Open Thread 151.75

This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server.

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1,464 Responses to Open Thread 151.75

  1. One argument for flattening the curve was that we didn’t want the health care system to be overwhelmed. As best I can tell, in many places, including where I live, the number of people requiring intensive care for Covid-19 is substantially below the number that it can be provided for. If that is correct, doesn’t it mean that we are reducing infections too far, at least if the theory is to spread things out so everyone who gets the disease gets adequate medical care? The fewer we treat each month, the more months it takes.

    Obviously that doesn’t hold if we are hoping to get a much better treatment or a vaccine long before everyone who could get the disease does, or if we hope to push the number down far enough so we can control it long before everyone has been exposed.

    • DinoNerd says:

      This is probably the only decent argument for relaxing the lockdown at this time.

      I suspect this is what our(*) local health officials have in mind, if they haven’t simply gone crazy and/or succumbed to political pressure.

      That’s not what I’m gathering from their public statements, mind you. This is from attempting to steelman their motivation, given what I know about the virus, local cases, the reliability (or not) of the local case numbers, etc., and presuming they have the same information, and nothing that significantly contradicts what I’ve seen.

      But their original reaction was outstandingly good, so I’m still hoping they are highly competent, rather than merely lucky … once.

      (*) “our” – David Friedman and I both live in Santa Clara county, California. (I’ve attended a couple of his meetups.)

    • matkoniecz says:

      The tricky part is that relaxing lockdown now have effects with delay.

      1) new infections will start
      2) asymptomatic period
      3) full-blown infection with week/two delay requiring ICU beds

      Merkel claimed that for Germany changing R0 from current 0.9 to 1.2 would overwhelm health system by June.

      Not sure what is the correct solution and whatever lockdows are justified.

    • Garrett says:

      That’s correct. And the numbers in Pennsylvania are showing the same thing.

    • John Schilling says:

      That reasoning seems correct as far as it goes. However, the “most people are going to get sick but we can at least spread it out so we don’t overwhelm the health care system” version of flattening the curve never really was feasible. Even if we quickly build bignum ventilators and field hospitals and whatnot, trained personnel still puts an upper limit on system capacity in the near to mid term, and “flattening the curve” well enough to avoid exceeding that limit would require an impossibly precise level of control over a period of at least a year or two in the best case.

      There’s a better argument, sometimes tied to the “flatten the curve” meme but not actually involving a flatter curve, that a relatively brief but intense lockdown could cause a rapid exponential decline in infections to the point that, in maybe a couple of months, less restrictive measures could take over. In that case, a more intense lockdown leads to a shorter lockdown. In that case, you might even want to go to extremes like a two-week period in which literally no one but uniformed police, paramedics, and national guardsmen are allowed on the streets with some of the guardsmen doing food deliveries. But wherever you set the intensity/duration trade, you need the followup solution ready at the end.

      The only credible followups I’ve seen proposed are A: testing and contact tracing, or B: rapid deployment of a vaccine or treatment through e.g. challenge testing, or C: the second step of the underpants-gnome business plan. But I haven’t seen anyone around here recruiting and training contact-tracers in spite of lots of now-unemployed people looking for anything useful to do, and I haven’t heard of anyone anywhere doing challenge testing of a vaccine, so it looks like the plan is to implement as strict a lockdown as won’t cause serious dissent and then hope for the underpants gnomes to come through with a miracle.

      In which case, we are probably reducing infections too far insofar as we are squandering institutional credibility and public tolerance on a “solution” that merely postpones the inevitable, because it is a Thing We Can Do and Something Must Be Done. But maybe we’ll get the miracle, e.g. summer weather being a corona-virus killer.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Yes. The lockdown was to prevent the healthcare system from getting overwhelmed. The healthcare system is currently underwhelmed. We should reduce restrictions so people can get back to work, and allow the healthcare system to at least be whelmed.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      There were many reasons given, including that one. And our understanding changes weekly. (This is an improvement. It used to be our understanding changed daily. I still remember all the Wrong Ideas I had on 9/12/01.)

      A lockdown gives us more time to do more things. And like I said above, we are also much smarter than we were a month ago. Most of us have a better idea that this is serious, and we understand that distancing is important, and we have the masks that we need for limited daily tasks. It is now Common Knowledge that a resurgence can lead to a return to a lockdown. Is that enough to stop it from happening? Depends how much people are dumb.

      • Matt M says:

        Most of us have a better idea that this is serious, and we understand that distancing is important

        Speak for yourself. I think this disease is less serious and I am less inclined to social distance than I was a month ago.

  2. lecw says:

    > I call it jitney transit; it can most easily be thought of as something between taxicabs and hitch-hiking.
    > Holy !@#$, I think he has solved the problem of urban mass transit. There’s an obvious Uber parallel, but this system seems even better since it’s run by people going that direction anyway and each car will be packed, making the costs probably much cheaper. This is such an obviously good idea that I can only assume that it was regulation and the taxi lobby that prevented it from coming to pass.

    Actually I’ve witnessed something very similar to exist in Peru, some years back. Not all private cars (of which there are few) engage in it, because not everyone wants to carry hitchhikers, and those drivers that engage in the practice tend to drive small minibuses for the most part, because revenues scale directly with capacity, and lines will exist iff cars are indeed packed. This exists in parallel with a strong taxi industry, and both tend to be more similar to each other than buses and taxis are in developed countries. Meaning, you can negotiate a private ride on the cheap if you’re going somewhere your taxi driver wants to go to (e.g. from faraway to city center), or conversely you can talk your minibus driver into going out of their way, for a fee.

    tl;dr : It’s been very much tried before. Bus lines are what this naturally evolves into on the “packed car” side, and Uber on the “comfort” side.

  3. Edward Scizorhands says:


    Viral load is the same in asymptomatic people as symptomatic people.

    NYT on masks, no reference to science papers, but they are similar to our conventional wisdom here

    Gelman says of the Santa Clara sereology paper: “I think the authors of the above-linked paper owe us all an apology. We wasted time and effort discussing this paper whose main selling point was some numbers that were essentially the product of a statistical error.”

    And study of infection from Chinese restaurant (literally, one in China) shows that virus travels by droplet, not aerosol:

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think the restaurant case study also, although not strongly, supports the idea of cloth masks as efficacious. If simple AC currents can increase downwind risk, and apparently decrease risk outside of the current, simply reducing exhalation flow seems a plausible mechanism for reducing risk.

      • John Schilling says:

        A mask that significantly reduces exhalation flow, will leave you with an intolerable feeling of suffocation within minutes, and probably dead of respiratory acidosis in the end. Masks can only either redirect exhalation flow, or filter it. And I’m pretty sure that for improvised cloth masks, it’s mostly redirection.

        • LesHapablap says:

          Then is covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough a waste of time as well? Redirecting a flow and spacing it out over time can obviously make a big difference.

          See this infrared video of with a simple mask versus without:

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Why do you think people find masks uncomfortable, stuffy, moist, etc?

          No, pressure doesn’t build over time behind the mask, but if you maintain there is no pressure gradient behind the mask, I’d invite you to go fly a kite.

          • John Schilling says:

            I find improvised cloth masks uncomfortable mostly because of the straps, and some of the airflow being directed upwards where it fogs my glasses. But, to the extent that pressure gradient matters, it’s going to matter by forcing the chest and lungs to generate a higher internal pressure to maintain the same volumetric exhalation. Long-term average exhalation is to a first approximation driven by CO2 removal, which depends on metabolic factors which aren’t going to change just because you’re wearing a mask.

            And if flow restrictions result in a pressure gradient, then from a fluid mechanics standpoint that’s just going to increase the flow velocity coming out of the restricted flow passages.

          • acymetric says:

            I am generally in the camp that things homemade masks might be worse than not wearing one, but to your point see also pop filters for microphones. A homemade mask would probablydiffuse the exhaled air, making it travel a shorter distance, I would expect.

          • John Schilling says:

            Shorter distance but higher concentration within that distance. And if the Chinese-restaurant study is correct (interesting and plausible but just one study), it may not much matter that you shorten the distance of respiratory dispersal because environmental airflow then takes over.

            You really want to reduce the amount of contagious material in the air, not just relocate it. For that, you need a mask made from an effective filter material and made to fit well enough that the path of least resistance is through the filter. And you probably need it to be cheap enough to be disposable and a disciplined demasking-and-washing protocol, because every bit of infectious material the mask stopped you from inhaling is still sitting right there on the outer surface waiting for you to handle it and then scratch all the itchy parts of your previously-masked face.

            If improvised cloth masks used by amateurs are an effective defense, it shouldn’t be that hard to at least coarsely measure their effectiveness.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            because every bit of infectious material the mask stopped you from inhaling

            Not if we’re talking about me wearing a mask to stop me from infecting others.

  4. HeelBearCub says:

    Meta question:
    Are questions about whether there should increased federal funding for Covid-19 testing culture war?

    This is actually a serious question. On the one hand I would say it is, because it’s been somehow been made into something that Democrats have to make a demand for in the next covid bill.On the other hand, who the heck disagrees we need more testing as quickly as possible?

    And I realize, contrarian nature of this board, 20 people are going to jump in with the hypotheticals. But I would think that, absent me actually asking the question, people would have been in favor of more testing ASAP.

    • LesHapablap says:

      It can’t be culture war, surely. Lockdowns seem to be becoming a culture war thing unfortunately, but no matter what side you’re on there we need more testing.

      • I think Trump believes that lockdowns are a culture war issue on which the anti-lockdown position is becoming sufficiently attractive to be used to expand his side of the war. That seems the obvious interpretation of his behavior. And it fits into the distrust of elites that’s part of what he has long been selling.

        Whether he is correct in his tactical decision I don’t know, but he is probably better at figuring that out than I am.

    • Skeptic says:

      Seems bizarre.

      Can we get a link to the text? I’m not dismissing it out of hand but this seems suspicious enough that there’s probably another side to this….

      • HeelBearCub says:


        The agreement would include $75 billion for hospitals and $25 billion for testing, which have been major Democratic demands.

        “I think we’re very close to agreement,” Pelosi said. The lack of testing has been a major pressure point throughout the pandemic, with lawmakers and governors lashing out at the federal government for its failures in that regard even as Trump has increasingly blamed governors.

        “We’re talking about a $25 billion federal program, money that can be used with the states with new technology to invest in testing,” Mnuchin said.

        To be clear, that’s not the only negotiation point, just one.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          “We’re talking about a $25 billion federal program, money that can be used with the states with new technology to invest in testing,” Mnuchin said.

          That is such a drop in the bucket compared to the bipartisan $2 trillion economic intervention that I think you err to interpret it as CW between Dems and Rs rather than inside baseball. Any disagreement between the sides on $25 billion for testing was probably jejune and pedantic. $0 to expand testing seems unlikely to have been the original R position and rooted in Red tribe culture.

        • Skeptic says:

          I’m lost.

          Where is the Republican anti-testing side?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s been widely reported. Originally, Republicans were saying they didn’t want anything in this bill but more small business loan money.

            But here is more.

            “We’re testing right now about 150,000 tests a day in the United States and experts tell us we should be looking at at least 500,000 a day in order to know who is well and safe to go back to work, and who needs to be quarantined,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “Our federal government needs to play the lead.”

            Republicans, however, argue that private companies are best suited to find an innovative solution to the testing debacle, not the federal government. In addition, they say Congress already spent money on testing in the previous spending packages and should see the results before spending more. Meanwhile, Trump said Friday that governors are responsible for testing.

            “The key is going to be: How fast actually can the private sector ramp up testing?” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “It’s not going to be the government doing it. It’s the private sector doing it. They’re the ones that do this well. And so how fast can they ramp it up?”

            TBF, there are some Republicans arguing for more testing money. But they are having to lobby their colleagues, which means that, absent lobbying, they don’t have enough support. Hence, the framing as “Democratic demand”.

          • Skeptic says:

            I’ve read through the Politico article and still don’t understand the two positions.

            There’s a throwaway line about “federalizing.”

            I’m still baffled.

      • sharper13 says:

        My understanding is that the actual argument has been:
        GOPers: The small business program for funding people’s salaries is already out of money, we need to fund it more right now with a clean bill rather than argue over another catch-all Covid bill.
        Dems: Before we’ll pass more funding for that, we want to negotiate about these other things we also think should get funding.

        So it’s not really about what to fund or not (likely both sides want to fund most of the things under discussion, including at least rhetorically the small business bill), but one side wants to get one done right away without having to negotiate for it while the other side believes they’ll get more of what they want in the end by delaying that in order to add more items and negotiate about them.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Just because something is a good idea doesn’t mean it belongs in every single bill that Congress passes.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s not going to be in every single bill Congress passes, and nobody is really proposing that. It is going to be in a draft of every bill Congress considers, until it is included in a passed bill once, because the chosen strategy to get it passed that one time is to hold up every bill Congress considers with tedious bickering and delaying over the same damn issue until Congress says fine, we’re going to have to do this eventually just to get you to shut up so we might as well do it now.

    • BBA says:

      It’s a culture war issue as to whether the federal government should exist, let alone fund anything.

      • Nornagest says:

        Not much of one. The constituency for disbanding the federal government is about the same size as the one for Full Communism Now — smaller, probably.

        • m.alex.matt says:

          I would wager there are more members of individual Marxist tendencies than there are of serious groups trying to get the Federal level of government entirely disbanded.

        • BBA says:

          There may only be a few, but every single one of them posts in this comment section.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I don’t think my old high school friend has found this blog.

            (But if you have… uh, hi, Jason? Did you ever move to New Hampshire with the Free State Project like you were talking about?)

    • Clutzy says:

      You know I am skeptical of the efficacy of testing from our previous interactions. I would only support this program if it was a randomized trial attempting to ascertain the % of already infected. Any other number does not interest me.

      Am I culture warry on this? Probably, because there is a culture war about what “experts” (most likely educated but expertise not established) we should trust.

      • The Nybbler says:

        Am I culture warry on this? Probably, because there is a culture war about what “experts” (most likely educated but expertise not established) we should trust.

        Yeah, I’d go further on the experts culture-warring. Like there are plenty of people (including myself) who think the experts are and have been flat-out lying. In some cases to please their political masters (in China). But in others, the other way around — they have a course of action they want to happen, so they use their expertise to produce “evidence” to support it. Such as that Imperial College study intended to scare the UK into lockdowns. Or any numbers based on the naive SIR model; epidemiologists must know it greatly overestimates real epidemics. Or (and I’m on thinner ground) the now-increasing estimates of R0. And in a few cases they just used their expertise to recommend things they wanted to happen without bothering to produce evidence, such as “masks don’t work”.

        So no, I don’t trust the experts. Certainly if they don’t work for me (and none of them do) and possibly not even then. If there were any epidemiologists who had models which correctly predicted the course of this epidemic before the data was in, I haven’t seen them. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but I doubt they’re talking to the public.

        • Matt M says:

          Yeah. My esteem for “experts” in general has absolutely tanked during all of this. Any headline that starts with “experts suggest…” now causes me to immediately assume that whatever follows is political propaganda.

  5. Ghenlezo says:

    Thanks to everyone who came to the meetup today.

    We are changing our cadence, so the next meeting will be on April 26th at 10:30AM PDT.

    Since we have such little time until the next meetup, I would like to emphasize that we always need a couple people willing to do a ~5 min talk.

    If you work in an interesting area, have expertise in an unusual programming language (like APL say), are an undergraduate or PhD in a subject you think would interest others, have a historical event or case study you want to share, or paper or result you want to explain, or anything else interesting or humorous to share, please consider doing a talk.

    Not only will it help our meetup, but it is a very low stakes way of improving your public speaking, too.

    Ideally, your talk should have slides but this is certainly not mandatory.

    You can click here to register:

    An FAQ can be found here on my blog here:

    • I’m assuming this was the Mozilla Hubs meetup I participated in today. Clearly a workable technology, although it will work better when we have more practice. One limitation was the space — a single room.

      That may be a limitation of the software. I constructed a rough model of the downstairs of my house, with the idea of holding Hubs meetups in it. But when I tried to load it into hubs I was told that it was too big. I haven’t figured out yet what the size limitations are or how you know, other than by trying to load it, whether you have exceeded them. I also haven’t figured out how to select my entire scene and scale it down, in order to fit whatever their size limitations are.

      If anyone here has experience using the software, perhaps you can give me advice via email: Or perhaps someone else can make a better scene — the one the meetup was in was one of the premade ones. It’s possible that all of those are small because of the current limits of the software. What we want is the biggest possible, with at least two or three separate rooms, so as to make possible multiple conversational clusters, such as happen at our meetups.

      The scene they used was fine for presentation, with one person speaking and others interacting with him — but Zoom works for that too. I gather some meetups are structured that way, but I prefer the more conversational style, which requires enough space so that not everybody is hearing every conversation.

      • Ghenlezo says:

        Yep. That was mine. I think I was doing a little cargo culting off the LessWrong Israel Zoom, which inspired me to create the meetups. I have never been to an in-person SSC meetup, as I live in a very small city, so Zoom is all I know.

        Next meeting we will have a few talks but less formal ones and a much, much larger room so people can peel off if they want. And if that works we can get rid of the talks altogether after that.

        The parts I enjoyed most were the discussions after the talks were over.

        Physical size doesn’t appear to be an issue. I’ve found a much larger room based on the Parthenon for example:

        You were likely using textures that were too hi-res.

        I would recommend using a pre-built model for your meetup. Though there is not a wide selection, you will likely be able to find one that is good enough.

        Note, sound doesn’t decrease as much with distance as it would in real life, so aim for a bigger scene than you would need in real life.

        • Thanks. That does indeed look big enough — I should have searched longer.

          I will be holding our regular South Bay meetup, as usual on Saturday — 4/25 — starting at 2:00. We will meet at the Parthenon instead of our house.

          Since the Parthenon does not have a kitchen, we will not be able to provide dinner.

          I notice that the meetups link in the sidebar has been removed. It should be put back up for virtual meetups, of which I hope there will be many more.

      • Ghenlezo says:

        It seems I skimmed your comment in my first reply. See my updated post. There are Hubs rooms that are far vaster than any basement, so it was probably a matter of the textures being too large.

        • I wasn’t duplicating our basement, which is a bit cluttered for meetups, but what I would describe as the first floor, Europeans as the ground floor. I may make another try with a much simpler version.

          But for the moment I’m using the Parthenon, until someone finds something better.

          • Ghenlezo says:

            It would be quite amusing for your regulars if you did get a highly-accurate reproduction of your previous meeting space. If only there were software that could stitch together such a thing from photographs .

          • CatCube says:


            ContextCapture from Bentley can create 3D point clouds with overlaid textures from photographs, so long as the photographs overlap.

            I don’t know how many thousands of dollars it costs (we have a site license at work) or if there’s a free solution (see above).

  6. johan_larson says:

    If you’re looking for a war movie for a lazy cooped-up Sunday afternoon, check out “The Beast”. Made in 1988, this film is about a Soviet tank crew in the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan. They raid a village of Mujaheddin and get lost on the way back to base. A group of the Mujaheddin gives chase. It’s a harsh movie about a nasty war, with a lot of twists and turns, but it makes sense from start to finish. Recommended.

    I found it on iTunes.

    • Kaitian says:

      If you’re looking for a trippy war movie to watch on a stormy quarantined night, check out “The Cuckoo“. It’s a 2002 Russian / Finnish film about two deserters from opposite sides of WWII meeting in rural Finland. The isolated domesticity and looming unreality in the movie is very 2020, and it’s just a good film. Caveat: I love movies where no plot happens, and maybe you don’t.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      Was it you who recommended “Their Finest” a few threads ago? We watched it two nights ago and quite enjoyed it. Charming; thanks.

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      Don’t watch A Quiet Place. It’s not a bar movie, but it’ll wind the appocalyptic mood up to 12.

  7. viVI_IViv says:

    Covid-19 reinfection/relapse, is it real?

    I initially dismissed the reports as implausible, most likely due to test errors or highly immunocompromised people, but I keep hearing news about it, so is there any truth to it?

    If so how does it work? Reinfection as early as few weeks after recovery would imply that either the immune system doesn’t create adequate antibodies (but then how does it recovery from the first infection?) or that the virus mutates so fast that there are already multiple strains different enough that immunity doesn’t transfer between them (that’s how influenza viruses do it).

    Relapse may suggest latent infection, at least for a short time. There are a few viruses that are able of long-term, even life-long latent infection, but Wikipedia doesn’t mention any coronavirus with such capability. How hard would it be to evolve it?

    • Anteros says:

      My initial reaction to the stories was they were slightly alarmist. They seemed no more than saying ‘Don’t get your hopes up, because your immunity won’t last forever’

      None of the reports appeared to give a time frame for when you could theoretically get re-infected, but wanted to know you should add it to your list of fears.

      I could, as ever, be completely wrong about this.

    • albatross11 says:

      My understanding is that immunity to seasonal cold-causing coronaviruses usually wanes within a few months to maybe a couple years. You still respond to subsequent infections well enough to avoid getting very sick, and in fact I think you often don’t even notice you have the virus–maybe you just feel a little tired and your throat’s a little scratchy for a day or two. But you can still catch and transmit the virus. This was discussed on TWIV a few weeks ago. So it’s quite plausible that people lose immunity, and I think the oldest cases might be a couple months old. Could they lose immunity that quickly and also have managed to get re-infected? I have no idea, but it’s probably at least possible.

      It’s also possible we’re seeing false negatives on previous tests–the claim I’ve heard is that nasal swabs are not so easy to do properly, so there may be some people who tested negative but weren’t over the infection. But that seems like it would imply people wandering around with the infection for a lot longer than everyone expects–guidance that you can go out again a few days after symptoms subside would be badly wrong then.

      The positives on the previously-recovered people are for viral RNA, and it’s also possible there’s still viral RNA in some places in your body after the virus has been defeated.

      If the virus is reawakening, that would mean it’s finding some reservoir of cells where it can either go latent and wait out the immune response, or is protected from the immune response and can reinfect the body later. I have no idea how that might work or if it’s even possible for this virus, and this sounds like the sort of thing that might be pretty hard to discover. (Have people done autopsies on folks that died of COVID-19 and tested individual tissue types from all over the body for viral RNA?).

      Any of these (except for the testing failures) if they’re true, suggest that containing the virus is probably going to be really hard.

    • Kaitian says:

      Feline coronavirus can cause lifelong infection in cats. It can also suddenly evolve into a deadly disease in a cat that has had it for years. There is a vaccine against this virus, but it is unclear how well it works.

      Now, housecats are not people and FCoV is not SARS-CoV-2 (it doesn’t even affect the respiratory system). But it is a coronavirus.

      how does it recover from the first infection?

      There are some viruses where the antibodies go away very quickly. There’s also a weird phenomenon called immune enhancement, where a low level of antibodies (some time after an infection) actually makes a reinfection worse. I’m not sure I understand how this works, it seems to have to do with some quite specific characteristics of viruses and antibodies. Dangerous reinfections are apparently really common for dengue fever and have also been observed in some coronaviruses.

      All that said, I think it’s too early to conclude that Covid-19 has these characteristics or can cause reinfections at all. So far, the cases that have been observed can still be explained by virus persistence and false negative tests. But it’s certainly something virologists are keeping an eye on.

      • viVI_IViv says:

        Thanks for the information.

        There are some viruses where the antibodies go away very quickly.

        Why do some viral infections (e.g. smallpox, measles, rubella) usually cause lifelong immunity and other don’t? Are the mechanisms of the immune system that react to them different?

        My biology 101 understanding of the immune system is that after the response to the first infection is over, a fraction of the activated B and T cells goes into memory state, ready to quickly reactivate if exposed to the antigen a second time, which usually generates a response strong enough to prevent symptomatic infection. So what goes wrong with coronaviruses?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      The most thorough article I’ve seen so far.

      The most likely scenarios all involve still being sick/expressing virus rather than reinfected.

      By Friday, Korean health authorities had identified 163 patients who tested positive again after a full recovery. The number more than doubled in about a week, up from 74 cases on April 9. Those patients — just over 2% of the country’s 7,829 recovered patients — are now back in isolation.

      Top KCDC officials said in recent briefings that the most likely possibility is reactivation of remaining viruses in patients’ systems. If a patient had not developed sufficient immunity against the virus or if a patient’s immune system weakens after recovery, the previously undetectable level of virus concentration could rebound. Or the novel coronavirus may be capable of staying dormant before reactivating.

      Another possibility is that tests are picking up dead virus particles that are no longer infectious or transmissible. KCDC director-general Jeong Eun-kyeong said Friday that viruses collected from six relapse cases could not be cultivated in isolation, signifying that they are either dead or too small in number.

      But some relapsed patients may have living viruses that make them sick. As of Friday, at least 61 developed symptoms, albeit mild.

      A live virus is probably also transmissible, according to Jeong, but no secondary transmission by relapsed cases has been reported.

      Reinfection through another virus carrier is a less probable scenario, considering that patients are retesting positive not long after they are released from treatment. Jeong said on Friday that relapse cases are detected an average of 13.5 days after recovery. The longest reported interval, however, is 35 days.

    • Doctor Mist says:

      More generally, can anybody recommend a source to give me a layman’s picture of how alll the layers of the immune system work separately and together? I see that there actually are some books out there very much like “Immunology for Dummies” (though not literally that one) but have no clear idea how to tell a good one from a bad one, or worse, from a crank one.

      More specifically, my wife has CVID, which means she does not tend to produce antibodies. The treatment is monthly infusions of pooled immunoglobulin, so that she gets other people’s antibodies. (Thanks, other people!) Before she was diagnosed, when she caught a cold it might last quite a while — but she would still get over it, which makes me think that the other pieces of her immune system still give her some protection.

      We would especially like to understand more, because (obviously) of Covid-19. We are among those Californians who kind of sort of think or speculate that we might perhaps maybe have caught it in February and recovered, except in her case she would have had to have done so without using antibodies. Does that mean the whole idea is ridiculous? We are both in good health but we are both 65.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Don’t bet on vaccine to protect us from Covid-19, says world health expert

      Not sure if he’s right, but I’ve seen this said rather casually and directly by some doctors for weeks. The fact that coronaviruses normally don’t cause immunity would seem to be a major red flag. Hopefully not, but the impression I’m getting is that reinfection is very possible. That’s why I’ve been so disturbed at the vaccine or nothing focus by people at the top–I understand that is the hope and a good way to keep people calm, but you can’t go in so hard on something like that when it seems questionable on the fundamentals. It seems to go beyond public reassurance to sincere denial, and that’s frightening, because we need a back-up plan. The publication of that article seems to indicate they’re preparing the public for the possibility.

      I do not understand the technical details, but your immune system can defeat viruses with mechanisms other than antibodies. So it is possible for some people to recover without making them, or before making many of them. Seems to depend on various genetic factors. It’s also possible to create antibodies that don’t last all that long after the virus is defeated, which is how other coronaviruses work. In such cases, it is still possible to maintain a partial immunity, where the disease is less severe if you are reinfected.

  8. Enkidum says:

    I just finished reading an article on consciousness that does the rather neat trick of talking about several of the central philosophical debates without making me want to stab myself in the face (Wittgenstein, Nagel, Chalmers, and Dennett all get discussed). I tentatively endorse most of it, with the caveat that I need to re-read much more carefully.

    A central point that I take from it is we should treat consciousness as probably a real and objective part of the world, but we may have a huge problem comprehending what certain consciousnesses might be like, and these two statements are not in contradiction, contra Nagel. (ETA: I’ve been arguing exactly that for years, though, so I may be centering my own prejudices.)

    • Belisaurus Rex says:

      Thanks for the link.

      I found Thomas Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel to be the best nonfiction book on the subject I’ve read. Books often have titles like “What is Consciousness?” and then on page 1 they admit “we don’t know.” Metzinger looks at how broken human brains think to determine what a properly working brain looks like. He dives into the out-of-body experiences and PIHKAL quackery near the end (although, perhaps I am being too judgmental on the issue of psychoactive drugs), but the first half is solid and grounded in materialism.

      The Ego Tunnel is recommended by Peter Watts in the appendices of Blindsight (fiction). Blindsight, without giving any spoilers if you haven’t read it, is about consciousness and communication with alien intelligences. Blindsight features aliens written by a marine biologist, and they are very alien. Both books are available for free online (legally).

      • Enkidum says:

        I haven’t read The Ego Tunnel but I’ve read Watts.

        Personally my favourite nonfiction book on the subject is Garziano’s Consciousness and the Social Brain, which starts out by saying that he’s going to ignore the hard problem and concentrate on the easy one, and he ends up saying a lot that I’ve never seen anyone else say (in particular, that consciousness evolved from the capacity to simulate others).

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          I’ll check it out and likely put it in my Amazon cart as long as it is not metaphysics.

          I made the mistake of reading Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos where he disregards the multiverse theory and the anthropic principle in a footnote and then says that he will only accept materialism if materialists can prove that the evolution of consciousness was inevitable. Otherwise, he suggests a teleological bent to the universe instead of Darwinian randomness.

          Even bright minds can get badly confused sometimes when the subject matter becomes too conceptual.

          • Enkidum says:

            Graziano is very much a neuroscientist and deliberately tries to avoid as much of the philosophical baggage as possible.

            Personally I think Nagel and his ilk are a waste of my time. I’m not surprised you got tired of it.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Good article. There are the two large camps on this matter and they both seem obviously wrong to me. There are the people who say that an AI can never be conscious. Then there are the people who say that anything that is sufficiently intelligent is essentially conscious. Both of these seem obviously wrong with me and this author is one of the few I’ve seen discuss it that takes that seriously. Of course, that makes everything harder because we don’t know what separates a conscious from an unconscious AI but there’s a lot of intellectual space there to work on.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Then there are the people who say that anything that is sufficiently intelligent is essentially conscious.

        I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but this doesn’t seem obviously wrong to me.

        Intelligence seems to require a certain amount of self-awareness. Or, at the very least, it seems highly plausible to me that intelligence requires it.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          Ego Tunnel and Blindsight tackle this issue directly. Or at least offer a compelling alternative.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Imagine a very sophisticated chat bot that easily passes the Turing Test. When you insult it, it tells you that it’s sad. When you tell a joke, it says that it’s laughing. It obviously possesses a strong level of intelligence and self awareness. Would you automatically conclude that the chat bot is conscious?

          • Enkidum says:

            Eh, this gets very close to the Chinese Room. I can’t imagine such a chatbot that isn’t very close to what I’d call conscious. Now that may be a failure of imagination on my part, just as the original Chinese Room is a failure of imagination on Searle’s. But… it might not be.

          • Wrong Species says:

            How sophisticated does a chatbot have to be before you assume it’s conscious? It just seems pretty clear to me that a computer that can mimic social skills isn’t anymore demonstrative of consciousness than the ability to master Go. Yes, it’s complicated but that doesn’t automatically give it the ability to have experiences. Very few are claiming that the chatbots we have now are conscious so I don’t see why we should assume one that’s a little more clever is necessarily conscious.

          • Enkidum says:

            I think chatbots that could actually convince a suspicious and reasonably AI-savvy interlocutor that they’re human are decades away, at best.

            And I think the innovations required to build one would be very similar to the innovations I think are necessary to build artificial consciousnesses. But this is perhaps because I’ve been somewhat convinced by Graziano that consciousness evolved to handle social interactions.

            I hope it’s clear that I’m not at all dogmatic here – I think there are wrong approaches to consciousness (most of philosophy pre-2000ish with the notable exceptions of Dennett and the Churchlands), but I’m very agnostic about what the right way of thinking about it is.

      • Enkidum says:

        I think I’m slightly more sympathetic to the second camp you mention – I think that it’s distinctly posslble that high levels of intelligence (maybe social intelligence in specific) require consciousness (or just are consciousness in some sense), but this is by no means obviously true.

    • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

      Why both real and objective? If the article is correct in saying that we have no hope of understandiing the conscious experience of beings different to ourselves, then consciousness is real and subjective.

  9. Silverlock says:

    Where can I go to find statistics on legal punishments in the US? That is, I would like to see things like the average sentence for various crimes, preferably both aggregated for the country and broken down by state.

  10. johan_larson says:

    The ads I’m seeing online on sites like YouTube seem fringier than usual: smaller companies selling more unusual products. No one has tried to sell me a car for some weeks now, for example, but one company keeps insisting that I should have a pubic-hair trimmer. Have the majors cut back on advertising?

    • ana53294 says:

      Well, Amazon has cut its affiliate program (smaller %). It seems to be on trend with a reduction in ads in everything.

    • bullseye says:

      I’ve seen those ads too, but I’ve also seen ads for toilet paper. I can’t figure out why they’d want to advertise toilet paper; I’m not going to forget to buy it, and there isn’t enough selection in the store for me to pick out their brand.

      I also got a tourism ad that pointed out I can’t go there now.

      • toastengineer says:

        I also got a tourism ad that pointed out I can’t go there now.

        Something something forbidden fruit twice as sweet?

        • johan_larson says:

          Maybe they’re planning ahead. There could be a lot of pent-up demand for vacation travel. It might be possible to travel to the Caribbean in October, say.

      • Kaitian says:

        Toilet paper is on people’s minds right now, so even if their brand isn’t available at your local store right now, they’re probably hoping to imprint their brand name on your brain for the future when TP is abundant once more.

  11. toastengineer says:

    What happens if a state governor goes crazy and tries to establish a dictatorship? Is there a certain line that can’t be crossed or else the Federal government comes in and arrests you? Are we just relying on the rest of the state bureaucracy to refuse to comply with blatantly unconstitutional orders? Do we just have to rely on something like the Battle of Athens happening?

    • meh says:

      can you be more specific?

      • toastengineer says:

        I’m not sure how to be. State governments are supposed to have limited power. What actually happens when they go over the limits?

        Like, okay, let’s go with a blatantly unrealistic example: the governor of Michigan gets tired of the people protesting outside her house and orders the National Guard to show up in tanks and gun them all down, and they do. What happens next?

        • meh says:

          I mean more specific at what you mean by ‘establish dictatorship’. US has shown it won’t let a state unilaterally secede (Civil War). The federal government will also enforce constitutional rights (civil rights). What you are proposing sounds somewhere in the middle; The Governor is ruling by decree but not formally establishing a dictatorship. Well in such a situation, depending on what the Governor does, they will eventually cross federal or state law, federal or state constitution, and if the National Guard is involved, federal military law, and international law. The governor would likely be arrested and tried. If they have the loyalty of local law enforcement, and the national guard, this may make it more difficult to arrest them, but then we are moving closer to the Civil War scenario, where the US military would get involved.

          EDIT: I just want to add that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I have no expertise in this area, the above is just my thoughts and what I think is a reasonable interpretation.

        • JonathanD says:


          Replace gunning them down with teargassing them and beating them with sticks and you have Missouri from a few years back. What happened next was pretty much nothing.

    • Erusian says:

      States have constitutions. If a governor manages to get the various majorities and referendum to change it from whatever it is to absolute rule, then there’s fairly little the US government can do in theory so long as the governor’s crazy orders and dictatorial rule don’t violate any incorporated rights or Federal rules. If the governor is violating their own state’s constitution, then there are processes to get the governor removed. The Federal government (de facto at least) can then choose to back the side it considers more sane. You also shouldn’t overlook the role of other states. For example, in the Civil War Ohio supported some Unionists in Tennessee and West Virginia before the formal outbreak of hostilities. This was perhaps dubiously legal but Lincoln wasn’t going to complain.

      • mfm32 says:

        This wrong. There is a s
        clause in the Constitution called the Republican Governments Clause that specifically prohibits the establishment of any non-republican (e.g. “absolutist”) government in a US state.

        • Erusian says:

          Where? Article IV, Section 4? There’s no official interpretation saying that and the entire clause is about what the US guarantees to the states (security, a republican form of government, etc). It could be interpreted to mean that the US must remain republican, not the state. Further, there’s no enforcement mechanism.

          • Lambert says:

            So Ohio could crown a King if it wanted to?

          • bullseye says:

            Some of the original 13 states had laws that only landowners could vote. All but one (I forget which) repealed those laws early on, and there was talk of suing the state government on the grounds that restricting the franchise in that way made them non-republican. So, within living memory of the constitution being written, at least some people considered that clause to restrict the type of government a state could have.

          • mfm32 says:

            I suppose it could be interpreted to mean that, but no one before you has ever interpreted it to mean that, including the people who wrote it. There’s no “official interpretation” of anything in the Constitution, and yet we all can agree at least on the broad contours of what it means.

            I don’t know how it would be enforced in this silly hypothetical, but the Federal Government has all sorts of enforcement means at its disposal (e.g. the military, nationalization of the National Guard, etc.).

          • Erusian says:

            So Ohio could crown a King if it wanted to?

            “We know no king but the King on the Eerie, whose name is Taft.”

            Realistically, I suspect some form of chicanery would happen. You could interpret the Constitution to allow this. I doubt such judgments would be forthcoming.

            Some of the original 13 states had laws that only landowners could vote. All but one (I forget which) repealed those laws early on, and there was talk of suing the state government on the grounds that restricting the franchise in that way made them non-republican. So, within living memory of the constitution being written, at least some people considered that clause to restrict the type of government a state could have.

            Fascinating. Do you have a source for this?

            I suppose it could be interpreted to mean that, but no one before you has ever interpreted it to mean that, including the people who wrote it. There’s no “official interpretation” of anything in the Constitution, and yet we all can agree at least on the broad contours of what it means.

            I believe the courts pronounce “official interpretations”. If not, they at least pronounce ones with the force of law. And do you have any legal scholars you can bring up? Or are we just two idiots shouting at each other over the internet?

          • meh says:

            No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States

          • Polycarp says:

            I have never really delved into this, but my understanding has always been that the republican form of government clause was understood to be a guarantee that the states (including any new states) would be required to have republican forms of government. If I were interested in exploring this further, I might look into the discussions/debates concerning the drafting and enactment of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which contained some limits on how the Northwest Territory could be divided into new states. I would certainly have a look at what the founders had to say about the clause in the Federalist Papers, and elsewhere.

          • Evan Þ says:

            The last state to restrict the franchise to landowners was Rhode Island. The pro-franchise movement eventually got fed up, wrote their own new constitution for the state, held a private referendum to approve it, and set up a new state government under it. The old government unsurprisingly objected and sent the state militia to arrest the new government. The resulting war saw the old government victorious without any federal intervention.

            However, seeing the popular sentiment was against them, the old government finally decided to rewrite the state constitution and expand the franchise anyway. Subsequently, when a court case arising out of the war made its way to the US Supreme Court, they decided the Republican Form of Government clause was up to the President and Congress to enforce; as Congress had seated the old government’s Senators, the Court was bound to treat it as the real state government.

            So yes, the Court did state the Republican Form of Government clause is talking about the states. Subsequently, the Reconstruction Congress agreed with that interpretation when they officially deemed the ex-Confederate states’ governments as non-republican.

          • mfm32 says:

            @Erusian Just for you, I pulled out my copy of Tribe. There’s a brief mention on p. 133 and then a longer discussion starting on p. 908, largely but not exclusively in the context of the Reconstruction Amendments (all references to 3rd edition). Needless to say, there is no mention of your “creative” reading. Tribe also helpfully cites Federalist 43, which explicitly explains the purpose of the Clause as restricting the forms of governments the states can enact for themselves.

            This is black letter law. There really isn’t a debate about whether the clause refers to the states or the federal government, nor to my knowledge has there ever been such a debate. Just because you can convince yourself of a reading doesn’t make that reading plausible.

          • herbert herberson says:

            @mfm32 What’s your take on the Republican Governments Clause-based argument against the National Popular Vote Compact?

            Seemed like complete BS when I first heard about it, but I’d never actually done the research, and since the clause apparently has more teeth and specificity than I realized I’m now doubting myself

          • Erusian says:

            Well, I could have done with a politer tone, but nevertheless thank you for (sort of) telling me where your interpretation is from. Could you give me the full book so I could look it up? “Tribes” and a page number isn’t enough to go off of, I’m afraid.

        • Erusian says:

          No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States

          This is a key point so many people here don’t seem to be taking. While the incorporation doctrine means the Constitution does increasingly apply to states, it in no way did at the time of the framing. When the Constitution says “the United States” cannot do something, that is binding Federal but not state power. For example, the US government was forbidden from establishing a state religion but many of the states had established churches at the time.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Exactly. But in this specific case, the very next section says “No State shall… grant any Title of Nobility.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Technically speaking, “King” is not a title of nobility; it’s a royal title.

    • brad says:

      The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government

      How exactly this plays out depends on the players at the federal level. Plausibly a Supreme Court judgment followed by something like Executive Order 11111. Alternative a bill enacted into law declaring a state no longer a republic and instructing / authorizing the President to use military force.

      • Evan Þ says:

        In Luther v. Borden (1849), the Supreme Court said it was a political question whether Rhode Island had a republican form of government; as long as Congress and the President hadn’t objected, the Court wouldn’t say anything on the matter. Subsequently, the Reconstruction Congress justified the Reconstruction Acts on the basis that the ex-Confederate states did not currently have republican forms of government.

        So, your second proposal seems most in line with the historical precedents.

    • BBA says:

      As long as enough people are willing to look the other way, it can go on indefinitely. In the American context we’ve known this since the Adams administration passed the blatantly unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts and went unchallenged. But just as a matter of common sense – the system is made of people and at some point there aren’t any more managers you can complain to. There’s no system anyone can set up that can’t be exploited. (And yes, ancaps, not having a system is still a system.)

    • smocc says:

      I started writing this post out of idle curiosity earlier today, but I might as well put it here.

      Can a state in the United States legally implement a monarchy in its state?

      In practice it’s obviously impossible without some sort of world-changing event. Congress didn’t accept Utah into the Union for years over polygamy and fears about theocracy, so it’s hard to imagine them ever allowing a new state.

      The biggest Constitutional question is Article IV.4 which says that “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” Does this mean that the Federal government is required to act as a Republican Form of Government to all states, or does it mean that the Federal government must ensure that all states provide their citizens a Republican form of government? Is there any existing jurisprudence on this question?

      The second big question is Article IV.2.1, which says that “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” This is vague and obviously doesn’t mean that all states must have identical governments, but I can certainly see this being used to try and dismantle a state monarchy on the basis that the citizens of the state are not being given the privilege to vote in elections.

      Besides those there’s the big question of how many Constitutional injunctions apply to state governments. Does the monarch have to obey the bill of rights? Massachusetts required church attendance for all citizens with denomination chosen by town until 1834, which would be a clear 1st Amendment violation from the federal government. But jurisprudence on the general question has almost certainly changed, cf. rulings on things like prayer in schools (which are run by states).

      Article I.2.2 says that members of the House must be “chosen every second year by the People of the several States,” and Article XVII says state Senators shall be “chosen by the People thereof.” This means the monarch probably cannot have the power to appoint Congressmen directly. You could maybe manage some tricky arguments that the monarch exercises the authority of the people, but good luck getting a Supreme Court to buy that.

      What’s more Article I.4.1 says that Congress “may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations” about the times, places, and manner of holding Congressional elections. That in itself doesn’t make it illegal for directly appointed Congressmen, but it does make it a difficult state to maintain.

      Article I.9.8 says that no title of nobility may be granted by the United States, which does not preclude a title being granted by an individual state?

      The monarch would not have any powers that other states have, like entering into alliances etc., as outlined in Article I.10.

      The amendments vary in their language. Article XIII, which abolishes slavery was clearly written to leave no room for states to implement it differently, and it specifies that “Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

      That’s all I’ve found so far. Going deeper probably requires looking into historical jurisprudence.

  12. The Nybbler says:

    More on our governments enjoying the lockdown, via PJ Media

    Our Attorney General tweets

    If you think emergency orders are more like guidelines than actual rules, think again. Here’s the latest on our enforcement actions:

    I know social distancing isn’t exactly enjoyable, but now’s not the time for fun & games. Please stay home & stay safe.

    If you follow the link, it goes here, where we learn, among other things

    Kim Pagan of Toms River was charged by the New Jersey State Police with violating the emergency orders by organizing a prohibited event today in Trenton in which protesters gathered outside the State House and at other locations in Trenton to demonstrate against the Governor’s Executive Orders.

    New Jersey, always a Second Amendment Free Zone, is now a First Amendment Free zone, and our attorney general is bragging about it on Twitter.

    • Black Lives Matter protestors have a similar belief that the first amendment gives them a right to protest wherever they want to, even on the highway.

      • The Nybbler says:

        When SCOTUS came up with that “time, place, and manner” language, I’m fairly sure they didn’t mean for it to be used to say “not now, not here, and not that way”. Though they should have known that’s how it would be used. Restricting protesting on the highway is one thing; restricting protesting in front of the state house is quite another.

        Saw the same argument with Covington, people claiming it was somehow wrong of the Covington kids to express their political opinions in that particular place… the National Mall. The argument was specious then and it is specious now. In front of the statehouse is an central example of where protest may not be reasonably forbidden.

        • viVI_IViv says:

          In front of the statehouse is an central example of where protest may not be reasonably forbidden.

          Unless there is a dangerous airborne disease. SARS-Cov-2 won’t refrain from infecting you just because you happen to be exercising your constitutional rights.

          • acymetric says:

            There is a part of me that agrees with this.

            There is another part that hopes everyone remembers this when November elections are postponed. “Sorry, no protesting, it presents a significant public health risk. These nice uniformed men will now escort you to your holding quarantine facility until we are sure you won’t protest anymore haven’t exposed yourself to the virus.”

          • The Nybbler says:

            Unless there is a dangerous airborne disease.

            There isn’t any such exception in the First Amendment. It amounts to “you can’t protest quarantine policy while it is in place”, which completely vitiates the right to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.

          • John Schilling says:

            SARS-Cov-2 won’t refrain from infecting you just because you happen to be exercising your constitutional rights.

            And your political opponents won’t refrain from punching you in the face just because you are exercising your constitutional rights. There’s no “unless you might get hurt” clause in the Bill of Rights; if there were, there might as well not be a Bill of Rights.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            There isn’t any such exception in the First Amendment.

            According to SCOTUS, there is “time, place, and manner”, and protesting by forming a crowd during a respiratory disease outbreak can be argued to fall under “time” and/or “manner”.

            And if the case ever gets to SCOTUS, keep in mind that 2/3 of the justices are over 60 and 4/9 are over 70, which puts them at relatively high risk of dying if infected. Nature doesn’t care about your rights, and neither do people who are afraid to die.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            And your political opponents won’t refrain from punching you in the face just because you are exercising your constitutional rights.

            Which is a crime that can, and should, be punished. But you can’t punish a virus for infecting people.

            There’s no “unless you might get hurt” clause in the Bill of Rights; if there were, there might as well not be a Bill of Rights.

            But if you get infected you can infect others. The whole framework of personal liberties doesn’t really work when a pandemic is raging.

          • The Nybbler says:

            According to SCOTUS, there is “time, place, and manner”, and protesting by forming a crowd during a respiratory disease outbreak can be argued to fall under “time” and/or “manner”.

            If you are only allowed to protest measures taken in response to a respiratory disease outbreak after the powers that be have declared the danger over and the measures rescinded, you have no effective right to protest them. That is abusing the time, place, and manner restrictions to eliminate the right entirely.

            If the entire framework of personal liberties doesn’t really work when a pandemic is raging, then the US government isn’t set up for a pandemic. There is no escape clause that says “The governors of the several states may rule like Roman dictators if there’s a pandemic about”.

          • And if the case ever gets to SCOTUS, keep in mind that 2/3 of the justices are over 60 and 4/9 are over 70, which puts them at relatively high risk of dying if infected.

            The self-interest calculation for old people is unclear. If they can safely self-quarantine, the best outcome for them might be for other people to all get sick as fast as possible, one percent of them die, the rest are immune, and the old can come out of quarantine.

          • John Schilling says:

            Which is a crime that can, and should, be punished. But you can’t punish a virus for infecting people.

            And sometimes you can’t punish people for punching people who say controversial things. Is the government then allowed to say “We can’t guarantee your safety if you say that, therefore you aren’t allowed to say that?” Because I’m not seeing a fundamental difference between a virus and a sufficiently elusive masked antifa or whatever here.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @everybody in this debate:

            “Legal norms, Schmitt argues, cannot be applied to a chaos. They require a ‘homogeneous medium.’ (Political Theology 13) No legal norm, in Schmitt’s view, can govern an extreme case of emergency or an absolute state of exception. In a completely abnormal situation, the continued application of the law through the normal administrative and judiciary channels is going to lead to haphazard and unpredictable results, while preventing effective action to end the emergency.”

            (People generally strongly desire Schmitt to be wrong because he was a Nazi, which makes the whole Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article worth reading, especially if the Governors and Judges ruling in a state of exception are ignorant of his existence.)

          • sharper13 says:

            Per the USSC, legal restrictions on constitutional rights are based on strict scrutiny. So restrictions aren’t completely forbidden, but they have to meet a very high bar:
            1. The government must have a compelling governmental interest in enforcing the restrictions in question. They also have to be able to prove that, not just rely on the government decided it was a good idea.
            2. The restriction must be narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. So nothing overbroad. No restriction where a similar result could be accomplished some other less restrictive way.
            3. They can’t single out the right in question for tighter restrictions just because people are exercising that right. If the interest + restriction make sense, then they need to be restricting everything else similar in a similar fashion.

            So a restriction that “All gun shops are closed, but grocery stores can remain open as long as they enforce a distance of 6 feet between customers” was found to violate the Constitution because it fails all three of the above:
            1. The government couldn’t show that it had a special interest in closing down gun shops because of a pandemic. If anything, the reverse was true.
            2. The restriction wasn’t narrowly tailored to the supposed interest. They could’ve allowed single customer sales by appointment, etc…
            3. If a set of standards was good enough for “essential” stores like grocery, automotive, hardware, etc… but not gun shops, now you’ve singled them out for tighter restrictions. They’d have to make the case that they closed all shops if having shops closed was actually a requirement.

            You can apply the same standard to restrictions on protesting. If a government said “All large gatherings are forbidden unless they are for essential services or for a protest, in which case participants must stay 6 feet apart.” then they could get away with that kind of thing. They aren’t restricting protesting more than any other type of gatherings and they’re making a point of restricting it the same as everything else.

            But just a flat out ban on protesting? Not while they’re allowing any other type of gathering (in grocery stores, at the legislature, etc…) and not unless they have proof (not just speculation or supposition) that people standing outdoors 6 (or 10, or whatever) feet apart are going to be enough of a problem to create a compelling State interest without the possibility of a narrower restriction.

          • viVI_IViv says:

            Because I’m not seeing a fundamental difference between a virus and a sufficiently elusive masked antifa or whatever here.

            The main difference is that if you attend a gathering that is likely to be attacked by antifa, you only put yourself at risk, if you attend a gathering during an airborne disease outbreak, you put yourself AND other people at risk.

            As I was mentioning before, the whole framework of personal liberties is predicated on the assumption that exercising your protected rights doesn’t create large negative externalities to other people. A pandemic is one case when this assumption breaks down.

            And I know, the Constitution doesn’t have a pandemic exception, and yet it doesn’t matter, because those who are in charge of enforcing the Constitution will implement a pandemic exception anyway. They might try to justify with legalistic arguments based on previous SCOTUS decisions about “time, place and manner”, but fundamentally they’ll be acting pragmatically. As LMC pointed out, legal norms can’t be properly applied in times of chaos.


            For instance, was the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during WW2 constitutional? Most likely not, yet it happened anyway, and nobody in the government opposed it. Decades later the descendants of those affected got some token reparations, and that was it.
            Maybe 40 years from now your grandchildren will get a few dollars Amazon credits as reparation for the present infringement of your rights, and this is the best you can hope for.

          • ana53294 says:

            the whole framework of personal liberties is predicated on the assumption that exercising your protected rights doesn’t create large negative externalities to other people.

            No, it isn’t? There are a lot of things that create negative externalities to other people, yet we allow them.

            Alcohol and tobacco; driving a car or a motorbike; consumerism, etc., create negative externalities that are more physical.

            Normalizing divorce, abortion, single mothers, loose sexual mores, creates negative externalities on the social level.

            Your freedoms don’t end where you start inflicting negative externalities to other people. Your freedoms don’t even end when you are harming your own children by divorcing and shuttling them between two homes.

          • matkoniecz says:

            If you are only allowed to protest measures taken in response to a respiratory disease outbreak after the powers that be have declared the danger over and the measures rescinded, you have no effective right to protest them.

            Yes, you effectively have no right for legal public protest in this situation.

            But even if current measures are too strong and worth protesting, there needs to be a tool for “we have plague, everybody must stay home”. Unfortunately.

            Note that you can still protest without public gatherings. Or if situation makes it justified – do what can be done with other unjustified laws and protest them illegally.



            Banning alcohol created even worse negative externalities.

            In Europe there is continued progress toward gradual elimination of smoking.

            Normalizing divorce, abortion, single mothers, loose sexual mores, creates negative externalities on the social level.

            As you are probably aware people disagree on that. (see pro life vs pro choice).

          • ana53294 says:

            And there are people who disagree whether the negative externalities of the lockdown matter more or less than the negative externalities of letting people decide for themselves.

            Both allowing abortion and making it illegal creates its own set of issues. So far, we’ve sided on the more freedom side of the equation. But now, for some reason, every life is sacred even if the people in question would rather have a functioning economy?

            EDIT: I haven’t met people who say divorce and single motherhood is good and optimal; just those who say that not having the freedom is worse than the alternative. So even pro-divorce people agree it’s not a good thing, just the least worst thing in some cases.

          • John Schilling says:

            The main difference is that if you attend a gathering that is likely to be attacked by antifa, you only put yourself at risk, if you attend a gathering during an airborne disease outbreak, you put yourself AND other people at risk.

            Innocent bystanders do frequently get hurt in fights, but I agree that this would be a stronger argument. But it’s not the argument that viVI_IViv was making, and so not the argument that needed rebutting. And, as sharper13 notes, if it involves an explicitly protected Constitutional right, you have to actually prove that the argument is correct and that yours is the least-restrictive possible solution.

        • matkoniecz says:

          Yeah, deciding which bad solution is worse is not easy.

          Especially when what is worse strongly differs for various people.

          • The Nybbler says:

            In the US, we’ve precommitted to the solution. If I protest and as a result, the governor jails me for the duration of the emergency, I have broken no valid laws and the governor has broken several.

      • eigensheep says:

        I think you intend to be snarky here, but I endorse that view. Protests protests function by causing inconvenience to the powerful until the powerful change things. Any ban on inconvenient protests is effectively a ban on all protests.

        • Protests function by causing inconvenience to people the protestors don’t like. For instance, in 2012 the Chinese started protesting against the Japanese, pelting the embassy with eggs and even attacking shops that sold Japanese goods. The staff of the Japanese embassy have little power in China, which is the point, the Chinese remember what happened to those who protested against those who do. It seems most protests in the world are demonstrations in support of the ruling ideology, rather than demonstrations against it. Legalizing these demonstrations allow the rulers to suppress their political opponents while maintaining plausible deniability, as can be seen in many liberal cities such as Portland.

          It’s possible you’re using the social justice definition of “power,” where power is defined as being a quality inherent to one’s race or gender and having a weak relationship to the dictionary definition in terms of ability to command people or resources or influence the world.

          • eigensheep says:

            I mean power in the sense of ability to influence the world on the particular issue being protested. In the case you mentioned, the protestors wanted the Senkaku islands to be Chinese territory, the government of Japan had the power to accomplish this and the protestors inconvenienced the government of Japan. I guess calling the government of Japan “the powerful” without provisos is misleading here, but I think it works well for the typical protest.

            I’m not sure of the intention of the rest of your post. It looks like you are making the case for banning all protests? Viliam’s reply to 93 below gives a good account of their usefulness.

        • Ninety-Three says:

          Given that highways work much better if the law prevents any random pedestrian from standing on them, why should we abandon our attempts to make highways work well when that pedestrian has a protest sign?

          More broadly, what are the limits to this “protesting makes you immune to normal laws” proposal? Can I steal from the rich as a form of protest? Murder them? If you ban inconveniencing them in those ways, you’ve effectively banned all protests.

          • Viliam says:

            Well, yes, protests are on a spectrum. They are a demonstration of “here is a large group of people angry about something, willing to do something extraordinary if you keep ignoring them”, without immediately doing their worst.

            If you immediately do your worst, it’s not a protest — it’s a revolution, or lynching, or whatever. The idea of a protest is to signal that you are able to do big harm, but for the moment you are only doing small harm, giving the other side the opportunity to address your complaints.

            The proper calibration of “small harm” is, in civilized countries, as little as possible as long as it makes someone pay attention. In other words, it depends on what the other side reacts to. It could simply be hundred people coming to a place, standing there for an hour, and then going home. That still sends a signal that these people are willing to do more than merely complain on internet. But if people standing there silently get ignored, the next step is to start singing, or to stand in a place that incoveniences others, etc. And if this is ignored, then maybe throwing eggs, or blocking traffic, or something like that is in place. And if that doesn’t work either… yes, then you proceed to more and more damage… in extreme cases, burning cities and killing people.

            The idea is to give the other side an opportunity to negotiate before things get completely out of control. If you have two sides unwilling to make a compromise, and willing to murder to achieve their goals, then you get a civil war. But often you have one side that thinks “this will make a few people angry, but they are unlikely to do anything other than bitching online, who cares”, but who actually wouldn’t escalate the conflict to open violence. A protest then is a costly signal of what a side is able and willing to do, without doing it (yet).

            If there is a way to be annoying without breaking a law, it is possible to organize protests without breaking the law. But a protest that does not inconvenience anyone would be pointless. The idea is to signal that you are not afraid of confrontation, and you should be treated seriously.

            This is a technical description, it works the same whether the protests are done in the name of a good thing or a bad thing. So it doesn’t say how the government should react to the protests. It’s only, as long as it allows “free speech”, it should also allow certain degree of protests, that would qualify as speech. Too much damage, send the guards. The other side sending a costly signal of willingness to fight, it is an information. You can still choose how to respond to it.

            Some people are surprised that the rules of society are ultimately based on the threat of violence; and sometimes actual violence, if the threat is to remain credible. But that’s how it is. The only reason why anyone has any rights, is that someone in their reference group was willing to kill to obtain them. And the only reason why anyone has any duties, is that someone is willing to kill to enforce them. It’s just, because we use the threats and negotiations, most of the time the situation is solved without the use of violence. But at the bottom, the threat is still there. Otherwise, there would be no reason to negotiate or follow the rules.

    • meh says:

      Right or wrong, I believe there is lots of legal precedent of constitutional rights being limited in cases of public safety.

    • Evan Þ says:

      Just about the entire United States has been a First Amendment – free zone for the last few weeks, ever since church services have been prohibited. Now that protests are being prohibited, part of me is only feeling glad that it’s being brought home to other people as well.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The protestors are conservatives and libertarians, so the media is on the state’s side. Politico reported on the protest including the tidbit that last weekend, NJ was in danger of running out of ventilators; actual utilization was under 60% and dropping, but of course no one’s fact checking them.

        • sharper13 says:

          Regarding ventilators… it gets worse. If the Feds had complied with the various State’s requests (like 40K! for NY), we may actually have run out where they were needed, but because the Federal stockpile was handled intelligently based on actual usage data rather than based on requests from States who wanted to be over-prepared, they got bad press, but were not only able to fulfill all the needed extras, but also setup a loan program to reallocate ones which weren’t needed at one hospital to hospitals which did need them.

  13. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    If you are a WW2 buff, you might find this website interesting: I found it just now by random googling.

    It’s basically a big interactive map of the Normandy landings and the following battles. You step the days forwards and backwards and see how the front moved and where all the divisions and battalions fought. And if you are lucky, you can select a unit and read its war dairy (works best for Canadian units). Super interesting stuff! I didn’t know that war dairies were available. Excerpt from the 6st Canadian Armoured Regiment (1st Hussars), 17 July:

    Place: MR093742 Sheet 7F/1

    Clear and very warm.

    Reveille at 0630 hours. The day spent on the last minute check of vehicles and tanks to make sure they were battle worthy. We received rations at 1800 hours, but instead of the usual one days ration per man, we received three days ration. We were also told that our water supply would have to last for the same period.

    “RHQ”, “B” and “C” Sqns moved off to a new harbour MR 093742, Sheet 7F/1 at 2300 hours. “A” Sqn which was in reserve will stay behind until called for. The Regt was placed under Comd of 3 CID Inf Bdes, “B” Sqn under 8 CIB and “C” Sqn under 9 CIB.

    Operation Goodwood started July 18. Amazing!

  14. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Why Are Restaurants So Fucked?

    There’s plenty to discuss, but here’s something that caught my eye: “Margins in the restaurant industry are notoriously small. Like tiny, actually. For reference, margins for banking, accounting, and legal services come in around 18–25%, healthcare 12-15%, and software 15–25%. Restaurants? 3–9%. Ya, like single digit”

    In Austrian economics, rates of return tend to equalize, at least in the absence of forcible barriers, but here we have what seems to be a strong exception. Is there something wrong with the theory? With my understanding of the theory?

    I think to some extent people start restaurants because they like the idea of owning a restaurant– it’s doing useful work, you can tell you’re pleasing people, you have control of it, it’s an easily understood sort of business, it’s got a lot of availability bias in its favor… However, I don’t think this explains why the margins in the whole field are that low. Restaurants are getting some of their investment from banks, it’s not just people digging into their own resources of capital and labor.

    • mfm32 says:

      Margins aren’t a good measure of rate of return. Among the many issues with that post is that it doesn’t specify what “margin” it’s referring to (net margin? op margin? cash margin?). It seems like she’s roughly describing operating margin, so I’ll assume that’s what we’re talking about.

      Operating margin basically is the ratio of your profit before financing costs (e.g. interest expense) divided by your revenue. The numerator accurately measures return, but the denominator doesn’t make sense for evaluating economic returns. You use operating margin for things like estimating how the economics of a business will change as you scale revenue up and down.

      To measure return, you’d need to look at return on invested capital or something, which will roughly take the same numerator but divide it by the capital employed, which is closer to the “return” economists talk about. In words, it’s measuring how much money (i.e. return) an investor gets for each dollar of capital invested in the business.

      ROICs are absolutely not uniform across businesses either, and I have no idea where restaurants stack up. Not well I’d guess. It isn’t a good business. But measuring economic return is also really difficult and is not well represented by accounting conventions.

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      Some ideas:

      1. Restaurants don’t have much regulatory capture and rent seeking. The costs of entry aren’t high. This means smaller profits.
      2. Restaurants are in fierce competition with each other, and with people cooking at home.
      3. Restaurants don’t require formal qualifications. People who have a hard time finding work, like felons and immigrants, can still work at restaurants.
      4. The gains from owning a successful restaurant are plausibly mostly non-monetary. Having a hip restaurant gives you social connections, status, access to drugs and young women etc. This means that the financial rewards can be lower.
      5. Tax fraud, money laundering and/or other shady things are rampant so we can’t trust the official numbers.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Sit down restaurants have tended to defy contemporary trends in consolidation for the reasons you stated. In fact, they actually seem more competitive than twenty years ago. I would put more emphasis on consumer preferences though. It’s not that being a restaurant owner is high status. It’s that being a person who frequents a variety of restaurants is. Maybe this whole Coronavirus thing is just causing the market to fall in line with the norm, where a few brands dominate the majority of the market.

        • acymetric says:

          where a few brands dominate the majority of the market.

          Oh good, I wasn’t getting enough of that everywhere else.

        • contemporary trends in consolidation

          Are there such trends? My impression is that first Radio Shack and then IBM had a larger share of the microcomputer market than any firm does now.

          My impression is that it always looks as though such a trend exists, because big firms are more visible than small firms. If the publishing market fragments, due to self-publishing becoming easy, while the book market consolidates, due to Amazon, people notice the latter and conclude that there is a trend towards consolidation.

          If people try naming the largest industries, measured by employment, you tend to get a list heavily biased towards industries with a small number of large firms.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        6. Lots of people want to run a restaurant as a life goal. I don’t get them, but they exist.

        It’s hard to make a living doing something that other people are doing as a money-losing hobby. See also: journalism.

        • oerpli says:

          Since I moved from the city to a more rural area (small city, ~40k) I kind of want to run a restaurant to show how it should be done.

          The cuisine here is comically bad. The best sushi place in reasonable distance that I am ware of is a grocery store ( ). I tried every “Italian” in the city – they were between “good enough when drunk” to “not even that’.

          The spite-store theme from the latest season of Curb resonated with me.

          • Radu Floricica says:

            A couple of friends opened a restaurant in a small town (it was going pretty well until Covid… now they’re screwed). One of the things they complained about was how difficult is to sell “cuisines”. Chinese flopped, and even Italian needs to be toned down. The more niche you go, the harder it is to succeed in a smaller town. Among things I noticed were missing there are a tea shop and a sex shop – but I did the math and realized there’s no point in trying to. Humm… now that I think of it, I wonder if it would be worth doing a “general specialty shop”, that only has products you can’t find anywhere else. But that has the risk of turning into the “international” section at the local hypermarket.

          • SamChevre says:

            This reminds me of going home to rural Kentucky (my family lives there–I grew up in rural Tennessee which is similar).

            There are two grocery stores in town; neither of them sells limes. There is a decent Mexican restaurant, though.

          • I have played with the idea of opening a medieval restaurant, but I’m never going to do it — although if someone else competent to run a restaurant wanted to try it, I would be happy to get involved.

            Speaking of which, as of yesterday I now have a pre-17th century (Persian) recipe for baklava, something I have been looking for for a long time. Sometime this week I’ll probably try to make it.

        • eric23 says:

          Sports, music, acting, etc.

          An exception: programming

          • Viliam says:

            Within programming, people who do boring stuff such as financial apps, make more money than people who do their dream job in the game industry.

            Most programming jobs have little in common with programming as a hobby. Programming as a hobby is about ideas and algorithms. Programming as a job is digital paperwork with lots of meetings. It is like when a person who dreamt about being a writer becomes a secretary, and others are like: “but this is your dream job — you are writing on paper, aren’t you?”

          • toastengineer says:

            Most programming jobs have little in common with programming as a hobby. Programming as a hobby is about ideas and algorithms. Programming as a job is digital paperwork with lots of meetings.

            That’s not the entire truth. Programming jobs are on a spectrum; some people really do have workloads that are 100% “change what it says on the button,” but for most folks you at least sometimes get to actually engage your brain. One might argue that these people aren’t really employed as programmers, just secretaries who know how to read Python.

            Some folks are senior enough and at companies big and in-touch enough that they really don’t ever have to change what it says on the button.

            And of course really smart companies, where management actually gives a damn, allow the programmers to build a system so that she who wants the button changed can change it her own damn self.

          • A nice young lady, the daughter of the woman who has done covers for three of my books, offered to redo the top page of my web site so that it would no longer look twenty years out of date. The one condition I made before accepting the offer was that it end up in a form I could still readily edit for myself.

            Which it did.

    • WoollyAI says:

      Restaurants are getting some of their investment from banks

      I think this is the really interesting part, so I did some digging and here’s my best guess. I’m using the numbers here (scroll down to see the profit and loss statement)

      First, the loan interest comes before profit, or the bank gets paid before the owner. In the example, the bank charges ~$13,000 in interest and charges. If the restaurant has a down period, even if it becomes unprofitable, the bank still gets paid and the owner takes a loss. I guess the bank really doesn’t care how profitable a business is, just that it doesn’t go out of business.

      Second, there’s a lot of debt there. At $13,000 in interest a month, this restaurant must have >$2 million in debt (13000*12/0.06). That matches the anecdotes I’ve heard about debt in the restaurant business. And that’s a nice big loan for the bank. I can’t think of many legal services or accounting services or software companies that would need $2 million in loans to get started and you wouldn’t want to invest in anyone that did.

      So, presuming you only invest in successful restaurants, you get to make relatively large loans and get a nice payday, even if the owners don’t. Sounds pretty nice for banks.

    • Beans says:

      At a personal level, I am finding it hard to care since I have felt that the average restaurant in the US has a shitty quality-to-cost ratio, and I wouldn’t mind if most of them disappeared. At a more general level, though, I do understand that everyone who makes their livelihood in that domain will suffer, which is bad.

      • acymetric says:

        You do understand why those of us who do like frequenting local establishments might not feel the same way, right? I feel like I should link Scott’s “Don’t sound like a robot*” post.

        *I forget the actual title.

        • Beans says:

          You do understand why those of us who do like frequenting local establishments might not feel the same way, right?

          Of course. You’ll notice that nowhere in my post did I say that anyone who disagrees with me is wrong, since I don’t believe that. If you take my comment at face value, you’ll find that I didn’t include an assault on people who might happen to disagree.

        • Yeah, that post presupposes we don’t want to sound like evil robots. But sometimes, as in this comment, I feel like that’s what I’m going for.

      • since I have felt that the average restaurant in the US has a shitty quality-to-cost ratio

        Not my experience. We have multiple local restaurants, ethnicities of various sorts, where we can get a good dinner at about twenty dollars a head, could manage for less if we were making a point of holding down costs.

        Considerably more expensive than when I was a grad student and figured on four dollars for dinner, but that was a long time ago.

        • Beans says:

          If my tastes and circumstances were different, my opinion would probably be different as well. In reality I’m often disappointed, but I might be hard to please.

        • Evan Þ says:

          I agree with you. I’m glad to live in a city where (until last month) I could choose from a broad variety of delicious dinners for less than $20/person. I hope that someday soon I can live in such a city again.

          I expect it’ll happen. There’re a lot of people here in Seattle that love good local restaurants, there’re lots of waiters and cooks now out of work, and (as Edward Scizorhands says upthread) there’re lots of people who for some incomprehensible reason are eager to run a restaurant. Average quality will probably go down for a year or two while bad restaurants get outcompeted, but there’ll be a lot of options, and some of them will be good.

        • Clutzy says:

          $20 a head is not some throwaway. I’m in the camp that if you find that reasonable you are a bit off your rocker.

          • toastengineer says:

            It was closer to $15 back when I lived in Chicago, but that was some time ago. That’s if you order the cheapest thing on the menu and get water to drink.

          • Done that way, I don’t think I would have any trouble holding it down to $15.

          • Clutzy says:

            $15 is decent, but really still egregious when you think about the scale of people most places serve.

            Tonight I made steak and potatoes for 2. Ingredients were probably $12 total. My time spent 30 minutes, intermittent. If you bill at my attorney rates, well, yea its way over $15 a head. But if I was only $15/hour we are already getting down to the $15/plate range, with the caveat that I could have quadrupled the order without increasing my labor time at all.

            TBH, this thread has just made me all the more apoplectic about ever eating out. In the end it seems like I’m paying for 1) Rent at a place I don’t like to be; 2) Service from a server who I don’t like interacting with; and 3) Labor from a mildly skilled person who I can replicate, and often do for fun.

            The only exception to this if deep fried. Which I’d never allow in my house because of the smell. But deep fried chicken is like $5 a head anyways!

          • Evan Þ says:

            That’s why, when I eat out, I order stuff that I don’t have the skill to make at home.

            (Or I’m traveling, or ordering lunch while at work, or in some other place where I practicably can’t cook at home.)

          • John Schilling says:

            If you bill at my attorney rates, well, yea its way over $15 a head. But if I was only $15/hour we are already getting down to the $15/plate range,

            But you’re not a $15/hour laborer, and if you were you probably wouldn’t be eating at those restaurants except on very special occasions. This is a classic case of specialization of labor. Also efficient use of capital, because as a $15/hr laborer you probably don’t have as well-equipped a kitchen as a good restaurant, and if you do as an attorney it is an inefficient extravagance that is sitting idle most of the time.

          • Clutzy says:

            That’s why, when I eat out, I order stuff that I don’t have the skill to make at home.

            As time goes on the probability of this dish existing approaches zero. The cost per head equivalent I’d estimate for my cooking at a Chicago restaurant would be ~$50-70 a head, without booze. Maybe I overrate my cooking because it is perfectly tuned to my tastes, or maybe I am good. IDK. But certainly the only difference I can find between my cooking and a place like Prime 112 is I don’t buy rib eye. Or most sushi places. I don’t buy that grade of tuna.

            Now there are some sushi places that beat me by quite a bit. They have delightful rice and craftsmanship, etc. Those places are like $100 a head+. Pre liquor.

            But you’re not a $15/hour laborer, and if you were you probably wouldn’t be eating at those restaurants except on very special occasions. This is a classic case of specialization of labor. Also efficient use of capital, because as a $15/hr laborer you probably don’t have as well-equipped a kitchen as a good restaurant, and if you do as an attorney it is an inefficient extravagance that is sitting idle most of the time.

            Kind of. TBH, as I’ve indicated above, most restaurants don’t appear to me as all that skilled or specialized. I think I indicated elsewhere that this is mostly the model of them, that they have marginal laborers.

    • Erusian says:

      Margins in the context of this article are not profits or owner benefit (which is profits plus what owners pay themselves). He’s talking about operating margins, which means how much money the business has after covering its basic expenses. That additional money is used for a variety of purposes, including paying investors and owners but also things like reinvesting in the business. Or, say, paying your employees to stay home during a crisis.

      The fundamental argument is that the restaurant industry is especially screwed not because it’s a bad investment but because they have thin gross margins, which means they have less room to absorb shocks without cutting into vital things like employee salaries or the cost of the ingredients. There’s a similar argument to be made about airlines, for example.

      The net profit margins are more stable across industries and tend to be lower: almost always below 10% except for industries with high barriers and software. Restaurants are actually slightly above average in this regard, though to some extent they’re part of the principle that percent returns tend to get better as absolute returns get smaller. (Ie, if you buy popsicles for $1 and sell them for $2 at state fairs you’ve got a 100% return. But you’ve only made $1 in a non-scalable model, so Wall Street isn’t exactly knocking down your door.)

      Further, you misunderstand how returns on capital are set. Capital “dumbly” seeks out the best return. It doesn’t care if that return comes from dividends or stock price increases or profit sharing. This means that there’s not necessarily a strong relationship between a company’s margins or even return on equity and its return on investment. Amazon has an awful operating margin and has never paid a dividend but the company’s value (and thus stock prices) keep going up, so it has no trouble raising capital.

      The Austrian school’s argument that over time and in the absence returns tend to stabilize is thus sort of true empirically: the returns on investment tends to stabilize. But it doesn’t predict (and it isn’t true) that the gross margins will stabilize. Gross margins will not be the same across industries and shouldn’t be expected to be, even in perfect competition.

      • The Austrian school’s argument that over time and in the absence returns tend to stabilize

        Why do both of you, and Thomas in his comment as well, keep identifying neoclassical economics with Austrian economics? The Austrian school was an important element in the early development of neoclassical economics and there has been something of an Austrian revival in the past couple of decades, driven in part by libertarians, but it is still a fairly small part of neoclassical economics, and the things you are saying are not special to it.

        • Erusian says:

          Because Nancy’s question was about the implications on the Austrian school. Contextualizing the Austrian school is important for a deeper understanding of economics but it’s not important for clarifying Nancy’s misunderstanding of the claims in the article and its implications for economic theory. Her mistake has more to do with accounting than economics, mixing up gross margins and return on investment.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          In the specific, because that is the question asked, in the general case, because most people who are neo-classical economics followers fall under the heading of Keynes “people who believe themselves entirely practical men, who are in fact the serf of some defunct economist”, while the austrians generally proudly proclaim their allegiance.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Austrian economics is just wrong. It is pretty much the most goddamn useless school of economics anyone takes seriously, and people only take it seriously because it is politically useful for top down class war. Mirror image of marxism

    • The rate of return that tends to equalize is the return on capital, which should tend to the market interest rate, meaning that economic profit, which is net of all costs, including the opportunity cost of the capital, tends to zero. That isn’t what’s being measured here.

      And that’s true for neoclassical economics in general, not just for the Austrian variant.

      • bullseye says:

        It’s in Adam Smith too, though he called it “profits from stock”. I had assumed it was a general feature of economics, rather than any particular school.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      A controversial take on: restaurants are so fucked because so many of their owners are so oh-so-passionate about food, and don’t spend any time thinking about everything else that goes into a restaurant, including but not limited to, the actual people who are going to pay money for that food.

      In e.g. the software industry, if you say to literally anyone that you’ve just invented a new compression machine learning algorithm and going to build a startup around it, people will immediately start asking you – how are you going to monetize? Who’s going to buy it, how and why? Where do you get new customers? How does it scale? School kids know that having a great technical solution worth nothing, and how you actually sell it worth everything.

      If the author to be believed, they went into business having a very precise formula for what an ideal döner is, but no clue that operational costs is a thing that exists. The restaurant industry is where even 6 weeks into the quarantine (and 3 decades into the internet era, mind you) many businesses still don’t have online ordering, or even menu, or they outsource it to grubhub and the like from, well, the software industry – for a large cut from order price, I hear. And where most “build-your-own-sandwich/bowl/salad/whatever” places don’t have default options which looks to me exactly like systematically missing a 100 dollars bill lying on the road. Not to mention the fact that the American restaurateurs, at least below a certain surprisingly high price level, seem to be largely unfamiliar with the concept of decor (you now, that thing where you put things on the walls, tables and floor to make the place look better – and don’t tell me about the price, I can find a freaking hand-painted Baphomet statue on amazon for 30 bucks). When I’m buying a movie online, I can choose between having a standalone subscription, subscription bundled with other services, buying a single movie, renting a single movie, or watching it for free along with a shitton of ads (yes the latter usually is piracy; a business model nevertheless). When I go – ahem, went – out for a dinner, I can’t so much as choose between the tips being or not being included in the price. Although now if I order online I can opt for somewhat less convenience and no tips – thanks to, who would’ve guessed, the software industry.

      So in my uncharitable but firm opinion the restaurant industry has been putting zero effort to improve anything but food taste (not claiming whether it has improved or not, I’m just not sophisticated enough eater to judge), should’ve seen this coming and has zero rights to complain.

      • Eric Rall says:

        Restaurants also typically are started with the founders’ own money (or with a bank loan to the founder against the founder’s personal assets, which isn’t much better), which is directly contrary to the software industry’s conventional wisdom that you should never start a business with your own money beyond the stage where it’s 1-2 people working in their spare time on their personal computers to put together a business plan and a proof-of-concept technology demo.

        There are two big reasons for this conventional wisdom. The first is that as a startup founder, you’re already risking enormous amounts of your time and effort on the business even if you aren’t putting up your money as well. The second is a sanity check: if you can’t persuade anyone else to risk their money on your business, then that’s a credible signal that your business isn’t as viable as you think it is.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Software start-ups are very unlike most other new business enterprises. Software start-ups are pouring most of their money into salaries, while other businesses need cash to get essential physical equipment.

      • acymetric says:

        should’ve seen this coming and has zero rights to complain.

        They should have seen a government shut down coming? Not buying it.

        • AlexOfUrals says:

          No, many other things. That the less diverse the industry is, the harder it’ll be hit by pretty much any negative changes, and the less able to exploit any positive changes. That operating on paper-thin margins puts you at great risk and putting more meat or having better crusted bread on your doner isn’t the only way to increase customer loyalty (thus justifying higher prices and getting higher margins). That if you ignore obvious gaping holes in your business model begging for optimization, someone else is going to see them, close them and take the money for it. That you can’t just assume you already know what your customers want, but instead need to think about it for a while or even – gasp! – go out and ask them. Also that if your startup idea is a good candidate for the title of “the least imaginative business idea of the century”, the field might be a little too crowded, and a little too many of you are likely to go down when any crisis hits.

          • acymetric says:

            I don’t know if you have some kind of bias here, but you seem a little too hostile (almost angry) towards restaurants for your evaluation to really land. That wasn’t your intended tone, but you might want to dial it back if you want anyone to take your comments seriously. Right now it mostly sounds like a restaurant owner kicked your dog or something.

          • @Alex:

            Have you successfully started a restaurant? If not, why do you believe that you know how to do it better than the people who have tried?

          • acymetric says:

            Too late to edit, but it’s going to bug me. That should read “Maybe that wasn’t your intended tone, but…”

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            Sorry that’s probably the cultural differences – I’m from Russia, where it’s much more accepted to be openly critical about (real or perceived) incompetence of others. So apparently in English I came off as angry rather than just astonished. I do understand that since it’s me who wanted to come into this culture and not the other way around, it’s none’s duty but mine to make sure I’m understood properly, but some subtleties are harder to get right than grammar. So again, apologize for unintentionally being too harsh and thank you for the correction. With that said, I think that a substantial answer in addition to the tone correction would’ve been more conductive to the quality of the discussion than the correction alone.

            No, and I don’t believe any such thing. I just genuinely don’t understand why all these things aren’t fixed everywhere, even though in most cases people from outside and/or some restaurants in some places were quite able to fix them. Maybe there’s some deep reasons, maybe it’s just many (not all!) owners being not very good at what they are doing, probably both. “Being able to tell an obvious flaw in X” is not at all the same as “being able to do X as good as one making that obvious flaw” – see e.g. laypeople criticizing any mediocre piece of art or software ever created.

          • “Being able to tell an obvious flaw in X” is not at all the same as “being able to do X as good as one making that obvious flaw”

            That’s true. But to know that the way a firm is doing business is a mistake, you have to know enough about how it should be doing business to recognize it as a mistake. The clearest evidence available to an outsider that you meet that requirement is if you have done X successfully.

            That doesn’t apply if “do X” requires some unusual ability, such as extraordinary coordination, or height, or voice, so in those cases it’s hard to provide such evidence.

            There are a variety of contexts where it looks to me as though firms are making a mistake. But if lots of them are doing it, a more likely explanation is that I am missing something. If it were obvious enough that an outsider could spot it many insiders would have spotted it, altered what they were doing, succeeded, and been imitated by the rest.

            Once in a while that argument turns out to be wrong, but it isn’t the way to bet. It isn’t the anger I’m reacting to, it’s the arrogance.

          • Clutzy says:

            I think the answer is obvious. Restaurants get by because they can, most of the time, and they exist (mostly) kind of at the fringe of society. They employ marginal workers and via experience turn them into decently productive workers, but in a captured industry so wages don’t tend to explode when a person becomes good at the job.

            So you employ all these felons, drug addicts, ect, at minimum wage, and you get a nice return, so long as the felons don’t unionize (as if) and there is no catastrophe (and if that happens you wait it out in bankruptcy and start over with the funds you banked).

          • acymetric says:

            So you employ all these felons, drug addicts, ect, at minimum wage,

            I think you are significantly overestimating the % of food service workers who are felons or drug addicts, although a brief Google search didn’t turn up an immediate numbers.

            Most of them are just regular people who don’t have the skill, desire, or need to work a more advanced job (and for some at very busy or high end restaurants, they would have to take a pay cut to do so anyway).

          • Clutzy says:

            Most of them are just regular people who don’t have the skill, desire, or need to work a more advanced job (and for some at very busy or high end restaurants, they would have to take a pay cut to do so anyway).

            Perhaps. Chopped and other food network shows say otherwise, but even if its just C students that barely graduated high school it doesn’t change my mental model.

            The high end restaurants have almost nothing in common with regular ones. Those do actually have outside investors, decent margins, and well paid staff.

      • Aapje says:


        I think that restaurateurs generally get bad feedback from customers. They typically demand more choice, but actually doing so means less fresh ingredients, worse dishes on the menu and a vague menu. The latter means that the restaurant stops being the go to place for X.

  15. I’ve been thinking about the effect of the pandemic on restaurants. Assuming that social distancing remains for a fair while, a restaurant of a given size will be able to seat fewer people, even after allowing members of a household to sit together. So we might see a new equilibrium in which the number of restaurants remains about what it was but the number of person meals goes sharply down, with each restaurant scaling down how many people it serves and how many it employs. Also, of course, an increase in restaurants producing meals for takeout.

    That would presumably result in an increase in prices, since rent per customer is now higher and some economies of scale are lost. On the other hand, restaurants currently vary a lot in size, which suggests that economies of scale are not all that important.

    • acymetric says:

      I think it would require an increase in prices too large for them to remain viable (people aren’t going to drop $30 for 10 wings at the local sports bar). Restaurants depend on peak hours, and labor costs for waitstaff basically round down to zero so reducing staff doesn’t get you very far.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        …No. Labor costs for wait staff are kept off the books of the business via the tipping system. In the US, and pretty much only the US. The percentage customarily tipped is thus what the waitstaff overhead is.

        I do, however, think this is not where the pain will land. The pain will land on landlords. If restaurants cant earn as much per square meter, then demand will go down (via restaurants going out of business) until landlords buckle and set the rent to something the market can bear, at which point new restaurateurs employing the same chefs and so on will appear out of thin air.

        • acymetric says:

          …No. Labor costs for wait staff are kept off the books of the business via the tipping system. In the US, and pretty much only the US. The percentage customarily tipped is thus what the waitstaff overhead is.

          Yes, I know that’s how it is done in the US, that’s what I’m talking about. The restaurant doesn’t pay the tips, hence reducing the number of waiters doesn’t reduce the operating costs for the restaurant. Tips are per order, not per waitstaff/hour anyway (so the tip amount is going to be the same whether you have 1 waiter running all the tables or 10 of them). I’m not sure I understand how you could disagree with that.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            .. Tips being off the books of the restaurant is entirely irrelevant when it comes to considering what cost increases the market will bear.
            The average potential customer considering whether to eat out will make that decision based on the cost of doing so inclusive of tips.

          • acymetric says:

            But is wholly irrelevant when looking at how a restaurant can cut costs, which is what I’m talking about.

            The market won’t bear nearly enough of a price increase for it to offset the loss of 50% volume, so the question is “can the restaurants cut costs enough to stay afloat” and the answer is probably not because so many of the costs are fixed. Reducing waitstaff doesn’t change that because tips are per customer, not per staff member.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Wrong. Tips are per staff member, because they have to be high enough to support said staff member. Fewer customers, and either the restaurant has to move some of that cost onto the books by actually paying them real wages or the “customary” tip goes up.

          • acymetric says:

            That is all very relevant to whether it will be worth it to work as a server. It is not relevant to a discussion about how a restaurant can cut costs to turn a profit (they can’t) when doing 50% volume long term (they can’t).

            and either the restaurant has to move some of that cost onto the books by actually paying them real wages or the “customary” tip goes up.

            Restaurants (in the US) aren’t going to start paying more any time soon, and people aren’t suddenly going to start tipping more in an economic crisis either. But it doesn’t matter, because again all the speaks to is how lucrative it will be to be a server which isn’t what I’m talking about (so, unsurprisingly, I wasn’t addressing it).

          • It is not relevant to a discussion about how a restaurant can cut costs to turn a profit (they can’t) when doing 50% volume long term (they can’t).

            The only cost I can think of that is proportional to the number of square feet per customer, which is what is changing, is rent. Everything else — ingredients, salary for cooks, and the like — roughly scales with the number of customers.

            The evidence for that is that large restaurants are not, at least in my experience, consistently less expensive or better quality at the price than small ones.

            So a restaurant that used to seat a hundred and now seats fifty ends up with the same costs as a restaurant half the size used to have — except for rent — and half the revenue, plus whatever it gets by prices going up.

          • acymetric says:


            The only cost I can think of that is proportional to the number of square feet per customer, which is what is changing, is rent. Everything else — ingredients, salary for cooks, and the like — roughly scales with the number of customers.

            I can think of two others: utility bills (very confident) and insurance (somewhat confident, I don’t know enough about how insurance at a restaurant is set up or how the premiums are determined).

            I’m also not completely sure that cooks scale quite that well. My guess is that you can’t reduce kitchen staff by 50% when business is down 50% just because of the nature of how kitchens run (there is kind of a floor, as one or two people can’t do everything even when things are slow).

            You’re also didn’t mention loan payments, which most restaurants are going to have. It is entirely possible that 50% of previous revenue isn’t enough to cover rent/bills/loan payments even if we ignore everything else.

            Also various legal fees, accounting, salary if there is a salaried manager (I suppose this salary could be cut or the person could be let go entirely, but just another one I thought of).

            plus whatever it gets by prices going up.

            I continue to believe that people won’t tolerate any meaningful increase in prices. Doubly so now that they remember they can eat at home.

          • Dack says:


            Restaurants (in the US) aren’t going to start paying more any time soon, and people aren’t suddenly going to start tipping more in an economic crisis either.

            I just tipped my pizza delivery guy about double what I normally would.

    • Elephant says:

      Somewhat related: I have always wondered why restaurants that offer both takeout and sit-down service don’t have lower prices for takeout. It’s very rare to see, for example, an item with two different prices, one for sit-down and one for takeout. (Services like doordash extract 25% of the cost, if I remember correctly, so in a sense the restaurants are charging less, but the customer doesn’t see this. And in any case, there’s rarely a discount for the customer personally picking things up.)
      The answer to this should be relevant to David Friedman’s question of whether restaurant prices in general would go up or down, with fewer people per restaurant.

      • Lambert says:

        > It’s very rare to see, for example, an item with two different prices, one for sit-down and one for takeout.

        Must be nice to live somewhere where food is taxed sanely.

      • zoozoc says:

        Well whenever I get takeout I do not tip, so in that case it is ~15% cheaper than eating at the restaurant. But maybe I am a bad person for doing so.

  16. Vermillion says:

    So, can a clever programmer type soon explain this:

    On the scale from something to nothing to worry about.

    • Elephant says:

      This seems like a modern version of genetic programming (wikipedia), which has existed for decades. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be worried about, but I’ll list my level as “zero.”

    • toastengineer says:

      0% worried. This is a very very old technique that we didn’t used to have the computational horsepower to actually pull off until now. This is a much better explanation of the same thing. All the editorializing on top of that is 100% bullshit.

    • matkoniecz says:

      right now it’s only capable of producing simple AI systems, but the researchers think the complexity can be scaled up rather rapidly.

      So it is a traditional AI puffery, combined with “give me funding”.

      I propose to mention also big data and blockchains.

      “While most people were taking baby steps, [the researchers] took a giant leap into the unknown,”

      [citation needed]

      What is actually new here? I see no evidence in article that it used new technique or that it is actually better at its task than alternative or human.

  17. proyas says:

    Instead of anguishing over how to deal with turnstile jumpers, why doesn’t the NY subway system install the cagelike, floor-to-ceiling turnstiles at all its stations? They can’t be jumped. Problem solved.

    If, for some reason, a patron couldn’t use that type of turnstile (say, because they were wheelchair-bound or had a big luggage), they talk to a subway worker at the station, and he or she would electronically open a wide door that would be alongside the turnstiles.

    • Kaitian says:

      It could be something like fire codes or crowd management. Maybe the fact that the turnstiles can be jumped is important for safety. (also you can’t get stuck in one, which would create a queue and maybe some panic)

    • brad says:

      Some stations and parts of stations do have those, but they have less bandwidth (and I find them claustrophobic).

    • BBA says:

      London-style mechanical gates would be less intrusive and pretty difficult to jump.

      In the other direction, many transit systems in Northern and Central Europe don’t have turnstiles at all, and rely on periodic spot checks by employees to make sure everybody has a ticket. This obviously wouldn’t fly in New York (though the MTA is trying something like it on some bus lines) but it’s puzzling why the likes of Munich and Prague can go without turnstiles while supposedly rule-abiding East Asian countries feel the need to put physical barriers in place.

      • The system in Madrid was odd.

        I bought a ticket from station A to station B. I couldn’t use it from station B to station A because the turnstile at B would not accept it. But there is no check of the ticket when I get off, so I could use it from A to any station in the system. And the price of a ticket from B to A is the same as one from A to B.

        I gather that when you buy a bunch of tickets they are unrestricted. But when you buy one ticket, the machine wants to know where you are getting on and where you are getting off, although the latter will not be checked.

      • Lambert says:

        What I saw in Germany were mass-transit systems where the majority of users bought season tickets which let them travel for free. Only a small fraction of journeys were paid for individually, so there’s little incentive to turnstile-jump.

        • Garrett says:

          When I visited, I was terrified when I got onto the train because I couldn’t find the place to put the ticket. I was worried I did something wrong. And being thrown into an East German prison was not what I was looking forward to dealing with.

      • KieferO says:

        When I visited Prague and took mass transit, I got the sense that it wasn’t rule abidingness, but fear that kept the whole thing together. That it was a very rational risk-reward calculation that drove behavior. In the time that I was there, I took the metro maybe a couple dozen times. On one of those there was a ticket check, and they happened to haul someone off the tram. I’m very certain that the experience was designed to make me think that avoiding whatever happened to them was worth paying the fare 1000 times out of 1000.

    • eric23 says:

      Turnstiles are much slower to operate. Throughput of passengers at the station entrance/exit is a major constraint on system capacity.

      Also, the amount of money lost by turnstile jumping is small, relatively speaking. The cost of installing and maintaining fancy exits may outweigh the gains in fare collection. There are even transit experts who recommend removing fare gates entirely, and enforcing payment solely by “proof of payment” and random checks and fines.

  18. Ohforfs says:

    EDIT – that was supposed to go under David Friedman World War II analogy to pandemic economic situation. Well, i messed up.

    Hm. It reminds me of a post i read somewhere else and found quite interesting. It might interest people here, too. (it’s quite long although not Scott-long)


    I’m sorry to get all professorial on you, but maybe this needs baby steps to explain.

    Demand & Supply

    First off, to be clear, GDP means the quantity of total goods produced and sold in an economy. “Sold” means a transaction – there is a demander and there is a supplier. It is a two-sided thing, not a one-sided thing.

    Remember definitions:

    Demand = total quantity buyers (be they consumers, firms, or government) are willing and able to buy.
    Supply = total quality producers are willing and able to produce and sell.

    What is deficient at this moment is not the willingness or ability to buy, but the ABILITY TO PRODUCE and the ABILITY TO SELL.

    Firms cannot produce because workers aren’t allowed to show up for work. Firms cannot sell because shops are not allowed to open. THAT is the problem we have. It is not lack of demand, it is lack of supply.

    Does that make sense?

    Demand & Supply Shocks

    Let’s take it to another level. Again, forgive the pedantry, but sit down for a moment with with a conventional S&D diagram.

    Economic downturns means GDP goes down – that’s a decline in the amount of total goods produced and sold. You measure that on the horizontal quantity axis.

    There are two ways quantity sold suddenly declines from your initial position – either (1) there is less demand (demand curve shifts left) or (2) there is less supply (supply curve shifts left). They have independent causes.

    (1) Demand shock – this is the conventional case in many recessions. Demand suddenly declines because of e.g. lack of consumer confidence, wealth declines (people try to save more to make up for it), rising interest rates (firms shelve investment spending), tax increases, cuts in government spending, or rising exchange rates (prefer to import).

    The 2001* & 2008 recessions were conventional demand shocks from evaporating wealth (stock market in 2001 & real estate market in 2008 going belly up) and (in 2008) rising interest rates (in a liquidity crunch), prompting people to suddenly try to save more and firms to cut back projects.

    (* – the channel for the 2001 recession is actually trickier; in my estimation, the channel by which it hit was initially via supply. I can get into more details why, but essentially during the dot-com bubble a lot of workers and capitalists were underpaid, foregoing real wages and profits to ride on the stock market’s rising value, until reality hit).

    (2) Supply shock – this is the cause of both of the recessions of the 1970s. Supply shocks are typically caused by suddenly rising costs, e.g. energy price spikes, bad harvests, unexpectedly high wage or profit demands, etc.

    What we have here is a supply shock. Firms cannot stay open, they cannot produce, they cannot pay people enough to produce because people are forbidden from showing up at their job. This is a massive supply shock.

    In a demand-driven downturn, goods would be piling unsold, and firms would have their warehouses filling up. That’s not the case here. Goods aren’t piling up unsold. Goods aren’t being produced to begin with. It is not for lack of consumer orders – orders are there, but workers aren’t showing up to work.

    You respond to demand-shock and supply-shocks differently. The number one lesson from the 1970s is that you don’t respond to supply-driven recessions by increasing demand – you just end up with stagflation, i.e. inflation and unemployment.

    How can you tell?

    Now let’s take this another step further. Granted that GDP downturns can be caused by either demand shocks or supply shocks, how do you, in practical terms, tell the difference?

    If you only look at GDP (i.e. quantity), you can’t. Both demand and supply shocks drive GDP down. But there is an additional clue: prices.

    Do this diagramatically. Let’s go two steps:

    (1) Suppose there is a demand-driven recession (like in say 2008). Demand curve shifts left – diagramatically, both quantity and price goes down.

    (2) Suppose there is a supply-driven recession (like in say 1978). Supply curve shifts left – diagramatically, quantity goes down but price goes up.

    So looking at GDP and CPI simultaneously give us a clue to the situation we’re in. Are prices declining? We don’t know yet – as the BLS has not yet measured CPI yet (and it is going to be tough to measure, since the BLS uses real store shelf prices to measure CPI, but if stores are closed, not sure how they’re going to adjust their methods. EDIT: just checked, BLS’s website is down for maintenance for the day, LOL). But at least in online stores, it is apparent that prices are not falling. Firms are desperate to keep up with orders, they aren’t trying to get rid of accumulating unsold items. This isn’t a demand-driven recession.

    Granted, it is all very fuzzy in that we have yet to measure it, and there is panic buying, adjustment of habits, etc. But certainly demand is not the immediate problem.

    But there is an immediate clue we see that we don’t need to actually measure: factories are shut, shops are closed. That is by order of the authorities. If you’re confused, I remind: supply is the producers willingness & ABILITY to produce & sell. We don’t need to wait for CPI measures to see that firms are having a production & selling problem that is entirely due to artificial restrictions has NOTHING to do with the amount of consumer orders they’re getting.

    How do you respond?

    As I averred to earlier, once you decipher the nature of the downturn, you should respond according to it.

    (1) Suppose you have a demand-driven recession. Demand curve shifts left (quantity & price declines). Suppose government responds to it by typical demand boosting – lowering interest rates, lowering taxes, increasing government spending, etc. Then demand curve shifts right (quantity & price increases). We compensate the recession exactly, and we return quantity & price to where they were before. This is the right thing to do in this situation.

    (2) Suppose you have a supply-driven recession. Supply curve shifts left (quantity declines & price increases). Suppose government responds to it the same way (boosting demand, quantity increases & prices increases again). So it is responding to a supply shift with a demand shift. We are not compensating shifts exactly, we are not returning to where the situation was before – we might restore quantity, but prices will be twice as high as before. We get the start of inflation. Or at least a one-time increase in prices. This is the wrong thing to do in this situation.

    In real terms are people better off? Probably not. Quantity may be returned, but their purchasing power is declining because of your attempt to respond to it via demand-boosting. The usual inflationary mechanism goes into motion. Even if quantity is restored, my real wages are lower, so I will demand a wage increase to make up for higher prices.

    Those higher wages now constitute an additional supply shock to firms – they will respond to rising wage costs as they normally do, by lay-offs and curbing production. So once again, supply curve goes down and quantity declines (& prices go up some more). Once again government needs to respond again. If it responds again by raising demand, that raises quantity again (& prices even more). My real wages are now lower than before, once more I demand my wages be adjusted for inflation, etc.

    By responding to the initial supply shock wrongly, the government is setting inflation in motion, an acceleration mechanism when prices start climbing setting off a chain of additional supply shocks. And if it responds in the same kind again, inflation just accelerates further while quantity just stagnates. You’re forced run twice or thrice as fast in a desperate attempt just to remain in the same place. (diagramatically, think of it as a series of supply curve shifts to the left followed by a series of demand curve shifts to the right. Q remains in place, but P rises continuously)

    At some point, inflation expectations set in and begin to be written into wage contracts. At that point, the dance is over – you’re not even having any effect on quantity anymore. Demand-boosting policy reactions are counteracted by supply shifts before they can even begin. Quantity now falls permanently – you can’t prevent unemployment from rising while inflation becomes permanent, i.e. stagflation.

    That’s the 1970s in a nutshell for you.

    Lesson: don’t make the initial mistake. Diagnose the problem correctly before you respond to it. Think before you act. Be functional – tailor your response to the nature of the problem.

    Basic Econ 101. I hope this makes sense.

    You seem to be arguing against a strawman that supports UBI and nothing else.

    Which is very odd, who exactly do you think is suggesting such a thing? Just because it doesn’t solve every issue does not mean it wouldn’t be very much needed, just as a component of a larger economic stimulus that attacks the issue from multiple angles.
    That’s what’s in this bill. And should not be in the bill.

    It is $1 trillion poorly spent – two-thirds completely wasted, one-third barely worth it. If you transferred that two-thirds to bulk up the one-third that need it, e.g. actually pay wages of the suddenly unemployed and to support small businesses that have been forced to shut down, you would at least give relief. This way it accomplishes nothing.

    Two-thirds of that trillion is going to people like me. There’s no reason to give me $1,000. I am employed, I can work from home, I have more than enough money to spend, there’s no reason to give me any more money. It does nothing for businesses in my neighborhood – I cannot buy more, because they cannot open.

    A windfall of an extra $1,000 just means I will bid up the price of toilet paper online, and set us down the road to inflation.

    What I suspect is driving the supporters of the this bill – I mean the real supporters, not folks like you who are simply confused about economics – is a desire to prop up the stock market. It is because they hope people like me, people who don’t need it and who cannot spend the money on goods and services because goods are services are not to be, will use it to buy stocks. What else am I going to do with the money? It is either bidding for toilet paper or bidding for stocks.

    This is a massive indirect way the government can undertake a large purchase of stocks.

    This is a poorly-thought response to the current crisis. It’s aim (and certainly its effect) will be merely to boost the stock market and prop up the wealth of capitalists. Because rising stock prices do nothing for most firms at the moment – under current conditions, when they are operating far under capacity (if at all), they are not going to suddenly expanding capacity and hiring people that are not allowed show up for work.

    Now, you may argue it is preventive – in the sense, that falling stocks may make middle class bourgeois (*grumble, vile greedy grumble*) timid sometime in the future, and so at least by using massive amounts of tax money to prop up their wealth portfolios means they won’t (sometime in the future) get worried about their savings and start saving more (i.e. a real demand decline). But we’re not even close to that yet.

    What we have now, what we have immediately, is a serious supply shock, that needs to be addressed directly. And this scheme constitutes an erroneous demand-response that is not addressing what is going on, and indeed setting things in the wrong direction.

  19. AlesZiegler says:

    So, I´ve read in the comments on the post failure of something else than predictions that some of you regular commenters (i am looking especially at you, The Nybbler) think that lockdowns will stay in place for a long time despite their (supposedly) limited effectiveness, because government officials are enjoying their new found authoritarian powers. I find this line of reasoning unpersuasive, to say at least. Shutdown of almost the whole entertainment industry is dangerous for the governments that ordered it; bored and stressed masses will became restless very quickly. Unless it is extremely obvious that ending the lockdowns now will lead to giant pile of dead bodies, public defiance will grow fast.

    So in an effort to catch you (or myself) for future purposes, is anyone willing to go on record to predict that current level of lockdown measures or worse will be in place a year from now? Or how plausible it is?

    I am 90 % confident that a year from now, anti epidemic restrictions on public behavior will be less strict than now in both the EU and the US. That includes the possibility of completely different plague happening in the meantime.

    • Christophe Biocca says:

      Shutdown of almost the whole entertainment industry is dangerous for the governments that ordered it

      It obviously varies by region but here in Ontario the (government-owned) liquor and cannabis stores were considered essential services (recently the cannabis stores were taken off the list, but you can still order online). Netflix/TV are still a thing. Tons of people walking outside (it’s allowed, not people defying rules).

      FWIW I generally agree with your 1-year outlook, but mostly because the public pressure to end the lockdowns will keep climbing over time. The one I’d be most interested in getting predictions is when offices/factories (workplaces without visiting customers) will be generally allowed to reopen. That one is the biggest harm to long-term growth. And I think there’s a decent chance most US states will leave those workplaces closed at least until the boosted unemployment benefits run out.

      • acymetric says:

        I posted this elsewhere, but I think this whole ordeal could be a catalyst for legalizing marijuana in the US.

    • The Nybbler says:

      So, I´ve read in the comments on the post failure of something else than predictions that some of you regular commenters (i am looking especially at you, The Nybbler) think that lockdowns will stay in place for a long time despite their (supposedly) limited effectiveness, because government officials are enjoying their new found authoritarian powers. I find this line of reasoning unpersuasive, to say at least.

      Here, on April 16 we have Governor Cuomo extending the lockdowns until May 15. Despite deaths apparently having plateaued or peaked.

      Unless it is extremely obvious that ending the lockdowns now will lead to giant pile of dead bodies, public defiance will grow fast.

      And public defiance will be met with untrammeled government force, for a while. As the Raleigh, NC police put it, “protest is not an essential activity”.

      It might take uncontrollable rioting to get things unstuck.

      So in an effort to catch you (or myself) for future purposes, is anyone willing to go on record to predict that current level of lockdown measures or worse will be in place a year from now? Or how plausible it is?

      A year? No, they can’t hold it for a year, because there will be riots. Also the Feds can’t shower money on the unemployed that long, state and local tax revenues will collapse, and it’ll start looking very bad for the governors. But I don’t trust them to pay attention to this until someone hits them with the proverbial 2×4. NJs governor is trying to take advantage by having a bill passed to give him a blank check to borrow against future sales tax revenue (complete with a promise to raise rates to whatever is necessary to pay the bondholders)

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Every part of this reasoning is terrible. Both the attributed motives, and the predicted reasoning for lifting the restrictions.

      Restrictions will stay in place until some measure or other can be put in place that will limit the impact of lifting them. This does not have to be a vaccine, the minimum-possible-intervention is probably something like “we have made 7 n95 masks for every single citizen, and stamped them monday, tuesday, ect”, rotate through them”, which is a thing which is certain to be doable. A treatment regime could also happen, or just enormous amounts of testing capacity coming online. But things will stay locked down until there is something people can point to and say “This is why it is now not reckless to lift them”.

      • Anteros says:

        Lock down measures are being lifted in half a dozen European countries – is the US different enough (cases, death rates, lockdown measures, government mandate etc etc) for this not to happen State-side in a week or two?

        There hasn’t been the chafing in Europe that there has been in the US – I guess we’re a bit more sheeple-like – but the governments have gone ahead and given us tiny bits of our freedom back anyway. We didn’t even have to moan!

        • The Nybbler says:

          is the US different enough (cases, death rates, lockdown measures, government mandate etc etc) for this not to happen State-side in a week or two?

          As I said above, New York Governor Cuomo has already extended this to May 15. And restrictions in NJ (which generally follow NY by a day or two, because our governor has decided he likes being a puppet on Cuomo’s string) have been increasing as well. Michigan has been even worse, to the point where the governor is actually getting open defiance by other elected officials.

        • eric23 says:

          In Germany, new cases per day are 1/3 of what they were at the peak. In the US, new cases per day has plateaued rather than dropped. Cases will have to drop significantly before the US can loosen up.

          • The Nybbler says:

            New cases are meaningless. They reflect only testing artifacts.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            New cases aren’t meaningless, even when under testing. They reflect the minimum of how the infection is spreading. There are many curves of presently infected that will fit over new cases, but none that will fit under.

            The longer we are in a plateau, the more we eliminate potential (smaller) curves.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There are many curves of presently infected that will fit over new cases, but none that will fit under.

            There are infinitely many curves of presently infected that will fit over new confirmed cases, and there’s no reason to believe the real one has a shape similar to the new confirmed case curve.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            There are infinitely many curves of presently infected that will fit over new confirmed cases

            This is a) literally false, as there are a finite number of humans on the planet, and b) essentially false, as we have bounds on R0, how many infections turn into symptomatic and hospitalized cases, and how many turn into deaths.

          • The Nybbler says:

            All those bounds we have are quite wide.

            We see deaths plateauing in the US at the same new confirmed cases are, which makes little sense. As long as we have far more cases than we have testing, new cases can remain at a plateau despite having peaked some time ago.

            Also using the US as a whole is a bad idea; a far better model would be several separate outbreaks.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I don’t see any solid signal that daily deaths are plateauing.

            I agree that the US is too fractured to expect a smooth nationwide signal. Given that NY does have a semi solid signal of being past the first peak, it’s even more concerning that overall the US doesn’t show that same signal.

          • acymetric says:

            New York may have peaked earlier because it is so much denser? Just pure speculation, but it makes sense intuitively.

            Could also be that once New York started really getting hit people started being extra careful about it. Most places in the US just haven’t been hit that hard, so people can’t really “see” it (seeing it happening in NY on the news just doesn’t quite hit home for people 2,000 miles away that don’t even know anyone who has gotten sick yet).

          • Del Cotter says:

            New York hasn’t peaked earlier except in calendar terms. It’s the second oldest outbreak after Washington state, so it’s more days along, about 28 since third death. Other states haven’t reached Day 28 yet, but may plateau at their Day 28 too.

          • There are infinitely many curves of presently infected that will fit over new confirmed cases

            This is a) literally false, as there are a finite number of humans on the planet

            Time, however, is a continuous variable. So with sufficiently accurate information …

    • John Schilling says:

      So in an effort to catch you (or myself) for future purposes, is anyone willing to go on record to predict that current level of lockdown measures or worse will be in place a year from now?

      You’re sort of asking two different questions here, because “lockdown will be in place a year from now” and “lockdown will not be lifted for a year” are two different things.

      It is IMO very unlikely that anything like the present lockdown will be maintained continuously for a year. But it is disturbingly plausible that it will be in place in a year, after having been prematurely lifted on the basis of declining numbers and wishful thinking and then reimposed a few months later after the entirely predictable rebound in deaths – thus “proving” that nothing less than a vaccine is acceptable.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        Just to be clear, I give 10 % probability to an outcome that “lockdown will be in place a year from now” in its current severity, after being lifted and reimposed again. That it will not be lifted at all for a whole year is imho outside bounds of plausibility. As Anteros points out above, many European countries are relaxing lockdown measures right now.

        I think that even if there would be some sort of an internal lockdown a year from now, it would be more selective and targeted, since we are going to have much better understanding how exactly is virus spreading from person to person.

        Increased restrictions on international travel persisting for more than a year are very plausible btw.

    • I find it ironic that the tinfoil hat crowd doesn’t see the fact that the more ‘elite’ your lifestyle is, the more it’s been inconvenienced by the lockdown. The more hoi polloi it is, the less it’s inconvenienced by the lockdown. Think about it. You can’t go see a broadway musical, you can still watch TV. You can’t go to the microbrewery, you can still get your 30-pack of beer and drink at home. You can’t go to your fancy sit-down restaurant, you’d have to get take out, but you can still go through the drive-through and get your McDonalds just as you could six months ago. You can’t discuss your ideas at conferences, you can still post to blogs and comment sections. If you get exercise by jogging, bike riding, or lifting milk jugs filled with sand in your garage, you’re not inconvenienced much at all. If you get exercise at your high-end gym or go skiing or snowboarding, you’re out of luck.

      Similarly, the closer you are to traditional American family values, the less you’ve been inconvenienced. Think about it: if you’re married or in a stable long-term relationship, there’s no inconvenience. If you want to have a string of short term relationships, well, you’re screwed. (Or not, if you catch my drift.) Or look at the problems with child care now that the schools are shuttered: some families don’t have to face them. If you’ve counted on the state to do 100% of the work to educate your children, well, how much are children learning now? From what I’ve heard the answer is: very little. Children have suddenly forgotten how to use the internet.

      None of this is to say that the hoi polloi should be happy with the lockdown. But to see it as something ‘they’ are doing to ‘us’ makes little sense. The problem with tinfoil hat people is not suspicion of the elites per se but their inability to see the fact that the elites are people too, with their own wants, hopes, dreams, desires to signal to their associates, etc.

      • acymetric says:

        I’m not part of the tinfoil hat crowd, but neither group is able to do the things they want to do right now. The difference is that “elites” (however you’re defining that term at the moment) are generally still working, either because they’re essential or because they can work from home. The non-elites account for much of our ever-rising unemployment numbers.

        • Yeah, but on the other hand, who lost all that money in the stock market? Wasn’t the working class.

          • acymetric says:

            “Lost job needed to pay bills next month” is worse than “lost retirement money but might get it back if I wait”.

          • matkoniecz says:

            USA government decided to use massive amount of money on bailouts.

            Designed to preserve wealth of owners of companies and to stop stock market crash. Yay for moral hazard and TBTF.

      • John Schilling says:

        You can’t hang out at Cheers/Moe’s/whatever. Or even at the park or the beach, now.

        “Lowbrow” social life isn’t atomized individuals and nuclear families living in isolation except at work, and just because the places they get together to socialize aren’t as fancy as Broadway musicals and microbreweries doesn’t mean that getting together to socialize isn’t every bit as important to them as it is to fancy rich people. Takeout and TV is no more of a substitute for them than it is for the rich.

      • Aapje says:

        @Alexander Turok

        You are reasoning like an introvert, ignoring that the lower classes also want to meet with their friends and family. In fact, they live smaller and more cramped, so meeting people outside their home is more important to them.

        The lower class have had their traditional lifestyles fall apart, which we’ve discussed here a lot.

        More importantly, these people often either still have to go in for work and take risks, or are home with no pay.

        But the most important thing you are missing is that the lower class simply has a lesser quality of life in the first place, so this pandemic is not necessarily hitting them harder, but is causing them to have a very low quality of life in an absolute sense.

        • You are reasoning like an introvert, ignoring that the lower classes

          I’m ignoring it because the same could be said about the upper classes.

          or are home with no pay.

          Unemployment benefits exist.

          • acymetric says:

            At least in my state, unemployment is still a terrible pain to deal with (source: been working for about a month now to help a close relative start collecting, still no luck and it is impossible to actually talk to anyone to resolve any issues, just letters/fax back and forth over periods of days/weeks), and despite what people keep saying here most who collect unemployment are making less than they made while working.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            States vary a lot in how they handle UI. Florida is probably the worst.

          • souleater says:

            I can confirm about Florida UI, even back in October it was a nightmare to deal with.
            Now my new job (thank god) is asking for anyone with any Cobol (a coding language from the 60s and 70s) experience to step up to be loaned out to the state government help fix the system.

          • acymetric says:

            Just to add a little, the first (of several) issues was that the state didn’t think my relative was a real person. The second issue was the state undercounting their pay by about $22,000 or so (about 70% of their annual pay). I would guess maybe they will start receiving their UE benefits in June at the earliest, if they are actually able to collect at all. They have already been out of work for a month. If not for the stimulus check and some small savings they would be in huge trouble right now, and I don’t expect another stimulus check in the next couple weeks.

      • LesHapablap says:

        Alexander Turok,

        It is definitely worse for the lower classes. Many of them are living paycheck to paycheck, for a start. As I posted a month ago:

        LesHapablap says:
        March 21, 2020 at 3:14 pm
        I can already see the next populist talking points:

        The coastal elites, “experts” and academics decided our course of action for us, which, for them, meant “work”-from-home stay-cations drinking fancy wine and craft beer and using their recreational marijuana. For those of us with real jobs, who deliver their meals and coffee, fly their airplanes, bag their groceries, drive them around, take care of them when they are sick, grow their food, and keep God’s country running by hook or by crook, all we got were mass lay-offs or unpaid triple shifts. And what thanks do we get? Eviction notices, pink slips and “we did you a favor.”

        • drinking fancy wine and craft beer

          This is a good example because it’s going to be harder to get craft beer and fancy wine than 30-packs at Walmart. The whole theme here is that SWPLs overcomplicate things, add a lot of moving parts, while prole tastes are cheap and functional.

          unpaid triple shifts

          What does this mean?

          There needs to be a word for the seeming belief of so many people here that unemployment benefits don’t exist. Perhaps for a lot of people they don’t really exist, as many white-collar workers aren’t ever fired or laid off, they’re “asked to resign.” I knew a guy who worked as a teacher and was asked to resign, he refused. The principal was shocked and tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted on being formally terminated. Yes, I know unemployment benefits don’t equal one’s after-tax income, although given the level of competence shown by Congress and the President even that is doubtful in this situation. But many workers don’t like work and blue-collar workers don’t face a taboo in saying this. Many would prefer to sit at home and collect unemployment. Some have even told me that.

          • LesHapablap says:

            That rant was described as ‘populist talking points.’ They aren’t literal. That was a prediction of how people are going to feel in a few months. And the ones who are working, the ones who are essential, are going to feel overworked and underpaid.

            A couple days ago a friend of mine had to lay off 25 workers at his 60 person lab. He’s been told that by May they will be down to 5 at the company. He was really upset about it. I guess I should have told him not to worry, they are all happier unemployed where they can drink their Bud Light and eat their McDonald’s and watch their TV like the drooling, belching, maga-hat-wearing proles that they are. Barely an inconvenience!

          • I guess I should have told him not to worry, they are all happier unemployed where they can drink their Bud Light and eat their McDonald’s and watch their TV like the drooling, belching, maga-hat-wearing proles that they are. Barely an inconvenience!

            Well, I wouldn’t have used quite the same terminology, considering I wore a red hat at one time. But it may very well be true.

            It’s kind of like the situation where boy and girl both like each other, but neither is willing to ask the other out due to fear of rejection. The standard solution is a third party automated system to fix the problem. I suggest a similar dilemma is faced by employers and employees. Employers don’t want to look like they have no loyalty to their employees, employees don’t want to look lazy. My idea is you have an app where the employee enters in current wages, benefits, tax info, state, etc., and sees an estimate of how much he’d get in unemployment benefits. If he likes what he sees, he can tell the app he’d be willing to be laid off. If his employer desires to lay him off, the app “matches” them. Call it Quitser.

            Of course, I’m sure the lawyers would find a problem with it, but it’s fun to think about.

          • LesHapablap says:

            The reason your post comes across as very ‘let them eat cake,’ is that it presumes the only complaint people could have about lockdowns is temporarily not having their access to beer or restaurants or casual sex.

            People don’t like the lockdown because it is destroying the economy, as acymetric said above. I have plenty of savings, which is making me feel fairly secure about things. The fact that I’m a pilot, and if my company goes under, which it probably will, I could be unemployed for years or have to start over in a different career is a bigger concern. But the savings will help. If I didn’t, and most of my employees don’t, and a lot of people who aren’t elites don’t, I would be very worried.

      • TheAncientGeeksTAG says:

        Theres a fairly big exception to that: if you live in a big house with a garden,you can send all day in the garden,but if you are poor and live in crowded conditions,you have to stay inside most of the day

    • WoollyAI says:

      I’d give 20% odds that current restrictions (or something roughly as strict) will be in place a year from today.

      I’d give a 10% chance that reinfection/reactivation turns out to be possible, as South Korea suspects, at which point I’m 100% confident we’ll be in lockdown a year from now.

      Failing that:
      -I think there’s about a 30% hydroxychloroquine or remdesivir or something similar is found that works.
      -April of 2021 would give researchers ~15 months to research a vaccine, so say a 70% chance of having a widely available vaccine by then.
      -If both of those fail, I think we’ll vary between temporary loosened states and lockdown. I don’t think people will put up with the restrictions much longer but I’m not sure they’ll have a choice; despite the fact that infections are somewhat under control it’s not like the fundamental situation has changed and once the hospitals are over capacity the bodies will start piling up. I expect it to ebb-and-flow between loosening and restriction, so in a year there’s a 50-50 chance we’ll be in a loosening period or a tightening period.

      So, if I do my probabilities right,
      10% chance of reinfection+
      70% chance hydroxychloroquine et al don’t work *
      30% chance of no vaccine *
      50% chance of tightening period
      0.1+0.7*0.3*0.5=19.45% or roughly 20%

    • LesHapablap says:

      What security restrictions are still in place from 9/11? Virtually all of them, at a massive economic cost for almost no benefit. Has the US government rolled back the extra powers they took after 9/11? I’m not an expert, but I don’t think so.

      No jobs will be shutdown in two years, but there will certainly still be extra restrictions even in five years. And any extra government powers that increased during this time won’t be going anywhere.

      And the population of the US will be even further inclined to acquiesce to a really intrusive state.

      • AlesZiegler says:

        I am not predicting that there will be zero restrictions, sensible or otherwise, maintained after a year. There is a huge space between return to where things were in February and current lockdowns.

        • LesHapablap says:

          I am skeptical that anyone here has claimed that the current lockdowns will continue for at least a year unnecessarily just because the government likes the power. Can you link to some posts please?

          • AlesZiegler says:

            No, I never claimed that anyone had claimed that, just that there were claims that it will continue unnecessarily for an undefined long time. For example here. I picked a year because it is a round number and in order to make falsifiable predictions one has to be specific.

          • LesHapablap says:

            I basically agree with Nybbler’s post there but he puts too much emphasis on the government doing it because they like it. Using 9/11 security theater as an example:
            -TSA created jobs, and now it is hard to get rid of those jobs
            -Nobody wants to be the one who decides to get rid of TSA and then have another successful terror attack happen. Especially if your job description involves security.

            And generally people like to respond to emergencies. If you know any firefighters, they like it when they get called out to an emergency. They don’t hope that people get hurt, but they enjoy the adrenaline, the excitement and getting to put into practice skills that they have trained for and honed.

            Some (most?) people like to exercise power over others. Cops, security guards, Bloomberg. The occasional bureaucrat. The neigborhood Karens calling the police because so-and-so was breaking lockdown. Here in NZ you can see the same people on social media scolding others are also the ones calling for an extension of level 4 lockdown instead of level 3 (level 3 allows for restaurants to open only for deliveries and a bit more leeway around going outside, allows limited construction to take place etc, it is hardly much change).

            Another motivation is that people are nice, and want to be seen as nice. It feels wrong to them to put a cost on a human life. And/or they don’t want to say that peoples lives are not worth an economic cost: it looks morbid and callous.

            So while ‘liking it’ is a reason, there is also plenty of other motivation to keep these things going longer than necessary.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Most of the time, I am 99% confident that we will not still be in lockdown in a year–if we have to reopen and shutdown again, which is certainly much more plausible, I expect the shutdown to be set up differently, probably in a more targeted manner.

      I veer a little on this, though, a few times a day thinking I’ve gotten this all wrong and lowering my confidence level significantly. Mostly because I thought the chance of locking down like this at all was incredibly small, at least until the virus raged out of control–and even then, I thought it would be more locally-focused and less top-down. And I thought we’d have more unrest after only a month, especially with no clear end in sight. So I’ve been wrong. Also, we don’t understand the immunity situation, or possible long-term effects, so if the news gets a lot worse, that will obviously make people more willing to shut down. But even in that case, and we decided that drastic measures aimed at virtual eradication were needed, it would still probably look different from what we’re doing now. Probably it would be severe regional shutdowns and travel restrictions.

      But since the beginning, I’ve been convinced that a long-term national lockdown is untenable for a variety of reasons and simply will end within a few months, if for nothing else than because supply chain disruptions will eventually threaten medical care and other crucial things in unpredictable ways. I can’t answer every single argument against doing this, but I don’t think it’s going to come down to a logical calculation, which is probably an impossible thing anyway–it’ll just happen as a result of various pressures. It doesn’t have to “add up.” I’m not saying we’ll go back to normal; just that the shut down will be less extensive. I think the arguments that it doesn’t make a difference because no one is going to go out anyway is implausible. Many things will be greatly reduced, for sure, some enough to make them unprofitable and shut down the industry, but there will be a difference in activity if people are allowed to go out. I can’t spell out how it will happen exactly or why, but that’s just what I see as the result within a few months.

      This kind of shut down is far more unprecedented than a pandemic. It’s clear from history that humanity as a whole is capable of pulling through far worse—the conflict with our modern expectations will be massive, but nonetheless it is clear many people can go on with people dying all around them and facing a risk of infection. I’m fairly confident this will not happen on a dystopian scale–I believe herd immunity is the end game, but that we’ll figure out smarter ways to manage and control it as we learn more about the disease, and mitigate it significantly. It’s not something with an 80% death rate. Life expectancy was 10 years lower even in 1960. If it turns out immunity is not long-lasting, that sucks, but while it’s not a world I want to live in, many people functioned even under repeated reinfection and chronic illness before malaria eradication. It still happens in third world countries. It requires a psychological shift, a downgrading in expectations, and until that occurs, it will seem unthinkable. But once it occurs, it is swift. This is not what I want to happen, but what I suspect will. The government may get more authoritarian, but if there’s a lot of unrest, I doubt they’ll try to, or be able to, impose a lockdown by force on a national level. It might happen in a city. I think many officials, even those power-tripping, are sort of following the public’s lead here—they’re cracking down so they don’t look negligent while people demand action. If that changes, they’ll exercise power in line with the new expectations.

  20. HeelBearCub says:

    Not sure that anyone has posted this article from the Atlantic.

    It makes the rather disturbing point that the apparent plateau in new cases in the US is highly correlated with a plateau in the number of tests we are administering.

    That suggests we are at least somewhat likely not plateauing. We just don’t have enough tests to be able to tell that.

    • The Nybbler says:

      In the NYC area, hospital visits and hospital admissions have peaked, and deaths have at least plateaued (whether you count confirmed or confirmed + probable). Confirmed cases are meaningless, but actual cases probably peaked some time ago in the places which were hit early.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Not sure how that’s really responsive to the article?

        Right now we are seeing these clustered bursts of case in places like South Dakota. We know the virus is basically within reach of everywhere in the US. The reported cases give us a sense that we are at least somewhat controlling the growth.

        NYC, per capita, is much more tested than the rest of the country. The question is do we have an accurate picture of current growth in places that aren’t NYC. This data says that our testing isn’t growing fast enough to tell us that.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The reported cases give us a sense that we are at least somewhat controlling the growth.

          Reported cases are meaningless due to the low testing rate, so that sense is an illusion. But that doesn’t mean the opposite sense is supported either; you need to look at meaningful things. You cannot conclude from “tests are plateauing” that actual cases are “likely not plateauing”.

          • eric23 says:

            Reported cases are not an exact ratio of real cases, but they definitely aren’t “meaningless” either.

    • broblawsky says:

      Until the percent of positive tests declines below 5%, we can’t be confident that we’re getting everyone.

      • Kindly says:

        Is the percent of false positives even below 5%?

        • AlesZiegler says:

          I do not know what tests Americans are using, but in tests we are using here (Czechia), evidently yes, since last day when we had above 5 % positives was 29 March.

    • Clutzy says:

      Perhaps, but the same point could be made that during testing ramp up we were not increasing the number of actual cases.

      Using testing in your argument is mostly folly until the people tested is not primarily people who think they have the disease. Only testing of representative randomized populations is interesting data.

  21. The Nybbler says:

    I knew I lived in a fairly wealthy area. More BMWs than Honda Civics, few people doing their own lawn, that sort of thing. But I didn’t realize quite how wealthy until I went to the liquor store today, and two of the customers were wearing, not cloth masks or paper surgical masks (as the employees were), but blue N95 surgical respirators. Truly I felt in the presence of royalty.

    • metacelsus says:

      Maybe they’re not so rich, just well-prepared. My girlfriend and I got 50 N95s back in January. We’ve been wearing them, combined with safety goggles, while shopping (we use one per week).

    • Kaitian says:

      They might have some hobby that they use them for, maybe woodworking or spray painting or something along those lines. They might also have some job that hands out masks (asbestos removal expert? covid nurse?), though I’m not sure people with jobs like that live in rich areas.

      • Lambert says:

        Not the surgical ones.

        The main difference is that normal N95 isn’t rated against high pressure blood spray (like you might see if an artery is damaged during surgery). This isn’t a concern with woodworking, unless someone’s not being careful with a band saw.

    • Garrett says:

      I have one. But that’s because it was left over from a training session we did on how to properly put on and remove the PPE for flu-like illnesses (read: Covid-19). Since we had to put one on, it would have been disgusting to have someone else reuse it. So we were told we could throw it out or keep it. I’ve kept mine in the car.

  22. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Welcome to the weird world of early Dungeons & Dragons! Ever wonder what humans and other Non-Player Characters do to level up? Let’s look at the 1977 Monster Manual to see.

    If you encounter a band of bandits, there will be 6 2nd level Fighter guards, a 3rd level officer for every 20 bandits, 4th, 5th, and 6th level officers in larger groups, and always a 7th level lieutenant to the 8-10th level chief (9th level is when players got a noble or priestly domain or wizard’s tower). Similar advancement opportunities exist if you’re a nomad. If you join a berserker gang you can advance to 7th level (6th to 7th requires your chief to level up) but then you have to leave or your career will stagnate.
    If you’re a 3rd level Fighter, buccaneers/pirates will want you as a commander of 50 and their advancement opportunities go up to mate (4th), commander of 100 (5th), lieutenant to an 8th level Captain (6th), 7th if your Captain levels up (this requires him to lead 200+ pirates), and then a Captain yourself. You could also join the highly religious desert Dervishes as a commander of 30, but there are no advancement opportunities for a Fighter beyond 6th level.
    One other career option at 5th level is to become the lieutenant of the leader of merchant caravan guards one level higher than yourself. If you become the leader yourself (leaders can be higher than 6th level, so career advancement is possible), you’re responsible for employing exactly 12 2nd level guards and 40-240 of 1st level! Trade must be very hazardous in this world.

    The same groups often have Clerics. For every 50 bandits, there’s a 15% chance they’ll have a 5th or 6th level Cleric with an assistant two levels lower. Nomad bands always have two 3rd level Clerics and, for every 50 nomads, a 15% chance of a 4th to 7th level one. Another option for 3rd-4th level Clerics is to go berserk and live as assistants to a 7th level berserk Cleric. At 4th level, 10th level Clerics who head a Dervish fortress will be willing to employ you as one of their two bodyguards, which lets you advance as far as 8th level Cleric if your 10th level master advances to 12th… apparently at Level 9 you have to leave the community and run a normal temple.
    Apparently another thing normal temples do is send teams of Clerics to lead lay pilgrims. Pilgrim groups range in size from 10-116 lay people (and possibly a Mage), but are always led by exactly 1 8th level Cleric, 1-2 of 6th level, 1 5th, 1-4 4th, 1 3rd and 1-6 2nd.
    If a Cleric is 12th to 15th level, they may go off and make a pirate Captain their subordinate – 15% chance for every 50 pirates you meet!

    Nomad bands always have a 4th level Mage and for every 50 nomads a 15% chance that (s)he will have a 5-8th level master. For every 50 pirates there’s a 10% chance of meeting a 6th-8th level Mage hired by their Captain, and for every 50 bandits a 25% chance they’ll have a 7th-10th level Mage (equal probability of each level in all cases). A Dervish fortress always has an 8th level Mage with two 4th level assistants. And for every 40 1st level Fighters guarding a merchant caravan, there’s a 10% chance their leader will be teamed with a Mage of 6th-8th level.
    Is there some weird social system here where Mages are students in a tower/school from Level 1-3, then their only option in the outside world is to become a nomad or Dervish, and groups of tough guys only want their services from 6th level until they become professors in towers?

    • danridge says:

      Low level mages in D&D kind of suck, right? I’m only really familiar with second edition, but you’ve basically got someone who can contribute meaningfully to a battle once, then they’re a pretty useless fighter who probably shouldn’t even try to help. Makes sense to me!

      It’s interesting to see that kind of focus on large groups, knowing that original D&D started like a “mod” for a more expansive tabletop wargaming sim.

      • Nornagest says:

        Even at low levels, good spell selection means you can turn a fight around with a single casting. At first level, you’ll only get the one casting, but that’s still often enough: sleep in early editions offered no saving throw, for example, and put 2d8 HD of creatures (ogre-sized or less) out of the fight for the duration. Color spray, web, and a few other low-level spells were similarly abusable. Good tactics for a first- or second-level mage is to hang back until the situation starts looking hairy, then be fire support.

        Poor spell selection means you’re a crappy, one-shot archer or worse, but players of casters in early editions usually learned quick.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          What he said. Smart first-level play is to walk down into a dangerous indoor environment with enough characters in plate armor to control choke points, the Mage behind* saving their well-selected spell for when it looks like PC death is on the table, and a Thief scouting ahead.
          AD&D originally assumed (via tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide) that unless you went deeper into a dungeon, you’d be encountering beings like a single human NPC 8% of the time, 3-15 humans with max 6-8 Hit Points 7% of the time, goblins/orcs/hobgoblins in similar numbers 22% of the time, 5-20 rats 13% of the time, kobolds – the weakest sapient species – 6%, parties of the non-human playable races, 1-4 of the weakest undead, 1-4 wild animals with Fighter-like hit points… you get the idea. Anything likely to one-shot even a Cleric looks consciously excluded, though of course PCs are going to die if you neither parley nor control choke points against the bigger numbers.
          Once you’ve expended your resources killing and treasure-hunting on the first level, run for the exit and live to fight another day.

          *Note that if a dungeon is intelligently designed for defense by its inhabitants, there will be many opportunities to sneak up behind you that you don’t know about, so area control could require four of those people in plate armor: if there weren’t 6+ players at the table, they came up with ways to compensate like nobody playing a Thief and instead driving sheep through the dungeon to trigger all traps. (The Dungeon Master was not collaborating to make sure you overcame challenges in a way that made you look like a good person.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Someday I’d like somebody with a deep knowledge of tactics to take a long hard look at the D&D-inspired standard fantasy setting and see what kind of tactics should logically come out of it, once you scrap genre convention and the more obvious game-mechanical stuff (like hit points). I’m not that guy, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t look much like anything before the modern era.

            Spells and magical items mean that small, well-trained and well-equipped units can trounce much larger but poorly equipped forces. That’s not so far off from our own medieval era, when expensive and relatively rare armored knights held an almost insurmountable advantage over peasant levies, but it also means that historical heavy cavalry tactics don’t work very well (you can disrupt a charge with any number of spells), and neither do their historical counters (pike squares are ideal targets for a fireball). Cover and concealment become much more important: if an enemy caster has line of sight on you, you’re vulnerable.

            It might even end up looking more like modern fire and maneuver tactics, with small, widely dispersed forces jockeying to pin their opponents (or at least their squishier elements) down while their own casters get into position.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            Someday I’d like somebody with a deep knowledge of tactics to take a long hard look at the D&D-inspired standard fantasy setting and see what kind of tactics should logically come out of it, once you scrap genre convention and the more obvious game-mechanical stuff (like hit points).

            Very likely you’d get something that looks like 20th century bush wars. The most mundane form of dungeon crawl is Viet Cong tunnels, which were a response to the need for stealth in general and American air dominance in particular… and every Standard Fantasy Setting has air attacks like dragon breath.
            While tactics should logically look modern, an interesting unknown is what size of armies there would be. Even ignoring economy-changing magic, Iron Age economies were capable of supporting empires deploying perhaps 300,000 (e.g. 60 legions between the sides in Julius and Augustus’s Civil Wars, or modern estimates of what Xerxes could bring to Greece without them dying of dehydration). Far larger numbers fought in loose formations with squad-mates constantly seeking cover in WWII (and if such empires exist, we can assume they’d figure out how to mass-produce some subset of the diverse Standard Fantasy Setting armors), so the next questions would be to figure out the numbers of spellcasters and relative roles of special units with them and common units without.
            Now of course, armies in the World Wars fought over vast fronts since it was suicide to form up into phalanxes and lines. This required more advanced command and control… probably be basic magic for a SFT, so that checks out.

          • fibio says:

            Honestly, it doesn’t take much OOC knowledge to kludge together a space program using the D&D spell book so tactics with a rational bent can rapidly expand into include interplanetary bombardment.

            That said, I’ve seen it argued pretty convincingly that combining highly level adventurers with teleportation gives you such a concentration of force delivered at speed that conventional armies are basically useless. Any force in the field will be cut off from its supplies almost immediately with very little ability to do anything about it unless the adventuring parties are stupid or unfortunate enough to teleport directly into the army.

            Instead, the tactics would be built around inserting elite special forces into the enemy’s strong points to kill wizards and other casters and then retreating. Employed successfully such a strategy would prevent any retaliation as you’ve killed or disrupted their ability to perform a counter strike to such an extent it doesn’t matter how powerful their forces are, they can’t reach you. Employed unsuccessful you’d seen a MAD like exchange where each nation burns down any mage colleges it can find and you end up with a fantasy version of the dark ages… Well, a darker age than when they started at least.

          • Lambert says:

            A small number of advanced, flashy weapons systems bolted on to a fundementaly pre-modern (Modernity starting somewhere between 1861 and 1918) army?

            Sounds like Saudi princes in fighter jets.
            I’d expect a lot of invasions to go like Iran-Iraq, quickly bogging down as mundane forces fail to effectively support magical assets.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:


            That said, I’ve seen it argued pretty convincingly that combining highly level adventurers with teleportation gives you such a concentration of force delivered at speed that conventional armies are basically useless. Any force in the field will be cut off from its supplies almost immediately with very little ability to do anything about it unless the adventuring parties are stupid or unfortunate enough to teleport directly into the army.

            Teleport did not work that way in D&D ’74, AD&D or “Classic” (Expert set et al).
            A 9th level Mage owned a tower as part of the landowning elite, could cast teleport once a day, and could only bring 250 pounds along besides their naked body. Unless surgical strikes were carried out by Level 10+ magical lord professors (and with only one wiry armored guard each), getting in and out the same day would be impossible.
            Furthermore, teleport was never 100% safe. There was at least a 1% risk of blinking into existence too low at the target, instantly dying inside the ground. Depending on edition, the chance of instant death was as high as 75% (’74 rules) without personal certain knowledge of the destination, or more generously 25% if the wizard had only “casual” knowledge (brief first-hand observation, scrying or a detailed description by a spy) with another 25% chance of appearing tens of feet in the air above the target.
            IIRC, most of the better-known Standard Fantasy Settings in other media pre-date 3rd Edition’s broken magic system.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Take a ring of feather falling and set your teleport target 10 feet above where you want to be.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Take a ring of feather falling and set your teleport target 10 feet above where you want to be.

            Then the supply of rings of Feather Fall becomes a top military-industrial question.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Nobody ever used teleport for ground level targets, that would be insane risk taking, the standard approach was to only use teleport in conjunction with feather-fall or flight, and target the sky above where you wanted to go. Which also meant teleport was actually a spell for “Travel to the general vicinity of anything”, not for breaching fortifications – porting inside a fortress would always be insanely dangerous, but travel to a city you have only heard just enough rumors about to be sure it a: exists, and b: to tell apart from other random cities is as safe as travel to your childhood home, because in either case, you are aiming at empty skies.

    • Nick says:

      Pilgrim groups range in size from 10-116 lay people (and possibly a Mage), but are always led by exactly 1 8th level Cleric, 1-2 of 6th level, 1 5th, 1-4 4th, 1 3rd and 1-6 2nd.

      Tangential question: what would the terms of venery be for character classes? I’m thinking clerics would be a congregation.

      • Nornagest says:

        A horde of barbarians, of course.

        A raid of fighters. A tribe of rangers. A circle of druids. A piety of paladins. A rave of bards. A murderjungle of murderhoboes. An argument of wizards.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:


        Tangential question: what would the terms of venery be for character classes? I’m thinking clerics would be a congregation.

        A staff? An office?

        Also, near the top in your link: “A bashir of auditors.”


        A horde of barbarians, of course.

        A raid of fighters. A tribe of rangers. A circle of druids. A piety of paladins. A rave of bards. A murderjungle of murderhoboes. An argument of wizards.

        Nice. But not a Matter of paladins?
        A gang of thieves (or House of Rogues). An order of monks.

      • bullseye says:

        A dastard of blackguards.

  23. eliasgoldberg says:

    A study at Stanford tested random people in Santa Clara county for Coronavirus antibodies. They found a rate of Coronavirus infection 50-85 times more than the number of confirmed cases, and estimate a mortality rate of 0.12-0.2% in the county.

    The study, which has not been peer reviewed, is here:


    • Eric Rall says:

      I posted some back-of-the-envelope numbers on excess mortality rates in New York City in another subthread, which suggested that confirmed Covid fatalities trailed overall excess deaths by about a factor of 2.1x. NYC is also reporting “probable” Covid deaths (“Covid-19” or similar is the officially recorded cause-of-death, but the diagnosis was made based on symptoms rather than a positive PCR test), which cover a little less than half the gap between excess deaths and confirmed Covid fatalities. So that gives us a range of actual Covid deaths being somewhere between 1.5x-2x the recorded confirmed mortality rate (although NY recently switch from reporting just confirmed deaths to reporting the combined number of confirmed+probable).

      Similar numbers are not available for Santa Clara County, nor for California as a whole. And as far as I know, CA is only reporting confirmed Covid deaths, not probables. California has also run about half as many tests as New York has, or about 1/4 as many per capita. There’s very likely accelerating and diminishing returns to increased testing (e.g. first you test health care providers, then you test inpatients with Covid-like symptoms, then you start testing outpatients with symptoms), but I have no idea where on the curve either state is, and I’m guessing what the curve is even shaped like, so I’ll use an oversimplified linear model. Likewise, I’m making no attempt to correct for the likelihood that per-capita test rates are different in NYC and Santa Clara County than in their respective states overall.

      But based on a 4x detection advantage in NY, and a 1.5-2x undercounting of deaths in NY, naïvely multiplied together to get a 6x-8x undercount rate in California, that suggests a mortality rate between 0.72% and 1.6% (the numbers you quoted, multiplied by 6x-8x) in Santa Clara County.

      That said, I think my 6x-8x death rate undercount estimate for California is more likely to be an overestimate than an underestimate.

    • There have been 11,851 deaths in Lombardy. .16% mortality extrapolates to 7.4 million out of 10 million infected.

      Can it really be that high?

    • actinide meta says:

      I think it’s interesting. We need more serological prevalence studies.

      Concerns with the study’s estimation of prevalence (leaving aside IFR or whether “the ratio of confirmed cases to infections” is a parameter that can be extrapolated):

      1. The sampling method (Facebook ads recruiting volunteers) seems likely to be pretty biased.

      2. The study authors attempted to compensate for 1 by weighting their sample to equalize various demographic categories. This weighting roughly doubled their estimate of prevalence, and seems very dangerous to me (because their sample is presumably nonrandom in all kinds of less observable ways, this adjustment might be making things better or worse).

      3. As the authors frankly admit, the prevalence calculation is pretty sensitive to estimates of the false positive rate (specificity) and to some extent the false negative rate (sensitivity) of the serological test used.

      In terms of bounding IFR, New York City has reported 8,893 deaths which I calculate is a bit over 0.1% of the population of the city, and looking at the deaths curve it doesn’t look like it is about to hit zero. As @Eric Rall suggests the true death count may be higher, and it is not very likely that every New Yorker has been infected. I would love to see a serological study, preferably with stronger randomization, done in New York City.

    • John Schilling says:

      If I read this correctly, the raw number of positive tests in their sample (50/3330, or 1.5%) is within their own 95% confidence interval for the false-positive rate of the test they are using (0.1-1.7%). So, pretty weak, should probably be treated as noise until we get better data.

      • actinide meta says:

        Wait, you’re right, that doesn’t make any sense! I trusted that they did their math correctly, but maybe they re-weighted their sample for population demographics first and then tried to correct for test accuracy? Because that is just wrong.

        • salvorhardin says:

          Balaji Srinivasan’s critique (linked from Marginal Revolution) focuses on this exact issue, along with selection bias factors they may not have been able to correct for:

          But reaches the conclusion that “this is a good start but not good enough yet, let’s try again with stronger correction mechanisms for these problems.” It warms my heart that Srinivasan mentions jury duty to correct selection bias, because I’ve been emailing local elected officials trying to get them to repurpose prospective juror selection mechanisms to pick study samples, and maybe he’s in a better position to persuade them.

  24. Various people have been comparing the consequences of the pandemic to the Great Depression. I think that’s wrong. WWII is a better comparison.

    During WWII, U.S. production for civilian use was sharply reduced because resources were going into the military. Many people predicted that the end of the war would dump us back into the Great Depression, but that isn’t what happened.

    Putting millions of people into the military and millions more into making tanks and bullets and airplanes has an effect on the civilian economy similar to the effect of locking millions of people in their houses — large resources diverted out of what they are normally doing to do things that, from the standpoint of the civilian economy, are worthless.

    If I am right, then the end of the pandemic, assuming it really does end in some fairly clear sense, should see a fairly rapid return to normalcy. The only argument I can see against that is that the accumulation of economic restrictions since 1945 may make the economy substantially less flexible now than it was then.

    • Anteros says:

      It’s not really my subject, but is there a prospect of rising and then persistently high inflation? Very high unemployment as demand for most things remains suppressed?

    • Lambert says:

      The civilian and military economies were linked.
      You could convert factories that made war materiel (back) into ones that made civilian goods.
      And there were a buch of surplus jeeps, aircraft, tarmac, aluminium alloys etc. that could be repurposed.

      Also the USA was Top Country. Britain had years of austerity post-war.

      • FLWAB says:

        Yes…and last I checked COVID-19 isn’t destroying our factories. It’s just leaving many of them shut down or running at lower capacity as workers stay home. So just as factories went from making guns to butter after WWII, our factories could easily just start back up again. There’s no physical impediment, anyway.

        • Lambert says:

          But we’re not making a bunch more state-of-the-art gun factories* that we can turn over to butter production.

          More realistically, radar/consumer electronics.

    • Aapje says:

      I partially agree, with the caveat that normalcy has not been that great for the last few decades, for the Western middle class. The big risk seems to me that we take on a lot of debt, have low economic growth, try to force it by cheating and then end up with that bubble popping.

      After the war, there was a lot of technological advancement that drove up productivity/GDP, which eroded the debt. If we have productivity increases of low single digits for the next decades, the debt won’t erode away. So far, the central banks have tried to keep the impacts of debts low and maximize GDP growth by increasing the money supply a lot, forcing interest rates down. However, with few good investment opportunities, this goes to bubbles, rising housing prices, savings, etc. It seems to me that with our aging population and lack of technological advancement, there is a tendency to the Japanese deflation scenario, where the response to low interest rates is to save even more.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      There’s a decent enough chance of a relatively fast recovery (although probably not the sub-4% unemployment and wage growth we had right before the shutdowns). Unemployment tends to recover slowly from increases because some large portion of the unemployed need to go find a completely new job. There are search costs involved with that. Most people don’t have a detailed understanding of the labor market in their area that would let them just go find another employer.

      Some people do, though: Their old employer.

      Somewhat less than half of a the newly unemployed end up returning to their old employers after a period of time, without being formal layoffs. That was the result for the twenty years prior to 2013, anyway. This makes some sense: Labor costs are high and relatively fixed for many employers, so sudden revenue crashes are often going to be met by shedding labor. However, as revenue recovers, you want to re-adjust back to the old pattern of production so you rehire as many of your old workers as possible.

      Not everyone experiences this ‘recall’, because some employers change their business methods and don’t need the old labor force they had, some find alternative hires to the old employee (for a variety of reasons), and some employers just outright go out of business. If the government can successfully use massive credit assistance and bailouts to keep companies in business through the duration of the lockdown, there’s a decent chance that lifting the lockdown will lead to many of these companies re-hiring their old workforce at much higher rates than ‘normal’. Instead of 40% you might see 80%. Or 90%. Can’t really know ahead of time what the actual magnitudes will be, but there are good reasons to believe they’ll be larger than the historical norm because this isn’t a historically normal recession.

      A kind of optimistic pessimism I like to call ‘realism’ makes me want to predict unemployment under 10% within a quarter after lockdowns being lifted, premised on successful Federal financial life support for business, and unemployment under 5% by the end of the second quarter after lockdown is lifted.

      If there are rolling lockdowns in response to outbreaks and there are no serious treatments this picture is made more complicated, and some industries (like hospitality) are probably going to experience long term effects either way, but I’m not expecting long term elevated unemployment.

    • Wrong Species says:

      Right, if we are looking at the Great Recession, there were some systematic problems that led to it. But it doesn’t seem like there are any similar issues now. It’s just that we’re deliberately putting our economy on hold. I’m pretty skeptical of the claims that we’re going to be facing a new depression.

      But I do think this will be a test of each country’s economic vitality. China should recover fastest, followed by the US, followed by Europe. Italy and Spain in particular will probably have the longest time to get back to speed, even if they get the Coronavirus contained sooner than the US.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’m pretty skeptical of the claims that we’re going to be facing a new depression.

        Arguments for:

        1) State governments will extend lockdowns too long, resulting in greater damage to the economy.

        2) The overly-generous better-than-employment unemployment benefits in the COVID bailout bill will keep people from going back to work.

        3) Many businesses will go under due to the extended period of no revenue while they still have to pay expenses (particularly including property taxes and/or rent). Landlords will lose their investment to the tax man.

        4) State governments will get into financial trouble from the drop in sales tax revenues; they’ll raise taxes copiously in response.

        5) Continued lesser restrictions will wreck what remains of restaurants, entertainment, and retail; they will not be able to operate profitably with their rush periods cut by 50%.

        • Wrong Species says:

          I understand those reasons but they just don’t seem that convincing to me. Sure, people are taking advantage of unemployment benefits but that’s temporary. There’s no banking crisis and without that, I don’t see that as really bringing down the economy to depression levels or even the Great Recession. Yes, unemployment is high right now but it should go down relatively fast. Some industries probably will be permanently damaged but that’s just the nature of the economy. It’s definitely not something I’m willing to bet on but it looks too different from our other big recessions to confidently proclaim that it will be one of them.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Yes, unemployment is high right now but it should go down relatively fast.

            Why? If restaurants and other businesses can’t staff up because of 50% occupancy rules or other carry-over restrictions (because governments can’t just lift off the boot, it’s not in their nature), and many unemployed people are incentivized not to actually look for work anyway because they can collect more than their pay without working for four months, unemployment, it should stay quite high.

            Some industries probably will be permanently damaged but that’s just the nature of the economy.

            So are recessions and depressions.

          • baconbits9 says:

            There’s no banking crisis and without that

            There is a banking crisis, which is why the Fed has added 2.3 trillion to the markets in 6 weeks. JP Morgan/Chase, the largest bank in the US has suspended all mortgages to people without both a 700+ credit rating and 20% down, and has suspended all new HELOC applications. They have functionally removed themselves from ~90% of the home loan market with these moves.

          • brad says:

            There wasn’t much of a home loan market to begin with. Just a veneer of a private market in the form of loan origination companies skimming money from a system dominated by the government setting rates and terms arbitrarily.

          • Wrong Species says:

            If banks start going bankrupt, then I’ll be worried about a general market collapse. But I’m not running for the hills because the Fed is taking proactive measures. It’s going to be a couple months before we figure out what the economy is going to look like.

          • baconbits9 says:

            The banks probably won’t fail, what are going to fail are pension systems (Illinois already is on the brink due to crap management) and places without access to the Fed (only half the economy so no big deal).

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I wonder if the coronavirus will give cover to the Federal government to bail out all the dead public pensions.

      • baconbits9 says:

        But it doesn’t seem like there are any similar issues now

        Are you aware that there was a repo crisis in October which resulted in the Fed having to release emergency funding that was supposed to be over a few nights, then weeks and then turned into months? How about that the Fed had to cut rates 3 times last year instead of following its projected rate increases that it was supposed to follow for normalization?

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      I don’t think I buy this, because in WW2 people working in factories were still being paid, so the demand was still there once the supply came back.

      I think what we’re seeing here is simultaneous supply and demand side shocks; I’m not sure what constitutes a good precedent for that.

      • Lambert says:

        People are getting paid UE staying at home.

        In terms of the domestic economy, watching netflix all day is no less productive than building a shell that’s going to end up embedded in various bits of France.

        • acymetric says:

          This seems obviously incorrect just on its face. To dig a little bit deeper, though, building war equipment in factories still stimulates the econonomy (energy usage, raw materials, transport/logistics/shipping) and the people were still spending that money on normal expenses. There is a huge difference between “everything (production or otherwise) is shut down” and “all manufacturing is geared towards war production but other things are still happening more or less normally”.

          • Lambert says:

            > (energy usage, raw materials, transport/logistics/shipping)

            You can pay them to stay and home and watch netflix listen to the wireless too.

            But the rest of your objections stand.

          • baconbits9 says:

            and the people were still spending that money on normal expenses.

            To some extent yes, but there were large shortages of consumer goods during WW2. New cars were nearly impossible to get, as were new tires, shortages of basics like stockings and milk were common and war rationing was a serious thing.

          • acymetric says:


            I’m not sure what listening to the radio does to change that. I’m talking about industrial demand for all manner of things: oil/gas/propane, industrial chemicals, metals, fabrics, etc.

            Sure they were making bullets instead of belt buckles, but that is quite different than shutting down entirely for all parties (employer, employee, and the suppliers).

    • baconbits9 says:

      I strongly disagree here.

      1. The resumption of ‘normalcy’ in 1945 wasn’t a resumption of normalcy at all, it was a complete phase shift (that took several years). The decade prior to WW2 and WW2 was a low consumption period, and the decade coming into this crisis is a high consumption period.

      2. The economy in 1941 was plausibly in full recovery mode before the US entry in WW2. The 1937-39 recession/depression had bad headline numbers, but the recovery was close to V shaped. UE hit 19% in 1938 and was down to a bit under 10% in 1941 (the lowest since 1930) and real GDP growth in ’39/40/41 was as high as real GDP growth in ’42 and close to the 1934 reading. ~1.5 more years of improvement at the same pace as 38-41 and you are near the natural rate of UE.

      3. Total debt was much lower in 1945 than it will be coming out of this. The 1929-1941 period had deleveraged the entire economy, the US is currently at similar debt to GDP levels for the US government plus much much higher corporate and household debt levels.

      4. 1929-1941 shook out every badly run company possible, everyone who survived had done so with streamlining, aggressive efficiencies, and general competence. When 1945 came those companies were well positioned to pivot into the new economy, now we have a very different situation where the government is trying to keep companies alive for the near future, and we will only find out which ones won’t survive in the new reality after the lockdowns are lifted and we restart. This will be a second wave.

      5. The war had a distinct end, Japan’s surrender didn’t leave a whole lot of a chance for a full scale flare up. This situation is likely to have rolling flareups, with countries coming out of, and possibly returning into, lock down on different schedules with different paths. Rather than a clear near term horizon companies should still be hoarding cash etc and moving slowly into the recovery.

  25. proyas says:

    Is the MiG-15 better than the MiG-17 in any way?

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      The MiG-17 was built as a replacement for the MiG-15 so it is half a generation ahead and probably superior in most relevant ways. The MiG-15 is probably cheaper and easier to repair with duct tape, but that’s kind of a cheating answer. It is plausible that the MiG-17 had some pain points that the MiG-15 lacked (maybe the inner flaps jammed easily or something) but I can’t find anything and the Soviets probably didn’t go around telling people. And the MiG-15 probably had pain points of its own in spades.

    • Aapje says:

      Cool Mig-15 video (French pilots, turn on subtitles for English translation).

      • Deiseach says:

        Amazing video. Honestly, if I were a multi-billionaire, what would be a better way to spend all that excess dosh than getting flights in fighter jets over the Mojave? Looks amazing, landscape and sky and the feeling of flight.

        Thanks for the link!

    • cassander says:

      It’s got a more powerful engine (with an afterburner) with more wing sweep to go faster. It had some other aerodynamic changes to be more controllable at high (above .9) mach numbers. Not sure how useful that was in practice because being that high in the trans-sonic range isn’t a good place to be, but theoretically it’s an advantage.

  26. johan_larson says:

    There must be someone here who can answer this question. How tough are shoggoths in H.P. Lovecraft’s original stories?

    The reason I’m asking is that I’ve recently run into two portrayals of them that are really quite different. In the video game Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics, they’re tough but can be stopped with normal weapons. Shoot one with a rifle — and keep shooting — and it will die. But in the story “A Colder War”, by Charles Stross, shoggoths are depicted as utter murder machines, unstoppable by anything except possibly nuclear weapons. Which depiction is closer to canon?

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      Lovecraft mentions shoggoths in several works, but they are only described in detail in At the Mountains of Madness. If my memory serves my right they are described more like unstoppable murder machines, but they don’t really get a chance to do anything more than to chase the unarmed narrator for a bit. There’s no real opposition to the shoggoth, so who knows what it’s capable of?

    • Leafhopper says:

      I’ve only seen shoggoths “onscreen” in “At the Mountains of Madness.” In this depiction, gurl eha hc ntnvafg gjb oybxrf sebz n fpvragvsvp rkcrqvgvba, fb ab bar gevrf, yvxr, fcenlvat gurz jvgu znpuvar tha sver, ohg gurl qb evc n pbhcyr bs napvrag fgnesvfu nyvraf gb cvrprf, naq gur napvrag fgnesvfu nyvraf ner gurzfryirf cerggl zhpu hafgbccnoyr j/e/g uhznaf, so I think the Stross depiction is more accurate.

      Thinking logically, a shoggoth is a massive shapeshifting blob of protoplasm, so if you shoot it a thousand times, you’d just get a shoggoth with some metal in it, not a dead shoggoth.

      • John Schilling says:

        Mr. Willy Pete would like to have a word with you. There is a vast gulf between “bullets are not the right tool for this job” and “only nukes will do and maybe not even them”. It’s fifty or so tons of organic flesh without vital organs but terrestrial in origin; I’ll forgive a bunch of cartographers and geologists running away, otherwise man up and deal with it.

        • Leafhopper says:

          If I were writing the story in the Lovecraft/Stross tradition, I’d have the first grenade burn about half of one away, while the men cheer and the general lights his cigar. Then the remaining half would cook up something to neutralise the fire, and they’d get eaten, plus any other shoggoths that the demi-shoggoth touched would copy the mutation.

          In “A Colder War,” though, the one they were mainly thinking about nuking was Cthulhu. That should at least make him go to sleep if you’re on target.

        • Deiseach says:

          Mr. Willy Pete would like to have a word with you.

          Well, let’s see. If Wikipedia is accurate, the effects of white phosphorus are:

          In addition to direct injuries caused by fragments of their casings, white phosphorus munitions can cause injuries in two main ways: burn injuries and vapor inhalation.

          Incandescent particles from weapons using powdered white phosphorus as their payload produce extensive partial- and full-thickness burns, as will any attempt to handle burning submunitions without protective equipment. Phosphorus burns carry an increased risk of mortality due to the absorption of phosphorus into the body through the burned area with prolonged contact, which can result in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases multiple organ failure. White phosphorus particles continue to burn until completely consumed unless deprived of oxygen. In the case of weapons using felt-impregnated submunitions, incomplete combustion may occur resulting in up to 15% of the WP content remaining unburned. Such submunitions can prove hazardous as they are capable of spontaneous re-ignition if crushed by personnel or vehicles. In some cases, injury is limited to areas of exposed skin because the smaller WP particles do not burn completely through personal clothing before being consumed.

          Due to the pyrophoric nature of WP, penetrating injuries are immediately treated by smothering the wound using water, damp cloth or mud, isolating it from oxygen until fragments can be removed: military forces will typically do so using a bayonet or knife where able. Bicarbonate solution is applied to the wound to neutralise any build-up of phosphoric acid, followed by removal of any remaining visible fragments: these are easily observed as they are luminescent in dark surroundings. Surgical debridement around the wound is used to avoid fragments too small to detect causing later systemic failure, with further treatment proceeding as with a thermal burn.

          So I don’t doubt you could indeed inflict burn injuries on the outer surface of shoggoths. But they don’t have organs like lungs etc. to be affected by phosphorous poisoning, and they were initially bred to be submarine beasts of burden only (the migration to land was discouraged until the society of the Old Ones needed their labour to replace the dead draught-animals they had used on land). Therefore I think their structure is a lot harder to pierce than soft human tissues, and that they’d be able to do quite well without oxygen and so smother the phosphorous particles, especially by permitting them to pass some way into the mass of the shoggoth then sealing off the entrance wound by reforming their matter around it.

          Vapour inhalation is, of course, no problem at all for the shoggoths.

          I agree that there’s a middle ground between rifles and nuclear bombs, but I also think that while you could use high explosives to render a shoggoth into lumps of protoplasm, there is nothing to guarantee that they could not slowly re-form, in the same way the material form of Chthulu did in the encounter below:

          The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly. There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper. For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething astern; where—God in heaven!—the scattered plasticity of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original form, whilst its distance widened every second as the Alert gained impetus from its mounting steam.

          In order to destroy them, you’d have to obliterate any organic material completely, and that would take a lot of fuel and ammunition to do.

          And in the meantime, while you’re trying to burn every last scrap of shoggoth protoplasm into ashes, the shoggoths are bearing down on you and ripping your head off. So yes, there’s a middle ground, but if an overconfident party sets off to an encounter where there could be shoggoths armed only with rifles and presuming that those are enough to deal with them, I think they’re in for a nasty surprise:

          Mauled, compressed, twisted, and ruptured as they were, their chief common injury was total decapitation. From each one the tentacled starfish-head had been removed; and as we drew near we saw that the manner of removal looked more like some hellish tearing or suction than like any ordinary form of cleavage. Their noisome dark-green ichor formed a large, spreading pool; but its stench was half overshadowed by that newer and stranger stench, here more pungent than at any other point along our route. Only when we had come very close to the sprawling obstructions could we trace that second, unexplainable foetor to any immediate source—and the instant we did so Danforth, remembering certain very vivid sculptures of the Old Ones’ history in the Permian age 150 million years ago, gave vent to a nerve-tortured cry which echoed hysterically through that vaulted and archaic passage with the evil palimpsest carvings.

          I came only just short of echoing his cry myself; for I had seen those primal sculptures, too, and had shudderingly admired the way the nameless artist had suggested that hideous slime-coating found on certain incomplete and prostrate Old Ones—those whom the frightful shoggoths had characteristically slain and sucked to a ghastly headlessness in the great war of re-subjugation.

          • John Schilling says:

            “…a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us”,

            Suggests that Shoggoths are not only amorphous but continuously reforming, bringing unburnt protoplasm to the surface and quite likely bringing bubbles of whatever back into its interior. If “whatever” turns out to be air and burning phosphorous, that’s not going to be a very healthy Shoggoth.

            If not, it’s unclear how much danger such a beastie will be when its entire exterior including the sense organs is a burnt-over scab (or scabbed-over burn). And an arctic-aquatic animal susceptible to burn
            injuries is likely to be as afraid of fire as most other animals. If you encounter one in an aquatic environment you’ve obviously got problems, but on dry land fire is probably the way to go.

            Hmm, the official role-playing game doesn’t seem to have rules for white phosphorous (a curious oversight), but it looks like a barrage of eighteen Molotov cocktails should do in the average Shoggoth.

            The rules also allow bullets a nominal 1 point of damage regardless of caliber, but with the size and regenerative abilities of a Shoggoth, we’re talking full auto, preferably belt-fed. Hmm, looks like a skilled machine gunner could take down a Shoggoth with about 250 rounds of sustained fire. If you happen to have brought one of those, and he didn’t get eaten by the Shoggoth first.

          • Lambert says:

            What were distress flares made from back then?

          • johan_larson says:

            The rules also allow bullets a nominal 1 point of damage regardless of caliber, but with the size and regenerative abilities of a Shoggoth, we’re talking full auto, preferably belt-fed. Hmm, looks like a skilled machine gunner could take down a Shoggoth with about 250 rounds of sustained fire. If you happen to have brought one of those, and he didn’t get eaten by the Shoggoth first.

            The shoggoths in A Colder War seem tougher than that:

            Still photographic sequence
            From very high altitude — possibly in orbit — an eagle’s eye view of a remote village in mountainous country. Small huts huddle together beneath a craggy outcrop; goats graze nearby.

            In the second photograph, something has rolled through the village leaving a trail of devastation. The path is quite unlike the trail of damage left by an artillery bombardment: something roughly four metres wide has shaved the rocky plateau smooth, wearing it down as if with a terrible heat. A corner of a shack leans drunkenly, the other half sliced away cleanly. White bones gleam faintly in the track; no vultures descend to stab at the remains.

            These images were taken very recently, on successive orbital passes of a KH-11 satellite. They were timed precisely eighty-nine minutes apart. This village was the home of a noted Mujahedin leader. Note the similar footprint to the payloads on the load beds of the trucks seen at the 1962 parade.

            These indicators were present, denoting the presence of servitor units in use by Soviet forces in Afghanistan: the four metre wide gauge of the assimilation track. The total molecular breakdown of organic matter in the track. The speed of destruction — the event took less than five thousand seconds to completion, no survivors were visible, and the causative agent had already been uplifted by the time of the second orbital pass. This, despite the residents of the community being armed with DShK heavy machine guns, rocket propelled grenade launchers, and AK-47’s. Lastly: there is no sign of the causative agent even deviating from its course, but the entire area is depopulated. Except for excarnated residue there is no sign of human habitation.

            In the presence of such unique indicators, we have no alternative but to conclude that the Soviet Union has violated the Dresden Agreement by deploying GOLD JULY BOOJUM in a combat mode in the Khyber pass. There are no grounds to believe that a NATO armoured division would have fared any better than these mujahedin without nuclear support …

            Perhaps this is simply Stross going his own way for the purposes of his story. He needs the Lovecraftian tools to be formidable enough to matter in the Cold War. Or if we want to fit his presentation of shoggoths in with Chaosium’s, these militarized shoggoths could just be more formidable than the regular kind, the way an assault rifle is a more useful weapon than a nail gun. The Soviets could have bred or trained their shoggoths somehow.

    • John Schilling says:

      The only canon description is in “At the Mountains of Madness”, in which the protagonists all fail their SAN rolls and run away in abject terror. So we don’t really get an indication of their toughness. They are indicated as having defeated their creators in a series of uprisings / civil wars, which implies some sort of significant martial ability, but their creators were apparently handicapped by being dependent on shoggoth labor even as they were trying to defend themselves against extermination by shoggoth.

    • Deiseach says:

      I think Stross is closer to what shoggoths are like; I certainly don’t think, from Lovecraft’s “Mountains of Madness”, that mere projectile weapons like a rifle would do enough (or any) damage to slow them down.

      Imagine shooting into an enormous bowl of jelly with a rifle – sure, you’d do damage, but not in any meaningful way (unless you shredded it with a lot of weapons fire). Then imagine that bowl of jelly is able to come after you like a steam train.

      The Old Ones, when the shoggoths became intelligent and rebelled, “used curious weapons of molecular disturbance against the rebel entities, and in the end had achieved a complete victory”, so yes, something along the lines of nuclear weapons are necessary.

      Formless protoplasm able to mock and reflect all forms and organs and processes—viscous agglutinations of bubbling cells—rubbery fifteen-foot spheroids infinitely plastic and ductile—slaves of suggestion, builders of cities—more and more sullen, more and more intelligent, more and more amphibious, more and more imitative—Great God! What madness made even those blasphemous Old Ones willing to use and to carve such things?

      …(I)ts nearest comprehensible analogue is a vast, onrushing subway train as one sees it from a station platform—the great black front looming colossally out of infinite subterraneous distance, constellated with strangely coloured lights and filling the prodigious burrow as a piston fills a cylinder.

      But we were not on a station platform. We were on the track ahead as the nightmare plastic column of foetid black iridescence oozed tightly onward through its fifteen-foot sinus; gathering unholy speed and driving before it a spiral, re-thickening cloud of the pallid abyss-vapour. It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train—a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The Old Ones, when the shoggoths became intelligent and rebelled, “used curious weapons of molecular disturbance against the rebel entities, and in the end had achieved a complete victory”, so yes, something along the lines of nuclear weapons are necessary.

        Strong disagree. They’re just cells (Dyer believes he finds evidence that the Cambrian Explosion fauna are descended from shoggoth matter that lost shape-shifting under natural selection) so while bullets should be mostly useless, fire should disturb their molecules just fine without requiring a nuke.

        • Lambert says:

          Shoot them with rock salt till it messes with the osmotic pressure?
          Or see if tide pods degrade them?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Shoot them with rock salt till it messes with the osmotic pressure?

            There was a Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie, The Horror of Party Beach, where it turned out that the weakness of the humanoid sea monsters was pure sodium, which reacts violently with water. … the protagonists ended up hurling metallic sodium with their bare hands.

          • Lambert says:

            I’ve never tried throwing alkali metals at a fish but I doubt they’d be best pleased.
            And I think Na is safe enough that you could handle it with dry hands and *probably* not end up getting a skin graft. Especially if it’s coated in mineral oil.

        • broblawsky says:

          I have to assume that a creature that could generate any kind of tissue could make itself effectively fireproof for at least a little while. Some extremophilic bacteria can survive for hours at 130 C; a shoggoth could probably beat that record pretty easily. I can imagine it growing layers of heat-shielding foam or reflective scales to deflect heat.

          • Robert Liguori says:

            I think the difficulty is that if the shoggoths are working under even a remote understanding of biology, then the issue with fire is that we’re taking the gribbly energy source they have to fuel their strength and transformations and turning it into an energy source for burning more shoggoth.

            And if they’re not working under an understanding of biology we understand, then there’s no way to say that small arms won’t work.

            Hell, if we can infer anything about them, the fact that they’re chilling in Antarctica suggests that they don’t deal with breakaway oxidation reactions very well at all.

          • Deiseach says:

            the issue with fire is that we’re taking the gribbly energy source they have to fuel their strength and transformations and turning it into an energy source for burning more shoggoth.

            I think we can at least agree that rifles won’t be enough for a possible encounter with a shoggoth, you’re going to need a flamethrower or something in that area.

            I think the original Pabodie expedition to the Antarctic only had rifles and the like, so they had nothing to handle shoggoths with (hence the sensible running away screaming, which is the only way the two remaining members survived).

    • broblawsky says:

      I’m inclined towards the “extremely durable” end of the spectrum; I can’t imagine that a creature that could be destroyed by conventional weaponry would’ve troubled the Elder Things too much.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        Some Mythos creatures are killed or weakened by conventional weaponry. Acid, boats ramming into them, and if I remember correctly guns are used in Charles Dexter Ward to great effect.

        There is a reason that the Mi-Go hide and use guns (or human intermediaries with guns) in Whisperer.

        If the monsters weren’t afraid or mortal, they wouldn’t be hiding. (Someone correct me if there was a different reason why the Mi-Go remained in out-of-the-way areas).

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Mi-Go can be killed by dogs. Wilbur Whateley is a son of Yog-Sothoth and he’s killed by a Miskatonic University guard dog during an attempted burglary.
          The narrative voice in At the Mountains of Madness tries to play “ooh unstoppable” with the Mi-Go but admits that Lovecraft described some species inconsistently:

          It was curious to note from the pictured battles that both the Cthulhu spawn and the Mi-Go seem to have been composed of matter more widely different from that which we know than was the substance of the Old Ones. They were able to undergo transformations and reintegrations impossible for their adversaries, and seem therefore to have originally come from even remoter gulfs of cosmic space. … All this, of course, assuming that the non-terrestrial linkages and the anomalies ascribed to the invading foes are not pure mythology.

          The vulnerable Mi-Go are the true interpretation, because that happens on-screen rather than being some human’s interpretation of sapient crinoid murals.
          I could go on all day about the Call of Cthulhu fandom’s wrong interpretations of Lovecraft.

          • Deiseach says:

            Mi-Go can be killed by dogs. Wilbur Whateley is a son of Yog-Sothoth and he’s killed by a Miskatonic University guard dog during an attempted burglary.

            Mi-Go are more traditional aliens, so they are vulnerable in the same way as humans are vulnerable. Wilbur Whateley was mostly human, or humanoid, and was in the process of becoming a monstrosity when the guard dog killed him. He had a twin brother who was more like the father’s side of the family:

            “The thing has gone forever,” Armitage said. “It has been split up into what it was originally made of, and can never exist again. It was an impossibility in a normal world. Only the least fraction was really matter in any sense we know. It was like its father—and most of it has gone back to him in some vague realm or dimension outside our material universe; some vague abyss out of which only the most accursed rites of human blasphemy could ever have called him for a moment on the hills.”

            …But Joe Osborn interrupted him to question the Arkham men anew.
            “What was it anyhaow, an’ haowever did young Wizard Whateley call it aout o’ the air it come from?”

            Armitage chose his words very carefully.

            “It was—well, it was mostly a kind of force that doesn’t belong in our part of space; a kind of force that acts and grows and shapes itself by other laws than those of our sort of Nature. We have no business calling in such things from outside, and only very wicked people and very wicked cults ever try to. There was some of it in Wilbur Whateley himself—enough to make a devil and a precocious monster of him, and to make his passing out a pretty terrible sight. I’m going to burn his accursed diary, and if you men are wise you’ll dynamite that altar-stone up there, and pull down all the rings of standing stones on the other hills. Things like that brought down the beings those Whateleys were so fond of—the beings they were going to let in tangibly to wipe out the human race and drag the earth off to some nameless place for some nameless purpose.

            “But as to this thing we’ve just sent back—the Whateleys raised it for a terrible part in the doings that were to come. It grew fast and big from the same reason that Wilbur grew fast and big—but it beat him because it had a greater share of the outsideness in it. You needn’t ask how Wilbur called it out of the air. He didn’t call it out. It was his twin brother, but it looked more like the father than he did.”

            The more material the entity is, the more it would be vulnerable to human weapons; Wilbur Whateley was the son of a human mother so his share of earthly materiality was enough to let him be killed. His twin brother, on the other hand, has had the material part that allowed it a toehold in our world destroyed, but the ‘outside’ part of it still exists.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Mi-Go are more traditional aliens, so they are vulnerable in the same way as humans are vulnerable. Wilbur Whateley was mostly human, or humanoid, and was in the process of becoming a monstrosity when the guard dog killed him. He had a twin brother who was more like the father’s side of the family:

            Exactly. On-screen at least, the Mi-Go are traditional extraterrestrials with normal bodies. Wilbur’s twin is a supernatural being, and the relationship between his nature, the supernatural father, and mortal Wilbur follows Weird, faux-theological rules.
            Sometimes HPL wrote science fiction or supernatural horror unmixed, then sometimes he got really weird by mixing them, like “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” where the hero experiences ego-death from meeting a benevolent Yog-Sothoth and reincarnates as an extraterrestrial wizard.

  27. EchoChaos says:

    The most important debate on reopening America, happening now at the WSJ

  28. DinoNerd says:

    In the latest in local security theater, the powers that be have decided that since current measures appear to be working, with R < 1, they will now require everyone to wear face masks whenever they go outdoors. They aren't supposed to wear medical quality face masks – anything cloth will do, or perhaps even anything at all. If we do this long enough, they hint, this might let them relax some of the existing security measures.

    AFAIK, stores that sell either cloth face masks or sewing supplies are non-essential and not open, so even though this requirement won't apply until next Wednesday, the odds of receiving mail-ordered masks in time, ordered today (when I first heard of the new rules, which were in fact announced yesterday) are approximately equal to zero. (It's taking 2 weeks or more for any mail order I do.)

    Since I don't believe that random scraps of cloth will impede transmission in any measurable way, I plan to have a little fun with this. I found a cheap online vendor of burqas with prices comparable to mask prices on etsy (which are mostly running >= $10 each). I’ve ordered two. Hopefully the material will be washable.

    I refrained from ordering any of the claimed-to-be-actually-medically-OK masks from the site where I found the burqas, which “smells” likely to be fraud-prone (false and/or misleading advertisements, lower tier chinese products, and possibly completely unreliable delivery dates.) If they are medically effective, other people need them more than I do; if they are some kind of scam, I don’t want to support the scammers.

    I did order some “fashion” masks that appeared likely to be launderable. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any in really outrageous colours.

    This weekend I suppose I should try to rig something that will pass inspection – but not cause heat stroke as we get into summer temperatures – from whatever scrap cloth and thread that may be lying around the house, in case the rules actually get enforced.

    Does anyone have ideas for a washable way to express my opinion of the order, on the burqa, in a way that’s readable from 6 feet away? 🙁 OTOH, probably wearing the burqa will say it all, since I won’t otherwise look remotely like a Muslim woman.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Why the hate? It’s probably the best thing they can do. As for not being medical grade, well, that’s secondary. Point is to stop spread, so if everybody had a bandana on their face we’d be 90% there. Medical grade also happens to protect the wearer a lot more, so that’s your benefit, but the common benefit is having a clear mask-on rule.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Because they don’t have, and haven’t earned the authority to make these decisions.

        • metalcrow says:

          they don’t have…the authority to make these decisions

          I realize this is more coming from a place of anger, but yes, they do. Were they democratically elected? Then they have the authority to institute emergency measures such as this to prevent the spread of disease.
          Unless you are specifically questioning the constitutional ability/legality of these orders?

          • baconbits9 says:

            This is not coming from a place of anger for me, closer to resignation.

            Were they democratically elected? Then they have the authority to institute emergency measures such as this to prevent the spread of disease.

            No, it is not established that any democratically elected person can enact any policy to fight any emergency.

          • metalcrow says:

            ah, yes i agree there, they definitely don’t have the authority to enact any policy. But they (used as a catch all for local leadership: governor, mayor, etc) do have the authority to enact a good number, certainly. What about this mask one makes them not have the authority?

          • Matt M says:

            No, it is not established that any democratically elected person can enact any policy to fight any emergency.

            At a bare minimum, it would seem like any government that wants to even pretend to have any sort of separation of powers or checks and balances might set things up such that the people who decide whether or not we’re in an emergency aren’t the exact same people who get to decide which of our rights suddenly disappear because we’re in an emergency.

        • Chalid says:

          Most localities will require me to wear pants in public. Mask-wearing requirements during a pandemic are at least as justified as that.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Were those ordinances passed by vote or by decree? Did those areas go from a norm of not wearing pants to suddenly mandating pants?

            Its a complete red herring to use these analogies, we have a system which is grounded on individual rights with recourse through the courts. The fact that local, state and federal authorities have some powers that they can enact with some similarities does not automatically translate to ‘anything we see fit in a time of crisis’.

      • DinoNerd says:

        We’ve already reduced spread locally, to the point where it appears that each new infection creates less than one additional infection. How low do you want it to get? We could lock everyone in individual cells, with nothing whatsoever going into those cells. They’d eventually die, of course – pretty fast if even air wasn’t allowed in; slower if we allowed water; slower still if there was food delivery, but that last would require some people outside the cells – but it would reduce transmission to zero.

        Also, where is the research that says that whatever R is today, simply mandating face coverings on top of all the other current restrictions, would produce a 90% improvement – which I’ll interpret as changing today’s R value to 10% of whatever it currently is?

        I don’t buy it. Maybe I’m slow to update my priors, which were formed when I was being told that wearing masks wouldn’t help. Has anyone even done research about contagion via crappy cloth masks that probably don’t fit? Even a simulation with particles of the right size? I’m seeing some discussions of aerosal transmission, but nothing connecting the dots, and if our health officers cited any studies, that didn’t come through in the newspaper report.

        I have more confidence in our local public safety officers than in e.g. the CDC, given what they’ve done so far, but this pattern matches to forbidding knitting needles on airplanes, while allowing more common implements of similar efficacy for e.g. stabbing or threatening to stab pilots.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          I feel for the poor slob who has to pull the switch that relaxes a lockdown. You have to do it sometime, and from what we read you have to do it pretty darned soon or people will just do it themselves. But you know with certainty that when you do it, people will die who would otherwise not have. (Yes, some are dying from the effects of the lockdown, but that’s not your mandate.) If you are really unlucky, a lot will die. So you do whatever you can to mitigate that — if it turns out it’s just theater, it could still help if it reminds everybody to keep their distance whenever they can and to keep washing their hands. But the lily pads are always going to get the last word, and anything you do will be wrong by some measure.

          In short, I am quite put off by how peevish you seem about it all. Show some charity to the poor slob.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It’s not just this, it’s that one would like the easing of restrictions to be successful, thus not necessitating further lockdowns.

            Horse:water or something

          • Matt M says:


            I’m just curious… do you see any scenario in which we can return fully to normal (excluding say, events over 1,000 people) by the end of 2020 in the absence of both a vaccine and herd immunity?

            If not, are you confident that governments will posses the political will to do what is necessary to enforce lockdowns for at least that long?

            The primary reason I favor ending the lockdowns is because I see them as just delaying the inevitable. A vaccine isn’t coming soon. And we simply aren’t going to do this for “as long as it takes until the vaccine comes.” Flatten the curve had some plausibility back when it meant “delay the peak long enough for the hospitals to get ready” but… well… we’ve already done that. If they aren’t ready by now, we can’t just keep saying “another two weeks” forever…

          • Chalid says:

            I’m not HBC, but the time locked down potentially buys us better treatments (could reduce death rates by a significant factor), time to produce face masks for everyone, time to ramp up testing capacity, etc. It’s not vaccine or nothing.

            In another few weeks we will have much higher-quality evidence on various drugs, for example.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m optimistic that, once we get the cases “low enough,” a test-and-trace combined with “reasonable” social distancing will let us keep the untracked cases to a small nuisance such that our health system can deal with it reasonably.

            By “reasonable” social distancing, I mean the government allowing all but the largest gatherings, combined with people taking this shit seriously now that they know what’s at stake, so they do the low-cost things: wash hands, masks everywhere, stay six feet apart, extra testing and vigilance around nursing homes. (I don’t know about schools.)

            Ohio is looking at easing up around May 1. They shut down early and so they’ve got a good handle on the problem.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            I’m just curious… do you see any scenario in which we can return fully to normal (excluding say, events over 1,000 people) by the end of 2020 in the absence of both a vaccine and herd immunity?

            Well, I’m not sure what all exactly you are including in fully normal. I don’t think is/is not “fully normal” is the right metric, because it is binary. Rather the question is “how far along the spectrum from lockdown to the way we were can we go?” So, an analog, rather than digital, question.

            But let’s take it at literal face value and assume you mean we can go back to getting kisses from grandma after we went to that business conference last week.

            So, the scenario where I could see that happen is a) we get a really good infection mitigation drug, and it is in mass production, and easily available at reasonable costs to the health system, and b) we have really ramped up testing, ideally both capability and accuracy, along with funding for teams to do trace contacting, c) we figure out that testing and trace contacting actually results in tracking down a
            significant portion of those infected.

            With just b) and c) I could see us moving significantly towards normal, but without good mitigation strategies, you are still look at slowly rolling towards IFRxTotal Infected deaths.

            I guess we could modify (a) to basically anything that lets as substantially, like an order of magnitude, lower IFR, even if that really is just “Dude, everyone is already infected in NY so IFR is super low”, a possibility I think is highly unlikely, as we know from Roosevelt and The Princess, that Covid isn’t infectious enough to do that. The caveat to that caveat would be that our testing failure rate could be so high that, no, everyone on those two ships really was infected. Certainly there are rumblings that it is sometimes quite hard, and time sensitive, to get a positive test.

        • The Nybbler says:

          In short, I am quite put off by how peevish you seem about it all. Show some charity to the poor slob.

          The poor slob is in my case the Governor of NJ. That sort of thing comes with the territory; it’s not all raising taxes and handing out the money to your party’s clients.

          • Matt M says:

            Won’t someone PLEASE consider the effect all this complaining has on the self-esteem of our heroic bureaucrats???

        • BlazingGuy says:

          This video from the New England Journal of Medicine suggests (to me at least) that masks are helpful, if not 100% effective:

          Which makes sense. I kind of bought into the original CDC position, but I’ve since come around to the idea that having something between you and your interlocutor is a good thing.

          ETA: that article doesn’t say what kind of mask they were using though, which seems potentially important.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Well, the video linked by BlazingGuy is probably the best answer.

          But yeah, in the end we have to put together disparate and unreliable info and make an educated guess. My intuitions tell me that surface transmission isn’t _the_ main vector. Also I’ve read, and makes a lot of sense, that droplet vs aerosol transmission is not a binary choice but a continuum. The better the virus resists, the smaller particles it can transmit through and at greater distances. Not sure if it’s very different from most flu/cold viruses – I’m betting lots of colds are just as infectious or more, but we don’t really care. But anyways, my guess is that it’s, at the very least, a lot more infectious than “sneeze directly in my face”.

          And the last piece of educated guess comes from me wearing a surgical mask outside. I started to note how droplets of saliva sometimes come out of my mouth when I speak. It’s probably be interesting to do an ultraviolet test or smth on worn masks. I don’t cough, sneeze or shout, and yet if I were infected I’d still put the virus in the air. But not with the simplest of maks – anything, just a bandana still would catch a supermajority of saliva. Even on a sneeze. Sure, not 100%, but that’s irrelevant – only statistics matter here, and reducing 99.9% of what I believe is the main vector is pretty damn cool.

          Also cost vs effect – wearing masks is something we can get used to doing long term – years, if needed. In time we’ll have more fashionable and comfortable ones. So it’s a reasonable cost, and what we may buy with it is a chance of a reasonably normal life.

          And speaking of, I’m not in the mood to throw such chances away. So far vaccines sound like they’re really more than a year away, and pretty much all tentative treatments keep failing (serious) trials.

        • eric23 says:

          Before the lockdown, R0 was around 3 and the number of cases was increasing by about 33% per day. With the lockdown, as you say, R0<1. If the lockdown is ended, what exactly do you propose to prevent R0 from returning to 3?

          • DinoNerd says:

            Well, adding a mask requirement on top of the existing lockdown certainly won’t help improve things after the lockdown ends.

            My best guess is that mask + no lockdown will merely reduce R0 [no lockdown] from e.g 3 to 2.9 Or maybe from 3 to 2.99. The reduction coming from perhaps as many as 5% of my local population having already had CV19, per the antibody studies, might be larger than any reduction from mask wearing, but of course mask wearing will be given credit for it.

            Remember, I’m coming from a place of believing what we were originally told, and distrusting studies that use bateria as a proxy for virus particles when considering whether they pass through filters.

            See also

            There are problems with that study – notably it’s measuring at very close ranges – but basically it made my confirmation bias very happy, when it appeared in my feed this morning.

          • Theodoric says:

            I thought the original point of the lockdown was to build up health system capacity. Haven’t we done that (eg turning Javits Center into a hospital)? The goalposts seem to be moving.

          • albatross11 says:

            a. Keep anyone showing symptoms isolated/away from others as much as possible.

            The estimates I’ve seen for asymptomatic spread range up to around 30% of spread happening before transmission, but mostly much lower than that. (That’s the worst case, as far as I can see.) Intuitively, we know that some activities (coughing, sneezing, singing, yelling) send respiratory droplets further away, and so probably help you spread the virus more effectively, and asymptomatic/presymptomatic people shouldn’t be doing a lot of coughing or sneezing. (Those may also help you make smaller particles go airborne–anyone know more?). Also, a more serious infection should correlate with more virus being made in your body, and thus with a bigger immune response and more fever/feeling lousy. So my expectation is that you are probably a lot less contagious when you’re not feeling sick.

            But whatever the fraction of spread is happening from people without symptoms, preventing the people *with* symptoms from spreading the virus is a no-brainer, and doesn’t require as-yet-undemonstrated competence on the part of folks getting the tests widely available.

            So the first step is going to be asking anyone with any symptoms of a cold or flu to stay home, doing fever and symptom checks when you come to work or try to fly or go into a public space (especially anything to do with food service or taking care of old people), and doing whatever we can to make sure people have some kind of sick leave so they don’t try to gut it out. Other than the sick leave part, all that is pretty cheap and easy to implement–taking a temperature doesn’t require expensive new equipment or lots of training. And just sending home anyone who comes to work coughing or sneezing will accomplish a lot.

            All by itself, that should dramatically cut back on how many new cases we get per infected person. We’re pretty sure most transmission is from people with symptoms, after all.

            b. All the stuff we were doing before the lockdown, plus masks. That is, keeping 6 feet of distance, washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, etc.

            This is all stuff that’s cheap. Sanitizing surfaces is easy with dozens of household chemicals. (There are recipes for making disinfecting or sanitizing solutions from bleach widely available.). Washing hands is easy, and we can make enough hand sanitizer if we want to. (Much of the supply problem is apparently due to dumbass regulations; surely if we can shut the country down for a couple months, we can waive those regs.) Keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t hard in most environments, and can be made to work in most workplaces and retail stores.

            Require anyone coming into the office/store/whatever to wear a mask. I expect we’ll have a glut of masks sooner or later (my wife ordered some KN95 masks online and they came, so it’s not like it’s totally unattainable to get some kind of mask). Surgical masks are easier to make, and even handmade cloth masks are probably a little better than nothing. Get the good masks on the public-facing people and the people dealing with food and old people first.

            c. Go through all the places that it would be easy for a superspreader to make lots of people sick at once, and see how many we can prevent. Crowded public transit, bars, concert venues, movie theaters, etc., need to stay shut down for awhile, and when they do reopen they’ll need to be be modified to put 6 feet of distance between people and ensure good ventilation.

            d. Somehow cause everyone involved in testing to get the lead out, perhaps by asking Russia if they have any patches of Siberia left to which we could exile obstructionist bureaucrats. (Or maybe Trump can negotiate something with Greenland–I hear he’s kinda interested in deals there.) When we get to the point where we can do a lot of testing, we can actually figure out where we stand and what’s working well/poorly.

            SARS2 doesn’t spread all that well, which means that all this can actually work at reducing R_0 quite a bit.

          • noyann says:


            They looked at the sharpest air flow besides sneezing and had the petri dishes at 20cm distance — that is of rather low external validity for real life mask wearing situations. People should know by now how to keep distance (and 20 cm is rare even in normal times (maybe not in S Korea?)), and coughers (or sneezers) are supposed to be in hospital or self-isolation anyway. No useful conclusions for Western-world recommendations so far.

            And that they could not detect virus on the inside of 3 of 4 cotton masks and of 3 of 4 surgical masks makes me suspicious about all the rest. Not even the tiniest number or droplets not making the sharp bend to the gaps, but after passing the gaps doing a sharp u-turn towards the outer surface? Did they mix up the swabs or the surfaces?

            A turbulent jet due to air leakage around the mask edge could contaminate the outer surface.

            But a turbulent jet passing between teeth and lips does not deposit anything in the inner surface? Naaaaaaa.

          • eric23 says:

            Before lockdown, all Western countries (and China) had ~33% case growth per day, while Japan had ~8% case growth per day. Japan didn’t have a lockdown, nor extensive testing and case tracing like Korea and Singapore. What it did have was a ban on very large events, plus mask wearing and a culture of not talking in public. Apparently, that was enough to decrease R0 from 3 to something like 1.5 (I haven’t done the exact math). It therefore seems like mask wearing would be an extremely prudent measure for other countries to take, and significantly reduce the risks of easing the lockdown.

    • Well... says:

      probably wearing the burqa will say it all, since I won’t otherwise look remotely like a Muslim woman.

      A burqa is a full-length garment, so yeah, you will. Even a niqab still comes down well below the shoulders, so unless you’re wearing it with a spaghetti-string tank top and short shorts or something you’ll still look pretty Muslim in it.

      Maybe you meant to say a hijab — but a hijab doesn’t cover the face, just the hair, so I don’t see the point in using it to get around a facemask requirement.

      I don’t know if you’re male or female, BTW (sorry if you’ve told us before — either I didn’t see it or I forgot); if you’re male the burqa and niqab might still theoretically allow you to pass as a Muslim woman! The hijab on the other hand will just make you look crazy unless you’re clean shaven with a feminine face, in which case you’ll only come off as crazy upon closer inspection.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I meant the head covering.

        The picture was basically a combination of head and face covering, with only the eyes showing, in black.

        I found it by googling for burqa, but I think they may have also indexed it as niqab. The other niqab pictures looked quite different however.

    • S_J says:


      there is a bit of a Twitter argument over whether an old Georgia law against masks should be relaxed. After all, the law was intended to make it illegal for members of the KKK to appear in public in their distinctive masks.

      If you think the risk level of doing so is one you accept… would you try to wear a KKK-style hood and mask in public? With text saying “no, I’m not in the Klan” that is visible at about 6 feet away?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        How about just keep making it illegal to wear masks while engaged in protests or political assemblies? I’d prefer still keeping it illegal for the klan to wear masks, and I’d want that to apply to antifa, too.

        • SamChevre says:

          At least in Virginia, the convictions for mask-wearing often were associated with armed robbery.

        • Aapje says:

          @Conrad Honcho

          That would effectively be a ban on protests or political assemblies…

        • pansnarrans says:

          “How about just keep making it illegal to wear masks while engaged in protests or political assemblies?”

          This creates the odd scenario where you can go for a walk alone in the countryside with a mask on but have to take it off if you join a peace march with thousands of people.

          Personally I favour people being allowed to wear whatever they want, all things being equal.

    • The Nybbler says:

      Does anyone have ideas for a washable way to express my opinion of the order, on the burqa, in a way that’s readable from 6 feet away?

      Assuming the burqa is black, get some white felt and sew (or iron-on) a facsimile of the ISIS flag.

      On a similar note, this NJ man has effectively expressed his opinion that the order is pants-on-head stupid.

    • DinoNerd says:

      In contrast to the efficacy of random cloth masks, we also have this headline (might be paywalled):

      Coronavirus: Bay Area officials warn some N95 masks not effective against spread

      Quoting the article:

      While standard N95 respirators, when worn properly, can reduce the wearer’s exposure to 95% of airborne particles and protect those around them from potentially infected coughs, sneezes and other respiratory droplets; N95 respirators with a built-in exhalation valve — or one-way vent – pose a potentially serious issue.

      The date of this article is one day after the new order for everyone to cover their mouth and nose.

      It looks like the issue here is actually that these masks only protect the wearer from other people, but don’t protect other people from the wearer.

      But talk about confusing messaging. And note that while googling for masks I might be able to buy, I found plenty with exhalation valves ;-(

      • eric23 says:

        It looks like the issue here is actually that these masks only protect the wearer from other people, but don’t protect other people from the wearer.

        That is important. It seems that masks in general don’t protect the wearer much (because the virus in the air will still land on you and eventually get in your system, maybe even through the mask), but do protect people from the wearer (because the mask slows the speed of air exiting in a cough or during speech, so the virus then spreads a shorter distance).

    • HeelBearCub says:

      If you really feel the need to tell everyone that you resent being told what to do, you can just carry around a bluetooth speaker playing this rather famous comedic song on a loop:

    • John Schilling says:

      There is no reasonable prospect of everyone getting a daily N-95 or even surgical mask in the next few months. And improvised cloth masks, made used and cared for by amateurs, are of extremely limited value in preventing spread of COVID-19 (or much of anything else) between asymptomatic persons. Not zero value, but I’m rairly certain the role they are playing here is somewhere between a placebo and a safety blanket.

      And I’m glad that there’s a thing people can do that will let them say “I’m doing something!” and not feel so helpless, even if it does very little good. For all people other than politicians, that is. Politicians, to feel like they are Doing Something, have to either mandate or ban things, and bannning things like showing your face to your fellow human beings kind of a big deal. We shouldn’t be letting them do that just so that they can feel better about themselves, and we certainly shouldn’t be letting them do that just so that they can look better to voters who don’t know any better.

      • Cliff says:

        improvised cloth masks, made used and cared for by amateurs, are of extremely limited value in preventing spread of COVID-19 (or much of anything else) between asymptomatic persons. Not zero value, but I’m rairly certain the role they are playing here is somewhere between a placebo and a safety blanket.

        Why? The virus is spread by saliva droplets spraying out of your mouth into other peoples’ faces (or much more rarely, onto some surface like another person’s hand that they then use to pick their nose). Any barrier between your mouth and their face is going to be primo.

        • acymetric says:

          I am not a doctor, and have no special knowledge that would inform this take, but my thoughts:

          1) Saliva droplets get on your (fairly porous) home made mask. Even if we assume none make it through during the initial contamination (my guess is that some will make it through), you know have coronavirus droplets soaked into the fabric you are breathing through. It might reduce the amount you’re breathing in as some stay stuck to the fabric, but seems to me you’re still going to be inhaling virus in that scenario.

          2) People are going to end up re-using their home made masks. This means leaving virus contaminated masks lying around (I’m assuming at least some large percentage won’t bother to do a thorough cleaning of the mask after each outing), plus if they aren’t careful to mark the sides of the mask the next time they might well put the mask on with the virus-side touching their face.

          • eric23 says:

            Those points don’t change the fact that if YOU are sick, the mask will slow your exhaled air and the virus will spread a shorter distance.

        • John Schilling says:

          Well, first, the only study we’ve got says improvised cloth masks are worse than useless. As Scott notes, there are problems with the study and it’s highly counterintuitive, but it’s also difficult to turn the results into cloth masks doing much good.

          Second, airflow is like electricity in that it takes the path of least resistance. For your typical ill-fitted mask of too-heavy cloth, the path of least resistance isn’t to filter itself through the cloth, but to flow out through the gaps. And it’s not at all clear that e.g. two droplet-laden airstreams going six feet out to either side, is an improvement over one going six feet forward.

          And third, as acymetric notes, anything your mask does stop, winds up on your mask. Which you or someone else in your family are going to make a hamfisted amateur attempt to clean and reuse.

          If you’re so certain it’s a good thing that it makes you feel better to wear a mask, knock yourself out. If you’re so certain it’s a good thing that you want to lock up other people for not wearing masks, prove it.

          • Which you or someone else in your family are going to make a hamfisted amateur attempt to clean and reuse.

            As best I can tell, the virus dies down to undetectable levels on most materials in three days or so. So why isn’t it sufficient to cycle through four masks, using one a day?

          • eric23 says:

            Well, first, the only study we’ve got says improvised cloth masks are worse than useless.

            I have seen several articles online saying the opposite (i.e. that multiple studies have found masks do help). Who to trust? I don’t feel terrible about siding with national health authorities on this, over a blogger named Scott.

          • acymetric says:


            i.e. that multiple studies have found masks do help

            Real masks or homemade masks?

          • DinoNerd says:

            When I see an article online that says “multiple studies have found”, I look for the footnotes.

            If there are links to some of those studies, or to a meta-study, and those links lead to reasonable sites (not The Onion ;-), then I consider that the statement might be reasonable, though I’m inclined to click through and make sure that the studies appear to have been reasonable and relevant, and actually produced the results claimed by the poster.

            If there are no links, then my level of belief depends on whether I have the knowledge to supply those links myself, and I try not to update my priors at all. (No new info, except that the poster believes something.)

            Except for the how-far-do-droplets-go model, I still haven’t see any positive studies featuring improvised facemasks. I have now seen two negative studies. I’ve linked the second one in this thread; Scott already linked the first one.

            I’m now interested in the source of the “spread by droplets in the air, mostly, not deposits on surfaces” hypothesis, which seems to now have become consensus belief. Where is the evidence supporting it, and how good is that evidence?

          • John Schilling says:

            I have seen several articles online saying the opposite (i.e. that multiple studies have found masks do help).

            Properly-used N95 and P100 masks help a lot. Surgical masks help somewhat. Improvised cloth masks, we’re not even sure whether they help or harm. “Masks”, is too imprecise a category to say anything useful about, so anyone saying “masks” help without saying front and center what kind of masks, should be ignored. If your country’s national health service is talking up the virtues of “masks” and some random blogger is digging up studies about different kinds of masks, you need a better national health service and may have to make do with a blogger until you get one.

          • Tatterdemalion says:

            Well, first, the only study we’ve got says improvised cloth masks are worse than useless. As Scott notes, there are problems with the study and it’s highly counterintuitive, but it’s also difficult to turn the results into cloth masks doing much good.

            Wait, what? this is a review of 31 different studies; the conclusion was that the evidence base wasn’t great, but on balance they probably helped.

          • John Schilling says:

            Wait, what? this is a review of 31 different studies;

            This apppears to be a review of 31 studies of “masks”, making no attempt to distinguish between different types of masks except to note that most of the data they could find was for professionally manufactured surgical masks. It does not seem to address the question specifically at hand, which is the effectiveness of improvised cloth masks.

          • Rebecca Friedman says:


            I’m now interested in the source of the “spread by droplets in the air, mostly, not deposits on surfaces” hypothesis, which seems to now have become consensus belief. Where is the evidence supporting it, and how good is that evidence?

            I shifted towards that theory based on the story of the choir in Washington State. By the descriptions they were using hand sanitizer and avoiding touching each other, and singing isn’t an activity that involves much touching your mouth or eyes, but it involves a lot of hard breathing.

            Other than that, though, I haven’t looked into it a lot; I’m mostly relying on what I perceive as expert consensus.

            (And washing my groceries.)

      • Radu Floricica says:

        In Bucharest you can barely see people on the street without surgical masks. Almost no N95 – but surgical masks are already around 60 cents online, or around $2 a piece in pharmacies. And I have good reason to suspect we’re at the tail end of western civilization.

        And improvised cloth masks, made used and cared for by amateurs, are of extremely limited value in preventing spread of COVID-19 (or much of anything else) between asymptomatic persons.

        The scenario I care about is a symptomatic person going in the same store as me at the same time. And in this case having absolutely anything between his mouth and my lungs is very very useful. 80-20 applies – I’m pretty sure a cough/sneeze/speech behind a mask dramatically decreases both matter expelled and distance traveled.

        somewhere between a placebo and a safety blanket.

        This applies very well to how much cloth masks protect the wearer. But having the social convention of everybody wearing some form of mask protects everybody, even if it’s cloth.

      • albatross11 says:

        The best evidence I know for the benefit of surgical masks in limiting the spread of infection is this paper. They got people with seasonal coronavirus (the kind that causes a cold, not the kind that kills you), influenza, and seasonal rhinovirus (which also causes colds). What they found was a significant decrease in virus in large droplets (what’s important for close contact and contaminating surfaces) for seasonal coronavirus and influenza, and also a significant decrease in small droplets (what’s responsible for airborne transmission at a distance) in seasonal coronavirus.

        The Wikipedia video linked elsethread also shows that there’s a pretty significant effect on airflow from sneezes by wearing a surgical mask or even using a cupped hand or tissue. That matters for limiting the distance your small droplets travel, and probably also for catching most of the droplets so they don’t end up on someone else’s salad or in their face.

        I would be quite surprised if masks gave no value at all. They’re probably giving the wearer a little bit of protection (keeping them from touching their face, stopping large droplets from someone else’s sneeze), and they seem almost certain to be making it less likely that a given person will transmit the virus to someone else.

        Because R_0 isn’t all that high for this infection, stuff that drops the probability that someone will transmit their infection by, say, 20-30%, is pretty worthwhile.

        Makeshift cloth masks are probably not going to work as well as surgical masks, but they seem almost certain to limit the number and range of large respiratory droplets, and we’re pretty sure those explain a lot of disease transmission, so it’s almost got to be a win.

    • DinoNerd says:

      So someone decided to put masks on covid-19 patients, and measure how much virus wound up on a petri dish when they coughed at it.

      My confirmation bias loves the results.

      The obvious issue is that the petri dishes were at closer than conversational distance, way closer than social-distancing distance, and the people wearing the masks were not asymptomatic.

      • matkoniecz says:

        For start note that testing indicates that masks reduce number of expelled viruses. And that scale is logarithmic.

        So for me it confirms that masks help but are not 100% effective.

        My confirmation bias also loves the results.

        Some results are suspicious at best. Patient 4 has very weird results. Also, n=4.

      • noyann says:

        Shh.. my reply went into the wrong branch. Please see further up. And then @matkoniecz ninja’d it.

  29. Del Cotter says:

    When Scott posted his parody “Legal Systems Very Different From Ours”, based on David’s “Economic Systems Very Different From Ours”, I wanted to mention John Keegan’s A History of Warfare, because it might as well be called “War Systems Very Different From Ours”. It takes Clausewitz’s aphorism, and, noting that it doesn’t really describe war as many societies have waged it, takes a tour of military cultures in history that were not just different, but based on a different understanding of what war is.

    • When Scott posted his parody “Legal Systems Very Different From Ours”, based on David’s “Economic Systems Very Different From Ours”

      Actually, my book is Legal Systems Very Different from Ours.

      Scott expanded the title a little.

  30. HeelBearCub says:

    Not sure whether “Biospace” is a reliable website, but this article says that SARS-Cov1 and SARS-Cov2 had significantly different transmission vectors (h/t Kevin Drum):

    Once SARS jumped to humans, it was transmitted from person to person. It is most virulent during the second week of infection when virus excretions through the mucus and stool peak.

    With SARS, most human-to-human infections occurred in health care settings that lacked robust infection control procedures. When infection control practices were implemented, the outbreak ended. Since then, the only occurrences have occurred through laboratory accidents. They have not spread throughout the community.

    COVID-19 appears to spread person-to-person, through droplets that are expelled when a person coughs or sneezes and then are inhaled by a nearby person. Less often, it may be spread by touching an infected surface and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes. Transmission may also occur before a person becomes symptomatic. As the CDC cautions, “COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads.”

    • Skeptic says:

      The CDC guidance telling everyone to not wear masks for 3 months is going to go down in pandemic history as a criminally negligent error.

      Japan has 190 deaths still. Taiwan has 6.

      Prediction: This will be memory-holed as it’s not useful to either side in the Culture Wars. Trump is the Chief Executive and ultimately responsible, and CDC maps to (Blue) “Scientism” Experts.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        If you feel secure because you have a mask on, you are doing it wrong.

        Note the post just above mine complaining vociferously about being asked to wear a mask for the benefit of others.

        • Skeptic says:

          I certainly don’t feel secure with a mask on.

          OTOH I would definitely feel more secure in a timeline in which all Americans were wearing masks starting 1/20, when Taiwan issued their mask order.

          And I do feel less secure in our actual timeline in which the CDC changed its mask guidance on 4/6, and most states still have not made them mandatory.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            OTOH I would definitely feel more secure in a timeline in which all Americans were wearing masks starting 1/20

            I’d love to hear our theory on what steps could have made that happen.

            Ya know, for comedy purposes.

            More seriously, the CDC can only make recommendations to the population it has, about what it knows, not the population it wishes it had about some desirable potential disease. NOW everyone is taking the pandemic seriously AND we know that transmission through the air (but NOT aerosol) is the most likely natural vector.

            So mask guidance now can make significant population level changes to behavior. Mask guidance in January most probably leads to a small minority attempting to protect themselves via masks, which isn’t actually very helpful, and likely is net negative.

          • rumham says:


            How would it be a net negative?

          • rumham says:


            That would only be true if the people wearing masks were also ignoring social distancing guidelines because they thought the masks made them unnecessary. Were there any of those in January? Wouldn’t it be more likely to be a net negative now, that mask guidelines came after social distancing guidelines?

          • Skeptic says:


            I respect your opinion and suspect you are correct, a low trust dysfunctional civil society cannot easily enforce a social norm of mask wearing.

            Criminally negligent guidance from the CDC still harms on the margin.

            But yes you’re obviously right and many would have ignored CDC guidance anyways.


          • HeelBearCub says:

            We are operating under a presumption that the CDC would have suggested wearing cloth masks was beneficial in January, instead of April. There aren’t any social distancing guidelines, and few people choose to wear masks.

            We have to types of users, let’s say Polly Paranoid and Cautious Carl.

            Polly Paranoid wants to take all possible precaution and wears a mask and social distances and washes hands and all that. She doesn’t derive any benefit from wearing the mask, but is very slightly benefiting others by lowering their risk of being infected by here.

            Cautious Carl is choosing between various things he could do to protect himself. Sometimes he might do one, sometimes he might do another. He feels that the mask gives him some protection (even though that isn’t how they help in this situation) and so any time he chooses to wear a mask in lieu of doing something else he is substituting something less effective at preventing infection and something more effective. He is engaging in riskier behavior than he would have if he didn’t even have the mask option.

          • rumham says:


            So you’re postulating that a significant portion of people were social distancing before the guidelines and would not have if the CDC hadn’t told the noble lie about the masks? Or is it that a significant portion of people were social distancing before the guidelines and would not have if the CDC hadn’t suddenly discovered the uses of masks through science on 4/6 that other countries had figured out in January?

            Either the social distancing guidelines help in this scenario or they do not. If they do, the mask guidance should have come at the same time, and the CDC was negligent in not doing so. If they don’t, then by this risk compensation argument, the masks are still doing more harm than good. Yet you called people assholes earlier for questioning it.

        • Garrett says:

          > being asked to wear a mask for the benefit of others

          Might I note that the post you are referring to talks about “require”, not “ask”. Some people chafe under compulsion, even if it’s to do what they would otherwise do. I fully support the idea of strongly-encouraging mask wearing and making strange gang signs and/or hissing at someone who doesn’t comply. But actually making that as a mandate (especially when mask bans were totally cool just a little while ago) really irks me.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            The government wasn’t banning people from wearing masks. I saw lots and lots of people wearing yard and garden dust masks and gloves, thinking they were protecting themselves.

            (Here is where you cite one offs and private employers that aren’t particular material and I ignore that).

            Sorry people are going to “chafe”. The virus don’t give a shit. The public health experts have to make judgements about whether the needed compliance will be met by “optional” measures. See suggesting not to have your restaurant open, suggesting not to have large gatherings, etc. Sure, many people will comply, but you don’t need many people, you need the vast majority of people.

            The mere fact that so many Americans “chafe” at being required to do what is in the public good shows the culture we are in. Many times you have to require something so that you get enough people to do something close to the required thing. That’s just life. Not fair. Too bad.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That use of “ask” is a really irritating rhetorical trick. It’s meant to indicate that you’re a rude person refusing a perfectly reasonable polite request, when you’re actually objecting to an order being given with the threat of force.

          • Randy M says:

            The mere fact that so many Americans “chafe” at being required to do what is in the public good shows the culture we are in.

            That’s nothing, you should see this country that had a revolution over a tax on tea!

          • baconbits9 says:

            The mere fact that so many Americans “chafe” at being required to do what is in the public good shows the culture we are in. Many times you have to require something so that you get enough people to do something close to the required thing. That’s just life. Not fair. Too bad.

            And some people will defend the incompetents trying to ‘protect the public good’ no matter how badly and recently they have demonstrated that they don’t have the first idea how to do that.

          • Matt M says:

            The mere fact that so many Americans “chafe” at being required to do what is in the public good

            I disagree with their assessment over what constitutes the public good.

          • SamChevre says:


            The government wasn’t banning people from wearing masks.

            That depends on which government – wearing a mask in public is illegal in many states (mostly, military-occupation-era laws designed to suppress protests, but still on the books and occasionally enforced.)

          • HeelBearCub says:


            (Here is where you cite one offs and private employers that aren’t particular material and I ignore that).

          • rumham says:


            (Here is where you cite one offs and private employers that aren’t particular material and I ignore that).

            Convenient to ignore New York, Alabama, Florida, West Virginia and D.C. (D.C. is only after 10pm)

            These have anti-mask laws in general. Many other states have them as enhancements to other crimes, but these listed are absolute. But sure. Just a one-off. Afterall, not many people live in any of those places, right?

  31. edmundgennings says:

    I have lot of experience with foreign language learning. I find that learning and even using foreign languages once mastery has been acquired makes me unhappy.
    I suspect that a decent minority of the population(~15%) is in the same position that I am in. Language classes seem uniquely hated by a minority of students. Yet people seem unwilling to talk about this and so it gets neglected for policy questions. If I had been grown up knowing Welsh instead of English, sure I could use English, but I would be unhappy if I did. If even 5% of Welsh people have the same experience that I do it seems that the reintroduction of Welsh was a horrible idea.
    Does any one else have my experience or insight into this question?

    • Loriot says:

      In my experience, formal classes are a highly inefficient method of learning foreign languages. Especially if it’s something like a high school where the students are generally unmotivated, rather than say, the FSI.

    • DinoNerd says:

      I notice that a lot depends on the environment. School environments tended to result in me not wanting to open my mouth for fear of making a mistake. I got a bad case of “if I can’t be perfect, I won’t try at all”. Dealing with humans who’d immediately switch languages on me, because they evaluated my accent as indicating I was inept, simply reinforced this problem.

      Then I met an experienced ESL teacher, who’s also somewhat of a linguistic polymath. She taught me that babbling ineptly in a partially leaned language can be fun. She believes that the ulpan method developed in Israel for returning Jews who didn’t speak modern Hebrew, is the most effective method for adult learners. In her adaptation, it involves asking and answering questions, using variants on the modelled form. We’ve been using it to improve my German. (She’s a friend, not someone I’m paying for teaching me, by the way; this may matter.)

      We get into silly sequences like “where is my head?” “on your shoulders” “where are my shoulders?” “on your torso” … or taking a different path, “where is your head?” The result is that huge numbers of normally difficult phrases have become routine for me. And comfortable as well as routine. Moreover, I associate German with fun – what kind of outrageous thing can I say next, following this pattern?

      So I’ve switched from not liking speaking non-English languages, to experiencing it as a whole load of fun.

      It also helps that I’m Canadian, and moved to the US. In Canada, I’m a very smart person who’s comparatively inept at languages. I can only read French at perhaps a grade 6 level [for a native French speaker], and my accent is horrific; I feel like a loser. But when I moved to the United States, I became brilliant at languages – I can actually read and enjoy a simple novel in French, when most people can’t speak anything but English. So I get respect instead of contempt, which is surely encouraging.

      Anyway, the point here is that some people switch from one category to another over the course of their lifetime, and I’m one of them.

      • Garrett says:

        As someone who has a French Immersion certificate in Canada, I will agree that however they were teaching languages, it definitely was Not Fun. Especially since French has a whole bunch of grammatical structures which are designed to act as Shibboleths rather than add to effective communication.

      • noyann says:

        Formal classes can be suffocating, ohh yes!

        She taught me that babbling ineptly in a partially leaned language can be fun. [ … ] In her adaptation, it involves asking and answering questions …

        Similarly, hitchhiking alone through a country of that language was my most effective way. Drivers were happy to explain the local pecularities, the history and politics of the country, their business, or they confess and discuss things to a stranger they are sure they’ll never see again… The desires to understand, and to make yourself understood, are ginormous motivators in language learning. (And then there were insider tips where to go and what to see, and job offers, etc.)

        The second best way was books from the local library. After I found out they had French thrillers, a language marred by ‘The Little Prince’ was interesting again.

      • linguistic polymath

        The term you’re looking for is “polyglot.” Literally, “many tongues.”

    • Well... says:

      What counts as a language? Does learning a new musical instrument count?

      Anyway, I enjoy learning languages but I suck at it. I’m good at accents.

      Also, learning stuff like chemistry, physics, and statistics, which felt like learning a language, was really painful to me and I was never good in those subjects.

      Last anecdote: I know enough of a few languages to carry on very simple conversations (e.g. telling someone what time it is). But I’ve never, while in the places where those languages are spoken, actually gone ahead and did it; I always resorted to English. In fact, even though I can put on a pretty native-sounding British accent (helped by the fact that I once was a native), I don’t ever use one when I’m in England. I think it’s not entirely lack of confidence that stops me, either; it feels like it’s partly a kind of pain-avoidance. (Maybe those are the same though.)

    • ana53294 says:

      I find that learning and even using foreign languages once mastery has been acquired makes me unhappy.

      That’s so strange. I find that using and further learning about a language once mastery has been acquired very enjoyable.

      Like, if I wasn’t able to read Pushkin in the original I wouldn’t find knowing Russian as enjoyable. It’s once you go beyond the ordering a meal at a restaurant level that you can start enjoying the subtleties of a language.

      It’s getting fluent and the initial bump that I find most hateful. You seem to be the opposite?

      • Lambert says:

        What Russian Lit is relatively readable, for non-native speakers?

        If someone makes a passable translation of Dr Zhivago, I won’t bother learning Russian. But I don’t see much chance of that happening soon.

        • ana53294 says:

          I’m not saying learn Russian to read Dr. Zhivago*. Do it to read Pushkin. I’m saying, reading Russian literature once you have mastery of that language is nice.

          And I guess the OP meant something different, but he says, “learn a language once mastery has been achieved”. And I say that learning the intricacies of a language, once you’re fluent and don’t have to learn the colors or the numbers, is the most enjoyable part.

          *I don’t like a lot of the Russian literature that is popular, because it is very gloomy. Pushkin, though, who is considered, unquestionably, as the best writer in Russian, ever, in history, has been badly served by translations. To the point where people like Flaubert considered him flat. Flat? Pushkin?

          • FrankistGeorgist says:

            The Falen translation of Eugene Onegin is a wonderful froth of conversation and pure melody, and I’ve heard it strays from the original text in order to harken back to the original sound-tone of the Russian. Nabokov’s translation in contrast is a thudding literalist nightmare. I don’t know which is a greater crime to Pushkin, but I’m thankful to have both. Both for introducing me to Pushkin and for the intuitive lesson on the limits of translation.

          • ana53294 says:

            I think it’s Nabokov’s, but then, I don’t like him. I think form is very important in good literature.

            If you have a really talented translator who is a poet is his/her own right, then you can have translations of great quality. Of course, the only reason a great poet would bother translating somebody else’s poetry into their own language, is because they can’t produce/publish their own.

            Which is why you’ve got Lorca’s or Hernandez’ poetry translated into Russian. They were Spanish Republicans, after all, so their poetry didn’t get censured. There’s also the “people’s poet”, Burns, who also had great translators.

            There’s no reason why talented poets would bother translating Russian/Spanish/whatever, unless it’s for their own entertainment. There’s no censure anymore.

  32. FLWAB says:

    There’s a bit of a scuffle in Indian Country.

    The controversy is that $8 billion was set aside for Alaska Native and Indian tribes. Many tribal leaders in the lower 48 are upset because some of that money will go to Alaskan Native Corporations. The current head of Indian Affairs, Tara Sweeney, is an Alaska Native and was once on the board of a Native Corporation and is being accused of bias. The short version is that the lower 48 tribes say that Native Corporations, which are for-profit entities, shouldn’t get any money at all and it should all go to the reservations. Sweeney says that the law requires that some of the funding to to Native Corporations, and that if the money doesn’t go to Native Corporations then Alaska Natives won’t get any help at all.

    Which is probably true: Alaska doesn’t have reservations. Instead due to a settlement in the 1970s about a dozen Native Corporations were formed spread out over different regions of Alaska. Each Native Alaskan got a share of ownership in their Native Corporation, and the Corporations were given a cash settlement and large tracts of traditionally Native owned land. The Corporation uses that cash and land like any business, to make profit for it’s shareholders. Many rural tribes rely on cash dividends from their Corporation, and the Corporations that were lucky enough to have land with oil on it have become quite wealthy. Naturally many in the lower 48 who are on poor reservations are resentful of any stimulus money going to a wealthy Native Corporation, but it certainly seems like the law was designed to help Indians and Native Alaskans, with money specifically meant to go to Native Corporations. Alaska’s Senators have both said they voted for the bill with the understanding that Native Corporations would receive some of the money.

    Now Chuck Shumer has weighed in, tweeting “Tara Sweeney is diverting funds for tribal governments during coronavirus to for-profit Alaska Native Corporations. We can’t put these corporations before tribal governments & people. Sweeney used to be an exec for an ANC, and she wants to profit!” It’s an understandable tweet coming from a Democrat, but it might land him in hot water. For one thing, like many on the left he has forgotten that corporations are organizations of people, and for Native Corporations 100% of the owners are Alaska Natives. Tara has already fought back tweeting “Even for you, this is an ignorant and despicably low attack that could not be further from the truth. Perhaps you should read the law you negotiated and voted for as Alaska Natives are entitled to receive the funding from @USTreasury.” Fighting to keep money from “indigenous peoples” is not a great look on the left these days, so who knows how it will fall out.

    It should also be noted that American Indians and Alaska Natives don’t always get along. Just try calling a Native Alaskan an Indian (or even a Native American): they’ll correct you sharply. They see themselves as different from the tribes in the Lower 48, and I think they reciprocate the feeling generally.

  33. Tenacious D says:

    A draft plan for a phased reopening in the Canadian province I live in has been circulating today:
    It’s not an official plan, but the authors are locally influential and it’s written in a forum likely to be read by decision-makers. They suggest the following measures for May (we have had several days in the past week with no new cases, and the timetable is based on active cases continuing to decline):

    Maintain border checkpoints and existing travel restrictions.
    Require the use of masks in most indoor public spaces including grocery stores, and public transportation. Use thermometers as checks for higher risk areas.
    Re-open non-essential businesses and organizations that are able to meet social distancing requirements at all times (for staff and customers).
    Set a max size limit for groups, initially using a small number like 25, while adhering to social distancing and protective measures.
    Due to the above requirements, most restaurants, bars, and other public spaces will likely remain closed until phase 3.
    Child care and schools re-open, coinciding with caregivers returning to work. Consider following the model used by schools in Taiwan, or using a staged approach by grade level such as Denmark (re-opening on April 20).
    Maintain current restrictions for seniors’ residences and guidelines for limiting interaction with seniors and those with health risks.

    They propose opening the borders with adjacent provinces in June and the rest of the country (but with 14 day isolation required for travellers from outside the immediate region) in July; international travel would remain restricted for the rest of the year, however. So even if the local economy can get moving again soon it will be a long time before things are really back to normal.

    Anyway, I thought this might interest some of you.

    • SamChevre says:

      The big difference between these, and the US guidelines, seems to be re-opening schools somewhat earlier–in the US they are proposed to re-open with restaurants and bars.

      I’d naively think schools would be one of the hardest places to manage social distancing (ever tried enforcing a PDA rule?), and would have relatively large populations, so would be late to re-open. Any idea why in both the US and Canada they re-open before other similarly large, crowded venues?

      • johan_larson says:

        Children are the least vulnerable group. Very few children die if infected. And lots of families really do need to be able to put the kids back in school (or at least in child care) in order to return to work.

        • Matt M says:

          Also given that public schools function primarily as day care for dual-income families, they basically have to re-open before you can re-open a lot of other things…

        • SamChevre says:

          Children are the least vulnerable group

          That seems short-sighted if you think of the children as vectors, rather than as victims.

          • Beck says:

            In countries where they’re doing more tracking, do you know how many cases of transmission from children to adults have been documented?

            That’s not meant as a gotcha; I’ve been looking around but haven’t been able to find much of anything on the subject. And it seems pretty important, given the disruption caused by closed schools.

          • SamChevre says:

            I have not been able to find anything about how many children were infected likely at school, or transmission from children to adults.

        • John Schilling says:

          Children may be the most dangerous group, running around spreading the disease to their teachers, parents, grandparents, all collectively because they’ve long since given it to each other, and without even “Little Timmy has the sniffles” as a heads-up to the adults around him that they should get themselves tested.

          Or maybe not, but I’m going to want to see the data on that before reopening the schools.

          Would have been nice if someone had taken a few hundred early test kits and done a focused study of students, teachers, parents at a COVID-adjacent school. Might even be possible to do something like that now. But that would require sensible planning and a willingness to accept bad news, which is ever so much less fun than the wishful thinking our leaders seem to prefer.

  34. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    Thanks for sharing! Did you like the book?

  35. Clutzy says:

    So, I just learned my mayor, Lori Lightfoot has issued a booze curfew. If you want the hooch you gotta get it before 9PM. This, allegedly is because people were “congregating at liquor stores.” This excuse is implausible on its face, but even if true, reducing hours will inevitably increase density. Its not like Binnys is particularly crowded at 9:30 anyways. This is generally similar to my objection to the reduced hours being implemented at retail locations generally. We should be expanding hours not reducing them.

    • mfm32 says:

      Yeah, my suspicion is that this is actually a curfew to keep the many newly bored and idle people out of trouble. If you’re going to the liquor store at 10 PM, it’s probably not because you just got back from a double shift at your essential job and want to pick up a nice bottle of wine for dinner.

      Which is not to say that the measure is justified or legal, necessarily. I have not been impressed with the city’s actions in the crisis. They have demonstrated neither a coherent plan, an understanding and appreciation for the governor’s order, nor a respect for the limits of their authority, which Lightfoot at times seems to view as boundless. And of course there are the shockingly tone-deaf things like her haircut hours after the lockdown was announced.

      • Matt M says:

        Pulling down basketball hoops and welding metal over skate park features is being done for similar reasons, I suspect…

        • mfm32 says:

          Well, the basketball hoops and soccer fields were one of the main attractants for crowds during the few days of good weather we had early in the lockdown. I’m not sure anyone has evidence to suggest that a game of basketball in an outdoor, windswept, lakeside park posed any real contagion risk, but the governor’s order did prohibit them.

          Even less justified was the closure of the lakefront path and all of Lincoln Park. Even in the crowded periods, most people using the path for walking, running, or cycling were staying 6 feet away from others. There’s no way that the activities posed any material risk.

          Instead, Lightfoot and the city seemed motivated by an annoyance that people weren’t “taking it seriously enough” and decided to shut down a public space as, in effect, a show of force. I suppose the city has pretty broad authority to shut down its own parks, so that decision might have been legal. But from a public policy perspective it seems unjustifiable.

          • Elephant says:

            About people who close parks: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” — H. L. Mencken

          • LesHapablap says:

            Playing basketball would be terrible for contagion though if you just played within your bubble it would be fine of course.

          • eric23 says:

            I’ve read experts quoted as saying that intensive exercise, causing you to inhale and exhale deeply, is especially good at transmitting the virus. Such that the appropriate distancing radius is maybe 30 feet rather than 6 feet.

    • ana53294 says:

      Did she push the liquor curfew earlier, or do you not have a liquor curfew at all?

      Many places have liquor curfews, which precede this whole thing. In Russia, there’s a ban on liquor sales in stores between 11 pm and 8 am. In the UK, this depends on the location, but in Scotland, it’s 10pm-10am. In Spain, it depends on the municipality.

      This seems more like one of those policies they wanted to implement anyway and are using the coronavirus excuse to push. Has Chicago tried these kinds of curfews before?

      • Clutzy says:

        Its normally either 1 or 2 AM. I forget which. Its never really affected me. Although pre C-19 I did a lot of shopping in the 10PM-Midnight window because I like having an empty store.

    • Tenacious D says:

      Lightfoot, heavy hand


    • meh says:

      Does building bridges reduce traffic?

      • Clutzy says:

        IDK, but I know that stores are less crowded at the late times I normally shop than they are now at the times I am forced to shop.

        • meh says:

          Are the times you are forced to shop more or less crowded than before the restriction?

          I mean, I don’t really know if the restrictions will increase density or not; but you are implying that total # of store-goers will remain constant with or without restrictions. It is not obvious this is true.

  36. Lambert says:

    94% of the 4,800 sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt have been tested for SARS-COV2.
    Over 600 (12.5%) test positive.
    60% of positive tests are from asymptomatic sailors. It’s not known how many of them will develop symptoms in the coming days.

    • Anteros says:

      I guess this will provide a contrast (or something) with the Diamond Princess statistics. I’m expecting the implied IFR will be low and many people say even louder ‘We’ve been over-reacting, it really is just a bad ‘flu season..’

      • Chalid says:

        People will argue anything of course, but it seems like NYC data should definitively rule that out. 12,000 deaths so far divided by a population of 8 million gives a death rate of ~0.15% which is higher than the ordinary flu even if every single person in NYC had been infected and deaths stopped immediately today, which of course they will not (and they’ve been undercounted so far anyway).

        The IFR of 1% that people have been tossing around for months still seems like a pretty decent estimate.

        • AlexanderTheGrand says:

          And going the other way, if the death rate is actually 1%, that implies that 1.2 million people had coronavirus by 3 weeks ago (average time to death), and by now are either recovered or in terrible shape. That’s 15%, which is substantial, and not nothing compared to the point of herd immunity (50% probably). Pretty interesting.

          I think it’s likely that the population of people who get the disease is skewed in one way or another from the true population statistics. For example, I’d believe that people in nursing homes are actually more likely to get coronavirus because of group living, not just die from it. Which would make both of our calculations inaccurate.

          • Chalid says:

            I’d kind of expect it to skew young and middle-aged in NYC, as the subway commute and schools are the obvious way for it to have spread so widely. NYC also has much more group living at all ages than most of the rest of the country.

            Agreed that there is much we don’t know yet.

        • The Nybbler says:

          The 12,000 deaths figure is counting all “presumed” deaths as COVID-19, so I think it’s not an undercount. I suspect it’s an overcount (since positivity among the tested is ~40%, and they’re testing only those with severe respiratory symptoms, many people must have severe respiratory symptoms caused by other-than-COVID, and some of them probably are dying of it). And there’s some fuzziness in the denominator; I suspect more people from outside NYC are treated in NYC hospitals than the reverse, so the proper denominator is somewhat higher than the city population. Agreed that 1% is a reasonably good estimate.

          • Chalid says:

            You’re right, it was definitely an undercount a few days ago, but NYC has revised. I’m not sure I agree it’s an overcount now (they’re going to have missed some deaths) but it’s probably not way off either way and it is good enough for this very crude analysis.

          • Eric Rall says:

            New York City is reporting 6589 confirmed Covid deaths (positive PCR test), 3778 official “probable” Covid deaths (no test, but doctor/coroner writes “Covid 19” or similar on the death certificate), and 8184 other deaths for the period March 11 through April 13.

            Assuming a baseline death rate of 4500/month this time of year (based on eyeballing this graph, originally from the New York Times), the total excess death rate in NYC was a bit over 14,000, or 1.4x the total officially-tallied confirmed+probable Covid death tally. Not all of those are directly due to Covid: no doubt some excess deaths are due to things like people being more reluctant to go to the ER with chest pain for fear of catching the virus there. On the other hand, the lockdown would probably be reducing the death rate from several other common causes (seasonal flu, traffic accidents, etc), so the non-Covid death rate might be quite a bit less than usual for March/April.

    • broblawsky says:

      These are mostly younger, healthier people; we shouldn’t be surprised to see more asymptomatic cases.

    • albatross11 says:

      This also tells us something about how hard it is to catch the virus. Even in the close quarters of an aircraft carrier, only about 1/8 of the sailors caught the virus. We may not be past the incubation period for all of them–I don’t know–but this tells you right away that this virus isn’t spreading all that effectively.

      About 20% of the people on the Diamond Princess caught the virus, probably with a longer period of people being stuck together on the ship, but also with a much more susceptible population and with a lot of that time being spent in quarantine with everyone trying not to spread things.

      Once again, this suggests that the virus doesn’t spread all that easily–most of the post-lockdown world won’t be as good at spreading the virus as sailors working together on a Navy ship or even as a luxurious cruise ship. By contrast, my guess is that in a population with no immunity to measles, one case of measles would probably have spread to nearly everyone on the ship in that time.

      So how might that inform our post-lockdown world?

      First, we know there are a lot of asymptomatic and presymptomatic people carrying the virus. They’re probably not as contagious as obviously sick people (if you’re coughing constantly, you’re spreading a lot of respiratory droplets in a cloud everywhere you go), but they’re still contagious. Imagine that the total number of new infections is (a + i), where a = the number of people infected from asymptomatic people and i is the number infected from symptomatic people. Whatever (a+i) is on any given day, we know that in the pre-lockdown world it was summing up to around 2.5 per infected person.

      The best we can possibly do with symptom-based stuff (fever checks, generous sick leave policies) is to set i to 0. Realistically we won’t do that perfectly, but we can decrease it quite a bit. If we assume a=i (that’s pessimistic–you should be a lot more contagious with symptoms), then we could decrease new infections by at most half by isolating visibly sick people.

      To do that well, I think we need:

      a. Fever and symptom checks for workplaces, schools, airplanes, and maybe other stuff like church events.

      b. Generous sick-leave policies. You really don’t want the salad chef at the restaurant or the cashier at the store coming into work sick so they can make rent this month.

      c. Support for helping sick people self-quarantine. Probably that should start with a COVID-19 test, and if you’re positive, you get moved to the front of the queue in terms of deliveries of food and groceries, masks, etc. Maybe even make hotel rooms available for self-quarantining away from family.

      Now, for young healthy people, we’re looking at a majority of cases being asymptomatic. Whatever else we do needs to lower a as well as lower whatever fraction of i isn’t already blocked. For that, the best measures I can see are masks, hand sanitizer, >= 6 feet of distance, and wiping down surfaces. Probably I’d add staggering work hours to add distance (maybe alternating days in and out of the office), reorganizing schools so the students stay put and the teachers cycle in and out of the room, etc.

      What else?

      • salvorhardin says:

        Another thing that would really help is to prioritize asymptomatic periodic testing for people we know are more likely to get it and/or more likely to spread it to others. I would hope ER docs already get regular tests even if asymptomatic. Would you pay more to go to a grocery store where you knew the cashiers and stockers were tested weekly regardless of symptoms, or take an Uber ride with a driver you knew the same about? I know I would.

        Relatedly, I am super frustrated every time news reports make it clear that symptomatic people already isolating at home are getting tested, because the test tells you nothing actionable (it would tell you something if we were doing rigorous contact tracing, but we aren’t) and that test could go toward a population prevalence study or testing an asymptomatic essential worker.

        • Loriot says:

          > I would hope ER docs already get regular tests even if asymptomatic.

          My aunt told me that at the hospital she goes to (in California), the nurses said they were being tested every day. Of course, that’s just one hospital, and I imagine it is variable based on availability of testing and hospital policy, but it shows at least some places are doing it.

      • Anteros says:

        My better half was watching a documentary on Taiwan and its response to the virus. They seem to be unbelievably laid back about it – all wear masks, practice social distancing and carry on with their lives. Oh, and to respond to your question about ‘What else?’, they take everyone’s temperature as they arrive at work. Anybody with a raised temperature gets to go home for the day ( and gets tested)

        It would be more than a little embarrassing if it turned out that Taiwan’s approach was sufficient to keep R0 below one.

        • Radu Floricica says:

          Well, that and the culture necessary to actually stick with the measures. A lady selling fruit at my favorite shop keeps wearing her mask on her chin for like a week.

          But yeah, that’s pretty much what I suggested in a previous comment.
          Keep schools, churches, restaurants and other congregating places closed, set a number of measures like those, and reopen everything else.

          • Anteros says:

            Indeed. One extra advantage places like Taiwan had was that they had a 30% mask-wearing rate before the outbreak.

        • eric23 says:

          South Korea, Japan, and Singapore all did the same thing. No lockdown, yes masks (except in Singapore), yes thorough tracing of sick people and their contacts (except in Japan). Each one eventually had to do a real lockdown once the number of cases in a particular location got too high.

          Once we get down to East Asian levels of cases, then we can rely on masks+tests+tracing to protect us without a lockdown.

  37. Bobobob says:

    I posted here a couple weeks ago about the Nextdoor Fabric-of-Society Index (well, I didn’t call it that, but you get the idea).

    Yesterday, the Raleigh city authorities posted that they were extending the stay-at-home order to April 30. As of this morning, that post had over 500 responses, including a ton of ad-hominem attacks, along the lines of “You call yourself a good Christian, but you’re really a Communist.” Attacks on politics, attacks on religion, attacks on personal habits. Not just a couple of trolls this time, but lots and lots of angry people in this otherwise very civilized part of the world. (I just went to check again, the entire post seems to have been taken down.)

    Make of this what you will, but I think the sooner the lockdown is lifted, the better. I would rather have slightly increased COVID-19 fatalities than a civil war in my neighborhood.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is the same Raleigh that has declared that “protesting is not an essential activity”, right? (and with the courts closed, who is to gainsay them?)

      • acymetric says:

        It seems like they’re going to have to do something eventually to accommodate people waiting for court (recently arrested, people on probation or parole who should be getting off but can’t because they can’t go to court and/or complete the terms of their probation).

        Of course, nothing will be done because nobody cares about such people, and they’ll just get squeezed even harder than they already were at a time were (economically) most people are already pretty darn squeezed.

      • If they can shutter religious services, they can shutter protests.

      • Belisaurus Rex says:

        Courts closed because a few defendants left quarantine and spent a few hours milling around the courthouse to ask a judge for an extension.

        “Hey, we can’t make it to trial because we’ve got the virus.”

        Everyone freaked out and things shut down quick.

        At least the courts are still open for domestic violence and certain other criminal offenses.

        Edit: If anyone cares, I see a car pass by outside my window about every three seconds. This is about the same as normal traffic in my area.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Courts closed because a few defendants left quarantine and spent a few hours milling around the courthouse to ask a judge for an extension.

          I don’t care why courts closed and I wouldn’t believe these just-so justifications for it anyway. The point is that courts are closed, and therefore all your theoretical rights (that depend on courts) have gone up in smoke. If you get arrested you go to jail and stay there until the governors decide otherwise.

          • acymetric says:

            And if you had 12 months probation you are now on indefinite probation.

          • Lambert says:

            Does that constitute a suspension of Habeas Corpus?

          • acymetric says:

            Probably, too bad nobody can go to court to challenge it (not that I have any confidence the courts would rule on it correctly anyway).

          • The Nybbler says:

            At least in NJ only the lower courts are closed, so you could theoretically (from jail, where no visits are allowed) get someone to file a writ of habeas corpus with a higher court. But you can’t get a “risk assessment” hearing (NJs replacement for bail, where they score you to determine if letting you out would square with the governor’s political goals. Am I too cynical? There’s no such thing.)

          • acymetric says:

            Am I too cynical? There’s no such thing.

            Not when discussing the criminal justice system, anyway.

      • Garrett says:

        > who is to gainsay them?

        Anybody with a gun who’s willing to stand up.

    • Matt M says:

      Nextdoor’s population is already pre-selected for screeching Karens, so I wouldn’t take it too seriously.

      But in general I think you’re right that this is bad, and getting worse. Pretty much any time I post about wanting to end the lockdowns in any forum that isn’t already strongly pre-selected for other people who want to end the lockdowns, I get multiple screaming accusations of essentially being a mass murderer.

      • Anteros says:

        Isn’t that why the instance on widespread lockdowns went virtually unopposed? From governments points of view they had to accede to the meme that said every death was a tragedy and it was their job to do absolutely anything and everything to get the numbers down. Pipe up against that and you do come across (to everyone on board with the meme) as a mass murderer.

        • Matt M says:

          Indeed. I think this whole mess is basically an episode of the Twilight Zone where the premise is of a society where the reductio ad absurdum of “if it saves just one life, it’s worth doing” is taken literally.

          As a culturally-right anarcho-capitalist, I’m already used to being routinely denounced with the most vile insults the internet is capable of mustering, so it doesn’t phase me much. But most normal folks just aren’t equipped for handling it, so they just shut up and let the Karens take over.

    • Bobobob says:

      Just to clarify, I don’t disagree with extending the lockdown for another couple of weeks. I was actually surprised that the order was only until April 30, rather than something more drastic. But how will the community react when the shutdown is extended (as I’m almost certain it will be) to the end of May? Why not just bite the bullet and announce that everything is closing down until then, rather than giving people false hope?

      And I have more faith in Raleigh government than some, since I imagine they’re receiving good advice from epidemiologists in Research Triangle Park and our three big universities.

      BTW, a guy who lives across the street from me is not only an epidemiologist, but he was also on the ground in Africa during the Ebola outbreak. He posted a reasonable and friendly analysis on Nextdoor about why the lockdown is inconvenient, but necessary. Of course, the inevitable contrarian responded, “that’s only your opinion!”

      • albatross11 says:

        I really wish I saw more evidence of everyone preparing for when the lockdown ends. Do we have enough people and testing capacity to do test-and-trace? Or enough tests to do the kind of massive testing that would remove some of the need for shoe-leather epidemiology? Do we have good data on what measures we can use to reopen things without having a second flare-up of COVID-19 cases? Have we got the mask/PPE situation under control enough that everyone who wants one can have a mask? How’s the supply of hand sanitizer and bleach doing–can we at least make sure that reopened offices can put hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere and wipe all the high-touch surfaces with a dilute bleach solution?

        If we end the lockdowns without having some way to prevent the disease flaring back up, then we will almost certainly get rapid expansion and filling-up hospitals again. Perhaps not in NYC, because a lot of people have already been exposed there, but in most of the rest of the country. It would be easy to oscillate between lockdowns and flare-ups.

        Also, without some confidence in the public health response, I think a lot of sectors just won’t reopen anytime soon. Now, it’s possible to achieve that with safety theater for awhile, but only until the second flare-up, and then even actually working preventatives won’t be trusted and nobody will go back to theaters or board airplanes until they’ve had a positive antibody test or gotten a vaccine.

        So working out what preventatives would work is pretty urgent. Symptom checks + masks + 6 feet + hand sanitizer/disinfectant looks pretty reasonable, but how would we know for sure? We could find out with a lot of testing, but nobody’s got the testing ramped up enough to do the job. (In fact, it’s quite possible the apparent good news of peaking infection rates is driven wholly or partially by the limited numbers of tests being done.)

        • The Nybbler says:

          I have heard rumors that NYS is preparing for contact tracing.

          But honestly, I think it’s all theater. The long incubation period and asymptomatic cases mean that without absolutely herculean effort early on, there’s no way to get ahead of this thing; by the time you notice it, it’s out of control. “Early on” is way past. Note the NYC hospitalization data; we didn’t see the start of the trend upward until the second week of March. That delay will apply to any subsequent outbreak as well.

          • albatross11 says:

            Yeah, if you wait to see people showing up at the hospital to decide you’ve got a problem, you’re several weeks late.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Unless you’re testing asymptomatic people regularly, what other choice do you have?

          • Jon S says:

            You can test anyone with a fever, or if you have enough tests even anyone with cold symptoms or recent contact with a person with cold symptoms.

          • Garrett says:

            > Yeah, if you wait to see people showing up at the hospital to decide you’ve got a problem, you’re several weeks late.

            Cynical take: that kind of assessment won’t help any more. There’s a population of people who abuse the system on a regular basis. Some are crazy, some want attention, and some just want a warm place to sleep and a turkey sandwich. One of the go-to complaints for these folks is “chest pain” because it’s almost-always a multi-hour workup and it’s severe enough that they can’t make you wait in the lobby for hours.

            They’ll learn quickly enough that complaining of “shortness of breath” or “weird cough” will get them in and now you have a much larger noise floor you have to sort through to start seeing the upswing.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        North Carolina isn’t hit that hard (with Governor Cooper having closed the schools on March 15 and most everyone else voluntarily closing at that point), and the Durham area isn’t hit that hard for NC. The biggest county, Mecklenburg, says it no longer sees a need a field hospital in the future.

        So maybe May 1 is valid for re-opening some things? We will see as we get closer to that.

        Like albatross11 said, I have no idea about the test-and-trace systems, and we need those to already be running.

    • Bobobob says:

      I found the Nextdoor thread again. 750 comments. They are now discussing abortion. “You liberals say you want to save lives, but you don’t mind killing babies!”

      This is like an episode of The Simpsons where all the townspeople start shouting at each other and running around in circles. I want my normalcy back.

  38. Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

    Our friends the aliens wants to build a couple of gigantic generation starships. Each ship (lets call them “worlds” from now on) will hold about ten million people (they are really big). The aliens have chosen you to be the architect. All kinds of advanced alien technology is available (replicators, artificial gravity, almost-indestructible nanomaterials, etc.) and it is possible for the world to contain gigantic biospheres . These biospheres may be basically indistinguishable from Earth in the small scale (but you can’t copy the entire Earth, that’s too big). Advanced genetic engineering is possible, but the aliens want you to keep it plausible: Dinosaurs are ok, dragons are not.

    The aliens want to do the Fallout thing where each world has a specific social structure. But they don’t want to have the world AI enforce a certain ideology, or something similar, since that would be inelegant cheating. Instead, each world should be designed so that a specific social structure naturally arises in an organic and elegant way. Just like how universal culture naturally arises from industrial society. (The aliens are big on historical materialism.) This is your job.

    The worlds will be populated with humans drawn from random among all humans in the world (the aliens think this is hilarious). The aliens understand that it will take time for the passengers to settle into the “correct” societal forms, so they allow a couple of hundred years as grace period before they want to see the desired result. The desired society should be stable for at least a hundred years, preferably longer.

    Once again: it is important that no “world intelligence” is observable by the human populations. The world should act like nature, not like a god. A couple of examples: The world should not detect that someone is violent and react to that. The world should not identify individual people and treat them differently. The world should not have a memory of peoples actions. The world can still be obviously artificial, as long as any machines etc. that the humans interact with are “dumb” from the human perspective. So it is ok if typewriters randomly materializes on the world, or if a typewriter materializes at a specific place each year, but it is not ok if a typewriter materializes anytime someone is born.

    The aliens wants to see worlds where the population is living in the following societies (interpret as you want). They are happy for you to come with more suggestions.

    1. Tribal societies
    2. Feudal societies
    3. Libertarian societies
    4. Socialist societies
    5. Fascist societies
    6. Scott’s archipelago

    (I’ve used the plural “societies” here, but the aliens don’t care much if there’s a single society or multiple ones, as long as the chosen social form dominates. You will solve 5. regardless of if you make everyone live in a single fascist society, or in multiple (rivaling?) fascist societies.)

    My designs are in a comment.

    (The end goal of this exercise is to speculate about historical materialism and if it is possible to force societies into certain patterns. I also find it interesting to see if there are “bugs” in our artificial designs that e.g. could make our imagined socialist society collapse into tribalism.)

    • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

      My designs:

      1 (Tribal). This seems like the easiest one. Lets copy some big region as it was before the neolithic. Let’s go with South America for now (it won’t be that big since we only need the top kilometer of surface, no crust or core). Then remove:

      * All plants and animals that are easily domesticated (maize? lamas?)
      * All accessible metal ores
      * All accessible fossil fuels.

      Add an artificial sun, some weather generators and some hidden redundancies that keep the biosphere from collapsing. Make the climate cycle between hotter and colder periods to further prevent agriculture. Encase the thing in unbreakutronium. Done.

      The people on this world should be stuck in the stone age forever, and should form nice Dunbar’s number tribes like all paleolithic societies do(?).

      2 (Feudalism). Also seems kind of easy, but that might be a trick, and I’m not sure about my solution. Lets start with a copy of medieval France (we need less area now that we are agricultural). To make it easy for people to settle in, lets leave everything as is sans humans: wheat is growing in the fields, cows are gracing, villages still stand. Now we need to keep people from centralizing too much and from industrializing (those two seem connected).

      Removing fossil fuels is a good start, but it could be argued that industrial society started unrelated to fossil fuels, and medieval Europe was full of post-feudal city states. Keeping the world France-sized will remove a lot of trade (no silk road etc.), which will reduce our risk of city states and keep land the main source of wealth. How do we keep the land from uniting, roman style? I guess we could “improve” the geography of France with some more rivers and mountain ranges to keep people separated, but we still want an elite of mounted warriors so we can’t overdo it?

      Change seem bad for the stability of feudalism, so we want the climate to be stable, and we should remove pandemic diseases like the Black Plague. But the general disease load should be high enough to keep the population Malthusian, which should help keep the “land=wealth” zero-sum economy going.

      Hopefully this will create a nice medieval stasis that lasts the ages.

      3 (Libertarian). This is the hardest one for me. It is definitively time to stop copying history and start being speculative. That alien super tech will be needed.

      We want each individual to be free from violence (in the libertarian “you entering my yard without permission without me knowing is violence”-way, but we also want to stop them from exerting violence on others.

      Design 1: Let’s make it rain guns (at a reasonable rate). After all, they are the great equalizer, and libertarians like guns, right? But this seems like it would just cause anarchy or Somali tribal warfare. Maybe not.

      Design 2. Make a world of small islands. Each island is big enough to feed one or two people. Mount an irremovable death laser on each island, with a range that is just short of the next closest island. Now we have a my-home-is-my-castle world. Trade is possible, but invading an island would be a death sentence (unless you sneak in at night and take control of the laser). But this would create an agrarian world where urbanization is impossible. Nah.

      Design 3: Lets make a treadmill world. If civilization is constantly expanding into a new frontier, the man can’t keep you down. Make the world 10 miles wide. In one end, everburning fire. In the other: the void of creation. New material is added from the void at crawl space (stones, earth, trees etc. comes flying from the void and attaches to the world). The fire consumes the old at the same pace. Could this be something? On seconds thoughts, we could just as well end up with “feudalism on wheels”. Nah.

      I think I give up here. Libertarianism seem to be to tied to abstract ideas like freedom to be easily “grown”. Anyone got ideas?

      4 (Socialism). Lets first make sure that we have an industrial society with lots of workers: Dot the world with an abundance of gigantic machines. Each machine can be activated by a thousand humans doing intricate, hard to automate movements for an eight hour shift. At the end of the shift, the machine spews out a bounty of food, clothing, medicine, building materials and other material wealth. (Is this machine against the aliens rules? I would argue “no”, since there’s no interaction with the humans. The machine is deterministic: you push the levers, food comes out.)

      Now, lets prevent tyranny and slavery. Each worker must work from a small cabin that only fits one person. The cabin must be closed to operate, shielding the worker from outside harm. While in the cabin, the workers can control death lasers attached to the machine. These can be used to fry any eventual slave drivers or god emperors.

      It seems like this would make for a socialist society of worker collectives organized around a machine. There would be little use for intra-machine violence since most of the capital is the work force itself which is unconquerable. Maybe we can make the machines produce different things to promote trade and cooperation between collectives. A big problem is that the workers don’t really own the means of production, since they don’t have any impact on what the machine produces. So lets have the movements of the workers influence what is finally produced by the machine. Socialist utopia is guaranteed?

      Finally, this world needs a way to prevent overpopulation (which is famously tricky since evolution is a bitch). Let’s just put in some viruses that lowers fertility and hope it can keep the population balanced long enough.

      5 (Fascism). Design 1: Put a big mountain in the middle of the world. Put a temple on top of the mountain. Put a console with a world map in the temple. From the console, it should be possible to select an area of the world and make it rain fire there. This creates a dictatorship, the person who controls the temple controls the world. But this dictatorship might be too efficient, the dictator might just sit on the mountain collecting taxes, not caring about the rest of the world since nothing can hurt them anyway. We want Blut und Erde, stoormtroopers etc.

      Design 2: Same as 1 but make it about 10 different areas, each with a regional fire-death mountain temple. Divide the areas by mountain ranges, deserts, swamps etc. in the classic “lets make different countries” way. These border areas shouldn’t be in range of any temple. Make the world have all the prerequisites for industrial civilization (but no nuclear). Make important resources (oil reserves?) randomly appear in the border areas from time to time to give our countries something to fight over. This should create a world of heavily centralized nation states in everlasting conflict. Only problem I can see is that there won’t ever be any “mortal threats to the nation” and such to inspire the correct zeal, since each country will always be invulnerable in their home territory. Maybe make the temples stop functioning a month per year or something to make decapitating blitz invasions possible?

      Or maybe I’m at a dead end here. I’m making a “warlike industrial dictatorship”, and fascism is more than that? Maybe we should build for strong nation states and let the wars and the dictators come naturally from that?

      6 (Scott’s archipelago). We need an archipelago with a ton of islands, of course. Now we need to:

      * Make it possible for the island to defend itself from outside force (i.e to stop invasions from other islands)
      * Make it impossible for someone to take tyrannical control of an island
      * Make it possible for people to leave the island if they want to

      Leaving can be solved by having teleports, or stealthy drones, randomly appear. Anyone who wants to can step into the teleport, or grab hold of a drone, and it will take them to new islands until they find one of their liking.

      Tyranny is kind of prevented by giving people the possibility to leave.

      Invasions are harder to prevent. Maybe we can bio-engineer some sea monsters that attacks larger boats and flotillas? This will keep intra-island trade open (but limited) while making invasion fleets impossible. Or we can make the randomly occurring one-person teleports the only way to travel between islands (but this would limit trade a lot).

      Scott’s experiment is eventually doomed to fail anyhow, since each island will eventually end up with the same social system, since each island has the same preconditions (remember that we are historical materialists!). Maybe we need to make each “island” a mini-copy of the other worlds to prevent this? But who will voluntarily live in e.g. the fascist world? And the teleporters will mess up the dynamics of the other worlds a lot.

      • noyann says:

        5, Design 2: Only problem I can see is that there won’t ever be any “mortal threats to the nation” and such to inspire the correct zeal, since each country will always be invulnerable in their home territory.

        For a threat, have famines (increase risks taken, maybe inventiveness) or (perceived) overpopulation (ditto, and ‘Volk ohne Raum’ for historical likeness).

        BTW, the slogan was ‘Blut und Boden’, probably because of the alliteration.

        • albatross11 says:

          Your alien machines can spit out hordes of invading killer robots at random intervals. which will provide an external threat that everyone agrees requires a centralized and militarized society.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            Killer robots crosses the line for “no human interaction”. Maybe we could have some kind of bio-engineered animal, but that also have a host of problems (first of all: no plausible animal would be much more than a nuisance for an industrial society).

        • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

          Makes sense. If the population keeps growing, every nation will need Lebensraum. What happens when one country has taken all the territory? The plan would be that each territory would rapidly form its own nation (“the one true heir of the [old nation]”) and continue the cycle. But are there fail cases?

      • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

        On second thought, it seems like my socialist world wouldn’t work. Nothing is stopping the tyrant and his cronies from simply entering the machine and doing the work, thus shielding them from the death rays. Once the work is done, then can beat up everyone and steal the good stuff. We can remove the shielding, but that would probably cause a host of mass killings by accident and craziness, so maybe not. People could run away to a new machine, but they need to form a big enough band to operate it, and that band could have a new power struggle, and the hierarchies would reappear. Over all it seems like we would end up with something more like post apocalyptic machine cults than Marx’s workers paradise.

        I think I’m being to speculative. Lets just start with a ten million population industrial nation in 1900. Add extra natural resources to compensate for the lack of trade and colonies. What twist can we add to guarantee socialism? Maybe we can reuse the idea of a machine that requires mass cooperation to somehow enforce democracy? (But is that possible?) Anyone got ideas? The aliens have started looking at their watches.

        • Belisaurus Rex says:

          Have you considered that socialism is not compatible with human motivations? Rather telling that god-like aliens with unlimited resources and strong incentives can’t create a socialist utopia.

          If you mean socialist to be like one of the modern European socialist countries, (as opposed to worker collectives) that’s easier. But those are about as close to socialism as Communism with Chinese Characteristics is to Communism.

          • Imsoindiethatmyblogdontfit says:

            “It’s impossible” is the easy way out. I don’t think that’s true and it’s definitely boring. Mostly the issue seem to be that our modern ideologies are quite abstract and it is hard to guarantee that a society will evolve its culture in that direction. Like, the material conditions of fascist Germany, socialist Germany and liberal Germany were quite alike. So how do you build a world that you are sure turns out in one of those ways but not the others?

            There are no socialist European countries right now as far as I’m aware. There are lots of social democratic European countries, but they are liberals, not socialists. Quote Wikipedia:

            Social democracy is a political, social and economic philosophy that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and a capitalist-oriented mixed economy.

            The aliens would not consider a social democratic country to be socialists. But if you want to do the challenge for social democracy the aliens are interested.

            (It seems like an US thing to be confused about this? Like Sanders who says he’s a democratic socialist while being far right of my social democrat prime minister. And if my PM called himself a socialist the outroar would be big enough to make him resign.)

          • Belisaurus Rex says:

            Responding to Indiana blog:

            I got the difference, just wanted to clarify. No offense to socialists, but I imagine that would look very similar to the tribal setting. Dunbar’s number communes. Unless I am an ignorant American again and described communes instead of the workers paradise.
            I just can’t imagine it bigger.

    • noyann says:

      Inspired by Lady of Mazes?

    • b_jonas says:

      I have no answers, but I’d like to praise this as an interesting question with well-phrased boundary conditions.

  39. eigenmoon says:

    Conjecture: coronavirus does not spread through hands.

    There’s a lot of variation in physical cash usage among countries. Some are almost cash-free, some are almost cash-only. But the data looks like all countries have the same rate of spread until some isolation is imposed. That must mean cash isn’t a significant vector, but why wouldn’t it be if the virus spreads on touch?

    (Apologies if already discussed – I’m unable to read all COVID-19 threads here due to sheer volume)

    • pansnarrans says:

      Maybe the effect of cash is lost in the noise? There’ll be a lot of cultural factors.

      In some countries, it’s normal to hug and kiss people you know whenever you see them. Some countries have very crowded mass transit, others don’t. I’m sure background hygiene standards vary by culture. And so on.

      I’d be really surprised if a country that generally uses cash didn’t have a higher rate of transmission than the same country mostly using contactless.

      • Ketil says:

        I’d be really surprised if a country that generally uses cash didn’t have a higher rate of transmission than the same country mostly using contactless.

        Not sure why. The degree of contact infection is questionable, and the virus survives poorly on cardboard (which I imagine would extend to paper bills). And I may have missed later developments, but it still looks to me at facemask-rich countries do better than those following previous advice of not using them – so breath-borne droplets seems likely to be the most important vector.

        • Well... says:

          Add to this that cashless doesn’t mean touchless. Basically every transaction I do at a store or restaurant involves me putting a plastic card into a slot and pressing a button or two. (And if I’m going through a drive-through I have to actually hand my card to someone who hands it back. Most of the lately time that person’s hands are gloved, but I doubt they use a new pair of gloves for each transaction, and only once have I seen the person in a facemask so most of them have been breathing on my card too.) I try to use a knuckle for the button-pressing, and then clean my hands as soon as possible afterward, but not everyone does this and it’s still plenty clear that there’s an opportunity to transmit a virus.

          • ana53294 says:

            Don’t you have contactless cards? or are your purchases above the limit?

            In Spain, they’ve raised the limit on contactless payments to 50 euros. In the UK, it’s gone from 30 to 45 GBP. That’s usually more than enough for most of my purchases, even now that I spend more on groceries.

          • Del Cotter says:

            As ana says, contactless does actually mean touchless, if you’ve got the hand coordination. Most people tap briefly with their card or smartphone because trying not to is like trying to play a note on a theremin with precision.

            I can imagine a maximum hygiene version where the static device has a brass stud whose purpose is to halt the card at a standard distance. Brass for antiviral properties, and stud to minimise the contact area from transaction to transaction (unfortunately everyone would still be touching the same stud, you just hope they’re touching a minimal amount of card or phone)

            Perhaps a brass ring rotating through a soap bath would be better? Or perhaps I’m overthinking it all, and a brass plate that you’re encouraged to only touch with the corner of your phone would work.

          • Well... says:

            Huh? I’m talking about a credit or debit card, most of which have little chips in them. You take the card out of your wallet, slide it chip-first into a slot (some of the older machines still have you swipe it down the side), then you press a couple buttons authorizing the payment. At gas stations you often have to enter your zip code. If you’re paying through debit you have to enter your pin instead and then press a button if you want cash back, and if you do you have to press one or more buttons to select/enter the amount.

            As for the thing where you tap your phone, I have a flip phone so that isn’t a thing for me. But even if it was, Del Cotter points out that getting the phone close enough to the machine but not touching it is too fine a task for most people.

          • ana53294 says:

            I am talking about credit or debit cards. They work like the phones, you don’t have to touch the card reader.

            Apparently, they’re much less common in the US. But if so, I agree, I think that if you can count exact change, for example, there’s less touching than having to insert a card and key in the pincode.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t think I’ve seen one of those.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I have some cards that have that contactless point. I’ve only ever seen readers at CVS and Walgreens.

          • Del Cotter says:

            The contactless card is the original technology, the phones are just “being a card”, the same way they’ve taken over the functions of cameras and other devices.

            My musings on how to remove the last trace of touch shouldn’t take away from the fact that they’re much less handsy than slots and rubber keypads.

          • Lambert says:

            The phones aren’t being credit/debit cards, they’re being SIM cards.

            The chips being used for android/apple pay are very similar to those present in SIM cards. The idea has been around for decades, but it didn’t catch on in the developed world.
            OTOH, mobile payments processed on the SIM are vital to the growing African economy. It’s the method GiveDirectly uses to make payments, for example.

          • BBA says:

            In the last couple of years I’ve started to get contactless chips on my credit cards as they expire and are reissued. They have a middling track record of being accepted, and I often have to fall back on inserting the EMV chip or [shudder] swiping the magnetic stripe. (Do they still use carbon paper anywhere? A lot of cards don’t have the embossed numbers anymore.)

            At least in America, G-Pay and Apple Pay (and Samsung’s?) are processed as credit card payments, and bill to my card instead of showing up on my phone bill.

            Regardless, I still have to press a button, and sometimes sign the touch screen, so it’s nowhere near “touchless.”

          • pansnarrans says:

            All of the above supports the idea that there are a lot of local factors, right? Where I live, most transactions these days are contactless, which means tapping your card on the reader or waving it within an inch or two. This is a fairly new thing, but it was in place in time for coronavirus (by sheer luck).

            Similarly, there are presumably a lot of things that nobody even thinks about on a day-to-day basis – like whether or not it’s usual to shake hands with someone when you see them – that have a serious effect on how transmission rates fare per country.

            I live in the UK, where if you go out for a drink you generally go to the bar and get drinks for the people you’re with. Which means you’re inevitably in contact with everyone else at the table, because they just ferried your glass from the bar to your hand. Most other places I’ve been use table service, which could be better or worse. I have no idea either way, and that’s part of the point. Comparing countries directly feels difficult.

          • b_jonas says:

            BBA: re carbon paper for embossed cards, yes, on some airplanes, because they don’t have the reliable mobile phone reception that would be required for other forms of payment. (I’m in Europe.)

      • eigenmoon says:

        Unfortunately the visualization hides a lot: for example, the difference between 175 and 195 cases last week per 200 cases total is barely visible, but the former is 7x increase last week and the latter is 39x.

        But still. Here are 4 countries: France, Spain, Estonia, Sweden. I picked Estonia because I know they’re not huggy-kissy and I picked Sweden because I know they’re very cashless. Right of the bat I’d say Spain would have the fastest spread because they’re huggy, then France (France is relatively cashless), then Sweden or Estonia which isn’t crowded and doesn’t have subway transit. And yet… their spread rate is indistinguishable. How can that be?

        • pansnarrans says:

          Off the top of my head, Sweden refused to lock down until a few days ago. It was at least a few weeks behind France and Spain. I have no idea about Estonia, though.

  40. Conrad Honcho says:

    Well I can’t sleep. I’m tossing and turning over the economy.

    I’m very worried this is going to bad. Very, very bad. Not necessarily “the living will envy the dead” bad, but like “Great Depression 2,” except you can’t subtitle it “Electric Boogaloo” because people are going to be so despondent about their life situation they’ll give you a really nasty look for making a dumb joke.

    I just don’t see how you stop 80% of the economy for months, and then…just fire it right on back up. No. There’s already like 20 million people out of work. They’re not going to have any money to buy goods and services when “the economy” opens back up. Since no one’s spending money, no one’s going to hire them. And we still have weeks, months even to go, for that 20 million to climb higher and higher.

    In the beginning, I said it probably wouldn’t be a big deal because I pattern matched “oh this big scary virus is going to kill everybody” to SARS and H1N1 and Ebola and all the other big scary viruses that were going to kill everyone that wound up having zero impact on my life.

    But then I shut up because I don’t actually know anything about virology, medicine or biology, so I didn’t argue when the hue and cry about how bad it would be ramped up. The millions of dead projections and the overrun hospitals. “Maybe it really will be that bad. Maybe this one really is different, and it really is that scary.” Nobody even seems to remember two week ago when we were all going to die because of lack of ventilators. And that just went away, I guess. And then the hospital ships saw no patients. And the hospitals in my town are empty, and are forcing employees to take vacation time for lack of work. I guess that would eventually turn into furloughing or laying off if the virus continues…not overrunning the hospitals. But then the healthcare workers will be out of jobs anyway because the 20+ million people who lost their health insurance can’t get those non-critical surgeries they put off during the plague.

    And we’re still shutting down the economy. And the pre-post mortem is…we should have murdered the economy harder and faster?

    If things get as bad as I think they’re going to in the economy and not nearly as bad as I think they’re going to be in the plague, I think the correct answer will have been, “it’s just a really, really bad flu bro, wash your hands, wear a mask, try to work from home, make your own individual decisions for yourself, your health and your business, but the government isn’t going to force you to be unemployed out of fear you or someone else might get sick.” Basically looking approvingly at Matt M and DavidFriedman about now. But, I mean, of course the AnCaps are going to say “the right answer is ‘the government does nothing!'” I’m thinking they were right this time.

    I really, really, really hope I link back to this post in three months to laugh about how dumb I am, that of course the economy is going to bounce right back, because there was pent up demand and “the fundamentals” were strong or whatever.

    But right now I can’t sleep.

    • ana53294 says:

      Well, I can sleep, because I drink every night before I go to bed and just slumber into sleep.

      But I also worry about the economy. People who were doing fine before, doing great even, are not so great anymore. I’m going to have to start looking for a job in September-November. I don’t think I’ll find one.

      My brother was at a company that was heavily hiring and had months of orders. They’ve started furloughing people. People who have just personally recovered from the 2008 crisis are losing jobs before they gained any kind of cash cushion. At least the 2008 crisis came to people who hadn’t suffered a recession this bad in more than a decade, with the economy growing since the early nineties.

      I also hope we are all wrong, and it’s going to be a V shaped recovery. But I don’t think it will be.

    • Tatterdemalion says:

      If things get as bad as I think they’re going to in the economy and not nearly as bad as I think they’re going to be in the plague, I think the correct answer will have been, “it’s just a really, really bad flu bro, wash your hands, wear a mask, try to work from home, make your own individual decisions for yourself, your health and your business, but the government isn’t going to force you to be unemployed out of fear you or someone else might get sick.”

      “If it was” is the wrong question to ask. I think that it’s very likely that, at least at the relative values I attach to quality of life vs preservation of life, the countermeasures will inflict more – possibly much more – harm than the virus will.

      But that’s not a useful thing to compare, because it ignores how much more harm the virus would inflict if not for the lockdown.

      Essentially, we’re in the old joke about throwing balls of paper out of the window to drive away tigers. How do you know it’s working? Look, no tigers! But while that’s incredibly easy to mock, the overwhelming consensus among the people who actually know about these things is that without the balls of paper, Shere Khan would be squabbling with Tigger for our entrails before you can say “Judith Kerr”.

      It’s the nature of exponential growth that small changes in the exponent produce massive changes in the output. At present the US death toll is in the low tens of thousands, which makes the lockdown look pretty disproportionate. But before the lockdown, cases were doubling every three days or so; a month of that is a factor of a thousand, and you’d be looking at a death toll in the high hundreds of thousands or low millions before herd immunity kicked in and the curve started looking sigmoid rather than exponential.

    • Matt M says:

      I just don’t see how you stop 80% of the economy for months, and then…just fire it right on back up.

      At the risk of making your anxiety even worse, I’d point out that our expert overlord class isn’t even proposing to allow us to try and do that.

      Like, even if you believed a V-shape recovery was technically possible in a scenario where the state says, “OK, the disease is gone now, everybody go back to how it was before!” (and as you say, it almost certainly isn’t), even the most hardcore politicians in favor of reopening are being quite clear that this isn’t even on the table.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Well, I think I’m tired enough to sleep now, so I’m going to go try, but I guess to distill my thoughts:

        I read all the comments on the “A Failure, But not to Predict” post, and it seems like the lesson is, “it didn’t take experts to predict a pandemic would spread, just a basic understanding of exponential growth, so I should have been panicking early about the obvious looming pandemic.”

        Okay, well, it doesn’t take a Nobel prize winning economist to understand that unemploying 20, 30, 40 million people in the span of a few weeks will wind up crashing the economy so hard it may not be recoverable, just a really basic understanding of how goods and services are produced and then trade hands between people. So to people not panicking…why?

        Like, “man, all the signs were right there, I totally should have been panicking in January over the virus. Now I’ll make sure to panic at the appropriate time for the next obviously foreseeable catastrophe. La, de da da de da.” Umm, it’s right there. This is next time. A thing that no one has ever seen before is about to happen because look at the unemployment numbers. The whole “shut everything down” idea was really, really, really bad and it’s very, very obvious.

        • baconbits9 says:

          Okay, well, it doesn’t take a Nobel prize winning economist to understand that unemploying 20, 30, 40 million people in the span of a few weeks will wind up crashing the economy so hard it may not be recoverable, just a really basic understanding of how goods and services are produced and then trade hands between people. So to people not panicking…why?

          Some of us are panicking, but we started 6-12 weeks ago and are more or less in as good shape as we could hope so we aren’t spreading the panic.

        • Tatterdemalion says:

          What people not panicking? I haven’t seen anyone arguing that the economic consequences of a lockdown won’t be catastrophic.

        • Matt M says:

          What people not panicking?

          Whoever keeps buying shares of the Dow, S&P, etc…

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          What people not panicking?

          The politicians who want to keep the lockdowns going on. The media types who keep writing about how we should have locked down harder/sooner and are finger-wagging at governments not locking down hard enough.

          We’ve clearly locked down too hard. We can tell because the medical capacity isn’t even whelmed, much less overwhelmed. So now we’re going to be tanking the economy way, way hard. And the suffering from that is going to dwarf what we’d get by whelming the medical system.

        • baconbits9 says:

          What people not panicking? I haven’t seen anyone arguing that the economic consequences of a lockdown won’t be catastrophic.

          There are lots of people voicing concern, there are relatively few people actively making the changes you should make if you are facing a depression.

        • Matt M says:

          This. Basically everyone is saying “there’s going to be a depression” but virtually nobody is actually doing anything about it…

        • ana53294 says:

          But what can an individual do?

          I’ve reduced expenses and have all my savings in cash. I’ve also increased my savings rate. What else can I do? I need the money too much to risk it in the market.

        • baconbits9 says:

          I’ve reduced expenses and have all my savings in cash. I’ve also increased my savings rate. What else can I do? I need the money too much to risk it in the market.

          Broad out lines are

          Tier 1
          reduce expenses
          save cash
          buy gold
          stash 3-6 months of calories if you can

          Tier 2
          Expand your skill sets where you can so you have more job options
          Get out of all long term contracts that you can
          Extend your mortgage out as long as you can if you have one (as long as the cost to do so isn’t to high)

          Tier 3
          Improve your habits. It is much better psychologically to give something up voluntarily than to be forced into it. I quit drinking this past week (I had been drinking more with more time at home and I knew I should have done this sooner), am hanging up the laundry on a line instead of drying, and a few other things like this.

      • baconbits9 says:

        Not just that, but they are paying people not to go back to work, reinforcing the expectation that their specific jobs are coming back and preventing needed shifts.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          I’d be more inclined to listen to the people saying “omg the lockdown is the real killer” if there weren’t so much overlap between them and the people who were saying “lol it’s just the flu bro and it will go away in April.”

          People don’t want to admit they fucked up. And instead of manning up and admitting they got it wrong, this is just a continuance of the same denial we saw in February and March.

          Because if it turns out that the lockdown is the real killer, their original mistake of saying there was nothing wrong was actually the right call. They were right all along!

        • Clutzy says:

          I think I’d fit into that set, with the caveat that I don’t think “the lockdown is the real killer” YET. But I think it would end up being if it lasts as long as many people seem to be asking for. Somewhere in the 2-3 month range I think you really start ramping up the death effects from a lockdown (but of course we don’t get to see those in a spike, because they are mostly delayed by years), probably at going over 3 months I’d estimate we’d start to hit something like 100k over 5 years, plus some million+ people with dramatically reduced life expectancy, but you wont see that affect for 10+ years.

          Certainly I am someone who has consistently said here (and elsewhere), “I am frustrated by not knowing things.” There was a thread where someone asked about it and I said something like, “this is one of the things I’m least certain about.” I’ve consistently tried adjusting my mental model based on the data I saw. A week+ ago my model was that it was very very infectious and about 10x as bad as the flu in kill rate. Recently I’ve adjusted both down slightly. I’ve also adjusted downward my estimates of the casualties from lockdown. Last month I expected more unemployment claims than we have now. Now, perhaps that is also a lagging indicator and I will be proven wrong about being wrong. IDK.

          There is just too much uncertainty, and it feels to me that institutionally there is no motivation to try and give certainty. Media, CDC, WHO, FDA, they all give me the vibe of intentional lack of curiosity about the questions I am asking.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think it’s definitely worse than the flu. But I also think the response has been an overreaction. The goal of the response was to prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed, and while the flu is bad, the medical system is clearly not overwhelmed, and we don’t seem to be in any rush to reopen. This is going to be catastrophic for the economy.

      • acymetric says:

        I wonder if, as we try to get the economy re-started, marijuana legalization starts to pick up steam. Job creator, generates revenue for the state. Helps pacify an angry/upset/unemployed populace. Seems like a win-win.

    • baconbits9 says:

      This won’t help you sleep any better….

      Stock and Bond markets aren’t functioning as pricing mechanisms now, which is probably a pretty bad sign. Its pretty hard to reconcile oil prices collapsing overnight to lows 10-20% lower than the pre-opec production cut lows, China’s GDP numbers coming out 13% worse than expected and a stock market that is up 2.5-3% on top of 3 weeks of gains.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The 10 year Treasury is back where it was on April 1-3, Oil is back well below its lows set April 1-3, gold is up ~ $100 an ounce since April 1 and is down off 7.5 year highs, and the S&P 500 is set to open at ~ 15% up off the April 1 close. Now it could be that the stock market is right and the other markets wrong (I don’t see that) but it is pretty clear that there is a disconnect in expectations across these markets.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Yeah I’ve noticed that too. Madness.

          Oh, and props to you for being right about the economy collapsing. I mentioned Matt M and DavidFriedman, but that was more about the virus, but you’ve been dead on about the economy.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Okay, so I did have one other investment asset that was not part of my retirement. About 20 years ago when my grandmother passed I came into a few thousand dollars and I had nothing to do with it so I opened an index fund. I then forgot about it except once a year when I’d get the 1099-div form. I planned to just hold that through all this because, meh, it’ll go up, too, eventually, and i don’t want to pay the capital gains taxes.

          With the market bounce this week, which I think is completely nuts, I took the opportunity to sell it. I just sold it with the market back up to 24,000, and will be stashing that cash for the foreseeable future. I’m not touching my workplace retirement account, though.

        • Lillian says:

          It’s been hilarious watching Wall Street Bets recently. They all went short since they were expecting an economic collapse, and now they’re all running around with their puts on fucking fire, pissing and moaning about how irrational and retarded this bull market is. The memes and shitposting have been fantastic. Stonks only go up!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Are you saying I’m smarter than /r/wallstreebets?!?!

        • Lillian says:

          You’re not gambling with your life savings by trying to day trade, so yes, yes you are.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It’s true that most of our institutions (and most people, including myself) underestimated this thing to begin with. And when things started getting bad in Italy and Washington State, we corrected somewhat.

      And then we overestimated it; we were supposed to have people — and not just the old and the sickly, we were told, but many young and healthy people too — dropping dead around us. Hospitals full, patients dying in the hallways, bodies stacking up unburied in the streets, etc. And most of that didn’t happen; in New York, hospitals got busy but only a few were literally overwhelmed. Morgues _did_ overflow — COVID-19 is indeed quite lethal — but contingency procedures sufficed; bodies stacked up in refrigerated trucks and ice rinks, not uncontrolled on the street.

      We are not, however, correcting for the overestimation. Probably for several reasons, but the major one IMO is that the governments like these lockdowns. Governors are ruling by decree, which any power-seeker must love. Public health authorities get outsized influence, and they’re naturally inclined to a precautionary approach; if lifting the lockdowns could kill people they’ll advise against it. Various articles have been published about how the disease is actually worse than we think (I’ve seen estimated R0 numbers of up to 7, up from the original 2.3), which gives more excuse (I suspect some of these articles are CCP propaganda designed to convince the West to destroy itself). The feds are showering money on the poor, so they’re not going to riot for now. And nobody cares about landlords and other such people being hurt (in NJ, many landlords are getting no rent but still have to pay property tax on time). There’s simply no incentive for governments to lift the lockdowns, and many reasons not to.

      Probably the best thing would be for Trump to announce that the lockdowns should absolutely continue forever. Cuomo would then lift the NYC lockdown on Monday and Murphy (NJ) on Tuesday…

      • Matt M says:

        Probably the best thing would be for Trump to announce that the lockdowns should absolutely continue forever.

        Agree. So long as “supports ending lockdowns” is even roughly correlated with “supports Trump and Trump’s policies” we are going to see a huge segment of society fight tooth and nail to keep the lockdowns in place as long as possible.

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      I am worried, for precisely the reasons you list, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do bedsides all the things one is already supposed to do to prepare for the coronavirus (stockpile food and water, get into guns, etc.), except maybe being as frugal as possible in case I lose my current job (which I still have, thankfully; my hours even increased because now I have to drive to work an hour early to beat the curfew!).

      Virtually all of my net worth is in my checking account, with the only real exceptions being my car and a relatively small amount of cash I keep at home, so I’m not worried about the stock market. But, like, how likely is it that my bank is going to fail? Should I be keeping more of my money at home under the metaphorical mattress? For that matter, how likely is the dollar to collapse (surely the money printer can’t go BRRR forever without consequences)? Should I be getting into gold and bitcoin?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        That’s kind of where I’m at too. I don’t know how you stock up for a depression. It’s not like the power goes out or the water gets poisoned. I also still don’t think my job is in serious danger. I will not at all be shocked about not getting a raise this year, but my job is in…little danger. My organization cannot fail, and my place in it is pretty damn secure. I’m getting personal compliments from the CEO about how exceptional and useful my work has been during all this. I think I’m fine.

        I guess I should cash out my 403(b)? I wasn’t planning on retiring for 25 years so I figured I would ride this out…but I also wasn’t figuring they were going to do the lockdown thing for more than a few weeks. And the market is bizarrely optimistic right now. I should probably figure out how to do that. I still don’t know anything about finance.

        Beyond that I have no idea what to buy to prepare. More bullets, in case people try to take my stuff? It’s crazy.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s not like the power goes out or the water gets poisoned.

          A depression (or virus) won’t cause these things directly. But routine problems with electrical/water system will probably be more difficult to quickly restore in an environment where workers are sick, or engaging in absenteeism because they’re worried about getting sick, and local public governments have no money, and even if they wanted to hire replacements, nobody is showing up for interviews, etc.

          Basically, you should revise downwards your general estimate of the reliability of everything, from “the lights will come on when I hit the light switch” to “there will be food to buy when I show up at the grocery store.” Maybe that revision is just updating from 99.9% to 99% or something like that… but it’s still worth thinking about.

        • albatross11 says:

          If you’re looking for cases on which to calibrate what a first-world country looks like when going through an economic meltdown, maybe look at Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain during the European debt crisis, and maybe some Asian countries during the Asian debt crisis a couple decades earlier?

        • acymetric says:


          What does it look like if most developed countries are going through it, instead of just a handful at a time?

        • albatross11 says:

          The European debt crisis was the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, so lots of countries were going through it at the same time. Greece felt a lot more pain from that than Germany, but I don’t think Germany was flush with cash either. But I’m curious what people who lived through that time in Europe have to say.

        • ana53294 says:

          I remember trying to get a side job as a student during the worst of the crisis.

          One thing to note is, the only “jobs” in the online job sites are MLM scams. Avoid* MLMs. Why are MLMs legal? The behaviour of MLMs during this time of need is incredibly scammy.

          *Not like I’d think anybody in SSC would end up in an MLM, but I wouldn’t think anyone would. I, a naive inexperienced sheltered autistic teenager, immediately felt that paying to get a job is a scam. But I guess desperation does strange things to people.

  41. eric23 says:

    Trump is being criticized less for delaying taking necessary measures, and more for repeatedly taking actively harmful measures.

  42. johan_larson says:

    There’s a good article in The Atlantic about the WHO and how it messed up in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis. I think it’s interesting that the author is ultimately pro-WHO as an institution. We really need some sort of institution that does what it does. And realistically, any such institution is going to have to be pretty respectful of the major political powers, who ultimately provide its funding. But in this case, the leadership of WHO seemed pretty darn frantic to toe the line Beijing pointed to.

    Fixing the WHO is crucial, because we desperately need well-functioning global health institutions. But that requires a correct diagnosis of the problem. There is an alternate timeline in which the leadership of the WHO did its job fully and properly, warning the world in time so that effective policies could be deployed across the planet. Instead, the WHO decided to stick disturbingly close to China’s official positions, including its transparent cover-ups. In place of a pandemic that is bringing global destruction, just maybe we could have had a few tragic local outbreaks that were contained.

    This mission-driven WHO would not have brazenly tweeted, as late as January 14, that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China.” That claim was false, and known by the authorities in Wuhan to be false.. Taiwan had already told the WHO of the truth too. On top of that, the day before that tweet was sent, there had been a case in Thailand: a woman from Wuhan who had traveled to Thailand, but who had never been to the seafood market associated with the outbreak—which strongly suggested that the virus was already spreading within Wuhan.

    We can get a glimpse at that alternate timeline by looking at the two places where COVID-19 was successfully contained: Taiwan and Hong Kong. With dense populations and close links to and travel from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong are unlikely candidates for success. Yet Taiwan reported zero new confirmed cases on Tuesday, fewer than 400 confirmed cases since the beginning of the outbreak, and only six deaths. Taiwan’s schools have been open since the end of February and there is no drastic lockdown in the island of almost 30 million people.

    • The Nybbler says:

      And realistically, any such institution is going to have to be pretty respectful of the major political powers, who ultimately provide its funding.

      The incentives are to be respectful of the major political powers who demand respect and will punish them if they do not kowtow. And to ignore the wishes of any major political powers who take the allegedly more enlightened view that WHO is doing good work and should be funded regardless of their political behavior. Thus “unenlightened” behavior is rewarded.

      • Del Cotter says:

        The US pays the WHO about $400m a year in voluntary donations, yet China pays a fraction of that. Apologies for being unable to find an account of how much each country pays in either compulsory fees or voluntary donations, but I have the impression China is surprisingly far down the list even compared to quite small countries, and yet who the WHO is respectful of doesn’t seem to match who funds it.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Here is the assessed fees for 2020, a total of $250 million, of which 58 from USA and 29 from China. Here are voluntary contributions from 2018, a billion dollars from states, a billion from other organizations. 6 million from China, 281 million from USA, 229 million from Gates.

    • NostalgiaForInfinity says:

      Refusing to fund the WHO because it is too deferential to China seems like it would make them more dependent on China because they now provide a greater share of its funding – and could even actively increase it to make up the shortfall. If the various member countries said “you do what is best and if China (or any other individual country) objects and pulls its funding or cooperation, we’ll commit enough to make up for it” is presumably a better way of getting the WHO to improve and limiting its dependence on a single country.

    • rumham says:

      If we need them, we need to wipe that bullshit and start over. Cause they suck at life.

      “Alcohol is consumed in excessive quantities in the European Region, and leaves too many victims,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, the program manager for WHO Europe’s Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme, in a press release. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we should really ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behaviour on others, including violence.”

      The WHO press release goes on to argue that governments should resist their urges to loosen alcohol regulations during the pandemic, and should even consider “reinforcing” the rules already on the books.

      “This needs to be complemented by communicating with the public about the risks of alcohol consumption, and maintaining and strengthening alcohol and drug services,” says the WHO.

      This is not the first time the organization has warned against drinking at home during the current pandemic. Another WHO Europe doctor called alcohol “an unhelpful coping mechanism” during a press conference in late March, reported the U.K.’s Independent.

      That the WHO would choose now to lecture the world on its drinking reflects remarkable tone-deafness from an organization that has spent the better part of 2020 repeating the lies of China’s communist government about the coronavirus and spreading misinformation about the efficacy of mask-wearing.

      Of course, I haven’t thought them worth a shit since they were pimping (and still do!!!) Stanton Glantz’s debunked nonsense.

    • salvorhardin says:

      This is largely a function of the current director owing his job to China, no? If so, “fix the governance structure so that censorship-happy dictatorships don’t get a vote” would seem to be a pretty good simple strategy for improving the WHO. As indeed it would be for a lot of international institutions.

    • An Fírinne says:

      The WHO doesn’t recognise the Catalan Republic nor the Tamil Republic nor the Abkhaz Republic. All the crocodile tears over Chinese influence is just poorly disguised sinophobia.

      • John Schilling says:

        Do any of those have independent public health services with which the WHO could collaborate in any significant way?

        • An Fírinne says:


          • Evan Þ says:

            OK, you’re right that at least Abkhazia does have a Minister for Health. (I didn’t check the other two.)

            But, I at least have much more respect for Taiwan’s political process and system of government than Abkhazia’s. Perhaps if I knew more about Abkhazia (I currently know next to nothing), my respect for them would rise and I’d be similarly upset at the WHO for excluding them – but I think many Americans are in the same place as me.

          • An Fírinne says:

            @Evan Þ
            There’s nothing particularly interesting or unique about Taiwan’s system.

          • rumham says:

            @An Firinne

            There’s nothing particularly interesting or unique about Taiwan’s system.

            Except the fact that their covid 19 response was one of the most successful.
            But hey, why bother studying that? There’s way more bullshit secondhand smoke and vape studies to uncritically push on the world. Afteralll, they aren’t gonna push themselves. I mean really, studying successful covid 19 responses? Who has the time?

  43. sharper13 says:

    The re-opening guidelines are out. They leave discretion to State and regional authorities and appear pretty reasonable. Testing expected (including basic sickness checks at work locations), multiple levels of gradually loosening restrictions, and only moving to the next level if an area maintains two weeks of declining cases under the previous level.

  44. Le Maistre Chat says:

    Propaganda posters from a less-common source than the usual WWII et al: the Iranian Revolution.

    My favorite is the one implying the Shah was a virgin.

  45. ltowel says:

    So related to below discussion of spreading foods, what are people’s go-to spices? I’ve been a big fan of Aleppo pepper lately; it goes well in marinades, salad dressings and taco spices.

    • Coriander. And Cilantro.

      • Del Cotter says:

        Is that a joke?

        • Del Cotter says:

          That was my second reaction. First reaction, huh? they’re the same? Second reaction, are they the same? Thanks for confirming.

          Earlier this week I had a bowl of couscous that reminded me how much I dislike the soapy taste, since I’m one of those who lost the genetic lottery. It doesn’t bother me in Indian cooking, but it does in North African.

        • Rebecca Friedman says:

          My impression is that Indian cooking usually uses the seed – I’ve seen the leaf but it’s less common. Which is North African? My impression is people who complain about cilantro tasting like soap don’t usually seem to mind the seed.

      • Is that a joke?

        More an ingroup reference.

        In common cooking parlance, “coriander” is the seed, “cilantro” the leaf. They are different ingredients, even though both terms are names for the same plant in different languages.

        I like both of them.

    • danridge says:

      For meats, cumin. I love it so much, I’m not sure whether I even make good food with it or if I just enjoy it because I’d be about as happy eating spoonfuls.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      whats aleppo

    • rubberduck says:

      Smoked paprika: Goes well with most bean dishes, a lot of pasta dishes, and also eggs.
      Red pepper flakes: pleasantly hot, and the flakes look prettier than just using cayenne or hot chili powder, and it’s more satisfying to shake them out of the container.
      Thyme, because it just smells nice and is (imo) underrated.

    • Statismagician says:

      Can’t go wrong with cumin, red chili flakes, and black pepper. Also garlic and onion, but to my mind those are a different thing.

    • sfoil says:

      Aside from the basics, Szechuan pepper.