Random thoughts on the pandemic

1. Don’t rely on others:

“I don’t think any country has a perfect record,” Bill Gates said in a recent interview. “Taiwan comes close.” . . . Taiwan seems to have followed the model recommended by disaster expert Vaughan: It doesn’t expect infallibility from its leaders. Instead, Taiwan makes sure that its health institutions are hyper-vigilant about epidemic risks. After the SARS epidemic of 2003, Taiwan set up an interlocking set of agencies geared toward the early detection of pandemics and bioterrorism. If a threat is detected, containment plans and supply stockpiles are ready. That process starts at the bottom, not the top.

Vaughan and other researchers note that complacency is usually fed by groupthink. At a time when China and the World Health Organization were downplaying the coronavirus threat, it was easy for world leaders to believe that everything was under control. Meanwhile, China has used its influence to keep Taiwan out of the WHO and other international organizations, and Samson Ellis, the Taipei bureau chief for Bloomberg News, believes that Taiwan’s isolation from WHO paradoxically helped the country by forcing it to rely on its own judgment on health issues.

“Taiwan knows it’s on its own,” he says.

In January, while other countries were trusting the WHO’s bland assurances, Taiwan was already turning away cruise ships and performing health checks at airports. Taking early action against COVID-19 meant defying a consensus shared by much of the world. The country’s public-health institutions were designed to be sensitive to even faint signs of trouble and to guard against optimistic biases.

Read the whole things (by James Meigs.)  Taiwan is rapidly becoming one of my very favorite countr . . . er . . . places.

They also make outstanding films.

2.  Bill Gates has been great, but here he’s a bit too soft on China:

He is impatient too about attacks on China for its lack of openness about Covid-19 and particularly its reluctance to allow non-Chinese experts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan. “Sure, they should be open, but what is it that people are saying they’re not being open about? Every country has a lot you can criticise,” he said.

“Most people, whenever something new comes along, they take their classic criticisms of that country and just repeat them. But here we should get concrete. I don’t see any deep insights that are missing in terms of the origin of the disease that somebody is holding something back.”

I have a more centrist position on China—harshly critical of their government’s initial cover-up, which imposed great hardship on the Chinese people, and (like Bill Gates) dismissive of Westerners who want to blame our current policy failures on China.

3.  Fortunately, while the US government tries to launch a cold war against China, private sector actors are trying to work with Chinese scientists in a constructive fashion:

US scientists are working with China to investigate the origin of coronavirus, despite criticism from the Trump administration that Beijing is failing to co-operate with outsiders to stem the disease.

Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, said he was working with a team of Chinese researchers to determine whether coronavirus emerged in other parts of China before it was first discovered in Wuhan in December. The effort relies on help from the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

4.  This is great news:

After Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston began requiring that nearly everyone in the hospital wear masks, new coronavirus infections diagnosed in its staffers dropped by half — or more.

Brigham and Women’s epidemiologist Dr. Michael Klompas said the hospital mandated masks for all health care staffers on March 25, and extended the requirement to patients as well on April 6.

But they should have started on March 1st.

5.  We have lots of testing capability that is not being used due to regulatory barriers:

As the United States struggles to test people for COVID-19, academic laboratories that are ready and able to run diagnostics are not operating at full capacity.

Nature investigation of several university labs certified to test for the virus finds that they have been held up by regulatory, logistic and administrative obstacles, and stymied by the fragmented US health-care system. Even as testing backlogs mounted for hospitals in California, for example, clinics were turning away offers of testing from certified academic labs because they didn’t use compatible health-record software, or didn’t have existing contracts with the hospital. Researchers warn that if such hurdles remain, labs trying to join the effort to fight coronavirus might end up spinning their wheels.

This is insane.  We need deregulation and we need more price gouging.

6.  It’s possible that the virus escaped from a lab, but it’s about a million times more likely that it infected a random person in Southeast Asia:

Next, he says, consider the data he’s collected on people near bat caves getting exposed to viruses: “We went out and surveyed a population in Yunnan, China — we’d been to bat caves and found viruses that we thought could be high risk. So we sample people nearby, and 3 percent had antibodies to those viruses,” he says. “So between the last two and three years, those people were exposed to bat coronaviruses. If you extrapolate that population across the whole of Southeast Asia, it’s 1 million to 7 million people a year getting infected by bat viruses.”

Compare that, he says, to what we know about the labs: “If you look at the labs in Southeast Asia that have any coronaviruses in culture, there are probably two or three and they’re in high security. The Wuhan Institute of Virology does have a small number of bat coronaviruses in culture. But they’re not [the new coronavirus], SARS-CoV-2. There are probably half a dozen people that do work in those labs. So let’s compare 1 million to 7 million people a year to half a dozen people; it’s just not logical.”

In addition, a cover-up is very unlikely:

Carroll, the former director of USAID’s emerging threats division who also spent years working with emerging infectious disease scientists in China, agrees that there’s no evidence the Chinese researchers were working with a novel pathogen. His reasoning? He would have heard about it.

“The reason I’m not putting a lot of weight on [the lab-escape theory] is there was no chatter prior to the emergence of this virus to a discovery that would have ended up bringing the virus into a lab,” he says. “And if nothing else, the scientific community tends to be very gossipy. If there is a novel, potentially dangerous virus which has been identified, circulating in nature, and it’s brought into a laboratory, there is chatter about that. And when you look back retrospectively, there’s no chatter whatsoever about the discovery of a new virus.”

And if these viruses infect millions of people each year, then why is it so important if that person happens to work in a lab?

7.  I usually agree with Ramesh Ponnuru, but here I think he’s being a bit too kind to the US:

America Isn’t Actually Doing So Badly Against Coronavirus

I agree with Ponnuru that it’s silly to focus on Trump, as if another president would have made a big difference.  And I agree that it was almost inevitable that our response would be messy and full of mistakes (as James Meigs pointed out in the article I linked to on top).

But let’s not mince words; we (including myself) have done very poorly.  We have 4% of the world’s population and 27% (and rising) of fatalities.  Even accounting for errors in the data, we are doing much worse than average.  Yes, some countries have done even worse, but that just means they’ve also done poorly.

Many countries have done far better than the US.  If we do far worse than South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Germany and Austria, I don’t get much consolation from the fact that we are doing better than Italy, Spain, France and the UK.  We are supposed to be a global leader in technology and state capacity.

I also think this is a bit too optimistic:

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates and expanded lending facilities, moving, like Congress, faster than it had during the financial crisis of a dozen years ago.

Yes, they’ve done some very good things, and this crisis is more severe than 2008.  But the bottom line is that we are currently making the same mistakes as in 2008, failing to adopt level targeting and allowing price level/NGDP expectations for 2022 to fall sharply.  Level targeting isn’t an extreme idea; people both inside and outside the Fed know it’s the right thing to do right now.  It’s just institutional inertia holding them back.

(I.e., if we already had level targeting there is zero chance the Fed would switch back to growth rate targeting right now.  That’s what I mean by “inertia”.)

8.  On the lighter side, I just LOVE Japan:

Hokkaido has now had to re-impose the restrictions, though Japan’s version of a Covid-19 “lockdown” is a rather softer than those imposed elsewhere.

Most people are still going to work. Schools may be closed, but shops and even bars remain open.

Bars open, schools closed.  I recall on my 2018 visit to Japan that you could buy booze from a vending machine:



74 Responses to “Random thoughts on the pandemic”

  1. Gravatar of Anon Anon
    27. April 2020 at 21:05

    On Wuhan Virology Lab and accidental release claim, yeah probability is less but not zero. And I would also be very skeptical of any “planned accident” claim.

    But “absence of evidence” is not “evidence of absence”.

  2. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    27. April 2020 at 21:08

    On 1, Taiwan did a great job and should get kudos and be admitted to the WHO for it, but I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that Taiwan was defying a global consensus. It’s interesting to look at the Taiwanese CDC press releases from January (available in English: https://www.cdc.gov.tw/En/Bulletin/List/7tUXjTBf6paRvrhEl-mrPg?page=24). Maybe there were specific people in the Taiwanese government who were more skeptical, but it seems clear to me from these press releases that Taiwan’s official line was saying all the same things China and the WHO were saying. For example, on January 6, the Taiwan CDC said: “The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (Taiwan CDC) pointed out that based on the information released by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention as of January 5, 2020, no evidence of human-to-human transmission had been found, and no illnesses had been reported among healthcare workers.” The press release relays the Chinese CDC information without any suggestion that it is wrong. On January 20, when China confirmed human-to-human transmission, the Taiwan CDC said “limited human-to-human spread in Wuhan cannot be ruled out” and “Taiwan CDC advises travelers planning to visit Wuhan or other neighboring areas in China to avoid visiting live poultry markets and avoid contact with wild animals and poultry, and take appropriate personal precautions to ward off infection.” So as of January 20, Taiwan was officially telling its travelers that the main risk is from “wild animals and poultry,” not human-to-human. Taiwan also banned cruise ships and travel from Mainland China on February 6, which is several days after the US and many European countries did so. So it does not seem like Taiwan was out there bravely defying a global consensus (or if it was, it wasn’t sounding much of an alarm to other countries). Instead, it seems more likely that Taiwan was going off the same information as everybody else and just executed on it a lot more competently (as many Asian countries did). Speaking of which, it’s also notable that many Asian countries that did not have a competent early policy response (Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, even Cambodia which is very China-aligned and kept its borders open even getting praise from Trump for letting a cruise ship rejected by its neighbors dock there) have also done quite well–so it’s possible that there is some factor in Asia independent of policy that explains its greater success (maybe more mask wearing, maybe some kind of natural immunity from having more coronaviruses around, or maybe COVID mutated to become more deadly/contagious since January so the countries that got it early got lucky with a milder strain).

    On 6, the lab theory is definitely possible and worth exploring, but it seems unlikely to me for two reasons. First, if this was something that leaked from a lab, you’d expect there to be some document or phone conversation somewhere that said “oops, something bad leaked from a lab,” and the CIA should’ve been able to uncover that. Second, if this leaked from a lab, the Chinese government would have probably known what it was and acted much more quickly as the spread of the virus severely damaged China’s own economy. I’ve read that previous lab leaks of SARS were easily contained. The Chinese government’s actions seem more consistent with the “fog of war” situation that one would expect when dealing with a new and unanticipated virus.

  3. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    27. April 2020 at 21:33

    Nobody talks about Japan because it doesn’t fit their little personal narrative.

    They have had 350 covid-19 deaths in a nation of 126 million people and the increase in cases and in deaths is going down to South Korean levels, yet they tested less than the U.S.

  4. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    27. April 2020 at 22:01

    Two critiques:

    First, the 3% immunity in Yunnan is similar to the…3% immunity in Santa Clara. There are issues with both sensitivity (false positives) and specificity (other coronaviruses). I’m skeptical given those issues, plus a third issue that any study in Yunnan would have required CCP approval.

    There are a lot of sero studies out there, that on average are biased high. Santa Clara, LA, Miami, NYC, Chelsea, etc.

    A corollary, on the lab escape: If Wuhan Virology had Sars-Cov-2 AND knew what it had, the virus probably would NOT have escaped. The lab escape theory is predicated on sloppiness, where a highly infectious virus escapes BEFORE the lab knows what it has. I don’t buy the Vox argument, because they wrongly imply that the virus would be understood before it is mishandled.

  5. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    27. April 2020 at 22:06

    Second, I think Ponnoru is right that the US is not really doing badly. The reason is that the US is doing well on testing, but poorly on tracing. That compares to Asia, which does both testing and tracing well, and Europe + EM, which do testing and tracing poorly.

    Doing testing well but failing on tracing, produces the highest infection and fatality rates.

    The real acid test, is excess deaths. That captures failed testing and poor treatment. Clearly NYC has done poorly, but it’s not clear the rest of the US has. The FT has a good article: https://www.ft.com/content/6bd88b7d-3386-4543-b2e9-0d5c6fac846c

  6. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    27. April 2020 at 22:56

    The VOX article is curious in that it asserts that China virology lab leaks have happened before. So?

    It also fails to address that gene-splicing is common in virology labs.

    The VOX article seems very concerned that certain political actors in the US are playing the lab leak for their political benefit. So the whole article is incomplete and slanted to try to undercut the Wuhan lab leak possibilty. it is a political article in drag, dressed as a science piece.

    It may or may not be unfortunate that certain political actors can leverage the Wuhan lab-leak story.

    But I would still like to know what happened.

    Looking at the extremely low reported infection and death rates from C19 in Thailand, I might believe a bat virus passed through Thailand and was taken back to China by tourists.

    But if the Wuhan virus was a natural virus that first spread somewhat harmlessly through Southeast Asia, why did it result in such high death rates in Wuhan and not in Thailand, and then again in Italy and New York City?

    And if bat viruses are commonly spread to people in Southeast Asia, why have not such pandemics occurred before?

    Why are some people resistant from the start regarding a Wuhan lap leak possibility?

  7. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    27. April 2020 at 23:11


    “Chinese Communist Propaganda Group Paying for Vox Posts”

    Evidently, VOX has accepted money from CUSEF, China-United States Exchange Foundation.

    “CUSEF, as first noted by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin, is a front organization backed by the Chinese government and established to spread the party’s propaganda.”



  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    27. April 2020 at 23:59

    “But despite its reputation for high security, a pre-print scientific study written by a group of Chinese scientists from the South China University of Technology sensationally claimed that Covid 19 spread from the high-security science laboratory in Wuhan and not a “wet market” in the city.

    The report issued in early February by biological scientists from the prestigious university in Guangzhou, China, contradicts Beijing, who have even suggested the virus originated in the US.

    Biologists Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao, published a pre-print entitled “The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus”, in the report they described how “the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan”.

    The report added: “We noted two laboratories conducting research on bat coronavirus in Wuhan, one of which was only 280 metres from the seafood market.”



    That’s not the GOP talking, but two scientists from the South China University of Technology….two scientists now able to speak freely and openly about the opinions and observations, and engage vigorously in debate to have their ideas tested (haha).

    and VOX, where are they on this angle?

  9. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    28. April 2020 at 00:29

    “If we do far worse than South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Germany and Austria, I don’t get much consolation from the fact that we are doing better than Italy, Spain, France and the UK. We are supposed to be a global leader in technology and state capacity.”

    Except the US as a country is a lot more like Italy, Spain, France and the UK than it is like any country on the first list except Germany. Doing worse than Germany tells us something, doing worse than the others, not so much.

    Especially after the unbelievable CDC/FDA screw up over testing. Why exactly do the US taxpayer fund these organisations to the tune of billions of dollars a year? Not, apparently, to achieve elementary competence.

    As the Chinese ambassador to Australia has threatened Australia with financial or economic sanctions if we continue to call for an open enquiry into the origins of Covid-19, apparently merely calling for an enquiry is enough to start looking like beginning a Cold War with the Beijing regime.

  10. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. April 2020 at 01:35


    “Taiwanese professor says Wuhan coronavirus likely man-made”

  11. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. April 2020 at 01:37


    Well, I am sure we can look forward to the guys from Apple, BlackRock, GM, Tesla, Wal-Mart and Bill Gates demanding a thorough and complete investigation.

  12. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. April 2020 at 02:07

    Foreign minister hits back at China threat of economic boycott over COVID 19 inquiry


  13. Gravatar of Sarah Sarah
    28. April 2020 at 03:06

    To compare policy of one country to another, one must consider the law. The approach of Taiwan and Vietnam, simply cannot be duplicated in the USA. For example, ISP providers cannot release geo-location data to the government without a warrant, which Taiwan and Vietnam used extensively to trace those who were either infected, or had been in contact with someone who was infected. The separation between state and local governments also creates a legal dilemma. The Federal govt does not really have the authority to issue state wide lock-downs. That would be in violation of state rights. However, no such obstacles exist in Taiwan and Vietnam. When the govt comes to your door and tells you to pack your bags, you say “how fast, sir”?.

    And the science has already proven that this disease is not man-made. So there was no coverup in that regard. But China did know about the virus in early December, and did not take the appropriate steps.

    *The comment about Taiwan joining WHO because they did such a wonderful job has no logical basis. I mean, is that a joke? It must be, right? Do you even know the history of Taiwan? I do hope that person is not teaching at university!

    * Bill Gates has a responsibility to his company. So his public views will obviously reflect that.

  14. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    28. April 2020 at 03:17

    Re the Fed’s performance, and without disputing that inflation expectations have fallen too low, the S&P500 is only 15% below the record high achieved in early February. Given the real economic loss from the pandemic to play out this year, doesn’t that suggest fairly limited medium-term repercussions?

  15. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    28. April 2020 at 03:35

    5. “fragmented US health-care system” Of course, fragmentation in health care (many small, independent and disconnected providers) was the principal justification for reform. And with reform came consolidation, lots of consolidation, with hospital mergers, creation of very large physician group practices, and the rise of the employed by a hospital physician practice model. Today’s provider model is far different from the model in 2008. Yet, here is the same criticism, fragmentation, in the context of the pandemic. Here, the critic is conflating regulation and fragmentation, which requires an impressive level of mental gymnastics. If fragmentation is till a problem after all the consolidation in the industry, then the only solution is one giant provider: not only single payer, but single provider, a national health care system. But wouldn’t that require a much higher level of regulation? Duh. This reminds me of Sumner’s friend Tyler Cowen, who simultaneously praises big business (and monopoly!) while criticizing “regulation”.

  16. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    28. April 2020 at 07:18

    @Steve: Good point on the problem being mostly NYC (and the tri state area). Take them out (yes I know, cherry picking) and the US looks fine. So how much of the NYC outbreak is policy failure and how much is unique circumstances there (very cold, lots of incoming flights from Europe, super dense, public transportation, etc)?

    Clearly better policy would have helped here (like going to lockdown sooner, banning incoming flights sooner, more masks), the US does not get a pass. But it’s important to be more granular in how you look at the US experience.

  17. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. April 2020 at 07:44

    The more I ponder this “a bat in Yunnan province naturally infected someone, and it spread—-but immediately to Wuhan, where there are, just coincidentally, two virology labs studying bat viruses” story, the less compelling it becomes.

    Okay, the story as told by VOX is that someone gets infected with the COVID-19 virus, from a bat, in Yunnan Province, which is near Southeast Asia, north of Burma, Laos and Vietnam, and about 1000 miles from Wuhan. There is a major city in Yunnan, Kunming, with 6 million people.

    But, you see, the virus does not take in Yunnan or Kunming, and there are only two reported deaths in the entire Yunnan province from COVID-19. Those people are totally spared.


    So the virus is a no-show in Yunnan, but the virus pops up in Wuhan 1000 miles away, and spreads immediately and like wildfire, near the two virology labs that have been studying and altering bat viruses for years. There in Wuhan the virus kills 3,212 people, officially.

    Of course, the above cover story is laughable, but it might happen if the original infected person in Yunnan then infected no one in Yunnan and traveled straight to Wuhan, and the area near the Wuhan bat-virus labs. You know, like a bat-virus researcher from the one of the labs….

  18. Gravatar of Student Student
    28. April 2020 at 08:17

    Thanks for 6. Been trying to make this point for a month or more and the tin foil hats won’t have any of it. Even people I know and love. This was a nice short concise exposition of the point. It’s possible, just much less likely that a natural animal to human jump… like has happened about every 5 years since 2004.

    Come on people… what would you bet on?

  19. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    28. April 2020 at 08:20

    Ben, the 2009 swine flu pandemic started in Veracruz, Mexico, yet Veracruz Province of Mexico was only lightly affected with just 10 deaths (compared to over 12,000 in the US). I would not rule out any area as the true origin of this pandemic just because it was not that badly infected.

  20. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    28. April 2020 at 08:27

    Researchers are finding that 3% of the people in the regions of bat caves have antibodies to bat viruses. That does beg the question how many of those people have been checked for SARS-COV2 antibodies.

    I liked the Vox article although I wish it had tried to address the geographic curiosity of Hubei being the epicenter of this pandemic and not Yunnan where the bats actually live. That said, the article made me appreciate how callous it must seem to a virologist in the Wuhan lab who has spent her career trying to prevent pandemics being convicted on one piece of circumstantial evidence of having started one.

    I read recently that bats don’t actually kill off coronaviruses; they live with them. Their immune systems, accustomed to the highly stressed environment of an animal that has to frantically flap its arms to fly, has learned not to overreact to stressors. Our systems, on the other hand, apparently go bat-shit crazy trying to kill the virus and end up doing most of the damage to ourselves. Some of the medical researchers I have read are not confident we will have an effective vaccine for SARS-COV2. They cite low antibody levels in a number of COVID-19 survivors and the vaccine history of coronaviruses. I hope they are wrong, but I guess we could also achieve our own co-existence with this coronavirus if we develop some effective treatments and the virus attenuates over time. I’m also waiting for nursing home providers to revive the sanatoria used before we had antibiotics for tuberculosis. Seems better to put vulnerable people out in the sunlight and fresh air than leave them huddled together indoors.

  21. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    28. April 2020 at 08:30

    Ponuru is insane if he thinks America has not done a bad job…but I agree I only know we could not have done a worse job while I don’t know if a President Hillary could have done a better job. So the federal government gets the blame for the public health aspect which is the number of infections while the preexisting health care system gets credit for the death rate being comparatively lower than many European countries. So we overpay for health care but our system is superior to European single payer systems. We overpay because lifestyle and public health measures are more important than actual health care with respect to life expectancy in 2020.

  22. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    28. April 2020 at 08:43

    Good info—nicely done.

    Taiwan: It is a shame the mainland is the one which claims Taiwan is one of its own, versus the opposite. One thought on Taiwan is perhaps they knew more about what was actually happening in China and reacted based on more accurate information. That seems consistent with being hypervigilant about early detection. While your comment emphasizes structure, organization, and vigilance—-this also means they had reasons to not trust WHO or China. It was not just a good process that created their thinking on their own, it was also likely a good process around their knowledge of China and their skepticism toward them.

    Gates: MSFT made a lot of money because of China. I certainly have no problem with that. But it is easy to see why he might have a Bias that is even more “moderate” than yours. Just to remind you, I believe China is a tragedy —as I have said many times before—which has hurt its own people the most and creates distrust by others—including Taiwan. The reason I use the term “tragedy” is due to how much global benefit it failed to produce–what I have often called “opportunity cost”. It does not matter what Trump says about them—it matters what they have become. It will only get worse–although things do have a habit of changing unexpectedly. I hope so.

    Testing: relative to our size, our testing is above average—which is not good enough for any country. But we have made fast strides once we got it going. The problem I perceive is the lack of clarity of the purpose for tests. Ideally, we would like to know how many people have had the virus, as this gives us a very clear picture of fatality rates, various levels of severity, etc. As far as I have been able to tell the tests purported to have measured this (Santa Clara, LA, NYC–some others) have not been peer reviewed–although it is interesting that all 3 have similar results–which could just mean the same errors are repeated. My sense is these are very hard to do.

    Therefore, why not also do a far more simple test—what percent of people at any point in time have the virus. This clearly adds value and I have to believe it is far more accurate relative to its objectives. Maybe I have missed this, but no one seems to be caring about doing this. It makes no sense. We do lead the world in tests (yes, not per million, but the absolute size is its own difficult problem and it should not be discounted as merely a ratio)

    America not doing so badly: Yes, not so badly—-I hope we are somewhere in the middle of a 1000 piece puzzle where the rate of success accelerates the less pieces of the puzzle there are remaining to complete it. The outline is getting more clear on what we are trying to do—but the implementation is only starting to clarify. We do have to remember that the “4%-27%” is somewhat misleading. First, we don’t count perfectly, but we surely count better than China and India.

    NYC also has three major airports all connected to NYC by mass transit—and is the major point of entry and departure for international travelers —as well as domestic travelers. This surely must have some impact on our extraordinary NY Metro count. Excluding New York, NJ and Connecticut (which includes more than NY Metro) our deaths per million are in the 30s—which is very low. Of course we can make similar adjustments to other countries—-but NY Metro has the most substantial number of cases and deaths by far versus any other large city in the world relative to any country’s total population.

    Fed: as much as hey have moved in the right direction, for some reason they cannot go all the way. Somehow, inertia has not prevented them from moving a good amount in the right direction, but they have hit a wall—it will take time—hopefully not too much time.

  23. Gravatar of Raj Raj
    28. April 2020 at 08:45

    Regarding 6, I do have to agree somewhat with Mr. Cole. If 1 Million to 7 Million are getting infected by bat viruses every year (which absolutely makes sense), what made it different this time? Why did those 1 – 7 Million people never spread anything like we saw now? Are they completely isolated from us? Or do they know when they are sick and stay home?

    Or is this a different and more virulent strain? Or was there a perfect storm of events that helped this virus spread? Or was there a glitch in the matrix that caused this?

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. April 2020 at 08:55

    Mark, Good points. However, the fact that Taiwan was testing passengers from Wuhan as early as Dec. 31 suggests they were ahead of the curve, and thought that human to human transmission was at least plausible.

    You said:

    “so it’s possible that there is some factor in Asia independent of policy”

    You point to masks, but that’s exactly what I am talking about. We were told not to wear masks, and the Taiwanese were told that masks are a good idea. As far as our “shortage”, Taiwan had a crash program to manufacture masks, and we did not.

    Steve, Regarding the Yunnan study, I’m no expert, but I have to assume the scientists doing the study knew about the possibility of false positives. It would be interesting to see if that study is confirmed elsewhere.

    Lorenzo, You said:

    “Especially after the unbelievable CDC/FDA screw up over testing. Why exactly do the US taxpayer fund these organisations to the tune of billions of dollars a year? Not, apparently, to achieve elementary competence.”

    So you agree with me?

    Sarah, You said:

    “To compare policy of one country to another, one must consider the law.”

    Yes, that’s true. But that has no bearing on whether a country did better than another, rather it has a bearing on WHY a country did better than another.

    Rajat, You also need to consider that long term real interest rates have plummeted, so future cash flows are now being discounted at a much lower rate. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear a deep recession.

    Rayward, Not sure your point. Do you think I’m defending our current health care system? I view it as a total disaster, and did even before this epidemic.

    Msgkings. Why not “take out” Madrid, Barcelona and Lombardy while you are at it? Europe has much denser cities than America, even the small cities there are dense.

    Student, Thanks.

    Carl, Don’t forget that Wuhan does have animal markets.

  25. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    28. April 2020 at 09:03

    PS—-another seeming anomaly is the difference between Florida and NY—lots of hypotheses which all sound good—but the differences are extraordinary—- any ideas?

  26. Gravatar of sd0000 sd0000
    28. April 2020 at 09:08

    Scott – the issue is the median American is far less intelligent than the median German, let alone South Korean. It’s the result of decades of low skill immigration from Central America. Look at PISA and numeracy scores and weep. Yes, we have the most intelligent .001% because of our ability to attract top talent from across the world – but they’re working in Manhattan and Silicon Valley, not in government.

    I also don’t see any way this gets better. The Democrats want mass low skill immigration so they never lose another election and the Republicans want no immigration at all. I don’t know which is worse, but the result in any case is even lower human capital and worse run government.

  27. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    28. April 2020 at 09:43

    Rulle, obviously south Florida and Orlando have international appeal but Spring Break and Daytona 500 don’t have international appeal. Contrast that with Mardi Gras in New Orleans which does have international appeal and then being very close to thousands of others would lead to spreading. So international appeal and conditions that lead to spreading explain NYC metro and New Orleans…that means Detroit is the only city that is seemingly an outlier.

  28. Gravatar of rayward rayward
    28. April 2020 at 11:21

    Sumner’s skin is almost as thin as . . . . Trump’s. No, I was commenting on point 5 about too much “fragmentation” in health care and need for de-regulation. Does any else spot the irony? I recommend TIE for those who want to learn something (in this case about economics and health care).

  29. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    28. April 2020 at 11:21

    @everybody – notice our host ignores Benjamin Cole, who makes excellent points. And please read: https://medium.com/@yurideigin/lab-made-cov2-genealogy-through-the-lens-of-gain-of-function-research-f96dd7413748

    Also, the Vox article was stupid. SARS-CoV-2 (C-19 virus) is not a bat coronavirus, so aside from what Steve said about 3% and the false positives, it’s irrelevant that lots of people exposed to bat coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2 is a huge leap forward (gain of function not found in nature), mostly likely from a lab, it’s temperature sensitive (as lab viruses are) and its probable inventor, a chimeric virus superstar Dr. Shi of Wuhan, did not disclose the closely related RaTG13 virus for 7 years after her supposed discovery of it, until this year (so much for the Vox “gossipy scientists”–why didn’t they know about RaTG13?), which along with her own 2015 chimeric virus SARS-CoV (funded by the US NIH and the Univ. of NC, invented along with fellow chimeric virus superstar Ralph Baric) and a natural pangolin coronavirus, were used to construct SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19 virus). Again, read the Medium article, it’s all in there. It’s a technical read but worth it. Also note China has a history of “leaky labs” (twice SARS escaped from China, and twice btw from outside of China; BSL4 labs are not foolproof) and in 1977 a variant of the Spanish Flu, H1N1, escaped from China’s labs and infected Russians (!). H1N1-1977 was also temperature sensitive since it was a lab vaccine (not DNA spliced but selected by humans for certain traits, and typically these viruses, like the Covid-19 virus, are temperature sensitive). Again, the Medium article.

  30. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. April 2020 at 12:44

    I agree with Ray, Carl, Steve, Benjamin, and all the others, the Vox article is really stupid, and worse, it has an agenda from the beginning. If at least it were stupid in both directions, then you could say, well, the Vox reporters are just idiots, but it’s worse, they are idiots with an agenda.

    Just a few points that may or may not have been made earlier:

    1) The curious location of the probable epicenter (Wuhan!) is not even discussed at all. This is absurd.

    2) Anyone who knows a bit about antibody testing has to laugh about the mentioned study. What are they even doing.

    3) It is easy to find out that in the Chinese-speaking world only, between 2003 and 2004 alone, there were at least four known laboratory accidents with SARS-CoV-1 in which people were infected and carried the virus outside. Remember that these people knew that they were handling a dangerous virus and that SARS-CoV-1 is much less infectious, yet these accidents did happen! And these are only the accidents that we know of. Now consider a virus that is highly infectious but not yet discovered.

    4) Viruses unfortunately don’t have a sticker on it, with the description “be careful highly dangerous virus”. These virologists collect thousands of viruses without knowing what they are actually collecting. One must also consider that there must be hundreds if not thousands of bats and other animals in these laboratories. So there is a lot of dangerous contact, probably many contacts a day, the calculations made by the Vox article are completely wrong.

    It becomes even more dangerous when employees, who earn little money, are asked to kill and burn the animals. It is difficult and hardly worthwhile to illegaly drag living bats from the very south of China to Wuhan to sell them illegally, in a city from which its residents say that bat is not a popular dish and doesn’t really pay top dollar. But directly from the laboratory, a few meters away, as an extra income in addition to a small laboratory salary. Why not? The incentives are obvious. How many cases do we know where exactly this has happened in China because there are official verdicts from CCP courts? That would be interesting to know.

  31. Gravatar of General update, April 28 | askblog General update, April 28 | askblog
    28. April 2020 at 12:50

    […] from Scott Sumner, who has other interesting items in his […]

  32. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. April 2020 at 13:00

    Yesterday, the CCP threatened Australia because some Australian politicians demanded an independent investigation. That’s how the CCP works, every inferior country that demands transparency is threatened.

    This is just the beginning, the more power the CCP gets worldwide, the more extreme they will exercise that power. We finally need an inspiring plan, maybe in the vein of Ronald Reagan, how to end this regime.

  33. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    28. April 2020 at 13:32

    Maybe Detroit’s high numbers are due to its international airport coupled with the high density of the African-American neighborhoods?

  34. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    28. April 2020 at 13:55

    I don’t think your comparison of the US to other countries is fair.
    1) Very clearly their is an equatorial advantage so population to fatalities is a bad metric. Africa and India have both had mild pandemics to date.

    2) China clearly undercounted deaths. You should completely remove them from any anlaysis

    3) Our culture is probably the worst for implementing lockdown strategies

    Our main benefit outside of NYC we do not live in high population density. That definitely helps. Even Chicago/Boston are not particular dense compared to most global cities.

  35. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    28. April 2020 at 14:19

    Christian, US leaders have been threatening to do things like default on trillions in debt to China. Chinese threats to hold up some Australian beef exports are pretty small-bore in comparison. In general, China does seem to be acting more aggressively recently, but it seems this is a response to Trump’s aggression against China rather than something that just came out of the blue.

    There should be an investigation, but it should not be led by countries that enacted a China-only travel ban like the US and Australia or demanded financial compensation from China because those countries will be biased and desperate to justify their own actions. China could well agree to an investigation if it is led by a more neutral country.

  36. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    28. April 2020 at 14:26

    Scott, on the decline in long term real interest rates, doesn’t that happen at the beginning of every recession? And from a New Keynesian perspective, usually it’s the widening gap between the equilibrium rate and the policy rate that causes stocks to plummet. But this time stocks recovered after initially falling very quickly and substantially, which suggests that the Fed may have done enough to at least stabilise expected inflation at a very low level. In other words, the market thinks that inflation will remain below-target forever, but that at least we won’t be dropping into a deflationary spiral. Could that explain the divergent facts?

  37. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. April 2020 at 14:54


    the whole crazy travel ban discussion reminds me 1:1 of the crazy mask discussion. And Scott now, amusingly, is taking exactly the opposite position for political reasons only.

    The expert opinion about the travel bans sounds like the initial expert opinion about the masks:

    “Boy, travel bans are just a really, really terrible idea for a disease from another continent that will reach our continent by air travel.” — And then after a pause: “And the proportions are too small, and Trump should have reacted earlier.”

    OKAY we go it.

    Of course, the commission of inquiry would have to include reliable experts from the US, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and India. And if the CCP wants to have CCP-friendly bootlickers, you can add a few suck-ups from Europe, Russia, Iran, and Canada.

  38. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. April 2020 at 15:35

    Michael, You said:

    “Taiwan: It is a shame the mainland is the one which claims Taiwan is one of its own, versus the opposite.”

    Actually, the opposite is also true. Taiwan claims it’s the legitimate government of the Mainland.

    On testing, it’s a disgrace how slow we’ve been. We are still way behind.

    Raj, This one was obviously much more deadly than most coronaviruses.

    sd2000. LOL, immigration?

    Look at Massachusetts, one of our best educated states. It’s worse than Italy.

    Let me guess, you were already opposed to immigration before this hit?

    Christian, Yes, I’m sure I should trust you over the scientists interviewed in the article. You seem like an expert on Chinese labs—have you ever visited one?

    As for the Australia threat, if countries (and the NBA) would stop kowtowing to their demands, they’d probably stop making those threats. (I’d also like to see the US stop threatening countries.)

    As far as the China travel ban to the US, I hope you are not claiming it “worked”. Because it didn’t. I have a whole Econlog post on that.

    Sean, You said:

    “China clearly undercounted deaths.”

    Outside of Belgium, almost every country undercounts deaths. Right now, China has less than one death a day, while we have 2000/day. Presumably there is a Chinese undercount, but it’s not that extreme.

    Rajat, I don’t recall real yields on 30-year bonds being this low, but perhaps my memory is off. I also wonder if the market learned (in retrospect) that the stock crash of 2008 was an overreaction. As I recall, recessions like 1982 and 1990 didn’t have a huge stock crash.

  39. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    28. April 2020 at 16:25


    The fact that you don’t address my four points pro lab incident suggests that you can’t come up with a single good counter-argument.

    Christian, Yes, I’m sure I should trust you over the scientists interviewed in the article. You seem like an expert on Chinese labs—have you ever visited one?

    I have more confidence in the four known laboratory accidents from this region of the world, the intelligence cables, the science papers and the newspaper articles about safety risks in these laboratories dating BEFORE the accident, than this biased article by Vox, which quotes two scientists with obviously biased connections to Wuhan, who now claim after the accident that everything is supposedly fine in Wuhan.

    I like the guy with the German name especially: “Everything is fine in Wuhan, I have never been there.” — Haha, good one, at least the article has a great sense of humor, and this is supposed to be the counter evidence to the intelligence cables from people who were there, who were neutral, and who couldn’t have known about the accident because it hadn’t happened yet. Vox is making a fool of themselves.

    As far as the China travel ban to the US, I hope you are not claiming it “worked”. Because it didn’t. I have a whole Econlog post on that.

    This travel ban “discussion” is so ridiculous. Travel restrictions “work” very much like masks and tracking do “work”: they reduce transmission — with the advantageous difference (compared to tracing) that you don’t have to run after all those symptomatic and asymptomatic people like a complete idiot (an impossible task btw), but rather stop transmission before it even happens (similar to masks).

    The fact that one has to discuss this issue seriously with hundreds of thousands of experts for hours and hours, and weeks and weeks, explains in my view relatively well why complete BUFFOONS like Trump are being elected at all in our time. If one has to listen to this absurd expert bull 24 hours a day on all channels, you might as well go and elect Trump. It all boils down to the same ignorance, with the difference that Trump is at least somewhat entertaining.

  40. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. April 2020 at 16:30

    From Newsweek

    BY FRED GUTERL ON 4/28/20 AT 2:57 PM EDT
    Fauci Trump corornavirus covid-19 pandemic research NIH
    Biomedical research ultimately protects public health, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, in explaining his support for controversial research.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci is an adviser to President Donald Trump and something of an American folk hero for his steady, calm leadership during the pandemic crisis. At least one poll shows that Americans trust Fauci more than Trump on the coronavirus pandemic—and few scientists are portrayed on TV by Brad Pitt.

    But just last year, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization led by Dr. Fauci, funded scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other institutions for work on gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.

    In 2019, with the backing of NIAID, the National Institutes of Health committed $3.7 million over six years for research that included some gain-of-function work. The program followed another $3.7 million, 5-year project for collecting and studying bat coronaviruses, which ended in 2019, bringing the total to $7.4 million.

    Many scientists have criticized gain of function research, which involves manipulating viruses in the lab to explore their potential for infecting humans, because it creates a risk of starting a pandemic from accidental release.

    SARS-CoV-2 , the virus now causing a global pandemic, is believed to have originated in bats. U.S. intelligence, after originally asserting that the coronavirus had occurred naturally, conceded last month that the pandemic may have originated in a leak from the Wuhan lab. (At this point most scientists say it’s possible—but not likely—that the pandemic virus was engineered or manipulated.)

    Dr. Fauci did not respond to Newsweek’s requests for comment. NIH responded with a statement that said in part: “Most emerging human viruses come from wildlife, and these represent a significant threat to public health and biosecurity in the US and globally, as demonstrated by the SARS epidemic of 2002-03, and the current COVID-19 pandemic…. scientific research indicates that there is no evidence that suggests the virus was created in a laboratory.”


    The Controversial Experiments and Wuhan Lab Suspected of Starting Pandemic
    The NIH research consisted of two parts. The first part began in 2014 and involved surveillance of bat coronaviruses, and had a budget of $3.7 million. The program funded Shi Zheng-Li, a virologist at the Wuhan lab, and other researchers to investigate and catalogue bat coronaviruses in the wild. This part of the project was completed in 2019.

    A second phase of the project, beginning that year, included additional surveillance work but also gain-of-function research for the purpose of understanding how bat coronaviruses could mutate to attack humans. The project was run by EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit research group, under the direction of President Peter Daszak, an expert on disease ecology. NIH canceled the project just this past Friday, April 24th, Politico reported. Daszak did not immediately respond to Newsweek requests for comment.

    The project proposal states: “We will use S protein sequence data, infectious clone technology, in vitro and in vivo infection experiments and analysis of receptor binding to test the hypothesis that % divergence thresholds in S protein sequences predict spillover potential.”

    In layman’s terms, “spillover potential” refers to the ability of a virus to jump from animals to humans, which requires that the virus be able to receptors in the cells of humans. SARS-CoV-2, for instance, is adept at binding to the ACE2 receptor in human lungs and other organs.

    According to Richard Ebright, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers University, the project description refers to experiments that would enhance the ability of bat coronavirus to infect human cells and laboratory animals using techniques of genetic engineering. In the wake of the pandemic, that is a noteworthy detail.

    Ebright, along with many other scientists, has been a vocal opponent of gain-of-function research because of the risk it presents of creating a pandemic through accidental release from a lab.

    Dr. Fauci is renowned for his work on the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1990s. Born in Brooklyn, he graduated first in his class from Cornell University Medical College in 1966. As head of NIAID since 1984, he has served as an adviser to every U.S. president since Ronald Reagan.

    A decade ago, during a controversy over gain-of-function research on bird-flu viruses, Dr. Fauci played an important role in promoting the work. He argued that the research was worth the risk it entailed because it enables scientists to make preparations, such as investigating possible anti-viral medications, that could be useful if and when a pandemic occurred.

    The work in question was a type of gain-of-function research that involved taking wild viruses and passing them through live animals until they mutate into a form that could pose a pandemic threat. Scientists used it to take a virus that was poorly transmitted among humans and make it into one that was highly transmissible—a hallmark of a pandemic virus. This work was done by infecting a series of ferrets, allowing the virus to mutate until a ferret that hadn’t been deliberately infected contracted the disease.

    The work entailed risks that worried even seasoned researchers. More than 200 scientists called for the work to be halted. The problem, they said, is that it increased the likelihood that a pandemic would occur through a laboratory accident.

    Dr. Fauci defended the work. “[D]etermining the molecular Achilles’ heel of these viruses can allow scientists to identify novel antiviral drug targets that could be used to prevent infection in those at risk or to better treat those who become infected,” wrote Fauci and two co-authors in the Washington Post on December 30, 2011. “Decades of experience tells us that disseminating information gained through biomedical research to legitimate scientists and health officials provides a critical foundation for generating appropriate countermeasures and, ultimately, protecting the public health.”

    Nevertheless, in 2014, under pressure from the Obama administration, the National of Institutes of Health instituted a moratorium on the work, suspending 21 studies.

    Three years later, though—in December 2017—the NIH ended the moratorium and the second phase of the NIAID project, which included the gain-of-function research, began. The NIH established a framework for determining how the research would go forward: scientists have to get approval from a panel of experts, who would decide whether the risks were justified.

    The reviews were indeed conducted—but in secret, for which the NIH has drawn criticism. In early 2019, after a reporter for Science magazine discovered that the NIH had approved two influenza research projects that used gain of function methods, scientists who oppose this kind of research excoriated the NIH in an editorial in the Washington Post.

    “We have serious doubts about whether these experiments should be conducted at all,” wrote Tom Inglesby of Johns Hopkins University and Marc Lipsitch of Harvard. “[W]ith deliberations kept behind closed doors, none of us will have the opportunity to understand how the government arrived at these decisions or to judge the rigor and integrity of that process.”


  41. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    28. April 2020 at 18:10

    When it comes to deaths, New York State’s 22,275 represent 40.7 percent of all American fatalities, and more than a tenth of the global total of 207,970.—worldometer facts

    Like everything else, the Covid-19 story is no longer about what are the probable facts, but how it can be spun to one advantage or another. Obviously, a lot of people want the Covid-19 story to be “Trump’s Fault.”

    At the epicenter of the Covid-19 epidemic in the US is New York and New York City.

    But, we are learning that there are tremendous state and city powers when it comes to quarantines and lockdowns and enforced business closures. Nobody was stopping New York state or city officials from acting whenever they wanted to try to impede the progress of Covid-19.

    But remember, Cuomo is the good guy and Trump is the bad guy.

    Actually, I think Trump is a bit of a nut. If he is re-elected or not doesn’t matter much to me. Maybe Biden will do a better job or maybe not.

    But I am old-fashioned, and I think the job of the media is to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

    So… where were Cuomo and de Blasio?

  42. Gravatar of sd0000 sd0000
    28. April 2020 at 19:43

    Scott – I’m actually pro-immigration (and am an immigrant myself) – but I understand that immigrants are not all homogeneous and that there is a huge difference between high-skill immigration and low-skill immigration. The Democrats tend to favor the latter because its in their favor to transform the electorate.

    It’s all a political game.

    If you gave Democrats the option of increasing immigration tenfold with the trade-off that the composition of immigrants would freeze the current ethnic balance (Singapore-style), they would undoubtedly turn it down, even though the only thing that would change is more immigrants (something they supposedly prefer).

    Not that Republicans are any better. They claim to favor high skill immigration while putting up significant roadblocks to any and all types.

  43. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    28. April 2020 at 20:23

    You said “Many countries have done far better than the US. If we do far worse than South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan, Germany and Austria, I don’t get much consolation from the fact that we are doing better than Italy, Spain, France and the UK.”

    Really? Seriously? I’m surprised at the complete lack of critical analysis in that statement. Different factors affect mortality in different countries. Are you going to ignore that. Are you going to deliberately ignore the fact that in the countries you cite as better than the U.S.:

    1. Some have much warmer climates.
    2. Everyone over 30 in all of those countries have had a BCG vaccination.
    3. None have large metropolitan areas with the density of NYC (where half of US deaths have occurred.)
    4. Not all the countries count every death with co-morbidity as a Covid death.
    5. Some countries were very slow to and/or have taken very few policy steps to combat the disease.

  44. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    28. April 2020 at 20:51

    sd0000, Obama started cracking down on “economic refugees” when he rescinded “wet feet, dry feet” for Cuban asylum seekers in January 2017. So because Cubans tend to vote Republican, and Florida is an important swing state, January 2017 was the perfect time to rescind that executive order without producing a counterproductive political backlash. And remember in 2000 when Republicans were arguing Elian Gonzalez’s mother’s death meant Elian Gonzalez should get citizenship and not be returned to his father in Cuba?? Fast forward to 2019 and Kamala Harris and Julian Castro were blaming Trump for Central Americans dying in the Rio Grande!?!

  45. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    29. April 2020 at 00:09

    Professor Wittkowski is back but he has a different beverage this time.


  46. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. April 2020 at 00:31

    Christian List: “I agree with Ray… the Vox article is really stupid, and worse, it has an agenda from the beginning.” – yes, and I see you are a Good German now so my apologies for some inflammatory remarks earlier. 😉

    Also what Ben Cole and Lorenzo from Oz say about Australia’s brave claims (AUS is a major vendor for China, so they are talking against their own book) for a C-19 inquiry are true: if there’s nothing to hide, why threaten Australia with boycott, why destroy the evidence of the Wuhan wet market, why did China put out new guidelines after the C-19 outbreak calling for more biosafety at BSL-4 labs, why did Dr. Shi hide the supposedly naturally found RaTG13 virus for 7 years (until this year), which was used along with her chimeric 2015 SARS-CoV virus and a pangolin virus to build C-19 virus (which can be done in six weeks says Medium), why was Dr. Shi the first to provide a DNA sequence of the C-19 virus (she would know, she built it?), why does China insist infected animals are to blame when nobody sold such animals at the Wuhan market and they were far away (B. Cole), why has the ‘intermediate host’ animal not been found (contrary to the Nature Medicine article by Andersen that it’s probably a pangolin), why does China not allow a United Nations inquiry into C-19 origins, why did SARS escape twice from China’s labs twice in the past and why did H1N1 virus escape China labs in 1977 and infect Russians (Medium), why is C-19 virus temperature sensitive (hallmark of a lab virus) and have such a high gain of function (Id.), why did Wuhan labs advertise for coronavirus candidates last fall and this ominous anonymous Youtube comment: “The ACE2 receptor coronavirus [C-19 virus] matches the pre-pub announcements [from the fall of 2019] of the Wuhan lab. They were rushing research for a big conference” [in December 2019], ‘haste makes waste’ hence Wuhan’s BSL-4 cut corners and released the virus by mistake?

    Coverup. It’s pretty clear, the only thing lacking is more evidence. If this was a legal inquiry you could easily get a Grand Jury indictment on such inferences and possibly even a conviction.

    And finally, thanks to our host for allowing such comments. In another forum I was banned for less inflammatory comments. Somebody or some entities (multinationals?) don’t want to criticize China. Why? Globalization agenda? I’m for free trade btw, I just don’t like these externalities, along with China’s snakehead fish, zebra mussels, tiger mosquito and other externalities associated with unregulated free trade.

  47. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    29. April 2020 at 04:45

    Scott re:2008

    Interesting comment on the whether “the market learned 2008 was an overreaction”. It was an overreaction, yet somehow I never linked it to what is happening today. Like today, there were dozens of opinions, and many false “facts”. We had a President who had already had enough and was looking to get out fast. We had a Treasury Secretary whose view of the world was viewed through the lense of Goldman’s self interest—-even as I do not think he was corrupt—-just really wrong. We had a Fed chair who was afraid to lead. We had a GOP candidate who lost his way—and a patient Dem candidate who could not believe his good fortune.

    None of these observations have any analogue to what is happening today. In fact it is the opposite. Including the market’s belief about the future.

  48. Gravatar of James Alexander James Alexander
    29. April 2020 at 06:46

    So 1Q 2020 NGDP is down -3.5% QoQ (annualised), quite a bit more than the Hypermind final price of -0.6%. The consensus for RGDP was -4% (vs actual of -4.8%) so Hypermind final price for NGDP looks a bit peculiar.

  49. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. April 2020 at 10:27

    Seems Sumner is vindicated on masks based on yet another bit of evidence in today’s news (below). Is it only a matter of time before Sumner’s views on sticky prices and short term money non-neutrality are also vindicated? – RL


    To date, most efforts to stop the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, have been based on the belief the virus is not transmitted through the air. If it was found conclusively that the virus was transmissible through the air, it would significantly strengthen the case for mandatory mask-wearing to stop the spread of COVID-19.

  50. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    29. April 2020 at 13:50

    Christian, Actually I did respond to your comment. The fact that you’ve never visited the Chinese lab suggests that you know nothing about conditions there. Your claims such as this . . .

    “These virologists collect thousands of viruses without knowing what they are actually collecting. One must also consider that there must be hundreds if not thousands of bats and other animals in these laboratories. So there is a lot of dangerous contact, probably many contacts a day, the calculations made by the Vox article are completely wrong.”

    . . . are completely undocumented.

    In that case, I’d rather rely on expert opinion than your view of the likelihood of a lab accident. (Not that it matters to me whether the virus came to humans from bats via a lab or an animal market.)

    sd0000, OK, fair enough. But it remains true that your view of this situation lines up with your opposition to low skilled immigration. This seems true of most pundits. Whatever the favored in 2019, they now say “the coronavirus shows my previous policy preferences were correct”.

    dtoh, East Asian cities are generally very dense, even relative to the NYC metro area. Hong Kong is the most dense in the entire world, by some measures. European cities are generally denser than US cities (albeit not Manhattan)

    The BCG theory is now very doubtful, according to recent studies.

    The US is warmer than Germany and Canada.

    The US is also undercounting the death total. And the US is gaining on some of the worst impacted countries, so our relative performance will look even worse in another 4 weeks.

    I agree with you about policy. When I say the US has failed I don’t just mean policymakers, I mean everyone. If South Korea is doing better due to culture, that’s still a US failing. It’s even possible that our failing is justified (say if due to greater freedom). But it’s still a failure, and we shouldn’t stick our head in the sand and deny it.

    Michael, I don’t think the markets had figured out that low rates were the new normal. I recall reading about expected S&P500 earnings in 2009 and couldn’t believe how low the index was, relative to expected earnings. Now the markets know that low rates forever are the new normal, and future profits are being discounted at much lower real interest rates.

    James, Yes, those Hypermind quarterly markets didn’t seem to work. Personally, I didn’t favor the creation of quarterly markets.

  51. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    29. April 2020 at 14:03

    Scott, the evidence points in the direction of the deaths being over counted in the U.S., although I don’t know by how much relative to flu deaths.

    I know of three early Covid-19 deaths through friends. One was a 91 year old who was expected to die in January before anyone had heard of Covid-19, another 91 year old was also dying of cancer and not expected to live through February and the third was a 95 year old, who likely had a comorbidity at that age but not sure.

    South Korea has about the same number of deaths, around 300, as Japan and Japan barely tested for weeks and only one area did contact tracing.

    The South Korea government asked people to say in once they had 3,000 cases of coronavirus, the same number as the U.S. had (adjusted for population) when governors from New York, California, New Jeresy and Pennsylvania gave stay home orders. Michigan and severeal other states followed suit over the next two days.

  52. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. April 2020 at 15:20

    . . . are completely undocumented.

    Oh my god, Scott, that’s not a very high standard. You might really believe this nonsense because you’re a humanities scholar who never worked in a lab before. I did work in a lab for my doctoral thesis, and even we used hundreds of lab animals. Labs as large as in Wuhan use even more animals. If you can’t read the papers, it’s not my problem.

    Shi Zhengli is part of an alliance that says of itself that they have discovered over 500 new corona viruses. To discover 500 new viruses, you have to collect thousands of viruses, or do you seriously believe that every virus sample is a new virus? She must have been combing caves all over China.

    And then they need animal models at some point if they really want to do research. A lot of animals. Anyone who has worked with laboratory animals knows that there is contact, it is unavoidable, and before the discovery of the new virus, the security level was usually only level 2, as an American expert in the field says, which is not high enough for this virus.

    If they have collected the virus, then chances aren’t so bad that one of them became infected at some point. As we know, virologists have managed to get infected with SARS-Cov-1 so many times, just in 2003 and 2004, which is actually quite hard, because it’s not that infectious, no comparison to SARS-Cov-2, but nevertheless they managed it.

    I also found out that a very famous researcher in China was convicted in January 2020 for selling his laboratory animals as food. Yummy. The case became known because the scientist is so famous. How many unreported cases are there because the convict is an unknown lab assistant? Do they even find out?

    The central questions remain. For example, why is the virus outbreak in Wuhan when the known reservoirs are in southern China? You said yourself that the virus is spreading like wildfire, so why is Wuhan the epicenter? If the south is the origin, then there should have been epicenters there, unless of course someone transports the virus all the way to Wuhan to study it there. The the first epicenter would be Wuhan indeed.

    The CCP has to give plausible answers to these questions, and if they cover up more and more, and threaten more and more, then they become more and more implausible.

  53. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    29. April 2020 at 15:48

    @Todd Kreider,

    Why don’t we just look at how many people historically die each day in the US and compare that to how many people are dying each day now? That should give us a pretty clear picture, and it will include all the people who died of COVID-19 but were never tested, in addition to the those who died indirectly of COVID-19 (e.g. people who couldn’t get care because beds were taken by COVID-19 patients, etc). For example, here’s a baseline: https://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/12/22/95000-excess-us-deaths-during-the-cold-months-each-year/

  54. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    29. April 2020 at 15:55

    So based on that link I just posted, I’d expect to see the number of deaths per day in the US turn out to be something like 8,700 in April this year. That would mean that daily death counts as presented in places like https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/ are basically accurate. If instead it’s more like 10,000, then that’s an indication that COVID-19 deaths are underreported. If it’s more like 7,000, then they are probably overreported.

    As long as there’s not some other unusual cause of deaths popping up, that method should work fine I’d think.

    BTW, last I read, that method of counting COVID-19 deaths in Italy shows that they’ve been undercounting there.

  55. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    29. April 2020 at 16:09

    In the Newsweek article referred to by Benjamin Cole the link at the words “second phase” it describes a ($292,161) project to “Characterize the diversity and distribution of high spillover-risk SARSr-CoVs in bats in southern China” and it says the NIH budget start date for this as 24-JUL-2019.

  56. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    29. April 2020 at 16:10

    I wonder if in 10 years we’re going to be in the middle of a bacteria pandemic asking ourselves how the hell we ever thought it was a good idea to use 80% of our antibiotics on livestock.

  57. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. April 2020 at 16:36


    Viruses are more dangerous because, for example, they are much smaller and undergo a lot of changes.

    Bacteria often need closer contact or even animals like rats as vectors. Hygiene is often sufficient. When was the last bacterial pandemic under hygienic conditions? That’s right, never. Viruses, on the other hand, love human-to-human transmission.

    Your statement implies that we have a lot of antibiotics. That is correct. But we hardly have any good antivirals. If you wanted to predict a pandemic, I think most experts would have guessed viral influenza. Corona’s not that far off. Bacteria are far off.

  58. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. April 2020 at 17:16

    Why did Shi Zhengli actually say that she was totally shocked when the virus was discovered in Wuhan, that she couldn’t sleep for 14 days because she was very afraid that it was a lableak from her work group, and that she tested her viruses for 14 days and nights. How silly is that when the chances of that are absolutely unlikely??? Has she nothing better to do? Wouldn’t she rather play the lottery if she believes in infinitesimal odds?

    And what does a normal person do when she discovers that she has collected the virus and then spread it in an accident? She steps in front of the world press and says “ooops, I’m so sorry.” I bet Scott would do this, but most others? I guess they would swallow hard, take a deep breath, and simple destroy the sample. This is a quite understandable human reaction. I assume I would do the same.

  59. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    29. April 2020 at 17:35

    @Christian List
    Fair point about the relative danger of viruses versus bacteria as the proximate cause of a pandemic. But antibiotic resistance risks making a viral pandemic much more deadly. Although coronavirus seems to be doing most of its killing by directly mugging the immunosenescent, my understanding is that the majority of Spanish Flu victims actually succumbed to bacterial pneumonia.

  60. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    29. April 2020 at 17:50


    Yes, your overrall point is certainly correct, our way of life is questionable, especially towards animals. We should give our lifestock much less antibiotics, but of course then our whole animal breeding would have to be designed differently.

    Shi Zhengli said, that the coronavirus is nature punishing us for keeping “uncivilized living habits”! What does she even mean by that. Certain eating habits of her fellow countrymen, maybe? If yes, then it would be a courageous statement.

  61. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    29. April 2020 at 17:52

    Re labs in Wuhan:

    People tend to overlook there are at least two, not just one, virology labs in Wuhan that have been studying and altering bat viruses for years,


    “Wuhan has two labs where we know bats and humans interacted. One is the Institute of Virology, eight miles from the wet market; the other is the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, barely 300 yards from the market.”

    “Both labs collect live animals to study viruses. Their researchers travel to caves across China to capture bats for this purpose. Chinese state media released a minidocumentary in mid-December following a team of Wuhan CDC researchers collecting viruses from bats in caves. The researchers fretted openly about the risk of infection.”


    By Bill Gertz – The Washington Times – Tuesday, April 28, 2020

    “A Wuhan laboratory is the “most likely” source of the COVID-19 outbreak now ravaging the globe, according to a U.S. government analysis that catalogs the evidence and concludes that other explanations for the origin of the coronavirus are less credible.”


    Unfortunately, the Wuhan lab story is like everything else. If you against Trump, then you dismiss the lab story, and if you are for Trump, then you believe the story.

    If you find a radiation leak outside the Fukushima power plant, you might think the leak came from that power plant….

  62. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    29. April 2020 at 18:00

    I was not asserting that one country has done better or worse than others (although we may be able to draw some conclusions about this in hindsight.) My criticism was your assertion that some countries have done better or worse than others without taking into account the totality of circumstances for each individual country.

    And I think the clarification that “I don’t just mean policymakers, I mean everyone” is a bit disingenuous especially when the circumstances are random and/or have nothing to do with culture. It’s a bit like arguing that compared with Iceland, Kansas has done poorly against tornadoes.

    As for BCG, I’ve seen the studies, but nobody has yet to come up with any better hypothesis for other factors that correlates with or can explain the dramatically lower rates of Covid morbidity and mortality in certain countries like Japan and Korea. At this point though it’s certainly speculative.

    (Once they can do random antibody testing and correlate results with survey questions like…”do you wear a mask” “do your ride the subway” “how many people in your house” then we will have much better understanding of the transmission rate as well as actual morbidity and mortality rates.)

  63. Gravatar of Brian Brian
    29. April 2020 at 18:40

    Before covid-19 the economic news was dominated by the China trade war. Before the China trade war dominated the economic news the domestic deregulation was a big story. Is secret funding part of the deregulation effort?


  64. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    29. April 2020 at 23:50

    Christian List, Ben Cole and myself are thread winners re China and the probable leak of C-19. Sumner gets credit for allowing us to post here, since as I said others would have banned and deleted the posts. And as List says and implies, lab work involving numerous animals is common, and messy, bloody work where pathogens and vectors can easily escape. I have some people who’ve worked in labs and a certain guillotine involving rabbits comes to mind. Remember SARS itself has been accidentally released at least four times before (the Medium article) and just last fall at the bioweapons-capable lab at Ft. Detrick, MD, USA: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/virus-biological-us-army-weapons-fort-detrick-leak-ebola-anthrax-smallpox-ricin-a9042641.html

  65. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    30. April 2020 at 02:27

    Dr, Ray Lopez:

    I have fulfilled my dream of being on a winning team led by Dr. Lopez.

    Add on: Sweden is down to R1, just like most other nations.


    People are straining every which way to paint Sweden as bad, but it seems run-of-the-mill in results, except they did not wreck their economy. Oh, that.

    Trump should be criticized for not highlighting and pushing his nation to the Swedish model. And I do not mean the Swedish model that Dr. Lopez was dating.

  66. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    30. April 2020 at 06:40

    “Ray-Ban-Christ”, the new 1992 dream team that is driving Scott into utter madness.


    No, I have to praise Scott, like Ray already did, for taking it so easy and letting us do our thing.

  67. Gravatar of Jean Jean
    30. April 2020 at 07:04

    Maybe less reliance on the Wash/Po and NYTs?

  68. Gravatar of pcash pcash
    30. April 2020 at 08:36

    I don’t necessarily agree with your assumption that this issue would have turned into a pandemic with another US leader. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this occurred during Trump’s fourth year. His administration has spent the last three years antagonizing China, withdrawing from the world stage, relinquishing any positive influence and oversight on global affairs and undermining intelligence and institutions both nationally and globally. All of these negative steps add up significantly when you are supposed to be THE global leader. A continuation of status quo via a Clinton administration could very easily have quashed the issue at the source, especially without such an acrimonious relationship with the Chinese government.

  69. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    30. April 2020 at 09:32


    Unfortunately that’s not how pandemics work. If Trump’s China bashing is the problem why did Europe get hit even harder? Clinton might have given us a slightly better response but we’d still be pretty much where we are now.

  70. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    30. April 2020 at 09:32

    Todd, Deaths in the US are undercounted. As for Japan, I don’t recall criticizing their approach.

    Christian, You say I’m ignorant of labs, yet the world’s leading experts agree with me and think people like you are conspiracy nuts. So you seem to be simultaneously playing the “I’m an expert” and “experts can’t be trusted” cards. Not very persuasive.

    As for Wuhan, the standard explanation is that it came from an animal market in Wuhan. The animals may have originally been from Yunnan, for all I know.

    Carl, You said:

    “I wonder if in 10 years we’re going to be in the middle of a bacteria pandemic asking ourselves how the hell we ever thought it was a good idea to use 80% of our antibiotics on livestock.”

    Excellent example to keep in mind when people mock the “barbaric” Chinese for their animal markets.

    dtoh, You said:

    “As for BCG, I’ve seen the studies, but nobody has yet to come up with any better hypothesis for other factors that correlates with or can explain the dramatically lower rates of Covid morbidity and mortality in certain countries like Japan and Korea. At this point though it’s certainly speculative.”

    This theory was originally sold as a way to explain Italy. But now that Italy’s no longer an outlier in Europe, the theory has lost much of its appeal. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter at all, just that the evidence is not strong.

    And regarding Iceland and Kansas, I’ve never, ever, ever denied that warm weather helps. Ditto for lack of density.

    Take Korea. We know that Korea is highly susceptible to the illness, as at one point it was one of the worst hit countries in the world. Thus it’s hard to argue against the claim that they did SOMETHING right after the initial outbreak. And the data from Europe suggests it wasn’t just the BCG.

    Ben, You said:

    “People are straining every which way to paint Sweden as bad, but it seems run-of-the-mill in results, except they did not wreck their economy. Oh, that.”

    Maybe, but I suspect that in 6 months Norway’s economy will be doing better than Sweden’s.

    Christian, You said:

    No, I have to praise Scott, like Ray already did, for taking it so easy and letting us do our thing.”

    I understand that lots of my readers hate China, and are eager to latch onto any conspiracy theory. Here’s another one for you to chew on—Trump says China’s actions in this crisis are a deep plot to deny him re-election. No, that’s not a joke:

    “U.S. President Donald Trump said he believes China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November.”

    Just one more conspiracy theory for you and RayBen to start pushing.

    Jean, I agree that the 1619 project was silly. As far as Trump and Russia, he publicly encouraged the Russians to sabotage Hillary’s campaign. I saw him do it. (Not that I care.) So don’t waste time telling me that what I saw with my own eyes is not true.

    pcash, We’d be doing better, but I doubt it would have made a dramatic difference. Were Democratic leaders calling for a national shutdown before Trump? Were they warning of a lack of masks in January?

    Imagine how mostly Republican small business owners would have reacted to Hillary shutting down the economy!

  71. Gravatar of pcash pcash
    30. April 2020 at 09:49

    Prof. Sumner thank you for responding. However, I think you missed the point of my comment. I was not referring to our response after the spread became a full blown pandemic, but rather the fact that the pandemic could have been prevented to begin with. The Trump administration has undermined US global influence and oversight significantly. Status quo, globalist administration could have had a good chance of stopping the issue at the source, completely mitigating or negating any worldwide spread.

  72. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    30. April 2020 at 13:08

    Sumner gets lucky with masks, saying they are needed, then starts thinking he’s a god. Wow, fame gets to his head! I would not be surprised if it was found that while masks help, outside of a hospital where there’s a huge viral load, they are largely unnecessary. But for now Sumner wins on this issue. I find it curious however that Sumner’s not run a victory lap about the US stock market, defying gravity after the March 15 QE-anything announcement by the Fed. A real mystery why Sumner thinks the Fed had nothing to do with arresting the stock market and even now is saying the Fed is too tight. Wow, some people can’t even take praise.

    @Ben Cole – I have to watch Sweden, its models may be right? Not the model I sat next to, from Sweden, on a flight to Greece once. A pleasant 2 hour chat is all that came of it. Looking at the John Hopkins site, I don’t see anything happening in Sweden that’s positive–unlike Greece–except flattening the curve. Sweden = USA, Sweden is not Greece. Sweden and Greece have the name number of people but Sweden has 21k cumulative C-19 cases while Greece has 2.6k Unless you think old people dying is not worth shutting down the economy (which is an economically defensible position, akin to ancient Carthage and their emphasis on efficiency, compare to ancient Rome), I don’t think Swedish models beat Greek models (IMHO), your priors may be different.

    @Christian List – well, we’re on the same team now, politics make strange bedfellows, very fashionable, along with Ben (Ban)?: “the Ray‑Ban Chris sunglasses are a stylish new addition to the Highstreet collection” – says a Google search, lol. I will point out that since in the lab you can create anything, it’s not impossible to rule out that the Wuhan virus was man-made or natural, until such time we find it in an intermediate host (if ever), like Ebola has been found in bats. Until such time, it’s an article of faith as to what you believe, but for the reasons cited here and elsewhere, I feel it’s highly likely the virus escaped from a Wuhan BSL-4 lab. Sumner ignores all evidence to the contrary and clings to the ‘official’ line because as a non-scientist humanities undergrad he is not skilled in the art of biotech, he probably thinks that ‘experts’ can tell us where the virus arose, which is not the case (you can create anything in a lab).

  73. Gravatar of pcash pcash
    30. April 2020 at 14:56


    Of course that’s how pandemics work. If you isolate it to the source then it doesn’t become a pandemic. I am not claiming a different administration would definitely have contained it at the source, but I know for a fact that an administration that undercuts global relations, undermines intelligence, and ignores experts will definitely not contain it. An administration with global interests would align with a CCP government with global interests. There is a chance that there would have been more openness because both would have mutual interests without any underlying hostility.

  74. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. May 2020 at 12:25

    pcash, OK, but I’m still skeptical of that claim.

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