This is a topic that’s very personal for all of us. It’s hard to look at it dispassionately and scientifically. We’ve all lived through it and we all know people who have been effected by it in one way or another, either by the virus itself, or in many more cases, by the lockdowns themselves.
Everybody has had something disrupted by this. I remember as recently as March seventh of 2020, which is like a lifetime ago, having lunch in New York City with our old friend Gene Epstein. And Gene just turned 75 at the end of 2019. He’s a retired book review and economics reviewer at Barons. And we were having a nice lunch together in New York talking about upcoming travels. And saying, “Well, with this virus I don’t know what’s going to happen with the travels. And should we still go on them or not?” And his view was you’ve got to live your life. You’ve got to just live. Yeah, the world’s a riskier place, but you’ve got to live your life. Now he didn’t shake our hands, he’s married to a Japanese woman and they gave us the Japanese bow which we were quite delighted to return. But his view was you go live your life and maybe I’ll stay in my apartment. But you should go live. Why shouldn’t you go live? And we all felt like yeah, that’s about the right approach.
It never dawned on us at that point that these decision would be taken out of our hands entirely. We really thought that we were going to asses the pros and cons and make a decision. It just never occurred to us that this would happen. That the world would be closed down. That one minute they’d be telling you, “globalism is the best thing since sliced bread and if you think otherwise you’re a xenophobe.” Then the very next minute, if you say you want to see the world, “you’re a grandma murderer!” It’s just very sudden how this happened.
But what also changed quickly were the rationales that were given for some of the measures that were taken—rather draconian measures. Now obviously I live in the United States I can speak most confidently about here. So first we all recall, we’ve all been through this before, we were told we had to so-called “flatten the curve.” Right? Remember that expression?
Now there’s a phenomenon that Michael Malice talks about a lot. It’s the phenomenon of the midwit. Now the midwit is not a complete idiot with an IQ of 65. But he’s not exactly curing cancer either. So the midwit has just enough intelligence to be irritating. And so you would get all over social media, midwits explaining to you—even a month after we’d all heard what “flattening the curve” was all about, we’d heard this from every official source over and over and over and over and then you’d make some mild remark slightly dissenting from one point some official made—and you’d get a solemn lecture as if you’d never heard the idea of flattening the curve before: “What we need to do is flatten the curve because this way we spread out the infection so we don’t—” You don’t think I’ve heard this already? But if we cleared out the midwits there’d almost be nobody left to talk about this topic.
Now alright. It’s true there were some people who advocated “flattening the cure” because not only did they think it would help the hospital system cope better, but they also thought that that would reduce the overall number of deaths. There were other people who said we were not going to reduce the overall number of deaths, we’re just going to spread them out. There were some flatten-the-curvers who said it will actually lead to fewer deaths, but this was not really coming through from a lot of the official sources.
So then they confine us. What are we on now the 127th day of 15 days to flatten the curve? I think that’s where we are. So we’ve been confined to our homes for a few weeks, and then suddenly it wasn’t “flatten the curve.” “Flatten the curve” was like bell bottom jeans or the Rubik’s cube or something that if you bring it up people find it an interesting novelty. But it was like they’d sort of forgotten all about that at that point.
Instead, no, no, no. It became, according to Andrew Cuomo, “if it saves only one life” – that was the new metric. “If it saves only one life with all these draconian measures, they will have been worth while.”
Now that’s particularly gruesome and grotesque coming from Andrew Cuomo. It is rather an upside down world that the guy who, by far, has the worst record on this—by far—is considered to be the great model and savior. And then all these hapless governors in other states, where things have been at least manageable, are viewed as the devil. But Cuomo sends infected people into nursing homes, says that’s not his fault, and everybody goes, “Well, you know, he’s got a pretty good point.” And that is just accepted.
This is not normal. We’re surrounded by crazy people. We can’t even have a conversation, because if you try to have a conversation about this, “You just want people to die!”
This is typical, by the way. All the time we have to deal with this. If you have a different opinion on what the welfare policy should be, that’s because “you hate the poor.” Or if you think that private property might solve a problem, it’s because “you hate the environment.” You can never have an honorable disagreement with the hysterics. Never. And it’s always because you secretly hate something. And that strikes me as the classic case of projection. If their first instinct is, “This must be motivated by hatred!” maybe they intimately are familiar with that emotion, that they would constantly be consumed by attributing it to everybody.
But there are perfectly good reasons to doubt, first of all this criterion of “if we only save one life.” Now, I realize that in this room people are not so unscientifically sentimental that they think there’s any sense to that. But you know from interacting with people out in the giant insane aslym that is the world, there are people who think this way. But if that were honestly believed, we would have to modify all kinds of behaviors, we’d have to restrict the sale of all kinds of items, we’d have to ban dangerous pastimes. All kinds of things like that.
And if you make this argument they say, “Oh you stupid, unsophisticated rube! Of course skiing can be dangerous, but you don’t have to ban skiing because skiing accidents are not contagious! This thing is contagious.” And that’s the difference.
But if the standard is “saving only one life,” then it doesn’t matter if it’s contagious or not. And the thing is, nobody lives according to the “if we couldn’t only save one life” thing. Nobody does. If somebody dies in an automobile accident, we don’t blame the institution of driving. It’s an unfortunate part of life. We don’t ban things that give people pleasure, even if they can cause death, not just because we value liberty but because these are things that make life worth living in the first place. And as I’ll explain later, there is more human life that mere biological existence.
For example, let’s take people who say to you, “If you don’t favor locking people in their homes, then you just enjoy watching people die.” Okay? I’ve had that said to me. That I want people to die. And then, conversely, I’ve had people tell me that they hope I die because I’m encouraging things that are going to make other people die. There’s a lot of death wish around in society these days apparently.
But what they don’t factor in are things like this.
For example, over in the UK, on several occasions, in major newspapers that we’re supposed to listen to because they’re always telling us the truth–even they have been saying that it’s quite possible that we will wind up with more preventable cancer deaths than covid deaths in the UK, because of an irrational diversion of resources into a surge that didn’t really materialize the way we were told it would.
What about those lives?
See that’s another thing. A lot of times the other side is driven by anecdote. “I knew a guy who died! If you knew a guy, then you would take this more seriously!” Alright, well what if I know somebody who died of a preventable cancer? Wouldn’t that make me more against the lockdowns? So what does knowing a person do? Yes it can encourage us in empathy, but it is extremely unscientific to say, “Well, I know a guy and therefore I favor the lockdowns.” The lockdowns cause other deaths. And those deaths are just as important, even if you didn’t know those people. If you’re really empathetic, then you can go beyond just beyond you immediate circle and realize that other people’s lives matter too.
In April the United Nations warned of hundreds of thousands of child deaths and the reduction of somewhere between 42 and 66 million children to extreme poverty as a result of the complications emerging from the lockdowns.
Do those people’s lives not matter?
Something called the Well Being Trust in Oakland, California produced a study trying to find out how many deaths of despair would come about as a result of, not just the lockdowns, to be honest, but also just worry about the virus itself. But also the effects of the lockdowns. How many deaths of despair would there be? Now by deaths of despair we are referring to things like suicides as well as alcohol and drug overdoses. And they came up with a high figure and a low figure and they just averaged the figures up to about 75,000 excess deaths of despair.
Now I don’t know about the method behind some of these studies, but nobody seems to care about the method behind the studies saying that everybody’s going to die next Wednesday so I’m not particularly worried about that objection.
And we’re told by the Vice Chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s Council on Addiction Psychiatry: “I’ve been seeing this in practices and my colleagues have been talking about It too. People suffering because of social isolation. And that addiction patents are relapsing and a lot of patients who don’t have drug use or alcohol problems are drinking more now, sometimes every day from 4 or 5 pm and they don’t stop until they sleep.”
Then UNICEF predicted 1.2 million child deaths as a result of the lockdowns.
So it’s not just either or. Well either we have the lockdowns and people live or we don’t have them an everybody dies. The world is much less comic bookish than that it turns out. But nobody who implies that you’re a terrible person is ever required to answer for these other four things.
Now these items go to show that if you shut down the world and you tell us that we all have to live like vegetables and that’s the new normal, this has consequences. And it also reveals to us how barren it is to say, “you should shut up and listen to the experts.” Now obviously there are many situations in our lives when we do simply shut up and listen to the experts. When my car breaks down I take it to a mechanic and I pretend to understand what the hell he’s talking about, and I pay him and I drive it away. I don’t go up to him with a conspiracy theory. I don’t say, “You know, I know Bill gates wants to have some other kind of car and he’s discouraging me in the car I have by having it break down.” I don’t do anything like that I don’t need to. I just get the car fixed.
But the thing is, and I think you can see a bit of Hayek’s concern about scientism in all this, there is a superstitious reverence for so-called experts that manifests itself in the expectation that they can answer all questions. Not simply the questions they’re trained to answer, but they have a holistic view of the world and they can really answer all questions.
Let’s just pick a random expert: Dr. Anthony Fauci. I just picked him at random. People say he’s an infections disease expert. And he’s been around a long time. And he has a lot of experience with this. And we should listen to what he says because he’s the expert.
Okay, it is true that he has a lot of knowledge about a lot of things. But if he says the most important thing you should value is flattening this curve, the most important thing you should value is minimizing deaths from this virus, that may well be the best judgment somebody could make. But that is a judgment call, because as we’ve seen there are competing heath concerns in the world. So we need to be able to make our own judgments here.
Moreover he was asked at one point, “Are you factoring in trade-offs here?” Obviously, if we take all of society’s resources and we directed them at one goal, okay maybe we make some progress against that goal, but what about all this unseen wreckage we’re leaving everywhere? His answer, was no he hadn’t thought that through.
And that’s just the point. There’s no class that a doctor takes at school that teaches him how to balance all the different competing concerns in a situation like this. He doesn’t take a class teaching him how you factor into your public policy recommendations that there are going to be unintended consequences of this that and the other thing, and gee, how do we balance the 1.2 million dead children against this policy over here? They’re not taught that. These are judgments we have to make as informed people. So epidemiologists are not taking a class that teaches them what the answer is in this situation.
And then we’re told, “listen to the science.” Okay. Now in general, I don’t have any objection to that. Science is a glorious thing. I know people don’t like to talk like this anymore but it is one of the great creations of western civilization. The scientific method and all of that. Absolutely agreed. But we have to understand, what is science? Science is not a series of infallible statements. That is absolutely not what we’re dealing with. It’s an ongoing search for the truth. So “The Science” has been all over the place in this crisis. They’re presumably trying to get a handle on what’s going on. So simply to say to me “listen to the science.” Well okay. If I listen to the science, I’m constantly getting different answers to “How does the virus spread?” “How does it not spread?” What is the roll of children?” “Do they get it?” “Do they spread it?” “Do asymptomatic people spread it?” “What about presymptomatic people?”
“Is Sweden’s approach a good idea?” We’re told, “No! it’s terrible! Everybody’s going to be dead in Sweden!”
Then we were told by the head of the Health Emergency’s Program at the WHO that Sweden’s avoidance of the lockdown was a model. We were told by the science.
Why were some countries doing so much better than others? The Science told us that Japan should be a giant graveyard. And the ghouls were practically rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the Japanese “getting what they deserve because they didn’t listen to the science!” It’s almost like there’s something more than just science motivating these people.
And none of that ever happened. Japan did fine. And then later they said, “Well it’s because Japan wore masks!” They knew Japan wore masks when they were predicting they were all going to be dead. So nice try bozo, to try to bring that one up at the end. Or whether lockdowns work. Well show me! I’m supposed to listen to that? I’ll do my best to be informed but it’s not like there’s some infallible answer that we can all be listening to at a time like this.
And then we get told, “Well why don’t you talk to health care professionals. They’ll set you straight. They’ll tell you that you ought to shut up and listen to Dr. Fauci.” But even they have differences of opinion. Because believe it or not, even health care professionals have political ideologies. It turns out they’re not actually sitting on platonic mountaintops abstractly contemplating the eternal forms.
So if we’re going with anecdotes like, “Hey may friend’s a nurse and my nurse friend said such and such,” well there are plenty of health care professionals willing to say this has been a fiasco. And a lot of them have written to me that have patients not coming in because they’ve been terrified into not coming in and they’re winding up having all kinds of problems. It turns out that cardiac arrest is down by 40% of where it would normally be. Now either the virus is a magical curer of cardiac arrest or people who need to go to the doctor are not going.
Now I liked this statement. This came from Dr. Stephen Shapiro. He is the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical center. I took him as being, frankly, a little ticked off when he first made this statement. Ticked off by the exaggerated accounts of what was surely going to happen in his area, and then nothing approaching it happened even though they prepared everything for it to happen. They’re sending other patients away. They’ve got everything ready. Not even a tiny fraction of it occurred. Yeah. We’re opening back up to let sick people come back in. So this is Stephen Shapiro. These are some experts:
“We indeed saw a steady stream of patients, but never a “surge.” At peak in mid April covid-19 patients occupied 2% of our 5,500 hospital beds, and 48 of our 750 ventilators. Subsequently, admissions have been decreasing with very few patients now coming from the community, almost all now being from nursing homes. Of note, in the 36 UPMC owned senior facilities we have had zero positive cases. Our outcomes are similar to the state of Pennsylvania in general, where the median age of death from covid19 is 84 years old.”
I might add, by the way, that the general statistic for the United States is that the life expectancy is about 78 and the median age of a covid-19 victim is 81.
He says, “The few younger patients who died all had significant preexisting conditions. Very few children were infected and none died. Minorities in our communities fared equally as well as others, but we know that this is not the case nationally. In some this is a disease of the elderly, sick and poor. We are now actively bringing back our patients for essential care following CMS guidelines. To assure a safe environment we use adequate PPE and test all, even asymptomatic preoperative patients for active viral infection with PCR. To date zero out of a thousand tested positive in western Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland; 3 of 500 are positive in central Pennsylvania. Our community prevalence is low which we will soon confirm with antibody testing.
And now, this is what I like the most. Some humility.
“Despite rapid progress there are critical gaps in our knowledge, as well as selective use of what we know. For example we don’t know why many who are infected never develop symptoms, while others seemingly similar patients get very sick. Crowded indoor conditions can be devastating in nursing homes, while on the USS Theodore Roosevelt 1,102 sailors were infected, but only 7 required hospitalization with one death. This contrast has significant implications that we have not embraced. Epidemiological prediction models have performed poorly, often neglecting critical variables. Seasonality is rarely considered yet we know that coronaviruses are seasonal. The question before us is what will happen as we reopen society and how should we manage it?
“For New York and a handful of other cities with high case rates as a result of density, travel and socioeconomic issues, they must open up in a measured, step-wise manner, with extensive testing, tracing and treatment. But for the rest of the country as people come out of their homes cautiously and safely, if we protect our vulnerable seniors, particularly those in nursing homes, we should be able to keep case rates low, buying time for potential resurgence as we bolster our supply chain and find effective intervention. Covid-19 is a disease that ravages those with preexisting conditions, whether it be immunosenescence of aging or the social determinants of health. We can manage society in the presence of this pathogen if we focus on these preexisting conditions.”
And now here it comes – the health consequences of lockdown.
“What we cannot do is extended social isolation. Humans are social beings and we are already seeing the adverse mental health consequences of loneliness, and that is before the much greater effects of economic devastation take hold on the human condition. In this particular case the problem we’re not going to be able to fix in the short-term is the complete eradication of the virus. The problem we can fix is to serve and protect our seniors especially those in nursing homes.”
Now again, when you try to raise points like this you get told by people, “Well I know somebody who died who was only 37!” And that’s true. I believe that the statistic below age 50 in the US deaths is something like 9,000. So it’s nothing to shake a stick at but comparable to suicides, accidents and whatever in that age group. I remember distinctly the New York Post ran a story about a 20 year old who was given the “all clear” they said, and then he died of covid-19. And they said, “What a tragedy.” Paragraph ten tells you, by the way, that he had leukemia.
But yet, people walk around with, “I knew a guy,” and these are the pro-science people. We’re the pro-science people, and we’re going to argue from anecdote. “I heard there was a twenty year old guy!” This is like saying that men are generally taller than women and coming back with, “What are you talking about? My wife is six foot one?” You need the prerequisites for Science 101 if you’re at that level.
More people over age 100 than under age 30 have died, which is quite interesting. And even Neil Ferguson, who is responsible for the major UK model of the virus, predicted that somewhere between 50% and 2/3’s of all the people would go on to die from it would have died in 2020. That’s how sick they were.
In New York City, that was the hardest hit part of the United States, and we can speculated as to why it was hit so hard. Obviously that horrible nursing home policy was a big part of it. I think early on they weren’t really sure about the right treatments. And I remember seeing a YouTube video of a Doctor saying “the ventilators are making things worse.” And people say, “Oh this is some crank doctor. Listen to the science everybody!” Listen to the science.
As as it turns out, oh yeah, the ventilators are really a problem. And so no, Andrew Cuomo did not need forty thousand ventilators. Which is what he said: “If I don’t get 40,000 ventilators it’s going to be a giant graveyard over here!” They got a small number of ventilators, they wound up giving some of them away to other states. So it turned out that guy, that doctor on the YouTube video, was telling us the truth.
So between the ages of 18 and 44 we’ve seen a rate of 11 deaths per 100,000 in New York City. For people 75 and older, the rate was 80 times that. And for people under age 18, their death rate per 100,000 was zero.
But this 18 to 44 group, and by the way, I know this will come as a surprise to you, but I don’t belong to that group; that 18 to 44. The policy, apparently, is to deprive them indefinitely of all the wonderful things we oldsters enjoyed as we grew up, even though they’re at essentially no risk. And yet they did a study recently where they asked people in their 20’s how scared they are. Of the 1,000 of your friends, how many do you think will die of the virus? And they had wildly out-of-scale predictions. The answer is almost zero. And they thought it was going to be dozens of their friends would be dead. I mean who can blame them? I don’t know why millennials would be watching the news, but some of them I guess are. So it’s not just that they’re worried about their old relatives. A lot of them are really terrified of dying when they, according to everything we know, they have essentially no chance.
Let’s go to my own personal observations. I’ve visited a number of these opening states. I have to balance something here in a talk like this. If I focused my talk entirely on the statistics of right this minute, on this date in July 2020, then it becomes stale in a week. So I don’t want to do that, even though I want to say a little something about that. I want to focus primarily on these big picture questions.
I had a chance to visit Georgia as soon as it opened up, and then Texas, and then Massachusetts. When I went into a restaurant in Massachusetts I had to wear a mask before we were served and then you can take the mask off—because you cannot spread the virus while you’re eating, thank God, that’s such a relief—and then put it back on and leave. But I had to write my name and address down. It was humiliating. But when you’re hungry you’re hungry. I’m not going to judge my status as a libertarian on the basis of how I act when I’m famished.
So visited a bunch of these states and let me tell you something: they were opening very, very slowly. If people have the idea that they just opened everything up and then look what happened! No. Most things were shut down. In Dallas almost every restaurant was shut down. So it’s not the case.
And by the way, for a couple of solid months the case rate was still flat even though they were, to some degree, open. I’ll never forget going to a waffle house at three in the morning—and that’s why you go to a waffle house, because it’s three in the morning, where else are you going to go?—and it was you had to stand outside until your food was ready and then you could come in and sit at one of the socially distanced tables. And when you’re standing outside of a waffle house in Dallas at three in the morning, you run into some interesting characters. The good thing is it was kind of enriching. But I remember sitting there and getting to discover what life is like at a waffle house a three in the morning because I heard the waitress at the register say to a customer, “Um, sir, you’re bleeding.” And I don’t even know what’s going on here.
So the openings were extremely modest, and yet—and yet—when Georgia opened, the headlines were unbelievable. The Atlantic said Georgia was “attempting an experiment in human sacrifice.” The Washington Post said that “Georgia is striving to become the number one death destination in America.”
It makes you just want to get one of those big foam gloves with the number one on it.
And it turns out, I just checked the numbers. In the past week they had under 200 deaths from it in Georgia, which is fewer than they had the week before they opened. So the giant Georgia shaped graveyard has not materialized. But no word from anybody. “Maybe we exaggerated when we accused the governor of trying to sacrifice human beings to some sun god or whatever. I mean, maybe we shouldn’t have said that.”
The other things I observed, by the way, when I was in these states and particular in Georgia, it seems to me that it was the older people who more wanted to resume their lives than the younger ones. They were the ones who wanted to go out. I don’t want to see my grand kids on zoom anymore. I have to take the chance. I have to be human. At some level I have to just go back to human life and take my chances.
And an acquaintance of mine put it this way: “Relinquish any claim on the lives of the young. As an oldster who is presumed to be peculiarly susceptible to the ravages of covid-19, I will not ask anyone to sacrifice days, weeks, or months of their time, love, life and livelihood on my behalf. It is grotesque for the old to ask the young to sacrifice for them. Go live your lives. Enjoy the beautiful spring weather. I have no claim on you for my welfare. Who among my fellow oldsters will release any claims on the lives of young people?
Interesting way to put it. I suggested there should be a group called, “Grandmas Against Lockdown.” Nobody took me up on that. But it’s a suggestion.
So one gimmick that we got from people I call “the doomers” was the old jelly bean example. They would say, “If you have a bowl of 100 jelly beans and you knew 3 of them were poisoned, would you take a handful?”
Now there isn’t a 3% death rate. It’s way lower than that. But the ideas was supposed to be, “You see how stupid it is to risk resuming your life when there’s this chance?” So the idea was the only rational response was not to take any jelly beans, and in terms of the virus, is just cowering in your house.
So leave aside the gross exaggeration involved. The question really being asked is, “Would you reach in and take something if there was a chance it contained poison?” But they’re leaving out the real question: “What would I suffer if I didn’t reach in? What if I just stand there and do nothing?” Because they’re suggesting that my only possible concern in my life is the virus. But I have other concerns too. One of them is not spending months and possibly years living like a vegetable. And that’s what happens if I don’t reach in.
In the analogy of my reaching into the bowl is the equivalent of returning to normal life and thereby taking a risk. And yes, I’m prepared to take that risk because I want to live a life that’s worth living. If the jelly beans represent everything I’ve worked for my whole life, if they represent financial solvency, if they represent all my hopes, dreams and aspirations, you’d better believe I’d grab that handful and eat them without the slightest hesitation.
Now meanwhile, the virus has refused to behave the way the doomers have assured us it must.
So my favorite example, because I was lectured repeatedly about it on social media, in mid-March it looked like Hong Kong has really gotten a handle on the virus, and the headline read, “Hong Kong thought it had a handle on the virus but now it’s in big trouble.” They were reporting a doubling of confirmed cases in a week. And oh my gosh in the media and all over social media it was, “Just wait two weeks! It’s going to be piles of corpses in Hong Kong!”
And it wasn’t even like, “How tragic.” It was almost like a perverse cheering. It’s the same perversity with which these people reject all good news. “Hey here’s some good news about the virus. As time goes on a lower percentage of people getting it need to be hospitalized.” It’s like they freeze up when they hear good news. It’s the most bizarre phenomenon I’ve ever seen in my years on this Earth.
So anyway, wait two weeks. Right? Hong Kong is going to be corpses everywhere. Two weeks went by, no additional deaths. Four weeks, nothing. Eight weeks nothing. Now at this point, that doubling of confirmed cases clearly led to zero deaths. I will tell you that 13 weeks later there was one death, but unrelated to that doubling of confirmed cases.
So why didn’t that happen? Can’t we have the humility to say we don’t entirely know what’s going on? Not everything about this virus has a glib tweet response. Not everything.
Masks will solve all our problems.
Why is California having a spike? They’ve been wearing masks. I don’t even know the science behind masks. Maybe they do work. Who even knows? But the point is the Connecticut Governor is saying, “Well the reason we flattened our curve is because of masks.” I’m pretty sure the science doesn’t say masks work in Connecticut but they’re a big stinking failure in California. Obviously there’s something less cartoonish going on that we haven’t fully got a handle on.
Or I mentioned Japan before. Why didn’t that giant pile of deaths materialize in Japan? This is a fascinating case study because despite plenty of contact with China and taking fairly modest coercive measures compared to a lot of other countries, Japan had very few covid deaths. And the answer initially coming from the doomer side was, “That’s because they don’t want to jeopardize the Olympics! They’re suppressing the real numbers and they’re afraid if they reveal that half of us will die, nobody is going to want to go to the Olympics.” Okay. So then they postpone the Olympics. No reason to cover up now. No deaths emerged that had been covered. So they just ignored that. “Oh sorry we accused you all of being liars.” Never an apology. And apology? Never! Never. Apparently the virus really latched onto apologies so they’re never-never-going to issue an apology. So no apology.
So then in early April the Japanese government asked for voluntary compliance with further social distancing policies and the press, oh my gosh. The media was overwhelmed with “Too Little Too Late!” It was almost like, “Yeah! We can’t wait to see what happens to you!” And grim warnings: “The hospitals are going to be overwhelmed in Tokyo!” “Japan is going to pay!” They’re licking their chops.
Two weeks go by, three weeks go by, four weeks go by, the daily death toll continues to go down. How do they account for that? So then then they say, “Well the Japanese are a very clean people. They’re very concerned about hygiene.” Did you just find this out in the past four weeks? You knew that when you predicted they were all going to die. So you can’t now use that. It doesn’t work that way.
But a professor at Waseda University, Mikihito Tanaka, had the guts to say, when asked, “Why has Japan done so well?” The answer was, “Even experts don’t know the reason.”
How about that? Now on Twitter they all know the reason, “It was masks!” They all know the reason on Twitter. Or if you post this on Facebook, all your Facebook friends, they all know the reason. The experts are stumped, but they really should get on Twitter more because then they would know what was causing it.
If it had been such a cartoonish, pedestrian answer as masks, you don’t think the experts would have thought of that?
Or other questions like why was Iran hit so hard, and Iraq not as much? Isn’t that the opposite of what you would have predicted? I mean Iraq has been bombed and had civil unrest and disorder for years and years. Wouldn’t that seem like they’re more ripe for this?
Just simple, basic questions we can’t get the answer. And there’s no curiosity about it either: “Every country is the same. Every body is going to be Italy. The US is going to be Italy.” Whatever. I just don’t see what’s so hard about admitting that we don’t entirely know what’s going on. Let’s just be honest. We don’t entirely know what’s going on. But there are people who think they know. They think if students return to school this is going to lead to piles of corpses.
Now I realize that I’m of two minds on this, having helped devise a home school curriculum. I’m not particularly eager to send people back to the schools, I grant that. But leaving that aside, I’m just talking about the arguments here.
In Germany, Saxony was the first to reopen the schools after the lockdown. The result was no hot spot whatsoever. And after the summer break they’re even going to drop the mask requirement. So this has actually been tried.
How about the lockdowns themselves? Just some interesting food for thought at least on the lockdowns.
So in the Wall Street Journal we read this from TJ Rodgers who says, “We ran a simple one-variable correlation of deaths per million and days to shutdown, which ranged from negative ten (-10) days because some states shut down before any sign of covid19, to thirty-five (+35) days for South Dakota, one of 7 states with limited or no shutdown. The correlation coefficient was 5.5%. So low that the engineers I used to employ would have summarized it as “no correlation” and moved on to find the real cause of the problem.”
I’ll have on my page some charts that you can look at on this. Because we do have google mobility data. I know we don’t like being traced, but here’s a silver lining of it. We know that people have been moving around since some of the social distancing requirements have been lifted. And even before they were lifted some people after a month just got tired of doing it and they started moving around. So you’d think the more they move around, the more that virus is going to spread, the more deaths. So you could plot these numbers.
So there’s a researcher who calls this social contact score, like you know, how many people you come into contact with and how much traveling you’re doing, how much mobility do you have. And they were looking at mobility versus deaths per million in the chart looking at all the different states. And there’s no correlation.
How about staying at home? How about the “shelter in place’ policy? If anything the results show the opposite of what you would expect. Now obviously, correlation doesn’t prove causation. But I think it’s reasonable to ask, “Could you really have causation without any correlation?” What is happening here? Again, that shouldn’t be. That should not be. Why would that be? And even I don’t quite see why that should be. It seems to make sense. You stay home and things should get better. And yet the numbers don’t even bear that out. What’s happening here?
Now you say, “Oh, but maybe it’s that in the places that were hit the hardest. Because they were hit the hardest, they imposed the heaviest lockdowns.” And stuff like that. But they’ve played with those numbers and it doesn’t’ work out that way.
So for example, you could look at, there were 7 states that had minimal to no lockdowns. And you look at what are the expected number of deaths that you would expect to have in these states by this time of the year. And every one of those seven is at least significantly below or somewhat below the expected number of deaths. Then we look at the 7 most heavily locked down states, and 5 of those are above the expected number of deaths, and several of them way above the expected number of deaths.
So again, there could be other factors at work here, but it’s not just a glib response that on Twitter you could give in 280 characters. There’s something we’re not quite fully getting about this. And it’s not entirely just population density either. Stockholm did better than New York City, it even did better than all of New York State despite being 2.6 times more dense.
Alright. I don’t want to talk any more about Georgia because I did that. So I will say a little something about Sweden before we start wrapping up.
Sweden, of course, is the country everyone used to love. Everybody loved Sweden. IKEA is from Sweden or something. And they loved social democracy and all of that. And then that just stopped. They don’t like Sweden at all. So they say Sweden didn’t do as well as other Scandinavian countries. And yes, it’s nursing homes were hit very hard. But one thing that’s interesting to note about Sweden is it’s a country of 10 million people. How many people under age 50 died from the virus in Sweden? Under age 50? 70. That’s an astonishing number.
And incidentally, it’s not enough to say, “Well Denmark and Finland did better.” If the virus justified this mad, irrational destruction of the past four months and who knows how many more months, Sweden should be a thousand times worse than everybody else. Not comparable to the UK. It should be a thousand times worse. There shouldn’t be anybody left. Ferguson’s model said there would be 96,000 deaths by June in Sweden if they didn’t have full suppression. By that date they had about 4,000 deaths. So they beat that by a factor of 24.
So that’s worth noting. There’s other things we could say about Sweden. I mean we also know the Swedes kept sending their kids to school. In Finland they didn’t and then it turns out there’s no difference in the health outcomes whatsoever. None whatsoever.
It’s true that people want to talk about what’s going on in some of these states that have reopened. Because I can find a state like Georgia where everything’s pretty stable. But there are a few states where the cases have spiked and even the deaths have slightly spiked. Now obviously the case spike is partly because of additional testing—not entirely that but partly that. And part of the reason behind additional testing is that in a lot of places to return to work you have to prove that you don’t have the virus. You’ve got to go get tested.
In Florida—I believe it was Florida—they were honest enough to admit that they’re not catching all of the duplicates. So if you go and get tested five times trying to get back to work, there have been times where that’s been counted as five cases. You’re actually only one person. So that’s important to remember.
So I will talk a little bit privately about that because if I get bogged down in that it makes this not as evergreen a YouTube presentation. But the long and the short of it is that none of these places are, or will be, New York.
Obviously it makes sense to take precautions and particularly people who are especially vulnerable. There are precautions you can take. They’re improving treatments all the time. These are things to be welcomed. The issue is that if we just simply say, “Let’s just try to have a blanket protection of absolutely everybody.” This is not the best, it seems to me, use of resources. It would be better to focus the resources on the most vulnerable people and let the other folks try to live their lives the best they can, at the very least to keep the engine of prosperity going that allows us to support the vulnerable people in the first place.
And we should talk about how to best preserve biological life. But the bigger question that needs to be answered that I hinted at at the beginning, is whether mere biological life is worth living. And no expert can answer that question for you because it’s a philosophical question. So if people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations are dashed for an indefinite period of time (which purveyors of the current strategy almost flippantly propose: “Oh we’ll just stay shut down”), is that really living? They say probably no large gatherings for a long time. Okay, well how long? Just give me an estimate. And what are large gatherings? Oh no big deal, just concerts, theater, lectures, church, sporting events, the arts in general. Pretty much everything that makes life worth living.
So yes, this kind of life has a pulse, but it has no soul.
Now on this large gatherings thing, anybody who performs in front of an audience, and that’s dancers, musicians, comedians, magicians, athletes, singers actors whatever, this present strategy means your hopes and dreams are on indefinite hold and you may never be able to fulfill them. Your heart will keep beating but you’ll never be able to fulfill them. People who went before you got to fulfill their dreams, but you can’t fulfill yours.
There’s an ironically named Center for American Progress that has, as one of it’s spokesman, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, who is the brother of Rahm Emanuel of “not letting a crisis go to waste” – that guy? He says we need to be on lockdown for 18 months until there’s a vaccine, which he assumes there will be. And these are his exact words, “How are people supposed to find work if this goes on in some form for a year and a half? Is all that economic pain worth trying to stop covid-19? The truth is we have no choice. Conferences, concerts, sporting events, religious services, dinner in a restaurant – none of that will resume resume until we find a vaccine, a treatment or a cure. We have to be realistic,” Emanuel urges us, “and accept that we will be giving up cherished things for a long time.” And here’s where he says the things we have to give up.” Things like schooling and income and contact with our friends and extended family.”
Things like schooling and income and contact with our friends and extended family. This is insanity.
What it boils down to is this. Either we’re going to live or we’re not. And life is riskier in the age of covid-19. Thankfully we know precisely the kinds of people who require special consideration and attention. And we would have much better numbers today if we hadn’t been acting on the basis of wildly inflated estimates. That supposedly the reason they threw all these old people who were infected back in the nursing homes. It was to be ready for this surge of eight gazillion people. There weren’t eight gazillion people. It was a challenge, but there weren’t eight gazillion people the way they said. And meanwhile all these old folks died. Start by not doing that.
We had no right to expect a virus to be this accommodating to us in the sense that we could identify demographics in danger. This should help us as we try to cope with it. Or you would think. Instead it seems like doomers want to discontinue those life-giving pleasures that give meaning and fulfillment to otherwise drab existences.
Now, was your risk level precisely where you needed it to be, down to three significant digits before this virus came along? Because that would be an amazing coincidence, if you were at just the risk profile you could tolerate, and that a very slight increase in risk meant you had to shut your life down. But you could transmit the virus to someone else, they say. And that’s true. This is why people most likely to suffer serious consequences from it should probably isolate themselves. But I’m not going to render a judgment on a grandmother who decides she’d rather take her chances embracing her family members than spending her time isolated in the nursing home wasting away physically, mentally or emotionally. Or for Heaven’s sake spending her final months talking to her grandchildren over zoom.
If we don’t agree to focus our efforts on safeguarding the elderly in particular, then life becomes a miserable series of deprivations. When will someone say, “We refuse to live like this”? We already have some elderly and immunocompromised people, including friends of mine, saying, “Look, we don’t even want you to live like this. We’re not even asking for this. Go enjoy the one life you get and we will do the best we can until conditions change. We don’t want our grandchildren lives ruined. And we don’t want to spend our final days staring at a computer screen. At least that way we could focus our resources on people that really need it instead of fruitlessly shipping millions of tests all over the place.
Living cannot be mere biological survival because that would mean that eating cans of navy beans inside of a windowless room for 75 years would be just as good as good as life full of human affection, meaningful relationships and exhilarating experiences.
In the UK Lord Sumption summed it up: “What sort of life do we think we are protecting? There is more to life than the avoidance of death. Life is a drink with friends. Life is a crowded football match or a live concert. Life is a family celebration with children and grandchildren. Life is companionship, an arm around one’s back, laughter and tears shared at less than two meters. These things are not just optional extras. They are life itself. They are fundamental to our humanity, to our existence as social beings. Of course death is permanent, whereas joy may be temporarily suspended. But the force of that point depends on how temporary it really is.”