Corona: China Looking Better Than America

Initially, it looked like corona would be a knock against China’s authoritarian system. Now, in comparison, it ain’t looking that bad. As of this writing (3/31/2019), America’s corona deaths per capita are significantly higher than China’s. Even if you assume(and I’ve seen no evidence this is true) that China’s covering up deaths, it’s on par with America’s numbers per capita even if its real numbers are 3-4x its reported numbers. Despite the fact that America had more warning than China did and should have been preparing for it.

Many Americans seem to have taken civics class far too literally and now believe it’s their God-given right to have an opinion on any subject whatsoever. I’ve seen this not just with morons on the internet but IRL as well. People who I remember have confessed, as normies often do, that they aren’t good at math. And that’s fine, they’re full citizens, just as morally worthy, blah-blah-blah. But then they will start bleating these word salads full of faulty analogies. It’s akin to ebola. It’s akin to AIDS. You tell them it’s nothing like that, point to R0 and they’re like “what are you talking about?” What’s next? Are we going to let anyone have an opinion on civil engineering? Next time your town wants to design a bridge, allow any random person to submit a design and then vote democratically on which to build.

We need to start telling people “no, you don’t get an opinion on this.” You can have an opinion on whether the bridge design is aesthetically pleasing, but not on how many tons of concrete are required to support it. This is not a matter of credentials. You can have knowledge without credentials. But most people have neither. They don’t know how to model the growth of an epidemic. They don’t even know where to look to find the information. And they know that they don’t know this. Yet they don’t seem to think it matters.

The golden mean is probably somewhere in East Asia where the people can vote but recognize that on some issues they should shut up and listen to those who know more than them.

PSA: Don’t Be Ned Flanders and Don’t Work For Trump

Lower-class Americans face far higher marginal tax rates than wealthier Americans when you consider loss of benefits. In addition to these clear economic disincentives, they also face social disincentives. If a poor family raises one responsible child and two ner-do-wells, guess who has to take care of the parents when they’re old?

The farther up the income ladder you get, the fewer disincentives you see, but you still find them among upper-middle-class. Did you make more in 2019 than in 2018? Did you act responsibly and file your taxes early? Well, you could get screwed because the cutoff for benefits under the Free Money Act of 2020 will distribute funds based on 2019 if you’ve filed, 2018 if you haven’t. So don’t do so until July 15. Even your income wasn’t between those cutoff points, it could matter for future aid.

Is there anyone in Congress thinking “hey, let’s consider if the act we’re about to pass is going to screw over responsible people for no reason?” Probably not.

Further PSA from that link: don’t work for Trump. When I gave this advice last year I was thinking of those in his administration or who are personally reporting to him, but now I extend that even to the lady who cleans the rooms at Trump Hotels. All his businesses are barred from receiving aid. Trump did this (stupid) bailout to protect everyone’s job … but not those of the people who made the mistake of working for him. That’s the kind of loyalty you can expect from the man.

Corona as a test of loneliness and mortality

Inspired by this article, it occurs to me that, if they last for many more months, the coronavirus lockdowns will provide a test of the supposed causal link between loneliness and all-cause mortality:

In a review of prospective studies on social isolation and health, House et al. (3) confirmed that social isolation was a major risk factor for morbidity and mortality from widely varying causes—a risk factor comparable in size to obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and possibly even smoking. These effects were evident even after statistically controlling for known biological risk factors, social status, baseline measures of health, and health behaviors

My prior belief is that loneliness correlates with life expectancy for the same reason wealth with a society correlates with life expectancy, and that just as making a society suddenly less wealthy doesn’t lead to an increase in mortality, nor will moving the society’s bell curve of loneliness.

The Fully General Moral Argument

What do you do when you are arguing against X or in favor of Y but can’t think of a rational reason why these choices are inherently objectionable?

Fall back on the Fully General Moral Argument. This says that doing X or not doing Y is bad because other people will object to it. Feelings will be hurt. Sometimes the division will be so great as to cause families to split up, friendships to end, possibly even the entire society to splinter into warring tribes. Social trust and the sense of charity will decay. Thus, it is better if everyone does X and doesn’t do Y.

Since it can be used to argue in favor of any position held by a significant proportion of society, it can support good as well as bad arguments. There is nothing inherently wrong with its use, in general, societies want to avoid splintering. The question you must ask is “is the only negative effect of doing or not doing something other people’s reaction, and is this reaction reasonable or is only the result of ideologies they’ve been taught?”

No to Business Bailouts

The reasons are simple, many identical to the case in 2008:

  1. Fundamentally, the economy is being harmed because of production getting shut down. When you shut down a widget factory, you can’t just conjure the widgets back into existence by shuffling money around. You have fewer widgets. Society is poorer. That is just reality. The only question is who suffers the loss. As with all economic questions, focus on production. We are richer than our ancestors not because we have more cash, because we conduct more trade, or because we have more jobs. We are richer because we can produce more wealth. If someone is promising to make society richer without producing more wealth, ignore them. Bailing out some companies results in more production in those companies, but must come at the cost of less production in the rest of the economy, as taxpayers will be burdened with that cost. This does not make us richer. It makes us poorer by allocating resources inefficiently.
  2. This is subsidizing failure. When you subsidize something, you get more of it. Although the specifics of this pandemic were unpredictable, the fact that something bad would happen in the future, whether a downturn or a war or a political crisis or an infectious disease, was easily predictable and companies should have planned for it. They’re gonna come out like children saying “oh, we never could have anticipated anything bad happening and certainly we never planned for it, we thought everything was going to be fine forever.” What nonsense. They didn’t plan because they’ve been counting on Uncle Sam bailing them out. They remember 2008. We can’t let it happen again. No one is to blame for the pandemic and the question is not whether they “deserve” to suffer because of it. The question is whether everyone else, also suffering from the pandemic, deserves to be forced to support them. The standard arguments against moral hazard arguments are “they will do that anyway” and “that’s a good story, but we need to solve problems NOW.” The first is usually just untrue, the second misses the point. We are in this mess because of what happened in 2008. Quitting a drug often has painful withdrawal symptoms, but the correct time to do it is always now. Saying “this will be the last one,” will not work, as companies won’t believe it. Nor should they.
  3. This is not the 1930s. The banking system is much larger, interest rates are much lower. Claims about how companies “can’t get” loans are false. Companies that will be healthy in six months will easily be able to find loans to hold out until then, interest rates are at record lows. If a company can’t afford to do that, it ought to be going out of business. A company which is taking wood worth 100$ and turning it into furniture worth 95$ is wasting resources, and should not exist in a capitalist economy. Capital is a cost like anything else. If a company’s costs exceed its revenue, it should go out of business.
  4. We are not going to “lose industries,” as some uninformed people have been warning. Just look at historical downturns. We lost a lot of tech companies with the dot-com bubble bursting, but we never lost the “industry.” There is zero chance you wake up in six months and find no hotels or airlines. The reason is simple: suppose every airline but one goes bankrupt and is put out of operation. That airline is going to make a fortune. If it is considering going bankrupt, investors will be rushing to grab shares. This explains why the second-to-last airline is not going to go out of operation either.
  5. Bailout advocates play on conflating bankruptcy and going out of operation. The two often co-occur but are not the same thing. When a company goes bankrupt it means its stockholders get nothing, its debtors receive all its assets. If those assets can still be profitably run as a business, they will be. There are many companies that went bankrupt and yet are still here.
  6. Don’t believe the politicians who are going to tell you they are “taking” shares in companies. If the government wanted to acquire shares in a publicly-traded company it could do so in the same way as you or I, by buying stock at the market price. They could work out similar arrangements with privately held companies. They are not doing so because the point is to transfer money to the company. Effectively, the government is paying 10$ for something worth 5$ and telling you it “took” 5$ from the company.
  7. Likewise, ignore other claims of being “tough” on the companies. Restricting buybacks will just mean the company returns value to its investors through dividends. Those are basically equivalent. Restricting executive compensation couldn’t hurt, but it still misses the point. The appropriate amount of support they should be getting is zero.
  8. It will be a massive disruption for certain industries to shut down for six or twelve or however many months. The costs of this should fall on the people who use these services, not on the taxpayer.
  9. Suppose an airline has to lay off its workers while it has no flights. In six or twelve months, it has to hire them back. If a given worker is unemployed, he will most likely eagerly take their jobs back. What if he’s since found another job? Production will be harmed since he won’t be able to do his old job. But production will benefit from his work in his new job. If the old job is much more productive, the airline can offer higher wages to get him to switch jobs, just as in normal conditions. What would massively harm production would be “employing” him on the non-operating airline when there is another, productive job he could be doing in the meantime.


Corona: Why Aren’t Hospital Workers Quitting?

Doctors who quit will find it quite hard to get re-hired. Nurses might also face scrutiny. Nurse’s assistants, maybe. Unskilled caregivers, probably not, because the bar for hiring is already very low and there’s already going to be a lot of turnover. Why aren’t we seeing mass quitting and wages rising to reflect the danger? I say it’s because it’s not in our cultural script for people to respond that way.

If they did, could we morally condemn them? I don’t think so. We condemn soldiers who desert because it’s part of the bargain when they sign up. I don’t think it’s part of the bargain for CNA’s at hospitals that they will have to be stuck there in the event of a pandemic. Many are “at-will employees.” For skilled workers, you could argue that they have a moral obligation to be there and you don’t because, obviously, you wouldn’t do any good in those jobs. But this would imply you are just as morally obligated to take an unskilled job caring for corona victims if there is a shortage of unskilled workers as those currently working them have to keep them. I think we condemn them for two reasons:

  1. Self-serving bias. Most of us want them there.
  2. The Copenhagen interpretation of ethics, in this case it is used to imply that hospital workers who don’t do anything to care for corona patients are morally to blame in a way ordinary people who don’t do anything are not. Needless to say, I don’t agree with this.

One could imagine a society in which it was accepted for hospital workers in this situation to demand more pay. We as a society could easily afford it just as we pay hazard pay to policemen, loggers, firefighters, soldiers, etc. Some would say the pay is not worth it, can’t enjoy money if you’re dead, and they would be replaced by daredevils who temporarily quit their jobs. The morons who say “it’s the flu” could be encouraged to take these high-paying roles temporarily, providing a mechanism for eugenic selection.