Some thoughts about the lower mortality estimates

The news media has recently been discussing the reduction in mortality estimates for the US, from a 100,000 to 240,000 range to more like 60,000. Why did this occur? This National Review article by Jonah Goldberg caught my eye:

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Lyman Stone, an economist based in Hong Kong, makes the case that the essential variable in “flattening the curve” isn’t central planning but behavior change. Many businesses closed down well before they were ordered to. Millions of people practiced social distancing and refused to get on planes not because they were commanded to, but because they were convinced this was a wise course of action for themselves and their loved ones.

People change their behavior when they are given clear information about risks. 

This doesn’t mean that governments have no role to play; closing government schools was probably a good idea. (Heck, it’s been a good idea for 200 years.) And many average people look to government leaders for advice. This is one area where Sweden’s leaders may have fallen short.

I’ve done a number of posts pointing to the unusually low number of recent cases on the West Coast (which is where the epidemic began in America). We did adopt official social distancing policies before the rest of the country, but not far enough ahead to fully explain the difference. On March 23rd I said:

My wife is well connected with the Asian community out here, and told me of numerous events being cancelled back when the total case numbers were still tiny.  I thought the actions were excessive, but now those cancellations now look much more sensible. . . .

It seems to me that the Asian community in California was especially aware of the severity of coronavirus, and that may explain why it spread much less rapidly here, after presumably entering California via travelers from China. After all, the previous SARS epidemic made a much greater impression on the psyche of Asian people than on Westerners.  East Asian countries also seemed better prepared than Western countries.

(BTW, there are significant cultural differences between the Asian communities here and in places like New York.)

Since I wrote that post, the West Coast disparity is becoming ever more obvious. I recall reading a few weeks ago that California expected 11,000 deaths. A more recent estimate is only 1700, not that many for a state with 40 million people. And while the Asian community comprises only a modest portion of the West Coast’s population, it’s also the population where the coronavirus first took root.

At the time, I thought the local Chinese were foolish to cancel social events when the whole US had only a few dozen cases, but now their response looks more reasonable.

Orange County (where I live), has a big Chinese community and previously had lots of flying back and forth with China. While my county has almost 1% of the total US population, we have less than 0.1% of deaths from coronavirus (18 deaths out of 3.2 million people.) We are very lucky.

The NR article ends as follows:

Information doesn’t just come from governments. The death tolls in Italy and New York probably did more to change behavior on the ground than all of Trump’s press conferences or Dr. Anthony Fauci’s TV appearances.

And this raises another complication for those who think the government can just “re-open” the economy with the flick of a switch. Trump and all of the governors could lift the stay-at-home orders and federal advisories tomorrow. That wouldn’t necessarily fill the restaurants, airplanes, or stadiums. People would still need to be convinced it’s safe. Such persuasion comes via clear, believable information, not orders from on high.

And that’s how it should be in a free society.

I’ve been arguing that we did far too little social distancing in the early part of the epidemic, and we’ll probably do too much during the latter stages of the epidemic. I still feel that way. As for now, I think we need to continue aggressive social distancing for a while.

Update: It occurs to me that the final paragraph gives a misleading impression that I was prescient. Not so. I meant that in retrospect we clearly did too little social distancing in late February and early March. I was also behind the curve at the time.



57 Responses to “Some thoughts about the lower mortality estimates”

  1. Gravatar of Matthias Görgens Matthias Görgens
    11. April 2020 at 15:12

    Singapore’s restaurants and shops and streets were deserted from about Chinese New Year onwards. Long before any requirement to do so by the government. The recent government ordered lockdown did however empty the streets and offices some more.

  2. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    11. April 2020 at 15:29

    The US has had the Vietnam War, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror.

    Let us add to the roll call, the War on COVID-19?

  3. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    11. April 2020 at 17:53

    Some of our observers have posited that populations would self-isolate even without government ukase.

    There may be some truth in this, as Scott Sumner has pointed out Americans have become increasingly risk-averse.

    However, that was not the case in the 1957 – 58 flu pandemic that swept through America and claimed 116,000 lives, out of a population of 177 million, a little more than half of today’s population. Accounts of the time reflect society almost unchanged.

    More than 100 men died in the construction of Hoover Dam, yet they kept on working. Coal miners mine despite hazards. Fisherman endure high death rates, but they keep fishing.

    My guess is that absent government ukase, almost no one under age 65 would have stopped working due to COVID-19.

  4. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    11. April 2020 at 18:50

    As you know I’m a believer in the theory that people will act rationally regardless of what the government does or does not tell them to do.

    Further to that, I don’t think that Californians are more rationale than the rest of us, i.e. I’m not convinced that earlier social distancing is the sole or even a convincing reason for the lower case rate in CA.

    There are lot of other possible explanations including…

    1. Warmer temperatures.
    2. Less utilization of public transport.
    3. Less travel from Europe (note the infection route for New York was primarily Europe not China.)
    4. Population density of LA is 1/4 that of NYC.
    5. Less time spent indoors.

  5. Gravatar of dtoh dtoh
    11. April 2020 at 18:55

    Benjamin Cole

    Not to mention 1,000 professional truckers/drivers killed on the job every year.

  6. Gravatar of Jg Jg
    11. April 2020 at 19:33

    My wife is chinese and I live in Rowland heights, ca about 25 miles or so East of downtown LA. Rowland Heights has a huge Chinese population . Early on in the corona story my wife mentioned that the restaurants are pretty empty. I did not pay attention because I don’t go out much save for work and groceries. I thought the reaction was quite odd. Now I know why.

  7. Gravatar of gt gt
    11. April 2020 at 21:53

    To those (Benjamin Cole, I’m looking at you) who think that no one would have stopped working under the age of 65, I present myself, who is from Boston and who started working from home on March 4th, and many of my coworkers, who did the same. This was all long before any government recommendations to do so, and I was able to do this thanks to the privilege of a job that allowed this.

    To Scott, the 60,000 death model seems to be completely bogus: points out that the model essentially says that there won’t be any spreading if there is “any three of: Close schools, close non-essential businesses, tell people to stay at home, impose travel restrictions.” Based on this, they predict that the pandemic will be completely over on June 20th. Frankly, I doubt if we’ll be completely out of it by September 20th.

    The model also predicts that no one will be infected in New York state after the end of April, which seems to be clearly false. It seems that we might be a bit past NY’s peak as of about now. According to the model, NY will have almost no deaths (48) in 15 days. Italy has been past their peak for 15 days and are still at about 2/3 of their peak. Frankly, I don’t think that we have any reason to expect that we’ll be better than Italy, let alone significantly better. The model is an optimistic lower bound at best, and coming to economic conclusions from it seems fallacious.

  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    11. April 2020 at 22:40

    Below are death rates per 100,000 workers in US

    Fishers and related fishing workers – 99.8
    Logging Workers – 84.3
    Aircraft pilots and flight engineers – 48.6
    Roofers – 45.2
    Refuse and recyclable material collectors – 35

    So fishermen died at a rate of about one in a thousand every year. Garbage workers die at a rate of about one in every three thousand every year.

    People are willing to be garbage workers or fishermen for years on end. So, I think most people would go to work under current conditions except for government ukases. Most non-elderly adults would face smaller risks at the workplace from COVID-19 and only for a year to 18 months.

  9. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    12. April 2020 at 02:11

    The risk of any individual contracting the virus is the individual’s concern. The public concern is to avoid a return of exponential infection in a population still largely lacking immunity.

    Are there any details on how the economy can restart where only a partial and staggered return of the workforce is prudent, and different countries are able to ease restrictions at different times and different rates?

  10. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. April 2020 at 04:21

    Matthia Gorgena:

    Singapore….2,299 cases, 8 deaths….a 0.34% death rate, and that is of confirmed cases. I assume there is a number of asymptomatic or mild cases that were never recorded.

    What explains the 0.34% death rate from COVID-19 in Singapore? Heavy testing in relation to size of population? In other, Singapore testing is capturing more of the mild or asymptomatic cases.

    Singapore has a reputation for an excellent public health care system. Is that only a reputation or grounded in some fact?

    You gotta love the US commentariat. The US is beating the world in reported cases and deaths. No one says that is because of our clunky, hodgepodge healthcare system, and “Look, the right way is the Singapore way.”

    So where was the US private healthcare system in all of this? Getting out in front, buying masks, beefing up ICU facilities? Bulking up on chloroquine? Getting PPE gear in-house?

    Was there some foresightful action by private healthcare systems in the US? I hope so.

  11. Gravatar of Scott H. Scott H.
    12. April 2020 at 06:15

    I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon about the perception of America from friends in Europe and the rest of the United States.

    1.) The US response is entirely what the press says it is.
    2.) The press only cares about gov’t and gov’t decrees.
    3.) The press follow up is to show some yahoos flouting new social distancing norms as if to highlight that ONLY gov’t matters.

    I try and explain that Texas cities have actually had a fairly aggressive response. They have a hard time understanding that in light of many Texas pols having expressed opinions against social distancing.

  12. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    12. April 2020 at 06:27

    There are about 20 or so states which have the same death rate (in the “teens”or lower) per mil as California, including Texas. NY has 30 times the death rate as California. NYC has close to 10 times the death rate of LA County and about 40 times or so more than SF. The theory that Chinese in California as more aware as a cause of lower death rates is absurd.

    Given that New York City has 600k Chinese—-with highest population, in order, in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, one wonders why Scott’s “California Chinese” were smarter than New York’s. So those Chinese in SF (marching with Pelosi) and the rest of Cal had just figured it out, but NYC’s Chinese did not. I think “the Chinese were smarter, more aware etc” sounds like a crackpot theory.

    How does that explain Texas?. Scott has no energy on this topic——

    I don’t know Scott’s view on Cuomo—-but it is rather amazing most Dems think his performance is so good he should replace Biden.

    The social distancing idea “as working” has many flaws. I live in NJ—10 times the death rate of California. All grocery stores are open——every family in the country goes to grocery stores—-although a good percent may get delivery. Same with Pharmacies and liquor stores—and Walmart. NJ is a lockdown state——cannot go to parks—-but medical marijuana stores have continuous 3 hour lines.

    In my local town Mall, Grocery store, CVS, Wells Fargo (appointment only—a joke as it is a 5-10 minute wait —I.e.—call—and go in 10 minutes) and a new large store just opened called something like “Home Products”——with a big “Just Opened” welcome sign.

    We no squat about this disease—-we have no idea if these policies are working—-and the projected deaths are low. Also—-isn’t it interesting that about 800k a year get hospitalized for flu—-and between 30-80k die per year——but we I have yet to hear that people with Flu are being hospitalized or dying in hospitals—-as Birx admits we just assume if you have Covid and died that is what caused it. What are the odds that Doctors, who rightly care only about curing the sick, give a damn if patient has flu or Covid? The odds are zero that Flu victims are being turned away——isn’t it? And if they are, isn’t that likely to cause more flu deaths?

    If your mind were as sharp about these bizarro anomalies as it is about Monetary Policy, it would be great to hear your thoughts. You are smart—but on this topic it does not float your boat. You probably just assume we will likely recover regardless of this nonsense—-you are likely right—-hope so.

    As I have said—-this whole catch-22 mindf….k is all wrong. And like the Emperor with no clothes we cheer on the policy pretending we do not see. The Emperor is not Trump—-he is in the crowd—for now.

  13. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    12. April 2020 at 07:06

    PS—-the death rate by state for the flu are very consistent and similar to each other. No lockdowns. So are different lockdown rules for Covid by state causing different rates? Who knows—-but N.Y. is 20 times Florida—-the latter one of the least lockdown states—-Nate Silver points out many Theoretical ways (not actually demonstrated ways) why rates can be different at points in time, when they are not really different—-and he makes sense——but not this different.

  14. Gravatar of Todd Ramsey Todd Ramsey
    12. April 2020 at 07:25

    Should superspreader PLACES like Disneyworld and Las Vegas, where people come together from around the country (world), share germs, and return home, be closed by orders from on high?

    And if so closed, should the government compensate Disney and casinos for suffering all those costs of reducing spread of the virus, while the entire country (world) would receive those benefits?

  15. Gravatar of DanC DanC
    12. April 2020 at 08:12

    California car culture, tract homes, sprawl vs New York density, public transit, high rises, etc seems to be a bigger root cause of the variation in infection. It is just easier to socially isolate in much of California.

    Don’t forget how the New Rochelle case spread in New York. It followed patient zeros’ train commute into New York. The number of people that he came into contact with, and infected, during a rather routine commute is telling.

    The Asian community in California shutting down might have helped, small steps to stop exponential growth can help, but I think it fails to explain the large differences.

    Plus not sure if California has a younger population than New York.

    Plus don’t ignore the role of De Blasio in delaying action.

  16. Gravatar of Sunday assorted links – Marginal REVOLUTION Sunday assorted links - Marginal REVOLUTION
    12. April 2020 at 08:16

    […] 3. Scott Sumner on the lower mortality estimates. […]

  17. Gravatar of DanC DanC
    12. April 2020 at 08:17

    By state
    California has 9.8 million Millenials. 25%
    New York 4.8 million 24.4%

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. April 2020 at 08:47

    dtoh, Read Jg’s comment. That’s also my impression. Those other factors also play a role, as you say. But California is also being hit far less hard than many non-dense states like Michigan and Indiana.

    And as Michael Rulle points out, the death rate from the flu is similar across states.

    Jg, Good point.

    gt, You may be right, I don’t have strong views. I do believe that on the West Coast the epidemic will be dramatically reduced by mid-May.

    Ewan, The return to work question is really complicated, and depends on numerous factors. There’s no simple answer. Testing, testing, testing, and masks, masks, masks would help, once the epidemic has been reduced to a much lower level.

    Scott, Good point.

    Michael, You said:

    “There are about 20 or so states which have the same death rate (in the “teens”or lower) per mil as California, including Texas. NY has 30 times the death rate as California. NYC has close to 10 times the death rate of LA County and about 40 times or so more than SF. The theory that Chinese in California as more aware as a cause of lower death rates is absurd.”

    You compare Wyoming to San Francisco, and then call me “absurd”? LOL, if you are completely innumerate then you might want to just not comment at all.

    And your nutty “it’s just the flu” idiocy is not even worth commenting on.

  19. Gravatar of steve steve
    12. April 2020 at 08:57

    Europe has been identified as the source of coronavirus in NYC. Chinese being smarter would not have affected NYC very much.

  20. Gravatar of MM-WA MM-WA
    12. April 2020 at 09:19

    It is reassuring to see the responses to Scott’s posting that note the differential infection and mortality rates across the country. The differential (~9% of the population accounting for > 50% of cases and deaths) between N.Y. and NJ and the rest of the country is just so striking as to boggle the mind. Having lived until recently in Northern NJ and having read about the boroughs in which the cases are concentrated (along w/ the Newark Nj area) cause me to wonder if broken public healthcare infrastructure is part of the explanation. Are incentives —combined w/ a stressed local populace— also coming into play? The disparity is just so significant and geographically concentrated that I am wondering if it is appropriate to take these NYC/NJ numbers a face value.

  21. Gravatar of TMC TMC
    12. April 2020 at 09:29

    Scott, where does Michael mention Wyoming? He’s comparing LA and SF to New York, as is your post. Also, his point on the flu has nothing to do with comparing covid-19 to the flu. He makes a valid point.

  22. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    12. April 2020 at 09:29

    There are still some serious changes that only seemed to come from governments. The most typical are cases where the negative effects for society are far greater than for the decision maker. See, for instance, store closings. A store with a young staff does far better remaining open than closing, even with zero precautions taken. However, the total cost we pay as a society when a store generates a few dozen direct cases, plus whatever else downstream, is quite high. Overriding the calculus from those with the best percentages and the most to lose from social distancing seems to make sense in a society where people aren’t all that socially conscious.

    It’s not just the US: I have family members in Spain that had symptoms and refused to self quarantine until the government mandated it. One even went through a 12 supermarket spree looking for supplies they thought might become scarce later, all while claiming she “just had a flu”. And yes, she really did had coronavirus. Other societies might have people that think of society enough to follow good recommendations without police involvement, but I don’t think that’s the norm outside of Asia.

    The social network interconnections must also play a role: I don’t think it’s a surprise that Spain and Italy, which have very dense cities, have worse results than California: A lot of downtown SF is less dense than many of Madrid’s exurbs.

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. April 2020 at 09:44

    Steve, Good point.

    Bob, Yes, there are good arguments on both sides. Sweden might do better than Spain.

  24. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    12. April 2020 at 09:50

    TMC< When he mentions "20 states" he is mostly referring to places like Wyoming. The fact is that California's mortality rate is 1/4 the national average, and even only about 1/2 if you exclude NY and NJ. It really is an outlier. And his comments on the flu in the long comment make no sense. I agree with his flu comments in his short comment.

  25. Gravatar of Mark Zoeller Mark Zoeller
    12. April 2020 at 10:06

    I believe the following information comes from a biography of Isaac Newton. The scene is 1665 in England, and the plague has taken its exponential toll. The infected could not leave their homes; plays, sports, and other crowded gatherings were banned; the universities closed, and the students sent home. Our response now is the same as 355 years ago.

  26. Gravatar of JoshK JoshK
    12. April 2020 at 10:06

    There might be a cultural difference that explains the early Asian-American social distancing. I work in New York; I noticed that many of the Asians at my office reported a lots of discussion regarding the virus with their friends and family. I think they have a very high level of distrust of the Chinese government and to some degree have their own, informal, network to compensate.

    This informal communication network has adapted to the Chinese government’s official control of the news. As you highlighted above – we thought they were overreacting. But they had better, unfiltered, information.

  27. Gravatar of Ken P Ken P
    12. April 2020 at 13:06

    I don’t find the number surprising as since 60-80k has been my personal guess from the time I read David Henderson’s post on the bet he might lose and followed up by reading some of the analyses on the lower number predictions.

    I believe self-distancing provided the bulk of the benefit. I would expect that to be first in a Pareto diagram. Even in January, people were not getting close to others in stores and restaurants were becoming less busy. In February, my employer began encouraging people to work from home and have friends who told me their companies were doing the same.

    I’m still amazed at how consistently crowded grocery stores are. I think it’s a combination of the new shorter hours and the fact that people can’t go anywhere else but need that out of the house time.

  28. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    12. April 2020 at 13:41

    “Testing, testing, testing” and “masks, masks, masks”.

    The public health experts say there is not going to be enough of the necessary chemicals – produced mainly in China – for all the testing. And there are not going to be enough masks even for medical staff any time soon, let alone for the rest of us.

    There is not going to be testing, testing, testing, nor masks, masks, masks.

    “Lock down” is intended only to stop the exponential rise in infection. Once the “curve” is “flattened” restrictions will be lifted as in SE Asia. And, as in SE Asia, infection will rise again. This stops only when a vaccine is found or 50-70% of the population has been infected.

    So, in these circumstances, how do economists see the economy restarting? What are their recommendations?

  29. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    12. April 2020 at 14:01

    Excellent thread, excellent comments all, with the exception of Ben Cole and thankfully Christian List is absent. Wonderful Easter gift.

    PS – In today’s news: “Beijing tightens grip over coronavirus research, amid US-China row on virus origin” – is there any doubt that C-19 virus, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is not a derivative of the known chimeric virus from 2015, the SARS-CoV virus (as per the NIH paper published by the Univ. of NC researchers, two of which are from Wuhan and prominent in C-19 research at present)? Not in my mind.

  30. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    12. April 2020 at 16:24


    A prominent epidemiologist recently lied about the virus in East Asia. Maybe you saw my post on MR:

    With respect to social distancing, U of Minnesota epidemiologist Osterholm said all the Asian countries that were said to have done so well are now seeing a big increase in cases after relaxing restrictions: (28:00) “I have alleged for some time that any kind of relaxation of these very stringent measures would result in the return of the virus. It clearly is happening in those other Asian countries that we have put so much stock in as to they know how to do it including Singapore, Japan, and Korea – Hong Kong. Look at all of them right now with big increases in case numbers. Singapore last week actually declaring a state of emergency. Japan this past weekend declaring that seven prefectures were now states of emergency. This is evident of what we’ve been saying all along ‘trying to stop the spread of this virus is like trying to stop the wind.”

    I just checked and Singapore’s case curve is bending down and shows nothing unusual after 2,300 known cases rising and 8 deaths. There was one day, April 9th, right after his podcast, where cases increased to 18% which was up from the usual 5% to 12% of the previous two weeks but then down to 10% for the past three days.

    Taiwan’s cases curve has been on the flat part for a week with nothing unusual after 385 cases and 6 deaths. South Korea shows nothing unusual as it has been adding 1% more cases a day for ten days with a total of 210 deaths. Hong Kong reached the inflection point ten days ago and there has been no unusual increase in cases while deaths have remained at 4. Japan’s number of cases have risen a bit through different policies since February including a five day old stay inside request weeks after they had the virus and with only 100 deaths. Japan’s increase in cases increased by 14% for the past four days but for two weeks the range has been between 8% and 12% so not much of a rise.

  31. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. April 2020 at 16:25

    Dr. Ray Lopez: thanks for the nod of recognition. Please explain to me why Singapore has a death rate of 0.34% from known C19 cases.

    Also, the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis said we will have 50 million unemployed by the end of June in the US. That’s an average scenario, the pessimistic case is for maybe 60 million.

    And Tyler Cowen posits multiple lockdowns ahead.

    Do you have any suggestions what macroeconomic policies, and other policies, can be implemented to employ 50 million to 60 million Americans very quickly, once the all-clear signal is given?

  32. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    12. April 2020 at 16:53

    Don’t you worry so much, Ray. I commented right at the start, it was an OT commentary, kind of like your PS.

    It was an update on the conspiracy theory that the virus is natural, but that it escaped from a lab in Wuhan, in the sense of an accident.

    Three different sources, I think it was Washington Post, Daily Mail and some bulletin. Some interesting soundbites, but it was very OP, and if you have too many links and quotes or whatever, the comment does not appear. The comment is stuck since 1-2 days.

    Anyway, your specific theory is wrong, but I give the better theories such as virus collecting by the CCP, then accident in Wuhan still a 30:70 chance, other commentators here said 60:40. Anyway, it’s somewhere in the ballpark of coin toss.

    Scott wants us to think that the chances are way lower, but he has no good theory as to why the disease broke out in Wuhan, whereas the accident theory takes this into account perfectly, better than any other theory.

    There is this one soundbite where they found a bat-virus researcher from Wuhan who said her first thought was that this virus must have broken out from her research group. She then didn’t sleep for 14 days, tested all of her viruses, but to her relief none of her viruses matched 100%. This is already a classic, let’s see how long the CCP lets such statements stand.

    Another newspaper report from Beijing is said to have written that Patient zero was a researcher from the Wuhan Laboratories. This newspaper report has since been retracted. Patient zero now comes from the infamous seafood market. The CCP is still brainstorming how to link seafood and bats, but don’t worry guys, they will come up with a creative idea.

  33. Gravatar of Thaomas Thaomas
    12. April 2020 at 18:06

    Sweden is doing better than US notwithstanding fewer restriction on social interactions.

  34. Gravatar of Dave Dave
    12. April 2020 at 18:07


    I generally agree with you that testing in the U.S. won’t reach the levels that some people propose. Some people have wildly unrealistic ideas such as testing millions of people each day. Various supplies – from reagents to nasal swabs – aren’t available in sufficient quantities to do that. There are also some wholly incorrect notions of just how much testing other countries with relatively large populations have carried out. Germany has cumulatively performed about 16,000 tests per 1 million people, and South Korea about 10,000 per 1 million. The U.S. is at about 8,500 tests per 1 million, after a slow start. (All figures are from the Worldometer coronavirus site.)

    I don’t agree with you on masks. Your argument conflates N95 masks (good protection for healthcare workers) with cloth masks (mainly protection against spreading to others). The latter can be made with simply materials – in some cases we’re talking about T-shirt fabric. It does seem that these masks are a useful part of limiting spread. They’re admittedly not a silver bullet, but it’s tough to explain the experience in Japan unless masks help quite a bit.

  35. Gravatar of Dave Dave
    12. April 2020 at 18:12


    Whether Sweden is doing “better” than the U.S. is a matter of debate. (And I write this as someone who is generally sympathetic to the Swedish view of not trying to shut down society). As of today – April 12 – the Worldometer coronavirus site shows 89 deaths per 1 million population in Sweden compared to 67 deaths per 1 million in the U.S.

  36. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. April 2020 at 20:28


    Sweden is doing better than the US?

    But then, everyplace is doing better than the US. Maybe, in every way.

    Europe is somehow keeping people on the job. But in the US, out of every three people with a job pre-COVID-19, only two will have a job by July. Or so says the Fed Bank St Louis. I guess in the private-sector it will be worse.

    Yes, we are throwing one-third of our labor force off the job with no plans about how to get them back on the job.

    You know, judging from some economic commentary, the real problem is those tariffs Trump imposed on some goods imported from China…..outrageous!

  37. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. April 2020 at 21:16

    Scroll down and look at mortality rates this year vs. last in Europe, even in the 65+ age group. The charts are hard to read…but any differences appear rather small.

  38. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. April 2020 at 21:28

    “America should be ready for 18 months of shutdowns in ‘long, hard road’ ahead, warns the Fed’s Neel Kashkari”

    Love those lockdowns.

  39. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    12. April 2020 at 21:59

    “Smithfield Foods, the world’s biggest pork processor, said on Sunday it will shut a U.S. plant indefinitely due to a rash of coronavirus cases among employees and warned the country was moving “perilously close to the edge” in supplies for grocers.

    Slaughterhouse shutdowns are disrupting the U.S. food supply chain, crimping availability of meat at retail stores and leaving farmers without outlets for their livestock.

    Smithfield extended the closure of its Sioux Falls, South Dakota, plant after initially saying it would idle temporarily for cleaning. The facility is one of the nation’s largest pork processing facilities, representing 4% to 5% of U.S. pork production, according to the company.

    South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said on Saturday that 238 Smithfield employees had active cases of the new coronavirus, accounting for 55% of the state’s total. Noem and the mayor of Sioux Falls had recommended the company shut the plant, which has about 3,700 workers, for at least two weeks.

    “It is impossible to keep our grocery stores stocked if our plants are not running,” Smithfield Chief Executive Ken Sullivan said in a statement on Sunday. “These facility closures will also have severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain, first and foremost our nation’s livestock farmers.”

    Smithfield said it will resume operations in Sioux Falls after further direction from local, state and federal officials. The company will pay employees for the next two weeks, according to the statement.

    The company has been running its plants to supply U.S. consumers during the outbreak, Sullivan said.

    “We have a stark choice as a nation: we are either going to produce food or not, even in the face of COVID-19,” he said.

    Other major U.S. meat and poultry processors, including Tyson Foods Inc, Cargill Inc and JBS USA have already idled plants…..


    Vegetarian lifestyle, ala lockdowns?

    Those of you with yards, perhaps chickens and vegetable gardens are in order.

    Money Illusion readers may wish to consider buying the largest bags possible of dried beans and rice. With some spices and hot sauce, not so bad. If water-service is maintained, you are good to go.

  40. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    13. April 2020 at 05:28

    Todd Kreider,

    I don’t know what you’re talking about, cases are indeed increasing at a clip of 200-ish per day in Singapore now, up from 10-ish a day a month ago, all non essential businesses have been closed and a movement restriction order confines everybody to their homes except for grocery shopping, doctors visits, and exercise at a local park. Socializing in groups of any size (!) is prohibited, unless they live in the same household and can prove so by ID. Fines of $10,000 or 6 months jail in case you ignore the order. Definitely much more restrictive than a month ago.

  41. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    13. April 2020 at 07:48

    You need to look at the rate of increases in cases and deaths. Apart from one day, which makes the curve have a small kink, nothing significant has changed in Singapore.

  42. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    13. April 2020 at 08:15

    Todd Kreider,

    daily new cases yesterday: 233. Daily new cases today: 386. Whatever. Must be a small kink. Yes, thankfully deaths have been very low so far, but there is a long lag between confirmed cases and increases in deaths. Yes, many recent cases are cluster based and not yet fully community transmission but the latter is creeping up too. Which explains the recent enhanced measures for social distancing, mandatory mask wearing in public transport and supermarkets, and conversion of exhibition halls into emergency wards. Believe me, no government would impose all of this if they didn’t see a pressing need.

  43. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. April 2020 at 09:07

    Josh, Good comment.

    Ewan, You said:

    “The public health experts say there is not going to be enough of the necessary chemicals – produced mainly in China – for all the testing. And there are not going to be enough masks even for medical staff any time soon, let alone for the rest of us.”

    The lack of testing is not caused by a shortage of chemicals. And the mask shortage is 100% created by stupid regulations.

    Public health experts think like engineers, not economists. The sort of people who predicted in the 1970s that the world would soon run out of oil and natural gas.

    You can restart the economy as long as you keep R0 below one (as in China and Taiwan, and soon as in Australia and NZ.)

    Todd, Good find. That guy seems pretty innumerate.

    Christian, I never said it could not have broken out of a lab, I said the “bioweapon” theory was silly. Coronaviruses are not “weapons”. LOL. Also, scientists claim this virus is not man made, based on its structure. I’m no expert on virus structure, but neither are you. Natural viruses are also studied in labs.

    And it makes no difference to me whether it was from bats, or accidentally escaped from a research lab. Who cares?

    mbka, Agree about Singapore, but Todd’s right about Korea, Taiwan, HK, etc.

  44. Gravatar of SLO SLO
    13. April 2020 at 09:16

    California’s vs. NY: younger, less obese, healthier, fewer smokers, less mass commuting, less housing density, different weather, and shut down earlier. Difficult to tease out which of these variables was more important.

  45. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. April 2020 at 09:39

    Maybe Scott Sumner has gone a little bit, well, batty. Pardon the pun.

    “And it makes no difference to me whether it (COVID-19) was from bats, or accidentally escaped from a research lab. Who cares?”–Scott Sumner.

    I think I care. I would like to see Improvements in lab procedures if this was a leaked virus. You know, tank the global economy every once in a while and the costs begin to add up.

    Has someone batted Scott Sumner on the noggin?

    I would not bat away concerns about leaked lab viruses.

    Next up to bat: how to employ 50 million unemployed Americans, thanks to lockdowns.

    Even Batman is concerned.

  46. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    13. April 2020 at 10:01

    Who cares if it broke out of a lab?

    I do. And, I hope whoever in China is responsible for regulating and overseeing labs does as well. And I hope that the CCP put on their big boy pants and make their lab practices transparent.

    Sadly, lab accidents involving deadly pathogens are frighteningly commonplace.

    Human H1N1 virus reappeared in 1977, in the Soviet Union and China. Virologists, using serologic and early genetic tests soon began to suggest the cause of the reappearance was a laboratory escape of a 1949-1950 virus, and as genomic techniques advanced, it became clear that this was true…The first recognized laboratory escape, in March 1972, occurred with the infection of a laboratory assistant at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She had observed the harvesting of live smallpox virus from eggs used as a growing medium; the process was performed on an uncontained lab table, as was then routine…


  47. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    13. April 2020 at 10:19


    You aren’t getting this. On April 8th, Osterholm, who has been tracking coranvirus since early January said:

    “I have alleged for some time that any kind of relaxation of these very stringent measures would result in the return of the virus. It clearly is happening in those other Asian countries that we have put so much stock in as to they know how to do it including Singapore, Japan, and Korea – Hong Kong. Look at all of them right now with big increases in case numbers. Singapore last week actually declaring a state of emergency. Japan this past weekend declaring that seven prefectures were now states of emergency.”

    But the first two sentences are simply false and anyone looking at the data can see this.

    Here is the number of cases in Singapore and % increase from the previous day along with the two day average:

    Singapore cases

    Mar 23… 510…
    Mar 24… 560… 10%
    Mar 25… 630… 13%… 12%
    Mar 26… 680… 8%
    Mar 27… 730… 7%… 8%
    Mar 28… 800… 10%
    Mar 29… 840… 5%… 8%
    Mar 30… 880… 5%
    Mar 31… 925… 5%… 5%
    Apr 1… 1,000… 8%
    Apr 2… 1,050… 5%… 7%
    Apr 3… 1,100… 5%
    Apr 4… 1,200… 9%… 7%
    Apr 5… 1,300… 8%
    Apr 6… 1,400… 8%… 8%
    Apr 7… 1,500… 7%
    Apr 8… 1,600… 7%… 7% day of the podcast
    Apr 9… 1,900… 18%
    Apr 10… 2,100… 11%… 15%
    Apr 11… 2,300… 10%…
    Apr 12… 2,500… 9%… 10%

    There was nothing new going on in Singapore when Osterholm said there were big increases in Singapore after relaxing restrictions. Maybe he knew the 18% increase since it isn’t clear if that is what happened that day or what was reported that day. At either rate, earlier in the podcast Osterholm said he needed 10 days to see a trend and with Singapore at best he saw a one day divergence that has since dropped to its usual range.

  48. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. April 2020 at 11:07

    Scott—TMC is correct in what I said—you insist twice I am comparing Wyoming to SF–you are willfully misrepresenting. I am comparing states like Florida, Texas, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina to California—and comparing behavior Of Chinese in SF versus NY—-and the lack of Chinese i n these other states

    My point on Flu—is obvious–where did all the flu deaths and hospitalizations go? Simple question. Do you know the answer—-direct simple question–you don’t know

  49. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    13. April 2020 at 14:29

    I’m no expert on virus structure, but neither are you. Natural viruses are also studied in labs.

    And it makes no difference to me whether it was from bats, or accidentally escaped from a research lab. Who cares?


    Yes that’s the whole point, a natural virus that was collected and then escaped from a research lab. That explains well why the disease broke out in Wuhan.

    Like Carl and Ben, I find your comment disturbing. Of course it’s very important to find out how this disease broke out. The more details we learn the better, this is really important.

    You would never write something like this if the disease had broken out in the US or in Russia.

    But if it breaks out in China, under the hands of the CCP, then we should not care? This is so absurd, it leaves one speechless. Regarding China you once again lack nearly any necessary critical distance.

    One has to think about your many blog entries in which you go into great detail about minor political affairs in the US, the UK and elsewhere.

    And now with a disease that costs trillions of dollars and countless lives, you say that you don’t care about the details, for example of how it all started out. WOW. I understand Ben when he says this is batty, that’s putting it mildly, I would probably rather use a term like batshit crazy.

    This super weird comment did not really convince me that you are not on some kind of backing list for the CCP after all. I do not think the CCP directly, but at least an organization that wants to convey a positive image of China throughout the world under any circumstances.

    There is nothing wrong with that, but it is much easier to achieve this goal through a full investigation, honesty and maximum transparency. All other paths are likely to fail.

  50. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    13. April 2020 at 14:41

    The lack of testing is not caused by a lack of re-agents? I was just going on what public health experts have said. But it sounds likely, when the whole world suddenly wants to test in large numbers. The testing has to be done in the next few weeks and months if economies are to restart. Is a sufficient supply of re-agents going to materialise in that time?

    Similarly, masks. The doctors and nurses come first. There aren’t enough for them. Pretty much anywhere. Again, they are needed now. Is supply going to materialise tomorrow? Cloth masks for the rest of us medical scientists say are ineffective. (Although Nassim Taleb says they are idiots because they do not take “convexity” – it’s a mathematical thing, not for the ignorant hoi polloi – into account – but nor it turns out do the aerosols.)

    The Ro has been reduced below 1 by social distancing. It will stay below 1 when the economy restarts only with testing and quarantine and masks – which will not be available in sufficient quantities around the world for some time. Or with a vaccine, in 12-18 months, if ever (there is still no HIV vaccine).

    The old joke about economists: “assume a can opener”…

    Getting the economy restarted in these circumstances is a challenge that requires specific practical policy advice from the experts, in this instance, economists, based on what the epidemiologists tell them.

    So what advice can we expect from the economists. We have all processed the “it’s complicated” bit. We need what follows.

  51. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. April 2020 at 17:11

    A funny thing about the possible Wuhan lab leaks.

    If you are a globalist, then it is a fact that the leaks did not occur or if they did occur they’re not important. It is certainly not a matter worthy of investigation.

    If you are a nationalist, the Wuhan lab leaks probably did happen and the consequences are very serious, and it is a matter worth investigating.

    I have to say, the nationalists look better on this one.

  52. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    13. April 2020 at 17:18

    Todd Kreider,

    seems like I hadn’t really parsed the original statement. It sounds inaccurate on a different plane. Singapore didn’t have large restrictions that were then relaxed, Singapore had few restrictions which are now being tightened (because growth rates did not slow down with the initial measures in place). Similar to Japan. Korea is altogether different. But it also doesn’t sound intentionally misleading, more like sleight of hand. He wanted to emphasize that with fewer restrictions, you get higher growth rates.

  53. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. April 2020 at 10:30

    Michael, I’m not going to waste time researching nutty conspiracy theories on the flu.

    Christian, You said:

    “That explains well why the disease broke out in Wuhan.”

    So does the animal market theory. Who cares? Obviously the lab people care, but it doesn’t have anything like the foreign policy implications of a bioweapon.

    As for me being under the control of the CCP, all I can say is that you’ve completely lost your mind:

    Yes, right out of the People’s Daily.

    Ewan, You said:

    “Is a sufficient supply of re-agents going to materialise in that time?”

    Yup. if we don’t have price controls.

    As for masks, this is what happens with price controls and tariffs—you get shortages. This is economics 101.

    Taiwan has a massive shortage of masks in January. Now they have no shortage, and even export masks. How did this “miracle” happen?

    Ben, You said:

    “If you are a nationalist, the Wuhan lab leaks probably did happen”

    Yes, for you reality is all about beliefs. If Ben Cole wants to believe something is true, then ipso facto it’s true. That much is obvious.

  54. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    14. April 2020 at 13:31

    Taiwan has a massive shortage of masks in January. Now they have no shortage, and even export masks. How did this “miracle” happen?


    your Taiwan example is getting better and better. It sounds like a wonderland. Are you sure you’re not spreading a lot of ideology and wishful thinking here?

    You could immediately google yourself how it really is if you really wanted to: price controls, export controls, confiscations, state distribution, rationing.

    Who cares? Obviously the lab people care.

    Everyone cares who isn’t blinded by ideology. Maybe the accident wouldn’t have been such a huge story if there hadn’t been a cover-up by the CCP. But of course it’s really huge now, and it’s gonna get bigger and bigger the longer the CCP hides it. That should make you extremely excited. Why aren’t you excited? It’s just so strange.

    As for me being under the control of the CCP.

    I have taken this back immediately. I suspect an organization that wants to convey a positive image of China in general, but which is critical of the CCP. I admit that it could simply be your personal mindset: libertarian tendencies plus relatives in China plus over-sceptical of any criticism regarding China from others (could be racism), etc.

    I also admit that your very positive Taiwan comment a few days ago surprised me pleasantly. I have to give you this. You should go down this road more often. The government in Taiwan would be better for China. How about a reunion? The CCP can step down, just like Honecker was stepped down. Let’s get rid of this evil regime.

    You’re right, of course. Reagents are missing all over Europe. Same in the US. It’s not (only) a matter of price. The reagents are simply not there. It simply takes time to build up a supply for the massive demand.

  55. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    15. April 2020 at 07:04

    What conspiracy theories on the flu am I putting forth? We KNOW that all deaths where Covid is present are declared as caused by Covid—-Covid obviously exists—-the question is death rates. Or just plain deaths. And the POSSIBLE conflation due to many non tests on cause.

    In any event, we we are in fact now producing flu deaths side by side with Covid—-so I am happy. You might be interested to know the following. 45 states have had more flu deaths (using 10 year averages—-which is a bit of a punt on this year) than Covid deaths. That is interesting. For US as a whole, Flu deaths are 60% higher.

    Yes, we have multiplier effects of unknown quantity with Covid etc—-and I do agree, on the margin, the shutdown was best risk reward given what we thought we knew—-but no longer.

    Global deaths are massively higher for Flu—-somehow they can count flu but not Covid. Who knows why but it seems clear Covid is being undercounted in much of the world. I do not accept we are undercounting in US—-anymore than we undercount Flu. My favorite is China. 93k Flu deaths——3K Covid deaths.

    My only concern, really, is we have to open the economy——and the data on Covid danger —-in my judgment ——and that is all it is—-and science is an input to judgement not a replacement—-is not high enough to keep economy closed for much longer.

    I do not want to say it is obvious—-few things are obvious—but risk reward leans toward opening more, sooner than not.

  56. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. April 2020 at 22:07

    Christian, You said:

    “I also admit that your very positive Taiwan comment a few days ago surprised me pleasantly.”

    That fact that it surprised you shows just how little you understand my views. You might try to actually learn them before criticizing them.

    Michael, You said:

    “You might be interested to know the following. 45 states have had more flu deaths (using 10 year averages—-which is a bit of a punt on this year) than Covid deaths. That is interesting. ”

    No, I don’t think it’s interesting, as I’m not innumerate. Nor would it be interesting if they had more deaths from cancer or heart disease.

  57. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    16. April 2020 at 03:10

    On testing, again: It is crucial to lifting restrictions long enough to restart the economy. Proposals by AEI and John Hopkins are of the “assume a can-opener” variety. We have to hope they’re right. What is the plan if they are not? Scientists I have read, both in the US and in the UK, warn that it will take time to manufacture the necessary range of chemicals in demand around the world, and that the current tests miss a significant number of those infected – which rather stymies the effort to release into the workforce those necessary for our well-being without triggering the next wave of infection. (The FDA, I understand, has relaxed the specifications on testing kits to speed supply – but the reported result has been greater unreliability.) Globalised capitalism is no doubt impressive, but not capable of miracles. What do we do if it turns out that the scientists who do the tests prove right? It surely ought to be addressed in the plan, not wished away.

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