The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Riskiest of all Paths

Our the country was shut-down based on the advice of health care advisors offered to our political leaders who were terrified by what they heard. Collectively, we were told that "lives" were all that mattered and that the shut-down was precipitated by the best available "scientific models" that predicted catastrophic loss of life if we didn't shut down (millions dead) and significant loss of life (hundreds of thousands dead) even if we did shut-down. These "scientific models" were fed data every day and were adjusted every week. The adjustments were always downward and the projections were always proven wrong. As weeks passed, politicians (especially Democrat politicians) were adamant that the shutdown continue, even as data indicated that the severity of COVID-19, although very serious, were not at Armageddon levels.

Here's the thing. The economy was shut down without any analysis. What models were used to project what would happen to our economy as the shutdown went on for 4 weeks (26 million unemployed), then toward 8 weeks (as many Democrat politicians suggest), and finally, 12 weeks (as more than a few catastrophists recommend), or indefinitely (as those who are paralyzed by fear) desire? The answer is -- none. There was no serious economic or scientific analysis of the shut-down decision, just wild-ass guesses and promises of a quick rebound.

Tyler Cowen describes the problem:
If we keep the economy closed at current levels, it will continue to decay, and at some point turn into irreversible, non-linear damage. No one knows when, or how to model the course of that process. That decay also will eat into our future public health capacities, and perhaps boost hunger and poverty around the world.

If we keep people locked up at current levels, fewer of them will be exposed to the virus, and in the meantime we can develop better treatments, and also improve test and trace capabilities. No one knows how quickly those improvements will come, or how to model the course of that process, or how much net good they will do.

The relative pace of those two processes should determine our best course of action. No one knows the relative pace of either of those two processes. Yet commentators pretend to be increasingly knowledgeable, moralizing based on the pretense of knowledge they do not have.

That is where we are at!
It is true that no one has the answers to the questions that Cowen implies, but we do have historical knowledge of one aspect of this crisis and absolutely no knowledge about the other. We know the general progression of a virus throughout the world population. We understand that many tens of millions will be infected, that potentially a million will be hospitalized, and that hundreds of thousands may die. It's happened before. It's awful to be sure, but not all that uncommon (think: H1N1 in 2009). And now that we've weathered the worst of the storm, it's highly unlikely that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with new cases (they currently sit near-empty in many locales because elective surgery has been banned), even if the virus resurfaces with a vengeance.

But how about the other aspect, the one that shuts down the entire economy. We have absolutely no historical data for that one—none, because it's never happened before. We do know that the economy is decaying rapidly and "at some point [that decay will become] irreversible." And what happens if the worst comes to pass, if the economy implodes, if more tens of millions are unemployed, if tax revenue dries up, if the feds incur added trillions in debt, if hospitals close, businesses shutter, travel comes to a halt, if the the supply chain breaks, hunger becomes a real concern and out that, social unrest becomes a real possibility. All of that can happen and yet, the shut-down brigades led predominantly by Democrats at the national, state and local levels seem focused on risking all of it. Why?

Maintaining the shut down for even a few more weeks is a VERY risky decision, yet mostly Dem politicians seem to be okay with it. They keep telling us that the only criterion is that "lives matter," and that implies that they're really, really risk averse. But they choose the riskiest of all paths forward (the continuing shut down) and then become really defensive and then aggressive (name calling kicks in) when some of us begin to question their wisdom, and as time passes, their sanity. It's reasonable to look behind their professed concern for "lives" and repeated ask why they enthusiastically embrace the riskiest of all paths forward.


There are VERY few regular columnists for the New York Times who aren't hard left, offering extremist positions on everything from the economy to health care to politics. All of them hate, hate, hate Donald Trump and believe (irrationally, I might add) that if it weren't for him, the virus would be a non-story. An exception is Bret Stevens, who will certainly make no friends among the nation's left-wing catastrophists by suggesting that we shouldn't play by New York Metro Area rules for the remainder the COVID-19 crisis. He writes:
Even now, it is stunning to contemplate the extent to which the country’s Covid-19 crisis is a New York crisis — by which I mean the city itself along with its wider metropolitan area.

As of Friday, there have been more Covid-19 fatalities on Long Island’s Nassau County (population 1.4 million) than in all of California (population 40 million). There have been more fatalities in Westchester County (989) than in Texas (611). The number of Covid deaths per 100,000 residents in New York City (132) is more than 16 times what it is in America’s next largest city, Los Angeles (8). If New York City proper were a state, it would have suffered more fatalities than 41 other states combined.
He goes on to explain that population density is the primary driver for NYC's crisis, exacerbated by the pre-travel ban flow of tourists from other hot spots around the world.

Stevens continues:
No wonder so much of America has dwindling sympathy with the idea of prolonging lockdown conditions much further. The curves are flattening; hospital systems haven’t come close to being overwhelmed; Americans have adapted to new etiquettes of social distancing. Many of the worst Covid outbreaks outside New York (such as at Chicago’s Cook County Jail or the Smithfield Foods processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D.) have specific causes that can be addressed without population-wide lockdowns.

Yet Americans are being told they must still play by New York rules — with all the hardships they entail — despite having neither New York’s living conditions nor New York’s health outcomes. This is bad medicine, misguided public policy, and horrible politics.

On Friday, I spoke with Tomislav Mihaljevic, C.E.O. of the widely admired Cleveland Clinic, and an advocate of the need to use “tailored and discriminating solutions” that also recognize regional differences. At the moment, he says, “We’re using the methodology from the 14th century to combat the biggest pandemic of the 21st century.” It can’t go on.

Dr. Mihaljevic acknowledges the necessity of the lockdowns to contain the virus, along with the urgent need for ramped-up testing and ongoing monitoring. But, he adds, “we cannot hold our breath forever.” The U.S. will not soon be able to test 330 million people. Effective therapies or vaccines may be long in coming. Covid-19 will be “a disease we have to learn to live with.”

That means accepting that the immediate goal of public policy cannot be to eliminate the risk of Covid-19. It is to mitigate, manage and frame expectations for it — while not losing sight of other priorities. In Ohio Dr. Mihaljevic says that Covid patients take up just 2 percent of hospital capacity, and the curve of new infections has been flat for more than two weeks. Yet there has been a dramatic decline in people seeking care for heart attacks, strokes, or new cancers, presumably out of fear of going to hospital.
Of course, the trained hamsters of the mainstream media, doing the bidding of Democrat catastrophists who seem to want the crisis to continue indefinitely, won't give Dr. Mihaljevic or any of the hundreds of epidemiological experts who agree with him any airtime of print space. After all, that conflicts with their narrative.

Stevens concludes with this:
I write this from New York, so it’s an argument against my personal interest. But I don’t see why people living in a Nashville suburb should not be allowed to return to their jobs because people like me choose to live, travel and work in urban sardine cans.
Hundreds of millions of Americans prefer NOT to live in a "sardine can." We can sympathize with those that do, but we shouldn't be forced to follow sardine can rules.