe it’s not even lukewarm. Anyway, discuss.

    • dodrian says:

      I think Trump is a pretty clear counter-example. He was dismissed as not a real candidate throughout the primary, and then mostly dismissed as unviable through the election. He’s also changed Republican party policy to some extent.

      Bernie has had a very significant effect on Democratic policy.

    • rocoulm says:

      Do you think a candidate would suffer no disadvantage by not campaigning? Or is a certain minimum amount of campaigning necessary, but any returns from any beyond the minimum quickly diminish to zero?

      • Statismagician says:

        Possibly it’s a Red Queen’s Race type of thing, where your minimum viable campaign is defined in relation to how much campaigning your most-similar competitor is doing.

    • JayT says:

      Well, Trump seems to be a pretty big data point in favor of political campaigns working. Without his campaigning he wouldn’t have had a chance in the primary. When he first announced his candidacy he was looked at as a joke.

      • Statismagician says:

        I wonder – I really wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the primary, but my impression was that he wasn’t a joke candidate to the actual Republican primary electorate, just the (mostly Democrat, definitely not the core audience) media types. In any case, I think I can plausibly argue that this just warrants a switch to something like ‘most normal campaigns don’t work.’

        • albatross11 says:

          My outsider impression was that the Republican insiders and most of the Republican high-profile media types and commentators also treated his campaign as a joke, at first. And that the main thing that made Trump so unbeatable is that he’s so incredibly good for ratings–cable news shows and papers and websites could get like 10x the number of viewers or readers for a segment on Trump as they could for anyone else. So maybe Trump says something disturbingly wrong about US nuclear policy, and Rand Paul or Jeb Bush or someone says something correct or at least conventional on the same topic, and the Trump clip gets all the attention.

        • EchoChaos says:

          Yeah, Trump was leading the polls almost from the moment he entered the race because he was addressing something that the base cared a lot about that nobody else was.

          • Loriot says:

            On the other hand, he was “leading” with only 30%. At the time, there was no way to know that whether he would just be another Sanders-style factional candidate or whether his support would improve as the field winnowed (as it eventually did). He also benefited from the division among more mainstream candidates and the winner takes all nature of some Republican primaries (notably South Carolina) to get large amounts of delegates with a relatively small share of the vote early on.

            Even then, he was hurt by the lack of a traditional campaign, with the Cruz campaign managing to steal delegates from him by being better organized and actually showing up to the relevant conventions. It just turned out not to matter in the end.

    • baconbits9 says:

      Seems like shoddy analysis, the ending and the ‘old white male’ part has no meat to it specifically and doesn’t hold up.

    • matthewravery says:

      Define “campaign” and “work”. Are Persuasion, Turnout, and Fundraising your measures of how well a campaign “works”? Or are they measure of how well you’ve done your campaigning, which you’re asserting has no relation to whether or not it “works” (i.e., you win)?

      Are candidates and their personas (which are often defined or redefined over the course of a campaign) part of the campaign? Surely commercials and stump speeches, which help define the candidate in the eyes of voters, are parts of the campaign.

      I think you’ve defined your terms in such a way that your hot take is a tautology.

      • Statismagician says:

        Fair point, I’ll need to think on this.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think most campaigns work for informing the public that (a) oh hey, local election for thing is coming up and (b) oh hey, this guy is running? Maybe I’ll vote for him! (or at least I’ll consider him, now that I know he exists).

        Big campaigns for established politicians? I don’t know – I think most people probably don’t care too much if Representative Smith is running yet again since he’s had the seat for the past twenty years and everyone knows if they’ll vote for him or not. But then again – look at Ocasio Cortez and Joe Crowley; it was assumed that he’d retain his seat because he was the guy who held it for donkey’s years in a safe seat, so no need to go out campaigning on the doorsteps. In comes this lassie (with a slick operation behind her, to be fair) and pulls the rug out from under him. I think the message most people would take there is “don’t take anything for granted, run a campaign”.

    • Tarpitz says:

      Look at Theresa May’s 2017 campaign, and Boris Johnson’s 2019 campaign, and tell me neither of them mattered.

      • Statismagician says:

        Hot (?) take: political campaigns do not work in the US.

        Also, I have even less of an idea how to look at British political campaigns than I do American ones. Care to say more?

        • Tarpitz says:

          May went into campaign season with a vast polling lead, ran the worst campaign in living memory while also being wildly uncharismatic, and lost her majority. Johnson went in with much tighter polling suggesting a real possibility that he wouldn’t be able to form a government at all, ran (or had run for him by Cummings) a notably tight and focused campaign while being charismatic albeit in a Marmitey sort of way, and won the biggest majority of any UK government in decades. Both were sitting Conservative prime ministers who had not previously run a general election campaign as party leader, both were running against a Labour opposition led by Jeremy Corbyn. The elections took place only two years apart and were both to a large extent seeking a clear mandate to enact Brexit.

    • yodelyak says:

      Nah. What political campaigns do WORKS, but it’s achieved at a level that doesn’t fit under the standard statistical tools. If you want to find what works, you have to investigate with the level of energy and humility that’s reserved for situations where Goodhart’s law has fouled up *everything*.

      E.g., there’s an MIT study (I think MIT, maybe Harvard?) where they hired a bunch of high school students, sent them door-to-door telling people “There’s an important election! It’s on DATE. It seems like everyone is going to be voting! It will be very close! You are going to vote, right?! (If yes) That’s great, thank you!

      The high schoolers were selected for being a) conscientious/honest but highly motivated by money and hence going to really do the job of delivering the scripted message and b) knowing nothing about politics, including not knowing there was an election coming when they are interviewed for the ‘job’. The election was a spring/summer nonpartisan city council race where voter turnout is usually multiple double-digits below Presidential turnout. Even though most of the high school students probably couldn’t even name the candidates in the election, they could and did boost turnout among people they talked to by >10%. The experiment was a controlled simple random study, so this is a solid result.

      There were five different things there that are expected to be doing the work–they now know there will be an election, there’s a bandwagon effect if they think everyone else will vote, there’s a sense their vote matters more if the election will be close, there’s the fact that they were assumed to be going to vote (so not voting now feels like social defection) and the fact that they were thanked for voting (so they feel committed). The result unfortunately doesn’t tell you which worked, so you’ll just have to do all five, all the time.

      Except the thing is, this isn’t a solid result at all. The thing is, you *can’t* replicate this experiment, or rely on it for your campaign, because many campaigns know about this experiment, and deliberately make a point of making sure every voter likely to support them gets a lot of “make sure to vote in the important close election k thx bye” messaging, and the heavy saturation of more-and-less sophisticated messaging like that ends up meaning that, at the margin, the additional bit of messaging, at least in most high-stakes elections, has no measurable impact. It also means that a lot of people spend decades over-invested in feeling proud of their commitment to messaging like this, and then burn out all at once, and others just oscillate back and forth with the ‘tide’. (Those are the ones who make up most of what accounts for why pollsters find it useful ask “are you likely to vote this year”–a lot of people are in the ‘meh, maybe’ world at the level of their ideological commitments, but also know exactly where they are in terms of sentiment on any given day, just by asking their gut how it feels about the idea of voting.) I work in politics and the little old 80-year-old lady who votes every year, but hasn’t liked a candidate since she fell in love with Kennedy, and is only voting out of obligation literally felt between her and JFK, is a friggin’ cliche at this point, as are several other ‘types’ like this.

      So: tldr, what campaigns do *works*, but the world is not as simple as you would like.

      • yodelyak says:

        Addendum: I mention the little old lady as proof that whatever JFK did, it worked so well that it is *STILL WORKING NOW*.

      • yodelyak says:

        Addendum the second: Since I’m speaking like I know everything, I’ll also add for anyone who wants my advice in politics generally…

        Who you are is mostly about caring about people you know in the real world, not the manufactured world of politics. Try not to know more about any national politician than you know about all the local politicians that more directly represent you. Try to set a strict, principled budget for how much time/money you will spend thinking/acting/doing about politics, and to be the same person with the same principles, in that respect every year, such that other people can set their watch by the amount of time/money you will spend on politics. Because Goodharts Law, and to allow yourself to learn from mistakes and new information, avoid ideological commitments and try to avoid using shortcuts for who to vote for other than who is best across the board. Lastly, a good rule for which politician to support is to vote for the one less likely to tell a bald-faced lie, and the one more likely to be unable to dodge *social* accountability for fraud or abuse or etc. E.g. the slow-talking happily married man with kids who respect him is on the margin a better choice than the fast-talking long-term bachelor or the rich guy on his 3rd hot model wife, if for no other reason than because a) their current situation is likely a result of their choices that amounts to some information about their honest preferences as between love/stability/respect versus power/excitement/pleasure, and b) even if they are equally good people, they face different incentives now when one of them is socially embedded enough to very much want to look good, and the other, less so.

      • Statismagician says:

        Yes, this is the Red Queen’s Race hypothesis mentioned above. The question then becomes ‘do any particular campaigns do better than their competition in unexpected ways,’ and except for Trump (and as also mentioned above, the narrative on that is confusing), I don’t know if there are. In any case, ‘campaigns have no measurable impact in a normal media environment’ isn’t what you’d call a ringing endorsement for the current way things are done.

        As an aside, I’m very skeptical that the little old lady, in the neighboring world where JFK died during WWII, isn’t voting pretty much identically to how she votes in ours, but obviously we can’t test this.

        • yodelyak says:

          @statismagician

          Re: the little old lady, I think you are right that the little old lady, if she didn’t fall in love with JFK in a lasting way because JFK wasn’t around, then she would still have formed her political identity in a big way around that same time (it’s very hard to know what the odds are she might have fallen for RFK or whoever was the attractive man running in the ‘inspire me’ lane in national politics around that time, in counter-factual world where JFK didn’t run–I just don’t know), and whatever identity she formed, it would, from my experience, very likely last. Her Overton window, and her home in it, were both a bit baked in from then forward.

          Some campaigns do a really good job of threading the needle and seeming respectable to wide swaths of people with very different windows… see, e.g. Pete Buttigieg. Other candidates get a motivated base by swinging hard at a particular issue and then leverage the loyalty of that base and winner-take-all primaries to eke out a few close wins and achieve ‘inevitable’ status (see Trump’s announcement speech on building a wall, winning a few states with 30% of the vote, and then winning). Finding what ‘works’ by using a statistical model that compares funding levels without noticing strategic choices is doomed to be under-powered, since choice-of-strategy is paramount, but has to respond to the other candidates’ likely choice of strategy. Statistical tests for ‘significance’ are unlikely to find consistent results when looking at what works between multiple candidates deploying strategic behavior like this. Imagine asking some run-of-the-mill social scientists to study modern chess engines, and use multivariable linear regression to determine which pawn moves are ‘effective’ uses of a move. Good chess–at least, at the level of chess engines–can’t be found by run-of-the-mill social scientists using least-squares.

          To give just one clear example of something a presidential candidate can do that works, if a trained organizer at entry-level pay can register 4 new voters per day going door-to-door (I’ve done this work here and there, and overall have averaged ~7 registrations a day, just by blanket knocking on every door with no registered voters, so 4/day seems quite conservative as an estimate.) Say an organizer costs $200/day, you can get a new voter for $50. Bloomberg spent what, $500 million? For that he could have gotten 10 million newly registered voters!? Another simple study I saw registered new voters, waited to see if they voted, and reported 40% voted with no prompting other than being registered. (that was a presidential year I think) I don’t know the exact number for the margin by which activist-registered newly registered voters break for Dems, but I know it’s got to be 2-1 or better in most places. (Republicans self-organize much better, is one way I explain this difference.) There’s got to be diminishing returns at some point, so cut that in 1/3 and limit it to 10% of the current electorate in any state… but tell me that 2 million more voters in Florida, where Trump 2016 won a plurality by about 100,000 votes, wouldn’t completely reverse the 2016 outcome. (FYI, this is still why I’m pissed that Steyer and Bloomberg ran, and why most anyone who gets in a race after 4 or so capable folks are in it, when they could have a fine job themselves just helping make sure their team wins. Humans gotta human, I guess.)

          Some campaigns don’t focus on registering voters because they’ve thought about it and have other more effective ways to spend their money. But let’s also give some examples of things that *do not work*. Probably most common, way too many candidates forget that they can’t really be ‘friends’ with thousands or millions of people, and winning an election is not a referendum on your self worth or your role as a positive personality in others’ lives.

          • Loriot says:

            While I don’t doubt that voter registration campaigns are effective, you’re going to hit diminishing returns long before you reach two million. You also missed the most obvious reason why newly registered voters are likely to break Democratic – because the campaigns are targeting people who are likely to vote Democratic! I imagine Republicans focus their GOTV efforts on likely Republican voters instead.

  11. Aapje says:

    No, the Dutch fixed expressions will never run out!

    ‘Gek als een deur’ = Crazy as a door

    Very crazy.

    ‘De hond in de pot vinden’ = Finding the dog in the pot

    Being too late for a meal and the food is gone. Refers to the old-fashioned practice of letting the dog eat the remnants of the meal.

    ‘Ik hou je in de gaten!’ = I’m keeping you in the holes!

    I’m watching you! Most likely refers to the looking holes aka the eyes.

    ‘Ik heb je in de smiezen’ = I have you in the ‘smiezen’ (unclear meaning)

    I know what you’re up to (and am watching you). ‘Smiezen’ seems to be a Bargoen word that possibly derives from the German schmiss, which means gash, which may refer to the eyes, just like ‘holes’.

    ‘Hou je haaks!’ = Keep yourself at a right angle!

    Stand firm in the face of adversity. Typically said when saying good bye.

    ‘Appeltje-eitje’ = Little apple little egg
    ‘Een fluitje van een cent’ = A whistle/flute that costs a cent
    ‘Een koud kunstje’ = A cold trick
    ‘Een abc’tje’ = A little a b c
    ‘Een peuleschil’ = The peel of a pod
    ‘Dat ging van een leien dakje’ = That went down a slate roof

    Something that is/was easy to do. The cheap whistle/flute was easy to play, not having (m)any finger holes, unlike a flute. Also note that in Dutch, we throw in dimunitives much more casually, whenever we want to downplay something. It’s often used more figuratively than in English.

    ‘Huilen met de pet op’ = Crying while wearing your hat

    A very disappointing situation. Typically used when you can’t escape it. For example: I was caught out by a huge storm while cycling, it was ‘huilen met de pet op.’

    ‘Van achteren kijk je de koe in de kont’ = From behind, you look a cow in the arse

    It’s easy to be wise in hindsight.

    ‘De hamvraag’ = The ham question

    The $64,000 Question aka the question to which the answer really matters. Comes from a radio quiz called ‘climbing the mast’ with multiple questions, where each correct answer would make you climb a virtual mast. Getting the final question right resulted in a prize: a ham. This quiz in turn was based on a common type of traditional game, where a mast would be smeared with grease and a prize would be placed on top. Then people were challenged to climb the mast to collect the prize.

    • Anteros says:

      Crazy as a door?

      Do Dutch people think of doors as crazy things?

      Also, I’m still enjoying these and am amazed there are so many. Is that mostly because I’m not amazed by the familiar English expressions I grew up with, or because Dutch is literally up to it’s eyeballs in sayings?

      • Statismagician says:

        Nah, English is just as weird. Consider – really consider – e.g., ‘cat’s got your tongue,’ ‘under the weather,’ [quitting] cold turkey.’

        • albatross11 says:

          Consider:

          barking up the wrong tree = looking in the wrong place, trying to solve a problem the wrong way.

          wears his heart on his sleeve = shows his emotions clearly

          got up on the wrong side of the bed = woke up in a bad mood, is in a bad mood

          lost his ass = lost a lot of money (or something)

          doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground = is an idiot

          a few bricks shy of a load = dumb

          just fell off the turnip truck = doesn’t know what’s going on, naive

          nuttier than a fruitcake = crazy

          etc.

          We’ve got some weird expressions in English. Though I’m really loving the Dutch weird expressions.

          • Randy M says:

            But a lot of those make perfect sense with only a bit of knowledge (and I’m not saying the Dutch ones don’t).

            barking up the wrong tree

            Dogs chase prey that often hides in trees and bark at it. If you’re barking up the wrong tree, you are looking in the wrong place for whatever, and probably making a ruckus about it too.

            got up on the wrong side of the bed

            This basically means “was in a bad mood all day for no reason”. In other words, it’s not supposed to make sense as an explanation for the behavior.

            doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground

            I mean, there is a superficial similarity, but no one with a functioning brain can mistake “part of your body” for “not a part of your body” which is where the expression derives its humor.

            just fell off the turnip truck

            Here, I really can’t guess at the origin. I think it’s another one that was just invented for the incongruity. I doubt there are all that many trucks devoted exclusively to turnips even in the rural areas.

            English just really loves it’s metaphors.

          • Del Cotter says:

            Just fell off the turnip truck = new around here and no experience. It comes from poor people from the country who come to the city for work. If they’re that poor they’re not likely to be able to afford a coach, so they walk, hitch a friendly ride on a produce cart, or steal a ride hiding in among the produce. At least at first, they can be pretty naive.

            “Fresh off the boat”, “Just off the boat”, and “just off the banana boat”, are the international migration equivalents.

      • Aapje says:

        @Anteros

        The middle-Dutch (1200-1500) language had the word dore, which was a homonym for both fool and door. This statement refers to the first meaning, but as that meaning disappeared from Dutch, the expression was interpreted differently. So there are people who riff off the expression, saying things like ‘crazy as a leather door’ or ‘crazy as a front door.’

      • noyann says:

        Maybe they imagine an unhinged one?

    • FLWAB says:

      “That went down a slate roof” is pleasingly straightforward imagery.

    • mendax says:

      Has this painting been brought up yet, in this series?

  12. albatross11 says:

    Matt Taibbi moving from Rolling Stone to Substack (mostly). Taibbi is basically trying to work out how we can get his kind of journalism funded and working without perverse incentives–he believes subscriptions/Patreon-style donations are the best way forward. I don’t know if he’s right, but it will be interesting to see how it turns out.

    • zzzzort says:

      I’ve liked Matt’s work, but the idea that a subscription based model poses less of an incentive problem for reporting never made sense to me. A corporation buying ad space in a newspaper generally doesn’t care too much about the content. With google ads, they might not even know (as we saw with the minor furor over left-affiliated groups advertising on Breitbart). Subscribers, almost by definition, have opinions about the content of the reporting.

      • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

        I’ve seen it argued that newspapers funded primarily by corporate ad spending promote centrist, status-quo politics.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t think there are any perfect options here. If we fund journalism via donations, then the journalist wants to keep the donors happy. If we fund it via government grants, he wants to keep the bureaucrats or elected officials who decide who’s a journalist happy. If we fund it via ads, he wants to keep the advertisers happy. If we fund it via billionaire philanthropy, he wants to keep the billionaire funding him happy. If we fund it via subscription with paywalls, then he wants to keep the subscribers happy. And so on.

        All options involve some opportunity for bad incentives. However, the current journalism world is one where we see massive cuts in available jobs and salary for most journalists because ad revenue has fallen so much, and internet ad revenue incentivizes super-partisan and super-clickbait-y stories and also requires creepy tracking and privacy violation among ad brokers. (Lots of sites demand I turn off my ad blocker to read their stories; almost always when I do turn it off (mostly I just hit the back button instead), their ads are maximally intrusive and annoying, exactly the kind of thing that makes you glad you have an ad blocker installed.) I’m glad to see people trying different things.

        Further, there are people doing some very good work whose income mainly comes from donations, or “subscriptions” where most or all content is available to the world. Think of Sam Harris, Russ Roberts, and Vincent Racceniello. Or for organizations, think of NPR and ProPublica and Wikipedia.

        I don’t know how we ever get high-quality local reporting again. Maybe it’s something that just doesn’t work anymore. But without it, I think we’re going to have ever more corrupt and inept local governments, because hardly anyone is watching.

        • Matt M says:

          Perhaps the notion that journalism is best created by full-time specialists is inherently flawed.

          A lot of what Scott does here could be loosely defined as “journalism.” And it’s pretty high quality. Probably in no small part due to the fact that it’s a side-gig and he doesn’t really have any of those incentive problems, as such…

          • zzzzort says:

            I don’t want to police what is and isn’t journalism, but there are certainly things that one would want reporting on that couldn’t be easily covered as a hobby. Looking at the coronalinks post, a lot of relevant information is coming from companies paying people to find stuff out about news.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I agree, and would also consider Scott a journalist. As was pointed out, he uses a lot of sources from professional outlets. It would be hard to do journalism with just Scotts or Taibbis. But I do think they are journalists that add a lot of value by intelligently exploring things that otherwise would not get explored. Their audience will necessarily be relatively small and niche, but information aimed only at the masses is inadequate. We need somehow a balance. Many bloggers or hobbyists do top notch journalism.

        • zzzzort says:

          There are always incentive issues, but that doesn’t mean they’re the same. Of those options, governments and large philanthropic foundations seem to me to have the best incentive structure, followed by advertisers, and lastly subscribers (not coincidentally, I think NPR and ProPublica have the best reporting of those listed).

          The need to find a new model is real, because as you say advertising isn’t able to support news anymore. And subscription funded news is better than no news at all. But I think people should be clear about the problems.

          • albatross11 says:

            I support NPR and have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, because I think both have better incentives than most other top-tier news sources. The WSJ has a strict enough paywall that it doesn’t benefit much from links from Facebook or Twitter, which takes away the incentive to write clickbait-type stories to get clicks from social media sites. NPR is supported by donations and so also doesn’t have those incentives. There’s still plenty wrong with both, but they seem less messed up by their incentives than most US media.

            I think donor-supported media can work pretty well, as NPR and PBS show. I worry that a single person with a particular focus who needs to keep his Patreon subscribers happy to remain prosperous may have some bad incentives, but I don’t think his incentives are as corrupting as those of clickbait-driven media, and also, his pathologies will at least be *different* from most other media sources’ pathologies.

          • zzzzort says:

            My problem with the more personality driven subscriber is that they will end up being smaller and more niche. This means
            -less likely to enable the cross subsidies that enable important but unsexy information gathering. So as personalities with a following jump ship to patreon the situation for people showing up to city council meetings will get worse.
            -a bigger self selection problem on the readership end. If you’re choosing one of a hundred independent journalists you have a lot of latitude to choose someone who says things you like.
            -less society wide agreement on what the truth is. I trust the new york times and fox to both get basic facts right, but I can’t vet every medium post or podcaster with a patreon.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            governments…seem to me to have the best incentive structure

            …to maintain power? “State-run media” is a euphemism for “lying propaganda.”

          • mtl1882 says:

            his pathologies will at least be *different* from most other media sources’ pathologies.

            Yes, this is important. It’s more of a diversity thing. It is healthier to at least have something different on offer. All the good points of traditional journalism outlets still leave the fact that they simply don’t cover vast amounts of important stuff, because it isn’t profitable or is niche or goes against their incentive biases in some other way. Yes, it’s good when we all have the same set of facts to work with, in some sense, but that is accomplished by throwing out a lot of facts, too, to come up with an accepted narrative. The mass broadcasting era’s consensus reality was accomplished by leaving out certain events and viewpoints in very consistent ways. As the media became more corporate, this was increasingly dysfunctional.

            So as personalities with a following jump ship to patreon the situation for people showing up to city council meetings will get worse.

            The problem is that the city council meetings have already been abandoned. As long as the venture capitalist firms have decided to destroy local news, along with other dynamics, none of the traditional options are going to make this any better. I agree that a non-corporate news model could be preferable to solo acts, but I don’t think Taibbi has much hope that one will arise soon. Keeping total control on his end is the only way to protect himself from that culture–possibly he could build it into a small news outlet by inviting other journalists to join him, and maybe that’s the goal. But it would be much harder to try and create a whole business via substack, and similar online smaller outlets have failed to stay above water.

            It’s an improvement because it solves the principal-agent problem. Media generally claims to serve as an agent of the people, but it’s not really. If you read or watch news funded by advertising, you’re not the customer – you’re the product being sold. More eyeballs and clicks = more revenue, which subtly or not-so-subtly affects decisions around content and truthiness. If you pay directly for news, at least you actually are the principal in the first place. Your agent’s interests will be much more closely aligned with yours

            Another good point. This is crucial. With corporate media, they just want to get you to watch, which doesn’t even mean giving you the information you want—it can be more like being unable to look away from a trainwreck. They write with the advertisers foremost in mind. Taibbi is writing for his readers.

      • It’s an improvement because it solves the principal-agent problem. Media generally claims to serve as an agent of the people, but it’s not really. If you read or watch news funded by advertising, you’re not the customer – you’re the product being sold. More eyeballs and clicks = more revenue, which subtly or not-so-subtly affects decisions around content and truthiness.

        If you pay directly for news, at least you actually are the principal in the first place. Your agent’s interests will be much more closely aligned with yours. The truthiness of the content that gets produced still hinges on the taste and preferences of you and your fellow subscribers, of course.

        I don’t know how scalable this is, but that might actually be a good thing? The most valuable stuff I read mostly comes from hobbyists and people with day jobs, like Scott. They don’t have to pander to subscribers OR advertisers, which is as close to the optimal conditions for journalistic integrity as you’re going to get.

        • Clutzy says:

          This doesn’t seem to square with the fact that there was more investigative journolism when papers were funded mostly by classified ad. Those stories require lots of planning and patience compared to wire stories, parroting sources talking points, and editorialized news, which are the dominant works in your paid subscriptions like the Big 3 US Newspapers, and various subscriber magazines.

          • zzzzort says:

            Monopoly rents on local ads suck if you want to sell a couch, but they seemed to be a pretty decent way to fund journalism.

          • I think one of the big factors here is that in the newspaper era, we didn’t have anywhere near as much direct feedback on how stories were performing. We just tried to write good stuff, and then put it in the paper, and that was more or less that.

            There were huge changes even within the brief span of my reporting career (2011 – 2016). As everything moved to ‘online-first’, we suddenly had metrics on everything we were doing, real-time heatmaps of clicks on the site, digital producers running the show, etc. As a result, we did less investigations and ‘dull but worthy’ public service reporting, and cranked up the listicles and clickbait.

            I was not loving this trend, which was part of the reason I quit. But the most depressing thing about working in mainstream media isn’t seeing how the sausage is made – it’s seeing what people really want to consume!

            MSM has little choice but to appeal to the lowest-common denominator, because of the aforementioned dynamics (getting clicks and eyeballs to sell to advertisers). It’s a volume game, i.e., a race to the bottom.

            Which is why I’m happy to see journalists and writers branching out into subscription-based services, even if it doesn’t scale very well. There’s no point waiting for the MSM to change – it can’t. This is just how things are now. But at least we have some high-quality niche content!

          • albatross11 says:

            Richard:

            I suspect that’s one force worsening news coverage. But alongside that, there’s loss of ad revenue/cross subsidies and increasing low-friction competiton for readers’ attention. If I’m sitting at my breakfast table with a paper copy of the Wall Street Journal, I will probably read several articles, many maybe not exactly tailored to my interests, but interesting and informative enough to keep my attention while I finish my morning tea and bagel. If I’m sitting with my iPad open to the WSJ site, I will probably read two or three articles that look especially interesting to me, but then I may jump over and read SSC or Twitter or whatever.

            It’s like we used to eat meals with a bunch of vegetables on our plate, and maybe there’s a box of cookies at the store we’d have to expend some effort to get. And now, we eat meals with vegetables, chocolate cake, candy, bottles of vitamin pills, steamed rice, candied bacon, etc., all in front of us. It’s so easy to skip the vegetables and go for an extra helping of chocolate cake with bacon topping….

          • @albatross11

            yeah, that’s a good analogy. If all your competitors are offering, high-salt, high-fat, high-sugar food that is perfectly optimised to be maximally alluring, you have little choice but to follow suit.

            Also worth noting that on ad revenue in particular, it’s Facebook and Google cutting everyone’s lunch.

          • mtl1882 says:

            Yeah, what the other posters said. It boils down to the loss of classified ads, the ability to get fast feedback and the expectation that you tailor to that feedback instead of just writing things you think are more generally good, and the fact that physical newspapers bundled everything together, so you got stuff you didn’t particularly want along with what you wanted. Newspapers did not pander to individual readers’ immediate desires nearly as closely in the past, and were not even aware of them. They weren’t optimizing for that, but for giving a broad public information. Digital is incompatible with many people’s idea of what a healthy news environment looks like. The consumer has a lot more choice and flexibility. Perhaps there was some way for traditional outlets to refuse to enter into online competition, and try to defend its remaining turf for those who were interested. It might have worked at least for a few generations, done right. But it didn’t happen.

    • mtl1882 says:

      I really enjoy Taibbi and I hope he is right. Also not sure it will work.

      In reply to zzzzort, I think the incentives of corporate news have gone totally awry in the last few decades, such that the content is pretty much the only thing that matters either way. Newspapers have lost a lot of that advertising and are increasingly dependent on digital content, or bought up by venture capitalists. The entire ecosystem is dependent on clickbait-y CW-themed news and narrative, with a national over local focus. I know there are exceptions, but a trip to the New York Times website should confirm this is pretty widespread. They may be able to cover some things well, but what they cover is immensely limited by these interests. Not sure how Rolling Stone hangs on, but it is one of the few with an interest in publishing pieces of the kind Taibbi writes–in terms of content, length, and style.

      Taibbi talks all about this, and how he is shunned by almost everyone in the journalism industry for trying to clear up what was actually going on with Russiagate or just in general with the media from a non-partisan perspective. And few readers want to hear his breakdown of all this, but the ones who do are *really* desperate for someone to address these issues in the straightforward way he does. They’re largely not looking for an echo chamber, but they also don’t want “just the facts”, dry reports with no context–they want to know what’s going on, which his investigative work provides. So, yes, subscribers have opinions on the content and could affect it, but that’s the case almost everywhere at this point. And in Taibbi’s case, his audience is less likely to “get mad” at a position he takes, because his work doesn’t really “take sides” in a simplistic way, and people who like his work are looking for a more complex breakdown of the situation. His subscribers respond well to good work that dives into major systemic issues rarely explored elsewhere, so incentivizing that doesn’t seem like much of a problem. For investigative journalism, I think the subscription model can make a lot of sense, because investigative journalism has a more limited audience and you often have to get the funding for it from people who are already interested in the matter. It also gives you a lot more space to write down all the details, and send them to people who are actually interested in reading pages and pages of those details.

      • zzzzort says:

        I think it will work ok for him, but people talk about CW clickbait like it’s foisted on people by corporations, but clickbait works precisely because it what most people will click on. The more CW NYT coincided with their move to more reliance on subscription. There can be niches of non culture war stuff, but they’ll always be strongly self selected, which in some ways isn’t any different than telling the audience what it wants to hear.

        • albatross11 says:

          I have the vague sense that two things happened to journalism over the last few decades:

          a. Better outlets for advertising (especially local want-ads) eliminated most of the available revenue for local newspapers. Previously, actual reporting was being heavily cross-subsidized by advertising.

          b. Lower friction for readers to jump around eliminated a lot of the effective bundling of stories done by editors. Previously, actual reporting and pure entertainment were bundled together and you paid one price for both. The horoscope and funnies and celebrity gossip cross-subsidized the guys going to every city council meeting and reporting what happened. Now that bundling isn’t working anymore–even if I pay for a subscription to the WSJ or Washington Post, I’m only reading the articles I’m interested in. If I’m here for the dunking on the other team feel-good stories, or the horoscope and funnies, I barely even have to notice the headline from the investigative report that took six months of work to uncover. I can jump to other of my effectively infinite reading/viewing choices. I’m not even sitting on a train or at my breakfast table with the one paper to read, where I might go ahead and read some real news stories while I sit there because they’re available. Instead, I’m sitting with my iPad, which has books, TV shows, video games, and the whole internet’s worth of whatever cake and ice cream I want.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I agree clickbait is not foisted on anyone, but that’s why I think the rest of the outlets are just as messed up. Everyone is paying for what they want to read anyway. The business model changed and there’s no going back, although of course another model may eventually arise that targets a broader audience. Cultural changes do happen.

  13. albatross11 says:

    Really interesting essay on the near-future of academia. I suspect this will accelerate the thing that was already happening, where a financial bubble enabled people who shouldn’t have gone to college to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to flunk out/drop out after a couple years, and in the process ran tuition costs up to crazy unsustainable levels, deflates.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Yeah–I work in test prep, and I’d have no idea what to advise high school junior and seniors right now if they asked me what they should do (it’s not my job to advise them, fortunately). Many of my students come from very well-off families that will probably send them regardless, but I’d be very nervous in paying current prices if I didn’t have a ton of money to burn, and even many people with a lot of money may be hit by this crash. There was already a bubble here, as you said, and I have to believe this goes a long way in popping it and the myths around it. The financial hit inevitably will hurt college enrollment, and it looks like international students are going to be way down. It’s just really hard to plan long-term, and a lot of people can’t take the SAT or ACT right now, and while colleges are waiving that requirement, it obviously is going to make a lot of people screwed over if they were counting on that. The current system is one that deserves to go, but this is certainly an abrupt way to do it and one that highlights the randomness that many try to deny in such a competitive environment.

      • Matt M says:

        The advice I typically give is “go to the best school willing to give you great scholarships.”

        Like, personally, I had the test scores to get into Top 10 graduate schools. But I applied to a wide range. #10 would let me in, but with no financial aid. #15 would let me in, with partial financial aid. #20 offered me a full ride.

        I picked #20, and have no regrets.

        I’m not sure how well this applies to the undergraduate system, or how well it works for marginal students who don’t have very good scores or qualifications. But so long as some decent school is offering you a generous financial aid package, I just can’t see any justification for going in debt.

        • Jake R says:

          This is essentially what I did for undergrad. I was accepted to LSU with partial financial aid but I went to Louisiana Tech with a full ride. Worked out well for me.

        • JayT says:

          I’ve always felt that unless you are going to one of the really, really big name schools (eg, Harvard counts, Brown doesn’t) there’s basically no reason to spend a bunch of money on the school you go to. Choosing a an in-demand degree will do far more for your career prospects than going to some little known private school that charges five times what the state school does will.

          I know when I’m doing hiring there’s less than a dozen schools that would actually make me take notice as a worthwhile filter for the quality of the candidate, and if they already are coming in with experience, I might not even look at the schooling line of their resume.

          • Matt M says:

            I’ve always felt that unless you are going to one of the really, really big name schools (eg, Harvard counts, Brown doesn’t) there’s basically no reason to spend a bunch of money on the school you go to.

            Even at that level though, I’d recommend “free ride to Brown” over “full tuition at Harvard” any day. Yes, Harvard is better, you’ll probably have marginally better opportunities and throughout your entire life almost certainly earn more.

            But never having to stress about debt is worth a lot, IMO. If the college bubble pops, all you’re out is your opportunity cost of not working for however many years.

      • This is the exact moment when people should be more likely to go to college: there aren’t many jobs anyway so you might as well spend time studying. Hard to say what will happen with prices. More people will want to go to college for the reason I mentioned, but parents will have less money to bid up the price.

        None of the above is inconsistent with my belief that higher education is just signaling and should be defunded.

        • acymetric says:

          This is the exact moment when people should be more likely to go to college: there aren’t many jobs anyway so you might as well spend time studying.

          Only if college is free.

          • Christophe Biocca says:

            Caplan’s “The case against education” spends a chapter on the private and public costs of an education. The bottom line is that for most people (paying in-state tuition at a public university), the bulk of the cost of going to college is the opportunity cost (4 years you could have been earning money), not the tuition.

          • acymetric says:

            That kind of analysis is useful for predicting behavior of the kind of people who read Caplan (not most people).

            Also remember that current college-aged kids are looking at the people 10-20 years ahead of them and saying “yeah, I don’t want to be stuck with all that debt”.

          • Garrett says:

            If you are more interested in breadth than depth of education, taking a handful of for-credit courses at a local community college is surprisingly cheap. I’ve done so since establishing myself in my career (mostly as a way to learn more medical knowledge) and it’s been a wonderful value.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      The virus has popped a lot of things that kept going just because no one thought to question them.

      Foreign students are going to be reduced, but I don’t think they are going to zero, as the article suggests. I think travel restrictions of some kind of inevitable in the next year, but if someone is coming to spend 9 months at a time in school, then a lot of border inspections become reasonable. (48 hours in a quarantine facility, with a swab test at the end, is going to catch just about all cases, and is not that big a hit on a 9 month visit.)

      • albatross11 says:

        This is another of those places where being able to do really cheap, widespread testing will really pay off. But yes, for a 9-month stay, you could even handle a 2-week quarantine and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

        • acymetric says:

          48 hours in a quarantine facility, with a swab test at the end, is going to catch just about all cases, and is not that big a hit on a 9 month visit.

          But yes, for a 9-month stay, you could even handle a 2-week quarantine and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

          I think you are both massively underestimating how unpleasant being forcibly stuck in a room for 2 days (let alone 2 weeks, sheesh) would be. You aren’t going to be staying at a 5-Star hotel with free wifi and room service, here.

          • Theodoric says:

            Here’s a description of the National Quarantine Unit in Nebraska. It doesn’t sound that bad. It looks like they do provide WiFi (they mention patients Skyping in to town halls). Personally, assuming I could keep in contact with the outside world, my biggest complaint would be having the early for me on a non work day (8-8:15am-not a morning person) breakfast. The rooms have fridges, why not add a freezer and stock them with frozen meals so people can eat on their own schedule?
            EDIT: Forgot to add link.

          • acymetric says:

            That sounds tolerable for 2 days (2 weeks would start getting pretty uncomfortable), but not exactly “nice”. And such facilities would get less pleasant, not more, as they scale up to be used the way @Edward Scizorhands and @albatross11 are suggesting.

            If we’re basically quarantining everyone coming into the country, I promise those quarantine conditions will be at the lowest end of liveable possible. A one off quarantine unit with 20 beds made possible by a grant isn’t a good indicator for what this would look like.

            It is going to look a lot more like jail, or a psych hospital for involuntarily committed people.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            You say the conditions you imagine suck, and you also say that people you imagine are going to keep on piling into them, so I guess the conditions you imagine aren’t going to be that bad.

          • acymetric says:

            People are going to keep wanting to come here for school or work opportunities, yes. That doesn’t the quarantines for them won’t basically be jail cells.

            The good news: if you decide to travel internationally, you’ll be treated to the same whenever you reach whatever your chosen destination is.

            You honestly believe that if the policy becomes “quarantine everyone who travels for multiple days” that it won’t be a miserable experience for anyone quarantined, and depending on who is in charge a borderline humanitarian crisis?

            If you want to say the tradeoffs are worth it (keep coronavirus out) that’s fine, but if you want to say it’s going to be like a couple nights at a Marriott I’m going to need you to think a little harder.

          • albatross11 says:

            I’m not saying it would be nice, just that many students would gut their way through staying in a dorm with a locked door and crappy 3x a day meal service for 14 days if they had to.

            But really, I imagine rapid tests will be available by then, so they’ll pay $100 or so to get a rapid test that lets you skip out on quarantine and catches 95% or so of cases.

          • John Schilling says:

            That doesn’t the mean quarantines for them won’t basically be jail cells.

            Jail cells cost more than hotel rooms. The extra expense buys you nothing of particular value for quarantine purposes, where basically nobody is a violent criminal and/or terribly interested in escaping. And most nations like international visitors. That’s three things that do mean they won’t be basically jail cells.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11:

            I’m not saying it would be nice, just that many students would gut their way through staying in a dorm with a locked door and crappy 3x a day meal service for 14 days if they had to.

            I agree with this, I was mostly objecting to “it wouldn’t be that big of a deal” and I think my objection mostly parses out to how we interpret “that big” differently in the sentence.

            But really, I imagine rapid tests will be available by then, so they’ll pay $100 or so to get a rapid test that lets you skip out on quarantine and catches 95% or so of cases.

            This is a good point.

            @John Schilling

            That’s three things that do mean they won’t be basically jail cells.

            Oh good, jail cells with more normal looking doors. That’s a load off my mind, no concerns at all then. I’m not worried about the expense or what they look like, I’m talking about what it’s like to be stuck (locked) in one. Being confined to a place by force can be a negative experience even if the doors aren’t metal and the walls aren’t cinderblock.

          • John Schilling says:

            Oh good, jail cells with more normal looking doors.

            If you imagine that the only relevant difference between a typical jail cell and a typical hotel room is the door, you are either devoid of clue or posturing for rhetorical effect. And very few people are that clueless, so knock it off please.

          • johan_larson says:

            Two-week quarantines to enter the country would absolutely wipe out cross-border pleasure travel, and would eliminate all but the most vitally necessary business travel. Both of these are important enough, even in an era of easy video conferencing, that we will not be willing to put people through anything that severe. Right now the focus is on fighting the disease, but that will change. A couple of months from now, we’ll be focusing on returning to normalcy and reviving the economy. If we are going to increase travel controls, I expect something more like forehead temperature checks.

          • Garrett says:

            > I expect something more like forehead temperature checks.

            Given that we’ve already seen people take medications to lower fever to get past such temperature checks, are there any other straight-forward/convenient/cheap thing we could do? Otherwise we’re only going to catch the people who didn’t know they were infected and didn’t bother to hide their symptoms.

          • John Schilling says:

            Two-week quarantines are probably not going to happen. Temperature checks were happening even before COVID-19, and will probably expand. Something intermediate like a two-day quarantine with testing could happen in some cases, in which case expect hotel and resort operators to offer upgraded quarantine packages for anyone who is afraid the normal version would be a jail cell.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This sub-thread started with a concept that there would be no foreign students any more because of travel restrictions.

            The point was made that even kind of onerous travel restrictions would still be minor in terms of someone spending 9 months in a country. If anyone gets hit, foreign students are going to be way down the list.

          • Purplehermann says:

            Could just give a test on entry and exit, along with phone tracking.
            Or anti body tests being necessary to enter countries

      • mtl1882 says:

        A two-week quarantine would eliminate most air travel, but in the near future it seems quite likely. Very important business travel, occasional long visits home to see family, and some college students will still have some demand even with a quarantine, though some of them will be afraid to fly unless immune. But will this be enough to keep flights profitable? Seems unlikely to me. Tourism is dead for a while. International flight to and from America seems close to dead for a year or two. That sounds like a crazy thing to say, but I don’t see how else things would go. The tests would have to get ridiculously sensitive and reliable, and even the airport would be a risk. A lot of countries will not have this well under control even if we manage to do so. Also, how easy is it to tell the difference between testing positive and being recovered? Do they both rely mainly on antibody tests? Fever tests aren’t any good here.

        There are a ton of foreign students, many Chinese, paying full tuition, at some schools. Losing a bunch of those is a real issue for those schools. And while I think some would be willing to do the quarantine to come to school here, many of them take at least one trip home a year, and if that’s not going to be an option anymore due to the quarantine being longer than allotted vacation, I imagine some of them will lose interest.

        • John Schilling says:

          A two-week quarantine would eliminate most air travel, but in the near future it seems quite likely.

          What purpose would it serve, that can’t be done faster, better, and cheaper by just testing new arrivals and sending them on their way when the test comes back negative? If we’re demanding perfection from our testing, maybe we need to test after two or three days of quarantine in case the traveler had an undetectable early infection, but even that probably isn’t necessary and the two-week version certainly isn’t.

          Unless you don’t have test kits, but this isn’t February any more.

  14. Clutzy says:

    So I’ve been reading a few articles that say the toilet paper shortage is caused partially because of a commercial/residential difference in TP. The obvious answer as a short term end around, both to get people TP, and make a bit of profit, is for commercial TP makers to set up temporary drive through TP sales locations. This is basically a $100 bill sitting on the sidewalk and nobody is picking it up.

    • matkoniecz says:

      I suspect that setting up drive through TP sales locations are more expensive that it is possible to earn using them.

      And anyway you still need to supply them. If that is easy you can just increase supply to shops.

      • albatross11 says:

        Toilet paper doesn’t go bad very quickly, so it’s probably not a huge problem for the manufacturers to just leave the existing rolls in the warehouse for a couple extra months. But yeah, they could probably do pretty well selling them. Even giant inconveniently-sized rolls or whatever would sell right now, and you could probably sell them at a reasonably high markup without so much problem because they’re normally not sold to the public.

      • Clutzy says:

        I mean, McDonalds and all the other drive through places already get shipped tons of this crap. So does wal mart for its own bathrooms. Just ship them more and sell it out the window (or off the shelf if you are wal mart). TBH, not having this idea is a fireable offense for the CEO of McDees, Taco Bell, etc. Their business is probably otherwise down, but they could be supplementing pretty heartily with TP money,

        • albatross11 says:

          There’s a local place here that has a working farm with pick-your-own fruits/vegetables, hayrides, bonfires, and a store to sell produce from local farmers. It has shifted over to doing online car-pickup sales of food (some locally produced, some probably stuff that was formerly heading for restaurants, some shipped in–we got bananas awhile back, and they’re sure not grown around here!), and it’s just wonderful so far–better selection and shorter wait to get your products, less crowded so less exposure to other potentially infected people, etc. I hope they make a *pile* of money doing this.

        • albatross11 says:

          I wonder if there’s some kind of issue with the TP being sold only for their specific fixtures. I have the impression that a lot of commercial bathroom fixtures are sold on the printer model–you get the toilet paper and towel and soap dispensers cheap, but then are obliged somehow to buy their products to fill them. If so, they may have legal agreements forbidding them reselling their TP, lest some small business get the same deal McDonalds gets.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            As far as I can tell, TP rolls are pretty standard and interchangeable. I haven’t seen one in any commercial dispenser that looks perceivably different from the standard home size.

          • albatross11 says:

            A lot of places have giant TP rolls for their dispensers, and those would be better than nothing for home use, but wouldn’t fit any home toilet paper holder.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            A major reason that commercial facilities use non-consumer-grade sizes of products is that they don’t want them stolen by customers or employees for home use.

        • Theodoric says:

          FWIW, I have seen commercial toilet paper (like this) available in smaller stores in my area (NYC suburbs).

    • AlesZiegler says:

      I am fascinated by toilet paper shortages in anglo countries. It seems that it started in Australia, and moved to the US. Is it, like, a real thing? In my postcommunist country, toilet paper shortages are in living memory from communist times, but there is no shortage now, despite very real and harsh lockdown. Is it, like, a real thing, as opposed to a meme? Households running out of TP and having to find substitutes to wipe their a§§es with?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        People have it; it’s just not in stores.

      • Loriot says:

        Shortages are definitely real. It’s been sold out most of the time when I checked. We almost ran out (down to our last roll), but luckily I happened to go to the store the morning after a shipment came in, so now we have plenty.

        • albatross11 says:

          I started prepping for this pretty early, so we’re still OK for TP, but we’ve only managed to buy a very little bit (less than we’ve used) since the lockdown started.

        • Del Cotter says:

          Old communist joke: man sees a queue and joins it. Asks the woman ahead what the queue is for. She says she doesn’t know, but they both agree whatever it is, they don’t want to miss out!

      • Garrett says:

        It’s real, but dire in the “first-world problems” kind of way. Production capacity still exceeds long-term demand. The challenge is that a lot of people decided they needed to buy a lot right away, which causes a short-term supply shortage. Manufactures and stores have compensated in various ways which has ameliorated the problem, though it hasn’t eliminated it yet. (Limit 1 per customer seems to be the most effective) People are mostly able to find toilet paper, but might have trouble finding the particular brands or package sizes that they wanted.

      • Del Cotter says:

        Capitalism is really good at matching average supply to average demand, but the key word is “average”. Shocks to both supply and demand can happen, and nobody, capitalist or communist, can instantly compensate for the shocks.

        Also, don’t take the news stories too much to heart. Remember these are reporters used to full shelves always. A slightly bare shelf ever is stunning to them.

        What you’ve just witnessed is an old story in commerce, it’s just the TP or pasta version of a run on the bank. Historically, people leave their money in the bank trusting the bank to keep its promise to “pay the bearer on demand”. If people hear the bank may fail to keep its promise, they correctly reason they should take their money out, thus causing the bank to fail to keep its promise! The fear caused the thing feared.

        I dismissed rumours of a run on TP and dried pasta, noting the shelves were full, and so didn’t panic or panic-buy. I was the fool when they did empty after all, and I hadn’t panic-bought when I should have.

        But the story doesn’t have a sad ending, because I did get some of both supplies, and still have them in abundance: there wasn’t really a need to panic. I haven’t heard one case of a genuinely paperless household, or one without convenient food. We’re all fine, it’s just something ridiculous to laugh at, in the end.

        The impression I get of communist bread shortage is that bread was held at such a low price, buying some was a no-brainer, so nobody ever left any on the shelf. Capitalism works by holding goods at such a high price you don’t want them, so every night the shelves are full of goods nobody wanted to take home that day. The benefit of the latter system is that if you do feel you want the goods, you can get them in minutes.

        • Loriot says:

          I haven’t heard one case of a genuinely paperless household,

          We very nearly ran out of toilet paper (down to our last roll). Luckily, I happened to go to the store the morning after a shipment came in, so now we have plenty again.

      • toastengineer says:

        I strongly suspect the shortages are caused by people buying out stores entire stocks with the intention of re-selling it later more than individuals panic-buying for themselves.

        • Loriot says:

          That doesn’t explain why the shortages continue weeks after stores started limiting purchases to 1 per person.

          The real answer is a combination of real increased demand and inflexible supply chains.

          https://marker.medium.com/what-everyones-getting-wrong-about-the-toilet-paper-shortage-c812e1358fe0

          • toastengineer says:

            I guess I should’ve kept my mouth shut until I read the article. Sorry – I’ve been working 16-24 hour shifts since around when this all started and I guess that’s messed with my perception of time; I didn’t realize it’s been more than a week since the initial shock. It’s been about three, right?

            I’m still not super convinced… how many people poo at work, really? My disagreement is purely base rate prior fuckery, it makes perfect sense if we assume people take a lot of dumps outside of the house under normal conditions, I just don’t buy that they do. Could it not be that wannabe profiteers are still just buying it all up?

          • AG says:

            I’ve noticed that my personal consumption of TP at home has doubled since the lockdown began. Previously it was something like 3 trips at home, 3-4 at work.

            Anyone drinking coffee has to go at work at least twice, due to its laxative properties.

    • zzzzort says:

      Have prices for toilet paper gone up significantly? Margins on toilet paper are super low, the only way it would make sense to set up a new retail location, or even a new supply chain to an existing retail location, is if you can charge a lot more. Libertarians can blame anti-gouging laws, but my guess is the shortage is acute enough that many people would be willing to pay a significant markup.

      • Clutzy says:

        Prices haven’t gone up. There are no TP sales, which often there are in normal times. But the good thing is that most normal consumers have any idea what they should pay for a 2 foot diameter wheel of TP so you could charge a decent markup without people really noticing. As we kinda figured out elsewhere in the thread, the most logical thing is just to ship to places that already buy your crappy TP for their own restrooms, and let those people resell it out of a drive through window, or just on the shelves.

      • Eric Rall says:

        That was my initial suspicion, too: that the combination of anti-gouging laws and sellers wanting to avoid the reputational stigma of appearing to price-gouge is probably keeping prices from adjusting enough for it to be worthwhile to make the supply-chain changes to offer commercial toilet paper for retail sale.

        • Lambert says:

          The trick is to not have a good reputation in the first place.

          I had to buy some for £1.25 a roll at the local somewhat dodgy hardware store.

      • SamChevre says:

        In my area, prices haven’t gone up technically–but actually, they have. The stores that still have toilet paper are selling only single rolls–at the old single roll prices ($1 a roll). A month ago, you could buy a 12-pack or 24-pack for about half the per-roll prices–now you can’t.

        • Del Cotter says:

          Yes, I said I had obtained supplies of paper and dried pasta in the end, but they were premium brands I never would have bought normally.

          Milk is the opposite story: dairy farmers are complaining that demand has dropped so far they’re pouring surplus away. My taste in milk is for premium high fat whole milk in small bottles, but falling demand has caused suppliers to stop servicing this sector, so I’m forced to buy the only milk that is offered: the popular semi-skimmed in large bottles. The price of all lines has stayed unchanged, but I now have to buy the cheaper lines, so the price has “gone down”.

    • Robin says:

      I don’t really believe that. They say domestic use is up about 40%, that alone is no reason for empty shelves. It’s self-reinforcing hoarding. I wish I could believe in morphogenetic fields.

      Compare with other things: Since we cook at home daily, we use the dishwasher a lot more than before, but there is no dishwasher detergent shortage.

      • Loriot says:

        The reason for the shortages is a sudden 40% increase in demand combined with a supply chain that has little flexibility to increase production.

        Have you read this? https://marker.medium.com/what-everyones-getting-wrong-about-the-toilet-paper-shortage-c812e1358fe0

        • John Schilling says:

          Don’t know about Robin, but I have read it, and I have read far too many annoying claims by people who insist that if I had read it I would completely agree that it wasn’t panic-buying and hoarding. I’ve read it, and I’ve been in stores, and I’m pretty sure it was mostly panic-buying and hoarding. The predicted 40% increase in home consumption would not have manifest in actual increased purchasing fast enough to have emptied the shelves as fast as they were observably emptied, and it would not explain people with >>>40% greater than a normal toilet-paper purchase in their shopping carts.

          Panic-buying and hoarding explains the observed results; a 40% increase in long-term household consumption does not.

          • Matt M says:

            I mean, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

            On the one hand, people who are saying “demand for toilet paper is completely unchanged therefore none of this makes any sense at all” are wrong. Demand has changed.

            On the other hand, you’re completely correct that the masses’ reaction here is way out of proportion to the actual increase in demand.

            And on the other other hand, anyone who started stockpiling/hoarding early (as many in the rationalist community did) on the sole logic of “I don’t know what this disease will do but I know the public will likely freak out and start hoarding TP” looks pretty good (disclaimer: I am in this group).

          • baconbits9 says:

            Its going to be a combination effect, if it was just hoarding and panic buying then a modest stockpile and continued production would quickly alleviate the issue, but increased demand+panic buying + likely some level of supply chain disruptions is going to reinforce that there is a shortage.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The claim isn’t that panic buying didn’t empty the shelves initially. It’s that continued panic buying and hoarding isn’t what’s keeping the shelves empty.

          • John Schilling says:

            From the cited article, “There’s another, entirely logical explanation for why stores have run out of toilet paper”. Not “why they remain out”, why they ran out in the first place. If it was meant to be a more nuanced argument, the author failed to effectively convey that and pretty much everyone who has picked up and ran with the argument has missed it.

            Yes, you can make a nuanced argument in which increased household consumption is part of the story, but SSC is I think the only place I’ve seen that argument, and I’ve seen people I know to be smarter than that take Oremus’s piece as an excuse to make the simplistic and wrong version.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That very same paragraph ends with

            It helps to explain why stores are still having trouble keeping it in stock, weeks after they started limiting how many a customer could purchase.

            I agree the author didn’t convey the argument as explicitly as he should have, but it’s there.

    • gbdub says:

      Several of the restaurants in my area are setting themselves up as “markets” where they are selling grocery type items, presumably through their commercial supply chain, for pickup or delivery. This includes TP, in single roll commercial packaging.

  15. Eugleo says:

    I’m just revisiting my knowledge-management and learning-new-things systems to better keep up with collegework (bioinformatics). I found that although I have good grades — even the best, in fact — I don’t seem to retain much of the knowledge. I have a feeling that I accidentally hacked the education system. That leads me to the following question:

    Which note-taking and learning system would you recommend for mathematics (analysis, algebra, automata) and for biology (molecular biology, biochemistry)? I’ve read a lot about Zettelkasten and Anki but I’m unsure how to apply these general methods/tools to my concrete problems.

    Any advice, experiences or links to resources are highly appreciated! Thanks!

    • Lambert says:

      The education system is kind of BS.
      Once you know what you’ll actually use in the Real World, you should be able to refresh that knowledge much faster than you learned it in the first place.

      • Eugleo says:

        I at least partially agree (everything you can hack by accident hasn’t been thought-out well). However, I fear I won’t be able to find out what I need in the “Real World”. In my field (bioinformatics, or computer science), the possible solutions to a problem are on a spectrum from “sloppy and slow” to “elegant and eye opening”; while both get the job done, the latter is always preferable, of course.

        Where your particular solution sits on the spectrum is determined by your knowledge and ability to creatively combine it in new ways. Hence, I won’t ever need the knowledge per se, but my work will suffer from it — even without me knowing.

    • Deiseach says:

      I have found that I only retain what I use; I can cram for an exam, get good results, then it all leaches out of my head if I don’t use it in practice.

      You might be the same?

      • Eugleo says:

        Probably; might be even a generally human thing. Hard to get practice in my field, though, especially on the abstract math stuff; I thought flashcards (Anki) might substitute for it until I learn more and become able to apply it.

        • Matt M says:

          I think it definitely is. This essay by Mason Hartman is a favorite of mine, and although it’s focused on smaller children, I think it applies to adults as well:

          TLDR, it’s basically impossible to “teach” someone (in the sense that they will retain knowledge indefinitely) anything that they aren’t either personally fascinated by or will repeatedly use or think about.

          What we can do, and what schooling mostly does, is force you to memorize things on a short-term basis. Although it doesn’t do an especially good job on that either.

          • Eugleo says:

            Thanks for the link, K-12 is my favourite subject ever since I’d been assigned to write a case for “Our school system needs dramatic changes” in our high-school debate club.

            So, if I were to apply this knowledge on my problem, I should… Read up some papers, as Elephant recommends in his comment? Or do you have some other idea?

          • Matt M says:

            Unfortunately, my advice to you is probably closer to something like “Your problem is unsolvable and you should give up.”

            Put more charitably, you should examine why it is you want to learn things about mathematics and biology that you will not apply frequently in your day to day life and that don’t sufficiently fascinate you such that you’ll spend a lot of your “leisure” time thinking about them.

            Unless you can change one of those basic facts, your quest is impossible.

            I’ve tried multiple times to learn physics and chemistry because they seem like useful things smart people should know. But I just can’t. I never use them in my occupation and they just don’t interest me enough for me to retain the knowledge for any length of time. So I just stopped trying!

          • Eugleo says:

            That’s an eye-opening statement. I’m still in the early-college mindset of “I want to know all of it”, so maybe you’re right that I’ll need to face the truth that although I’d like to know those things, I don’t fancy doing the hard work and learning them (or better: the hard work of keeping them in my memory for prolonged stretches of time).

            It’s also nice to be assured that maybe the fault isn’t on my side and that I should focus more on the real favourites and worry less about me hacking the system and not learning properly. (If this wasn’t your point, feel free to correct me)

            With that said, let me rephrase the original question from “How to take notes of everything and remember it indefinitely” to “Provided that I really want to remember some material even after exams, and be able to use it in novel ways, what methodology will help me utilise my time effectively?”.

            There’s a lot of things I do in my “leisure” time that I could classify as learning (reading papers, reading interesting blogs, doing side projects). So, even though I now understand I shouldn’t feel bad for not properly learning everything, which was a part of my original question, there still are things that I think would benefit from me knowing the right methodology and tools.

          • albatross11 says:

            I have a lot of interests that I think about all the time (biology, evolution, immunology, virology, economics, game theory) that I don’t use much in my job. I probably couldn’t retain a lot of information about that stuff if I weren’t interested enough to think a lot about it.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Except in certain fields, it’s often very hard to reduce the learning to a good set of facts. I think forming study groups dedicated to coming up with flashcards for Anki may be the best thing.

    • Elephant says:

      For a subject like bioinformatics, like most of the quantitative sciences, the best way to stay sharp is not refreshing your memory or note-taking, but to (1) learn the next level of stuff (2) teach, or (3) read and understand current research (or do research yourself). All these force you to have a solid grasp of the earlier stuff. Plus, they’re interesting! For bioinformatics especially, since you don’t need a lab, you can definitely download papers and code, and work through things yourself. Maybe pick a handful of research groups whose publications you might follow. Great question, by the way — good luck!

      • Eugleo says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. In my case, the note-taking is currently almost nonexistent, and learning patterns are, uhm, questionable, to say the least, so I’d probably get some value from “refreshing” them, as you call it — but I get your general point. And I agree, it sounds like a great idea (and fun, too)!

        Now I just need to find some study groups to follow, and papers to read; if you happened to know of some (in bioinformatics, or CS/biology in general), please do let me know! Also, as per the beginning of this comment, I’d benefit from some overhaul of my note-taking/learning methodology anyway; if you have any tips or experience related to those, I’d be happy if you shared them as well 🙂

    • toastengineer says:

      I have a feeling that I accidentally hacked the education system.

      Something I noticed over and over again in school is that the tests are built with the assumption that you’ve “hacked” them in this way, and you will come away with C’s D’s and F’s if you don’t.

      The most blatant example was in some of my English courses; the tests were on random details such that you’d probably only remember two thirds of them from actually reading the material – but the test also just-so-happened to line up 1:1 with the bullet points in the SparkNotes (the professor didn’t even scramble the order they were in.)

      It kinda seems like most people in the system who really care about teaching have settled on a position of “okay, most people are just here for the rubber stamp that means they’re allowed to get a job, so I’m just going to make it so anyone can pass the tests and the people who actually care about what I’m talking about will pay attention no matter how the test is designed.”

      • Randy M says:

        IMO, by high school level tests should nearly always be open book, testing things other than information recall. Can you recognize the implications or apply the information here? Can you generalize the principle to an unrelated example? And if the student is able to teach themselves the principle from the text in the time allowed for the test, that’s basically as good as having learned it ahead of time.

      • Deiseach says:

        the test also just-so-happened to line up 1:1 with the bullet points in the SparkNotes

        Oh God yes, model answers. this was just really coming into swing when I was doing my exams back in the days of the Neanderthals, but it’s only gotten worse since then,

        Standardised tests (and I’m not against standardised testing, it’s probably as good as we’ll get to create measurable common standards over a wide number of students of all levels of ability) meaning schools judged by results they get on these tests means “10% of the students will be really interested in, motivated by, and capable of in-depth examination of this subject, 10% will just about manage to write their name on the test paper, the rest of them will need to be dragged along by the scruff of the neck/hand-held and spoon-fed the model answers to get the maximum grades in the test”.

        So bullet-points on “what are the main themes of this piece? what do X and Y do to prove this? learn these short quotes from the play/book to support your answer” bam-bam-bam all laid out like pabulum for the student to regurgitate on exam day. When working as a school secretary I saw it getting to the point that for specific classes/pupils, the teacher didn’t even bother with getting them to read the book, it was just photocopying things like SparkNotes and handouts and having them learn off all the “the topic of this chapter is -” answers to churn out for the test.

      • Eugleo says:

        Oh, it’s fortunately not like this at my college (although at high-school it was similar to what you describe). The professors are trying hard for us to really understand the concepts, at least in the CS/Math courses; ofc you have to recite some proofs or definitions, but there’s a lot of problem solving on the exams as well, with problems generally requiring the student to use the knowledge in a novel way.

        I think I managed to hack this kind of setup by “cramming” not only the cold facts, but the understanding as well. I fell like not only the facts, but the understanding has faded since the exams. Or maybe I just have overly optimistic presumptions about what I should remember.

        • toastengineer says:

          If that’s the case, then your best bet is to find a way to actually use what you’re learning to get stuff done. For programming at least you could try writing some games. Not sure what you could do with the rest, maybe try to turn some of it in to game mechanics.

          But you probably remember more than you think you do – your brain is just hiding it because it knows, correctly, that it isn’t relevant right now, and once you start actually using that understanding it’ll bring that memory back in to scope.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      Well, I’d say I’m in pretty much the exact situation you’re in–undergrad in biomedical engineering with a CS minor, getting good grades but unsure if I’m retaining anything.

      For note-taking, my recommendation is: Taking notes during lectures, with a pen/cil and paper, in literally any style you want, will force you to pay attention and probably help with retention at least in the short-to-medium term. Conversely I don’t find much use in taking notes from textbooks, but see what works for you. But the key is to just generally be a good student–attend lecture and pay attention; do any assigned reading on time and don’t just skim them; start your homework at least a few days before it’s due so you’ll have time to ask the prof or TA for clarification on problems you don’t fully understand.

      Retaining knowledge after the final exam is trickier. As others have said, if you aren’t using or building on the knowledge, you’re going to forget it. So, my advice is to do research with a professor whose work you’re interested in, or to get a part-time internship, if you aren’t doing that already. Also, I’d guess that paying attention in your current classes probably helps solidify what you learned in their prerequisites.

    • Viliam says:

      My strategy is “writing tutorials for my alternative self that never heard about this”. This alternative self is quite similar to “my future self, after I forgot all this”.

      This may be too tailored for my personality, because I am slow at learning and good at teaching. Therefore it is efficient for me to teach my future selves.

      As a system, CherryTree works quite okay. Nothing magical, just simple program to take notes in hierarchical structure with possible hyperlinks.

    • Procrastinating Prepper says:

      I graduated two years ago in the same situation as you. Got good grades, didn’t retain anything that I didn’t find interesting enough to talk/think about in a non-school context.

      I find now that it isn’t really a barrier, since I kept all my notes. I usually rewrite my notes from scratch shortly before the exam, when I’ve learned enough about the material to phrase it in the way that makes the most sense to me. Now, on the rare occasion that I encounter a problem that I learned how to solve in school, I’ll usually recognize that fact and dig out my class notes from storage to solve it.

      So the best advice I could give you is… don’t worry about keeping it all in your head. Keep it on paper or on a hard drive, and write your notes with the mindset of being able to make sense of them after many years’ break.

    • zoozoc says:

      Below is my experience at college and work.

      I got pretty good grades in college. By the end of the class I was usually quite competent at the material presented. However, that knowledge quickly left if I wasn’t applying it. And due to the nature of undergrad/engineering, the course work was only loosely connected with one another (especially in the first few years) such that most all of it except for a core is now forgotten.

      At work, I have to write down anything important that I am working on. This is because (a) the time-frame in which a “TODO” gets done is usually much longer than I can remember the relevant details (b) there are a large number of “TODO”s stretching across several different work-areas and (c) often I am switching between different work-areas over the course of several weeks or several months, but sometimes it is switching over in a day or several days.

      My memory is definitely worst than it used to be. So note taking is extremely important to maintain current quality and work-load.

      • Eugleo says:

        Sounds reasonable, thanks for chiming in! Do you have any specific recommendations on the note-taking itself? (Methods, tools, …)

  16. albatross11 says:

    I suspect 2020 is the year when a lot of middle-aged people stopped believing they could retire before they were too old to work anymore, and started hoping they made it past traditional retirement age in some kind of shape to keep working….

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      People say this after every stock market crash. Long term investing is still fine; businesses just lost a handful of quarters.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Yep, my retirement’s shot. Not really worried about COVID-19 directly (I’d give about a 25% chance that I’ve had it already; I commute to NYC and some of my co-workers had it), but the idea of working until I’m dead or nearly so really sucks.

      • BlazingGuy says:

        Would you please elaborate on this? The S&P 500 was around $3300 when this started, google finance says it’s at $2785 as I type this comment. I’m trying to picture the finances of someone who could have retired before, but can’t now, and just…. Did you lose your shirt trading options, or something like that? Were you planning on retiring next month?

        • The Nybbler says:

          My trajectory was positive, now it’s negative, and furthermore I have to increase the amount of money I need (due to the revealed increased risk).

          Just the way the world works. The minimal cost for anything I want is “slightly more than I can afford.”

          • BlazingGuy says:

            Thanks for the reply!

            My trajectory was positive, now it’s negative

            But unless you were just about to retire, there is time for it to get positive again, in fact this could be an excellent buying opportunity.

            Maybe I misunderstood your original comment, but it sounds like you are updating your plans, not giving up altogether on ever retiring. Like, it’s possible that this pandemic (and political responses to it) get worse and worse, eventually leading to full societal collapse somehow. That would mess up all of our retirement plans, but I don’t think it’s particularly likely. Similarly, a planet-killing meteor strike would effectively wipe out my 401k, but I am not trying to lose sleep over that.

        • DinoNerd says:

          I’m not the Nybbler, but my retirement is currently indefinitely postponed, and I’m not happy (TM). And I had been quite literally planning to retire next month: my target date was 31 May, 2020.

          Two problems: one is a large loss, near the start of retirement. If your S&P 500 numbers represent either of our savings, that’s a 15% drop which translates into either a 15% drop in money available each retirement year, or needing to work long enough to replace most of it. (Not all – working an extra n years translates into the money having to last n fewer years.)

          The other problem is uncertainty. I don’t know how long this will last, or how deep it will go. I don’t know what level of wage and price inflation will be caused by attempts to prop up the economy, but I expect that the inflation rates assumed in my planning are now too low. Worst case, we give ourselves a case of hyperinflation. My expectation is that things will get worse before they stop falling; I just don’t know how much worse.

          And I’m doing well – I’m not drawing from retirement savings, while they are down, to find money to live on while furloughed. I’m not trying to cover fixed costs for a shut down business, in the hopes of surviving the shutdown, while also covering my family’s living expenses. The OP might be.

          I don’t see this as resulting in me never retiring, assuming I don’t happen to die relatively soon. But I can see where someone else might feel that way.

          • BlazingGuy says:

            That makes sense, my condolences btw. I absolutely understand increased uncertainty right now, especially for someone who was going to pull the trigger next month.

            I don’t see this as resulting in me never retiring, assuming I don’t happen to die relatively soon.

            I understood Nybbler’s original post to mean something more like this, which is what I was curious about.

  17. salvorhardin says:

    So the SF and CA governments seem to have suddenly shot upward in relative effectiveness, and I’m pleasantly surprised and curious about why. Much as I love living in SF, I would never have held it up before as an example of a relatively well-governed city or state; just the opposite, in fact.

    My first hypothesis is that this highlights a difference between competence and effectiveness, a difference possibly of interest to the mistake-vs-conflict-theory debate. Namely, the SF and CA governments were full of very capable people all along, but they weren’t effective because they were paralyzed by interest group struggles. Now that those struggles are suspended and they’re faced with solving problems that everyone has a clear common interest in solving, they’re doing very well as you’d expect from their high capability level. But when this is over, the same struggles will just pick up where they left off and paralyze things again. So if we want them to make better policy on housing, K-12 education, and transportation (to name three things that SF and CA have been particularly crappy at in general), no change to the competence of the people overseeing those things will make any difference; we have to fix the interest group struggle problems. This may be impossible, but we should try and be creative about changes to locus-of-control that could help with it: either increasing or decreasing centralization, maybe some of both, in ways that will better align interests and/or build broader and more overwhelmingly dominant coalitions among those with power over loci of control.

    Another hypothesis is that this is one of the few times when CA voters are likely to reward actually doing stuff rather than symbolic posturing. Usually voting in SF and CA is, even more than elsewhere, about Showing That You Care/consuming the psychic benefits of a righteous sense of your own virtue; but now that things are down to life-and-death stakes, politicians know they have to deliver real goods and are focusing on doing so. This is more hopeful, as it would suggest that the present crisis is making the populace behave less decadently in our civic lives, in a way that might cause a cultural shift that would persist after the pandemic. And the combination of all of CA’s existing assets with a culture incentivizing more competent governance could be super powerful.

    Any thoughts on which of these might be true and why? Or other hypotheses? Or is the premise false, and SF/CA governments aren’t responding particularly well to the crisis and are just lucky to get whatever good outcomes we’re getting?

    • Loriot says:

      Is the Santa Clara County Public Health Officer even an elected position? The fact that I have to ask means that your second hypothesis seems highly implausible to me.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Fair point, and this is also an argument in favor of the Garett Jones “10% less democracy” thesis that governance would work better if more of it were in the hands of independent, indirectly accountable technocrats.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It would absolutely work better for the class of people who become technocrats. Not so much for anyone else, though.

          • salvorhardin says:

            In fact it would work better for everyone else too, because as flawed as the incentives are that technocrats would face in this regime, they would still be less flawed than direct democratic accountability. We The People, in our capacity as voters, are in fact extraordinarily stupid and ignorant and corrupt and would do well to just shut up and defer to the experts a good deal more.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No, not it would not. The technocratic economy managers decided it was good to outsource manufacturing to China because this way they could get cheaper stuff. This has worked out very well for the professional service class of people, the same class of people who become technocrats. This has worked out very poorly for the working class who cannot provide professional services and are no longer able to acquire the things they desire, like homes and families.

            When you say

            In fact it would work better for everyone else too

            you’re assuming your class interest is everyone’s interest. It is not.

          • Clutzy says:

            In fact it would work better for everyone else too, because as flawed as the incentives are that technocrats would face in this regime, they would still be less flawed than direct democratic accountability. We The People, in our capacity as voters, are in fact extraordinarily stupid and ignorant and corrupt and would do well to just shut up and defer to the experts a good deal more.

            This seems not very true to me, as someone who works with these technocrats all the time. The median congressman strikes me as no more cynical or corrupt than the median beurocrat. They both obsess over maintainign their position.

          • salvorhardin says:

            Outsourcing to China has worked out very well indeed for the Chinese working class, who are much more numerous, and started out much poorer, than the segment of the US working class that lost out because of outsourcing. There are no non-bigoted reasons to prize the welfare of the latter over that of the former.

          • Randy M says:

            There are no non-bigoted reasons to prize the welfare of the latter over that of the former.

            Does any preference at all equal bigotry now, even if there is no actual animosity at all?
            In which case, you’re going to have to go back and prove it’s why it’s wrong.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            There are no non-bigoted reasons to prize the welfare of the latter over that of the former.

            Statements like this are why your technocracy is very bad for normal people. You sound like a paperclip maximizer explaining to the humans, “but don’t you see? If we atomize your children I can do a MUCH better job of making paperclips!”

            There is a fundamental values alignment problem between the serfs and the technocrats, so explaining to the serfs how great a job the technocracy can do at grinding them into dust isn’t a good sell.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            If I might rephrase salvorhardin’s point:

            I am a professional-class American (well, will be if the rest of my education goes well and I get a job). Though there’s an obvious reason for a working-class American to care more about American workers than Chinese workers, I see no particular reason that I should care more about working-class Americans than working-class Chinese people.

          • Randy M says:

            Though there’s an obvious reason for a working-class American to care more about American workers than Chinese workers

            What’s that?

          • Statismagician says:

            How about: American workers are the ones whose unemployment checks your taxes will be partially funding, and they’re much more able to put you up against the wall should the revolution happen to come than the Chinese are.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I see no particular reason that I should care more about working-class Americans than working-class Chinese people.

            Great. But we have a government that’s supposed to be set up “of, by, and for the people,” where “the people” is “the Americans” and not “the Chinese.” So when the small technocrat class decides it is in their interest to sacrifice the interests of the large American working class and justifies this with “but it helps the Chinese working class!” it’s also entirely reasonable for the American working class to say “we see no particular reason that we should care more about professional-class Americans or working-class Chinese people than working-class Americans.” And then they’ll vote for people like Trump and be well-pleased when he stomps all over your professional-class interests.

            And then telling the working class, “but don’t you see, with us in charge it will work better for everyone!” doesn’t do much good when you’ve already stipulated that “everyone” means “everyone but you, you’re definitely going to take it in the shorts, and we explicitly do not care.”

            ETA: You realize this is all “let them eat cake” stuff right? You know how that ends? Perhaps the reason you should care is so you don’t wind up with your head on a guillotine.

          • So when the small technocrat class decides it is in their interest to sacrifice the interests of the large American working class and justifies this with “but it helps the Chinese working class!”

            I can’t swear nobody has ever made that argument, but I haven’t seen it, and someone who makes it is probably not an economist, or even economically literate.

            The argument for free trade isn’t that it makes foreigners better off, it’s that it makes us better off. We get our cars by growing wheat and sending it to Japan in exchange, which gets us cars at a lower cost to us than if we build them ourselves, and similarly for other goods.

            In the case of immigration, one can argue that it harms unskilled American workers but utilitarians or egalitarians should favor it because the benefit to unskilled immigrants is much larger than the harm, although I’m not sure the harm claim is true. But that has nothing to do with the argument for free trade.

          • Randy M says:

            @David

            I can’t swear nobody has ever made that argument, but I haven’t seen it

            From a few posts above yours:

            Outsourcing to China has worked out very well indeed for the Chinese working class, who are much more numerous and started out much poorer, than the segment of the US working class that lost out because of outsourcing

          • John Schilling says:

            We get our cars by growing wheat and sending it to Japan in exchange, which gets us cars at a lower cost to us than if we build them ourselves,

            Lower price in dollars, but the real cost to the Detroit auto worker is much higher – his next car is 20% cheaper, but he’s now earning 50% less money as a Walmart greeter so 60% more working hours per car.

            Integrate over the economy, and if we find a bunch of things that a minority of Americans do really well (and Iowa farmers grow wheat really well) and offer to export those things in exchange for the things a majority of Americans used to work producing locally, then that may make a minority of Americans better off and the majority worse off. And some of the people in the majority may be so much better off that the average per capita GDP or purchasing power increases, but telling the majority of losers “learn to grow wheat!” is going to go over about as well as “learn to code!”. They can’t really do either, but they can learn to vote Trump and they can learn how to put people up against the wall when the revolution starts.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The argument I would make for being interested in the welfare of both the American working class and the Chinese working class is that we would like the tide to come in, raising all the boats. Long term it’s not particularly in the interest of the American worker that Chinese welfare stays markedly below that of the US. Water runs to the lowest point and there is only so much one can do to act against this.

            Note that this formulation is the inverse of Reagan’s, which implied that what is good for the richest is necessarily good for the working class. I don’t see that as inevitable at all. I’m just saying it’s a lot easier in the long run if everyone is fairly well off.

          • AG says:

            @Conrad Honcho

            Do you oppose the rapid growth of Amazon wrecking swaths of retail and dominating much of e-commerce?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @John:

            telling the majority of losers “learn to grow wheat!” is going to go over about as well as “learn to code!”. They can’t really do either, but they can learn to vote Trump and they can learn how to put people up against the wall when the revolution starts.

            It never ceases to amaze me how the affluent continue to parrot Marxist rhetoric despite mounting evidence that a working-class revolution would find them targeted like this with vicious contempt.
            What would the talking heads actually say if the working class staged a revolution? “CEOs Murdered, Minorities Hardest Hit”?

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            Ok, are y’all being serious about “the Revolution” coming, or is this tongue-in-cheek hyperbole? Cause I really do not foresee any sort of violent revolution in the USA putting my life in danger at any point in the foreseeable future.

          • @Randy:

            My error. I hadn’t read the whole thread.

            And I should have put my objection in terms of anyone who thinks that’s the main argument for free trade. There is no reason a utilitarian shouldn’t count gains and losses to foreigners as well as to Americans. But the central economic argument has always been that there are net gains to Americans.

            @John:

            then that may make a minority of Americans better off and the majority worse off.

            Logically possible, for anything that produces a net improvement that isn’t a Pareto improvement. Do you have any reason to believe it’s true?

            Wheat isn’t the only thing we export.

          • John Schilling says:

            I’m pretty sure only a minority of Americans, maybe a quarter to a third, derive the majority of their income from either industries in which the US is a net exporter, or from high-level professional/managerial work more closely tied to the GDP in general than to any particular industry. So it does seem likely the simple globalization results in more individual losers than winners in the United States. It is possible that the combination of globalization plus transfer payments would result in a median improvement, but that would argue that trade liberalization should be accompanied by higher taxes or by taxes focused on trade-related income to fund a stronger welfare state.

          • So it does seem likely the simple globalization results in more individual losers than winners in the United States.

            You are forgetting all the people who benefit from free trade as consumers. It’s not just the farmers who are growing cars, it’s all the people who are buying cars at a lower price as a result.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @AG

            Do you oppose the rapid growth of Amazon wrecking swaths of retail and dominating much of e-commerce?

            Not really, no. I don’t see what that has to do with foreign trade.

            @VoiceOfTheVoid

            I don’t know about violent revolution, but “vote for policies that enrich their class and impoverish your class without remorse,” yes. This is also bad. I would prefer a system of mutual cooperation for mutual benefit at the national level, but the national elite has decided they can simply jettison the working class, while forgetting that 1) they’re still here, 2) they can hear you, and 3) they vote.

            This does not seem to get through to the professional class at all, though. I understand better now why the marxists think the kulaks simply needed to be liquidated. I disagree with them, but I get where they’re coming from.

          • John Schilling says:

            You are forgetting all the people who benefit from free trade as consumers.

            I wasn’t forgetting them, but perhaps I wasn’t as explicit about them as I should have been. In order to be a consumer, you have to have money to buy stuff to consume, which you generally get from your wages as a producer(*). If you are producing e.g. cars in what was a protected local industry and is now open to cheaper foreign competition, your wages are depressed roughly in proportion to the reduction in imported consumer good prices. But you are using them to buy not just the cheaper imported consumer goods, but also the stuff America is a net exporter of – and that gets more expensive because now the domestic supply is reduced as more of the stuff is exported.

            Stipulated that comparative advantage means the average ability of Americans to buy stuff when they are wearing their consumer hats is increased. In the particular case of the United States at least, the places where we have a comparative advantage are ones involving a relatively small number of highly productive people, be they farmers or filmmakers or aerospace workers. The goods we are now importing freely, are the ones produced by a relatively large number of lower-productivity workers. So it is entirely plausible that, even though average consumption ability increases, the median is decreased.

            I don’t know whether the people who are net losers under free trade make up 20% or 40% or 60% of the US population – all of those numbers seem plausible to me, and I don’t see an easy way to pin it down. But even if it’s just 20%, loss aversion still makes for a powerfully motivated voting block that may make the whole thing infeasible, and at 60% it’s a pretty obvious non-starter. Also, the 20% are our friends, family, and countrymen and we really ought to be putting some serious thought into how we can prosper without their losing out. And again, variants of “learn to code!” don’t count as serious thought on anything less than a generational timescale.

            * Averaged over a family and a lifespan, at least.

          • Lambert says:

            What about the people who provide goods complimentary to the ones that you import? E.g. car mechanics
            If cars are cheaper, there’s more of them and more demand for that sort of thing.

            Or things elsewhere in the supply chain (e.g. importing cheap steel is good for domestic car manufacturers)

          • Do you oppose the rapid growth of Amazon wrecking swaths of retail and dominating much of e-commerce?

            Not really, no. I don’t see what that has to do with foreign trade.

            Foreign trade is just a technology, a different way of producing things — grow wheat and trade it for cars instead of building cars. Your objection is that even if it is a superior technology — the cost of growing enough wheat to trade for a car is less than the cost building a car — it’s still bad because of all the auto workers put out of work.

            But that argument applies equally well (or badly) to other technologies. Such as Amazon. It produces the service of getting goods to people at a lower cost than the existing way of doing it, and the people doing it in the existing way are worse off as a result.

            What is special, for you, about the case of trade? Why does it matter whether the superior technology does or does not involve a stage in a cargo ship?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The difference between Amazon and Chinese factories is that Amazon is an American company employing Americans and following American labor regulations. Chinese factories are not American, not employing Americans, and not following American labor regulations.

            I’m not saying Amazon is perfect. I haven’t researched them well enough to have an informed opinion about them. But whatever the problems with Amazon may be, they are of an entirely different class than the problems I have with foreign trade.

          • Jaskologist says:

            The difference between Amazon and Chinese factories is that Amazon is an American company employing Americans and following American labor regulations. Chinese factories are not American, not employing Americans, and not following American labor regulations.

            To be more explicit, I think the primary technology involved in free trade is allowing corporations to nullify domestic labor and safety regulations.

            Not the workers, though, they’re just barred from competing altogether.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            @jaskologist

            I think the primary technology involved in free trade is allowing corporations to nullify domestic labor and safety regulations.

            Simple solution to that: eliminate our regulations.

          • AG says:

            @Conrad Honcho:

            David Friedman got the gist of my point. Amazon’s growth has largely put Americans out of jobs (mom-and-pop stores, even larger corporate retail, and independent e-commerce), and the jobs it has created are worse (in pay and quality of life) than the ones its has destroyed, as well as pushing other corporate retail to follows its trends.
            Amazon’s growth and success in pushing these trends has been because its customers love the value that it is serving, and much of that value is made possible by those same bad-for-labor trends.

            Even if outsourcing to China, or using illegal immigrants, is somehow a tier worse, you should still oppose Amazon and companies that use their mechanisms, because you’ve said that your opposition to the former is based on the consequence (destruction of a previously stable American career), and the latter is causing the same consequence.

            But I guess somehow manufacturing jobs are a special snowflake, while local retail ownership is deservedly along with horse-related jobs lost with the advent of the automobile.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            And Jaskologist got the gist of mine. The issue is use of foreign labor to circumvent American labor and environmental protections. Whatever problems there are with Amazon (which I’m not saying do or don’t exist, I haven’t thought about them that much) are a horse of a different color.

            So bringing up Amazon is a non sequitur. Whatever they do has nothing to do with the issue I’m talking about, and I’m not interested in getting sidetracked with something irrelevant.

          • The difference between Amazon and Chinese factories is that Amazon is an American company employing Americans and following American labor regulations. Chinese factories are not American, not employing Americans, and not following American labor regulations.

            You seem to be simply ignoring my explanation of the relevant economics. Foreign trade is a technology for using American inputs, such as farm labor, to produce American outputs, such as imported cars. The foreign economy is merely the middle step in the process.

            Like most people trying to invent trade economics for themselves, you end up with the 18th century version. You might as well try to evaluate the space program on the basis of Ptolemaic astronomy.

            What do you think “comparative advantage” means? If China adopted U.S. labor law, how would that change their comparative advantage?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If China adopted U.S. labor law, how would that change their comparative advantage?

            They would have less of it?

          • they would have less of it?

            Demonstrating that, as I suspected, you have no idea what “comparative advantage” means. It isn’t “advantage of China in producing things relative to the U.S.”

            Trade is goods for goods, not hours of labor for hours of labor. “China has comparative advantage relative to the U.S. in clothing over wheat” is precisely the same statement as “the U.S. has comparative advantage relative to China in wheat over clothing.” Both statements mean “the ratio of the cost of producing clothing to the cost of producing wheat in China is lower than it is in the U.S.”

            Which, of course, means that “The ratio of the cost of producing wheat to the cost of producing clothing in China is higher than it is in the U.S.”

            If A/B > C/D it follows that D/C>B/A

          • Clutzy says:

            Demonstrating that, as I suspected, you have no idea what “comparative advantage” means. It isn’t “advantage of China in producing things relative to the U.S.”

            There are reasonable arguments that without lax regulations China would have almost not goods where they have a comparative advantage when you account for shipping costs. I think low enough wages and some supply chain things would keep them ahead on some goods, but I’d expect the trade deficit to swing wildly. possibly even past 0.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:
            Ummm, since regulations impose costs, and we all know that the costs of regulations aren’t uniform across products, how can you claim that they can’t change the ratio?

          • There are reasonable arguments that without lax regulations China would have almost not goods where they have a comparative advantage when you account for shipping costs.

            Is there some reason why, without lax regulations, the ratio of cost of good A in China to cost of good B in China would change in some way that made it closer to the corresponding ratio in the U.S.? That’s what drives comparative advantage.

          • how can you claim that they can’t change the ratio?

            I didn’t.

            I claimed that the fact that Conrad thought it would reduce it — not that it could reduce it or could increase it — showed that he did not understand what comparative advantage was.

            Do you disagree?

          • Clutzy says:

            Is there some reason why, without lax regulations, the ratio of cost of good A in China to cost of good B in China would change in some way that made it closer to the corresponding ratio in the U.S.? That’s what drives comparative advantage.

            Basically all the labor intensive manufacturing industries. Possibly farming as well.

            Then there is the prospect of absolute advantage as well no?

          • Then there is the prospect of absolute advantage as well no?

            No.

            If we were discussing NASA, would you say “then there is the prospect of running into the crystaline sphere of the moon, no”?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @David Friedman:

            I claimed that the fact that Conrad thought it would reduce it — not that it could reduce it or could increase it — showed that he did not understand what comparative advantage was.

            Actually, he just made a simple claim that imposing regulatory costs would reduce China’s comparative advantage [in manufacturing]. You assumed that necessarily meant he didn’t understand it. Which is false.

            You also implied that he was incorrect. Because, while you care about the Econ 200 answer, he just cares about what actually would happen. He just wants lower relative advantage, a “level playing field”, so to speak.

            As it stands, my plain sense, not well informed guess is that comparative regulation costs on agriculture are closer together than those on manufacturing, for multiple reasons. Regardless, it’s not unreasonable to believe that is true. I’m not even sure what the sign would be on the change to Chinese regulation costs for ag. Their land use isn’t efficient, I believe, and that’s at least partially down to policy.

            Not only that, but the naive, and perhaps actual, policy request is going to be that China impose regulation costs on factories, and not agriculture. And that reduces the advantage in the very simple way he implied.

          • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

            Foreign trade is just a technology, a different way of producing things

            Except that it isn’t, because it introduces an element of international politics that can scupper the whole thing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Is there some reason why, without lax regulations, the ratio of cost of good A in China to cost of good B in China would change in some way that made it closer to the corresponding ratio in the U.S.?

            Good A is a jet engine. Good B is a shipping container full of cheap toys. Good A and good B require the same amount of labor to produce, and their cost is dominated by that labor(*). But Good A requires highly skilled technicians and engineers who can command $50/hr wages in any market, along with another $50/hr worth of workplace-safety features and other benefits. If they don’t get it, they’ll walk – or fly to another country if needed. Good B can be made by cheap commodity labor that in an unregulated market can command only $10/hr in wages and another $10 in workplace safety, etc. But the United States minimum wages and workplace safety laws and all the rest, that raise the total cost of any manufacturing worker to $40/hr.

            In unregulated China, $100 gets you one unit of Good A or five units of Good B. In any the United States, $100 gets you one unit of Good A but only 2.5 units of Good B. If China adopts US wage structures and workplace regulations, they also have the same 2.5:1 ratio for no comparative advantage over the United States. If it’s just the regulations but not the wages, then they’re at 3.3:1 which gives them some comparative advantage over the United States but not nearly what they had at 5:1.

            * And by capital equipment and parts and materials, but jet-engine parts and tooling has to be built by highly trained specialists while toymaking stuff can be made by cheap commodity labor, etc.

          • Clutzy says:

            No.

            If we were discussing NASA, would you say “then there is the prospect of running into the crystaline sphere of the moon, no”?

            Is this a non sequitur, a word salad, or something more perverse?

            There are absolutely goods that America already has absolute advantage in over the Chinese, and if China adopted American labor and environmental regulations, that number of goods would skyrocket.

          • Is this a non sequitur, a word salad, or something more perverse?

            It is shorthand for “you are trying to understand trade using a theory that is almost as out of date as Ptolemaic astronomy.”

            What do you mean by “absolute advantage?”

          • Clutzy says:

            What do you mean by “absolute advantage?”

            The classic economics term where a firm has better quality, quantity, and price than another firm.

            There are many areas the US has absolute advantage, such as corn. This number would greatly increase if China was forced to use US labor and environmental regulations. If that included wage matching, they would become a non-entity when it comes to trade.

            A firm/country that is absolute advantaged over is kind of like a perennially unemployed person. They provide so little value that there is no use trading with them.

          • What do you mean by “absolute advantage?”

            The classic economics term where a firm has better quality, quantity, and price than another firm.

            That’s for firms in a single country. Chinese costs are in Yuan, American costs in dollars. What does “better price” mean in an international context before you know what the exchange rate is? Absent an exchange rate, “producing things in China is cheaper than in the U.S.” makes no more sense than “My height is greater than my weight.” Different units.

            If, at some exchange rate, everything is cheaper in China than in the U.S., why would anyone in China want to trade yuan for dollars? If Americans want to sell dollars in order to buy Chinese goods and Chinese don’t want to buy dollars in order to buy American goods, what do you think happens to the price of dollars measured in yuan, aka the exchange rate? At what exchange rate does the demand for dollars on that market equal the supply?

            Once you understand comparative advantage you realize that absolute advantage, in the sense you are thinking of it, is a category error.

    • zardoz says:

      It’s a combination of things. The San Francisco Bay Area isn’t really dense by the standards of New York City. I’m too lazy to look up the actual numbers but I remember someone commenting that SF itself is kind of similar to Brooklyn in density and size. So if you just had one borough, and it wasn’t very dense… NYC might very well be doing much better than it is now.

      It is fair to say that the CA government was one of the first to take COVID seriously. In contrast, the government response from places like NYC and New Orleans was aggressively stupid. New Orleans held Mardi Gras like nothing was happening. De Blasio didn’t take COVID seriously and held off taking any action for a long time. I think he even encouraged people not to stay at home at one point for the sake of the economy, although I’m having trouble finding anything in a quick search. Just like with Trump, his initial response was completely different from the song he’s singing now.

    • WoollyAI says:

      I would keep the reasoning simple:
      -CA and SF haven’t done well recently, they’ve done well since Covid started.
      -They’ve done well since Covid started because the state took early action to quarantine everyone.
      -This is simple, but was very politically risky. The people in charge deserve credit but they also had strong incentives. Newsom wants to be president and there’s plenty of alternate timelines where California is much worse off than NY today.

      • Loriot says:

        The lockdowns started with Sara Cody, Public Health Officer of Santa Clara County.

        Apparently, a key piece of evidence that led her to make the call was that they started doing random testing of people at urgent care centers with flu-like symptoms who tested negative for the flu and found that many of them were positive, showing it was already spreading in the community.

    • zzzzort says:

      The depressing counterpoint is that while Newsom’s response has been all around better, Cuomo has gotten more favorable media coverage because the situation in NY is so much more dire. So the incentives for the politicians is to wait till a problem gets bad, then swoop in and solve it.

    • albatross11 says:

      This is a really interesting hypothesis. Basically what you’d expect here is that we might have two cases:

      a. Second rate people go into government, and so they just can’t get their sh-t together no matter what incentives are offered.

      b. First rate people go into government, but are ineffectual because of their incentives and the surrounding system.

      If (b) is true, then you can get high competence in times of dire need when everyone unites in favor of doing the right thing, but then normal conditions return and things go back to gridlock and dysfunction. (This isn’t guaranteed, though–maybe the system or incentives are so broken that even under the most intense need, it can’t function, despite the first-rate people making up the system.)

      If (a) is true, then you *can’t* get high competence from them. A well-designed, high-functioning system can continue to function, but you won’t get brilliant improvisation or quick capable responses, because there just aren’t enough competent people around to do what needs to be done.

      One argument against (b) at the level of national politics is that the response to 9/11 looks to me to have mostly been dysfunctional. We started a dumb war we didn’t need to start and then botched the whole thing, we got a massive boondoggle of an airport security system that probably does no better than the previous system, we got a gigantic new Frankenstein’s monster of a federal department (DHS) that has taken a couple decades to get itself more-or-less functioning properly. Federal disaster response a few years after 9/11 was crap, as demonstrated by the Katrina response. Spy agencies got more powers to spy on people and used them to spy on everyone, but it’s not at all clear we got any safer. And so on.

      An argument in favor of (a), at least in one instance, is the Apollo project, which did something just barely within the reach of the available technology in a shockingly short period of time.

      • JayT says:

        Can’t it be both? Government attracts all kinds of people, some are competent, some aren’t’, and sometimes the stars align right and the competent people have a chance to shine, and other times it goes the other way. On average, you just end up with mediocrity.

      • yodelyak says:

        I think the instructive phrase in my model here is “the tone comes from the top.”

        With Covid-19, individuals in max panic mode may stay home at risk to their jobs, and may pressure family to stay home likewise. But they have almost no power to change the risk their extended family members face, and strong incentive to avoid lost income strongly counterbalances using what power one has solely for one’s own health. A small restaurant manager, also decides whether to close his restaurant or to split the difference with, e.g., aggressive cleaning policies and sick-leave and masks for employees or whatnot… but he can’t really do masks or other visible heterodox policies for the employees at a restaurant, probably, without looking weird, and again, lost income is a strong countervailing interest, and the health risk of his elderly relatives depends much more on whether everyone distances than whether his restaurant does, so he can’t exert much control over the ‘tone’. A city mayor, though, with backing from public health officials and having checked with the relevant lawyers and maybe a couple political tea-leaves readers, can close a whole city, and need only wait long enough to have clear evidence that what has become obvious to them will in a few weeks be apparent to all. With these incentives, who sets the tone?

        You see this dynamic in lots of places. As Nazi Germany expanded across Europe, the tone set by Denmark w/r/t/ ‘the Jewish problem’ that the Nazis kept bringing up was remarkable, and got remarkable results.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Another possibility that should be mentioned is that problems which remain unsolved may not have good, simple or easy solutions. In some sense, this is consistent with the idea that political struggle causes ineffectiveness, but I would argue that it engenders a substantially different belief about the roots of political problems.

      I’m not saying all problems are like this, but I think many of them are.

    • Matt M says:

      It’s way too early to declare who has “done well” and who hasn’t. Attempting to do so is looking very much only at one side of the equation, and ignoring the costs imposed.

      California has done a good job at minimizing deaths from COVID. But unless you believe that is literally the only job of government, that’s not the full picture. The economic costs from all of these shutdowns won’t be fully realized until months, possibly years, from now. My guess is in the long run, the places who took the least action are going to look the best. I really hope Sweden stays the course and doesn’t bow to public pressure so that we have at least one test case (but I’m not sure they will).

      • albatross11 says:

        OTOH, if it’s unworkable for any democratic government not to do a shutdown in the face of sufficiently high mortality from the virus, that’s information about the right response, too.

      • salvorhardin says:

        That’s a fair point, and indeed your guess might prove true. How might we quantify “long run,” “least action,” and “look the best” in a way that would allow folks to bet on this, Caplan style?

  18. Chalid says:

    Does there exist a reasonably fair voting system that would be safe for voters during a pandemic, and which Republican politicians would find acceptable? (Question obviously inspired by the shitshow in Wisconsin.)

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I’m not a Republican, but I oppose mail-in ballots, because they are rife with fraud.

      Nevertheless: every state needs to get prepared for no-excuse absentee ballots in November. Yes, there will be more fraud. There is a lot of shit that we are doing which would be a bad idea in normal times but is acceptable now. Also, hire and train young people to work the polls for people who want to show up in person. Throw money at it if you need to.

      As far how to make it acceptable: do a statistical follow-up of all absentee ballots, like you would do if you actually cared to find out if there was fraud or pressure or vote-selling.

      • salvorhardin says:

        Where is the evidence that mail-in ballots are “rife with fraud”? I’ve seen people citing the fraudulent ballot gathering in NC, but no evidence that that’s typical rather than a rare one-off (and you can cherrypick one-off fraud instances for any voting system).

        • Lambert says:

          Where is the evidence in-person voting machines are not rife with fraud, moreover?

          • albatross11 says:

            For all-electronic voting machines, not so great. For VVPATs (electronic voting machines with a printer bolted on the side), a little better. For hand-marked ballots scanned by the voter and deposited in a ballot box, pretty good.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            (electronic voting machines with a printer bolted on the side)

            Congratulations, you’ve invented the world’s most expensive pen.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I guess everyone has forgotten the year 2000, but there’s a big advantage of a machine that prints a ballot over a pen.

        • Eric Rall says:

          In the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election, somewhere between 1100 and 1700 ballots appear to have been cast fraudulently, a mix of convicted felons, people who voted twice, and dead voters. The judge who ruled on the election challenge concluded that there was evidence of fraud for those ballots, but declined to nullify the election because there wasn’t enough evidence of how many votes had been cast fraudulently for each candidate: Washington’s mail-in ballots use a two-envelope system where only the outer envelope identifies the voter, so once the outer envelope has been opened and discarded, there’s no way to link an individual ballot and an individual voter.

          There were also a number of irregularities that could plausibly have been either sloppiness or fraud, as there are in many elections. For example, there were several precincts where the number of ballots counted mismatched with the number of ballots recorded as received: in some, more were counted (indicating either ballot stuffing) than received, and in others fewer were counted (indicating ballots were lost or otherwise not counted) than received. Or it could just have been sloppy record-keeping, and all ballots received were counted but the count of “ballots received” was wrong. I personally suspect sloppiness more than fraud on this count.

          These were very small scale compared to the total number of ballots cast, though, only about 0.04-0.06% of total votes were identified as likely fraudulent. I don’t know for sure how many lost/stuffed ballots were suggested by the precinct counts, but I think it’s on the order of a few hundred total. And individual fraudulent votes that were investigated don’t seem to be part of any real coordinated effort: most of them were things like people casting a recently-dead spouse’s mail-in ballot as well as their own, and ineligible voters (mostly convicted felons) being allowed to register (not sure if this is a clerical error or a process issue where the state takes a registrant’s word for it that they’re eligible to vote without doing cross-checks). This small level of uncoordinated retail fraud was only significant because the margin of victory was so narrow: 179 votes out of 2.7 million, about 0.005%.

          • zzzzort says:

            I voted in that election, and had my vote challenged because my signature wasn’t close enough to the one on file with the DMV.

        • Clutzy says:

          There is almost no illegal act that is harder to detect and easier to do than mail in fraud, particularly in a place like a college town. Register a bunch of people at public events. Most people will just register at those things to be polite. Wait for a “voter” who to not vote for a cycle, and now you have a ghost who can vote however you want.

          Yes, its true that we rarely find election fraud, but that is because most elections are actually not all that close and a mass, statewide swinging style effort probably would be detected. But its also true that its likely many local races are stolen and never detected because the method i described is easy to do and impossible to detect. The reason the NC people got caught is because their scheme was complicated because of NC’s rather tight absentee laws. Where you:
          1) Have to already be registered.
          2) Mail in a signed request for absentee. (Part 1 of how they got caught because they went around signing people up for absentee ballots, which is weird compared to just registering people)
          3) Then get that mailed to your address.
          4) Ballot harvesting is banned in SC (aka how they got caught, they were engaged in an illegal act that was easy to observe).

          In places where ballot harvesting is not banned they probably would not have been caught.

          I don’t see how you could have mass absentee balloting without violating the anonymity of voting. Ballots would have to have randomized, verifiable barcodes on the exterior envelope and the ballot that would have to be matched to a voter record.

          So election workers would be looking at a ballot with its votes, thus knowing who voted for who, and have to do a kind of Scan>Open>Scan move. I doubt election officials have much knowledge of how to securely anonomize this data even if election officials weren’t staring at my name on a ballot next to my vote.

          And all those procedures are for little if you’re going to allow ballot harvesting because then there is the preying on the lazy/infirm.

          Also, we have data on the success of law enforcement to commit fraud when they try to do sting operations. A NY study showed a 99% success rate for their officers attempting in-person fraud, with the sole failure being a cop who was recognized by a poll worker.

          • Loriot says:

            The real reason the NC people got caught was that the election results were close enough that people looked at the data and got suspicious of statistical irregularities.

            You also seem to be underestimating the risks of detection. For example, if you register people to vote without their knowledge (using your own address on the registration?!?) the scheme would fall apart if one of the people you voted for ever tried to vote on their own.

            So it seems to me that the safest route is to somehow convince people to hand you unmarked, unsealed ballots, and then forge the signatures yourself, and that doesn’t seem quite as trivial to me as you make it out to be.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Wait for a “voter” who to not vote for a cycle, and now you have a ghost who can vote however you want.

            1 – how are you getting access to this persons mail?
            2 – Actually, how are you getting access to the mail of enough “ghost voters” to swing an election ?
            3 – why do think not voting in one election is an adequate signal to substantially guarantee that this person won’t vote in any election?

          • zardoz says:

            1 – how are you getting access to this persons mail?

            At least in California, the voter registration office lets you set your address to whatever you want. There’s no requirement that it has to match up with something else like your primary residence address, the return address of your tax return (if you even used paper mail for that), what you told the census, etc. etc.

            These databases don’t talk to each other so if you tell the voter registration office you live at 123 Clown Town, that’s where your ballot goes.

            People have the impression that there’s no voter fraud because nobody gets prosecuted for it. I actually draw the opposite conclusion — because nobody is looking for it, there’s probably a lot more than we think that goes undetected.

          • JayT says:

            I’ve always wondered, if I were to watch my mailbox and see when my mail in ballot comes in what would stop me from going to all my neighbors houses and stealing their ballots? They would think their ballot got lost in the mail, and would either not vote, or go do a provisional ballot. But if I’ve already sent theirs in, would that be accepted, or would the provisional ballot be accepted? Obviously, this would be meaningless in a major election, but my town just had a vote for a proposition, and it passed by less than 100 votes. It seems like someone could have tipped the scales on that if they really wanted.

          • Clutzy says:

            Most of the schemes that were caught have involved ballot harvesting: NC, Miami, WV, Georgia being the ones off the top of my head. You walk around offtering to take peoples ballots to the mailbox and or/ help them out. You target the vulnerable (who you would also target to register) then you toss the bad and keep the good/blank. And since you registered them you also have their signature on file, which something like 35 states have as the only verification method for voting.

            All those places also don’t allow ballot harvesting, so when an inquiry pops up, the investigators have a huge leg up because the witnesses do, in fact, remember that it was a weird person offering to help deliver ballots, which is illegal. If you did that in California, everything you did in public was totally legal.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Clutzy:
            Ballot harvesting and ghost voters are two very different things. Substituting one term for the other isn’t correct.

            You appear to have actually changed your argument from “I can reliably generate ghost voters and vote for them as I wish” to “I can reliably identify people who will be amenable to fraudulent ballot harvesting and won’t report my attempt to pay them for their vote and/or collect their incomplete ballot”.

            Because ghost voting and ballot harvesting aren’t the same thing. Harvesting involves interacting with the actual voter. Harvesting is then predictably small scale (hundreds of votes).

            Various types of small scale voter fraud are actually attempted. They get caught on a not too infrequent basis. Things like trying to swing the off year, stand alone, liquor-by-the-drink referendum in small town by requesting 100 absentee ballots to the same address. Thinking of how to evade that obvious marker should show you a problem; you would need 100s of unique addresses. And of course absentee voting is more subject to this problem than mail-in, as mail-in ballots are sent to the residence.

            Machine politics could do harvesting on a large enough scale to swing larger elections. But machine politics was able to do that with in person voting, too.

          • Loriot says:

            I don’t really see why “ballot harvesting” being legal or not actually matters, since “electoral fraud” is illegal everywhere. Yes, it is legal in California to fill out, sign, and seal your ballot and then give it to some else to drop off. But if you’re going around tricking people into giving you *incomplete* ballots and then filling them out and forging the signatures yourself, that’s equally illegal and suspicious everywhere.

            I suppose the biggest risk is that someone pretends to deliver ballots but instead throws them away (guessing what is in the sealed ballots based on voter history or whatever). Mail-in ballots do have a detachable paper stub, but most likely noone would bother to check those unless the election was close or there were suspicious statistical patterns. Then again, the ballot tossing wouldn’t matter unless the election was close either.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            This feels so much like people who defend nuclear power by insisting that it’s safe and you need to stop asking questions. People radically over-estimate the danger. Just piling on rules and regulations is going to cause more problems than it fixes.

            That’s a position I recognize because I used to be in it. Nuclear power is very safe, but it requires a regulatory regime that is slightly adversarial but mostly wants it to work. People who are simply blindly opposed to nuclear power see the regulatory regime as a way to shut it down outside of normal democratic channels, and they are right. But we still need that regulatory regime.

            You can do things to monitor the security of absentee ballots. You need a regulatory regime that wants it to work but is still slightly adversarial. So instead of sitting there, arms crossed, insisting that it’s perfectly safe, go out and do the steps necessary to secure it. “Well why do rules against ballot harvesting matter if election fraud is already illegal?” Because it pours sand in one of the common ways of doing election fraud. Of course you would make it black-letter illegal. It’s as much nonsense to be confused by that law as it would be to be confused about a law about making it illegal to, say, store nuclear by-products in unmarked containers, if storing it in unmarked containers were a way that power companies were tempted to cheat.

            In North Carolina, by the way, a campaign can send an absentee ballot to any address on behalf of a person that lives there. At least as of 2018.

            The absentee ballot breaks one of the biggest securities of the secret ballot, which makes your vote your own that no one can buy from you or intimidate you into changing. If Trump wins mail-in ballots in November, I fucking guarantee that the New York Times is going to run stories about abusive husbands that filled in their wives’ ballots and sent them in. We already have domestic violence up from social isolation https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html Do you think these women are going to get the privacy they need to fill out their ballots however they want?

            So I normally wouldn’t support “absentee ballot on demand” at all but there’s this virus running around and we want people to avoid lines and crowds. It sucks. Lots of things suck right now.

            But I still want a slightly adversarial regulatory regime. So around the time people are supposed to get ballots, contact a statistically representative group of people who asked for them and say “hey did you get your ballot?” See if someone else requested it on their behalf or they did it themselves. Just before the election contact people who submitted ballots to verify it was them (which gives them a chance to vote in person to invalidate their absentee ballot). And after the election do an audit of a statistically representative group of submitted votes and verify that they did indeed vote.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, mail-in ballots can retain voter privacy in the sense that you procedurally ensure than nobody learns how each voter voted. (Though you might be worried about whether the procedures will be followed, since there’s no way for you to check.) But their biggest problem IMO is that coercion and vote buying and the like are really easy.

            Suppose I want to buy your vote in polling-place voting. I have to convince you to take a picture of the ballot or something similar. But buying your vote in mail-in voting is just giving you cash for your blank mail-in ballot.

            And there’s also an issue with influence that isn’t exactly coercion but probably matters. If your church or nursing home or whatever has a day they’re all getting together to fill out their ballots, there may not be any direct coercion, but there will probably be a lot of social pressure that wouldn’t be present in a secret ballot.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:
            I agree with the board ideas in that post. However you are making the fundamental mistake that the existing system is NOT slightly adversarial.

            Here is the current Absent Ballot request form.
            In order for the request to be valid you must:

            Provide your full legal name.
            • Provide your date of birth.
            • Provide one of the following:
            o North Carolina driver license number or non-operator identification card number; or
            o last four digits of your Social Security number
            • Provide your current residential address. (Your North Carolina residential address is required so you get the
            correct ballot.)
            • Please provide your email address or a telephone number in case we have a question concerning this request.

            My emphasis, and I happen to know that those ID numbers are verified as matching the person because I wrote the initial implementation that did it.

            Note also that the voter’s signature (or legal guardian) and two witness signatures are required. That isn’t necessarily an impediment to committing the fraud, but it provides forensic evidence that can be checked to see if fraud is likely to have occurred.

          • Clutzy says:

            You appear to have actually changed your argument from “I can reliably generate ghost voters and vote for them as I wish” to “I can reliably identify people who will be amenable to fraudulent ballot harvesting and won’t report my attempt to pay them for their vote and/or collect their incomplete ballot”.

            Those people end up being the same. While you’re harvesting you can also inquire about ballots for people that are no longer living at the address so you can properly dispose of them. The Miami scheme involved people harvesting blank ballots from widows and widowers.

            Its also quite telling to me that the people who support harvesting also oppose vigrours voter roll purging, which is doubly important for mail in ballots.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @albatross11:

            Suppose I want to buy your vote in polling-place voting. I have to convince you to take a picture of the ballot or something similar.

            If you are doing enough to swing elections, you can get pretty reliable marker by just knowing the candidate vote totals at the precinct level. The issue is how many people’s vote you have to buy.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            HBC:

            That’s good information. But I know for a fact that a campaign can send me a NC absentee ballot without my signature in 2018, because a campaign had an absentee ballot sent to me based on a conversation with a door-to-door campaign worker that I was going to be out-of-town. (I voted early so didn’t need it.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:
            An absentee ballot? or An absentee ballot request form?

            Because the procedure now is substantially the same as it was in the early 2000s, if you received an actual absentee ballot just by being talked to … I’d really like to understand that.

          • Loriot says:

            Of course, I’m not saying there should be no checks at all on voting. That’s insane. But to continue your nuclear power analogy, my perception of the status quo is that the current regulatory regime works pretty well, but there’s an extremely powerful faction that will use any pretext it can to stamp out nuclear power, and thus should be viewed with suspicion, not charity.

          • albatross11 says:

            Loriot:

            How do you feel about all-electronic voting machines?

          • Loriot says:

            I think they’re a bad idea that open up a huge security risk and shouldn’t be used at all.

          • albatross11 says:

            I agree, but your comment about skepticism/opposition to mail-in voting seems very similar to the arguments I heard from DRE proponents trying to keep them around despite the awful security problems. (To be fair, while there’s an inherent architectural security problem with DREs, the actual discovered problems back when I was working in this space also turned on very low-quality code and bad engineering–stuff like having software updates distributed on the same memory cards used for moving votes to the central count, with only a CRC for “authentication.”)

          • Loriot says:

            Well one major difference is that mail-in voting is a measure to increase turnout and make it easier to vote for more people, while electronic voting machines are generally just a cost saving measure. (There are some minor accessibility benefits, depending on the implementation)

            There’s also the bigger issue that it’s mostly different people arguing for them in each case. In fact, it seems to me that electronic voting is typically correlated to red states, rather than blue states.

          • albatross11 says:

            Loriot:

            If you’re comparing DREs to hand-marked paper ballots, there are big accessibility gains by using the DREs–blind voters can vote without assistance. This was a big issue raised early and often when computer security experts started pushing back hard on DREs.

            There are also a lot of practical benefits for running the election to getting rid of paper–you never run out of the right kinds of ballots (sometimes you have multiple different ballots in the same polling place on the same election day), you never have trouble with alternative-language ballots (lots of places are required to offer ballots in several different languages), and you can do stuff like let the user make the screen image very large or improve the contrast of the images, so voters with lousy vision short of being blind can vote. Back when I worked on this stuff, election officials often seemed to have horror stories about ways that using paper ballots went badly for them.

            FWIW, I agree that DREs have an inherent architectural security flaw that makes them a bad choice for elections. But it seems to me that so does mail-in voting. If you propose a new voting system that makes it trivial for you to prove how you voted (so you can sell your vote or your boss can coerce your vote), everyone in the world will tell you this is unacceptable. But mail-in voting has exactly that flaw, and yet is widely considered acceptable.

            My take on that is that its acceptability has a lot to do with a combination of which party finds it more congenial. Though also with the fact that finding yet another way to violate the security of a commercial DRE may get you a publication or a presentation slot somewhere, but pointing out the obvious and known properties of mail-in voting won’t.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            while electronic voting machines are generally just a cost saving measure.

            Electronic voting machines are decidedly not cost savers. To get the same throughput in a precinct, you need to have as many machines as voters voting simultaneously. That means either a huge increase in spending over scanned paper ballots or far longer lines.

            (I’d argue that one of the primary drivers towards electronic voting machines has been to create those long lines, and decrease turnout in the largest precincts. But that is more of an aside).

            Yes, having a limited number of electronic machines to deal with things like alternate language ballots, disability access, etc. is definitely helpful, and there is a place for electronic machines over scanned ballots, but overall scanned ballots are, IMHO, far superior. Not just based on cost/throughput reasons, but also based on the increased ability to audit the end result.

            If people were really serious about guarding against fraud, precincts would be randomly audited after the canvas results are submitted and we would publish those results as a regular part of every election. Typically that only happens if recounts reach the hand-count stage (with optical scan) and I don’t know if I have ever heard of a hand-recount generating significant vote total change.

            IIRC, at least some counties in CA do random audits, or did at one point, although what I most remember is that they pulled random machines on the day of voting and gave them a defined stream of input, to guard against the existence of systemic tabulation errors.

          • zardoz says:

            @HeelBearCub: I could reliably generate ghost voters and vote for them as I wish by mail if I was able to hack a government database.

            If I wanted to do that for in-person voting, I would need a large group of accomplices to physically go to the polling places to use the fake identities. Of course the more people I involve, the greater the chance I have of getting caught. And even in the best case each accomplice can only cast so many fake votes that way, so the damage I can do is much more limited with in-person voting.

            I am glad that North Carolina requires a driver’s license number to register an absentee voter. However, here in California, people say stuff like “requiring a driver’s license to vote is racist.”

            It’s almost impossible to overstate how complacent about election security people are here. Anything that we could use to even find out how much fraud is going on gets immediately attacked as racist, regressive, etc. etc. On the other hand, people are terrified of Russia buying an ad on Facebook (what if it’s an advertisement that … is in favor of TRUMP!!?!)

          • zzzzort says:

            California also requires a SSN or driver’s license number, or else you need to show ID when you vote.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            California also requires a SSN or driver’s license number, or else you need to show ID when you vote.

            This is actually a nation wide mandate that was part of the Help America Vote Act passed after the 2000 election debacle. Every voter must establish their ID upon registration. You either need to provide a DL Number or the last four of SSN at registration or, the first time you vote, you will need to provide some form of identification as a guard against fraudulent registrations. There are also lots of provisions about what must be done to maintain the voter registration roles. Registration roles are required to be kept by the state (rather than county by county). Money was provided by the feds to the states to implement all of this.

            Well, that applies to everyone, accept for Montana?, which doesn’t (or didn’t) have voter registration at all. All voter registration for their elections is same day, and I think there are some special rules around that.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @zardoz:
            If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle. The initial claim was that it was easy to create “ghost voters” just by running a registration drive and then seeing if someone voted in the next election. Now you are into Sneakers, Mission Impossible, Top Secret territory.

            Plus, it’s not as if people don’t know how many, and which, voters are registered in a state. What exactly do you think political campaigns and parties do? Sit around with their thumbs up their butts? Every registered “fake” voter is going to be registered at a real address, and people are going to try and contact that voter there. The first attempted contact will be the USPS, sending the voter registration card.

            You think a million fake voters being sent registration cards won’t be noticed? Or just an overnight jump in the voter rolls?

            But I’m sure that NOC list will be worth a fortune on the black market.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:
            An absentee ballot? or An absentee ballot request form?

            Y’know what? You might be right. My wife told me about the “ballot” and I don’t think I have it any more to check. And seeing the news about “way more ballots requested than turned in” may have primed me to believe I was one of those who had gotten a ballot.

            So I’ll have to say my expectations about absentee ballot security may have been wrong.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Edward Scizorhands:
            It wouldn’t surprise me if the following was one prong of a get out the vote effort. In the case where a volunteer did something to categorize the encounter so that it qualified, a campaign would send out two things together, a request form for an absentee ballot, and a sample ballot showing the voter the GOTV org’s endorsed candidates.

            Pre-filled sample ballots are a frequent tactic for campaign poll volunteers, by which I mean the people that stand outside the “no campaigning past here” sign and hand out leaflets, etc.

            For a time, a stand tactic of the GOP was to get the list of everyone who had requested an absentee ballot and send them a sample ballot. Not sure if they are still doing that or not.

            It wouldn’t surprise me that it could look like you got sent a ballot, when you actually just got sent some campaign material.

      • zardoz says:

        Yeah, I also hate mail-in ballots. I think it would be OK if they were allowed for people in the military or who had a doctor’s note certifying that they couldn’t leave the house. But allowing them for everyone opens the door to massive fraud.

        Is anyone advocating for temporary mail-in ballots? I got the impression that the debate was about permanently allowing mail-in ballots vs. permanently not allowing them.

      • chrisminor0008 says:

        Besides outright fraud, there’s also the issue of vote selling and coercion. There’s very good reason to have polling places where a single person goes at a time in privacy and without being able to prove afterward whom they voted for.

        That said, these are extraordinary times.

      • AG says:

        Doesn’t this “by-mail is rife with fraud” not also mean that the census has always been nonsense?

    • zzzzort says:

      I mean, the simplest model is that republican politicians will support a change in the status quo voting system iff they expect it to give them better electoral results. So you’ll get a fair system if you can convince them it’s in their interests, or if the electoral cost of presiding over a shitshow is worse than the expected advantage in voting method.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        republican politicians will support a change in the status quo voting system iff they expect it to give them better electoral results.

        You realize the obvious failure mode of this thinking, right?

        • Loriot says:

          I’m confused. Are you suggesting it is not an accurate description of reality, or that the Republican’s strategy is a bad idea? (I’m guessing the former based on suspected political leanings, but I honestly have no idea)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            If Republicans wait until Democrats have the advantage with the existing system, why would the Democrats be offering to give it up?

            IOW, the only time this will work is when someone is willing to trade their current advantage for overall fairness.

          • zzzzort says:

            That’s just adding a time average to the expectation, which I think most politicians are smart sand long-serving enough to do (it also doesn’t speak to one-off crises).

            I think the most likely way to get change is if voting procedures becomes a campaign issue, but even then most people have polarized such that their views on voting (right that should be accessible/privilege that should be protected from fraud) have already aligned with their partisan interests. Either that or a drastic change in the makeup of the supreme court.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            which I think most politicians are smart sand long-serving enough to do

            This fundamentally misunderstands that “politicians” are a group of individuals that each have an evolutionary imperative to be re-elected, both in the primary and the general election. If a large set of existing politicians feel like they will greatly increase their chance to lose office if a change is enacted, they will be naturally adverse to enacting that change.

            It might be better for the long term health of a given party, or the nation, but that is of secondary concern for the individual politician.

            So you can’t blithely state that a long serving politician will see the advantage of long term policies, when they get to be long term by seeing to securing their electoral advantage in each election.

          • zzzzort says:

            Wait, I thought I was the one being cynical about politician’s motives? My prediction is that if you offered a politician a deal where the next election would be 20% easier for people like them but every election after that would be 10% harder for people like them, most politicians wouldn’t take it, because they expect to be running in the future as well.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @zzzzort:

            My prediction is that if you offered a politician a deal where the next election would be 20% easier for people like them but every election after that would be 10% harder for people like them,

            Well, lucky for you, we have something of a real-world test case.

            Post the 2008 election, the Republican party ran a post mortem that determined that failing to address the demographic change in the US would be long term bad for the party, specifically around the issue of immigration reform. The recommendation was to embrace immigration reform as means of embracing long term health of the party.

            That is not what the individual politicians did. They doubled down on what they saw as their best chance to win the elections immediately in front them.

            Also, note, that was a bargain that was entirely internally driven. That kind of offer, where Democrats offer an easier election for Republicans today for long term reforms of the voting process that hurt them in the future, that isn’t in the cards. Generally speaking, if you propose horse trades, it’s long term priority for long term priority.

            Because, at the end of the day, politics isn’t merely about staying in power. It’s about attempting to enact or retain preferable policies. It’s just way easier to do that if you are, you know, in office.

          • Clutzy says:

            Post the 2008 election, the Republican party ran a post mortem that determined that failing to address the demographic change in the US would be long term bad for the party, specifically around the issue of immigration reform. The recommendation was to embrace immigration reform as means of embracing long term health of the party.

            The 2008 post mortem was widely mocked, and for a good reason: their argument was the old, “we’re losing money on every widget but we’ll make it up on volume.” They were favorably citing things like losing the Hispanic vote by a 40-55 margin and the like, and it ignored likely swing states for at least 3 presidential elections, likely 5. A WWC + trying to breakup the Black-Dem monopoly to something less than 95% was a more plausible path for several cycles. The coalitions will have likely shifted by 2030 regfardless of strategy.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            The post-mortem about demographics was 2012, not 2008. And I disagree with your characterization that “it’ll be easier to win later.” Republican ideas of (allegedly) small-ish (less big-ish?) government and individual liberty do not appeal to the new immigrants coming to the US for government-provided goods and services. Republicans cannot win a race of “who can promise more government benefits to recent foreigners” with Democrats.

            So your idea of “win now or win later” is incorrect. It’s more like “if we don’t win now, we’re going to lose forever.”

          • Republicans cannot win a race of “who can promise more government benefits to recent foreigners” with Democrats.

            That assumes that the foreigners have come for the government benefits. If, as I think much more common, they have come because they can earn much more working here than where they came from, Republicans might win a race of removing governmental obstacles to employment.

            Consider the recent California legislation designed to force everyone to work as an employee rather than a free agent. That has to make things hard for immigrants — especially illegal immigrants, since the process of becoming an employee requires evidence that you are allowed to work in the U.S. — but legal immigrants as well. Think Uber, Lyft, and the people in the Home Depot parking lot looking for someone to hire them for the day.

          • Loriot says:

            It’s funny, because we also hear so much about how Latinos are natural Republicans. Religious, conservative, etc. The only reason they go Democratic so solidly (outside Florida) is the Republicans’ utter hostility.

            Demographic faultlines could be very different than they are. Heck, they’ve already changed dramatically in the last five years.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The only reason [Latinos] go Democratic so solidly (outside Florida) is the Republicans’ utter hostility.

            W. tested that theory. Didn’t hold up.

          • Clutzy says:

            W. tested that theory. Didn’t hold up.

            Not only W, so did California. Hispanics were already solidly Democratic prior to Prop 187. Prop 187 can, most generally, be analogized to Trump. It happened after decades of Republicans trying to court Latinos, and failing.

            It is important to note that Hispanic pop % in the southwest is deceptive, because a large amount of those are people who were in the territory during the Mexican-American war, people with basically no latin-american culture. The relevant statistic is post 1960s immigrants and their descendants who have come in in sufficient numbers that they have largely not “melted” into the pot yet.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Clutzy:
            I don’t think the numbers support you. Hispanics went from roughly even split to overwhelming Dem.

        • zzzzort says:

          Nope, also confused.

          • Deiseach says:

            I think the problem is the assumption that of course it’s only the bad nasty grasping unreliable dictatorial oppressive suppressive repressive -ist and -phobe ridden Cadmium Yellow party who would need to be shamed, chivvied and legally compelled into holding honest elections under this system, while the upright, honest, ‘buy the world a Coke’, love’n’inclusion Burnt Sienna party would never, ever abuse the system because of their radiant virtue.

            I support one of the two to three major parties in my own country, and I wouldn’t trust the little angels in it not to try pulling strokes with a post-in ballot system. Or any other party, for that matter.

          • zzzzort says:

            No assumption, the question was just about republicans. A more general statement would be that elected officials will support whatever election mechanism that helps them keep being elected.

    • SamChevre says:

      Not a politician and not a Republican, but in favor of more restricted ballot access. (I’ve never been involved in a decision-making process that was improved by adding more people who didn’t know and didn’t care to the group.)

      An absentee allot system that was tied tightly to other records relating to money: for example, ballots can only be mailed to a verified address for a verified person, as verified by payment of property taxes for that address or payment of a utility bill for that address by a check or credit card with that persons name on it.

      One problem is that both in Washington and Wisconsin, Democratic-leaning jurisdictions have “found” uncounted mail-in ballots just sufficient to tip the election after the other ballots were counted; this tends to increase suspicion. (Seattle in 2004, Milwaukee in 2018)

      • Loriot says:

        One argument for universal franchise is that governments which require more people to be happy to stay in power are more responsive to a larger number of people.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      No. Because a fair vote means they loose. That is not my opinion, that is what the president of the united states is flat out stating. In public.

      All the noise about fraud is a smokescreen. Mail voting means almost all the various methods of vote suppression currently in place fail – It does not matter if you have succeeded in reducing the number of polling stations to the point where an african american wanting to vote has to stand in line for 8 hours on a workday if said voter is suddenly asked to mail his or her vote instead. And all the gerrymanders mean the average R politician is sitting in a district the computer is saying he will win by 4-5 % assuming regular turnout.

      Which means a fair, safe vote system, which would boost turnout far about normal is quite likely to turn into apocalyptic defeat for the republican party as the gerrymanders blow up in their faces.

  19. theredsheep says:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20200405061401/https://medium.com/@agaiziunas/covid-19-had-us-all-fooled-but-now-we-might-have-finally-found-its-secret-91182386efcb

    This has been going around the internet, effectively claiming that COVID works by knocking the heme iron out of your hemoglobin and something something it looks like a respiratory disease but it isn’t. The author is certainly using what sounds like legit medical terminology, and not making any obvious errors I can spot with my limited RT-student knowledge.

    However, he also sounds like a serious crank, and this contradicts everything I thought I knew about viruses. It’s not clear, for example, how going into a red blood cell (apparently intact) and detaching its heme iron is going to further the virus’s reproductive cycle, nor how it’s doing that when it’s just a bag of RNA in a fancy coat. Also it’s nearly identical to SARS and you’d think we’d have noticed if SARS did stuff like that.

    Given that this person has put a lot of thought into this, and some third-party sleuthing suggests he’s the son of a doctor, I figured I’d be open-minded and ask if this is not, in fact, gibberish. Current assumption: this is a very clever and educated person going two miles out on a limb, kind of like Linus Pauling with the whole Vitamin C thing.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      If it’s a crank, the bit about why an anti-malarial drug is apparently helpful is a nice touch.

      • theredsheep says:

        That drug is already helpful for rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, which have basically bugger-all in common with malaria, so I wasn’t all that curious as to why it might work for COVID too. A bunch of drugs have really weird, disparate uses.

    • Deiseach says:

      Prime crankery. This thing that looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck (part of a family of established respiratory tract infection agents) is not in fact a duck. Okay, sometimes it’s a platypus, but in this case, I’m fairly sure it really is a duck.

      Knocking out your haem would give you all the symptoms of anaemia, for a start, not the symptoms being associated with the virus at present. Women during their menstrual years are at risk of iron-deficiency anaemia, and having had flu, respiratory tract infections, and occasional iron deficiency over the years, I can attest that one of these things is not like the others.

      Reading that article made me cry and I’m sure it would make Baby Jesus cry as well.

    • zzzzort says:

      Epistemic status: not a virologist.

      An earlier statement of this hypothesis, without the political non sequiturs but less accessible, can be found here. I wouldn’t characterize them as cranks, but definitely seems outside the mainstream. My main response is that it’s a clever solution in search of a problem. We have evidence the corona virus can infect lung cells, it makes sense that the infection can damage lung tissue, and chloroquine was know to have anti-viral activity through a mechanism not related to heme. It could be true that coronavirus also infects red blood cells, but it would have to be through an entirely new mechanism as mature red blood cells don’t do endocytosis. Maybe chloroquine is helpful for this virus because of something something heme something, but it would be an entirely different mechanism than changing endocytotic pH. I don’t think it’s impossible: viruses are just lipid membranes with some proteins and strings of nucleic acids, but that describes all of life as well. But I would bet against it.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      As crank ideas go, it doesn’t seem too terrible (but maybe it would if I knew more about the field). One thing I remember reading weeks ago is that there is something unusual about COVID in that patients require ventilation even though the oxygen level in their blood (if I understood it correctly) is NOT all that low, which while you might say it is formally the opposite of what he is saying is compatible with the concept that something is going wrong with the haemoglobin.

      As you observe, the virus should surely be directly hitting the respiratory system like its cousins do. This would probably have to be some accidental side effect of the particular composition of this virus, I think. Maybe it really just wants to give everyone a cold, but some component of it has a nasty interaction with human haemoglobin. But then again, the two main symptoms are mostly fever and major lung problems, which would imply that it’s not in fact all that much like a cold – though there are reports it often causes anosmia like similar cold viruses.

      I get the feeling that his starting point was ‘how does chloroquinone work?’ when as far as I know there’s not all that much evidence as yet that it does work. I also suspect he’s getting his data from third party reportage rather than direct knowledge in the field. His phraseology about “general field consensus emerging” strikes a suspicious note. But neither of those are enough to prove he is wrong, unless the direct case knowledge of the disease progress, or some already known science does in some way rule the idea out. Like you, I wouldn’t know whether that’s the case.

      It seems an interesting enough idea that I would hope to see some authoritative refutation or discussion of it.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think there is some positive evidence for chloroquine + azithromycin, but I don’t think it’s nailed down yet, and it has some potentially nasty side-effects.

      • Del Cotter says:

        The lung has two vital functions: one is to acquire oxygen from the air, the other is to excrete unwanted carbon dioxide to the air, lest blood pH fall to dangerous levels. It’s why athletes at the end of a sprint are panting with rosy red faces, not blue faces: they have built up lactic acid in the blood thanks to anaerobic respiration in the muscles during their explosive effort, and must temporarily lower their carbonic acid levels to compensate. They’re not lacking blood oxygen.

        I don’t claim to have an opinion on the value of feeding oxygen as part of therapy, I’m not a doctor. I just want to say in a general way you need the lungs ventilating for other reasons too.

    • M.C. Escherichia says:

      (Hope I didn’t post this twice.) A more respectable presentation can be found here…

      https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200407/doctors-puzzle-over-covid19-lung-problems

      “Some patients coming to the hospital have very low oxygen levels in their blood, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from talking to them. They don’t seem starved of oxygen. They may be a little confused. But they aren’t struggling to breathe. When doctors take pictures of their lungs — either with a CT scanner or an X-ray machine — those also look fairly healthy.”

      The implication is that something might be quite off about our understanding. Maybe it’s not a mere lung disease?

      Also: https://www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/rccm.202003-0817LE

      “Indeed, the primary characteristics we are observing (confirmed by colleagues in other hospitals), is the dissociation between their relatively well preserved lung mechanics and the severity of hypoxemia.”

      • albatross11 says:

        I thought one of the characteristic signs of COVID-19 pneumonia was a particular finding on a chest X-ray. “Ground glass” or something like that?

        • theredsheep says:

          Am told (by my experienced lab instructor) that this is typical of ARDS cases in general, not COVID in particular. Another RT confirmed today.

          • Del Cotter says:

            I think what albatross meant was not that you can tell COVID-19 apart from other conditions causing ARDS, but that COVID-19 does cause ARDS. The article seems to imply COVID-19 does not cause ARDS.

      • Garrett says:

        > The implication is that something might be quite off about our understanding. Maybe it’s not a mere lung disease?

        Without reading the articles, this could happen for at least 3 reasons I can think of:

        1. Covid-19 impairs oxygen absorption more than it impairs CO2. I can guess at mechanisms but this is well outside of my knowledge to speculate about the details.

        2. Covid-19 desensitizes the chemoreceptors responsible for detecting CO2/acid build-up in the blood. When you hold your breath and you start to get that lungs-on-fire feeling, what your body is actually doing (via chemoreceptors in the aortic arch) is noticing that your blood’s pH has dropped due to increased CO2 in the blood converting to carbonic acid. As a side note, this is why nitrogen asphyxiation is so problematic – you don’t really feel anything different because your body can get rid of the CO2 via pulmonary respiration but isn’t taking in any oxygen so you pass out. A quick skim of the two articles doesn’t show anything about “blood gas” measurements which might indicate if this is happening, though. Grr.

        3. Covid-19 somehow triggers a compensatory metabolic alkalosis. This seems least-likely to me as that would more likely involve the GI tract or the kidneys.

    • noyann says:

      Three remarks.
      – The world has seen enough covid deaths to have a good understanding of its mechanism. Whoever crawls out of nowhere now with claims of new deep insight that changes everything is either genius (probability close to zero) or crank (very close to 1).
      – Anemia looks completely different, see Deiseach’s comment.
      – Mixing widely known facts into nonsense clad in sound sounding medical jargon is just the stuff I would expect to come from a Russian troll farm or someone coaxed into publishing this by Russia, possibly via proxies. It’s great stuff to fuel mistrust in the competence of established scientists and destabilize social cohesion. But this example is not (yet?) in the EU DB of FN. see also

    • fibio says:

      Given that this person has put a lot of thought into this, and some third-party sleuthing suggests he’s the son of a doctor, I figured I’d be open-minded and ask if this is not, in fact, gibberish. Current assumption: this is a very clever and educated person going two miles out on a limb, kind of like Linus Pauling with the whole Vitamin C thing.

      It at least seems to be a reasonable explanation, not sure if its the right one but its a coherent argument that explains some of the evidence seen. I’m more concerned that the article devolves into a screed against people who don’t like Trump at the end, which appears to be both unwarranted and undermines the argument. It’s not really a slam on the science side of things, but the fact the author has already built in a persecution complex to explain why their idea hasn’t been picked up is a red flag in my opinion.

      Most media about the crisis I’ve read really doesn’t care what Trump is saying about the problem. Heck, the vast majority of doctors and researchers working on COVID-19 are apolitical on the Trump issue as they’re not even American. It strains credulity that so many people have rejected this hypothesis because it might accidentally prove the ‘orange man’ right, not when the bodies are already piling up.

    • theredsheep says:

      Just posted on my FB RT group:

      STOP SHARING THE HEME THEORY FOR COVID

      Debunking the “COVID had us all fooled” hemoglobin theory

      Firstly, there is an alternative physiologic mechanism of the coronavirus which has been circulating about. The theory was originally published on Medium by a non-MD, non-physiologist chap called Andrew Gaiziunas AKA “libertymavenstock,” who predominantly is on the internet as a cryptocurrency enthusiast but who happened to read a single non-peer reviewed journal article about SARS-CoV-2 inhibiting human heme synthesis, an education which he felt was sufficient to permit him to comment.

      Let’s start with the original paper. It involved computer analysis of the predicted structure of the virus’ proteins, in three dimensions. (Computer simulation is a common technique in the field of proteomics). The authors noticed, wow, it looks like the structure a couple of the surface proteins could “dock” with the heme synthesis mechanism human red blood cells employ. “Could” being the operative word- this has never been observed, as the virus is not found in human blood except rarely in ultra-highly-infected people. The authors quite inappropriately titled their paper “COVID-19 Attacks the 1-Beta Chain…” instead of “A couple of proteins in this virus could theoretically bind with the 1-beta chain.. based on our structural simulation.”

      So, the Gaiziunas piece started from the assumption that this was scientific fact instead of an extremely theoretical, unproven, unlikely assertion. He was then off to the races. His main premise is that basically COVID-19 isn’t a primary respiratory disease, it’s a blood disease. It causes organ failure of all organs, not just the lungs, at the same time, and that’s what kills people. He asserts they don’t have ARDS, but instead red blood cells release maverick, rogue radical oxygen species which causes unmitigated tissue damage.

      There is no evidence for any of this, and if anyone took it seriously (treating COVID with blood transfusions instead of respiratory support) it would be extremely dangerous. Let’s start: we pathologists can visualize the virus, with our eyes and our light & electron microscopes, infecting the Type 2 pneumocytes of the lungs, along with the cells lining the respiratory tree and associated mucinous glands. We know the virus enters these cells via its spike protein and the ACE receptor. And we also know the virus is generally never found in blood. Unlike the lung cells, we cannot see it in human red blood cells, though we’ve looked (out of interest in this theory a few people have tried hemoglobin electrophoresis and looked carefully at peripheral smears, and came up with nothing).

      We can also see ARDS- there is a specific cascade of visible changes, including the filling of the airspaces with fluid which eventually coalesce into sticky coatings called hyaline membranes. I will attach a nice photo from Xiao et al of the lung pathology in COVID patients to this post, which include virus in the cells. The hyaline membranes coat the gas-exchange part of the lungs, making gas exchange difficult and sending the infected patient teetering off into respiratory failure. That being said- apart from him, there is some interest generated in alternative ventilatory strategies for COVID, because the patients do seem to tolerate hypoxemia (lower blood oxygen saturation) better than other respiratory failure patients, so some critical care doctors are letting them “go lower” to avoid intubation than they would usually be comfortable with.

      I want to stress that anyone can come up with a good idea. The fact that Andrew Gaiziunas doesn’t have a relevant background doesn’t mean that his idea, if reasonable or interesting, shouldn’t be considered. But it is rather fun to point out the howlers:

      – he describes “high-pressure intubation” instead of mechanical ventilation
      – he refers to the malaria parasite as “bacteria”
      – he states confidently that ground-glass opacities on CT scan “are always bilateral” [no] in COVID and that this fact is somehow supportive of his theory
      – he states the kidneys make erythropoietin which causes an acutely detectable rise in hemoglobin, in a matter of hours (takes weeks)
      – he states the acute liver damage in multi-system organ failure is due to iron scavenging (takes years)

      Stop sharing unfounded theories and confusing clinicians.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Just posted on my FB RT group:

        STOP SHARING THE HEME THEORY FOR COVID

        I thought the theory was crankery from the start, but based on the past few years, a headline like that moves me the other way. (Not much, though, the theory is still crankery and as others have noted, simply wrong about certain aspects of the disease like the claimed lack of radiological findings)

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah, the self-proclaimed experts yelling in all caps that I absolutely should NOT believe something pushes me in the direction of believing it more, no matter how crankish it looks…

          • theredsheep says:

            It’s an RT group–ie, people on the frontline of treating the disease–not FB in general. It doesn’t much matter if ordinary bozos have silly ideas about the illness, but experts getting totally wrong ideas how the disease process works would be dangerous enough to warrant some shouting.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Thing is, both cranks and overly-self-assured but wrong experts are at least as prone to shouting as correct experts.

          • CatCube says:

            But what’s the fraction of correct-but-exasperated-by-dumb-arguments experts that are shouting? To evaluate if “I don’t know anything but I’m going to take a contrarian take because of the shouting” is a good idea I think you’d need all three quantities.

        • broblawsky says:

          Would you feel better if it started with “PLEASE”?

          • Matt M says:

            No, but maybe if they included a hands clapping emoji after every word, I might be inclined to trust them more!

        • toastengineer says:

          I suspect “THE HEME THEORY IS TOTAL NONSENSE” would be far more effective than “STOP SHARING THE HEME THEORY,” especially among educated professionals/scientific rationalists. You are entitled to try and convince me of things – you have no authority to give me orders. The former is a much more accurate summary of the proceeding essay as well.

      • Lambert says:

        I’m fairly sure messing with haem synthesis pathways would also leave a pretty big smoking gun.
        E.g. tetrapyrroles turning their piss a lovely red wine colour.

      • Beck says:

        That being said- apart from him, there is some interest generated in alternative ventilatory strategies for COVID, because the patients do seem to tolerate hypoxemia (lower blood oxygen saturation) better than other respiratory failure patients, so some critical care doctors are letting them “go lower” to avoid intubation than they would usually be comfortable with.

        There do seem to be some issues with ventilator protocols. I’ve seen doctors reporting patients with super low osat (70s!) who are breathing and functioning fairly well.

    • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

      How does chloroquine work? Same way as it does for malaria. You see, malaria is this little parasite that enters the red blood cells and starts eating hemoglobin as its food source. The reason chloroquine works for malaria is the same reason it works for COVID-19 — while not fully understood, it is suspected to bind to DNA and interfere with the ability to work magic on hemoglobin. The same mechanism that stops malaria from getting its hands on hemoglobin and gobbling it up seems to do the same to COVID-19 (essentially little snippets of DNA in an envelope) from binding to it.

      No, no, no, a thousand times no!

      According to the wikipedia article on chloroquine, the malaria parasite does in fact eat hemoglobin. But the drug doesn’t prevent the digestion of hemoglobin; it prevents the neutralization of the toxic byproduct, heme, and causes the parasite to kill itself by producing it! Its antiviral effects are almost completely unrelated: it increases the pH in the endosome that the virus enters in, preventing it from releasing the virus into the cytoplasm.

      It does not bind to DNA, and even if it did, that would be completely useless, since hemoglobin does not interact with DNA, the DNA of the malaria parasite is in nuclei completely removed from its site of action, and COVID is an RNA virus with no DNA to speak of!

      More importantly: This person has absolutely no idea how viruses and red blood cells work. Viruses reproduce by hijacking the machinery of DNA transcription and replication, and RNA translation into proteins. Red blood cells don’t have any of that machinery, because they don’t f**king have DNA! (or ribosomes, or any other parts of that chain.) There is absolutely no possible reason that any sort of virus would try to infect red blood cells as its primary mechanism of action–it’d be like a robber walking past a jewelry store to go stick up an empty, abandoned warehouse.

      If you don’t have the biology knowledge to see how this article is nonsensical, please note that the author does not seem to have any sort of credentials or even a basic understanding of cell biology, and more importantly, does not cite a single source for any of his claims.

      I don’t know who the hell this guy is or what the goal of his quackery is, but f**k him for spreading misinformation.

      • theredsheep says:

        I did wonder why a virus would want to get into an RBC, of all things; I didn’t express stronger skepticism because microbio is hardly my specialty, and for all I know there’s some obscure reason why it would work. He does sound rather like a classic internet schizoid running with limited information.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Using Bayesian logic, a thousand updings for you sir.

  20. zardoz says:

    The Harvard Business Review once called Data Scientist “the sexiest job in the 21st century.” Lately, though, I’ve been hearing that data science was overhyped, both in terms of how interesting the work was, and how many actual job positions there were. This article seems to confirm my suspisions.

    Is anyone here a practicing data scientist? I’m curious how accurate this viewpoint is.

    It feels like the hype for data science peaked sometime during the Obama presidency– back before the techlash. Back when Larry and Sergey were admired rather than being interrogated about their workplace affaris, this all seemed so fresh and interesting. Now, it just seems like a rebranded analyst job with less Excel and more Python.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      In my experience the answer can be almost anything, depending on how one defines data science (good thing that at least the terms “sexy” and “overhyped” both have strict definitions, so no problems there).

      On one extreme, “data scientist” means “senior SQL/Excel developer”, so super boring and unsexy imao. On the other (as in our team) it basically overlaps with a machine learning engineer, all the way up to DNNs and Tensorflow and stuff, and we all know those are super sexy.

    • WoollyAI says:

      As someone who jumped on that bandwagon and has been…semi-disappointed, I think this is a case of reaching for the stars and settling for the moon.

      On the downside, I think ml is of limited business use, at least right now. That definitely feels oversold.

      On the upside:

      Now, it just seems like a rebranded analyst job with less Excel and more Python.

      Yeah, but the Python analyst is SO MUCH BETTER. I mean yes, you can do a lot in Excel, but having a data analyst who can code in Python or R or whatever does just 2-3x their productivity, it’s an extremely strong signal of competence. Honestly, a lot of times the people I work for don’t want super-advanced analysis, they’re medical or legal experts with 20+ years of experience, they want to do the super-advanced analysis. They’re just happy to get solid data they can trust in a short time frame but that’s actually pretty rare.

      For comparison, imagine a ‘Organizational Optimization Specialist’ which is just a secretary who can code VBA macros and maybe some Python or shell. That person would absolutely murder the competition and save so much paper/busywork.

      • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

        I want this job. Are such roles actually a thing people hire for?

        • WoollyAI says:

          The super secretary? No, I wish, maybe some venture capitalist will bless it with hype and make it a thing?

          Super-analyst? Yeah. The State of CA calls it a Research Data Specialist and it’s basically a super analyst using SAS or SQL, so if you can do that plus Python or R, you’re in really good shape.

      • A Definite Beta Guy says:

        I keep reading this and thinking that I need to spend some quarantine time learning some Python, because Jesus,Mary,andJoseph, I spend way too much forcing crap through Excel.

        I basically built our entire $200 million budget in Excel last year. Not really a fun exercise.

        • CatCube says:

          I’d recommend it. It’s a bit of a different way of thinking than VBA, but once you get in the groove it’s way easier to do a lot of stuff. There is other stuff that’s harder than dealing with an entire table, but I think if you’re comfortable with VBA you’ll pick it up easily enough to be worth putting a little effort to see if it’ll help with your job.

          Note also that if you’re in an environment where everything eventually has to end up back in Excel (as I am) that Python has good native ability to handle CSVs that are easily moved back and forth to Excel, though of course you lose formulas.

    • SystematizedLoser says:

      I would consider myself a data scientist, albeit on the ML and research sides. I didn’t have a lot of trouble finding a job, and neither did most people from my program. As the article suggests, there was a lot of variety in the interviews I did. The article doesn’t match with how often I find myself the only “data person” in the room, but developing data communication expertise for talking to domain experts is still an essential skill to have. The points about cleaning and verifying data being huge time sinks ring heavily true.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      Assuming that date science means something along the lines of “machine learning” (which I think is a sensible definition that excludes rebranded business analysts), it is probably overrated. I don’t think the data cleaning thing is that legitimate a complaint just because I’ve seen it so often that I don’t know how a prospective data scientist couldn’t be aware what a significant part of the job it is.
      My main thought on how it works in practice is that most small and medium sized companies don’t need data scientists, they need software engineers. Most of the business cases for ML are better solved by a software engineer who’s learned basic ML algorithms than someone who’s nominally a data scientist but has never written production code.

      I live in London and there are plenty of well-paid data science jobs around – even ones that are “real” data science. I wouldn’t say it was over-hyped in terms of job prospects.

    • Deiseach says:

      The Harvard Business Review once called Data Scientist “the sexiest job in the 21st century.” Lately, though, I’ve been hearing that data science was overhyped

      The two are not mutually exclusive; something being “sexy” because it is perceived as cool, desirable, high-quality, high-status and so on does not mean that all of the above comes from hype and pushing and advertising, rather than any real value of the thing itself.

      There also seems to be a general tendency within the broad category of STEM jobs to hype up the most recent thing as “this is gonna be really big and important in the future, yeah, so everybody jump aboard the train now!” In the 80s in Ireland, for example, the government was pushing that “biotechnology is going to be the next big thing, everyone train for jobs in that field!” Well, we didn’t all end up working in biotech and indeed the Next Big Thing has turned out to be (a) multinational pharma companies and (b) Silicon Valley companies setting up here for tax benefits our highly-educated English-speaking workforce.

    • matkoniecz says:

      “the sexiest job in the 21st century.” Lately, though, I’ve been hearing that data science was overhyped

      It seems obvious to me that anything described as “the ?????st job in the 21st century” will be either overhyped or underhyped.

      • noyann says:

        underhyped

        hype-undered?

      • CatCube says:

        Well, not anything. One thing may eventually be shown to have been correct.

        • toastengineer says:

          I don’t think so, because of the self-fuelling nature of hype. Many things that are overhyped are genuinely really good, but the exceptional goodness causes a massive torrential wave of hype, because it’s fun to overreact to things. It’s similarly fun to overreact to e.g. Hunt Down The Freeman and stuff like that. Unless we posit some upper bound on the amount of hype there can be that is lower than the amount of hype-worthiness something can be, anything exceptionally good will always be over-hyped.

          • CatCube says:

            Hmmm, we may be using slightly different definitions of “overhyped.” What I was referring to was that the statement “XXX is the YYY of the 21st century” has to be true of at least one thing: there will be a best job of the 21st century, a worst job of the 21st century, etc. If you were to say those statement about a bunch of jobs, at least one of them could be correct, and therefore not overhyped. (Could be, because it’s possible that the true best/worst job never had that statement made about it. Also, “eventually” shown to be correct, because we won’t really know until the 22nd century.)

            It sounds like you’re using “overhyped” to mean that it must also meet expectations outside of being the “best”/”worst”/”other superlative”. That is, even if something is, say, the best job of the 21st century, if being in the best job of the 21st century isn’t as cool as people thought it’s “overhyped.”

            I think we can both be correct for our definitions. It’s the agreeing on one that’s the problem.

      • souleater says:

        I’m a data scientist is the Aerospace field, working with technologies like python. Excel, and Big Data, I have a stem background didn’t go to college for this work, specifically, but I find i really enjoy it.

        Its thankless in a lot of ways, but its also challenging. I always have puzzles I need to figure out.

        The data you get is never clean, and always needs to be fixed. Which is frustrating because its relativly easy to keep the data clean, and 10% effort from data produceds saves 80% of the work for me.

        I would also definitely say there are ethical challenges. Everyone always wants the data to give the best results, and there is a ton you can do to ‘force’ a good answer. But you need to know your leadership team and whether you should give them the results they want or the results they deserve. Having a good relationship with the client/people skills/communication/ is suprisingly important.

        Data science isn’t really popping as far as I know, but big data is supposedly the “next big thig” so we’ll see

  21. Doctor Mist says:

    Hi all,

    My brother-in-law died unexpectedly last fall. He published two science-fiction novels and a bunch of mystery short stories, which I always hoped he would release as eBooks; alas, he somehow never got around to it. I have made it a project to preserve his legacy by making that happen, and so have spent some time reconciling and editing the various minor revisions we have found in his files, and I am delighted to announce that the first of these, The Unwound Way (originally published as a Ballantine paperback), is now available on Kindle here.

    Here is the blurb I wrote for it:

    The Unwound Way by Bill Adams and Cecil Brooks

    A century ago, Evan Larkspur was a promising young playwright who never imagined he would one day be regarded as the Shakespeare of his time. Disgusted by the growing authoritarianism in his elite circle, he joined a Naval Survey for a relativistic run that never returned.

    But now he has returned! Or has he? His fragmentary memories — sabotaged ship, cold-sleep malfunction, miraculous escape — seem like a madman’s fantasy.

    His valuable Survey data, if real, would make him a target, so he remains in the shadows as an actor and a smuggler, trying to tie his memories of the past to the repressive society he sees now. He is blackmailed into impersonating a government bureaucrat overseeing an extraterrestrial archeological site, an important key to a bitter feud between two rich and powerful men. He soon finds that there is more beneath the surface than he expected.

    I still think this is a cracking great yarn, lively and funny, that says interesting things about identity and freedom without ever interrupting the action. If you are looking for a way to while away the sheltering-at-home hours, give it a look.

    • GreatColdDistance says:

      While I’m much too crushed with exams to read this at the moment, I just wanted to say that it is a lovely thing you are doing and I am very sorry for your loss. It sounds like a great idea for a story.

    • yodelyak says:

      A lovely blurb you’ve written, I’m giving it a look now. Good luck to the book, thanks for sharing.

  22. Three Year Lurker says:

    Does somebody have a graph of vehicular fatalities over the last two months?

    Seems like it would be a pretty accurate proxy for whether people are actually avoiding travel or not.

    Longer term feasible responses to pandemic:

    WFH:
    All work that can be done from home is. Give businesses a tax break for moving employees to work from home status.
    Allow other business to run as normal, except for suggestions below.
    This cuts many long distance connections between households. People in the same office can be traveling from a 30 mile radius, so any virus getting in can spread far in an office.
    Using a tax break instead of a mandate allows the cost benefit analysis businesses love so much.

    24H operation:
    Relax restrictions against 24h operation to allow customers to spread themselves throughout the day. Encourage businesses to spread their employees throughout the day so that not everybody is trying to use the narrow window between 5 PM and 9 PM (when they do not have work) to do everything at once.
    With people on different shifts, they don’t have to crowd into the same hour at stores or restaurants.

    Occupancy pricing:
    Businesses raise price based on the number of customers currently present. The number of customers is highly visible throughout the business and accessible in whatever smartphone apps people use to look up things.
    People will avoid busy times and sort themselves into an even spread.

    • Relax restrictions against 24h operation to allow customers to spread themselves throughout the day.

      What restrictions now exist? There are alreadly obvious advantages to shifting away from nine to five — avoiding rush hour, less crowded restaurants, and the like — and I assumed the reasons most firms didn’t do it was the advantage of being open at the same time as other firms you want to interact with.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Does somebody have a graph of vehicular fatalities over the last two months?

      I think it’s possible this may be confounded. I‘ve read Minnesota’s traffic fatalities are up under isolation. If reduced traffic increases vehicle speed, you might see increased fatalities.

      • JayT says:

        I am definitely seeing increased speed around here. The Bay Bridge is a 50mph zone, and normally if you’re going 50 that means there’s not much traffic. I had to go across it the other day and I was going 70 with people passing me as if I were standing still.

        • fibio says:

          These people do know that the hospitals are all full, right?

          • The Nybbler says:

            It would be remarkable, in a bad way, if a state with 74,000+ hospital beds was pushed over the brink by ~2700 additional hospitalizations.

          • fibio says:

            If they were already using nearly all those 74,000+ beds then it’s not remarkable that the extra workload has filled them to capacity.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Running that close to capacity in normal times would be a bad and remarkable thing.

          • Loriot says:

            No, it just means being efficient. That’s what capitalism is all about!

      • matkoniecz says:

        And more collisions with wild animals, that are more likely to be present on roads due to lower traffic.

        Some may even appear in places where noone is expecting them, even in urban parts of towns and cities.

    • Reasoner says:

      Reading this guy’s twitter feed, I don’t think he would feel out of place at a rationalist meetup at all. Glad he has as much influence on our national conversation as he apparently does.

  23. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    While some features of likely disasters are somewhat predictable, one thing that’s clear now is that it would be good to have a more flexible economy. How would the economy need to be different to rev up more quickly for sudden needs, preferably at a lower cost?

    • A lot less of the sort of regulation that says “you have to have government permission to do X.”

      • HeelBearCub says:

        David, industry is struggling to even divert toilet paper from bulk commercial sales to grocery stores. That has entirely to do with how the supply chain is set up to serve the differing needs of various customer types. This when the marginal revenue improvement would be HUGE.

        Just saying “free market” over and over doesn’t change all, even most, of the underlying problems.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think the same logic applies to organizations. Laws and regulations slow things down, but so do internal written policies and rules within an organization.

          As an example, my employer has a lot of paperwork requirements for working from home. When the pandemic looked to be coming, we had a big paperwork-panic-exercise getting all the forms filled out to allow employees to work from home, making sure everyone had remote access to the VPN, etc. I talked to a friend of mine whose organization didn’t start preparing in advance for this, and they’re still mired in trying to jump through their own administrative hoops to let workers work from home, or to determine who is and isn’t essential, or whatever.

          I agree with David that fewer regulations requiring government permits and licenses in order to do things would be helpful in making us more flexible. But I also think there’s a broader trait of our society that needs to change, that is behind the public’s support for all those permits and licenses. Local governments, companies, schools, etc., all have piles and piles of internal rules and paperwork requirements that have proliferated, and those inherently make everything less flexible.

          Suppose there’s a doctor licensed to practice medicine in CT who wants to help out in a local NY hospital during the crisis. He’s probably blocked by state regs on who can practice medicine, and those are silly and should go away–if you can practice medicine in any state, you should be able to practice anywhere in the US. But even if the state waived the regs, the local hospitals probably have policies forbidding accepting that doctor’s help, and requiring a long paperwork exercise to allow him to work there. And the hospital’s insurance provider likely has another set of requirements and hoops to jump through.

          Deregulation of the kind David and I support would eliminate one barrier here, but not the others. And that gets to the reason why those barriers exist, and probably IMO a lot of the reason why it now takes a decade to do what used to be doable in a year–as a society, we’ve gotten very comfortable with lots of rules for every situation and regulations and paperwork and hoop jumping.

          I’ve worked for a very small company in a new industry. It was shockingly different from working for a large organization. If I wanted to do something, I just called my boss and asked, and he said “yes” or “no.” No rules, no paperwork, no hoop jumping. But also no procedures to guarantee fairness or consistency of decisions, nothing to prevent him and me from conspiring to featherbed at the company’s expense, etc. We could move a lot faster, but we had to accept some costs. As a society, we’ve moved more and more toward wanting the rules for consistency and fairness and such. Sometimes, that applied even to small businesses/organizations, but less so than it does most other places.

          I think of this as a little like the debates we’ve had about freedom of speech in the legal sense vs cultural norms for freedom of speech. The first amendment means that it’s pretty hard for the government to punish a private citizen for his expressed views. But both government and private employers are *really* into controlling their employees’ speech, on and off the clock, in the US right now. The news is currently full of stories about doctors and nurses getting in trouble from their employers for daring to complain in public about, say, not being given proper protective equipment while treating a roomful of coughing COVID-19 patients. It’s become a cultural norm that employers can and should do this kind of policing of what employees say in public, and it now seems kinda shocking when an employer in a high-profile case says “we don’t care what our employees say or do off the clock.”

          I think we as a society are paying a high price for this inflexibility. It becomes more visible now, during a crisis, but I think we’re paying that price every single day, even when it’s hard to see. And only a fraction of that inflexibility comes from the law, which also means that this is a problem that mostly can’t be addressed by political activism or organization.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            those inherently make everything less flexible.

            They do so, on the whole, for good reasons.

            Here, I don’t mean good in a moral sense, but good in an “accomplishes an objective” sense. Yes, small organizations can change and adapt much faster than larger ones, and yet they typically can’t change and adapt fast enough to server the needs of large entities. By the time they have done that changing and adapting, low and behold they are a large organization.

            Yes, every large organization has its frustrating tendencies, the amount of them which exist being on some sort of normalized curve over the set of all organizations of the same size, and where organization size moves your median-point to a larger value. But organizations do not grow larger by accident, nor do they accrete procedure by accident.

          • albatross11 says:

            HBC:

            I think any kind of crisis is likely to demonstrate some hidden costs of all those rules and requirements, all on the same day. One solution would be to allow an organizational “state of emergency” that waives all but the most critical rules, but that’s both subject to the temptation to always be in an emergency, and also to the temptation of people proposing rules to demand that *their* rules be the never-waived kind as a way of signaling how important the issue is.

            And I think this is society-wide. It’s not that you want to move fast but it’s just your organziation’s rules, put into place a decade ago after a scandal involving misuse of funds, that stop you. You want to move fast, and your organization’s rules are in the way, and so are state laws, federal laws, terms of your insurance policy, etc. That’s why it’s so hard to overcome.

            Think of the lady who discovered asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in Washington State. She violated rules/laws/regs at several different levels–the FDA, the IRB, probably local rules at her institution, etc. Many of those rules are probably sensible, and may do more good than harm overall. But they also ensure that it’s very hard to respond quickly to changing circumstances, because that just can’t be done while also adhering to all those rules. And yet, we’d be in a much worse place, IMO, if she hadn’t done it.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The key word there is “crisis”. It’s tautological.

            If no problems were revealed, there wouldn’t be a crisis, not for that organization.

            You know how the military guys here like to point out the perils of trying to simply add functionality to a platform? Yes, this troop carrier doesn’t have armor or a gun … because it’s a troop carrier. No, this tank doesn’t have the ability to carry troops, because it’s a tank. Try and do both things, and you won’t do either well.

            This of course doesn’t mean any given tank or troop carrier can’t be improved, but that’s beside the point.

            I’m trying to point out that we need to accept that these kinds of limitations tend to be inherent. You can design with these limitations in mind, but you can’t ignore them.

          • albatross11 says:

            HBC:

            Okay, I think I see your point. There’s a slider bar we can move toward “less regs” or “more regs,” but it’s a tradeoff, and there will definitely be a cost to doing so. Large organizations can get rid of their painful requirements for allowing working from home, but doing so will result in more employees drawing a salary for sitting at home playing video games, or making workman’s comp claims for cutting themselves while making a snack in their own kitchen, or whatever.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            doing so will result in more employees drawing a salary for sitting at home playing video games, or making workman’s comp claims for cutting themselves while making a snack in their own kitchen, or whatever.

            Or the opposite problem, employees who do a stellar job aren’t as apparent because their work isn’t visible anymore.

            Or, the third, most likely, problem, it simply has enormous cost to create the processes and infrastructure that make it possible for substantial number of employees to work from home, at no apparent benefit to the employer.

            However, this doesn’t mean that working from home can’t work. It just means that, absent the crisis that forces firms to pay the cost to adapt their processes, the employer wouldn’t have had incentive to do this work. Now employers who already had absorbed these costs are in a better competitive position and, all things being equal, will outcompete those who are having to scramble.

            From the view of the employee, it simply “proves” that the employer could have done this before, but they don’t see the larger picture. Later, when their office space is reduced and now every employee is expected to work from home a substantial portion of the time, and use the flex-space when they need to come in to the office, they will again complain, not realizing that the organization is simply leaning into this now extent infrastructure that allows them to realize a competitive financial advantage of reducing their real estate spend (by, in essence, getting the employee to bear this cost).

            And the quants and the CFO will be mightily happy and cash on hand, dividends, stock prices and C-level compensation will rise. If employees have a bonus plan, they may get their bonus some year when they otherwise wouldn’t have, but it won’t feel like a windfall.

          • Loriot says:

            My company was relatively fortunate in that we *already* encouraged everyone to work from home one day a week, so there was relatively little adjustment required.

        • Just saying “free market” over and over doesn’t change all, even most, of the underlying problems.

          Yes and no.

          There are diseconomies of scale along with economies of scale — that’s why natural monopolies are uncommon. But in the free market context, the big firm with the paperwork and rigidities that come from there being nine levels between the president and the factory floor can only compete with smaller firms that lack most of those if there are advantages to its size that at least balance the disadvantages.

          Unfortunately, that isn’t true of rigidities introduced through the political system.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Supply chain dependence, and the inherent inflexibility it creates under situations of stress, isn’t created primarily by government regulation.

            It’s created by comparative advantage, something you like to stress as a powerful and inherent force.

            Dependence on steady uninterrupted supply chains, due to reductions in inventory, increases flexibility under favorable conditions. It reduces it when supply chains become stressed. This is a Type-I, Type-II problem. They trade off against each other.

            As global trade has become less regulated, more free, supply chain dependence has increased , just as we would expect it to. Again, comparative advantage.

            Generally speaking, the economy is not going to order itself to withstand tail risk. Sure, in the long run, … but we know what happens in the long run. Investment horizons don’t extend from one pandemic to the next.

            And let’s think about the last global economic crisis. Increased inventory would have been a lead balloon in that one. So let’s not think that “prepared for crisis” is some sort of inherent, rather than derived, quality.

          • actinide meta says:

            I think the economy would order itself to withstand a much higher degree of tail risk if not for the moral hazard created by bailouts, price gouging restrictions, etc. A crisis like this one “should” result in trillions of dollars of wealth shifting from the unprepared to the well prepared. That creates a massive incentive to be prepared, and finance is even capable of smoothing out the benefits over time (e.g. a company or individual well prepared to profit from a rare disaster could write “insurance” against the same event to those more vulnerable, or sell options to purchase their products at their normal rather than disaster-inflated prices, or…). Global finance would love these (negative beta!) products, and entrepreneurs would discover lots of ways to create option value at the lowest possible opportunity cost. Investors who gave their capital to companies that made no provision for emergencies would eventually lose it, and their “job” making capital allocation decisions for the economy. Significant changes in prices would help the economy reconfigure itself faster (e.g. by repurposing less-than-optimal resources to produce needed things) even when preparation was not adequate.

            Anything that it’s socially unacceptable, or illegal, to get disgustingly rich doing, global capitalism will tend to seem mysteriously bad at.

          • baconbits9 says:

            A crisis like this one “should” result in trillions of dollars of wealth shifting from the unprepared to the well prepared.

            I think that the bail out of LTCM counter-parties in 1998 is basically the reason we got the tech bubble, the housing bubble and 75-95% of the economic devastation that will come out of this crisis because it explicitly was done to bail out the people who exposed themselves to tail risk and in doing so created a systemic risk. Rather than clear them out at the time with the smallest amount of systemic risk we basically put those people in charge indefinitely.

    • Clutzy says:

      When it comes to something like healthcare, one obvious change is allowing for varying teirs of healthcare to be legal. At its basest level, running water is healthcare, as are things like soap, hand sanitizer, and masks. But those are all (despite being effective) pretty low cost and low tech with small amounts of paid labor, and its mostly preventative.

      Then we have this other teir of medicine that is high cost and high labor for treatment. Doctors and nurses working on very sick people with expensive equipment often in person. Some e-doctorins exists, and expanding that should be a priority, but there are cheaper and more mass-distibutable options that should be available.

      Amazon-style shops of private tests, vaccines, with internet classes on how to do them. Some level of allowing quackery so people with a non-vital cut can get stiches without having to go to C-19 infested hospitals with an open wound.

      Maybe some onshoring could help aid flexibilty.

      But most of the important stuff is what people actually do. Say in 2024 there is a particularly bad flu that has only a mildly effective vaccine. The most important responses will be handwashing and people getting the vaccine, even though it kinda sucks. Those aren’t really stategic responses. You shouldn’t always be fighting the last war (like stockpiling respirators), and there are dozens of potential wars to fight (the next pandemic could kill via a different mechanism, like embolism, instead, or fever that doesn’t react to NSAIDs). So in the end having a good polis is how you probably get flexible the easiest way.

      • Garrett says:

        > allowing for varying teirs of healthcare to be legal

        I agree with this. In the US you are basically allowed to have either world-class healthcare services or none at all.

        Amusingly, my State Health Department removed immunization administration from my provider level’s scope of practice just this January. Good thing we won’t need to worry about immunizing lots of people.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      I was thinking in terms of more general factors. Does investment need to be handled differently? Changes in education or other learning? Organizational structure? What technological changes might help? Further advances in 3D printing would be one of them.

      • AG says:

        As per the case with the 3D printing valves, an economy not in fear of IP Law enforcement can move faster, as things can be produced without exclusivity obstacles.
        (In the case of fashion, lack of enforceable IP Law makes it move too fast, with the problems that come from that.)
        Paradoxically, though, sometimes it’s about introducing more standardization, as the case with USB shows, or experimental testing methods, stopping everyone from introducing their own special snowflake models as a means of exclusivity.

        And as UBI, welfare, and YIMBY proponents would say, allowing the lower classes to retain more of a safety cushion allows the economy to be more flexible, because the workers can be more flexible without worrying about starving or going homeless.

    • Lambert says:

      People talk about tariffs to make sure there’s still domestic manufacturing, but that always struck me as a bit of a blunt instrument.

      Maybe the government should pay steelworks/respirator companies/armaments factories etc. to be able to ramp up production in an emergency. Possibly some kind of contract that looks like an option or a future?

      Also flexibility really trades off against things like efficieny. Can’t retool a modern car factory to make trucks or tanks or planes.

      • John Schilling says:

        Maybe the government should pay steelworks/respirator companies/armaments factories etc. to be able to ramp up production in an emergency.

        Obvious problem is that you wind up paying a lot of people to lie and say that their factories can ramp up production in an emergency, and then not come through in the actual emergency. You can imagine that your stern promise that they will be severely punished if they do that will stop them from doing that, but really all it will do is add to the selection pressure for clever enthusiastic liars in positions of corporate authority.

        Too much of what it takes to make an industry flexible and responsive, is too obscure to outsiders to effectively regulate.

        • Lambert says:

          That is the big problem with it.
          Maybe get a hundred different companies to do it and roll a d100 every fiscal year so that one company has to actually make the things.

      • salvorhardin says:

        This seems inferior to having a stockpile of emergency supplies large enough, and well maintained enough, to tide us over till normal non-specially-incentivized flexibility can kick in. Y’know, like the national mask stockpile that would be serving us well had not two successive administrations neglected to properly refill it.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          “The administrations” are hardly solely to blame. Congressional decisions played quite the part as well, as one of the administrations in question asked for budget to do so.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Eliminate price gouging laws (and mores) and a whole host of regulations and liability laws. The inflexibility of the production economy isn’t a bug, it’s a feature; it’s what people have been demanding in order to have as much safety as possible in normal times. So you can’t make food for sale without a commercial kitchen. You can’t make masks without a month and a half for the regulators to certify you _after_ you’ve set up your production line. If your expediently-produced toilet paper costs too much, it can be confiscated. And even if there’s no law, if any of your expediently-produced products are at all more hazardous than the previous best practices, you can be sued for all you are worth (and more) under a strict liability theory.

      • Matt M says:

        The inflexibility of the production economy isn’t a bug, it’s a feature; it’s what people have been demanding in order to have as much safety as possible in normal times.

        The problem is that they’re still demanding it.

        The average Facebook post on toilet paper prices isn’t saying “Hey – isn’t it great that some outlets are charging higher prices, so as to resolve the shortages and let the market clear!” No, it’s “look at these evil hoarders, government please go arrest them!” Which government is still, even in the midst of all of this, more than happy to do.

        See also the amount of outrage that Trump would dare suggest a medicine might be an effective treatment that has not yet been approved by the FDA for this specific use! The horror! Someone must stop this immediately!

        The reason our response has been so ineffective is because an ineffective response is the only one the public will tolerate. The things we could do that would actually help are way too unpopular and would be political suicide. So they will not happen.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The problem is that they’re still demanding it.

          And that is the modern form of decadence.

  24. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    What are the odds that both Trump and Biden will be in adequate health by the November election? If one of them wins, that he will be in adequate health to be sworn in?

    • mtl1882 says:

      Trump seems to be doing well, so I think odds are high he’ll be in adequate health. Covid-19 poses definite risk, but I suspect he may already have had it. Who knows?

      Biden also has the Covid-19 risk (possible he already had it as well–politicians seem pretty resigned to the risk posed by their general lifestyle, and love to be in the thick of things, and right now I don’t think either one’s team wants to have scary headlines that portray their guy as vulnerable in the event they developed minor symptoms), and I don’t know what to make of what’s going on with him. I’d put his odds lower than Trump’s, but not too low. I could definitely see a situation in which Biden’s health may be not considered adequate for the job by many, but not enough for the party to admit to this and keep him from being sworn in.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Either way, the vice president suddenly becomes more than a decoration.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        Any chance that results in Trump picking a different VP?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Nope.

        • To expand on Conrad’s response as I interpret it …

          There may have been presidential candidates who would take the possibility of their being unable to serve into account in choosing a running mate, but Trump is not one of them.

          • EchoChaos says:

            Plus Mike Pence has been a really good Vice President.

            He solidifies Trump’s Rust Belt and evangelical credentials, always supports and never tries to upstage the President and competently executes policies he’s put in charge of.

            Getting rid of a bad VP might make sense, but Pence has been anything but bad.

          • albatross11 says:

            +1

            I think a major requirement for working for Trump is that you must never, ever upstage him. Pence never has, and has never tried. So I suspect his position is as secure as anyone’s position in the Trump administration can be.

  25. silver_swift says:

    There was a brief discussion in the precipice book review thread about the catholic church’s position on birth control. EchoChaos pointed out (I think correctly) that a comment from Benf I would broadly have agreed with was being uncharitable. So, I’m trying to steelman the church’s argument, but I’m having a hell of hard time with it.

    This seems to boil down to four arguments:

    1. Procreating is good, having unprotected sex results in more births, therefor you shouldn’t use contraceptives. I think this is the standard argument people think the church uses to back up their no contraceptives position, but it’s kind of undermined by the fact that the church does allow abstinence as a contraceptive (“..when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary..”) and it can’t really back up that procreating is good in and of itself without relying on divine authority or sketchy non-existant-people-have-rights-too types of ethics.

    2. Contraception is unnatural. I have a really hard time taking appeal to nature fallacies serious to begin with and phrasing it like “[Contraception] harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.” is not helping.

    3. Contraception makes it more likely for people to want to have sex with each other, which results in men treating women like sex objects. [Citation needed]

    4. Contraception makes it easier for people to have sex whenever they feel like and this makes it easier to cheat on your partner. I guess this is a reasonable utilitarian argument if you believe the utility gained from people having more sex, fewer unplanned pregnancies and more STD’s is less than the utility lost from the grief caused by people cheating on each other, but that’s a really big if.

    So, any SSC catholics that want to set the record straight, what are some decent arguments for banning contraceptives?

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeah, the problem here is the distance between the foundational premises people are using to base their arguments on. If you reject the entire notion of telos then the theological underpinning won’t have any validity for you. And of course if you hold that divine authority is non-binding or even non-existent, then that means the appeals to Scripture won’t work either.

      I’m not going to argue this one for several reasons, one of which is that (thanks, C.S. Lewis for pointing such a distinction out to me) since this is not a problem I personally have to struggle with, due to not being subject to such a temptation (because of asexuality/aromanticism) then I have little to no business telling people what to do as if I’m taking the moral high ground here on personal virtue – it’s no virtue in me to avoid a sin that I am not tempted to commit. Another is that I’ve burned out on arguing over contraception/abortion online. A third is that, as with point number two, I’ve heard and hashed out a lot of the arguments and I’m not going to budge my opinion.

      So all I’ll say is “read the Catechism, if you don’t agree okay” and leave it at that.

    • Clutzy says:

      #1 and #4 seem like compelling reasons on their own, but there is at least one other Catholic reason I am aware of, which could either be 2a (and makes that category very strong) or an independent #5:

      The M-F sexual union is a holy act within the sacrament of marraige with a divine purpose and part of that divine purpose is procreation. Contraception interferes with the divine purpose, as Pope John Paul II said, “Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God’s co-workers.”

      I am not a theologian or anything close, so hopefully someone can state this aspect of the faith with a bit more eloquence than I, but that is the boiled down version in my words.

    • theredsheep says:

      The pill itself is capable of causing failure to implant, which is not all that distinct from first-trimester abortion. Not Catholic, and I don’t think it’s sufficient to justify banning contraceptive pills, but that’s a thing.

      • Nick says:

        You will sometimes see the morning after pill and the like referred to as “abortifacients” for this reason.

      • Iago the Yerfdog says:

        What’s the actual risk here? Not Catholic, not anti-contraception, but even from those perspectives I’d see this as a fairly weak argument unless the risk was significant.

        • theredsheep says:

          I’ve never seen a precise odds figure, not that I’ve looked very hard, but I’d imagine it’s a low risk just because the pill is supposed to prevent ovulation in the first place. I consider it near-equivalent to other meds that can cause harm to a fetus/embryo/blastocyst/whatever but are not intended for that purpose. The morning-after pill is obviously a good deal dodgier, and I don’t like dealing with it.

          I’m Orthodox and we’re barred from potential abortifacient contraceptives–we don’t have a definite stance on contraception more broadly, but there are a couple of different camps, and I’m in the “okay for married couples spacing out kids, as long as it’s not abortifacient” camp. Even if I weren’t, I’d still regard the pill as something of a raw deal for women, unless they need it for cramps or something. I shouldn’t be elevating my wife’s stroke risk, putting her through bloating and mood swings and all that, just because I don’t want to put on a rubber. Besides, it’s got a good chance of messing up their libido, and that’s most of the fun.

          • Iago the Yerfdog says:

            Interesting. I didn’t know the Orthodox position on the issue and kind of assumed it was the same as Catholics’.

            My first thought on reading this was that it sounds like the pill would also be useful for unmarried, non-sexually-active women in order to prevent conceptions from occurring… let’s just say against their will. Strangely, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone discuss it in that context.

          • Randy M says:

            My first thought on reading this was that it sounds like the pill would also be useful for unmarried, non-sexually-active women in order to prevent conceptions from occurring … let’s just say against their will.

            I’m not sure if you mean rape or the virgin birth, but both are unlikely enough not to justify the side effects.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I’ve heard of a couple times when nuns in Third World war zones have started using contraception in case of rape, with tacit approval from at least some of the hierarchy.

          • Randy M says:

            Oh, sure, that is one of many, many things that change if you add “in a third world war zone” to the end of it.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Not sure what the catholic argument is, but I can give you the alt-right one. Or, well, what it would be if they were against contraception.

      Contraception makes it more likely for people to want to have sex with each other, which results in men treating women like sex objects.

      It always makes me chuckle when I read things like this. Men aren’t in control when it comes to sex. I don’t think they ever were, in living memory. Sure, we pretend to be, but we do it so we convince women we’re confident and so they’ll pick us.

      Also I think it’s pretty obvious but I’ll state it just to be sure: my comments aren’t normative. The genie is out of the bottle, and trying to put it back in is a completely different discussion I’m not eager to have. Nor do I want to.

      Contraception allows for a completely different set of gender roles, and the greatest difference is that women (not men) are much more free to express their sexuality. This sounds like a good thing, until you realize that the inevitability of pregnancy is what makes women want to marry. And marry early, and marry with somebody that makes at least a decent husband.

      There are many differences between marriage and hookup, but one of them is that they cluster the haves and have nots. Men predominantly hook up with “easy women” – anything from promiscuous (the word sounds bad, but the behaviour itself is already fully normalized), sex workers, sugar babies and so on. Women predominantly hook up with … hot guys. The definition of “hot” varies quite a lot from woman to woman, but at least it is not the same as “a good man” or “a good husband”. Overlap is mostly incidental, and possibly halo effect.

      I could go on on the two topics usually associated with this: welfare and pushing the childbearing age, but I think it would just move away from the central affair, and I think they’re about certain subcultures and niches anyways. The main effect is the replacement of marriages with serial relationships and hookups, and the clustering it creates.

      ——————–

      I think there’s a fair chance that’s what the catholic church thinks about this issue, but they can’t really go out and say it our loud. Or do they?

      • albatross11 says:

        Radu:

        Maybe a good way to rephrase your argument is this:

        a. It’s good when your society’s rules and customs channel normal human drives toward socially good outcomes.

        b. A world where sex has some reasonable chance of leading to pregnancy creates an incentive for women to prefer sex with “good husband prospect” men rather than “tattooed bad boy” men.

        c. That world then creates an incentive for men to try to be more “good husband prospect” than “tattooed bad boy.”

        So the argument there would be that widespread birth control and abortion lead women to change their behaviors in ways that also change the incentives for men, leading to worse social outcomes as fewer men focus on becoming good husband material (and thus, stable providers for a family and stable members of society).

        Am I capturing your point?

        • Let me offer an economist’s version of your argument.

          One of the main arguments for legalizing abortion and increased access to contraception was that it would reduce the problem of “unwanted children,” meaning children of unmarried mothers. In fact, that change was followed by a sharp increase instead of a decrease. Why?

          The most plausible answer is that most of those children were, and are, not unwanted. They are born to women who wanted children and were not able to acquire a husband they would want to be married to. In a world without safe abortion or reliable contraception, women are reluctant to have intercourse without a guarantee of future support, so most men find that the only way of getting regular sex is marriage, so women who want children can find husbands. In a world with reliable contraception and safe abortion, women who don’t want children and do like sex — or don’t mind sex and do like male attention — provide an alternative for men who would otherwise be willing to marry. Hence in that world, many more women who want children are unable to find adequate husbands.

          That version does not depend on anyone acting irrationally, merely on women being more inclined to want children than men.

          • albatross11 says:

            Nitpick: My version also doesn’t require anyone to act irrationally.

            Otherwise, I think your version makes sense. Men don’t have to offer commitment short-term to get laid, and don’t have to cultivate the properties of being good husband material long-term to get laid, so they don’t.

            I also think this likely goes the other direction–women also cultivate different properties in a world where they’re mainly trying to find a good husband than in one where they’re trying to find a good time today, and maybe eventually they’ll be looking for a good husband.

            I don’t know how much of the pattern we observe is explained by either of these, though. It seems very plausible to me that social norms + natural urges explain most of what has happened–when the norms relaxed, people had more sex and got married less and had more kids out-of-wedlock, and mostly they weren’t thinking about their goals and incentives, just reacting to their urges within the constraints of the social norms they’d absorbed.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          This is waay more normative than I intended. I just note that more contraception leads to less and later marriages, and more fleeting relationships. Also clustering in haves and have nots in the sexual marketplace, especially among men.

          I think it’s important to separate this from judgement values, and also from outcomes that are less certain. Mostly because I feel that without making a pause here, at the line before reasonably certain and speculation, it’s easy to let the mind follow the beaten path and miss things. The beaten path being for example the way you restated the argument.

          If I were to speculate, I’d rather go the way of trying to determine if this new Way is making women more or less happy. I don’t think there will be a uniform answer – for one thing, pretty young women are almost living in paradise. But I think there will be quite a few surprises in this direction.

          I also strongly dislike trying to judge this from the lens of “what’s good for society”. Let’s stick to what’s good for individual people first, and go to society only if we have good reason to prefer it to individuals. What’s the difference? For one thing, I don’t really see incels as unhappy. Those that I know at least are happier than average.

          Edit: Kinda forgot that I was stating the alt-right argument, not “my” argument, and switched between them without realizing. Yeah, the way you put it is probably good for alt-right. This comment is more my view.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            for one thing, pretty young women are almost living in paradise.

            That depends on the pretty young women.

            Many of us* view increased male sexual attention as a negative. Also increased pressure to have sex outside of marriage, which I assure you is there. Also more difficulty finding a husband.

            My impression, based to significant extent on the people I know**, is that low libido/more desire for emotional connection and/or kids as opposed to sex is more prevalent in women than men. Having our pick of hot guys** is not paradise if we don’t want hot guys!

            *Not making any particular claims about my own prettiness, but I have certainly heard complaints from women who are much prettier than I am, and when this dynamic does apply to me that’s how it applies.

            **Not that it’s ever that simple, but I think that’s what you’re implying as the upside?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Rebecca Friedman
            How typical are you among peers you didn’t chose? aka not your circle of friends, but things like job/school.

            But I wasn’t referring to guys per se. I was tempted to explain further, but it didn’t seem ontopic. First: we’re all pretty much living in paradise. No real threats, great food, shelter, hot water, great entertainment, not very hard work (historically speaking). Add to this being a pretty young woman, and it’s just over the top. You can have a lot of attention if you want it, and absolutely everything is easier: school, job, finding sex, finding a relationship, getting served at a restaurant… If you’re willing to go there, even working for a living is optional.

            Of course, there are all sorts of traps here. Convincing boys to do your projects in school gives you good grades and free time, but doesn’t teach you to do projects. Sugar dating instead of a job doesn’t give you work experience. And so on. But I wouldn’t cry for them: there is a whole lot of middle ground here, and being pretty and just a bit smart allows you to have it both ways.

            Having our pick of hot guys** is not paradise if we don’t want hot guys!

            Don’t want just hot guys. Being pretty helps you get any kind of guy: smart, strong, skillful, rich, sensitive. And hot is by definition always a plus.

            As for guys not being inclined to marry… I guess that depends on location and age. In my circle of friends pretty much every guy is either married or looking (30-40).

            Buy yeah, what David (any relation, btw?) was saying above is very true. With guys having more access to sex, especially those sought after, there’s less willingness to settle.

            —————-

            To be honest, I don’t know what’s the right answer here. I think we just need this kind of questions professionally studied, much more seriously than they are now. How are we happier? Long term relationships? Family and kids? Serial monogamy? Promiscuity? Abstinence?

            I only know of two pieces of research I have reasonable confidence in: children trade some happiness for meaning (at a higher cost when parents are young and poor); and women living a promiscuous party life style tend to suffer from depression that goes away when they stop. But that’s far from enough…

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            Yeah, that’s my dad. And the fact that he and I have related takes is… not coincidental.

            First: we’re all pretty much living in paradise. No real threats, great food, shelter, hot water, great entertainment, not very hard work (historically speaking).

            Completely agreed.

            Add to this being a pretty young woman, and it’s just over the top. You can have a lot of attention if you want it, and absolutely everything is easier: school, job, finding sex, finding a relationship, getting served at a restaurant… If you’re willing to go there, even working for a living is optional.

            I think you may be overestimating the power of being a pretty young woman. As best I can tell, people don’t treat me better realspace than online; if anything a bit worse, and while I don’t think I’m stunningly hot, I’m certainly at least average. Which is not observable online. Maybe everyone is just hoping – I do use female usernames – but…

            I’m pretty sure the bit of being female that makes school easier is not positive discrimination, but whatever combination of socialization/genetics makes girls better at sitting still and paying attention for long periods. Jobs are probably easier to get, but come with more risks – the key bit here is that you seem to be assuming that you only get attention if you want it. I haven’t personally had guys groping me, but I haven’t worked that kind of job (ie, one with lots of realspace interaction with random guys – I work online); friends who have, have.

            Finding sex is definitely easier; my entire argument is that this isn’t entirely (or necessarily) a plus.

            Finding relationships is easier if you’re unusually pretty as a woman, but I think finding relationships as a woman is harder than it used to be, under stricter rules. And I think it’s a lot harder if you are not willing to sleep with your boyfriend before you would seriously consider marrying him.

            Getting served at a restaurant…? Maybe we just go to different restaurants; is this a fancy-restaurant thing? Certainly if my male relatives go out without me and Mom, they don’t mention any slower service, and I’m pretty sure at least my brother would notice. And if we go out with my sister-in-law, who is gorgeous, we don’t get better service.

            One advantage you didn’t mention but I know exists is that, especially if you’re small, you get viewed as non-threatening. I don’t get hassled by cops, I do get hassled by TSA but I don’t get in trouble for giving them dirty looks over it, and I get hassled less, traveling solo, than a tall male friend doing the same. The flip side of this may be people not listening to you, but I haven’t had that problem.

            How typical are you among peers you didn’t chose? aka not your circle of friends, but things like job/school.

            This is a really good point. In almost all ways, not at all. In terms of sex, I never got close enough to very many of them to know; you need to be close to talk about that, and I was sufficiently atypical not to be close friends with any of them.

            (I gather men sometimes talk about sex casually among themselves? I’ve never been around women who did.)

            I would have argued that my circle of friends is not particularly selected for being low-libido, especially the extended Facebook circle, and I definitely observe the pattern. But they may be selected for things that correlate.

            Also, one minor quibble

            Convincing boys to do your projects in school gives you good grades and free time,

            Not speaking from personal experience, but this sounds like a much less reliable way to get good grades than doing your own projects and doing them right. Do people actually successfully charm, not just boys, but boys who are really good students into doing their projects for them? Why ever? Even aside from obvious benefits of doing it yourself, it seems like the kind of thing a teacher could very easily catch. My (college) teachers certainly would have; are you thinking of pre-college?

            Don’t want just hot guys. Being pretty helps you get any kind of guy: smart, strong, skillful, rich, sensitive. And hot is by definition always a plus.

            Correct. I agree being pretty is a plus in any environment; my argument is that in a casual-sex environment, the whole project is harder, even if being pretty still makes it easier.

            As for guys not being inclined to marry… I guess that depends on location and age. In my circle of friends pretty much every guy is either married or looking (30-40).

            It may well depend on age, but that still causes problems, unless women want to marry significiantly older men and vice versa, or don’t want children. Most women I know who want to be married either manage it in their mid-20s, or are unhappy about failing to do so. Menopause can hit as early as 40, and later pregnancies are more dangerous; women who want kids are on a tight timeline.

            To be honest, I don’t know what’s the right answer here. I think we just need this kind of questions professionally studied, much more seriously than they are now. How are we happier? Long term relationships? Family and kids? Serial monogamy? Promiscuity? Abstinence?

            I only know of two pieces of research I have reasonable confidence in: children trade some happiness for meaning (at a higher cost when parents are young and poor); and women living a promiscuous party life style tend to suffer from depression that goes away when they stop. But that’s far from enough…

            That’s one piece I didn’t know about. I completely agree that we need more data, ideally a lot more data. I’d also be really interested in information about libido (average level, how much it varies) in men and women, especially collected recently; I have a vague feeling I’ve heard it matches my impression, but given how biases work, I’m not sure that is worth that much; I’d be much happier with data I could actually point to, or look through. Too much of what I’m relying on is anecdata.

            (My university emails me articles about research their professors have been involved in, and I think I remember one of those discussing deaths of loneliness – essentially, arguing that being part of a stable couple has significant positive effects on lifespan and I think happiness. But I’d need to look it up again.)

            Edit: Oh, one thing I didn’t think of – “we” may be assuming too much. You can average it, but I’m pretty sure some people (like me) would be utterly miserable with promiscuity/serial monogamy; others might be miserable the other way. It would still be useful to get the average, but I think part of the problem is that different people are maximally happy with different setups, and you can’t really maximize everyone at once.

            Still would be useful to know more, though.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @Rebecca Friedman

            I understand your other points, but this

            Also more difficulty finding a husband.

            is rather puzzling. Can you explain why this is true?

          • Also more difficulty finding a husband.

            is rather puzzling. Can you explain why is this true?

            I think I answered that in my comment in the thread. In the traditional system, men who want sex mostly have to get married to get it. In the modern system, men who want sex can usually get it, either as casual sex or as part of a continuing relationship without any commitment. That makes things harder for the women who want marriage and children assuming, as I think one should, that there are more of them than of men who, sex aside, want marriage and children.

            And, as Rebecca suggested, it makes it especially hard for women unwilling to engage in sex without commitment, because one of the courtship strategies in the modern system is an affair that gradually leads to marriage.

            Someone at one of our meetups commented that he had met his wife on Tinder. My response was that I thought Tinder was basically for hookups, not courtship. His response was that a hookup was how courtship starts. That seemed very odd to me, but, given the present pattern, it makes some sense.

          • WarOnReasons says:

            @DavidFriedman

            It seems I have misunderstood Rebecca’s comment. I thought she meant that pretty young women have more difficulty in finding a husband compared to less attractive ones.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:

            @WarOnReasons

            Yes, sorry. My claim is not that pretty young women have a harder time finding a husband than less pretty young women; I would expect the opposite to be true. My claim is that pretty young women in a more casual-sex-focused society like the one in which I grew up have a harder time finding a husband than pretty young women in a more marriage-focused society like the one in which my grandparents grew up.

          • albatross11 says:

            Rebecca:

            I recall reading somewhere (I don’t have a citation) that there was some study/survey indicating that more attractive women at universities were less promiscuous than less attractive women. I think the hypothesis there was that more attractive women were in a better bargaining position–they could hold out for more commitment and not offer sex as early, and keep the relationship, whereas less attractive women could not.

            I’m not sure whether this is true (lots of n=50 survey-of-undergrad-psych-student studies turn out not to have much to tell us), but maybe it’s a datapoint.

          • Matt M says:

            As a low status male who was active on various dating apps, I can confirm that “more attractive = less likely to sleep with you quickly” is absolutely true.

            And I think Rebecca’s overall theory is spot on. Mainstream acceptance of casual sex “levels the playing field” such that less attractive women are now able to compete for male attention by simply cranking up the promiscuity.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @Rebecca Friedman

            I think you may be overestimating the power of being a pretty young woman. As best I can tell, people don’t treat me better realspace than online; if anything a bit worse, and while I don’t think I’m stunningly hot, I’m certainly at least average. Which is not observable online. Maybe everyone is just hoping – I do use female usernames – but…

            There is something different. I am treating you as a woman right now, even though it’s pretty hard to pinpoint the difference. There is a bit more goodwill, and less tendency to lock horns, but I’m pretty sure it’s more complex. Probably the worst (and the goodwill part makes me hesitant to say it) is that it makes it a bit harder to evaluate the quality of your comments. The effect is small though – think 10%, not 90%.

            I’m pretty sure the bit of being female that makes school easier is not positive discrimination

            I’ve done my share of helping female friends with their computer science, and I’ve also done my share of refusing to help. There is definitely less inhibition in asking. I don’t remember having been asked by a man. And Bryan Caplan would sake that most school work is useless anyways, so getting through the slog easier is a net advantage.

            Anyways, I think there are at least two things separating your experience from average. Background, and … let’s not say “attractiveness” but a wider “perception of personal value”. So yes, the combination definitely does make it harder to find a partner. I can sympathize – true or not, my self perception is also high enough to make serious relationships rare. Background and gender allow me to fill the gap with more promiscuity, but this only underlines the fact that they fill very different slots.

            And age, yes, that’s a big issue. Everybody is likely to start later, at least in big cities, but women have an upper ceiling. Not sure what to say here. I think technology might just fix things before we do – if we find a youth pill in the next 30 years it might be earlier than it takes us to solve it socially.

      • Nick says:

        Sex, besides being procreative, tends to pair bond as well, and this facilitates the procreative end of sex. After all, nature cares about more than just our having the baby, it wants to see it develop into a fully grown human being itself capable of reproducing. But raising a human child takes quite a lot of work for quite a long time, and in our ancestral environment that could well be a death sentence without at least some help. This help is called the man. Whence the unitive end of sex, and why I said below that it is itself ordered to the procreative end.

        Not quite the same thing as what you’re getting at, but it’s along the same lines.

      • I can give you another alt-right argument. I don’t remember where I heard it, but it goes like this:

        Contraception and abortion bans are like cardboard boxes. Someone not from our culture would look at the cardboard box and think “what is the purpose of this, how does this produce utility?” It’s not an article of clothing I can wear, I can’t sit on it, it seems to just take up space for no reason. But then you show him its actual use, it allows you to send things from point A to point B. Opposition to contraception and abortion are like cardboard boxes. Seem in isolation, they don’t have much utility. But when you pair them with something you can then send it, with the box, to the future. That could be your genetic makeup, your religion, your cultural attitudes, etc.

    • SamChevre says:

      This is excellent.

      • mtl1882 says:

        +1. I am not religious, but the Catholic Church’s doctrines have increasingly made intuitive sense to me, based on this sort of reasoning.

    • Oldio says:

      Catholics tend to see the number of children a couple has as being not their decision. It is to be left to the hands of God. So birth control is seen as an usurpation of someone else’s authority.
      One other thing to consider is that although there might not be a silver bullet argument, from a Catholic perspective there are multiple less strong arguments which when taken together are much more compelling.

      • albatross11 says:

        I’ve always sort-of seen this as God wanting married couples to be open to children.

        I mean, Catholic teachings against birth control occur alongside those against extramarital sex, so outside marriage, if you’re trying to follow Church teachings, you’re not really subject to getting pregnant in the first place and so birth control is unnecessary.

        But within a marriage, being open to children means accepting that now that you’re married, you should allow the possibility that God will put a kid or two into your life. That is, part of marriage is accepting the possibility of having kids.

        I think of this teaching in the US context as pushing back against the idea that you get married and decide not to have any kids because they’re expensive and time-consuming and you don’t want them to cramp your style, or that you get married and carefully plan your one child for just after you make partner and your husband finishes his residency.

        • All of this plays into the question of whether God is a libertarian. One reading of the Catholic answer is that He is a libertarian paternalist. Unlike human legislators who justify paternalist legislation on the theory that they know what is good for us better than we do, a God who created us can plausibly claim to know what is good for us better than we do.

          So He tells us, but leaves us the free will to ignore His advice if we so choose.

          • The Nybbler says:

            If he’s a libertarian, why’s he going to punish us (by sending us to Hell if we don’t repent) for ignoring his advice (as opposed to merely letting us suffer the consequences for our actions?)

            Of course, this question relies on there being a distinction between God taking action to punish (which covers sending us to Hell), and God having set up the whole system so an action brings bad consequences. If there’s no distinction and it’s all punishment, God’s not a libertarian. If there is a distinction and it’s all the action bringing on consequences including Hell… well, now God’s in the position of the cop who beats the hell out of someone all while saying that’s just the natural consequence of mouthing off to him.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            @The Nybbler

            I absolutely love the way Jordan Peterson described religion as an early form or rationality. Given enough time people just saw patterns happening: people who do X more have better lives. In time they started codifying X: don’t steal, don’t kill, treat your parents well and so on. Heaven and Hell are just metaphors for good/bad outcome, and of course teaching tools.

            Also I think it’s pretty telling that the higher you get in religious education, the further you get from a literal Hell. I think it’s pretty explicit in most theological seminaries that it’s not a literal truth, though this of course doesn’t stop a lot of priests from believing it in – I assume those with poorer grades. But I don’t think many that are religiously educated beyond that stiil believe in it.

        • Oldio says:

          Exactly. It’s also true that Catholic restrictions on birth control occur in the context of some restrictions on fertility treatments, and permissions to use the rhythm method in some circumstances, and an absolute ban on male but considerably less absolute ban on female masturbation. I don’t think there’s any one argument/moral principle that collectively explains all of these, but the dozen or so arguments you see flying around all put together are considerably more explicatory.

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            an absolute ban on male but considerably less absolute ban on female masturbation.

            Wait, what? Is that a thing?

    • Randy M says:

      Contraception makes it more likely for people to want to have sex with each other

      I don’t think this is a good paraphrase (or else a reasonable view). The wanting doesn’t depend on the contraception, just the doing, right?

      Anyway, I’m not Catholic and not particularly against birth control, but I do kind of like their stance on the matter. It helps to understand it be keeping in mind that Christians view sex not just as a way to shift around some neurotransmitters for a bit, but also as akin to a ritual that summons an immortal being to be eternally judged while binding the couple together supernaturally.

      • That depends on whether you are defining “want” in gross or net terms. I “want” to eat a bowl of ice cream. But I don’t want to both eat a bowl of ice cream and bear the cost, in increased weight, of doing so, so on net, benefit minus cost, I don’t want to eat it. And don’t.

        Similarly for the effect of contraception on the degree to which people want to have intercourse.

        • Randy M says:

          Sure, but that’s a lot more deliberative than the connotations “want” carries for me. I put the definitions thusly: I want the benefits, I choose the package.

          This avoids making it sound like contraception is a turn-on rather than an enabler for pre-existing desire.

    • Nick says:

      Wikipedia is basically useless here. It is correct to note that many Church Fathers condemned the use of contraception, and quoting the Catechism is fine. But quoting over and over documents that just restate the Church’s view without discussing any arguments is pretty pointless. I see no reference to scriptural passages or to any moral theology, except the quote from JPII.

      2. Contraception is unnatural. I have a really hard time taking appeal to nature fallacies serious to begin with and phrasing it like “[Contraception] harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.” is not helping.

      Welcome to my f^&*ing world. That’s because everyone is convinced that the entire tradition of the Catholic Church up until 1960 or so is scary or mean or something, and that to make use of it would be a terrible mistake. As a result, very few will defend, explain, or commonly, even bother to understand these things. Those who are committed to the conclusions try instead to start practically from zero; as you can imagine, this is not very successful, and when their arguments are not very good, or look like theological babble, this makes us all look like fools.

      The traditional argument against contraception from moral theology was an application of the perverted faculty argument, which falls pretty neatly out of a broadly Aristotelian account of nature and morality. Here is a very, very abbreviated account: We have a sexual faculty. That faculty has two ends, procreative and unitive, and the unitive end is itself ordered to the procreative, so there is no sense trying to meet the unitive end while trying to not meet the procreative. Use of the faculty (which is not the same thing as use of the organ; everyone knows you can urinate in addition to PIV sex) is ipso facto a sexual act, and it is by its nature procreative, viz., even if you happen to be infertile, or if it’s that time of the month. Now, perversion is doing something in a way inconsistent with its end or ends, and perversion is practically irrational, because of course, you can’t achieve the end you are setting out to do if you act inconsistently with it. Inconsistent is a pretty strict criterion; it doesn’t just mean doing something “other” than the end, but doing something that actually frustrates that end. (So glasses are not “inconsistent” with seeing, they in fact facilitate seeing, and earmuffs do not “frustrate” trying to listen to something, provided that you’re not trying to listen to something.*) On its own this only establishes that a contracepted sexual act is irrational, but procreation is in addition a common good. Indeed, procreation is about as fundamental a good for a species as you can get, down there with sustenance and preserving one’s life. Put the other way round, use of the sexual faculty concerns the common good of procreation. Given that the contracepted sexual act frustrates that end, it violates that common good, and hence is immoral.

      For a fuller account, Feser, as usual, has a paper.

      *To be clear, use of a faculty is a deliberative act, which is why I say “listen to” and not “hear”. Indeed if the ‘faculty’ can’t be used, it’s not a faculty at all, just an involuntary human process. Nobody for instance thinks that antiperspirant frustrates the faculty of sweating, because there is no faculty of sweating, because you can’t decide to sweat. My coworkers at any rate were gratified to learn I do not consider antiperspirants immoral.

      • eyeballfrog says:

        it is by its nature procreative, viz., even if you happen to be infertile, or if it’s that time of the month.

        Or if your partner happens to also be male, right? Or does this exception not work for that case? If not, why not?

        • Nick says:

          If you ejaculate in your partner’s ass, you’re definitely using your sexual faculty; you’ve just done it in the wrong place. The perverted faculty argument can indeed be applied to sexual acts like that; if I remember correctly, Feser mentions it in the paper, though it’s been a long time since I’ve read it.

          • mendax says:

            How can we know if we are using our faculties in-correctly, and not just using some other faculties we have? What if when we thought we were pro-creating, we were actually qu-procreating, but were doing it incorrectly?

            (hope I remember/understood enough of previous discussions for that joke to work)

          • eyeballfrog says:

            I guess the issue I have is it’s not clear to me why that’s different from a woman who’s had a hysterectomy, and thus is about as likely to get pregnant as the man is.

            If the argument here is just meant to apply to birth control, and there’s some other argument for homosexuality, masturbation, and the like being immoral, then fair enough.

          • Nick says:

            @mendax
            No, the joke works! I smiled.

            @eyeballfrog
            Sterility is a different but IMO more interesting objection than anal sex. The short answer is that a couple where one person is sterile isn’t necessarily doing anything to frustrate procreation, where the partners engaging in anal sex, or wearing a condom, or what have you, are. The fact that the act happens to be sterile has nothing necessarily to do with them, and their foreknowledge doesn’t change its nature. (Deliberately making yourself sterile to not have children, on the other hand, certainly does change it. But I take it that that isn’t what you mean. ETA: Actually, rereading, it was what you meant. Oh well. (And my circumlocution “deliberately making yourself sterile” is there because it is e.g. possible to sterilize yourself to save your life, just as you can be taking birth control for morally legitimate reasons for other conditions.))

          • eyeballfrog says:

            No, I was thinking of the case of a non-elective hysterectomy, such as uterine cancer. But even then…

            The fact that the act happens to be sterile has nothing necessarily to do with them, and their foreknowledge doesn’t change its nature.

            OK, suppose the gay couple would really like to have children together if such a thing were actually possible. The fact that this act can’t result in that has nothing necessarily to do with them, since they neither designed the human reproductive system nor chose to be attracted to other men (or at least not any more than our hypothetical man chose to be attracted to the woman with the hysterectomy). So where does the distinction lie?

          • Nick says:

            @eyeballfrog

            OK, suppose the gay couple would really like to have children together if such a thing were actually possible. The fact that this act can’t result in that has nothing necessarily to do with them, since they neither designed the human reproductive system nor chose to be attracted to other men (or at least not any more than our hypothetical man chose to be attracted to the woman with the hysterectomy). So where does the distinction lie?

            Like I said, one is doing something to frustrate the end, the other is not. I think it’s implausible to treat the design of the human reproductive system (as you put it) like it’s chance circumstances the same way a hysterectomy due to uterine cancer is. Sure, they didn’t design it, but if they want to procreate they’re going to use that faculty in a way consistent with that end. And they’re not, they’re putting a penis in an anus.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            OK, new hypothetical. A man falls in love with a woman who’s had a hysterectomy. They start up a relationship and hit it off. They end up adopting two children and have a stable, monogamous sexual relationship. I assume you consider this moral.

            Now, a man falls in love with another man. They start up a relationship and hit it off. They end up adopting two children and have a stable monogamous sexual relationship. I assume you would consider this immoral.

            But what’s the difference? How is one couple using their procreative faculties in a way the other isn’t? Also, since you keep coming back to it, is the anal thing specifically the sticking point? What if they only engage in oral/manual stimulation?

          • Dack says:

            The Catholic Church will also refuse to marry you if you are knowingly sterile or impotent.

          • Nick says:

            @Dack
            That’s not entirely true. The Church cannot marry people who are impotent, by which they mean people unable to even have sex. (Because, of course, the marriage can’t be consummated!) But it can marry people who are sterile or infertile.

            Canon law:

            Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

            §2. If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether by a doubt about the law or a doubt about a fact, a marriage must not be impeded nor, while the doubt remains, declared null.

            §3. Sterility neither prohibits nor nullifies marriage, without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1098.

          • Dack says:

            It can, but will it? It’s not obligated to marry anyone who asks.

          • Nick says:

            If there are no impediments a priest can’t simply refuse. Canon law, same page:

            Can. 1058 All persons who are not prohibited by law can contract marriage.

      • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

        Thanks for your well written account! (To be clear, I’m of the opinion that there’s nothing inherently morally wrong with contraception.)

        My objection is, why should I care what the natural end of my faculties are? If my goals are something other than those of whatever natural process created me (be it God or the blind process of evolution), how do we make the jump from “My sex organs were designed for the purpose of procreation” to “I must use my sex organs for the purpose intended by nature, and not for my own purposes”?

        Perhaps I’ve answered my own question here; I suspect our disagreement might bottom out at you believing we were in some way created by a God whose intentions carry intrinsic moral weight; while I believe we are entirely the result of an unconscious, random process that carries no such weight.

        • Nick says:

          It doesn’t come down to God, really, but how we think about nature. The key thing I think is whether and how much you believe yourself to be constrained by nature. Like, you can eat Skittles all day and night, and it’s all well and good to tell yourself that nature has no say on what your stomach is for, until you literally die.

          The point is, there are objective conditions for the flourishing of the human species, and by extension human individuals. Those conditions can be fuzzy—pinning down exactly how much Vitamin D we should try to get in a day has been pretty tough, and we may run into limits imposed by human variation soon—but they are there. Those conditions can be extraordinarily diverse, as entertainment for instance is, but they are there. And those conditions matter not just for the propagation of your society and way of living, but for individual happiness, because much of our desires come from our nature, and those that don’t are tolerated over generations so far as they don’t frustrate that nature. So individuals and societies can afford to ignore those conditions in the short term, or to give them short shrift, but they won’t in the long term survive without correcting course. At the very least individuals will eventually find that their manner of living is just not living well. With procreation in particular, it seems to me that if your lifestyle results in few to no children, you might have thought yourself very happy, but you nonetheless undermined the conditions needed for other people stably, that is over generations, to be happy in the way you are.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            Ok. Let’s say that someone plans to have a reasonable number of children (≥ 2) in a traditional family unit once they get married and can support them. Or even better, they’re already in such a family, with let’s say three children, but aren’t looking to have any more than that. How, then, is their having sex with birth control, for the purposes of pleasure and bonding with their spouse, harmful to either of them, or to humanity as a whole?

            My point is, in a modern society where the vast majority of children survive to adulthood, you just need slightly more than 2 children per couple on average for “propagation of the species”. And there are definitely lifestyles that include both contraception and ~2.5 children.

          • Nick says:

            Sorry, but I am really skeptical of that. Birth rates across the developed world are really low and only going lower. Birth rates in the developing world are collapsing, except for Africa. Our societies are becoming less religious and by and large more hostile to even using terms like “traditional family.” If trends are any indication, rising wealth makes people have a below-replacement rate of kids, and any setback makes them have even less than that. In other words, since the introduction of contraception we’ve been unable to strike a balance and seem less and less likely to do so in the future. I’m sure individuals can do it, but I don’t buy at all that societies are. And you are not an island.

          • VoiceOfTheVoid says:

            Fair enough, I’ll definitely buy that birth control decreases birth rate (it’d be quite surprising if it didn’t) on a society-wide level, potentially below replacement. I guess I’m not completely convinced that’s necessarily a bad thing. Would fewer people in the modern industrialized, highly-automated economy lead to more resources per person? And if so, would that be better or worse than a world with more people who are all slightly worse off on average?

            In short, I’m not sure where exactly I stand on the ethics of creating additional people. Still haven’t bitten the bullet one way or the other on the repugnant conclusion.

            But if we assume for the sake of argument that more new people is intrinsically good, then I think the message one ought to push to individuals is not “stop using birth control” but “have more children”.

            I guess what I’m saying is, you’ve convinced me that birth control might be dangerous, but not that it’s intrinsically immoral for anyone to use it ever.

          • Would fewer people in the modern industrialized, highly-automated economy lead to more resources per person?

            Fewer natural resources per capita, but natural resources don’t have much to do with how well off people are in a modern economy. Congo is poor, Hong Kong is rich. Saudi Arabia is the nearest thing I can think of to a counterexample.

            On the other hand, fewer people means fewer people to find cures for cancer, write great books for me to read, …

    • Nick says:

      Catholic teaching on birth control basically says what much of mainstream culture currently says about fat-free potato chips, McDonald’s fries and sugar-free candy: that these things are icky mass-market perversions of pleasures that should more rightly be experienced within a whole organic complex of wider social and bodily experiences.

      That organic complex of social and bodily experiences is the hierarchy of goods, in our case human goods, since that is our nature. Goods on lower rungs such as propagation of the species or sustenance are fundamental to higher goods but subordinate to them; since our nature is rational animal, we exist to be rational animals, not simply animals which eat and screw. As rational animals, we can understand what is good and bad for us, and reason about how to get the former and avoid the latter. And we have wills and can choose as much. For this we are morally responsible for our choices concerning these goods.

      And there absolutely is an analogy between contraceptive sex and eating unsustaining food; the basis for this analogy is that both are perverse, in the sense I explained below, and both concern common goods, and pretty fundamental ones at that. Eating zero calorie food is obviously perverse; you’re stimulating your sense of satiety without actually sustaining yourself. Or for a more graphic example, eating because you like the taste of food and then throwing it up.

      P.S. You’re on the right track. You should become Catholic.

      • Vitor says:

        Ok, maybe I misunderstood something, but I’m very confused.

        I had some kimchi yesterday. I ate it specifically because it has ~0 calories, but stimulates my sense of satiety. Basically a healthy snack that prevents me from binge eating unhealthy stuff, in the context of me trying to lose weight.

        Are you actually claiming that according to catholic doctrine, I have thus acted perversely, because I am eating without sustaining myself? If my appetite is too big, am I supposed to just grit my teeth and pray until the hunger goes away? Are catholics even allowed to try losing weight, when this involves deliberately thwarting the “end” of the digestive system? Is losing weight by just refusing to eat also thwarting this “end”? Do any of these answers change during Lent?

        These are genuine questions, by the way, I’m trying to grok the internal logic of this worldview.

        • Nick says:

          I was simplifying, probably too much, since it’s certainly possible to eat something nutritive that has zero calories. Like celery is basically no calories but a good source of vitamin K, apparently. Kimchi is high in fiber.

          If my appetite is too big, am I supposed to just grit my teeth and pray until the hunger goes away?

          No, this is what temperance is for. It was a cardinal virtue for a reason; appetites do need tempering, and they can be distorted as well by all sorts of things, from bad habits (like my terrible addiction to Andes mints in college) to bad environment (like our sugar-rich culture, to pick an uncontroversial example). High calorie foods may be failing to sate you, though, or the variety of foods available may be enticing you to feel more hungry, or something like that. Zero calorie foods are, in general, a symptom of the problem, and no better in themselves.

          I’m not going to say that every last act of eating low-calorie or low-nutrition food is immoral, though, because I’m not sure that’s true. Taking a bite of kimchi is not quite as episodic as the sexual act is and so it’s perfectly fine to e.g. put a garnish on something that adds taste or texture and facilitates your eating an otherwise dull but healthy meal. In this way it is rather like stimulating your partner for the purposes of PIV sex. (Foreplay: not immoral! The things you learn at SSC.)

          Are catholics even allowed to try losing weight, when this involves deliberately thwarting the “end” of the digestive system? Is losing weight by just refusing to eat also thwarting this “end”?

          There is nothing wrong with refraining from food if you know you’ve overeaten; that’s just good sense. (Of course it doesn’t excuse overeating in the first place.) There is nothing in general wrong with dieting, either; indeed, given that the point of it is to eat better, it’s a good thing. But you can diet badly. There is also nothing wrong specifically with refraining from eating to lose excess weight, provided you aren’t risking your health in some more subtle way. “You should eat to sustain yourself” obviously does not imply “You should eat to, uh, not sustain yourself.”

          Do any of these answers change during Lent?

          I was hoping someone would ask this! As I said above, lower goods are subordinated to higher goods. And with our knowledge of God and His teachings, particularly the spiritual goods that may available to us, this takes on some very interesting dimensions. Families, after all, are a good thing, and propagation of the species is super important. But serving God through the religious life is an even greater good than these. Giving things up for Lent is likewise a spiritual good; a more extreme example are the ascetics. You could say, by analogy to cutting off the limb to save the patient, that they are starving the body to save the soul. It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it works.

        • Randy M says:

          Foreplay: not immoral! The things you learn at SSC.

          I hadn’t doubted this, but I had failed to make the connection to parsley before now.

        • Vitor says:

          Thanks, that does clear up the picture somewhat for me.

          What bothers me most about this worldview is that the knowledge of what the “proper” purpose of things is just seems to come out of nowhere. To an outsider, it is not at all clear why the purpose of sex should be proceation and the sacred union of man and wife, as opposed to, say, appreciating His creation in all its sensual glory, or relaxing and centering you so that you may be more open and compassionate in other aspects of life. This applies specially if this kind of reasoning is extended to topics not explicitly covered in scripture.

          > High calorie foods may be failing to sate you, though, or the variety of foods available may be enticing you to feel more hungry

          So what exactly would temperance look like when applied to this problem? is it temperance to eat kimchi to control my appetite? is reducing the variety of foods I eat? is it avoiding all social outings where copious food is served? what if I feel I’m doing everything right and am still failing to be sated? For the last one, I’m guessing that “your appetite is fundamentally broken due to random biology factors and you’ll have to fight your own body tooth and nail for the rest of your life to stay healthy” is assumed to be impossible because creation is perfect or something.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          What bothers me most about this worldview is that the knowledge of what the “proper” purpose of things is just seems to come out of nowhere. To an outsider, it is not at all clear why the purpose of sex should be proceation and the sacred union of man and wife, as opposed to, say, appreciating His creation in all its sensual glory, or relaxing and centering you so that you may be more open and compassionate in other aspects of life.

          How can it possibly come out of nowhere that the purpose of sex for humans is the same as for other animals?

        • Vitor says:

          > How can it possibly come out of nowhere that the purpose of sex for humans is the same as for other animals?

          There’s a difference between “if you do x, then y (often) happens”, and “the purpose of x is to achieve y”.

          It’s also possible to have sex way more often than what is needed for procreation.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        Very solid post and quite educational. I might add that anything done for pleasure is a perversion of our nature.

        • Vitor says:

          But isn’t having pleasure part of our nature?

          Many healthy and wholesome things feel pleasant and pleasing, e.g., tidying. In that sense, pleasure is a guide towards what we should do.

          Of course there’s taking it too far, wireheading, etc. Is that what you mean when you say something is done for pleasure?

        • HowardHolmes says:

          @vitor

          But isn’t having pleasure part of our nature?

          No. Doing for pleasure is a perversion of our nature. Look at animals. Do they do stuff for pleasure? Not really. They have desires and they fulfill them, but they do so normally with a balance that does not lead to excess. We can stimulate them to “do for pleasure.” For instance, we can feed a pet dog really good tasting, but unheathly stuff. But we can see the difference in results. Natural is eating healthy and only what we need. The body knows what we need because it evolved to eat healthily. When we, instead, allow ourselves to eat for pleasure, unnatural results occur. I have no TV and do not read novels because it is solely for pleasure. My wife makes the best pancakes possible, we have really good butter and real maple syrup. I never eat this because doing so would be only for pleasure. I have unseasoned buckwheat 7 days a week.

        • Vitor says:

          Whatever works for you, I guess, but your factual claims are wrong or at least highly controversial. For example, many animals are known to extensively engage in non-reproductive sexual behaviour, presumably for pleasure. Some primates in the wild also like to get drunk (on fermented fruit), etc etc.

          The idea that “the body knows what we need” is obviously true in a weak sense. We have a bunch of feedback mechanisms that tell us when we need something like food. But it’s wrong to assume that these systems are always perfectly calibrated and never lead us astray. Also, what might have been natural and healthy a couple of hundred years ago might not be anymore today (e.g. gorging during times of food abundance).

    • I’m not a Catholic, but I can offer a pragmatic argument in favor of their position. As I put it in an old blog post, where I calculated the effectiveness of the rhythm method of birth control for a couple who wanted children, but not a lot of children:

      Suppose we view Catholic doctrine not as moral philosophy but as social engineering. The obvious interpretation of the ban on other forms of contraception is that it is designed to discourage non-marital sex by making it unacceptably risky, while permitting married couples to engage in an adequate level of family planning.

      I expect most people here can see that there are reasonable arguments for discouraging non-marital sex, whether or not they agree with the conclusion.

      • Oldio says:

        https://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/1115/od1.html Here’s a physician claiming natural family planning- basically the rhythm method plus physiological symptoms of ovulation- works about as well as the pill. It doesn’t exactly take a genius to understand how it presumably works much, much better for married couples than for hookups.
        My anecdotal experience from living in a world full of pretty serious Catholics is that most natural family planning using couples have somewhere between 3 and 5 children, presumably due to imperfect use, and that there are some pretty wide spaces in between. Couples who reject it usually have six plus, much more closely spaced.
        That makes it work pretty well at the goal of creating a world where premarital sex is risky and married couples have a high but not extremely high fertility rate.

      • edmundgennings says:

        That is an interesting argument for why such a policy makes sense, but as a historical matter I am relatively confident that is not the reason for the Catholic position on contraception. I could imagine some element of thought along those lines played a role in countering the 1970s fears about overpopulation so that policy considerations where less aggressively pushing in the direction of permitting contraception. The clergy does not enjoy contradicting the culture but the church must remain true to what has been given to it.

  26. ana53294 says:

    How does mail-in voting work in your country/state?

    In Spain, at least, it’s a pain in the butt and such a big hassle you don’t do it unless you are far enough from your place of registration you can’t go there for the weekend.

    First, you have to fill in a form, and take it to the post office, where there will be a queue during the whole period of mail-in registration. You have to show your ID to the post office worker, and wait for them to register the mail.

    Then, you either are lucky enough to be home one of the two times the postman comes, in which case you show him your ID again and pick it up, or you have to go to the post office again, stand in another queue with hundreds of other people, show your ID, and get the ballot forms.

    The ballot forms for mail-in vote include the envelopes that contain your vote, and a form that shows proof of your identity. You close the envelopes that contain your vote, and give it again to the post office worker, who checks the form with your ID, verifies it again, and then you send your vote.

    Contrast with voting on voting day: the queues don’t tend to be as long, and anyway, one queue is better than three, if you’re working, you get as much as 4 hours of paid leave on voting day (after informing your employer in advance, and you have to obtain a certificate in the polling place).

    I’ve heard some people mail-vote in the US for convenience, but the procedure must be much less cumbersome.

    I’ve got no idea what will be done in Spain for the next elections with coronavirus, but mail-in voting won’t be it. I’d say cancelling mail-in voting would probably reduce contagion.

    • silver_swift says:

      I believe in the Netherlands you can only vote by mail if you are abroad during the election and it’s an enormous pain in the ass, so most people who can’t make it to the voting booth themselves instead register someone to vote for them by proxy.

      • Aapje says:

        It’s not that bad. You need to:
        – Fill in an online form
        – Print it and sign it
        – Scan it and scan your ID
        – Mail or upload both

        Then 12 weeks before an election, the mail voting pass will be sent and 4 week before, the ballot. You fill those in (they send instructions along with the paperwork) and send them back.

        Seems pretty simple.

    • noyann says:

      Germany, from German Wikipedia via Google translate (found errors corrected):

      The postal voting documents are requested by filling in and handing in or sending off the election notification card. In many municipalities, it is also possible to apply for voting cards and postal ballot documents via the Internet on the website of the respective municipality or by scanning a QR code on the election notification using a smartphone [7] . Lists with online links updated before the elections help to find the relevant websites. [8] The issuance of postal ballot documents is linked to the issuance of a polling card . The voting cards issued are noted in the electoral roll. This prevents voters from voting either both by postal vote or and in a polling station , which would contradict the principle of voting rights of the same equal election.
      After going to press, the election documents will be sent to the voters registered on the electoral lists about four weeks before the election. They contain:
      Ballot
      Red envelope with address
      Envelope without address, color depending on the type of choice
      Ballot paper
      manual
      For the postal vote, the ballot paper is filled in, put in the non-red envelope and sealed. Then you fill out the ballot, put it in the red envelope with the previously mentioned envelope and stick itseal it too. The instructions will not be sent.
      [ … ]
      If the voter appears in person at the postal voting office, the ballot can usually be filled in on site in an existing voting booth. The red postal vote envelope is then thrown into a sealed ballot box, which is evaluated on election day together with the votes received by post mail.
      Deutsche Post transports election letters free of charge within the Federal Republic of Germany, a fee is only payable for additional services such as registered mail . The postal voting documents must have been received by the municipality by the time the polling stations close.
      Furthermore, Germans living abroad who live in countries with an unreliable postal system can hand in their completed election documents to the nearest diplomatic mission. This transports envelopes with diplomatic mail to Germany free of charge for voters, [10] where they are also forwarded to the electoral offices by means of an official exchange of documents . The red envelope can also be sent in a neutral envelope. Postage is to be borne by the voters anyway.
      Even after you have applied for and received postal voting documents, you can vote directly in the polling station on election day. For this, the voting form is mandatory. [11]
      If a voter dies before the actual election day, but after he has cast his vote by postal vote, the vote remains valid.
      =======
      This description makes it appear complicated, but it is a very easy and hassle-free procedure.

      • Robin says:

        The German system was criticized as insecure. If you know name, address and birth date of somebody, you can fill out a webform and have his election documents sent anywhere.
        Here’s The Party in Hamburg demonstrating how to manipulate the First Mayor’s vote: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28gceMiAihQ

        • noyann says:

          I hope they fixed that in the 5 years since…

          • Robin says:

            I’m wondering about that, too. All the quotations in the fraud vulnerability section of the Wikipedia article are even older.

            Here’s an expert claiming the problem is not solvable. I’m not so sure about that. There can be several possible mitigations.

            On the other hand, they were very slow to fix the problems with the overhang seats and the negative ballot weights, too.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          The question is less “Can you do it” and more “Can you do it at a scale that has a good chance to impact election results and isn’t glaringly obvious”.

          Sure you can change the Mayor’s send address. What are the odds the Mayor doesn’t notice this and complain vociferously to the election board? Zero.

    • Loriot says:

      California bends over backwards to make voting as easy as possible. When you register to vote, you can check a box to permanently vote by mail. They’ll mail you a ballot a couple weeks ahead of every election (even the obscure local special elections you probably haven’t heard of). You just fill out the ballot, put it in the envelope, then sign and seal it. You can mail it in, drop it off at various drop boxes (mostly at schools, libraries and the like), or drop it off at any in-person voting location.

      • Rebecca Friedman says:

        That was the old system, yes – as of the last election, everyone appears to be getting the vote-by-mail ballots whether they want them or not, and I at least did not find an opt-out – you can show up and they’ll give you a regular ballot, but if there’s a way to say “don’t send me a vote by mail ballot” I didn’t find it. Granted by the time I found out the ballot was in my mailbox, so I didn’t look very hard this election.

        And I guess I don’t get to next, either.

    • gph says:

      In Maryland we just have to go online and request an absentee ballot, no special reason is required. It comes in the mail, you fill it out then mail it back in. Pretty painless experience. Probably open to some fraud, but I doubt it’s enough to swing the vote in most cases. Our states been gerrymandered so much we all basically already know the results for whatever district we’re in, and the national level stuff (president/senators) pretty much always goes democrat at this point. Perhaps it affects some of the local/county level voting, but hard to tell.

    • Vitor says:

      It’s very simple in Switzerland. Every voter gets a big envelope in the mail. It contains the ballots, an inner envelope, a form you have to sign, and some brochures about the issues being voted on.

      You fill out the ballots, seal them in the inner envelope, sign the form. Put everything back in the big envelope (which is re-sealable). Throw in the mailbox. Done.

      If you vote in person, you use the exact same pieces of paper. you just have to hand the signed form to somebody and throw the ballots in an urn yourself.

      If your ballot somehow gets lost, you need to go in person to get a replacement (IIRC).

      • Loriot says:

        That sounds pretty similar to California, except that we still have traditional in-person voting as well (but the majority now votes by mail).

    • AG says:

      Not voting, but the US Census 2020 is done via mail or online. A letter is mailed to each address with a unique code that you type in to take the online survey (which answers for the entire household).

      This is how the social network site Nextdoor also works. You sign up with your address, they mail you a postcard with the confirmation code. Setting up some forms of tax e-payments also works this way, where the government mails you your PIN.

    • BlackboardBinaryBook says:

      In Oregon all voting is done by mail. You receive a ballot & handy voter’s guide (which contains the text of ballot measures, statements from groups/individuals in support or opposition, & statements from the candidates). They come well before the deadline for returning your ballot (2 weeks or more). You fill out your ballot & either mail it back or put it in a drop box. I love it.

    • Dack says:

      or you have to go to the post office again, stand in another queue with hundreds of other people,

      The idea of a line of hundreds of people at a post office is mind-boggling.

      • ana53294 says:

        Happens every year at election mail-in dates. The Spanish Post is the only one authorised for mail-in votes, and the period between the ballots arriving and the vote can be two weeks, or less, if there are bank holidays in between.

        Especially in university towns, there are many students mailing in the vote to their home areas, where they are registered to vote. It makes great sense if you have regional parties. I wouldn’t know which party outside the Basque Country I would vote for.

  27. noyann says:

    cancelled — wrong level

  28. noyann says:

    CFD simulation of slipstreams with microdroplets (source)

    What is a safe distance when running, biking and walking during COVID-19 times? It is further than the typical 1–2 meter as prescribed in different countries!
    In a lot of countries walking, biking and jogging are welcome activities in these times of COVID-19. However, it is important to note that you need to avoid each other’s slipstream when doing these activities. This comes out of the result of a study by the KU Leuven (Belgium) and TU Eindhoven (Netherlands).
    [ … ]
    On the basis of these results the scientist advises that for walking the distance of people moving in the same direction in 1 line should be at least 4–5 meter, for running and slow biking it should be 10 meters and for hard biking at least 20 meters. Also, when passing someone it is advised to already be in different lane at a considerable distance e.g. 20 meters for biking.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Don’t tell NJ Governor Murphy, he’ll ban the one activity of mine he hasn’t yet banned (biking)

  29. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Immuno-compromising people wasn’t anything doctors did casually, but they did it for cancer treatments and transplants if it seemed like a sufficiently good idea. What happens (to mortality, to quality of life, to whatever else might be relevant) if lowering people’s immune systems is done a lot less or not at all?

    On the plus side, how likely is it that the coronavirus will lead to a much better understanding of the immune system with practical gains?

    • Matt C says:

      A friend of ours has a son who’s normally on immunosuppressants for his rheumatoid arthritis. She’s taking him off those for the duration, and he hurts a lot more. Autoimmune disorders aren’t much fun right now.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        So, obviously, they should try hydroxychloroquine, but that’s probably not available.

        It appears that the way covid kills is by immune overreaction (cytokine storm), so it’s not obvious that taking off of immunosuppressants is a good idea.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          It appears that the way covid kills is by immune overreaction (cytokine storm), so it’s not obvious that taking off of immunosuppressants is a good idea.

          If I understand correctly the theory is that if your immune system can mount a response sufficiently quick and strong to neutralize Covid-19 while it is still in the nose and throat you’ll only get mild to no common cold symptoms. If the virus makes it to the lungs and only then the immune system starts to take it seriously, then the immune reaction does more damage than the virus itself.

          So strong immune system = good, weakish immune system = bad, completely useless immune system = probably also bad, because Covid-19 (or some passing bacteria or other virus) would kill you anyway if not opposed.

          I’ve heard that there is also a controversy over whether corticosteroid anti-inflammatory drugs help or harm, which is probably related to this.

        • Cheese says:

          Yes, no and sort of.

          As with all clinical medicine, taking one aspect of the pathohysiology and going ‘aha, this is how it works, you should take this drug’ is usually wrong. Like with Hydroxycholoroquinine + Azithro which people are now backing off in hospital because it’s 50/50 whether it helps or makes things worse (i’m in the latter camp at present).

          ARDS in COVID is most likely an immune-mediated pathology (ARDS in general really), but it’s more of a dysregulation of specific responses. The immune system is bloody complex and you have multiple arms doing multiple things at different times, and immunosuppresants generally (especially the more broad spectrum stuff) are indiscriminant or affect different aspects differently.

          Some of the very early speculation and research is suggesting that this particular disease progresses as a result of an dyregulated T-cell response. That is, you’re having the wrong population of cells respond at the wrong time, and this seems to have something to do with IL-6 (strong cytokine, often bad things happen when too much of it – but sometimes also good things!). But then again you could point to cytokine issues or T-cell dysregulation being a cause of just about any immune mediated disease process. A few people think if we can hit severe patients at *just* the right time with an IL-6 inhibitor or a bunch of corticosteroids we might be able to stop progression from the ‘ok lungs’ phenotype to the ‘fucked lungs’ phenotype. They might be wrong. Who knows, we might in 6 months.

          All of that is to say I think you’re right, it’s not clear whether going off immunosuppressants is a good idea. Because usually first instinct, based on what is essentially pathophysiology theorycrafting, is usually wrong. Especially in a chronic condition like RA where you can have extra-articular effects. I would hope that happened in conjunction with a rheumatologist rather than anyone else