Is Preventing COVID-19 Deaths Worth a Severe Recession? The Answer Depends on Controversial Assumptions About the Epidemic's Lethality.

A cost-benefit analysis of COVID-19 lockdowns highlights crucial gaps in the data.


In a paper published on Monday, three economists address the tradeoff between COVID-19 containment and economic activity in the United States. They estimate that "the optimal containment policy increases the severity of the recession but saves roughly half a million lives in the U.S." According to their model, aggressive control measures more than double the decline in aggregate consumption. The lead author, Northwestern University economist Martin Eichenbaum, says the difference would amount to an additional reduction of $1 trillion over the course of a year. That comes out to roughly $2 million for each life saved, which looks like a bargain compared to the $9.3 million per-life value used in the model.

Eichenbaum and his co-authors—Sergio Rebelo, also at Northwestern, and Mathias Trabandt of Free University in Berlin—are grappling with an issue that politicians have mostly ignored in responding to COVID-19: At what point do the costs of their interventions outweigh the expected benefits? But the answer to that question hinges on assumptions that are controversial, impossible to verify based on existing data, or both.

The value that Eichenbaum et al. assign to each life saved is similar to the number calculated by Vanderbilt University economist W. Kip Viscusi based on labor market data. But it is arguably too high, since it does not take into account the age distribution of COVID-19 deaths, which are concentrated among the elderly. "We found that our conclusions are robust to reasonable perturbations of this value," the economists say.

More consequentially, Eichenbaum et al. assume a 1 percent case fatality rate (CFR) for COVID-19, which is the high end of the range that federal public health officials consider reasonable. Currently the crude CFR in the United States is about 1.3 percent. But that rate is bound to be an overestimate, because the denominator includes only confirmed cases.

The current testing capacity in the U.S. is very limited, and COVID-19 symptoms are typically mild to nonexistent, meaning many people who are infected will not seek medical attention or testing. The actual number of infections therefore is probably several times as large as the official number. The size of that gap is crucial in estimating the true CFR.

If the number of U.S. infections is six times as large as the official tally—as it was in the early stages of China's epidemic, according to one estimate—the true CFR at this point would be about 0.2 percent, one-fifth the rate used in this study. Eichenbaum acknowledges that "the savings depend on the mortality rate," although he cautions that you can't simply multiply the cost per life saved, since people would behave differently in response to a substantially lower CFR. The true CFR for the United States cannot be calculated without testing everyone, or at least a nationally representative sample.

Another important variable is the percentage of the population that would ultimately be infected without drastic action. Eichenbaum and his co-authors chose their parameters based on a figure of 65 percent, drawn from the scenario described in a March 11 speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The consensus among experts," Merkel said, "is that 60 to 70 percent of the population will be infected as long as this remains the situation." The worst-case scenario sketched by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) likewise imagines that 65 percent of Americans are infected, projecting 214 million infections and 1.7 million deaths.

Because Eichenbaum et al. assume a CFR of 1 percent, as opposed to the 0.8 percent assumed by the CDC, they project even more deaths: 2.2 million. Even under their "optimal containment policy," the number of deaths is the same as in the CDC's worst-case scenario.

Merkel's estimate that 60 percent to 70 percent of Germans would ultimately be infected is consistent with a two-year projection by the Robert Koch Institute, "based on model calculations." Those calculations may be misleading if they do not adequately account for adaptive behavior (avoiding crowds, limiting social interaction, extra attention to hygiene, etc.) that would occur even without broad coercive measures such as lockdowns.

In any case, the fear of widespread infection seems to be at odds with the hope of herd immunity. "Absent treatments or vaccines, the only way to acquire immunity is to become infected and recover," Eichenbaum and his co-authors note. "Sadly, this process involves the death of many people who never recover from an infection. The need to develop 'herd immunity' is a property of epidemics [that] serves as an important backdrop for our discussion of optimal policy." They say "the optimal way to reach this critical level of immunity is gradually increas[ing] containment measures as infections rise and slowly relaxing them as new infections wane."

In addition to assuming a relatively high mortality rate coupled with widespread infection, Eichenbaum et al.'s calculation does not include the entire economic cost of aggressive intervention. "Our model abstracts from various forces that might affect the long-run performance of the economy," they write. "These forces include bankruptcy costs, hysteresis effects from unemployment, and the destruction of supply-side chains. It is important to embody these forces in macroeconomic models of epidemics and study their positive and normative implications."

Last week The New York Times described the cost-effectiveness of COVID-19 control measures as "a taboo question." Yesterday the Times gingerly raised the issue again. "Can We Put a Price Tag on a Life?" the headline asked. "The Shutdown Forces a New Look." It sure does.

"Economists should be doing this cost-benefit analysis," Stanford economic historian Walter Scheidel told the Times. "Why is nobody putting some numbers on the economic costs of a monthlong or a yearlong shutdown against the lives saved? The whole discipline is well equipped for it. But there is some reluctance for people to stick their neck out."

Eichenbaum, Rebelo, and Trabandt deserve credit for sticking their necks out. But their effort underlines the shaky empirical basis for supporting (or opposing) shutdowns. When "the best estimates" for COVID-19's CFR range from 0.1 percent to 1 percent, as Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told reporters earlier this month—or possibly from 0.05 percent to 1 percent, as Stanford epidemiologist John Ioannidis suggests—it is hard to say with any confidence whether these measures can be rationally justified, or for how long.

NEXT: Trump Was Probably Wrong About Coronavirus and Suicides, But the Associated Press Botched Its Fact-Check

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  1. You don’t need a dollars cost/benefit analysis. Bad economies have more deaths. Throwing half the country out of work means half the economy is AWOL: not producing half the normal output, not distributing the remnant that is produced, and if anyone thinks that doesn’t affect health and deaths, they are socialists and eco-freaks who think there are too many people to start with.

    1. The last two recessions dropped the employment-to-population ratio down 2 percentage points and 4 percentage points, respectively. A 2 percent drop can be weathered; a 4 percent drop will hurt pretty bad, but can be recovered from as the Boomers croak in increasing numbers.

      Anything beyond 5 percent, this country is fucked, and no one is going to give a shit anymore how many people are taking up ventilator space in the hospitals from coofer virus.

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      2. This reads like the Wansee Conference, in its cost-benefit analysis using conservative logic and empathy.

        1. Numbahs are racist, yo.

    2. I’ve also heard the opposite – that during the great depression and other hard financial times, longevity increased. (Perhaps less overworking, overeating, and more social bonds with family helped). This is just conjecture, and may be a short term phenomenon only.

    3. Too many people seem to think “the economy” is this static thing you can set down, walk away, then come back later and start up again. The disruption thus far is enormous, and it will only get worse. Some businesses have closed doors. Some of them have more money, but none of them can remain closed indefinitely. Given enough time they will all close. No stores, no supplies delivered to metro areas leads to chaos and rioting and mass death.

      1. Actually, up to a point, you CAN do that. At some point, however, recovery time goes up with the square of time.

    4. I find it remarkable that this article was published March 25. By that date the evidence across countries was quite clear. If any region does not shut down social interactions vigorously, the critical care resources of that region will be overwhelmed and several percent of the population will needlessly die. The models support this, but there is hard evidence too. This author should do more thinking, more probing of evidence, and more math (if he can), before offering his opinions.
      R Paul Drake, Reason Torchbearer

    5. Since none of that has anything to do with the actual reduction of the number of humans, your snark misses the mark.

  2. Individual freedom is priceless. Factor that in.

    1. “If it saves just one right, ….”

  3. “people would behave differently in response to a substantially lower CFR”

    That in itself is quite an assumption. As you point out, we have no idea what the real CFR is, and yet … the majority of the population is in full panic mode, willing to risk their livelihood, freedom and mental health.

    I suspect the reality here is that because this is a novel contagion, with a long incubation period, the panic-inducing thing is that everyone is dying all at once. If 8 times more people died of seasonal flu each day of the winter, there would be very little panic, the R0 would be 0.8, and I’m not sure if much would change. But if everyone who was going to die that winter, all died over just a few days, the panic would be similar to what we are seeing now.

    1. People wouldn’t panic about a flu for a simple reason – we have antiviral drugs for flu and we know how to make vaccines for flu. This means the health care workers can be reasonably protected from pandemic flu. With the Wuhan Cold, all the workers in overworked hospitals get infected and everyone in the hospital gets it. That is what is happening in Italy.

  4. I’m not worried, Trump has already announced that he intends to resurrect the economy on Easter Sunday. And believe me, it’s going to be a fantastic resurrection, a resurrection like nobody’s ever seen before, an unbelievably strong and powerful resurrection. Trump’s always had a bug up his ass over the fact that some people refuse to believe that he is, without a doubt, the greatest human being that ever lived because there’s that one guy, a weakling and a coward, I might add, who let himself get nailed to a cross, how lame is that? You’d never see Trump getting crucified, believe me, because he’s a fighter, he punches back, and he’s fighting for you, never forget that. Fighting for you, fighting for America! And Jesus never built a big, beautiful, powerful wall like Trump has, Jesus was a carpenter so like what could he build? A spice rack? Pfft. Who needs a spice rack? Trump built amazingly fantastic stuff, world class stuff, stuff like you wouldn’t believe. But after this year, nobody’s going to be talking about this old dead Jew guy, Trump’s going to be the real hero of Easter, in fact they’re probably going to change the name of the holiday to Trumpster Sunday. You’ll see, believe me, it’s going to be yuge.

    1. Talk about people with a bug up their ass.

    2. One of your better efforts Mr. Skids.

    3. “A spice rack? Pffft.”

      C’mon, that’s funny. Good stuff.

    4. Wonderful.
      Who thought one could praise Trump without spittle flying?

    5. Ain’t gonna happen. April 15th may be close to the peak, but >20,000 dead by then is already baked into the cake from the number of infections there must have been by March 14 when serious social distancing started. Remember, the mean time from infection to death is 24 days. Maybe 2 or 3 weeks later people will calm down a bit, but there are likely to be true horror scenes in NYC from overloaded hospitals and a shortage of doctors and nurses, as they all get infected.

  5. Well one thing is for sure, the MSM media are treacherous anti-American Lefties.

    They wont be able to wiggle their way out of this.

    1. Unfortunately we have to get to a point where we all go Mad Max in 2 months before the media are out of a job. At least in the movies they stay on the air till the bitter end.

  6. Part of the problem is an unwillingness to deal with the consequences. Its one thing to say yes an abstract number of people will die, it another when faces are put to those deaths. These type of infection will challenge the health care and decisions will have to be made. Say we let the infection run its course and say we have limit ventilators. So we say anyone with the virus over 80 years of age will not be treated. Who signs off on that order. We have people in an uproar when we say that we are not going to treat a brain dead baby and now we want to say just let a bunch of people die, it will be better for the economy?

    1. It’s as if none of you ever consider that we’ll be better able to care for those who get severe cases with a functioning economy and national infrastructure.

      1. To progressives, fantasy is realer than reality

        1. “Put everyone on a ventilator or the economy gets it!”

          1. And yet not a single progtard lefty objected when Bloomberg said exactly, and i mean fucking exactly the same thing, stating that an 80 year old with prostate cancer should go home and die. They own the Death Panel. What do they want to do now, take it back for a refund?

      2. What I said is that we have to confront the consequences. We can not pretend that those dying are just numbers. We need to ask who will be asked to make the sacrifices? Is it fair to ask health care professionals to risk their health and take care of you if you will not follow their advice and stay sequestered.
        There are consequences to economy, but the economy is already damage and will not quickly recover. So let me suggest these three question:
        1. What is the level of economic activity we want to have happen?
        2. What are the health consequences of going to that level?
        3. Who will have to make sacrifices?

        If we can get agreement to the answers to those three question we can move to put that plan in action. That means talking about the problems, compromising and accepting the consequences.

        1. Those questions are all answered by the 1 out of every 4 deaths due to heart disease every year.

        2. I’m of course a fan of getting better data to make such decisions easier.

          But consider for a moment that the disease has a long incubation period on the order of weeks. That the deaths we do see are literally a month after initial infection. If the disease is as infectious as we think it is, well, most of the country probably *already has it*, and the ‘lockdowns’ aren’t doing anything.

          Everyone is reacting to the current numbers, which is stupid, because those current numbers are a snapshot of infections from a month ago. States only started to take ‘official measures’ *last week*. Nothing we’ve done will have any effect whatsoever until mid-april, assuming it has done anything at all.

          Can we even flatten the curve? Most of those ‘flatten the curve’ graphics have an x-axis measured in *days*, not weeks. Infections likely peaked already! Sure, we haven’t seen the hospitalizations and deaths yet – it’s still incubating! The very idea that shutting down the economy is even doing anything is frankly ludicrous, and the epidemiologists are committing malpractice by not talking about how long incubation times should affect reasonable policy assessments.

          So the first question isn’t any of those three, but ‘can any action we take do anything to control the virus at this point?’

          Also ignored is that some number of people are going to die *anyway*. No matter what. Not just the known deaths and likely deaths from known hospitalizations, but the people who have the disease and are undiagnosed because it’s still incubating, some number of whom will need hospital care, and some fraction of whom will die. Those people can’t be saved by any action.

          So, a highly infectious disease with a long incubation period was free until ~3/16 to spread unhindered. The first known community spread case in the US was reported in late february, which means we already had community spread at the end of january or early february.

          Most importantly, the health consequences we’ve seen so far were going to be the health consequences regardless of what the government did in March.

          You’re looking at a photograph of the barn from a month ago. The horse might have been in the barn then, but he isn’t there any longer.

          But once we get past all that
          1/ Get the government off the economy’s back. Let people assess risk for themselves and decide how to manage their risk.
          2/ Get some perspective. More people died *per week* of flu in 2017-2018 (even if you averaged it over the whole year) than have died so far of coronavirus in the US. No one panicked then. Nothing the government has done has prevented a single death yet, and may not ever prevent one.

          Two relevant conclusions –
          a. realistically assess what the health consequences of government policy would be. Technocrats always over-estimate how effective government action has been.
          b. there are always health consequences in the status quo, you can’t just assume all these consequences are ‘extra’. Also, there are health consequences to shutting down the economy. People are having life-saving cancer treatment delayed, like masectomies, because they’re technically ‘elective’ surgeries. People will die from suicide because of unemployment. Even if you only want to measure in bodies, the ‘lock everything down’ side will also have a body count.

          So, best assessment – we’ve killed the economy for a very limited reduction in deaths (that we’ll never measure accurately), and killing the economy will likely result in a comparable number of deaths that wouldn’t have occured without government intervention.

          3/ You’re talking about this in a vacuum, as if no one has to make sacrifices because of government action. Why should *everyone* make sacrifices rather than relatively few people?

          Since locking down the economy is the exceptional action, i think people in favor of that are the ones that need to justify why everyone has to bear the costs for a virus that will ultimately effect relatively few people.

          1. The best reasonable estimates I’ve seen are that 2 million were infected by March 14-15, when serious social distancing started. The mean time from infection to death is 24 days. So, there should be >20,000 dead by April 15. In fact this simple model underestimates the number of deaths to date, which should have been 800 today and is actually 1100.

            1. That sounds like an underestimate on infections, but even if it’s right, it’s an overestimate on deaths. 1% is the absolute highest the true CFR could be, and that’s based on the older population from the contained cruise case where everyone was tested. 0.2-0.5% is a much higher probability value for true CFR. So if there are only 2 million infections, that’s more like 4-10k deaths, not >20k. (Fauci et al gave 0.2 – 1% as the range in a scholarly publication, which would make 20k the worst case scenario)

          2. That is an excellent analysis!
            The best one I have heard so far.
            I really think the government can do nothing to prevent even a single death from corona virus,
            Flu killed 30,00 people last year, no one sais anything.
            Pretend corona winds up killing 20,000.
            Why is that a reason to shut down the country?

            1. If it’s true that, as the CDC reports:
              – There are 60,000 confirmed cases in the US today.
              – The doubling rate is three days.
              – In six weeks (May 8th) there will be 250,000,000 (250 million) confirmed cases in the US, representing 64% of the US population. That’s the “magic” herd immunity number that’s been tossed about.
              – There will be 2,500,000 (2.5 million) dead (assuming the current 1% mortality rate holds)

              This assumes cases continue to double every three days, which may be pessimistic for states that have put shelter in place orders in effect. Infection rates we’re seeing now are based on pre-March 15th social behaviors. If the shelter in place orders are effective, infection rates should begin to slow by March 31st.

              Although the infection (morbidity rate) may slow, it won’t be stopped until we reach at least 60% according to epidemiologists. So regardless, we should eventually observe at least 2.5 million deaths in the US and 70 million deaths worldwide (assuming a population of 7 billion).

              So, if we compare a projected mortality of 2.5 million due to COVID-19 in the US alone to last years “common” flu mortality of 30 thousand, it puts the disease in perspective; it should be about 10 times worse than the ordinary flue and will probably be noticeable?

              1. The shelter in place orders are pointless.

                People are still going out and running errands to the grocery stores, Targets/Walmarts/Costcos, and hardware stores.

  7. Should let everyone get infected. Get the herd immunity. There is no vaccine. So if you die, then you die. If you were that worried you could stay home. Destroying an economy for a few lives is patently absurd.

    I expect a blood bath in the 2020 election. There will be a throw the bums out movement.

    1. There will be a throw the bums out movement.

      If the economy does not, um, recover.

    2. every election is a throw-the-bums-out election. The only question is, who’s going to be the bums on election day.

      1. Correction: every election is a throw the bums out and put these other bums in.

        Just once, it would be nice to have a choice that doesn’t involve deciding which bunch of bums is likely to pilfer and sponge off you just a teeny tiny bit less—if you’re lucky.

        1. I still say we slash wages for politicians. Working in Congress should, from a financial standpoint, be slightly less appealing than stocking shelves overnight at Target. The president should be pulling middle-management salary. These assholes all write a book when they retire anyway. Let them make their fortunes there.

          1. Set their wages at the private sector median

          2. It’s not like they are getting rich on their salaries anyway. Cut salaries to $0 and these people will still get filthy rich in office.

      2. Any governor that signed an order putting millions of people out of work is going to lose, badly. That’s something people don’t forget.

        Of course they will claim the shutdowns saved lives, when the death count is inevitably far lower than their fever dream projections.

        1. Some governors (like Northam – VA) can’t run for reelection anyway.

  8. I did not see a single effort to account for the increased mortality from the poverty which we are staring in the face.
    There WILL BE increased mortality as a result of the ruined economy, and ignoring that effect makes the exercise worthless.

  9. three economists … estimate that “the optimal containment policy … saves roughly half a million lives in the U.S.”

    Hmm. What do they have to say about time travel?

  10. The article is arguing over a false dichotomy.

    The question is is vigorous mitigation and a recession now better than a rampant pandemic and a depression soon.

    This virus like any enemy gets a vote about the war. Our refusing to fight doesn’t mean that the enemy will just go away

    1. Uh, deliberately keeping people out of work longer than a couple of months is going to cause a Depression, you moron.

      This virus like any enemy gets a vote about the war. Our refusing to fight doesn’t mean that the enemy will just go away

      It won’t go away, ever. It’s going to get added to the annual rotation of viruses. People are going to continue to die from it. Telling the living they need to fuck off and deal with it is going to get people like you in a really bad position.

      1. Trying to preserve an already gone status quo of a pre-pandemic economic order can only worsen both the pandemic in the near term and the economy in the long term.

        Every change inducing shock to an economy has winners and losers. Buggywhip makers must’ve hated old man Ford.

        Everyone screaming for stimulus and a quick end to contagion precautions wants to be subsidized with the blood and treasure of others to continue to make buggywhips, even though we’ve got self-parking cars.

        1. Trying to preserve an already gone status quo of a pre-pandemic economic order can only worsen both the pandemic in the near term and the economy in the long term.

          The actual damage can be mitigated by letting people get back to work now. The “pandemic” is overblown and the longer the economy is allowed to remain in its current state, the worst the fall is going to be.

          Everyone screaming for stimulus and a quick end to contagion precautions wants to be subsidized with the blood and treasure of others to continue to make buggywhips, even though we’ve got self-parking cars.

          This is the dumbest analogy ever. There’s no comparison between “buggywhip makers” and the service economy that’s getting cornholed right now. Those working-class people will put up with it for a while, but eventually bougie scare-mongers are going to get told to fuck off or get a bullet in their skull.

          1. “Those working-class people will put up with it for a while, but eventually bougie scare-mongers are going to get told to fuck off or get a bullet in their skull.”

            I get both the love of buggywhips and redistribution of blood and treasure, now. You’re a reincarnated Bolshevik agitator from the nineteen-teens: “Kill the Kulaks … to each according to his needs”

            1. Since it’s not nearly as lethal as you’re afraid of, your post is quite pointless.

              Have fun dodging the coofs in between hiding from the proles, bougie scum!

    2. But how we fight maters. ever hear of the concept of a pyrrhic victory?

      1. I burned down the house, but fuck it if that bedbug isnt dead.

    3. Did you really complain about a false dichotomy and then present your own in refutation?

      1. No, because the virus is here; and we’ve no evidence of substantial innate immunity or of lasting immunity from either recovery or an imminent vaccine. Indeed, we’ve anecdotal evidence of quick reinfections.

        Letting it run its course doesn’t appear to equal it diminishing, only active mitigation offers any hope. Whether people are not working to avoid illness or people are not working from being ill or dead, they are still not working. The subsequent wave(s) of C-19 have the earmark of like the 1918 Flu’s second being worse.

        1. Nope, herd immunity is the better choice. Now face your mortality like a man and stop hiding in your house like a bitch.

        2. Cornoaviruses have always been around. Virus also have always mutated. You are buying into the idea of mankind’s fragility when it isnt. You’re living out of ignorant fear.

          It doesnt matter the virus is here because there is enough diversity in the 6 plus billion people that they will easily survive. We are talking about a CFR rate of 1%, an 86% asymptomatic infection rate, and an R0 around 2 (measles is 11). Humanity will easily survive. No reason for an economic depression as a response.

          1. Micro: None of those numbers that you site for this virus are yet, actually known.

            Macro: All of you demanding stimulus and a premature end to precautions to protect your economic status are demanding the blood and treasure of others to which you have no right.

            1. Micro: they are estimated based off a shit ton of data. They are also likely pessimistic as most asymptomatic people havent been tested. So the numbers are likely better.

              Macro: you’re an idiot. The only people demanding anything right now is the government demanding the people to social isolation. Most of us are demanding to weigh our own risks. The virus doesnt magically travel through walls. Let high risk groups self determine if they want to isolate themselves.

              Short version… you’re a fearful little child with ignorant thinking of humanity’s fragility.

              1. Yes. This. ^

              2. JesseAZ…a couple of points, since you’re a stats guy.

                We have roughly 500K observations. Good enough for a overall population projection, but not good enough for point estimates by zip code (40K+ US zip codes). Let’s call a spade a spade: We are getting close to a solid data set where we can make point estimates, but we are not there yet. We will be in a few more days when all data is brought on-line. We should have ~2MM observations by 4/1 (not an April Fools joke).

                Your CFR and asymptomatic rates are projections. They may well be true, but still – neither of us really knows.

                Last point, if you use mortality as your yardstick, fine. I would ask that you consider the impact/cost to economy of the people who are afflicted by the Wuhan coronavirus, are hospitalized for a period (consuming time and materials of HCPs all the while), and then go on to recover. The profile of the Wuhan coronavirus is not like influenza in this regard. It is considerably worse.

                We don’t know the long term impact – yet.

                I don’t think we are taking a wrecking ball to the economy at this stage. If we are still doing this partial shutdown by Memorial Day, then we are going to have a monster-sized problem on our hands. But honestly, I don’t see that in the cards.

                1. The samples so far are from a biased group since they are largely only testing people with symptoms. A true random sample wont exist until an antibodies test is made. But we have enough of the biased sample to know that even the most pessimistic projections are not that bad. SK was a 4% positive test rate while US is about 12%. SK tested more asymptomatic cases meaning it is probably closer to their rate. Wr also have a controlled lab system from the cruise ship that was isolated for multiple weeks. The positive test rate in a controlled environment using standard wash your hands policies had a low spread rate.

                  The hot spot cases that have occurred in the US form from 2 locales, nursing homes and “parties”. Nursing homes have nurses going between individuals and often performing very basic sanitization between patients. These are low paid nurses that dont have the hospital sanitization procedures. The parties, such as the family in NJ, were most likely large gatherings with buffet style snacks. Not shocked they would have bigger spreads there.

            2. Wait, what? I don’t know about the poster that you’re replying to, but many of us are not “demanding stimulus”, or anything else. Wanting to see a more measured response so that jobs are not needlessly eliminated is a far cry from “demanding” “the treasure of others…..”

              You begin from a false premise.

              1. Demands for stimulus and the recklessly quick abandonment of contagion precautions are made to protect the economic and political status of those demanding them at the expense of others. It does not matter if one is demanding either or both, he is demanding the blood and treasure of other to protect himself.

                The economic fragility of one to this pandemic gives them no greater right to anyone’s economic resilience to it or health, than does a Bernie Bro’s hours of pot smoking and video games gives him to the money in my wallet.

                Typhoid Mary was real and a cook that continued to work as a cook, infecting many diners.

                David Mangum was an HIV positive gay truck stop prostitute that continued his “profession,” infecting many truckers.

                They too believed that their economic status should be preserved with the blood and treasure of others.

                1. I tried but I couldn’t resist the line:

                  Everyone should stop demanding a right to stimulus and to ignore contagion precautions and take their own economic lumps like a man, not a Mangum.

                  1. Your the one acting like a weak ass bitch and demanding the blood and treasure of others, as you’d have the government enforcing upon everybody whatever you feel is convenient for yourself.
                    You have no value and you won’t be missed

                    1. Actually, the government shouldn’t; and shouldn’t need to order any one to take very serious contagion precautions. What various governments have ordered so far has, also, verged on too little and too late.

                      If there were more men and less Mangums, we’d make the government superfluous.

                    2. You’re cowering in fear and telling everyone to completely uproot their lives just so you have a lesser chance of catching a cold.
                      You’re not a man, you’re a little bitch

        3. it’s just one in a long line of viruses, probably one of the worst ones in a while. but none of the others had governors shutting down half their states’ economies, even with a greater body count than what this one has so far. it’s like the urge to “do something” and the “government can save us from anything” fantasy collided and created a doomsday monster, and anyone pointing out that the response is a bit overblown is seen as not valuing human life.

        4. “No”


        5. So we need perpetual individual isolation to prevent (some number of) deaths?320 million (non)worker bees, each in his own cell in the hive?

        6. Reinfection information is not reliable at this time. All reinfections were from tests that show the virus is still present. But none of those supposedly reinfected were dispaying symptons of the disease again. The time it takes the body to completely shed the virus varies widely person to person. It can still be present, but has lost all capacity.
          “The evidence is increasingly convincing that infection with SARS-CoV-2 leads to an antibody response that is protective. Most likely this protection is for life,” says Martin Hibberd at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Although we need more evidence to be sure of this, people who have recovered are unlikely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 again.”

          “The evidence is increasingly convincing that infection with SARS-CoV-2 leads to an antibody response that is protective. Most likely this protection is for life,” says Martin Hibberd at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. “Although we need more evidence to be sure of this, people who have recovered are unlikely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 again.”

          “The evidence is increasingly convincing that infection with SARS-CoV-2 leads to an anti-body response that is protective. Most likely this protection is for life,” says Martin Hibberd at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

    4. The British won just about every engagement in the Revolution. The US won every engagement in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Winning the battle doesn’t mean you win the war. Sometimes the cost of winning is to much and it costs you the war.

    5. BigGiveNotBigGov
      March.25.2020 at 7:35 pm
      “The article is arguing over a false dichotomy.
      The question is is vigorous mitigation and a recession now better than a rampant pandemic and a depression soon.
      This virus like any enemy gets a vote about the war. Our refusing to fight doesn’t mean that the enemy will just go away”

      Well is is is a bit of sophistry; try English,

  11. “Is Preventing COVID-19 Deaths Worth a Severe Recession? The Answer Depends on Controversial Assumptions About the Epidemic’s Lethality.

    Actually, the answer depends on the qualitative preferences of any particular individual, which is why these choices should be made by individuals on an individual basis rather than made by the governor of California or any other politician on my behalf.

  12. What planet are these guys on to assert that old, diabetic, heart diseased, or lung damaged people’s lives are worth 9.3 million? In a wrongful death case, 300k-500k unless there is some horrible pain and suffering element. You’re talking zero earning capacity, very limited life expectancy, and low quality of life.

    If we were losing 25-40 year olds, or children, this would be a hard decision. We’re probably coming up given the medicare end of life costs for these types of people are staggering. If “societal benefit” is the relevant value-determining concept, then we’re pure utilitarian. Cost per live saved is vastly, vastly higher than they are worth.

    I’m fairly certain the models we will all eventually discovery the models used are wrong by orders of magnitude and/or several standard deviations, which makes the systematic overvaluation of lives an even bigger problem. Policy has been dictated by epidemiologists who get a hard on for their own self-importance. There will be no apologies, only excuses, when they’re proven massively wrong about transmission rates and fatality rates.

    1. My grandparents are 89, pushing 90, and 84. Yeah, I’d be sad if they died from this. I’ve also known that their expiration date is incredibly close. They both have heart issues, one has the ‘beetus and will be completely blind in another year or two, and they can barely get around anymore. Their overall quality of life gets increasingly worse by the year.

      It’s not worth putting a bullet in the economy’s head to try and keep them and other severely indigent people from catching KungFlu. It just isn’t. We’re going to have more people die of heart disease in the US this year than coofercough, no matter what the panic-mongers are claiming. Why the fuck are we shutting down the economy for this, but not that?

      1. Sorry to hear about their poor health, but glad to hear they are still around…

        Instead of cost per life saved, an interesting way to look at this might be cost per years of life saved. As everyone is pointing out, we’re talking about saving – usually – people who have had long lives and have an approaching expiration date.

        The actuarial data is out there and we are gathering better and better data each day on the exact composition of the high-risk group for COVID-19.

      2. to democrat run cities, wealth redistribution and a test run of skull cracking leftist totalitarianism for good measure.

      3. I agree that I am perfectly fine with your grandparents dying, in order to save the economy.

        1. That’s fine, I’m okay with your entire complex going under if it means saving the economy.

        2. SimonP
          March.25.2020 at 10:36 pm
          “I agree that I am perfectly fine with your grandparents dying, in order to save the economy.”

          Terrific! If you and, oh, ten of your relatives commit suicide, you pathetic piece of shit, we’ll all be happye!

          1. Who the hell wants to live to be a hundred anyway?

            The guy that’s 99.

    2. The ghost of Herbert Spencer speaks.

  13. “The optimal containment policy increases the severity of the recession but saves roughly half a million lives in the U.S.”

    That claim is complete, total, absolute bullshit, but of course just like with any other wild hysterical alternative reality prediction, it’s impossible to prove they’re wrong.

    1. Why haven’t the people who makes these predictions attracted a billion dollars or so to start a hedge fund? Hedge funds get to keep 20% of the proceeds, and there is far more money out there than there are hedge funds managers who can consistently beat the indexes over long periods of time.

      Is it because the people making this predictions don’t care about money? That doesn’t make sense. Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it “money”.

      I suspect it’s because as much in the way of investment dollars there are out there chasing so few competent fund managers, nobody in their right mind would actually put their money behind these people’s predictions–because their predictive power is worth less than shit over the long run.

      1. excellent point

        1. These people making these predictions CAN’T be the same ones who are saying that all life will disappear in 12 years if we don’t embrace the green new deal. i mean, there’s no way, right?

    2. Even if it’s that many, how many of those 500,000 people will be dead in the next couple of years anyway, especially if we have a repeat of the Great Recession or, god forbid, Depression? The average age of the people dying in Italy is 78.5.

      1. We have to suicide the economy to save them this year so next year they can die of the regular flu, like REAL Americans!

  14. Did anyone include future economic activity in the model… of the deceased, I mean.

    This disease primarily targets octogenarians. So what would be the economic impact losing 16% of the nursing home population?

    Well, nursing home revenue would be down in the short term.

    Isn’t that the most expensive demographic for healthcare? Wouldn’t that mean much less spent on heathcare?

    They are not earning all that much – probably the least productive economic strata, despite being the wealthiest.

    I would not be surprised if a true economic analysis showed the virus to have a net cash positive outcome in a “do nothing” scenario.

    Maybe this isn’t exactly the best way to do the cost-benefit. of intervention.

    1. Its like the dirty secret of tobacco and health care costs. Everybody dies of something, the last year of life is more expensive on average than any other year of life, and whether or not one smoked like a chimney, there will be a last year of life. Smokers have lower lifetime heath expenses because they depart life sooner.
      But we cannot admit that allowing people the freedom to smoke is cost effective for the rest of us.

      1. While I fully support people making their own health choices, I’m not sure that It follows that smokers earlier expiration dates cost “the rest of us” less if their final years include expensive treatment for cancer and emphazema.

        Still, I don’t resent them their choices. I’m sure the government would find other ways to waste our money, and more, absent smoking related health expenses. Insurance costs are another matter, but I guess that’s all part of being in a “pool”.

        Whatever. I can’t bring myself to resent a smoker when I like rock climbing. It is what it is.

        1. “While I fully support people making their own health choices, I’m not sure that It follows that smokers earlier expiration dates cost “the rest of us” less if their final years include expensive treatment for cancer and emphazema.”
          Don’t have a cite, but I’m pretty sure they check out pretty quickly.

    2. This disease primarily targets octogenarians. So what would be the economic impact losing 16% of the nursing home population?
      The cruise ship industry could potentially be wiped out. Not that I have a problem with that. But some people like cruise ships, so there is an impulse there to rescue an entire industry, even one premised on luxury. Which would be par for the course for Washington.

      1. The cruise ship industry could potentially be wiped out. Not that I have a problem with that.

        Really? They directly employ many thousands of people, and indirectly help employ many thousands more. I would also add that going on a cruise is not merely the province of the rich. In wartime, they can be converted to troop carriers.

        1. If that was your best effort you failed.

          1. Sigh, I tried. 🙂

  15. Looks like the authors of that paper are making a mistake that is only just now being discussed. They treat the US like some monolith. There are serious demographic and epidemiological differences across the country. And the inter-dependency of our economy means that if some regions are at much lower risk and can continue in a mostly normal way of life, they can help pick up the slack – so to speak – for the areas that are hardest hit.

    Cue the Rev to say something about those hard hit areas being where our “betters” live, so we need to do whatever we can to save them…

    1. The rev has nothing to say about the many flaws of where our “betters” live.

      Like mayor Pete doing very well in 92% white, deplorable flyover Iowa, and not so good in more, um, diverse coastal places.

      Wonder why? Haha.

      1. I thought coastal elites loved man-on-man relations.

    2. My grocery stores in the area are almost fully stocked and hospitals only have a few cases of Coronvirus to deal with. Our grocery stores get daily trucks full of supplies.

      People in my area have mostly gone back to normal activities except where corporate restaurants shifted to takeout only. Local government is still open, dentist is still open, and we all laugh at the hysteria.

      The New York City area has more than 50% of the total KungFlu cases in the USA. Panic has almost completely taken over the area.

      End the hysteria, focus efforts on hard hit areas like NY City area and open the rest of the US to regular business.

      1. “”Panic has almost completely taken over the area.””

        Everybody was Kung Flu fighting.
        That contagion is fast as lighting.

  16. It’s all about risk and reward, show me the money. If the greedy SOB’s who really own this rodeo wanna keep the pony show going in the rain, they should let loose some of the jack they’ve been hoarding, and you’ll see the cowboys lined up at the gate at 6 AM.

  17. Everyone still wants to talk solely about the fatalities. Apparently even the economists – bet none of them have predicted a single asset bubble in the last 30 years. But hey – now they can manipulate a different set of data with the same lack of skill.

    Video of lung damage. A 360 degree ‘tour’ of lungs showing damaged (yellow) and undamaged tissue in lungs. This is a patient in late-50’s from last week. Has gone into ICU for ventilation and ECMO (basically blood transfusion to oxygenate blood). So obviously a more serious case. Don’t have a more recent status report on patient

    China and some of the other early countries still have quite a few people who are not listed as ‘recovered’. In Hubei about as many as fatalities. That means they are still in hospital and maybe ICU idk. They are ALL younger patients. Older patients simply die first and fast. That should be obvious.

    What makes you think this sort of lung damage will be repaired quickly? Or at all? Are we talking the same amount of time to recover from smoking damage? All while in the hospital? Or even ICU?

    This article is crap from Sullum. Reached herd immunity in UK ALREADY Sullum? Really? You are utterly dishonest. Like permanently credibility destroying dishonest.

    1. Oh no! Lung damage!

      Now do heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and alcohol. All of these will cause more deaths this year than the coofers. The obesity epidemic is a primary factor in why our health care is so fucking expensive. Let’s kill the economy for those, too!

    2. Have you lived your whole life with this level of fear?

      1. I died 30 years ago. I have no fear of anything. If you sense fear or panic – that’s all you.

        1. “I died 30 years ago”?

          That sucks dude. Explains a lot of the bitterness tho.

        2. Congrats on programming a near-Turing-test level AI to carry on commenting for you then.

        3. JFree
          March.25.2020 at 10:31 pm
          “I died 30 years ago….”

          I hope it was a result of jamming your PANIC!!! flag up your ass, stick first, you pathetic piece of shit.

          1. Well, you’re certainly not afraid of being an asshole, jfree.

    3. You’re growing increasingly desperate

      1. It took a month but he finally got his 4 digit deaths. Still 22k less than flu…. but soon!

  18. So does Jacob have a theory as to why the stock market tanked during FATF Week in Paris? Or why coronavirus only became news when the Stop Loss algos all tripped in an avalanche Feb 20th?

  19. Typical Reason claptrap.

    *Cites study*
    *Critiques study as being methodologically unsound*
    *By way of demonstration, hand-waves towards various factors that are even less supported by evidence*
    *Congratulates itself for a job well done*

    The reason that the “cost of a life” question is taboo is that this stuff isn’t theoretical. If we make the decision to go down this rabbit-hole that Trump wants us to go down, what we’re going to see are overwhelmed hospitals, traumatized ER workers, wrenching triage decisions, morgues stuffed with corpses, and nearly everyone with a story of loss. It’s hard to say, “Yes, my 401(k) is worth all of that,” even if we might argue that, on a policy basis, it’s the choice to make.

    It seems to me that the the target we should be shooting for is not matching economic damage to a tally of the economic cost of lives lost, but rather keeping severe infections to within the range that our medical facilities can handle, as we ramp up capacity as quickly as possible to handle those sever cases. I think that the goal should be to avoid a situation where a person dies because doctors decide someone else should live. The necessary degree of shutdown flows from there.

    1. The economy is a lot more than a 401k, but keep thinking that your filthy, hyper-dense urban Megacity doesn’t deserve this.

      1. Keep thinking your community will somehow remain immune.

        1. People get the flu every year. Just because your filthy shithole city is more susceptible to BatAIDS doesn’t mean every place is going to get decimated by it.

    2. and that theory points to a 3 week shutdown to flatten the infection curve and let the hospitals get ready, not closing down the productive economy for months and months.

      1. If that’s what it shows, then I fully agree.

        I do not endorse anyone calling to shut down the economy for 12-18 months, in order to allow a vaccine to be tested and distributed.

    3. “If we make the decision to go down this rabbit-hole that Trump wants us to go down,..”
      If fucking left ignoramus has his way, Stalin is the new dictator.
      Stuff it up your ass, you pathetic piece of shit.

      1. Feeling feverish, Sevo?

    4. It’s been too late for that since mid-February. Long incubation period means we haven’t actually seen any effect from the government lockdown yet, nor will we for weeks. We’re looking at consequences initially generated by infections that started almost a month ago.

      ‘Flatten the curve’ graphics give the x-axis in *days*, not weeks. By the time of the first confirmed community spread diagnosis, it was probably already too late.

      1. I agree. I think what we’re doing now is applying the brakes to a car that has already been careening down a steep mountain path. It may be worth it, it may not be; I don’t myself know.

      2. That is correct. >20,000 deaths by April 15 is already baked into the cake, unless hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin provide a miracle.

    5. “I think that the goal should be to avoid a situation where a person dies because doctors decide someone else should live.”

      Of course but sometimes that situation cannot be avoided. This may be one of those times.

      “It seems to me that the the target we should be shooting for is not matching economic damage to a tally of the economic cost of lives lost, but rather keeping severe infections to within the range that our medical facilities can handle, as we ramp up capacity as quickly as possible to handle those sever cases.”

      Both targets are economic decisions that will affect lives.

  20. Every single war – or any particularly bad cop shooting, if you prefer – obviously costs infinity dollars because lives are priceless and if we only save the life of one person by putting millions under an economic bus, so be it.

  21. 9.3M per life seems high. The average salary in the USA is 48.7K. At a 5 percent discount rate, that’s only 973 thousand. Of course, people have more value as people than just being workers, so say for the sake of argument it’s closer to 2 or 3 million. That alone throws the economists’ work off by a factor of 3 at least.

    And in what universe do 65% of people catch anything? 30% would be incredibly high. That’s another factor of 2. And their assumption of a 1.2 percent fatality rate is probably 2x the real rate as well. So they’re not saving millions of lives, but they are putting tens of millions of people out of work and destroying thousands of businesses.

    On the plus side, the shutdowns probably save more lives by reducing automobile traffic than they do from flattening the coronavirus infection curve.

    1. And if a third of the economy is shut down, the cost is closer to 5 trillion dollars a year than one trillion. Add in 2 trillion for the bailout and it’s up to 7 trillion. The math is starting to look really shaky for justifying any shutdown longer than 3 weeks.

      Which is why California’s governor invented an imaginary millions of people dying in his state, based on the case count increasing when they finally starting testing people.

  22. A week ago, Imperial College of London was projecting a doomsday scenario of up to 500,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK. The figure was then revised downward by half, and then once more to 20,000.

    Today, one of the UK’s chief scientists stated that “the virus death toll could end up being ‘substantially lower’ than 20,000 with most of the fatalities in people who would have died later this year anyway, a government adviser has said,” and that the NHS will likely cope just fine.

    If the UK’s NHS can cope, then I’m pretty comfortable with our chances here in the US.

    I’m really starting to get the feeling that in a few months’ time, we’re going to realize this period of enforced hysteria was one of the biggest scams ever foisted on the American people.

    1. Or maybe a non-doomsday outcome will have resulted from strong measures taken that you object to. Who could say?

      1. The steps I’ve taken have saved billions of lives. Who could say?

      2. And it begins. Doomsdayers are right no matter the result!

      3. If you choose to believe that the revision of these figures from 500k down to a few thousand already ill people in the space of less than a week is because of lockdown “orders,” then I imagine there’s very little I can say that’s going to dissuade you from your chosen narrative. I simply can’t reason a man out of a position he didn’t reason himself into in the first place. But if I were in the shoes of someone who was hoping this thing would explode, I’d probably feel like the walls were closing in right about now. So in that regard, you have my sympathies.

      4. “”Or maybe a non-doomsday outcome will have resulted from strong measures taken that you object to. Who could say?””

        Or maybe it’s not doomsday at all and never was that scenario.

  23. Those strongly in favor of ramping economic activity back up tout-de-suite are mostly rich shut-ins who wouldn’t be doing the dying. Or would have access to the best medical care.

    When Glenn Beck says that he’d rather die from coronavirus than kill the country from economic shutdown, he is volunteering the risk of other people who must work around another people or be broke.

    Unless Glenn offers to take a job in a NY hospital starting on Easter Sunday.

    The people writing pieces for the reason blog, or doing reason podcasts, can “work” through this mess without coming within a football field of another human being. Even if it went months and ad revenue dried up, the Koch funding would keep on rolling in.

    1. Those strongly in favor of ramping economic activity back up tout-de-suite are mostly rich shut-ins who wouldn’t be doing the dying. Or would have access to the best medical care.

      Really? Because the ones I’m seeing screech “shut it down!” the most are white, upper middle class or wealthy folks who don’t have to worry about paying the bills. The working class is willing to go along for now, but they know that, even with $2 trillion in “stimulus,” a whole lot of them are going to be looking square in the face of unemployment. And the longer grocery stores remain low or even empty on stocks of stuff like toilet paper, the greater the risk of civil unrest.

      Want to see what happens when a city of 8 million can’t get enough TP to wipe their ass? Keep this up longer than 4-6 weeks and you’ll find out.

      1. Because the ones I’m seeing screech “shut it down!” the most are white, upper middle class or wealthy folks who don’t have to worry about paying the bills.

        I have to admit that this has been my experience. It has been bizarre, and a little eye-opening, to see how the heuristics and virtue-signaling of the New Yorker elite-liberal mindset has responded to the steady drumbeat of corona-news. Many, many more people than I expected have gone completely out of their minds with panic.

        Conservative New Yorkers, too. But there are fewer of them, apart from the NYPD, who are “social distancing” by sitting in their patrol cars, watching people congregate in public.

  24. The question itself presumes a statist world view.

    In fact, this risk is something everybody has to evaluate for themselves

    1. One problem here….the asymptomatic transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus upends your premise that people can accurately evaluate the risk for themselves. They can’t, and that is where your premise falls apart.

      My view is we’ll have a renewal of this 15-day slow the spread self isolation period, and we’ll be lifting restriction by the end of the Passover festival.

      In a decade, this will be a blip.

      1. “the asymptomatic transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus upends your premise that people can accurately evaluate the risk for themselves. They can’t, and that is where your premise falls apart.”

        Um no guy it actually doesn’t it just adds another factor

      2. All it does is force high risk patients to assess their own risk. If they are scared they can hide out for 3 weeks while the asymptomatic people clear their disease with immune response.

      3. Asymptotic transmission means the government response was already too late to do anything. Infections will probably peak before we see any effect of the lockdown.

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  28. Taking a utilitarian approach is fine economically, but folks who like that kind of thing too often suppose it is also a ticket to bypass morality. It is not. And in this case, the moral question is easy to put back into the analysis, to show why not.

    To get the analysis morally right, stop treating competing aggregates of cost as if they are reified entities, instead of costs experienced in bits, by persons, individually. That ought to be an easy adjustment for libertarians to accept, right?

    When you then compare the human cost on the pandemic side to the economic cost on the comparison side, you see one striking fact right away. Whatever the competing costs turn out to be, the aggregate cost on the economic side must be ~ 600 times higher than the pandemic costs measured in the cost of deaths, before the utilitarian model begins to make moral sense as a policy guide.

    That is because the major part of the pandemic cost is loss of life. It is a cost which would be borne in its entirety by a tiny fraction of the nation’s population, almost surely less than 1 percent. I will discuss it based on a hypothesis that half of 1 percent would die.

    Thus, to merge the moral calculus with the utilitarian calculus, and make the result a guide for policy, you have to compare the cost you are demanding that each of those doomed individuals accept (in dollars), to the economic savings (in dollars) distributed per-capita among all the other individuals, who are not doomed. The moral question, as a policy matter, demands comparison of the per-capita distribution of the death costs for those upon whom they are visited, with the per-capita distribution of the savings, enjoyed by each of the survivors.

    Is the cost of inflicting avoidable death on one old person reckoned at a mere $3 million? Very well. On what moral basis then, can an economic policy which saves only some tiny fraction of that cost for one survivor be morally justified? Why should the nation choose that small savings for a single survivor, in preference to choosing instead a policy which saves the life of a single old person, and thus saves the staggering cost that reckoning inflicts on him?

    Surely, morality demands—at least in cases involving policies which deal life to some, and death to others—that the nation choose to distribute utilitarian costs on the basis of some approximation of equality, meaning equality per person. We simply cannot stay moral if we suggest that it is worth it to choose the avoidable death of half a million people, to save the other 329.5 million some thousands of dollars each—or whatever similarly small figure any particular reckoning based on any particular premises would deliver.

    Libertarians, above all others, ought to understand that.

    1. Is the cost of inflicting avoidable death on one old person reckoned at a mere $3 million? Very well. On what moral basis then, can an economic policy which saves only some tiny fraction of that cost for one survivor be morally justified?

      Now do heart disease.

    2. Both policies deal death. The lockdown will deal death to people who need ‘elective’ procedures like masectomy to stave off death from cancer, and to people who will commit suicide out of despair or financial hardship but wouldn’t have otherwise. Those deaths will also tend to happen to relatively younger people than coronavirus victims.

      Meanwhile, the lockdown will probably do next to nothing to prevent any coronavirus deaths, because there’s ~a month lag time between infection and death or recovery. ‘Flatten the curve’ diagrams measure in *days*, so it’s already too late. The lockdown would have needed to start *before* you had a single case of ‘community spread’.

      So it’s not actually about weighing some deaths against some other deaths. It’s about actively killing people (and crushing the economy) by demanding government “do something” because they’re reacting to data that measures a snapshot basically a month gone, to no real effect.

      Further, it’s not even clear that a government lockdown is more effective than voluntary social distancing. Vulnerable populations should of course self-isolate and practice good hygene.

      When the benefits of action aren’t clear, and likely small, why should we demand their opponents justify not doing those things? Let’s see some proof lockdowns are actually effective and the virus isn’t basically everywhere already.

      1. There is nothing morally wrong with comparing the deaths reasonably attributable to one policy vs. the deaths equally reasonably attributable to another. That should be part of the calculation. But a death from coronavirus will likely be more reasonable to attribute than a suicide during an economic recession (or depression). Statistical methods, of course, might strengthen your argument.

        As for your critique of the epidemiologists’ recommendations, I suppose your conjectures might be better than mine. The professionals I trust more than either of us.

        1. I trust epidemiologists based on the quality of their reasoning. And plenty, including notable researchers at Stanford and Oxford, are saying we’re overreacting. Even Fauci, when writing in a scholarly publication, puts the true CFR between 0.2% and 1%.

          I haven’t seen any epidemiologist discuss the long incubation period in relation to public policy. That’s epidemiological malpractice when you’re talking about an incubation period measured in weeks.

          And it’s more a question of how you attribute ‘deaths avoided’. Technocrats are going to claim the lockdown prevented deaths last week, this week, and next week, whereas the reality is that *no one* was or will be saved over those three weeks by the lockdown, because all those infections predated the lockdown. There’s literally no way to measure if the lockdown will have any beneficial effect without widespread serological testing for antibodies, which we haven’t done, so the ‘experts’ have no relevant knowledge that I don’t here.

          Nor is it clear that just because someone tested positive for covid-19 and died that it was the virus that killed him. There was just a story a couple days ago with a headline something like ‘British 19yo tests positive for covid 19, dies’, but while the positive test is right in the opening paragraph, the last paragraph says that it wasn’t covid-19 that killed him… yet I’d be willing to bet he’s counted as a death for covid-19. Some people who test positive for covid-19 will die from something else instead. How many will require autopsies. That is also data that is sorely lacking right now.

          All the biases regarding timeframe, attribution, and lack of testing lead to systematic over-estimation of how dangerous the virus is and how effective the response is. Rational people should understand the ‘worst case’ scenarios as grossly unrealistic, and what appears to be the better epidemiologists are saying exactly that.

          1. Squirrelloid, what if it turns out that the coronavirus kills some folks fast—say, people over 75 with impaired immune systems—and other folks quite slowly—say, younger people who are otherwise healthy? Or maybe it kills men faster then women. Could stuff like that produce biases falsely leading in the other direction, toward a conclusion that the virus is less lethal than it actually is? Why just assume all the biases lead in the direction you wish they would?

            Here is a snapshot, taken right now, from the Johns Hopkins coronavirus site: 0.0458. That is what you get when you divide confirmed fatalities worldwide by confirmed cases worldwide. Let’s keep an eye on that data for a few days, and see what it tells us. If you are correct, that number should decrease, right?

      2. As a medical doctor, working in an operating room, I can assure you that we are still doing cancer surgery.
        We are still doing surgery for patients in severe pain, and all the usual surgical emergencies. We are also putting in infusion ports for chemotherapy as well.
        It is cataracts, elective orthopedic cases, obesity surgery and plastic surgery that has been stopped.

  29. So much of the economy is totally unnecessary (as we’re seeing now). Should we really count every dollar of GDP the same?

  30. It’s pretty clear that a death attributable to covid19 has significantly lower costs (in quality-adjusted life years) to the cost of an excess death attributable to shuttering 30% of the economy.

    Consider a suicide – which is likely to be a white male, close to median age and health. Each self-offing will represent about 35 quality-adjusted years of life.

    Now consider an already-ill 80-year-old: the unconditional life expectancy at age 80 is 6 years – and that is reduced for those with multiply chronic illnesses. Furthermore, and the quality of those years declines rapidly – and more-rapidly for the aleady-ill).

    So the quality-adjusted years of life lost for the median covid19 death (age 80; 2.3 chronic comorbidities) might be as little as 6 months.

    All of a sudden, a 1% increase in suicides (i.e., an extra 450 a year) has the same cost as 80 times that number of covd19 victims – i.e., 36,000.

    I have a little mantra about government over-reaction to real or imagined crises:

    the costs of flailing about trying to pretend to be competent, will exceed the costs of doing nothing by two orders of magnitude.

    And… here we are.

    The big economic losses will start to stack up if (when) the economy faces a ‘potline’ problem – where it takes vast amounts of energy, effort and time to unfreeze important parts of the economy.

    At an aluminium smelter, a power outage of less than half a day will cause a pot freeze (solidifying the usually-liquid contents of the pots in the potline). It takes almost a month to empty the frozen material out of the pots, and get the potline back into production.

    Senior bureaucrats think that everyone’s production process is as dependency-free as their own: they think that a national economy is like a Trump construction site – ten minutes after you bribe the right bureaucrat or union official, the shutdown is over and the cranes are working.

    My bet is that it is much more like a potline.

    One silver lining for firms: it makes strategic for firms to clean out dead wood from their labour forces (I bet they will get a .gov deal on entitlements and redundancy payments) – so when the ‘on switch’ is hit, there might be a tiny improvement in the quality of the workforce.

    1. I can give you an even more basic example.
      If the farms don’t get their planting done on time then come harvest time the crops won’t be there to harvest. It won’t be family farms and their neighbors that will suffer, they will do whatever it takes to take care of their own.
      It will be the Corporate Farms, who supply most of the foodstuffs going to the processors and packers who then forward the food to the Grocery Distributors that will come up short.
      Bottom Line, the Big Cities will be on Short Rations which quickly leads to compromised immune systems from the reduced nutritional support.
      Which means this virus and every other bacteria and virus out there will have an easier time going from controlled to epidemic in the cities, and mostly in the cities.
      Meanwhile the country folk continue to carry on with life as usual, and on a full stomach.

    2. Kratoklastes — Now consider a 60-year-old with lifelong autoimmune disease, with an onset at age 20, which has blighted 4 decades. But now a medical miracle has relieved his symptoms, and actually improved his life expectancy above normal expectations. The best years of his life may lie ahead, and last a long time.

  31. The best data we have right now is from the Diamond Princess. On a ship stranded for weeks, where the passengers were supposed to be isolated in their rooms, 17% got infected and about 1% died. Everyone was tested for virus after leaving the ship, so it is the closest thing we have to a semi-controlled experiment. However, we don’t know how many passengers had antibodies for the virus since that test is not available, and we don’t know what the infection rate would have been if the passengers hadn’t been confined to their rooms.

  32. If the farmers don’t get crops in the ground in a timely manner then the cities will be the ones to pay the price when only meager harvests occur in the late summer and fall.
    City People on short rations will quickly develop reduced immune system efficiency, making them more susceptible to whatever viral and bacterial infections are lurking, just waiting for an opportunity to infect and reproduce.
    We don’t know for certain the timeframe for infection transmission of Covid-19 and there is anecdotal evidence of people walking around with no symptoms themselves who are infected and spreading the virus. Even if it dies down over the summer, it will still be lurking, waiting to re-emerge in similar fashion to what happened with the 1918-19 Flu Pandemic.

  33. It’s NOT money versus human lives. It’s human lives versus other human lives.

    Becoming unemployed or underemployed, filing for bankruptcy losing progress towards an important life goal, and having financial difficulties all qualify as major stressful life events. Those stressful life events drastically increase people’s risk of dying from heart attack, stroke, and cancer. These diseases make up a majority of all deaths, so a slight percentage increase results in, literally, millions more people dying.

    This IS a taboo subject. My Medium post about the number of stress-related deaths possible if every locale has a lockdown was pulled down twice before I finally persuaded them to leave it up. You can read the unedited version complete with links to medical, economics, and news sources here:

  34. The problem as I see it are two things. The public perception of the sanctity of life’ (tsl) and the doctors commitment to the Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm.
    Most religions thinks of tsl as paramount to saving all life because ‘god’ created mankind. They don’t take into account that most deaths since we evolved are caused by religion.
    TSL should instead, in my opinion, be looked at as meaning living a healthy happy life and when that is no longer possible they should be allowed to die a painless death to eliminate the suffering. It also is an act of relieving their children and society of the financial burden of maintaining a life that is no longer healthy, happy, or beneficial to mankind.
    What has this got to do with COVID? A large proportion of the deaths are in the older, less healthy people and is, again in my opinion, nature’s way of culling the world of an overwhelming number of people who would have died sooner had the doctor’s been allowed to let them die or assist in their deaths painlessly.
    The two curves they always show as what would happen if no action were taken and what would happen if strict measures were taken, are misleading as they have no numbers but time. In all likelihood with the first higher curve it would have only a slightly higher number of deaths then the second curve and it would end in a much shorter time period. The number of deaths under the second curve will be slightly lower but at a much higher cost per life saved than I feel is necessary. Spending several million dollars to save one life is not something most taxpayers would agree to especially for someone they know nothing about. And, prolonging the bans enacted so far are going to cripple our economy, especially the small businesses and poorer folks. Sure, if it was a parent or uncle or cousin maybe they would see spending as much as necessary to prolong a life a few more years.
    There is more to this than can be expressed here, but what our government is doing now is beyond ridiculous.

  35. People can make all the high minded arguments they want about not putting a price on life, but trade offs have to be made even in a pandemic as in war.

    See also :

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