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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Reality Cheque

I'm not sure the country can survive TDS and COVID-19 at the same time. Here's an excerpt of a so-inspired comment thread rant I went on yesterday. (Sorry for the lack of context re. references made therein, but you get the idea):

The 2016 report by the Obama administration was a detailing of the poor state of readiness (at the end of 8 years under Obama). To imagine things would have been better under, say, Biden, is just to imagine.

As the various documents linked above show, nobody (including the Obama administration) had considered the kinds of lockdowns we're seeing today (and the few who considered anything in that direction determined it would be disastrous vs. doing nothing). If we assume Biden would go with the science then we should assume that means doing nothing for mitigation, and everything for damage management (you know, like replenishing the PPE stockpiles [cough]).

These lockdowns favor old white people with money and are disastrous to the young and hourly-wage workers. 30% didn't pay rent Apr 1 and 60% of the country say they won't be able to pay their bills after a month (already 2-3 weeks into that month).

You can't paper over lost-productivity with printed money or wealth redistribution -- just in the US people consume almost $3B/day in food alone, and that represents real energy and resources consumed and at the moment very little created to show for it. Normally our growth is the thin margin between what we create and what we consume. When we shut off creation and barely dent consumption (which is dominated by food, health, and housing), we start sliding backwards very fast. Each day of real-value losses right now might equal weeks or months of marginal gains. Those losses are ultimately coming straight out of everyone's future salaries, pensions, and grocery carts in practice, and as much as y'all might like to eat the rich to make up for it, you'll find that not very satisfying ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=661pi6K-8WQ ).

The sudden shift away from eating out to buying groceries that we're experiencing has demolished our food supply chain to such an extent that food is rotting in the fields, milk is being poured into rivers, and people are going hungry all at the same time. To imagine that the government can step in and fix this is to completely fail to understand the complexity of the system and the futility of centralized management. (The quickest adaptation would happen if we relaxed the morass of regulations that effectively outlaw most of the obvious quick solutions. But arguably we should just stop being Orwellian and let people make their own decisions about how to lead their lives.) That food isn't going to un-rot nor is the milk coming back out of the rivers. When the food bank cans run out people are going to starve.

So, really, you Trump hating, science-loving, anti-authoritarian democrats ought to be pointing to Sweden as your positive example and denouncing the Trump administration for its draconian measures here, and demanding that the lockdowns end.

Fauci is myopic--like most of the academic papers, he doesn't even try to consider the costs of the cure. The path we are on is very much "the operation was a success, but unfortunately the patient died". I predict Trump will have to override him at some point. And it goes without saying y'all will cry bloody murder over it (even if your guy would have done the same).

Was it worth what we've done so far to buy us a little more time? Maybe, I dunno. Can we continue like this? I doubt it. It's not going away until we reach herd immunity, which is a very long ways off. A vaccine would be great but there's zero precedent for an effective coronavirus vaccine. Maybe we'll get lucky, but I wouldn't hold my breath. At the current rate we'll be Mad Max before the vax. More likely would be to understand why it's so deadly and to combat that with drugs, if we can figure that out in time.

Can we just tax the robots and have UBI and all live a happy Star Trek existence ever after? Maybe a long long time from now, but the thing people forget is robots consume resources to build and run just like humans. Marginally less wherever they're employed but so far only marginally! That means robots are more like an influx of harder-working immigrants competing for jobs (and for the resources they consume with the money they earn in those jobs) than they are like a fountain of free stuff.

So, no, right now every day like this is costing untold lives via secondary effects that are poorly accounted at present.

In any event, Trump bashing is neither accurate (vs what any other hypothetical real administration would have done) nor helpful at this juncture. Recall y'all were lambasting him for halting flights to China. Now you lambaste him for taking a whole two days to do it. I realize the memory hole means all you remember is that Trump was always wrong, but the reality is it's not about Trump. We're in a pickle and have to decide the best course of action, and aren't going to be able to do that rationally as long as it's the case that Trump tweeting "it's not safe to eat too many bitter almonds" results in a NYT issue devoted to the positive qualities of bitter almonds.

Please set your partisan bias aside, and back out of your information bubbles, and start looking at the big picture here which contains a lot more than how many people die in the short term of COVID or how many ventilators we have where (which may not help anyway--looks like 50-70% on vents die regardless, and there's some evidence they're doing more harm than good because we've misunderstood the pathology--time will tell).

Useful things: Learning how it spreads and doing our part (voluntarily) to slow it without destroying people's livelihoods. Doing whatever we can to focus resources on tracking what does and doesn't work against it (be that vaccines or treatments) without regard to whose tribal leader said what about what. Having a real discussion about the costs and benefits of mitigations, and listening to the people who will bear the brunt of it. I'm sure there are many more useful things. Let's think of them and do them.

Blaming the other team -- not useful. Time to recognize we're all on the same team.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com