Just my luck

Patrick Horan and I produced a new Mercatus policy brief on improving the Fed’s toolkit.

I did a long interview on money with John Papola. (He did that famous rap video of Hayek debating Keynes.  And a Mises/Marx video as well.) Unfortunately, my interview is likely to be considerably less entertaining. But if you’re stuck at home . . .

Last year I thought that whatever happened would be good for market monetarism. If NGDP growth slowed and we had a recession, we could say “We told you not to let NGDP growth fall.” If it kept going at 4%/year then we could say “We told you that stable NGDP growth would prevent recessions.”

Instead we have a very unusual real shock recession, where monetary policy is not the cause. Even worse, my new book on market monetarism will probably come out at the worst possible time—when everyone’s focused on a crisis that MM doesn’t help us to understand. Just my luck.

Not to beat a dead horse, but did you see this:

When the coronavirus outbreak first hit in the U.S., public health officials urged most people to forego wearing a face mask. Not anymore: Experts are calling for masks or other facial covering in public as confirmed cases in the U.S. increase.

“I do think we need to have facial coverings for folks, so everyone has to wear one and we are protecting others from us,” Dr. Dena Grayson, an infectious disease specialist, told Yahoo Finance (video above). . . .

Jospeh Allen, the director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote a Washington Post op-ed arguing for Americans to wear masks.

“The debate is over,” Allen wrote. “You should be wearing a mask when you go out.”

He added that doing so would “prevent the user from infecting others by acting as a physical barrier that will block large droplets from coughs and sneezes… protect you from others around you who might be sick… serve as a reminder not to touch your face… [and serve] as a vital social cue. You are sending a signal to others that there is a real threat out there.”

Given the mask shortage, Allen suggested that people make their own. . . .

Desai noted that the U.S. is likely going to start seeing government support for everyone wearing masks, due to the number of asymptomatic individuals. 

“By wearing a mask, what it really comes down to is: Does that help prevent you from touching your face?” he said. “And I think overall, the answer’s gonna be Yes. Generally speaking, when you have a mask on your face, it prevents you from touching your face.”

Wait, aren’t those the points I was making when the experts were arguing against average people wearing masks?

My current view is this:

Right now we need social distancing. But in a month or two we need to start thinking about getting people back to work with strong personal protection for employees and widespread testing to figure out who is infected and who is not. Over at Econlog, I suggest we may reboot the economy too slowly.



40 Responses to “Just my luck”

  1. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. April 2020 at 11:15


    Have you seen this post from Robin Hanson (linked on MR)?


    He is right. I find myself wondering if the kooks questioning the Asian data are not kooks after all. I don’t see how it is possible that they have stopped the spread.

  2. Gravatar of Kyle M Hale Kyle M Hale
    3. April 2020 at 11:38

    Thought you might enjoy this, a look at how life is back to “normal” in Nanjing – can’t quite wrap my head around America going along with all of these measures, but .. maybe?


  3. Gravatar of Kyle M Hale Kyle M Hale
    3. April 2020 at 11:39

    Here’s a direct link to the video which is missing in the article I posted


  4. Gravatar of DeservingPorcupine DeservingPorcupine
    3. April 2020 at 12:28

    No need to wait months. Japan keeps showing us that masks alone are probably enough.

  5. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    3. April 2020 at 14:23

    Sorry about your book timing, Scott, and I’m sorry for market monetarism. It seems like we are entering the age of MMT.

    Given the risk of people over-reacting (as you discuss in your other post), how do you think the authorities should have handled the facemask conundrum? Presumably avoiding panic buying and diversion of limited stocks from health professionals was the reason the authorities tried to deter people from buying masks? Similarly, authorities often seek to manipulate the public on everything to achieve a utiliarian end, such as exaggerating the ‘point of no return’ on global warming, the risks of drink-driving, phone-using-while-driving, eating sugar, etc.

  6. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    3. April 2020 at 14:47

    @Rajat: There were intelligence briefings that this would be horrible starting in January. Trump should have invoked the Defense Production Act and forced mass production of masks and other essential equipment. He also should not have allowed exports of massive amounts of equipment.

    Instead we still have regulatory and production bottlenecks and states bidding against each other for equipment, which needlessly drives up the price for cash strapped states.

  7. Gravatar of Garrett Garrett
    3. April 2020 at 14:59

    One thing I was thinking about today regarding monetary vs fiscal policy: Carnival just issued $500mm in equity to help keep them afloat (heh). Instead of fiscal stimulus like checks and bailouts, if the Fed committed to maintaining the same path of nominal income growth, companies would be in a better position to issue equity to help get them out of liquidity issues during recessions. They’d probably retain more staff too.

    Equity holders should be the ones to take the hit in recessions via dilution, not future tax payers.

  8. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    3. April 2020 at 15:08


    That idea is the basis for the argument that the federal government should be taking equity stakes in companies they bail out, which they can re-sell to private investors at higher valuations when the crisis is past. The tax payer actually makes money on this (like with TARP) instead of issuing so many more bonds.

    There are surely some unintended consequences of the feds as vulture/distressed equity investors, but that may still be better than taking our debt ratio ever higher.

  9. Gravatar of Thaomas Thaomas
    3. April 2020 at 15:47

    I never bought the idea that monetary policy “caused” the huge shift in animal spirits and flight to safe assets we saw in September 2008.

    But that did not mean that NDGP targeting was the wrong prescription for getting out of the recession. Of course there was no visible NGDP futures market that the Fed could observe in real time (or ideally to intervene in), but we had both the TIPS market and the outcome of the price level drifting farther and a farther from what 2% symmetrical inflation of the CPE for them to see and pundits like you to point out in almost real time that they were not being successful.

  10. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. April 2020 at 15:55

    I’m still on the fence on masks. Here are some thoughts/data points.

    Japanese wear a lot of masks… but not everyone by a long shot. Everyday there are millions of people riding the Tokyo subways who don’t wear masks. If not wearing a mask in public increases transmission risk even slightly, there should be a lot more sick Japanese.

    Singapore which has a very low case rate was until today discouraging the use of masks.

    Recent data shows two things a)transmission from asymptomatic carriers accounts for 6% of all transmissions and b) actual cases (mostly asymptomatic) are 15 times the number of confirmed cases. Doing the math, this tells us that the risk of transmission from symptomatic carriers is 250x greater than from asymptomatic carrier. When you consider that the vast majority of asymptomatic transmission is probably within one’s own home, this suggest that the benefit of wearing masks in pubic is very low.

    If you’re symptomatic you should be isolation.

    That said, I think it would be a good idea for everyone to keep the windows open and wear an N95 respirator when they’re at home.

    I think we need to be focusing and emphasizing the things that really matter. I’m not sure wearing surgical (non-N95) masks in public is one of them.

    BTW – I think Japan has probably now lost control of the outbreak.

  11. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. April 2020 at 15:58

    Rajat, commenter above, asks if we are in the age of MMT. The macroeconomics profession appears unsure if we are now conducting helicopter drops. Are large federal fiscal deficits in combination with Federal Reserve purchases of Treasury bonds a helicopter drop?

    What if the additions to the Federal Reserve balance sheet are permanent, which is certainly something to expect at this point. Is that a helicopter drop?

    David Beckworth makes a distinction between helicopter drops on Wall Street, that is conventional quantitative easing, and helicopter drops on Main Street.

    I agree with Scott Sumner that the fiscal-monetary stimulus provided going forward is actually likely to be too small. Believe it or not, even now, there are some economic observers sniveling about future inflation. I expect a few very long-faced sermonettes on moral hazard are pending. (I wonder if for the next two years we should place fiscal-monetary policy in the hands of restaurant owners and people in comfortable sinecures.)

    In the US there were v-shaped recoveries regarding unemployment after most earlier recessions. But not the 2008 recession. That saw a very long slow and painful recovery from unemployment.

    Judging from wage rates, the US never did tighten up the slack in its labor force after 2008, despite years and years of near-hysterical commentary from the Federal Reserve Beige Books.

    After a lockdown, we will still have a naive population and a novel cold virus.

    Friends, all we can do is ask for voluntary sequestation of the elderly while the rest of us run the gauntlet. If you want to stay indoors, that’s your business.

    Fiscal and monetary authorities should attempt the biggest economic boom of all time.

    I would even go so far to say, under these unusual circumstances, that the Federal Reserve should go bigband very brave and consider temporarily relaxing its 2% inflation target.

  12. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. April 2020 at 15:59

    …not people in comfortable sinecures

  13. Gravatar of Thaomas Thaomas
    3. April 2020 at 16:17

    Nice brief, but should it not have gone a bit farther and discussed what price level target for when. Should the Fed intervene in the long term bond markets to bring the TIPS spread up to whatever the CPI equivalent of PCE inflation of 2% (plus bit to catch up for under inflation 2008-present?) tomorrow, a year from now? Is the call for ability to purchase a wider range of assets necessary to achieve this?. Should the Fed explain that NGDP target will mean somewhat more inflation in the short run than price level targeting would have?

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. April 2020 at 16:42

    Rajat, You said:

    “It seems like we are entering the age of MMT.”

    I keep hearing that, but who believes in MMT? On both the left and the right, all the “respectable” economists believe it’s nonsense. I don’t doubt there are a few people who believe it, but how can it be “the age of MMT”?

    This seems like the age of market monetarism. The Fed eliminates reserve requirements, lowers IOR to 0.1%, says it will do whatever it takes, even buying unconventional assets, and is committed to a V-shaped recovery. That’s moving toward MM, isn’t it?

    Regarding face masks, there was never any physical shortage. The problem was caused by trade barriers limiting imports. Today the FDA lifted the ban, and I expect the face mask “shortage” to magically vanish.

    Garrett, Exactly my view.

    dtoh, I don’t agree with your math. Asymptomatic cases are about equal to symptomatic cases, in the best studies.

    Singapore is good at doing lots of other things, like testing and isolating people.

    Ben, You don’t know what MMT is, so stop talking about it.

    Thaomas, I don’t think we need to buy a wider range of assets to hit the target.

  15. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. April 2020 at 16:49


    Is now really the time to be fiddling with (too-small) inflation targets?

    I prefer we get back to boom times…and then worry about inflation.

    Moreover, there were 12 years of economic growth after 2008, and inflation was never a worry (despite incessant fretting and dire predictions by orthodox economists).

    Japan is in deflation again, and I guess Europe soon.

    Is MMT ascendant? Why not?

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. April 2020 at 17:00

    Kyle, Interesting. It’s about what I expected, based on my travel in China last year.

  17. Gravatar of agrippa postumus agrippa postumus
    3. April 2020 at 17:27

    ngdg targeting is a theory that would never work in practice; no rational trader would ever enter the market, but sumner doesn’t understand markets.

    monetarism is sophistry disguised as science. at the end of the day its about converting debt into money, which it is not.

  18. Gravatar of bill bill
    3. April 2020 at 17:45

    I think switching to NGDPLT would be a big improvement. And in this crisis I propose an addition to get things going again V-shaped once we go back to work. Right after we start working again, the Fed should go for 4% or 5% NGDPLT but at a new trend line 10% higher than where we left off. This crisis is going to bring on a lot of unpaid debt. The higher trend line will make it easier to resolve all the debt issues.

  19. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. April 2020 at 17:55

    Scott Sumner:

    Is US fiscal-monetary policy presently NMT, by your definition? Why or why not.

    Does present US fiscal-monetary policy amount to helicopter drops? Why or why not?

    What is your view on David Beckworth’s view that the 2008 response amounted to helicopter drops on Wall Street, but what we need now is helicopter drops on Main Street?

    Do you think that David Beckworth understands MMT?

    Stanley Fischer says the US Federal Reserve is out of ammo and we need to move to helicopter drops. Do you have a comment on Stanley Fischer’s point of view?

  20. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    3. April 2020 at 17:56

    Scott, maybe I’m focussing too much on Australia. With the RBA doing ‘yield curve control’ (targeting the 3yr yield at 0.25% and raising interest on reserves from 0 to 0.1%) and not offering any further ideas if things get worse (they’ve ruled out negative rates or value-based asset purchases), the RBA seems content to allow the federal government to determine how much stimulus the economy gets. The Fed at least seems to still be steering the ship. Hopefully the RBA will change course, but I doubt it.

  21. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    3. April 2020 at 17:59

    You might disagree with my data, but my math is fine.

    The number you’re looking at is the number of cases that never become symptomatic. Don’t forget that every case is asymptomatic for roughly 6 days before it becomes symptomatic.

    If the number cases is doubling every two days then even if all cases eventually becomes symptomatic you are going to have 8 times as many asymptomatic cases as you have symptomatic cases. If only half of all cases ever become symptomatic, then that number doubles to 16 times as many asymptomatic cases.

    You can look at the studies below. I don’t think they are definitive and behavior can totally change the picture.



  22. Gravatar of Jaime Jaime
    3. April 2020 at 18:33

    Social distancing does not work. Medical studies have shown that droplets can travel up to 27 meters. And unless you are wearing an N-95 or equivalent, the virus will not be stopped by a mask. The mask does not cover the eyes, which people often touch – so the idea that wearing a mask will prevent people from touching their face is absurd.

    An economist should really be musing about economics, not medicine.

    The current administration has already laid out an effective remedy. Follow it!

  23. Gravatar of LC LC
    3. April 2020 at 18:59


    Off topic but the commencement speech by Professor N. R. Liu of Hong Kong University is both enlightening and moving. The original Chinese is here: https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/YFKT6r9Fl5lDbUgvkvAFHQ

    It’s too long for Google translate to handle as 1 entire article. I include the opening section below:

    Another school opening ceremony went to waste, this spring ceremony was due to new crown pneumonia, and the last winter ceremony was due to turbulence in Hong Kong. Many friends asked me why I didn’t see my speeches, opinions and articles under New Coronary Pneumonia? In the past two months, there are more than hundreds of good articles? How many tearful personal experiences are sent from the epidemic center? How much self-examination and reflection do you have in mind? How much anxiety and expectations about the country’s future? We haven’t experienced such a scene in a long time. At the same moment, for the same person, for the same thing, we made our humble voice, blowing our whistle? And this is for the same goal, I hope that similar tragedies can be less; I hope we do not need to live in unnecessary fear; I hope that this nation is respected at all times.

    This is of course a disaster. The year of the Gengzi Rat began beyond the imagination of everyone, this natural disaster, but this is also a human disaster. According to a study by the University of Southampton in the UK, if Wuhan starts snipering the virus three weeks in advance, the number of infections in China alone can be reduced by 95%. Of course this is just a study, and the distance between reality and digital models can sometimes be so great! If the European and American countries would not be so arrogant after the closure of Wuhan, but actively cooperate to respond, Europe and the United States today may not face such a humanitarian crisis! In the face of such a catastrophe across the globe, on the contrary, we see selfishness and arrogance, ridicule and accusation, fear and evasion, and even conspiracy theories, which have replaced rational thinking and due reflection. Faced with the fear of this century epidemic pandemic, we lack far from the vaccine to control the epidemic!

    We lack common sense; we lack insight; we lack transparency; we lack empathy; we lack responsibility; we lack reflection …

    The “we” he refers to here are the Chinese people. It’s a good read.

  24. Gravatar of jg jg
    3. April 2020 at 20:43

    None of these current corona virus testing numbers mean anything absent the test for antibodies. Why? In the past those patients who contracted corona no loner have the virus. It departs their body, but the antibody remains. That is why you need to know results from antibody test to get complete picture of real infected over time. This antibody number plus corona test number will give you number of infected. From this value you can derive more accurate mortality rate and rate of transmission. Stanford is doing antibody testing now and assuming no major problems results will be ready in a month or so. If data is problematic and more testing is required , results likely by end of may.

  25. Gravatar of Jens Jens
    3. April 2020 at 22:22

    Correct. Antibody tests will be an important verification and falsification tool for all the hypotheses and models floating around. They will also be very useful for individuals. It is most likely that antibody carriers will be immune and cannot become infectious. A specialized job market for antibody carriers could develop.

  26. Gravatar of Anon Anon
    3. April 2020 at 22:26

    On the subject of masks: few questions that are being not addressed.

    Who all – the entire US population? If so, EU/India/China/Japan/ME/Aus/NZ/ et al? For how long?
    Whats the life a mask – use once and throw (or) reusable? How to determine when to discard the mask and how to make it reusable once you have gone out and come back home/wherever? What happens to that (bio)waste now?

    Lets keep in mind that the medical service population is a tiny % of total population and many a mask and other PPE are use-once-discard which already has created a bio-medical waste issue (incinerate? landfill?)

  27. Gravatar of Anon Anon
    3. April 2020 at 22:50

    A rough calculation with 5g/mask average of various ranges gives about 94 kilo tonnes of waste.

    % OF POPULATION TO WEAR MASKS 25% 1882500000
    # OF MASKS/PERSON/MONTH 10 18825000000
    TOTAL FOR 2 MONTHS 2 37650000000
    WEIGHT/MASK (G) 5 94125000000
    TOTAL WEIGHT (KG) 94125000
    TOTAL WEIGHT (TON) 94125

    If one were to with N95 mask, that is 225 kilo tonnes of waste

    % OF POPULATION TO WEAR MASKS 25% 1882500000
    # OF MASKS/PERSON/MONTH 10 18825000000
    TOTAL FOR 2 MONTHS 2 37650000000
    WEIGHT/MASK (G) 12 2.259E+11
    TOTAL WEIGHT (KG) 225900000
    TOTAL WEIGHT (TON) 225900

  28. Gravatar of Anon Anon
    3. April 2020 at 22:54

    That’s just waste from masks. Add to that the waste in the manufacturing process/hygienic packing materials of that mask and all other incidentals. Even assuming 25% of that is recyclable what is the waste generated?

    How to determine what/who is the % of the population that needs to wear them? If leadership determines that there is a certain population that doesn’t need to wear and focus on few, would they lead by example and not wear it themselves (or) is it do as I say but not as I do?

    Simply put: whats the mechanism for coping with all fall outs in the aftermath?

  29. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    4. April 2020 at 00:46


    Off-topic somewhat, but I recently discovered I’m not the first person to think that r = GDP growth in a healthy economy. Apparently, von Neumann developed a general equilibrium growth model in the 40s on which this was the case.

    Granted, he wasn’t an economist, but he obviously made extremely important contributions to the field, and the 1940s was a long time ago. Economics has moved on. But, I’m obviously not an economist either, and it’s nice to know that someone intelligent once had a similar thought, though his was more complete.

    I’m trying to see how to model this, without retreading von Neumann and without appealing to a special New Keynesian model that seems to rely on unrealistic assumptions.

  30. Gravatar of Postkey Postkey
    4. April 2020 at 02:12

    ” Believe it or not, even now, there are some economic observers sniveling about future inflation.”

    Here is ‘monetarist sniveler’?

    “My conclusion is that the USA’s economic policy response to the coronavirus outbreak will be very inflationary, even if the political situation and lags in the inflationary process will make this a concern more in 2021 (and perhaps 2022) than in 2020. Assuming that money growth does reach the 15% – 20% band for a few months, the message from history is that the annual increase in consumer prices will climb towards the 5% – 10% area and could go higher. “

  31. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    4. April 2020 at 02:44

    Weak replies, though the genius of our host is readily apparent.

    @ Student – you *do* know that R0 varies by geography, right? Dr. Hanson is also saying it varies by sub-genre social type, like Spring Breakers vs Stay-At-Home wallflowers. Nothing radical.

    @Garrett – you’re ignorant on the how and why of bankruptcy vs bailout. Taking an equity hit (which will, if said equity hit is big enough, lead to bankruptcy) throws the company into Chap. 11, where lawyers take over and time is wasted, atrophying the ‘organizational capital’ of the bankrupt company, as opposed to a bailout (interest fee loan, or, worse case, a ‘free money’ grant like the stupid SBA loans) that keeps the company going without resorting to courts and lawyers. Let me unpack that a bit: Chap. 11 (first and equity hit, then likely bankruptcy) means lawyers run the company for at least six months, maybe longer, and the company emerges as a shell picked clean by the Weil Gotshal –what an apt name–NYC bankruptcy specialist law firm, while bailout means the current managers keep the company intact and running. So when bailout? For “essential” businesses, like banks, airlines, trains, pipeline operators, food supply stores, refineries, medical suppliers, etc that society needs to keep going 24/7. When bankruptcy? I hate to say it, but little mom-and-pop businesses like msgkings NYC greasy spoon diner. I mean c’mon, who cares if they go under? Stuff happens, life goes on. No need to spend taxpayer money on keeping such small fry that don’t serve an essential purpose alive. You can find more of what I said in various articles, such as Bloomberg’s Matt Levine, though he doesn’t quite get as harsh as I do. And yes I’m OK with giving msgkings, personally, small amounts of cash to keep him for starving. Very small. But not a bailout for his small non-essential business.

    @ Benjamin Cole – do you think hyperinflation is bad? What about high inflation? Curious to hear your views on this. Resist the temptation to write War and Peace, keep it to a few lines. Thanks.

  32. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    4. April 2020 at 02:48

    @Postkey – Professor Tim Congdon is a genius, inflation indeed will result soon. I’ve saved his response to my hard drive.

  33. Gravatar of Matthias Goergens Matthias Goergens
    4. April 2020 at 03:19

    > Last year I thought that whatever happened would be good for market monetarism. If NGDP growth slowed and we had a recession, we could say “We told you not to let NGDP growth fall.” If it kept going at 4%/year then we could say “We told you that stable NGDP growth would prevent recessions.”

    > Instead we have a very unusual real shock recession, where monetary policy is not the cause.

    Scott, MM’s key emphasis on stabilizing nominal spending is just as important in a negative supply shock as in other scenarios.

    Comparing NGDP targeting to eg inflation targeting is as relevant as ever. Same for level targeting vs growth targeting.

    The problems started on the supply side, but it’s important that the nominal side stays sane and avoids adding even more problems.

  34. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    4. April 2020 at 03:33

    The recommendation to wear a face mask is not to protect the wearer, but to protect others from the wearer (who might be infected and asymptomatic). No, wearing the mask probably won’t protect the wearer, and the initial advice not to wear a face mask was intended to avoid a false sense of security, which might encourage people to go into public places (believing the mask will protect them when they do). The current advice, to wear a mask, reflects the spread of Covid-19: so many have been infected, many who don’t know they are infected (because they are asymptomatic), that one should assume that one is infected and wear a mask to protect others not to protect the wearer of the mask. So do your neighbor a favor: wear a mask because you may be infected.

    As for inflation, well of course there will be shortages of goods that aren’t being produced, and shortages will result in price increases. On the other hand, with so many out of work and with little or no income, the demand for many goods will drop (and has already dropped), making it difficult to predict an equilibrium. Indeed, the price of some goods may well collapse, offsetting the price increases for other, essential goods. I’m more concerned about prices collapsing for many goods, which will discourage production of those goods and prolong the economic misery resulting from mass unemployment. Inflation, on the other hand, will induce employers to rehire employees to produce the goods whose prices have increased, thereby reducing the economic misery.

  35. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. April 2020 at 08:02

    Rajat, Fine, but what does the RBA policy have to do with MMT?

    LC, Very nice.

    dtoh, I guess I don’t understand your point. Are you saying that almost no transmission occurs in public, it’s all in houses?

    Anon, East Asian countries have been wearing masks for years, it’s not that hard.

    Ben, You’re in way over your head. Give up.

    Matthias, I favor targeting 2021 NGDP at a 4% annual growth rate from 2019.

    Jaime, It’s been a long time since I saw so much idiocy in one short post.

    Rayward, Actually, there are numerous studies that show it does protect the wearer. You should read them.

  36. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    4. April 2020 at 09:22


    Rayward is mostly correct in that overall most of the benefit from masks is to protect other people.

    Japan has had two unique things going for it: the use of masks and that they don’t shake hands, kiss or hug strangers. That is how coronavirus gets spread in the overwhelming number of cases, not by touching a flat surface with the virus and then touching your face, even though that can happen as well.

  37. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    4. April 2020 at 19:14

    I don’t know. I’m hypothesizing (based on what I’ve seen and read), but….

    1. I suspect most transmission occurs between people who are in close contact with one another (family members and close friends and colleagues)…. not in public.

    2. I suspect most casual (community) transmission is fomite (mouth/nose to hand to surface to hand to mouth/nose.)

    3. Casual aerosol transmission during brief interaction is relatively uncommon.

    4. Casual aerosol transmission if you’re maintaining a 6 foot distance is very rare.

    5. If you have symptoms you should be isolated because casual aerosol transmission is more likely if you’re coughing or sneezing. With current awareness, I think almost everyone who is symptomatic is isolating themselves.

    6. Given these assumptions, I think the overall impact of people wearing masks in public is very small, and I think that’s the reason the WHO, the CDC and the Government of Singapore have been reluctant to recommend it.

    7. I think the discussion of masks distracts from the far more important message of telling people to distance themselves and to wash their hands.

    8. If I had to ride the subway, buses or crowded elevators on a regular basis, I would wear an N95 respirator in violation of the CDC’s directive.

  38. Gravatar of aram aram
    5. April 2020 at 05:38

    Wasn’t your earlier post about protecting yourself, not others? At least it read that way to me: “Why is it so essential for health care workers to wear ineffective masks?”

    Protecting others from your coughs and the spit that comes out when you talk makes more sense and works even with a mask that is reused, that is porous, that you frequently touch/lift, etc. Protecting yourself with a mask is harder and less worth it for the general public, since we can just avoid getting really close to sick people. Medical personnel can’t avoid being close to sick people, and they can be trained on careful mask use, so it has the most benefit for them.

  39. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. April 2020 at 13:22

    Todd, You said:

    “Rayward is mostly correct in that overall most of the benefit from masks is to protect other people.”

    But that’s not what he said. That’s my view.

    dtoh, I definitely agree with point #8. I’m agnostic on some of the other points, but mostly agree.

    aram, You said:

    “Protecting yourself with a mask is harder and less worth it for the general public, since we can just avoid getting really close to sick people.”

    If it’s so easy, then why are so many Americans catching the virus?

  40. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    7. April 2020 at 13:34

    Who to believe, The Who, the WHO, or Dr. Scott Sumner (PhD economics, not a medical doctor)? I know who I’m following! Scott Sumner!! Note the dateline, April 7, 2020, the WHO refuses to listen?! We won’t be fooled again WHO! You missed calling it a pandemic the first time, and made other mistakes…- RL


    But in updated guidance published on Monday, the organisation maintained that while masks could help limit the spread of the disease, they were insufficient on their own.

    Prof David Heymann, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chaired the WHO’s scientific and technical advisory group for infectious hazards, said that unless people were working in healthcare settings, masks are “only for the protection of others, not for the protection of oneself”

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