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  • in reply to: Debt Rattle April 19 2020 #57534

    At a personal level – apologies for offending you. That’s never the primary intention of my responding to anyone here.
    At a discussion/argument level, be aware that I vehemently oppose anyone and everyone inferring catastrophic outcomes off the back of official stories and stats. Your projected calcs fit into that.

    I’ve noticed that discussion on Covid seems to be polarised on one axis between “Believers” in the official stats and narratives which project horrific outcomes, and “Heretics” who have no truck with the stats and stories. There seems to be very little middle ground.
    On an unrelated but similar axis are “Humanists” at one end who believe the primacy of individual human lives merits extremely costly interventions. At the other end are “Rationalists” who believe that choices of action should be discussed of merits, and that everything is a trade-off of some form.
    I’ve come to believe these positions represent the core beliefs and individual ethics of each person, and that most of the Covid discussion is actually people arguing the ethics of their personal belief systems.
    Individual positions don’t change, and middle ground isn’t reached in any of these discussions. Because the arguments aren’t ultimately about Covid, they’re about how society should make decisions on matters of ethics, and individual have very different conceptions of fundamental ethics. Adults individuals very rarely change their core belief systems in response to argumentation of any kind.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 19 2020 #57516

    Meanwhile, today in NZ we trepiditiously anticipate the ascension of our Glorious Leader upon her elevated Pulpit of Pronouncement, to decree our ongoing State of Lockdown.

    The NZ government’s official website ( contains a few links to their health modelling but absolutely nothing around the economic modelling or concrete decision-making (as opposed to subjective “eliminate the virus”) hype.

    The contrarian group Plan-B’s website by contrast ( is succinct and factual, making their argument and nothing more. (and it was put together with a tiny fraction of the resources available to the State).

    Based solely on the quality of information and rational thinking, I’d far sooner have the latter group in charge of the decision making, regardless of the correctness of their argument.

    Isn’t it interesting how lazy governments are, purely based on their monopoly over the levers of control.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 19 2020 #57512

    Doc Robinson
    Genuine question – are there assumed to be no asymptomatic cases of seasonal flu? Or perhaps CDC does not calculate them as they asymptomatic cases have no material affect (ie no burden on healthcare systems etc)?
    If seasonal flu can be asymptomatic then comparing case fatality rates (Covid vs seasonal flu) is an apples-to-oranges data comparison.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 19 2020 #57510

    If lock-downs (such as they were) had not been done, and the Wuhan virus ranged free, there would have resulted a minimum of one hundred million virtually simultaneous human deaths around the middle of May. Way more probably half a billion. Silent Spring indeed. There’s nothing to compare that to in human history. I’m unable to construct any scenario in which technological civilization continued. Anywhere.

    I hope you’re being facetious here. If not, you’re calculating as if transmission were simultaneous and instanteous. In which case, may I respectfully suggest you revert to your day job. As woeful as many of the predictive models have been in terms of accuracy, they do structure in a time-delayed rate of transmission.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 17 2020 #57383

    For those here who might be interested, here is some research on the financial impact to the NZ economy of the current L4 lockdown. nb: he’s not discussing the merit thereof, it’s just raw data that geeks may wish to use:

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 16 2020 #57318

    That’s an interesting piece – thanks Glenda.
    The govt here is seriously considering the option of locking us down longer to “eliminate” the virus.
    So… that happens, when a single case spontaneously arises (and it will), do we then lock down the country again? Every time? If so, how will anyone plan for the future? If not, then why would we do it the first place..?

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 16 2020 #57317

    Boscohowitz – thanks for taking the time to respond, but I’m gonna take take a pass on replying to it. You’ve managed to twist my meaning quite substantially whilst sidestepping the critical arguments. So no offence, but I’ll just pass in this case.

    Also on further reflection I realised I’d missed a fundamental logical fallacy in Taleb’s argument:
    “Also please note that he very much emphasizes that hardly any of what he recommends now, masks, restricted mobility, would have been needed if the first steps had been taken. But now that we failed at that, there is no other option than door no. 2. I think many people tend to overlook that first step argument, because when it happened, they were blissfully ignorant thanks to Beijing, WHO and their own governments. They entered the stadium in the third inning, hot dog in hand, and think the pitcher is still warming up. They can’t for the life of them figure out why the anthem is not being played.”

    This argument is fallacious. In the first instance we definitely had an opportunity to get in early and avoid large numbers of infections, which was squandered by politicians. At some time it might be wonderful and cathartic for us to go back and hold the muppets who screwed that up accountable.
    But having squandered that first opportunity there is no reason we “have” to go with option B (or C or D). What we have to do is take a relatively calm stock of the options before us and the predictable consequences of those options, and choose one or more of them (bearing in mind that we cannot predict the unpredictable consequences, or extreme edge cases which are highly unlikely to materialise). That’s risk management in the real world, and outside of academia.
    A further basic principle is we should keep our eyes and ears and options open to be able to remain agile and to pivot on strategy as required. Thus we should actively dump strategies and actions which are excessive as fast as we adopt fit-for-purpose methods, because in doing so we will maximise our agency. This last point is why I am so utterly skeptical of central government’s ability to manage the crisis, and so reluctant to accept central government mandated anythings, let alone lock downs (and please realise I am speaking primarily of the NZ situation, in which we have specific set of circumstances, and not, say New York. New York certainly should be considering it as an option).
    Central governments have screwed this up royally on the planning and action fronts. In the NZ case there’s good evidence they’ve been basing their decisions on utterly flawed modelling. They’re releasing almost zero information to allow rational external critique of their decision making, which is the only thing that might possibly improve the quality of it moving forward. Even the incentives are utterly wrong – the decision-makers will have no consequences. These facts and pre-conditions mean decentralised decision-making is likely to be vastly superior than centralised. Yes, we need central government to control the borders. But decentralised emergency response more akin to a natural disaster is likely to be far more accurate, effective and responsive than centralised. it’s likely to have winners and losers too, depending on the quality of the local decision-makers. But better that I say than allowing a single set of centralised and disconnected fools make quick and ill-informed decisions with future costs in the 10s of billions of dollars.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 16 2020 #57312

    Sorry, I forgot to respond to your second point:
    “Also please note that he very much emphasizes that hardly any of what he recommends now, masks, restricted mobility, would have been needed if the first steps had been taken. But now that we failed at that, there is no other option than door no. 2. I think many people tend to overlook that first step argument, because when it happened, they were blissfully ignorant thanks to Beijing, WHO and their own governments. They entered the stadium in the third inning, hot dog in hand, and think the pitcher is still warming up. They can’t for the life of them figure out why the anthem is not being played.”

    Amen to that. The widespread government response (the US in in particular) has been ghastly. But you wouldn’t know that from the tub-thumping MSM, certainly not in NZ.
    My jaw fell open this morning – Jacinda Ardern has just been quoted as saying “it’s largely in NZ’ers hands how long they’ll have to live under such tight conditions”. I mean, fuck me – considering we’re being told almost nothing meaningful around her decision-making, and the power to unilaterally compel the population is solely in her hands, that is some industrial-grade patronisation going on right there..

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 16 2020 #57311

    A couple of additional claifications:
    – the negative externalities of compulsory mask wearing are trivial. I’m not personally convinced of the merit of masks (in part as I’m at lower personal risk of death from my demography), but the cost of compliance to me is trivial. So I’d take one for the team and comply (as I am with current restrictions). The external costs of long-term lock downs is vast and there’s no way in hell I’m willing to take that on the chin for the sake of either abstract Black Swan concept or practical advantage to society
    – the “100% right but functionally useless” concept comes from Anthony De Mello – a Jesuit priest and spiritual teacher who relates his personal story. One day in councelling one of his flock, he was confronted by the man. “Father what you’ve told me is 100% correct but completely useless to me”. He took that on the chin and went off and trained as psychotherapist, so that instead of just relaying abstract concepts he could make useful practical interventions in the lives of his parishioners.
    Now Taleb is a great intellect, and his insights have a utilitarian place in finance and economics, but invoking them in the current Covid context to justify lockdowns is an over-extension and misuse of the concepts.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 16 2020 #57309

    Ilargi – thanks for the response

    “That’s not how Taleb puts it. He says: “..over time, exposure to tail events leads to a certain eventual extinction. While there is a very high probability for humanity surviving a single such event, over time, there is eventually zero probability of surviving repeated exposures to such events.” There’s nothing there that is “especially true” about COVID19, this is a general comment: if you fail to follow the ground rules, and you persist in doing that in multiple cases, you go down a road you shouldn’t travel on.”

    Sure, I get it, and my comment still stands. Taleb’s observation is 100% correct, and also 100% functionally useless to us in making sense of this crisis. Human beings never have and never will respond to potential extinction-level events in a rational manner. We’re simply not wired for it. Neither I would observe is the entirety of the animal kingdom. We behave as if we will go on living. The litany of examples in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” illustrates that pretty well.
    So investing time and energy trying to mobilise people to respond in ways they will never respond is simply wasted energy. And that’s without discussing the negative externalities of the proposed action which are conspicuously avoided.

    in reply to: The Only Man Who Has A Clue #57308

    Hey boscohorowitz – thanks for the prod. Seriously.
    I often seem to need something external to react to before I can muster the energy to corral and articulate my thoughts. 🙂

    in reply to: The Only Man Who Has A Clue #57270

    “What the models tell us, in New Zealand and elsewhere, seem pretty irrelevant to Ilargi’s argument (backed up by Nassim Taleb):..”

    Thanks Doc – your comment made me go and reread the post over again, realising I’d skimmed it too quickly in the first place.
    Much of Taleb’s take rings true for me.. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to make from an engineers/risk management perspective a very similar argument (albeit without Taleb’s encyclopedic knowledge) that we need to use first principles and a broad overview as much as narrow analytical views. Several of Taleb’s/Ilargi’s point have more nuance than mine, ie that in certain circumstances, we don’t need/can’t afford analysis at all, as the potential consequence of the outlying uncertainty/risk is so high that it can’t be entertained.
    But here’s where I depart from his reasoning:
    1. Reasoning that the potential ultimate risk of Covid is human extinction and thus mandates the most extreme of precautions is, well, useless. I mean in scientific terms then yes it’s technically true, but the same is true of other edge cases (including GMOs and climate change). There is no particular reason (that I’m aware of) that this risk should be uniquely or especially true of Covid vs a mutation of a pre-existing virus, or from one that emerges tomorrow, or from other scientific edge cases (physicists have speculated on a black hole produced by the Large Hadron Collider..). If there’s reason that Covid is indeed such a case (as opposed to we just don’t understand it yet), then sure, lets have the discussion. The burden of proof lies in both directions, else for every unknown situation with an articulable extreme edge case, we need to take extreme precautions every single time. Scientifically, rationally yes of course. But we’re humans, which segues nicely:
    2. Politics (and these are all political, not medical or scientific decisions being made) has been widely stated as the art of the possible. Despite Taleb’s insights, this is simply not lived human practice/wisdom. He may be live and die being 100% correct in his rational risk assessment, but the likelihood of persuading a sufficient number of human beings to override their biological and social selves and behave according to intellectual wisdom is vanishingly small. Like most, I was an idealist when young.. in my mid 50’s now I assess the likelihood of success of a project before signing onto it. As an idealist, if a project failed I felt OK – at least I tried. As a realist, I understand that committing time to an enterprise without a reasonable chance of viability means that other, viable, things wont get done. So there’s that.
    3. Lastly, there’s the potential for misuse. The form and mechanism of the lockdowns concerns the hell out of me. In NZ the data and rationale for the actions preceding and during lockdown is simply not public. We are told a decision will be made on next steps on April 20th, but there’s been no public data or discussion of how that decision will be made. The reality is it’s decision by fiat.
    Now if the virus turns out not to be an extinction-level event (and the odds based on probability are extremely weighted that it won’t be), the political and economic costs will be realised regardless. So the tangible concrete cost of protecting ourselves from an extremely unlikely extinction is potentially huge, including the risk of subverting the entire basis of our democratic polities. It’s good to have this discussion, but, please – be honest and direct about the relative likelihoods of events.
    And sure.. it is strictly rational to prioritise avoiding human extinction ahead of other more mundane concerns. And – human nature being what it is – it’s an ephemeral argument which smashes into practical reality as soon as you try to ground it.
    Now in, say, a GMO case it’s a helluva lot simpler. There’s a financial player who stands to realise great benefits, and that we can task with spending their resources against their potential future gains. That should be a slam dunk. It’s not of course, but only because of political corruption. There’s no tough moral question at the heart of it. Climate change is a bit harder, but still very doable – we can identify the financial beneficiaries and tax them to provide protections for the affected. It’ll be imperfect and somewhat unfair, but it fits within the capitalist economic model fairly easily.
    With Covid, it’s quite different, and extending thinking from the above cases crashes quickly into reality (and this is exactly where the emotional deflections seems to rise spontaneously to preclude debate).
    There’s no financial benefactor who will risk applying their resources against present or future economic gains – in fact there’s the precise opposite (you might expect nations to want to protect their workforce, but the young workforce is not much at risk). There’s no way to escape it – the primary tangible beneficiaries are the greatest at-risk population ie the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. The cost of mitigation (in terms of debt costs, deferred opportunity and reduced life expectancy) will be born disproportionately by the youngest (fittest, financially weakest) part of society. I’m not arguing to kill granny. These are just the basic facts.
    I struggle with bringing Taleb’s argument into this context because in this context it feels so much like a rationalisation to avoid confronting the previous truths. Yes, if we face an extinction-level event, then it behooves all of us to pull together to avoid it, and humanity benefits in the meta sense. And maybe, if our societies operated in this way, on this basis in decision making day in, day out, year in, year out then for sure, that’s the agreed social contract that we act together for the benefit of society. But user-pays gutted that thinking long ago, and gutted the health care systems along with it. I hate that it did, but it did. And there’s something that rings entirely false about trying to resurrect a narrative of human solidarity where and when the tangible costs will be borne by the younger generations.
    You know Taleb/Ilargi – when you can show me how this new morality will claw back the billions from the 1% to finance this humanity-embracing effort, rather than ditching the costs onto future generations, then I’m up for it. When you have the debt jubilees scheduled in, or the new taxes, or whatever it is that will prevent this proposed intervention from landing like yet another huge yoke around my 6 year old daughter’s neck, then yeah I’m up for it. But as long as it’s pie-in-the-sky theory with thoroughly skewed costs and benefits, then nah. It’s just like every other politician peddling snake-oil solutions. Focussing on the urgency and importance of implementing these policies, without negotiating the tangible effects, the winners and the losers is just wrong.

    in reply to: The Only Man Who Has A Clue #57268

    “Speak to us. Tell us your mind. Articulate your thoughts. Don’t ask us to wade thropugh a detailed technical article. Explain it to us in summarized terms. JUdgment is withheld here by the more inquisitive. For example, Raul. He makes his case.”

    Dude, I’ll certainly speak to the others. But the incredible irony of you suggesting I summarise my thoughts better when it is you that spends so much time here rambling semi-coherently and derailing discussions.. I’m. Just. Completely. Speechless..

    in reply to: The Only Man Who Has A Clue #57256

    OTOH – it has helped me put my finger on something that’s been bugging me, and that I articulated poorly the other day.
    I’ve been following TAE virtually every day for years now (and on that note – sorry Ilargi.. I really should stump up for a donation towards the running of the site). One of it’s primary attractions has been the quality of the economics – information, models and discussion of the various merits, costs, externalities etc. Which sounds horribly dry, but what I care about is the impacts on real people. All the articles and discussion around the Greek economic crisis for example drove home the impacts on ordinary Greek citizens of the perverse behaviours of the European elites.
    But in the recent focus and discussions around Covid, I don’t experience this quality at all. Sure, its a frightening topic. Such data as does exist is limited, fragmented and often contradictory. People’s opinions are often driven by strong emotions built off exposure to limited and/or polarising information.
    And to be fair, it’s not just here. It’s the same at Unz, and the Saker, and.. well everywhere else – deeply polarised and entrenched sides either lobbing projectiles at the other side or patting their own side on the back.
    Maybe my expectations are all wrong, but from a position of government-mandated isolation (for everyone’s good I understand, before someone takes a crack at me..), submersed in incessant patronising MSM bullshit saturation, and with deep uncertainty around the future, I’d really like to find some online community capable of withholding judgement for long enough to discuss the relative merits of various actions, as it’s utterly clear to me this is not occurring almost anywhere I can see.
    Genuine question – am I the only one sensing or reacting like this?

    in reply to: The Only Man Who Has A Clue #57253

    “Bye, bye Grandma and Grandpa. So sorry about your luck. We decided the model looked better for younger people if we didn’t reduce GDP so we let Covid-19 run loose.”

    That, right there is a beautiful example of hijacking a rational discussion with a purely emotional dog-whistle, and sadly that’s exactly the widespread quality of debate.

    Yes, there’s some ugly trolls out there saying exactly that. There’s also some us trying to establish a middle ground so we can have some kind of meaningful discussion on the merits of various options, and it’s generally highjacked by precisely your style of comment.

    Medicine has *always* had to deal with the ethics of having inadequate resources to doing everything for everyone at all times. Its the basis of triage in it’s most simplistic form for instance. So please don’t shit on an attempt to build a bridge and establish some basis for a rational discussion with contemptuous generalisations like that.

    in reply to: The Only Man Who Has A Clue #57247

    Agree that masks seem to be a low-cost and sensible measure and it’s surprising that governments haven’t widely distributed them along with other basic PPE to their whole populations.

    Expanding the discussion, this article posted on the NZ situation today:

    Coronavirus economics and policy: from the mailbox
    It is important and nuanced, on two important fronts:
    1. The NZ government Covid modelling and response has cherry-picked catastrophic scenario data. The health “professionals” modelled several scenarios. The lower death scenarios (which turn out to be more in line with what we’ve actually observed *were simply excluded from theirreport*. Get that – they modelled them but didn’t like the results they produced, so simply didn’t report the scenarios. That’s a damn scandal right there.
    2. There is a good argument presented that reductions in GDP/wealth are statistically correlated with average life expectancy. Proposed Covid interventions can also be modelled in terms of impact to average life expectancy. Using average life expectancy as a common denominator eliminates much emotion (ie the morality of “allowing” deaths to occur and provides a more rational way to compare the impact of various actions. As a comparator it also weights more heavily towards the younger population who will bear a greater (ie longer) impact over the course of their lives from both the current crisis and however we respond than will older people.

    Please do take some time to wade through the detail – it is vastly more nuanced and rational than most of the Covid discussion.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 14 2020 #57161

    Jeez boscohorowitz, you sure can spin a helluva lotta words around a paucity of material..

    For the record, I have tremendous respect for Ilargi, and there was no drive-by sliming intended or delivered. What I’ve observed over the past few weeks has been that on this topic Ilargi has adopted a strong and vocal position that has varied negligibly despite the variety of new information arising each day. That’s often a strong indicator of an idealogical attachment to a fixed perspective. On THIS topic.

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 14 2020 #57154

    And for data, here’s a study comparing the NZ and Australian responses:

    Comparing the New Zealand and Australian states’ responses to COVID-19

    in reply to: Debt Rattle April 14 2020 #57153

    I’m with Dr D on this.
    Ilargi has become emotively attached to his position from all the posting on the subject.
    In NZ a new group of well-informed leaders has emerged promoting “Plan B” over the current sledgehammer quarantine approach.
    Unlike 99% of the rhetoric on this topic, in a rational world management of Covid response is not a choice between across-the-board lockdown or lasseiz-faire fatalism.
    Here in NZ we have nationwide lockdown for a month, with inside rumour this period will be extended. Across the Tasman in Australia they have a more nuanced set of restrictions. The broad outcomes of both countries are very similar. So to what benefit is taking a nationwide extremist approach, as opposed to a nuanced approach targeted at high population density areas and/or at-risk parts of the population? Absolutely none at all.
    This comparison reminds me of the economic reforms of the 80’s. NZ adopted the IMF’s recommended sledgehammer approach to restructuring the NZ economy. Australia took a more careful and nuanced approach. Roll forward three decades and the Australian economy is significantly stronger the NZ’s. (yes there are many causes for this) But even the IMF in subsequent studies admits their advice was extremely flawed and NZ suffered unnecessarily for decades afterwards (nb: as with now it’s “all care, no responsibility” for the advice providers. The IMF have no liability for promoting their idealogical idiocy of the 80’s, and the current medical modellers and politicians will have zero liability for the costs of their idealogical lockdown.
    My personal metaphor is road speed limits, where risk vs benefit mandates we have different limits in different places. We are fully capable of constructing similar graduated risk mechanisms for managing the Covid risk. I would advocate based on population density (atr a crude level rural vs urban risk) and underlying personal risk (a personal risk score based on medical records held by a person’s GP and correlated with underlying morbidities at risk from Covid).
    Our management systems just don’t have to be the crude blunt instruments we are currently applying.

    in reply to: When Was America’s Peak Wealth? #32802

    Sorry, above reply was to Nassim not to the general post which is great as usual.

    in reply to: When Was America’s Peak Wealth? #32801

    I don’t know who’s writing those stats, but I call bullshit:
    Seriously, go for a walk on Franz Joseph glacier. I have – I live in NZ.. Not only it hasn’t advanced, but you’ll be walking for a long time before you even *see* any ice/glacier. That shit is receding faster than liberal honesty in the face of a Trump win.
    Don’t quote BS stats about climate change not occurring – it’s fucking obvious to anyone with their eyes open.
    Which doesn’t mean it’s a linear process up or down. Its *change*. Sometimes up, sometimes down, sometimes chaotic.
    But if someone gives you a BS stat about glaciers advancing that is contrary to what other people are generally reporting, then FFS get on a plane and verify it before you burst into print about how it proves anything, other than your own credulity.

    in reply to: Why There is Trump #30649

    Great post Ilargi.

    I’m astonished and angry at the disappearance of the real left. Boiled alive like frogs, one small moral compromise at a time.. compulsively rationalizing as to why Mr Hope ‘n Change was really a pretty good president, and how Hillary’s actions and policies not at all indistinguishable from Dubya’s. Hell, even Dubya’s neocons are firmly and actively behind Hillary, which should be all the warning anyone needs.

    12 years ago, those same ex-leftists were of one (correctly) disgusted mind at the disgrace that was the Iraq invasion. 8 years ago, they were beside themselves with joy at the election of Obama. Now they huddle together braying for consolation about the global menace that is Trump.

    Given that Hillary is definitively:
    – a fraud: fruit of an insider-rigged selection process against the genuinely-popular Democratic candidate
    – a traitor: co-operator of a fraudulent foundation, taking ‘donations’ from foreign states in return for financial favours
    – a warmonger: committed to global destabilisation, provocation of Russia + China and further expansion of Israel
    – a shill: for the out-of-control financial + military sectors
    then I would respect any ex-lefters that on principle damned both candidates, and advocated not voting. I’m just completely gobsmacked by those who are in full boosterism mode for Hil.

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