28.4.20

THE IMPORTANCE OF HAND WASHING.

It's encouraged to keep germs away.  It's a useful workshop practice as well.



Enjoy.

THE DANGERS OF GOVERNING BY EXECUTIVE.

Volokh Conspiracy participant David Bernstein was thinking only about pen-and-a-phone executive orders when he wrote, "We had experience in 1861 with what happens when a significant part of the country believes that the national government has become arrayed against it, and it's not an experience we should want to repeat on any scale."  The extension to the states is straightforward.
Days later, did the county governments of California discuss with their citizens whether to impose “sheltering in place?” California’s governor? New York’s governor? Most of the other governors? No. Nor was there debate or much consultation on the White House’s sudden and shocking bans on international travel that have trapped possibly more than 100,000 American students abroad, forcibly separated from their families?

No, these leaders just did it.
That's David R. Henderson, who also notes, "This disease should have been regarded as a medical problem with a medical fix, not as an excuse to test out the range of awesome powers of the state to trample freedom."  His colleague Benjamin Powell notes that the state action created a different medical problem, probably the most glaring error of the initial closure orders.  "Politicians talking about any data beyond hospital capacity for reopening the economy are moving the goal posts."  That's right, dear reader, in the middle of a global pandemic, there are nurses, physicians, and surgeons furloughed, wings of hospitals closed, and biopsies and who knows how many outpatient procedures cancelled not because of any contradictions of capitalism, but by executive intent.

It's all too much for Christopher Phelan, head of the economics department at the University of Minnesota.
We are sacrificing the futures of our young to protect the old, and mostly the very old.

Some of the catastrophic economic costs our young are paying are due to the epidemic itself, but many are due to the shutdown policies. I believe we need to substantially relax restrictions, now or soon. We cannot wait months or years for a vaccine or treatment that may never come.

Other countries have shown we can protect against overwhelming our hospitals without shutting down the economy. We can allow individuals and businesses to make their own decisions on balancing risks. While not perfect, such private voluntary actions will slow infection rates. Policies of aggressive testing, tracing and isolating slow infection rates as well.

At-risk individuals (including the elderly) who are able to make it through the day without help eating, getting dressed and showered can make their own decisions regarding how much to expose themselves, and where necessary we should make it financially feasible for them to limit their exposure. For those who do need daily help, we need to do the best we can to protect them.

But this cannot come at the cost of ruining the futures of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
End the shutdowns. For the children.

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ENDING THE HOUSE ARRESTS.

The rationale, early on, was model forecasts of critical cases in numbers that would overwhelm the hospitals and exhaust the intensive care capabilities.  Wyoming representative Liz Cheney got on board with the initial, sweeping closures: "There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed."  That might have been prudent a month ago.  People can read, and watch the news, and they have plenty of time to inform themselves.  Here's a meme that's been circulating among insurgent websites.


Apparently Illinois governor J. B. Pritzker (D-Chicago) is still relying on the original playbook, denouncing the lawsuit by a downstate legislator that led to a court ruling his ukases unconstitutional by noting a paucity of hospital capacity in that part of the state, and an ongoing hot spot there.  The sensible thing to consider might be a quarantine of the hot spot, relocating some of the empty beds in Chicago downstate, and otherwise easing up, but that's not what we're likely to see, or is it the phenomenon I'm engaging in this post.

Rather, I want to start with some observations Joel Kotkin made in National Review, nine months ago.
The imposition of the Green New Deal proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — which would effectively mandate the end of many industries, from fossil fuels to aerospace to cattle ranching — would likely spark a mass rebellion in middle America. The “green” policies so appealing to a Silicon Valley billionaire, an investment banker, or a grant-seeking scientific researcher seem more like class warfare to residents of Youngstown, Ohio, the Ruhr in Germany, or, increasingly, China’s blue-collar cities.

China, with a history replete with violent peasant rebellions, could be the most important flash point. Workers increasingly stage strikes and protests. Communist officials have been put in the awkward position of cracking down at universities on Marxist study groups whose working-class advocacy conflicts with the policies imposed by the nominally socialist government.
It might be only the prudent response to what's not yet known about the Wuhan coronavirus that has kept the lid on the rebellion thus far, but the trial run of the Green New Deal does look a lot like class warfare, and there's a scary undercurrent waiting to take advantage of the expanding evidence that the plague, like previous plagues, is primarily a problem of thickly settled areas.  As far as China: well, the way they supposedly decontaminated Wuhan doesn't leave much to the imagination in those other cities, does it?

In the United States, as Reason's Ira Stoll notes, the power rests with the people.  "If the president or governor says 'open' and hospitals and funeral homes are clogged with Covid-19 critical cases and fatalities, plenty of people are going to remain in place based on the assessment that it's not worth risking death to comply with some politician's restart timeline."  Or, people will calibrate their responses to the kind of tentative openings the governors are consenting to do, which means the kind of exuberant economy of a summer ago isn't likely to appear even if the sunlight disinfects all the viruses.
Different people may have different tolerances for risk. For some people that trip to a restaurant or a place of worship may be a risk worth taking. For others it is not. For sure, each individual decision can affect other people—one person who takes too much risk and gets sick means one fewer hospital slot available for someone else. But that is true in many areas of American life, and it hasn't until now caused the country or states to be locked down.

The best plan for reopening America is one that sticks to American values—one that emphasizes freedom, competition, choice, and diversity, not one-size-fits-all compulsion or command-and-control authoritarianism. It's a conception, outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, in which government's role is protecting natural or God-given freedoms of individuals, families, businesses and religions, rather than turning them off or on a schedule, even in the service of public health.
Here's Kurt Schlichter, encouraging the same phenomenon.
We’re going to see a rush back to freedom. What’s going to happen is conservative states are going to start opening up and they’re going to start opening up soon. Then people in fascist nightmare states like California and New York are going to look over at Texas and North Dakota and the rest of free America that lies outside of the future People's Republic and wonder why the hell they are still getting yelled at for going to the beach.
His column also noted that Southern California traffic jams are becoming a thing again, as well as recognizing "We could deal with it when it looked like a commonsense thing to do, but now it’s just getting stupid."  Perhaps in two weeks we'll have the returns from the states that are currently allowing more commerce, that is, if the national plague task force are truly monitoring returns at the county and town levels, and then, perhaps the governors will revise their priors.

Sarah Hoyt addresses a different reason to push back at the altered deal.
[W]e’re stuck inside, the American economy in ruins, by the orders of our “betters” following those infallible computer models they’re so fond of. We’re subjected, every day, to more ridiculous, job-killing, wealth-destroying dictates from our lords and masters.

The latest insanity is that seeds aren’t essential, and nurseries and even the garden section of the local home improvement stores need to be closed.
Yes, those models.  Anybody can specify a model.  The science is in the recalibration. Her proposal: "Build under, build over, build around. Ignore their plans. Their plans are not for our good."

Those are voices from what we understand as the populist Right.  Their counterparts on the Left are also chafing, although at the moment it's the creatives in the big cities who will give the primarily Democratic mayors of the big cities trouble with rent strikes.  Arbitrary measures that give people incentives to ignore authority.  Put together, it's a recipe for social unrest.

27.4.20

A PERTINENT QUESTION.

Congestion pricing is all around us. Why is it taboo on our roads?  That's Brookings's D.J. Gribbin, and, although that post comes from the Land of Ago, it's still relevant.  Back then, it was simply thinking in a businesslike way.  "Cities are starting to recognize the opportunity to reduce roadway congestion without waiting for federal or state governments to provide billions in funding for costly new infrastructure."  If anything, the hit to state and local tax revenues of the past two months ought concentrate a few minds.

VOX ATTEMPTS TO EXPLAIN THE FLORIDA CORONAVIRUS ANOMALY.

It's Vox, so expect a little coastal condescension with your explanation.  "As Thomas Hladish, a research scientist at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, put it to me, the Florida outbreak is 'a puzzle that still has to be explained.'" There's no mention of possible early generally asymptomatic spread during the Super Bowl.  What do they see?  First, people being more careful about going out in public, even before any proclamations from the state house.  (That's no big surprise.)  Second, Florida isn't as thickly settled as metro New York City or much of the Official Region.  Watch for a faction fight among the technocratically inclined.  Business as usual still goes on among the urban transportation types over whether New York's subways or its expressways are the infrastructure most conducive to contagion.  (I'm sitting that one out, it just doesn't interest me.)  Third, maybe sunlight IS the best disinfectant.

There's one element missing from that analysis, and I believe it's important.  On one of yesterday's news broadcasts, I heard reference to Florida quarantining its rest homes expeditiously.  That's the complete opposite of New York, where infected patients were sent back to their rest homes, and what happened next was not amusing.  In the Chicago area, the rest homes have also been hit particularly hard, with a chain called Symphony having outbreaks at at least two locations.  Advertising dollars are reacting accordingly, with the Service Employees International Union buying time on the radio to advocate for hazardous duty pay and the issuance of better protective gear; and if you point your search engine at "nursing homes" in general or any operator in particular, you're likely to see advertisments from law firms chasing, well, not ambulances.

The public policy take-away: protect the vulnerable populations.  Stop the shutdown theater.

BLOWBACK.

Jeffrey Tucker outlines some of the saecular reset to come.
This whole period has been an unconscionable trauma for billions of people, wrecking lives far beyond what even the worst virus could achieve. I’m detecting enormous, unfathomable levels of public fury barely beneath the surface. It won’t stay beneath the surface for long.

Our lives in the coming years will be defined by forms of blowback in the wake of both the disease and the egregious policy response, as a much needed corrective. The thing is that you can’t take away everyone’s rights, put a whole people under house arrest, and abolish the rule of law without generating a response to that in the future.
He foresees eleven major changes, most of them not to the benefit of the values regime that implanted after the end of the War, but that has recently demonstrated its uselessness.

JACK RYAN'S KLINGONS.

That's a reference to Tom Clancy's The Bear and the Dragon, in which his fictional president keeps his real thoughts about the Chinese rulers to himself.  That's another eerily prescient novel, involving a crisis with Red China during which U.S. consumers spontaneously start boycotting Chinese goods.

Last Thursday, Tucker Carlson interviewed a onetime McKinsey principal, retired managing partner Peter Walker, who came on to respond to a previous monologue in which the TV talker called out McKinsey and other elements of the global consulting class for holding too rosy a view of the consequences of China being integrated into the World Trade Organization.

I post not to suggest that McKinsey and the rest of the business gurus are complicit in gutting Main Street.  Rather, I direct attention to the conversation, which, given the potential for generating a lot of talk-television heat, was civil.
[Tucker Carlson]: Mr. Walker, thank you so much for coming on. I want to start with the pandemic because that's what we were talking about in the first place. And I'm telling you — I'm quoting you here. We were praising China's response and I said, when people look back at what was done with the magnitude of the quarantine in China, they are going to get high praise. Credible reports suggest that Chinese authorities locked people in their apartments and left them to die. We know they snatched people off the street and threw them into police vans and that's where they went. That's a quarantine that you think they deserve high praise for. Why?

[Peter Walker]: I think [,Tucker,] if you just look at the results, there will always be questions about what the numbers are but I think the harsh action that they took given the scale of China and a number of big cities was exactly what they needed to do to be able to prevent the outbreak from going any further. The reality is that outbreak hasn't gone much beyond Wuhan. Their lack of disclosure and lack of transparency, they should be faulted for that and accountable for that.

[Tucker Carlson]: Okay. What would you say to the families of those who died, starve to death alone in their apartments are people wondering where their relatives went after they were bundled into Chinese police vans. How would you square their grief with the praise that you just heaped on the quarantine?

[Peter Walker]: At the end of the day you just have to look at the total picture. It's like when Cuomo gets on every night and Trump gets on every night. Everyone's heart goes out to every individual that died and that's part of the suffering that comes with the disease. It's heartbreaking, every single one of them is. But they had to do it otherwise, if you can imagine the scale of China, if that blew out in large numbers to other cities the numbers will be off the charts.
I'm not sure what's more frightening, the Chinese response or Mr Walker's dispassionate explanation of it.  Confucian values with Communist characteristics, or something.
One of the things and researching my book which became very clear to me, the Chinese people, I said you have a lot of things going, why are you doing the things the way you do? One of the things you discover about the Chinese society, it's a collective society. So, very different from the individualistic society of the U.S. so in China, literally the way they would look at it is there were probably 80 million people where they live. We locked up 1 million and so 79 million people are materially better off in terms of the quality of life, standard of living and everything else. It was only about 1.5% that we locked up and that's how they think about it. Do I agree with that? No. I don't agree with it. That difference between collectivism and common good is a huge disconnect with the U.S. We regard and always have been proud of every human life is sacred and therefore any unjustice or injustice is something we ought to be railing against and they are just not wired that way.
That might work for now, but when those remaining 79 million people start wondering why they're not working as consumers in the United States and elsewhere around the world start disengaging from their Chinese supply chains, what will happen?

DIAL THE PRIVILEGE LEVEL UP TO TWELVE.

Women academics seem to be submitting fewer papers during coronavirus.  Let's see, there's a pandemic on, there are people who are attempting to stretch three months of savings into ... who knows how long, the way some governors and mayors are going on, and people hoping the kids don't go through the box of cereal before the food bank issues another ration.
Women — who inevitably shoulder a greater share of family responsibilities — seem to be submitting fewer papers. This threatens to derail the careers of women in academia, says Leslie Gonzales, a professor of education administration at Michigan State University, who focuses on strategies for diversifying the academic field: When institutions are deciding who to grant tenure to, how will they evaluate a candidate’s accomplishments during coronavirus?

“We don’t want a committee to look at the outlier productivity of, say, a white hetero man with a spouse at home and say, ‘Well, this person managed it,’” says Gonzales. “We don’t want to make that our benchmark.”
I don't know, maybe the "spouse at home" is the omitted variable in the study, or perhaps the "white hetero male" has managed to negotiate a division of labor within the family that works, or maybe it's the administrivia that's getting in the way of the scholarship, not keeping an eye on the kiddos.  That division of labor might work in research as well. "Submissions are stable for women working as part of a team."

25.4.20

ON MY WORKBENCH.

Another week of confinement to quarters, another week of wet and chilly conditions precluding much yardwork, or even getting some sun reading on the deck.  But the model building projects continue.  It's mostly getting the detail bits right, one component at a time, on the Hawksworth County.


The British style etched brass chassis and footplate construction capture the thickness of the metalwork more accurately than does that North American old-school milled brass bar chassis behind.  Look closely, the cylinder castings are themselves built up from milled brass stock.


Those are two of the roughest-riding Ten Wheelers (sorry, British enthusiasts, that's the way I roll) in railroading, the County which was kind of a war emergency design, and the Pennsylvania G5s, the world's champion for tractive effort among 4-6-0s of any kind.


The Russian Decapod received a little more attention during the week as well.  Look, though, how big that G5 boiler is.  That ought to give people an idea just how big The Pennsylvania Railroad's Decapods were.

Keep calm and keep modelling.

DID LESTER HOLT REVEAL ANOTHER ANOMALY?

On Wednesday, one of the stories on NBC's nightly news was a short report on Santa Clara County, California's first coronavirus death.  A woman passed on February 6, and that has alerted researchers to the reality of the virus spreading long before the St. Patrick's Day shutdowns became a thing.

Mr Holt concluded his segment (it's not available as a separate clip within the April 22 archive but a variation is here) with an attempt at happy talk, something like the Bay Area "dodged a bullet" as the Kansas City comeback in the February 2 Super Bowl precluded any sort of mass gatherings that week for a victory parade.

The anomaly, though, might be this: suppose the Wuhan coronavirus is getting established in Santa Clara County, which is where the 'Niners' stadium is (a light rail line goes right past it); then the 'Niners and their fans go to Miami, where 'Niners fans talk smack with Chiefs fans in bars and at the stadium, and then the Chiefs and their fans go back to Kansas City for their victory parade.  As of six days ago, Florida experts were reporting evidence of cases at the end of February.  "The flu season had petered off in mid-February as it usually does, according to data from the Florida Department of Health. Deaths from flu and pneumonia peaked the week of Feb. 9, when 260 people died, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." Then came a surge of cases that peaked by the Ides of March.  In the Kansas City area, as of late February, local officials were making preparations, but behaving as if this was something yet to come.  How much of what Miami and Dade counties are seeing might have come from California, or was the absence of any (at least, based on current reporting) community spread from Miami to Kansas City a data point in understanding the contagion?

22.4.20

THE IRON BOATS GO AS THE MARINERS KNOW.

The Soo Locks opened about the same time most of the country shut down, and the mariners are confined to quarters.  (Not that shore leave is going to be any fun with social distancing.)
Shipping companies are discouraging or prohibiting their sailors from taking shore leave, said James Weakley, Lake Carriers' Association president.

"If they do leave the boat, they are screened when they come back on board," Weakley said. "When you think about it it, after a laker has been underway for 14 days, it's probably one of the safest places in America because they're not having interaction with outsiders. So there's good reason to limit interaction between sailors and dockside personnel."
The problem, though, is that with durable goods orders likely taking a hit, there's less derived demand for the ore being hauled from the Iron Range or the coal or limestone to the cement mills on the backhaul.

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ENDING THE HOUSE ARRESTS.

Today, a look at those building societal pressures.  Matt Purple suggests there's a public patience curve, and public officials have broken it. "People will only tolerate lockdowns for so long. By overstepping, some governors have accelerated the inevitable."  He notes,
We’re in the midst of our greatest public health crisis since the Spanish Flu and quarantine measures are absolutely necessary to abate the contagion. Still, state leaders can help stretch out that curve by avoiding overreach.
The governors who are having the most trouble are the ones having trouble taking "yes" for an answer. That is, the people began taking quarantine measures before the governors acted, the observed cases and deaths occurred, but in magnitudes far less than those that would overwhelm the hospitals and clinics, and instead of thinking about ways to offer some time off for good behavior, the governors extended their orders.  Not the kind of sensible official Mr Purple is hoping for.  "Now is the time for sensible statesmen who balance the overwhelming mandate for social distancing with the need for a little breathing room. If they choose instead to swing the sledgehammer, they’ll only knock that curve further down."

Reason's Matt Purple gives thought to the ways in which good behavior might be rewarded.  First, the keep-the-house-arrest-going case might be too much wishful thinking for the Openers, people who run the gamut from favoring a little more breathing room to the hard core Question Experts cohort.
Openers think it reasonable to consider that we are not facing a choice to "save lives" (or delay deaths) in the sense of preventing infections from ever occurring, which is more or less impossible now. The only really important consideration now is excess deaths or serious illness complications caused by inadequate medical facilities because at some given day in some specific hospital COVID cases are overwhelmingly large.

Openers thus wonder why more public policy decisions aren't being made based on a rigorous calculation of that number, now and in a reasonably foreseeable future based on best understanding of our hospital capacity, how quickly we could increase that capacity if that became public policy priority one, and the prevalence, percentage symptomatic, and percentage brought to brink of death by the disease. Openers tend to believe a "testing" solution or a "vaccine" solution are both outside the realm of plausibility now and for any foreseeable future.
On the other hand, advocates of staying the course, who also run the gamut from sticking with the thirty days to slow the spread to hard core close-it-up-until-there's-a-vaccine have their own idea of a loss function.
Closers are also sure that we can't know how much damage COVID-19 will eventually cause in our nation just based on the experience of the past 6 weeks, when we have been doing our best to keep people from getting close enough to each other in large enough numbers to truly and quickly unleash COVID-19. Thus to the Closers, any calculations based on "existing data" that are supposed to settle the question of whether we've done enough, or even too much, and can now "open up" are beside the point, in a genuinely dangerous way. If it's not an intolerable nightmare yet, they would say, that's because we are staying shut down.

The damage done by the disease and/or the policy reaction to the disease is baked into our nation, and will almost certainly echo strongly through at least the rest of this decade. Our nation might be slightly better off, though, if more of us did not compound that civic damage through a ferocious and unmanageable cultural and political squabble based on refusing to consider the reasons the other side thinks what they do with anything approaching intellectual charity and empathy.
It's in that last sentence, though, that the roots of populist rage emerge.  For the past sixty years, daily life has been an unending cultural and political squabble, sometimes over things of substance, but more frequently over things of little import, and that squabbling is making working the current problem more difficult.  Here's Glenn "Insta Pundit" Reynolds for USA Today.  "People don’t appreciate being condescended to and bossed around, especially when the leaders ask them for sacrifices without empathy and humility."  Although he's probably more on the side of the Openers than the Closers, his diagnosis is on point.
Ultimately, this rising resentment is itself a failure of public health, and of public health administration. You can complain that people are irrational and resentful, that they don’t “believe in science,” or whatever. But people are what they are, and their response to epidemics is surprisingly predictable. If your messaging — and your behavior — inspires resentment that causes people to resist and ignore public health messages, then you have failed at your job, whatever the amount of scientific knowledge you bring to bear.

Sadly, to succeed in their job, our leaders will need to possess humility, empathy and self-discipline. Those traits are in sadly short supply in our leadership class. We will all pay a price for that, though if recent history is any guide, our leaders will pay less than the rest of us.
We'll hear from the populists themselves in the next installment.

FIFTY YEARS AGO.

April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day.  Here's what I wrote a year ago.  "We've only been hearing this end-is-near stuff for fifty Earth Days now, and we're at least twenty years past the first apocalypse."  This year, it's a different set of apocalyptic models that are causing the fear, and the controversy.

That work is discrediting the boffins, perhaps even more than the failure of the boffins' predictions to overshoot without ever undershooting.  Consider this message from Issues and Insights.  First, "death projections were wildly exaggerated."  That's an understandable error in the face of almost no information, probably less bad than those projections of worldwide famine before 2000.  Second, "reports of overwhelmed health care were exaggerated."  Yes, Milan's hospitals were slammed, and it was a close-run thing in New York City, and yet I've seen almost no discussion among the political class about how if the extreme mitigation measures are producing outcomes that fall short of the dire forecasts, perhaps there might be some value in less extreme mitigation measures immediately.  Third, "death counts are likely inflated."  That strikes me as nit-picky, if one reads the reports or listens carefully to the news reports, the confounding factors and complications are there to uncover.  Fourth, "the death rate is magnitudes lower than it appears."  That's a selection effect, and the current small stock of dependable tests means the logical patients to test are the patients who turn up with frank symptoms.  At the moment, that too strikes me as nit-picky, although if the people advising officials nationwide or at the state or provincial level are not revising their recommendations on the basis of new evidence, the public health researchers might end up in as bad an odor as the doomsday environmentalists.  Here's Bookworm Room.
[T]he Wuhan Flu and our response to it presents a fundamental problem for the climatistas.  All of the ills forecast to come as a result of global warming are based on one thing and one thing only — computer models.  Disaster is only a few decades or a century out, really, because . . . the models say so.

If nothing else is clear, its that the world should emerge from this China-caused pandemic with an incredibly healthy skepticism of the accuracy of computer models that have not been thoroughly vetted and of proven track record.
That's not a fair comparison, as the model of the pandemic is starting with nothing, and the right time to conduct a version of the Strategic Bombing Survey is after the contagion is contained.  But it will soon be time to ask whether the suite of forecasts the epidemiologists are using is better than a simple model from over a century ago.  Moreover, it is never too early to lose sight of Julie Kelly's observation. "Their intentions may be good, but their poor planning and execution have been dangerous."

21.4.20

WE'RE GOING TO WANT SOME REALLY USEFUL ENGINES ONCE THE LOCKDOWNS END.

But preservation railroads raise most of their revenue during the summer season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I know, that seems frivolous when there are miles-long traffic jams at big city food banks, but if you have disposable income and your favorite preservation has online ordering, buy something.

THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ENDING THE HOUSE ARRESTS.

Today, a look at how we might do social science.  I'm going to disclose one of my priors, though.  I'm skeptical of Wise Experts.  This Randall G. Holcombe post dates to the (now relatively sane?) days of 2016, where he summarizes the Fatal Conceit.
In a country based on the principle of liberty, should we really contemplate depriving people of freedom because they sometimes don’t make choices experts think are best for them? My title really understates the liberty-depriving philosophy of the nanny state. More accurately, it is: Some people make what we think are bad choices, so we are going to deprive everyone of liberty.
That's annoying enough when it's general nanny-state homeowner association stuff involving drinking straws or paper cups or tote bags.  Now comes a pandemic, where even the people who study this stuff for a living are making it up as they go along still engaging in research, and people are understandably chafing under restrictions being imposed on them by people who still aren't sure what the good choices are.  As early as St Patrick's Day, Reason's Matt Welch was calling a time out.  "Self-imprisonment orders from panicky politicians are not a prudent way to flatten the curve."  It wasn't hard to see, even then, that there would be push-back.
We are about to see a lot of resentment from the healthy Youngs about how they no longer have jobs or the ability to make student loan payments because of draconian governmental measures to combat a disease disproportionately affecting the Olds. But even setting that aside, in the absence of V-1 bombs flying overhead, people are eventually going to bust out of their containment. Setting up legal regimes in contravention of human nature is a recipe for all kinds of trouble.

How do these curfews and mandatory quarantines end? No really, how do they? What does success look like? When is the "emergency" over? We see very little acknowledgment that these questions are even relevant, let alone attempts to answer them amid the cascade of competitive shutdowns.

I, too, urgently hope that people mostly stay the hell away from each other over the coming weeks. But not at gunpoint, and not in such a way that creates new and perhaps even worse pathways for unhealthy behavior. Let's be careful out there both personally and governmentally.
The resentment from the healthy could take on an even uglier form, as over the past month the contagion has been more widespread in thickly settled cities: New York (particularly Brooklyn and the Bronx), Detroit, Chicago.  Fortunately, Our Political Masters are beginning to think of an exit strategy, although they are being too ham-handed about substituting "testing" for "flattening the curve" particularly as the curve has never lived up to the modellers' expectations.

Also in Reason, Eric Boehm was thinking, a month ago, about how best to temper principle with practicality.  "How extreme should shut-down and shelter-in-place orders be, and how long should they last?" In addition, he suggests that readers develop a healthy skepticism about the experts. "There is little to do at this point but hope that our elected and appointed officials can pull the right levers and steer the country and its economy through this. But under the best of circumstances, we should be skeptical about their ability to do that—and these are far from the best of circumstances."

We'll turn next to John "Grumpy Economist" Cochrane, who has been writing -- a lot -- about sensible political economy.  Each of the following is a long post, read them in full.  I'll provide the epigrams.  First.
Shutting everything down and staying home for a few weeks is a sledgehammer. OK, our leaders have to hit a virus with a sledgehammer when they have nothing else up their sleeve. But it cannot last. Businesses will close, people will lose jobs, the economy will not be there to start up again.
Second, "The needed option is reopen with social distance." That seems to be emerging as the consensus, although the governors are behind the citizens.

Third, reopen smart.  Go, read the whole thing.

Neale Mahoney of the University of Chicago has an instructive perspective.
Prioritizing the medical battle against COVID-19 helps us in the economic battle on two fronts. When we spend more on personal protective equipment (such as the masks, gowns, and gloves used by health-care professionals), ventilators, additional hospital space, and other health-care infrastructure, this both slows the virus and injects money into the economy. When government officials instruct citizens to stay home except for essential errands, this harms the economy in the short run, but allows us to transition to less aggressive measures over the medium run, and is therefore also good for the economy.
But don't confuse easing up on the aggressive measures with giving in to the rent-seekers.

Finally, we've got economists working on the optimal duration of the house arrests.  But Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen raises a trenchant question.  "I hope there is a variable in the analysis for 'risk of extreme societal pressures,' though I am not sure if those are higher for extreme lockdown scenarios or for extreme 'let it rip' scenarios." We don't know yet what the reproduction rate (R0) is. We do know that the models that have influenced policy have been wrong.  We do know that the societal pressures are building.  That will be the next installment.

TIME TO RECALCULATE THE POSSIBLE STRAIN ON THE HOSPITALS?

How much do the epidemiologists and virologists really know about the various coronaviruses?  Here's the puzzle, from three weeks ago.
That is, there are two components that have to be measured first: the transmissibility of the thing (that requires serious testing of the infected and the exposed but not ill alike) and the lethality of the infection. The common cold, for example, is contagious but rarely kills people who get it. Ebola, on the other hand, kills its hosts so fast that contagions die of natural causes, if you will.
It might have been, at the time, that about the only thing people could do, whether being ordered to by their governors, or out of a sense of prudence, to hunker down and avoid other people as practicable.  But suppose there was a lot of stealthy community spread? Santa Clara County has had 50 to 85 times more cases than we knew about, Stanford estimates.
Santa Clara County, home to Stanford University and 1.9 million residents, was one of the first hot spots for the coronavirus in the country. As of Friday, it officially had recorded 1,833 cases and 69 deaths related to coronavirus.

The new Stanford study comes at a time when health experts and elected officials look to immunity as one way to blunt the impact of the pandemic. It is not yet known if antibodies prevent future infection. If so, antibody protection could offer people a safe route out of strict “sheltering.”

The research also implies that the death rate is far lower than believed. At the time of research, 39 county residents had died — a fatality rate, based on estimated infections, of only 0.12 to 0.2%. California’s assumed death rate, based only on confirmed cases, is 3%.

The study also showed how Santa Clara County’s hospitals appeared to have dodged the long-feared surge of patients: Unlike New York, Santa Clara County’s hospitals have yet to be overwhelmed. Fewer than 600 people are being treated for the virus at hospitals throughout the Bay Area.
That might be a situation where the reader should trust, but verify.  There are several different sorts of coronaviruses at large, whether we're looking at the recent arrival or at the cousins that lead to the common cold.  That strikes me as a difficult identification problem, coming up with a test that finds antibodies to the dangerous strains.  On the other hand, Santa Clara County is not the only region in which antibody tests are coming up with largish numbers of people who showed no symptoms.  The scary part there is we're dealing with a lot of asymptomatic carriers.  In addition, we're not dealing with anything representing a random sample of the population.
Because volunteers were disproportionately white and female, relative to the county’s demographics, the team’s data scientists had to make statistical adjustments. Those imbalances were addressed by giving less computational “weight” to white women. Latino and Asian volunteers, who were underrepresented, got greater “weight.”

There are other potential biases. The research may have favored people in good health who could drive to a testing site or those with prior COVID-like illnesses who wanted antibody confirmation.
Sample weighting, I note, is the kind of ad-hoc improvisation that had Hillary Clinton winning the battleground states. Then, those COVID-like illnesses could include pneumonia or the common cold, right?  Not to mention, there's a little sting in the tail.
In an ideal world, the antibodies for COVID-19 would act like those for chicken pox, providing lifetime immunity.

Early research suggests a more complicated picture, clarified by time, global cooperation — and more Stanford-like tests.
One of the television shows that was hailing this report noted that chicken pox doesn't always go away, sometimes that virus announces its return as shingles.

In addition, commentators who understand something about statistical inference are raising objections -- p-hacking is real in empirical research -- and policy advocates are coming out of their political corners.
A large number of the positive cases reported in the study — 50 out of 3330 tests — could be false positives, critics note. To ensure a test is sensitive enough to pick up only true SARS-CoV-2 infections, it needs to evaluate hundreds of positive cases of COVID-19 among thousands of negative ones.
That is a non-trivial point, particularly in light of what look like relapses of coronaviruses among people who showed the antibodies in previous tests.  Here's the problem.  "That’s especially true now that we’re finding out that the virus is more prevalent than expected, less deadly than expected, and can largely be avoided through commonsense steps like social distancing."  That might be true in the abstract, but there are still a lot of people, in Illinois, in the United States, around the world that might not yet have been exposed, or have been exposed and didn't notice their immune system fighting it off.

All the same, there is evidence out of Los Angeles with a similar finding.
While [Los Angeles County public health director Barbara] Ferrer portrayed the study as proof of the need for aggressive control measures, a fatality rate as low as the Los Angeles County and Santa Clara County tests suggest also changes the calculus of those policies' costs and benefits. If COVID-19 really is only a bit more lethal than the seasonal flu, the benefits that can be expected from continued lockdowns, in terms of deaths prevented, are much lower than most projections assumed. If these results are confirmed, they should play an important role in discussions about when and how to reopen the economy.
It's possible to embrace the power of "both." Don't mess with the coronavirus, because it's nasty, and don't do anything that would add to the virus load at the hospitals. But once the tests suggest there's a modicum of herd immunity, stop confining people to quarters.

TWO CHEERS FOR VERTICAL INTEGRATION?

Once upon a time, the way the cities got fed was by way of farm-to-wholesaler networks that brought the produce together at produce terminals and jobber districts such as Milwaukee's Commission Row.  Over time, though, vertical integration by contract seemed like a more convenient way to harvest or feed in bulk, pack, freeze, or can in bulk, and serve (at the chain eateries) or sell (the chain grocers) from bulk.

Until it didn't.
[M]any of the nation’s largest farms are struggling with another ghastly effect of the pandemic. They are being forced to destroy tens of millions of pounds of fresh food that they can no longer sell.

The closing of restaurants, hotels and schools has left some farmers with no buyers for more than half their crops. And even as retailers see spikes in food sales to Americans who are now eating nearly every meal at home, the increases are not enough to absorb all of the perishable food that was planted weeks ago and intended for schools and businesses.

The amount of waste is staggering. The nation’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, estimates that farmers are dumping as many as 3.7 million gallons of milk each day.
Not suprisingly, the locavores are seeing the effects of disruption in the tightly-coupled vertically-integrated methods of feeding people as something desirable. "To truly be resilient, our system must shift to one that relies on small and medium producers and independent, responsible operations," writes Jessica Corbett of Common Dreams.  There's a lot more to digest in the story, which also notes that when vertical integration combines with horizontal integration into a few big packing plants, if something, like contagion among workers working in close proximity to disassemble hogs, shuts down several of those big packing plants, those tightly coupled methods run out of stuff to distribute.  See Salena Zito for more.

On the other hand, those methods (islands of control in a sea of transactions, to use the Coasian terminology) look like just the place for the man of system to propose the introduction of an allocation czar.  Don Boudreaux correctly points out that the talk of "supply chains" misleads: there is no one chain for that czar to shake.
The first reality is that, in our modern economy nearly every productive enterprise is connected to every other productive enterprise. This connectedness is the phenomenon alluded to by the term “supply chain.” This term, however, is highly misleading. Today’s economy is not a series of supply chains running side by side with each other, each largely distinct from, and independent of, the others. If it were, there would indeed be little challenge in pulling in one or more such chains into the domestic economy so that it fully resides there, from beginning to end.

Instead of a collection of distinct supply chains, our modern economy is a single globe-spanning web of interconnectedness. Within this web every output is the product of countless inputs and each kind of input typically is used to produce countless different kinds of outputs.
That is true in the abstract, but in the concrete, there are people whose routine is making routine transactions between suppliers under contract and a home office or a few final vendors under contract.  We don't have, for instance, the dockside routing clerk who inspects the bananas, loads the ripest ones in the cars for setout just up the line, the greenest ones for consignment to fruit brokers well inland, and then keeps an eye on delays to the trains, in order that the greenest ones might be sent to a fruit broker closer to the port, which, dear reader, is why Yes, We Have No Bananas is a humorous song about a very real situation.


That's a trip down memory lane, one of the last pictures of a previous model railroad before I commissioned the current house.

Nor, for that matter, do the fruit brokers and commission merchants who had the responsibility of holding inventory for local grocers and local restaurants trade in the same way they once did.


The building still stands, although it now hosts assorted businesses that cater to the creatives. Image retrieved from Milwaukee Public Library.  These days, the sharp-pencil guys would look askance at too many bananas in transit or in the Gagliano inventory.
[W]hen manufacturing capacity can’t keep up with a sudden surge in demand, there are no emergency backup supply closets to raid. That’s because of a popular and widespread business practice called “just in time” supply. Essentially, it means that businesses from hospitals to grocery stores keep only a small amount of supplies on hand at any given time — enough to get through a couple of weeks or a month. Just-in-time saves money on warehouse storage, energy and staffing, but it works only if the supplies can be produced and delivered when you need them. “It’s been very successful,” [Arizona State professor of management Adegoke] Oke said. “But at a time like this, the last thing you want is just-in-time.”
Dear reader, I have another opportunity to point out that wherever there are inefficiencies, including the fragility of allegedly efficient vertically integrated commercial relationships, there are unexploited gains from trade.  There are people looking for other ways to get done what they would like to get done."'To purchase from a whole new set of farmers and suppliers — it takes time, it takes knowledge, you have to find the people, develop the contracts,' said Janet Poppendieck, an expert on poverty and food assistance."  The operators of food banks would like some succor, the people who want bathroom supplies want sources, and ... pay close attention ... it does the farmers and factories no good to sit on inventory, let alone plow it under, if there is an opportunity to make a deal.
Grocery retailers and the supply chain as a whole are busy adapting, too. They are figuring out how shoppers respond to variable supplies of items and how much they need to stock and to put on display. And, by knowing in advance what’s available from their suppliers, they can use promotions to nudge shoppers to choose some products over others, “without us even knowing it,” says [MIT logistician Chris] Mejia-Argueta.
Dang, and here I was so proud of myself picking up some bulk Italian sausage recently when the local grocer had a lot of that and no ground beef. (Either way I would have a pretty good meat sauce for spaghetti, so shed no tears.)


Same merchant, new building, on land that used to be occupied by the produce yards where the refrigerator cars were unloaded and their contents drayed to Commission Row.  But when the restaurants no longer place orders with the produce brokers, perhaps the produce brokers will open their doors to the general public.  (The story got an Instalanche a week or so ago.)
For the first time in its 40-year history, Restaurant Depot has opened their doors to the public.

The wholesale food service supplier has 135 locations in the United States and it just so happens there is one half a mile away from me. I have long wanted to check out, so, after hearing the news on Thursday night, I was in line first thing Friday morning. The promise of in-stock toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and food -- at wholesale prices -- was just too tempting. Here's some of what I saw in my nearly two-hour shopping excursion.

Ok, first, the warehouse is MASSIVE. And it's full of stuff I've never seen sold anywhere else. It makes Costco look like amateur hour.
Bear in mind, dear reader, that a gallon jar of pepperoncinis is enough for a mid-sized pizzeria to garnish salads for close onto a week.  But better the stuff be sold rather than scrapped.

20.4.20

REDISCOVERING THE AMENITIES OF THE AMERICAN HIGH?

It's difficult to be a seasonal business on the outskirts of a metropolitan area.  "In the land of four seasons, a summer-only enterprise, such as an amusement park or a drive-in movie theater, leads a perilous existence, particularly as urban development gets closer."

The economic argument is straightforward enough, although I surely went to it often enough when I was still teaching introductory price theory, and over the years I've documented the end times of various amusement parks and Kiddielands.

And yet, Pajamas Media's Matt Margolis is asking, "Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Bring Back Drive-In Movies?"  The key take-away? "[C]ouples have enjoyed the relative privacy of the drive-in theater as well." In fact, the practice the major theater chains engage in of a half hour of previews, which is annoying in a traditional theater, might be a welcome opportunity for those diversions.

18.4.20

ON MY WORKBENCH.

Another week of confinement, two snowstorms (all the snow has melted) and working on the railroad is still preferable to spending a lot of screen time watching events that I can't really control unfold.

The S-2 doesn't look like it's much advanced since a week ago, but it's to the stage where the main structure is erected and the fiddly bits go on.


The other projects are below the jump.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT?

Michael Fumento has long been a skeptic of faddish medicine, and he's at it again.  "After Repeated Failures, It’s Time To Permanently Dump Epidemic Models."  Among the authorities he cites is the president's contagion czar.
Then [Dr. Anthony] Fauci finally said it. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything.” A few days later CDC Director Robert Redfield also turned on the computer crystal balls. “Models are only as good as their assumptions, obviously there are a lot of unknowns about the virus” he said. “A model should never be used to assume that we have a number.”

Which, of course, is exactly how both a number of public health officials and the media have used the them.

Only one significant model appears to have been correct. But wasn’t. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation has actually been dramatically reduced and reduced.
That model isn't even statistical inference as we understand it. But statistical inference is difficult in the early days of an outbreak.  At this point, somebody with a home computer and a simple logit model could start estimating contagion curves, and perhaps in another month of repeated runs, day by day, something resembling a handle on the curve with a large prediction error might be available.

All that statistical legerdemain is unlikely to improve on the simplest explanation.
The only “model” with any success is actually quite accomplished and appeared in 1840, when a “computer” was an abacus. It’s called Farr’s Law, and is actually more of an observation that epidemics grow fastest at first and then slow to a peak, then decline in a more-or-less symmetrical pattern. As you might guess from the date, it precedes public health services and doesn’t require lockdowns or really any interventions at all. Rather, the disease grabs the low-hanging fruit (with COVID-19 that’s the elderly with co-morbid conditions) and finds it progressively harder to get more fruit.

That’s not proof that public health interventions are worthless; merely that since the Plague of Athens four centuries B.C. and before, epidemics have risen and fallen quite on their own. Nobody needed Big Brother looking over their shoulder and cracking a whip; nobody needed to implode their economies and leave their citizens with tops reading: “I survived the ‘worst epidemic in history’ and all I have left is this crummy t-shirt.”
That's too strong: it's still helpful to know that the latest plague is in fact new, it is still prudent to remove yourself, to the extent you are able, from being part of the chain of contagion, and it is still helpful to know how contagious the latest plague is.  In the Wuhan coronavirus, those clusters in rest homes are likely to be with the unwitting participation of asymptomatic carriers, and there are apparently a lot of them, and the people who develop symptoms are more contagious before the fevers and coughs show up.

THERE IS SOMETHING VERY ABSURD IN SUPPOSING A CONTINENT TO BE PERPETUALLY GOVERNED BY AN ISLAND.

That's from Thomas Paine's Common Sense, which was a different sort of complaint about a different sort of Sovereign.  The sentiment, though, is still germane, particularly as the governors of populous states with big cities apply strict restrictions on human interaction that well might be useful in containing contagion in thickly settled areas that at the same time seem excessive in the hinterlands.  Here we are, on the 245th anniversary of Paul Revere's Ride, with some of the slogans and flags of the era being displayed in protests against what seem like arbitrary and capricious acts by public officials who render those protesting "in their present situation they are prisoners without the hope of redemption."

But it's easy enough to add a map of Wuhan coronavirus cases over a map like this.


Moreover, it's not difficult to use the public statistics on cases and deaths to produce a disaggregation making it clear how different a continent is from an island.  (Yes, even if the supposedly national news of the legacy networks might as well be the Manhattan evening news these days.)  "Downstate [meaning greater New York City] has been so heavily impacted by the coronavirus that it skews the United States when you compare us to the rest of the world."  The per capita death rate in the New York metropolitan area is the highest in the known world, meaning the data from China and other countries known to be prevaricating is suspect.

But governing the entire continent as if it is an island isn't helping.
What this tells us is that there shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all approach to social distancing or reopening the country. I feel pretty safe where I live, but because I'm in New York State, and Governor Cuomo is treating the whole state like it is downstate, I have to abide by the same statewide restrictions. Further, if the media ever chose to look at the country's numbers the way I have, they'd see that the overwhelming majority of the country is doing much, much better than it appears to be when you include downstate New York in our numbers. The media wants you to believe that President Trump botched the federal government's response to the coronavirus. This is clearly not true. Even with downstate's tallies we don't lead the world in cases or deaths per capita. Treating downstate as its own country shows just how much local leadership impacts containment and mitigation.
The argument generalizes.
[Illinois governor] J.B. Pritzker has spent countless hours plotting and planning strategy in the state’s race against the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who live in central and southern Illinois have noticed he’s done it almost exclusively from Chicago.

Chicago and Cook County account for 70% of the state’s more-than 24,500 infections. But some people — mostly Republicans — complain that he’s neglected the rest of Illinois, even as it shares in the economic pain and social disruption from measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Thursday marked Pritzker’s 40th daily televised update, and the 29th in a row from his office in downtown Chicago.
The story also notes, "Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, staring down one of the nation’s coronavirus hot spots in Detroit, has worked mostly from the capital, Lansing." Yes, and she has forbidden Michigan residents from fleeing to their vacation cottages, although fleeing Illinoisans can still go to Michigan (and bring their plague with them?)

Perhaps in the same way that the national government has delegated the decision to ease up on lockdowns to the states, the governors ought delegate the nature of local lockdowns to the counties.  I submit the authorities ought to act soon. Last week, I wrote, "The stakes are pretty high: if public officials, whether in the White House, state Capitols, or the various city halls, can't make clear what the exit strategy looks like, and what the benchmarks are, their failure to do so will lead to civil disobedience, and, just like any other exponential process, it will be just a little at first, then all at once."  I was thinking of a smaller beginning: a few kids open the tot-lot on a nice day without the parents or police objecting, or some young people playing volleyball on a notionally closed beach, or tavernkeepers in a strip defying the authorities and open.  It's happening a lot faster, and earlier this week I heard somebody asking whether anyone had modelled the length of the lines at the food banks.

QUESTIONING THOSE INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTIONS.

The [World Health Organization] Ignores Taiwan. The World Pays the Price.  Sounds like a regular talking point from Pajamas Media or Reason or the like.  But that link does take you to The Nation.
For nearly half a century, the People’s Republic of China has effectively blocked Taiwan from joining the WHO. Despite never having exercised authority over the island, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officially considers Taiwan part of its territory, and forces international organizations—including the United Nations and its agencies like the WHO—to affirm its view.

Last weekend, the absurdity of this geopolitical paradox was laid bare in a news broadcast that quickly went viral. In a Skype interview, journalist Yvonne Tong of Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK asked Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, if the global health body would reconsider Taiwan’s membership.

On Tong’s laptop screen, Aylward’s face twitched. He blinked for several seconds. Then he said he “couldn’t hear the question.” When Tong offered to repeat herself, Aylward cut in: “No, that’s OK, let’s move on to another question then.”
Perhaps The Nation is doing its readers a solid, providing news that they likely would not have seen on Fox or Pajamas Media, and that the establishment press mostly ignored.  It's unlikely, though, that you'd see anybody at The Nation endorsing a Jack Ryan Kinsley gaffe about "two Chinas."
For Taiwan, this is an opportunity to press the case for greater recognition.

The country was a founding member of the United Nations under its formal name, the Republic of China (ROC), in 1945. But it was ejected in 1971, when the UN gave its seat to the PRC. The Chinese Civil War has never legally ended, and the PRC still seeks to eventually gain full authority over Taiwan. That’s why Beijing has kept up the diplomatic pressure by forcing other countries to disavow Taiwan’s sovereignty, while paving the way for Taiwanese firms such as Foxconn­—the world’s largest electronics manufacturer—to do business on the mainland.
The interesting stuff comes when author Wilfred Chan pivots to the great power origins of the United Nations and all the other international non-government organizations. "What if the legitimacy in question here were not Taiwan’s—but that of the system that the WHO represents?"  His hope -- and here, we're more in traditional Nation territory -- is that the current pandemic doesn't lead to a new cold war.  (That ship has already sailed.  The Wuhan coronavirus is a symptom, not the cause.  But I digress.)  In his concluding remarks, though, there might be a way out other than the one he envisions.
Is it mere coincidence that at least two of the societies that have responded most ably to the virus—Taiwan, Hong Kong—are ones that the WHO doesn’t consider to be sovereign places at all?

The coronavirus pandemic is already a profound tragedy. We can avoid further heartache by ending our reliance on a global health system that sees the world as competing states. Instead, we need to focus on creating bottom-up, transnational mutualism between health workers, researchers, and communities.

At this point, sovereignty can’t save us—but solidarity might.
That solidarity might be more effective to the extent that it is emergent. Bet on emergence.

17.4.20

THERE'S SOMETHING PUZZLING ABOUT THIS PICTURE.

This Medium post by Jonathan Geach, M.D., offers optimism to the people who would like to go back to work.  "Moving the Goalposts — Four Reasons it is Safe to Open America."

I'm going to pass on weighing his arguments, as those are a little outside my wheelhouse.  There's an instructive figure borrowed from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation contagion model that bothers me.

Here's something I wrote last week.
The best you can do, dear reader, is improve the precision of the mean fit, which involves reducing the margin of error. Too much of the reporting and the briefing focuses on those solid lines: actual and projected cases. Those clouds that suggest the upper and lower bounds on the projection matter. When you see the clouds becoming less tall, then perhaps the policy makers will start talking more seriously about reopening life as we used to know it.
That's what bothers me about the modelling. Note how the margin of error goes to zero as the forecasts go to zero, and there appears to be no margin of error estimate once past the expected end of new cases, somewhere around Independence Day.  Now, I'm way outside my area of expertise, and I remember just enough econometrics to be dangerous, but I seem to recall that one of the hazards of macroeconometric forecasting was that the forecast error got larger, the farther out of sample (which is to say, the greater the time between the mean of the actual data you were using to calibrate and the out-year forecasts you were making) your projection ran.

In the above figure, that mean occurs somewhere around the end of March, and the projections are being updated on the basis of the (more favorable than projected) returns coming in.  But the out-of-sample forecast error is also getting smaller, with the arrival date of the last case being the point estimate and there being no uncertainty about that last case coming after that day.  Call me puzzled.

SECOND SECTION: Rick Moran at Pajamas Media, also puzzled. "The researchers argue that policymakers may believe that policies well short of the draconian measures taken by China in Wuhan prevented the horrific loss of life when, in fact, the model giving those numbers in the first place was fatally flawed."

THE WHOLE COLLEGIATE CAPRICE MIGHT JUST GO POOF.

I look like the moderate, placed alongside The American Conservative's Gilbert T. Sewall.
This year, soon, colleges and universities will need to borrow money to meet fixed costs, go begging to legislatures and alumni, cut staff, and postpone revenue outlays. What will become of the expansive diversity, inclusion and equity superstructures recently built into institutions? Therein lies higher education’s predicament. Despite cratering endowments and shrinking enrollments, these superstructures will fight at any cost and against institutional interests to remain campus bellwethers.

Since 2014, high-profile universities have created multi-million dollar appeasement packages to fight the forces of white privilege and fragility, bigotry, hate speech, and rape culture. Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana declared “diversity of our student body” should be at the forefront of a “paradigm shift,” and with his allies, has worked for the last six years to make this happen. Yale has pledged $50 million to hire faculty of color and fund sensitivity training on racism and discrimination for the entire administration.
Reality, whether in the form of a novel coronavirus or a market test, has a steeper grading curve than the kind the Ivies provide to their clientele.
Throw a dart at the nuisances of the recent past. Will the ridiculous Critical Theory and Social Justice department at Occidental College survive? Will queer theorist Rei Terada, Professor of Comparative Literature at UC Irvine, get juicy lecture fees to discuss “Futures of Opacity: Anti-capitalism and Racialization in the Era of Real Subsumption”? Maybe not.

When austerity is essential, elected officials and trustees might review the wisdom of fueling diversity superstructures designed to crush or cancel Western civilization; sustaining a culture of grievance and recrimination; ensuring that advanced degrees, scarce jobs, impressive titles, and special funds go to designated minorities and women; protecting “vendor diversity”; and providing remedial education and therapy for mismatched students. Then there are the bureaucratic armies on and off campus who earn their keep, in the language of the University of California, overseeing “compliance with federal and state laws regarding discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual violence and retaliation, as well as the university’s affirmative action obligations as a federal contractor.”

Institutions have a choice. They can wisely parcel diminished resources or, beset by systemic rigidities and suicidal ideologies, bet on the bad, propelling identity payoffs and set asides at the expense of serious scholarship and what remains of academic integrity.
Indeed.

Mr Sewall concludes with his own version of "learn to code." " Fat-cat senior faculties can’t yet grasp that their me-first pensions and programs might end up on the wrong side of triage. Maybe it would be a good idea for some of them to learn how to mow campus lawns."  That's the one thing that troubles me about his skill as an observer.  It's notorious how squeamish faculty members are around power tools.

SCIENCE IS A PROCESS.

So I keep telling you, and the best practitioners, which is to say, people who might not be on the payroll of this agency or that business or in the tank for some public official, will admit as much.

It comes as a surprise to the punditry.  "We’re Not Used to Scientists Telling Us, ‘We’re Not Sure.’"  That's National Review's Jim Geraghty, and perhaps he hasn't spent much time recently on The Tragic Vision and the Law of Unintended Consequences and all the other reasons to be skeptical of men of system.  On the good side, he notes, "The upshot is that the information coming from the best virologists and epidemiologists in the world is cautious, tentative, and full of caveats, notes of caution, and remaining uncertainties."  Precisely.  His conclusion, though, concedes too much to the Wise Experts.  "It would be a better world if everyone turned to trusted scientists and data to find answers about problems like this. But the public is impatient to know more. With about 75,000 new cases and about 7,000 deaths each day worldwide, it is hard to begrudge the public’s impatience."

Perhaps the public is not so much impatient as it is responding, as best as its members are capable, to the information they have.

14.4.20

FOUR-FOURTEEN.

In Milwaukee, today is an opportunity to pay tribute to their historical area code.

At Cold Spring Shops, we have our own Four-Fourteen-Four, and it was designed for a twenty ton axle loading.


There's an annoying short circuit in the tender.  Perhaps with all this extra time to putter around the house (in addition to the confinement to quarters, northern Illinois is experiencing another late-onset spring) I will troubleshoot that and have it turn a wheel or 32.

NOW MIGHT BE THE TIME TO TREAT ROADS LIKE INCOME-EARNING ASSETS.

Put simply, a model of public capital provision that relies on user fees and the Easter Bunny runs into a lot of trouble when the users are being ordered home.
America’s roads are a lot less congested, due to coronavirus shutdowns that have kept millions of commuters, shoppers and vacationers parked at their homes.

While that makes it easier to patch potholes, it also could spell trouble for road and bridge projects. The longer motorists remain off the roads, the harder it will be for states to afford repairs in the months and years ahead.

Reduced traffic volumes are expected to cause a sharp drop in state revenue from fuel taxes, tolls and other user fees that could force delays for thousands of projects nationwide unless the federal government intervenes.
In many cases, it was those federal matching funds (or constituent-favoring earmarks in continuing resolutions) that got those roads builtStreetsblog's Kea Wilson elaborates. "Highways, of course, already get 67 percent of total transportation dollars, and are already deeply subsidized by the federal government (but operating budgets and maintenance are left to the states, which is a little like giving someone a puppy that they can’t afford to feed.)"  In the case of a puppy, that's a problem, unless you're a rancher and the puppy is a sheepdog.  In the case of the roads, though, well, the purpose of transportation is to move resources toward places that are productive in some way, and that makes the roads assets, if only somebody would think about pricing the use of them.
To put it bluntly, in the nearly 70 years since the Federal Highway Act of 1956 gave states a 90-percent discount on a brand new freeway systems of their very own, no state has ever found a reliable way to maintain all that asphalt without extensive federal assistance. We have 50 distinct road-funding structures across 50 states, and no one has found the magic amount to charge for gas taxes, DMV fees and sales taxes to make the math work and subtract from the $786-billion highway maintenance backlog. Highways are always “crumbling.” Car-focused road infrastructure always needs more money. Politicians are eternally showing up at ribbon-cuttings for new highways, then quickly realize that they can’t maintain the roadways they just opened.

There’s a very simple and sobering reason why: because highways just don’t make financial sense. And not just in the age of COVID-19, when almost no one is driving if they don’t absolutely have to. It’s true all the time — even when our economy is at its peak.

Even if we stopped building new highways right now — and to be clear, there is very little political will to do so — every highway that remained on the road would still be a financial drain on the community through which it runs. Every mile of highway costs an average of $24,000 per year to simply maintain, and that colossal figure is simply not recaptured by the taxes and revenues of the businesses astride that highway, the businesses connected by those highways, or even the people that gas up their cars to drive on them.
Gosh, somehow investor-owned railroads are able to install a second track where there never was one, or replace a high bridge.  Is it so difficult for the highway departments to think more like investors and look for rates of return on investment?