Recent articles

1. I often discuss the “clown show” aspect of Trump’s style. It turns out that these sort of antics are now pretty widespread on the right. Here’s The Economist:

Imagine the dinner party from hell and it would look a lot like the one politicians from Forum for Democracy (fvd), a Dutch far-right party, held in November. It began with a row over the backing music, with guests torn between classical music or Ava Max’s “Kings & Queens”, a trashy dance hit. Over lobster and wine, allegations of anti-Semitism among the party’s youth ranks were dismissed by its leader, Thierry Baudet. Guests were asked how many people they would let die for the sake of freedom (“three million” was Mr Baudet’s offer). Later, the fvd’s leader suggested that covid-19 was the work of George Soros. In the days that followed, as accounts of the dinner surfaced, politicians from the party lined up to quit. It was a spectacular collapse after a remarkable rise. Founded only in 2016, fvd was feted as the future of the far right in the eu, briefly topping opinion polls in 2019. Its piano-playing, Hegel-quoting leader was breathlessly profiled in the press. Now it goes into a general election in March hoping for a few seats at best.

A clown ceiling exists in eu politics, which has kept Eurosceptic parties such as fvd from gaining too much power. Such parties tend to grow quickly before collapsing, often due to their own risible ineptitude. 

The Financial Times had a similar article.

America seems to be one of the few developed countries where a major party can become a complete clown show and still hold on to almost 40% of the electorate.

2. Reason magazine points out that the Biden administration has abandoned cost/benefit analysis when deciding on new regulations:

President Joe Biden has moved swiftly to rev up the regulatory state by weakening oversight and effectively ending a reality-based assessment of the costs and benefits of federal regulation.

Even Obama used the cost/benefit criterion to decide on new regulations, so this is a major step back toward the Dark Ages for the Democrats. Although I’m disappointed, I can’t say I am surprised. The entire economics profession has been going steadily downhill since at least 2008, and this sort of intellectual regression eventually has policy consequences.

3. This article discusses a December 2020 debate within the White House about nutty election conspiracy theories. It’s a sort of real life Dr. Strangelove. Very funny.

4. Lots of conservatives are leaving Fox News because it’s too left wing, and going over to ultra-right wing Newsmax. But now even Newsmax has been taken over the the left. Check out this hilarious video. Where will the Trumpistas go next?

5. China’s January 22 decision to lockdown Wuhan was a major turning point in the pandemic, but a less well remembered event occurred just two days later when China announced asymptomatic transmission.

Zeynep Tufekci has an excellent essay discussing how this should have profoundly changed our understanding of the pandemic, and yet many of us were reluctant to accept the implications. (I’d include myself in that list of people to blame.)

Before the lockdown, there was great reason to suspect their official statements. Afterward, however, they had finally unleashed their actual scientists to warn us, because as explained above, now their incentives were aligned with preventing the pandemic, and warn us they did. 

Further, the Criterion of Embarrassment, something historians use all the time, greatly increased my confidence in this paper—and everything the Chinese CDC would publish in the next month or so. This is the idea that something that embarrasses or puts the speaker in a difficult position is more likely to be true. From this paper, we learned that most of the cases had never been to the seafood market and that human-to-human transmission had been occurring since December. This was clearly supremely embarrassing for Chinese authorities and also very dangerous. This confirmed the cover-up, and now both China and the world were risking a pandemic. So everything in this paper and all their warnings now had a great deal of paper.

From this paper, we learned that the mean incubation period was about five days (still true). We learned that the elderly were at much greater risk (still true). 

But we learned something else very important: The paper explained that some cases either had very mild or atypical presentations. They did not reliably come with the high-fever of SARS, which, very, very luckily for the world, coincided with the infectious period of SARS. 

In addition, Chinese officials were already telling us that the disease was spreading from patients without symptoms. 

Read the entire essay; it’s excellent. Here’s her conclusion:

Now, this was round two. The Chinese officials were telling us the truth, because it was now in their interest to do so. Their scientists were doing their best to warn us, because as scientists that is what  they want to do, and they had finally been allowed to share this with us. Everything we needed to know to act was right there in front of us, but it required not just knowledge, but a theory of knowledge to turn it into actionable, timely information.

So here we are.



31 Responses to “Recent articles”

  1. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    2. February 2021 at 21:57

    “America seems to be one of the few developed countries where a major party can become a complete clown show and still hold on to almost 40% of the electorate.”

    Must be because 40% of the electorate are clowns.

  2. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    2. February 2021 at 22:05

    “but a less well remembered event occurred just two days later when China announced asymptomatic transmission……

    ….this should have profoundly changed our understanding of the pandemic, and yet many of us were reluctant to accept the implications. (I’d include myself in that list of people to blame.)”

    Except a recent review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of all the studies and all the data on household transmission shows that the rate of asymptomatic transmission is statistically zero (0.7%)

  3. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    2. February 2021 at 22:08

    “the Biden administration has abandoned cost/benefit analysis when deciding on new regulations”

    Only a clown would think that’s a bad thing.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. February 2021 at 22:55

    dtoh, You said:

    “Must be because 40% of the electorate are clowns.”

    Or maybe they are people who like going to the circus.

  5. Gravatar of eigensheep eigensheep
    2. February 2021 at 22:59

    The “hilarious video” link has the wrong url.

  6. Gravatar of Owen Owen
    2. February 2021 at 23:46

    The “hilarious video” link isn’t working.

  7. Gravatar of Gwen Gwen
    3. February 2021 at 02:43

    “Kings and Queens” is a banger though.

  8. Gravatar of steve steve
    3. February 2021 at 03:53

    As a dog that returneth to his vomit, so is the fool that repeateth his folly.

  9. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    3. February 2021 at 03:56

    dtoh, I think you should re-read that study you posted.

    Prof. Sumner, the #4 video link is broken.

  10. Gravatar of Classical Liberal Classical Liberal
    3. February 2021 at 06:21

    “The entire economics profession has been going steadily downhill since at least 2008, and this sort of intellectual regression eventually has policy consequences.”

    Yes this it true. But this is at least in part because the free-marketers stopped aggressively pushing their ideas. They had assumed they had “won” the war and moved on to other business. On issues like free trade, taxing consumption vs. savings and the superiority of the ETIC over the minimum wage, the arguments and the principles that underpin them need to be explained over and over again, even if that seems extremely boring to you. You can’t assume that because we had a policy consensus in 1999, that the consensus will hold without some strong advocates in the public sphere. The natural inclination of voters, policymakers and members of the non-economics academia is towards government-imposed solutions to all problems. And most members of the economics profession are unwilling to stand athwart what is perceived to be a strong tide of changing public opinion, at least not without the cover of strong free-market advocates at the top of the profession.

    The Trump years provided a great opportunity to push for free trade and more high-skilled immigration into the US and explain to the public why these policies would make the US better off as a whole and why people bottom of the income distribution would benefit the most. But instead we spent most of our time talking about the moral bankruptcy of the GOP, which, true though it was, hasn’t really gotten us anywhere and is something that plenty of non-economists had covered.

    The case for letting markets allocates resources seems straightforward and indisputable to us, but it is very counterintuitive for everyone else. So it need to be explained incessantly. It is our lot in life. The price of economic liberty is external lectures about comparative advantage.

  11. Gravatar of Mike Sax Mike Sax
    3. February 2021 at 07:57

    Regarding the debate over ‘cancel culture’ Trump’s friend the My Pillow guy was recently banned on Twitter. So he went on NewsMax to discuss the evils of cancel culture but he kept screaming that Trump really won that election and the NM host was forced to read out a legal document stating NM had no reason to believe the election wasn’t legitimate and when My Pillow still wouldn’t stop screaming his mic was shutoff.

    So in a show meant to lambast cancel culture NewsMax ended up cancelling him?

  12. Gravatar of Ryan Ryan
    3. February 2021 at 08:07

    To be fair, there seems to be a healthy debate around cost/benefit analysis. Such analyses strive to quantify things that arguably shouldn’t be quantified (value of human life, value of healthcare, value of environment), and necessarily require many assumptions for the variables that get plugged into the spreadsheet. Such analyses should probably factor in uncertainty and therefore be probabilistic, but are they (I really don’t know myself)? This topic has been discussed multiple times on Russ Roberts’ Econ Talk podcast.

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. February 2021 at 08:47

    Everyone, Sorry, I fixed the link.

    Classical, The problem is that lots of economists changed their minds. So it’s not just about “educating” the public.

    Mike, Yes, that’s the video I tried to link to. Hilarious.

    Ryan, But if you don’t use cost/benefit analysis, on what possible basis are you justifying new regulations?

  14. Gravatar of Sean Sean
    3. February 2021 at 08:49

    Monetary policy has gotten much better this decade.

    It’s difficult for people to massively change their beliefs in a short period of time especially when the world we live in has some existential threat always looming. Most threats end up passing us by.

    In retrospect the best policy would have been to rush the vaccines to 65+ during the summer while doing quick direct human trials. But not sure that libertarian policy would fit more than a small minority of the populations political sensibilities.

  15. Gravatar of Student Student
    3. February 2021 at 09:06

    2 is weird. My bet is that will be hard to actually do this given many regulatory policies have basis in legislation requiring cost/benefit (or CB type) analysis. So executive order or not, I don’t see how this works in applied practice.

  16. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    3. February 2021 at 09:49

    Tufekci’s essay is pretty worthless because she only works with 20/20 hindsight.

    In free democratic countries, one can simply read all official statements from a serious government and the papers of “actual” scientists and take them seriously.

    According to Tufekci, in countries like CCP China, you have to wait for certain events and times where CCP China then supposedly “unleashes” their “actual scientists”, whatever that is.

    Tufekci again determines the “right time” by 20/20 hindsight, which is of course a completely worthless method.

    It is even arbitrary, because the propaganda of CCP China regarding Covid-19 is going on as we speak and Tufekci has not shown any good way how to separate the Covid-19 lies of CCP China from the true information. Her only real “method” is hindsight. This is not a method, it’s cheating.

    All in all a worthless article with a lot of bla bla. One has to be really biased to fall for something like this.

    Tufekci would have to pick 50-100 questionable unclear current statements and studies from CCP China and then determine for sure right now if these statements are correct or bogus. If she is clearly better than the 50-50 coincidenc in a year or so, then we can talk again.

    But even then she would disprove her own absurd theory, because the “point in time” for “truth” from the “actual” scientists supposedly already came. So no fake news from CCP China anymore because they would supposedly be so embarrassed. Haha, good one.

    These regimes are so ruthless, much like Trump, they don’t even know what embarrassment is anymore.

  17. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    3. February 2021 at 09:50

    2. We are at the virtue signaling stage of the Biden presidency because he wants to make a good first impression with progressives to keep them energized going into 2022. So things like cancelling the Keystone pipeline look good but obviously if the Keystone pipeline could ever be completed it would have already happened. And remember Trump banned new offshore drilling off Florida so obviously Big Oil believes the next several years is going to feature weak demand for oil so they aren’t really looking to do more exploration as we will be in a cost cutting phase of energy production.

    5. USA Today had a great article about how a Fauci underling initiated the development of the NIH-Moderna vaccine and an important date was January 10th when Chinese scientists posted the genetic sequence on a website.

  18. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    3. February 2021 at 09:58

    The GOP and Dems are within 3-4% of each other at the national presidential level–so it is unclear how that means the Republicans have 40% —-by registration? By percent of House and Senate/? By percent of Governors and State Houses/Senate? Why exaggerate? This was true before Trump and it will be true after Trump.

    And why are only the GOP “the clowns”.

    I cannot believe—and I really mean I CANNOT believe—that you think a cost-benefit analysis matters—not because it shouldn’t matter—but because the answer comes first, and the rationale is then fitted—sort of like Blinder’s multiplier on spending of 1.723. Plus any real cost-benefit—-would lower Government spending and regulation on average—but that is ignored—-what does being libertarian mean to you?

    You cannot stop talking about the election–why? Your clown lost–It is like a sports fanatic reliving the highlights of last year’s super bowl.

    Look ahead—yes Biden should do cost benefit—-but it should also start at “zero based budgeting” and “zero based regulating” in its analysis—but no one ever does this—it is a pipe dream.

    You believe China because NOW it is their interest to tell the truth
    because of Embarrassment theory? That is a good one. China is prone to embarrassment? Is that how Mao got to power?

    It is hard to believe you can write that–it is absurd. How do you know what they think is in their interest or what they find embarrassing—(as if that matters).?–maybe they think they are 4D Chess players–in fact Xi does think that. Never saw you use that argument before—-it seems broadly applicable–even for Trump—and ridiculous.

    Scott—put your smart hat back on—this is unbearable. Attack the new dogs in town.

  19. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    3. February 2021 at 10:01

    –“To be fair, there seems to be a healthy debate around cost/benefit analysis. Such analyses strive to quantify things that arguably shouldn’t be quantified (value of human life, value of healthcare, value of environment), and necessarily require many assumptions for the variables that get plugged into the spreadsheet.”–

    Not everything is truly quantifiable, but you need to do your best to use an approximation so that you can make reasonable decisions.

    Suppose policy A will would reduce annual US fatalities on net by 25,000 but it is also expected to reduce GDP and create other costs estimated at $500 billion/yr.

    There needs to be some rational way of evaluating this trade off.

    The least bad way to do it is to say “well, it will cost us $20 million per life saved and that’s probably not worth it.”

  20. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    3. February 2021 at 10:48

    –“America seems to be one of the few developed countries where a major party can become a complete clown show and still hold on to almost 40% of the electorate.”–

    Part of the problem is that there’s only two choices, and it all depends on which party’s clown antics scare you more.

  21. Gravatar of harry harry
    3. February 2021 at 12:02

    An academic in San Francisco now says Bernie Sanders mittens are racist, and a symbol of white supremacy. I’m curious, is that a “clown show”?

    You cannot talk about the radical right, without talking about the radical left.

    Otherwise, you are just promoting CCP propaganda.

  22. Gravatar of Dale Doback Dale Doback
    3. February 2021 at 12:16

    Seems like a mainstay of the comment section is people making far-fetched Covid claims and citing papers that do not at all support their claim. Election fraud conspiracy theories were at least bizarre and open-ended enough they couldn’t be disproven in like 30 seconds of skimming a paper.

  23. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    3. February 2021 at 14:13

    Can’t imagine an argument for getting rid of cost benefit analysis, unless part of some sweeping deregulation program. Even then, it would seem reckless in some areas.

  24. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    3. February 2021 at 16:35

    Abandoning cost benefit approach regulation is a bad ideas, but seeing how little good it did us against Trump’s trade, immigration, tax, and health insurance policies, one can see why the idea might be tarnished

  25. Gravatar of TMC TMC
    4. February 2021 at 09:38

    Trade might not have held up, but I can see immigration, tax, and health insurance policies easily passing cost/benefit analysis.

  26. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. February 2021 at 10:45

    Everyone, LOL at the people who think bad regulatory policies are equally clown show to Jewish space lasers. If you can’t see what’s in front of your eyes, nothing I say will convince you.

    Sean, Agree on vaccines.

  27. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    5. February 2021 at 10:00

    Scott, I’m not sure what you meant by Jewish space lasers, but whatever that’s about doesn’t affect my personal life.

    The clown show ideas from the left (e.g. critical race theory) not only have wide currency, but can and do directly affect my life. My business was literally Molotov cocktailed over what allegedly happened to George Floyd in a different part of the country. If I spoke my political views plainly and HR heard them, I’d worry I’d be fired. The President of the United States literally said that businesses run by every demographic except mine would be “prioritized” for assistance, enshrining explicit racism as public policy at the national level.

    That’s what I was getting at regarding clown shows on both sides. And I can tolerate a lot worse than Trump as long as it gets rid of the above.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. February 2021 at 10:07

    Justin, You said:

    “I’m not sure what you meant by Jewish space lasers”

    I stopped reading right there. This was one of the biggest news stories in America this past week. Someone that uninformed on the sad decline of the GOP is not going to have a worthwhile opinion. Do you only read news sources that make the left look bad?

  29. Gravatar of Justin Justin
    8. February 2021 at 10:18

    Scott, my primary news sources are Bloomberg, CNN, HuffPo and Fox.
    Aside from that, I get my news secondhand based on what people blog about.

    Most days I glance headlines from at least one or two of those sources, but I don’t spend more than a few minutes on it. Didn’t recall seeing anything on Jewish space lasers and said so.

    I found the story with a Google search. Yeah, it’s a little weird, but I file it into the same category as the one Representative who thought adding more troops to Guam would make it capsize, another who said he saw a UFO, and a (IIRC) Senate candidate who said scientists created mice with human brains.

    I don’t see why it’s important to focus on a single person in Congress who says something very odd instead of focusing on things which directly affect our lives.

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. February 2021 at 12:07

    Justin, Because the crazies have taken over the GOP. Trump is the de facto leader of the party, and he’s only slightly less loony.

  31. Gravatar of mish mish
    8. February 2021 at 13:56

    Sure, it’s the GOP that is being taken over by crazies… just out of curiosity, how would you label those that have taken over the Democratic Party then?

    Mr Sumner is a brilliant monetary economist, I have always enjoyed reading his posts on monetary policy from which I learned so much and I am extremely thankful for that opportunity. I doubt that there are more than a handful living economists in the world with comparable knowledge in that area.

    But precisely for that reason, it is quite disillusioning that I read stuff like this again on this blog. Yes, I’m aware of the importance of virtue signaling and I guess it feels so cool and edgy, but how is it possible that it has become so addictively popular not just to ignore what is happening around you with Barbarians already inside the gates, but to actively (or implicitly) brag about how you didn’t notice it.

    And it always starts with the same kind of excuses (“It’s just a few broken skulls, man, it’s not even a college sport!”), the same ridiculous naive questions (“Why would they abandon the cost/benefit analysis now??”) and the same pompous attitude (“Stopped reading right there, someone like this cannot have a worthwhile opinion about anything!”) used to smear opponents while in fact dodging reasonable and justified concerns.

    And I’m not even a conservative, much less a Republican. I don’t even live in the USA, so maybe I shouldn’t care. But I was born in an (ex-)communist country, survived a war and daily bombings from National People’s Party (of course, in the name of anti-fascism and ‘brotherhood’) and now I’m living in a country being gradually degraded and burned down (figuratively and literally) by progressive policies and mass immigration, so it just makes me sad to see that the West is repeating the same mistakes all over again, while really decent men are mostly either standing still or in worse case, aiding and abetting.

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