Friday, April 24, 2020

Friday Afternoon Links (April 24th)

  • There are really only two first-order explanations for why I can say the early projections were incorrect: Either the models were wrong because they incorrectly assigned properties about the biology of the virus pertaining to its lethality and/or ability to spread, or The models were correct, but as a society we changed our behavior enough in response to the threat of the virus to alter the outcome. In other words, the models were correct in assuming R_0 was high (north of 2.25 and in some estimates as high as 3), but aggressive measures of social distancing reduced R_0 to under 1, thereby stopping the spread of the virus, despite its lethal nature. It is, of course, most likely to be a combination of these two conditions; call them Case I and Case II, respectively. [Peter Attia]
  • "A potential protective effect of smoking and of nicotine on SARS-CoV-2 infection has been noted. Until recently, no firm conclusions could be drawn from studies evaluating the rates of current smokers in Covid-19. All these studies, although reporting low rates of current smokers, ranging from 1.4% to 12.5%, did not take into account the main potential confounders of smoking including age and sex. In the study that two of us are reporting, the rates of current smoking remain below 5 % even when main confounders for tobacco consumption, i.e. age and sex, in- or outpatient status, were considered. Compared to the French general population, the Covid-19 population exhibited a significantly weaker current daily smoker rate by 80.3 % for outpatients and by 75.4 % for inpatients. Thus, current smoking status appears to be a protective factor against the infection by SARS-CoV-2. Although the chemistry of tobacco smoke is complex, these data are consistent with the hypothesis that its protective role takes place through direct action on various types of nAChRs expressed in neurons, immune cells (including macrophages), cardiac tissue, lungs, and blood vessels." [link]
  • When I was maybe 5 years old, back when my father used to work in a lab in China, he brought home a rabbit from the lab and we ate it. It was delicious. He made sure that the rabbit was uncontaminated, but I don't doubt the possibility that some other researchers could have been eating or selling contaminated lab animals at wet markets. [Wuqiong Fan]
  • I used to think of athletic ability as a mountain. You're born at the base, and you'll die there too. In between, you climb higher and higher until you begin to descend. But that analogy isn't quite right, because as you get older you acquire wisdom that can help you train. I've come to realize that a better analogy is of rolling peaks. You go up, you go down. At some point you reach your peak, but there are still vistas as you descend. [Nicholas Thompson]
  • The United States reacted instead like Pakistan or Belarus—like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering. The administration squandered two irretrievable months to prepare. [Atlantic]
  • Our gardening has intensified every year now for a decade, and given the fact that we seem to be inextricably caught up in this aging process, we've tried to move more and more toward perennials or near perennials like fruit trees, strawberries, grapes, asparagus, blueberries, and (a so far failed experiment in) hazelnuts. There is some nutrition in that distribution, as well as some seasonal variation but there's not a lot in the way of calories. We don't ever expect to be able to satisfy all of our nutritional needs from our little urban garden plot; La Granja. However adding some beans and potatoes to our usual mix of tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, cucumbers, and lettuce is probably a good idea. [Rational Urbanism]
  • If this essay feels like a bit of an I told you so to anyone sitting in a half a million dollar home with no means to pay the mortgage going forward, then I'm happy to know I've hit the mark. Housing has been over-valued for 70 years and ridiculously over-valued for most of the last 40. That's ok, so has my job. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, and it's important, but I'm not sure society will be able to afford the current going rate in the future. I take it now because it's being offered but I do assume the relative value of my wages is about to decline, and my "pension"? If the value of what I get is 30% of what I've been promised I'll be fine. I hope 30% is a reasonable expectation. We'll see. I recommend that everyone start with the mental readjustments now. If I'm just an alarmist, what's the harm? Is it too late to sell the house in Armonk and buy the place in Poughkeepsie? Probably. But that's not my fault, that's yours. [Rational Urbanism]
  • I think many people who are skeptical of MMT would say, "well if you, if you look at historical examples, this is all going to end in tears." Corey: Yeah. As it has for many countries throughout history. Steve: Yes. So I think MMT could very well be that last crazy, the theory before the bubble finally pops, this bubble being the idea that sovereign debt is unlimited without consequences. That MMT could be the sort of last weird theory that tries to support that before it becomes completely unsupported by reality. [Steve Hsu]
  • I see pragmatic folks all up and down the spectrum everywhere (from hyper conservative red necks in rural Kentucky to hyper liberal vegan hippies in northern California) who are quietly doing exactly the same things in nearly identical ways in their own homes. Avoiding banks and keeping out of debt, cultivating productive gardens, building up deep pantries, weaning themselves off critical external dependencies, working with like-minded people in the community to achieve common goals, tiptoeing around regulators... And then there are the people who drift around in a fog and don't understand the larger dynamics at play. They accidentally buy a home they can barely afford in a place that has peaked and has already quietly entered terminal decline. They fall in love with shiny new kitchen appliances, but are saddled with $400 electric bills as the air conditioner never stops humming. They leverage themselves with debt for a fleet of cars to take them to distant insecure jobs. [Granola Shotgun]
  • It's hard to believe how seriously people took communism. Watch the Eastern European elite gathered together in the late 60s babbling nonsense about Marxism-Leninism. Will any of our elite's delusions survive 50 years? I doubt it. [CBS]
  • Testing does not work well. The problem is that even a low rate of false negatives and false positives can be very misleading, both for the individual and for policy makers. I won't go through the arithmetic here (I did some in this post). Because of the way that seemingly small rates of false negatives and false positives undermine the efficacy of testing, I doubt that "test, track and trace" is the main way that Asian countries have contained the virus. [Arnold Kling]
  • I think it's time to roll out the "Taleb is Bipolar" hypothesis. Based on my experience with bipolars, wife among others, it explains the bizarre leap into an area he's not an expert on, but which he now feels perfectly comfortable making ex cathedra statements about, denigrating other experts, Charles Murray as a mountebank?, and the excited passion of all his insights which will solve all the thorny issues of a difficult field. Bipolars love to QED stuff, Quod erat demonstrandum. My wife says that she and the other little girls would tell each other in geometry class that it actually stood for "Quite Easily Done," and that is a perfect summation of a bipolar mind entering a new field and figuring it all out in a flash where all the experts have struggled. [Sailer]
  • Bak created a movement. He was very deliberate about it, too. If you look at the citations, both the earthquake paper and the punctuated equilibrium paper were co-written by Bak. They were then cited and carried forward by other people in those specific fields, but he started the avalanche (if you’ll forgive the pun). And he didn’t stop with scientific papers, either. He spread the idea to the public as well, with his book How Nature Works: the science of self-organized criticality. First of all, hell of a title, no? Second of all, he was actually pretty successful with this. His book, published in 1996, currently has 230 ratings on Goodreads. For a wonky book from 1996, that’s pretty amazing! That, in a nutshell, is how the paper got to 8600 citations across such a broad range of fields. It started off as a good, interesting idea with maybe some problems. It could serve as an analogy and possibly an explanation for a lot of things. Then it got evangelized really, really fervently until it ended up being an explanation for everything. [Trevor Klee]
  • It took me a long time to appreciate math, and calculus longest of all. I only realized in college that I had been cheated out of a deep understanding of math and given a shallow collection of tricks instead. The education system focuses so much on the utility of math, even when it's a reach (see the derivatives of trigonometric functions). It should focus on the beauty, the shock, and the awe instead. [Trevor Klee]

1 comment:

Stagflationary Mark said...

First of all, I really enjoy these link posts. They always keep me coming back for more. :)

If the value of what I get is 30% of what I've been promised I'll be fine. I hope 30% is a reasonable expectation. We'll see. I recommend that everyone start with the mental readjustments now. If I'm just an alarmist, what's the harm?

I can really relate to this.

Many years ago, I assumed that my low risk investments would grow at a real rate of -2% per year (after taxes) and adjusted spending accordingly. At the time, I could lock in a low risk real rate of over 3% (before taxes). Today, I can only lock in a very safe real rate of -0.27% (before taxes) on the 30-year TIPS. My initial safety margin is now pretty much gone.

I always value my free time way more than I value my discretionary spending. So, what was the harm? In hindsight, there was definitely no harm. Had I spent money thinking that past prosperity was a great predictor of future prosperity, I’d need to be looking for a job right now, during a pandemic, with unemployment at historical levels.

The primary theme of my blog, repeated many times, is that it will be increasingly difficult to make money off of money. I still strongly believe it. Once you believe that, you stop believing in rising real yields. Instead, you see nominal bond yields decay to zero. The best outcome in that environment, as a saver, is that inflation also decays to zero. Otherwise, real yields go negative.

I think bond yields (both nominal and real) are probably going to stabilize from here. We’ll also be comparing ourselves to Japan more and more. What will our population growth rate be going forward? Birth rates were already very low and we’re apparently not going to embrace immigration any longer. How many notice or appreciate what the implications and unintended consequences of this is and will be?

U.S. Births Fell To A 32-Year Low In 2018; CDC Says Birthrate Is In Record Slump

Stephen Miller indicates immigration pause will be long term: report