Category 6. Various Issues

Take Care

One of my oldest, closest friends wrote to me privately in response to my anti-Socialized-medicine comments in Contingency Planning. He critiqued some of my thinking with the following comment, which I promised to think over and then respond to:

“I think you are comfortable with risk pooling, since you presumably have used health and life insurance your whole life. So do you really feel that society cannot expand the risk pool to include everyone? We were already significantly there before Obamacare even.

“I think it’s politically inevitable that we have universal healthcare and we need people like you to figure out how to make it work from the right, in order to avoid the hacks on the left ruining it...

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Contingency Planning

Jarringly, both of the following statements may be correct: 1) the Coronavirus is dramatically less threatening to most people than it has been portrayed as being, with a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) that will ultimately be understood as having been lower than those of ordinary flus and 2) the pandemic is catastrophically overwhelming our medical system, which is widely understood to be the best in the world.  Thinking about the interplay between these seemingly conflicting propositions can begin to help us look for better ways to move forward after the immediate crisis passes.

The hypothesis that the virus has a low CFR, with its deaths concentrated almost exclusively among the very elderly and those with life-threatening pre-existing conditions, is being advanced with increasing frequen...

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Regulatory Relief

I had a lovely conversation with an old friend yesterday. Knowing that he’s running a business that will be hurt – perhaps devastatingly – by the present shutdown of large parts of the US economy, I had called to offer moral support. We spoke for quite a while about our families and the travails he’s facing in his business. In the course of our conversation, he reminded me that the business that I had helped run survived the 2007-2008 Great Recession relatively unscathed only because we had had the great good fortune of having gone into that storm with a so-called covenant-lite (i.e., no covenant) bank facility.

That absence of ratio-based financial covenants allowed our company to sail on – in spite of calamitous losses that could’ve triggered a forced sale of assets at fire ...

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Competing Considerations

It’s evident that at least some of the optimism I have expressed in recent posts was premature. The virus now looks likely to last longer and cause more pain – both directly via illnesses and deaths and indirectly through economic dislocations – than I had expected. I remain quite optimistic in some respects, but am distinctly more concerned in others. Separating out the reasons for optimism and worry is vital to weighing likely outcomes and preferred policy approaches.

How quickly is the virus spreading (and can it be effectively contained)? Most of our current efforts (the new social distancing and partial lockdowns in California and New York, in particular) are designed to slow its spread. Based on this article (https://www.bostonherald...

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Community and Family, Again

Even if I am right in my optimism that effective control of the coronavirus will come in a few weeks and that the virus’s actual death toll will be seen, in retrospect, to have been statistically insignificant (and I write that phrase mindful of the cruelty of Stalin’s observation that “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic”), it will have left deep scars, analogous to those left by a heart attack. Perhaps it will also have changed some attitudes for the better. 

Over the last week or so, most of the American public began to take the pandemic seriously. Individual behaviors changed abruptly...

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Looking Past the Virus

As regular readers of these posts know, I have not been conventionally employed in the five years since the business I used to help manage was sold. The Beloved Spouse and I have been living off income from our portion of the proceeds of the sale.

After the sale I placed our savings in the hands of capable and sober institutional managers and paid as little attention to what they were doing as I could get away with. Once a year or so, the Beloved Spouse and I sit down with the money managers, hear what they have to say, agree with the great majority of their recommendations, and depart. Fortunately, until the last couple of weeks, the markets have been very kind.

The first time I took the initiative to ask the managers to take any significant action was three weeks ago today, when ...

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Risky Business

In the 1950s, after two miscarriages, my late mother was prescribed a drug – DES – that was thought to help women carry pregnancies to term. Thereafter she gave birth to seven healthy children, of whom I was the fifth.

The medical community later determined that DES may not have helped the women who took it with their pregnancies and that it had sometimes horrific side effects on the women who had taken it and – just as horrifyingly – on their daughters (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/medical-treatments/des-exposure.html). The FDA told doctors to stop prescribing it, and a campaign was begun to inform those who had taken it of the heightened risks to themselves and their daughters.

This was precisely the sort of experience that conditioned the FDA to adopt a p...

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Communist Viruses III

The US stock market fell by about 19% last week, representing a decline in value of about $3.6 trillion – or a little more than $11,000 for every living American. Another way of looking at the numbers is that last week’s decline was about $1.2 billion dollars for each of the worldwide total of 2,941 people who, as of this morning, are reported to have died from the Wuhan Coronavirus – and that $1.2-billion-per-decedent figure doesn’t include the similar declines in European and Asian markets caused by fears about the same disease.

But that the markets’ precipitous declines are wildly out of proportion with the number of people who have died from the new virus – after all, in an ordinary year, 50,000 or more Americans die from the flu without causing any impact on the markets –...

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Communist Viruses II

Communist Viruses was the least popular Civil Horizon post in a long time; to date, it has been read by only 39 people. The many regular readers of this blog who didn’t read it were wrong. Just sayin’. In Communist Viruses I introduced an idea about the parallels between the Chernobyl and Coronavirus disasters that gets to the heart of the differences between free and unfree systems of government.  

Today’s New York Times has an excellent, richly detailed front page article on the mistakes that were made by the Chinese authorities during the first seven weeks of the Coronavirus outbreak...

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Communist Viruses

It has long been perfectly clear that neither Hong Kong nor Taiwan wishes to be ruled from Beijing, and few can be surprised by that. The people of those semi-independent polities enjoy strong traditions of respect for individual rights, the rule of law and market-based, broadly capitalist economic systems. They are also, not coincidentally, much better off economically than the great majority of their relatives in the PRC.

What’s more, as is the case with about 30% of the PRC’s population, most Hong Kongers speak a language (in their case, Cantonese) that is quite different from Mandarin-speaking Beijing.

(Entirely apart from issues specific to Hong Kong or Taiwan, I would guess that many non-Mandarin speakers within the PRC (certainly the Uighurs and Tibetans) feel more like ...

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