Was China the worst possible place for the coronavirus to hit?

Alex Tabarrok has a new post entitled:

Is the world fortunate that the coronavirus hit China first?

I probably agree with Alex as much or more than any other blogger, but here I’d like to argue the opposite hypothesis. My argument will be based on four factors:

1. China is one of the few countries in the temperate region of the world with a big population and no free speech, which inhibits its ability to become aware of a viral outbreak in a timely fashion.

2. In regions that did become aware of coronavirus in a timely fashion, the disease spread has been far less severe than in Hubei.

3. China is developed and populous enough that many of its people travel all over the world. That’s not true of many poor countries.

4. The virus is widely believed to thrive on cold dry air and quickly fade away in warm humid weather. Thus it might have been less of a problem in a tropical country.

Here’s the data we have so far. (Later I’ll discuss its possible inaccuracy):

1. The disease is mostly confined to Hubei province, where it is very widespread (nearly 50,000 reported cases, and many unreported. There are over 1300 confirmed deaths, almost all in Hubei.

2. Most of the other cases (about 20%?) are in other Chinese provinces, but there are only a few dozen deaths.

3. There are two overseas deaths, three if you include Hong Kong.

4. The most important point is this. As the disease spreads all over the world, the share of cases outside Hubei has remained low, and is actually falling over time. That’s odd.

Just yesterday, there was a big revision in the Chinese data, so there is reason to question its accuracy. But the puzzling data within China (i.e. an increasing share within Hubei) is mirrored by the international data. Obviously the Chinese government is not faking the international data!

Here’s the elephant in the room. The fact that the coronavirus has been controlled reasonably well in areas outside of Hubei suggests that if the Chinese government had immediately done the things that foreign governments and non-Hubei Chinese governments have been doing, the outbreak on Hubei would be just as mild as it’s been elsewhere. They didn’t do those things because their repressive political climate caused the central government to be unaware of the severity of the problem. Local doctors knew, but were ignored. It was an obvious “unforced error’ by the Chinese government, ultimately caused by their lack of freedom.

Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see why my claim here is even controversial. China was probably the single worst country for the coronavirus outbreak to occur. (Other viruses may be different.)

PS. Off topic, consider this:

Mr Tribe said there was still hope that the federal judiciary could remain a check on Mr Trump’s power, and a crucial test would be whether the judge in the case against Mr Stone approved the reduced sentence. “As long as the courts are not wholly subservient we have not plunged completely into the darkness of a banana republic,” he said.

Well at least Trump doesn’t get to pick the judges. Oh wait . . .


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50 Responses to “Was China the worst possible place for the coronavirus to hit?”

  1. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    13. February 2020 at 14:30

    It is true that the “Chinese way of life” could be partly responsible for the fact that the virus was created in the first place. Suddenly you get an idea why other cultures could have developed all these ridiculous-looking dietary laws over thousands of years.

    Chinese doctors discovered the disease relatively quickly, which is not easy at all considering the symptoms. It just looks like influenza or a common cold or you don’t have any symptoms at all.

    Unfortunately, the regime did not react rigorously and promptly enough after the miraculous discovery. Instead, it made several cover-up attempts. Valuable time has been lost. After this terrible mess, certain aspects of the reaction were kind of impressive. I don’t think too many other countries could have pulled this off, especially when you adjust for GDP per capita.

    It is easy to test your theory in reality: some experts say that it will be almost impossible to stop the transmission of the virus once it enters India, Bangladesh or any other densely populated region with an inferior healthcare system. Some of these experts believe that this is already happening, but that it is largely undiscovered at the moment. Perhaps such viruses are constantly emerging in other regions of the world as well, but are simply not detected.

  2. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    13. February 2020 at 14:31

    Tribe,much like Krugman in economics, proves one can be both brilliant in their field but still be political hacks. Tribe knows, but pretends he does not, that there was a legitimate disagreement between what Barr thought was agreed to with the prosecuting attorneys and the eventual sentence that was handed out. Of course, Trump had to confuse matters with his dopey tweet—forcing Barr to go on ABC news. But as usual, Trump was a side show, having nothing to do with the actual case.

    My thought on “being lucky/unlucky the virus started in China” is interesting but largely beside the point. What we learned, again, is that Authoritarian governments don’t do well in crises (Chernobyl versus Fukushima). China is a tragedy—an “opportunity cost” of historic proportions is their fate.

  3. Gravatar of LC LC
    13. February 2020 at 14:33

    I agree with you Scott.
    One minor point might be the role of Central Government vs the role of Hubei Provincial Government. I view the purported story line that “central government was not aware” as implausible. According to provincial reports, they alerted central government on 12/30 and 12/31, but central government didn’t respond with vigor until 1/18 or 1/19, so there was foot dragging or cover up. Now the situation has gotten out of hand, the Hubei officials are being thrown under the bus by the central government and the CCP.
    There are 2 potential silver linings to this episode though: 1.) Freedom of speech has become a much more important issue to the average Chinese citizen 2.) Health care investment, especially regular accessible health care investment will accelerate in Chinese cities.
    None of this makes up for the 1300+ people that have died so far, but it’s a lesson in governance for China.

  4. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. February 2020 at 17:07

    I am a little surprised the libertarian-ish Scott Sumner thinks the sentencing of Roger Stone is justified.

    Stone’s crimes?

    “On January 25, 2019, Stone was arrested at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home in connection with Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation and charged in an indictment with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements.”

    —30—

    Then, during his trial, the federal judge placed a gag order on Roger Stone, in regards to the trial. So the federal government was prosecuting a private citizen for not cooperating with the government and then banned that citizen from speaking in public about the trial.

    So we have a private citizen who is not actually charged with an underlying crime, such as espionage, theft or violence against another person.

    The witness tampering charges regard a radio comedian named Randy Credico, who says he never took Stone’s witness tampering efforts seriously. Apparently, no one takes the gadfly Stone seriously except for peevish federal prosecutors.

    Nine years in prison? Gag orders?

    Another spooky thought: reportedly, federal prosecutors could have sought a 50-year prison sentence for Stone.

    In some nations, citizens learn never to get sideways to power groups in government. It becomes second nature.

    Americans may wish to ponder their natures.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    13. February 2020 at 17:11

    Michael, Corruption can be right in front of your face, and some people just refuse to see it.

    LC, Good point.

    Ben, You said:

    “I am a little surprised the libertarian-ish Scott Sumner thinks the sentencing of Roger Stone is justified.”

    I’m not surprised that you just make things up. You do it all the time. Here’s a hint. If I don’t say something, don’t assume I believe it. Is that so hard?

  6. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    13. February 2020 at 18:03

    Ben Cole—The underlying crime is an email account was hacked. So in 2008 an American teenager guessed Palin’s email password correctly and he spent a year in prison. In 2016 an executive with the Cardinals was sentenced to 4 years for simply remembering his former boss’s email password and reading his emails with his new team. You seem to be arguing that both of these criminals could have gotten away with their crime had they simply asked a Russian to hack into these email accounts. Either email hacking is a serious offense or it isn’t.

  7. Gravatar of Mark Mark
    13. February 2020 at 19:45

    It seems the reason the virus is so much deadlier and more prevalent in Hubei is because the Chinese government was willing to put in totalitarian measures that limited the spread to Hubei at a significant (and in my opinion likely not worth it) cost to the residents of Hubei. The restrictions put in place by other countries don’t seem to be a big factor in slowing the disease; many countries have not restricted travel from China (including Canada, many European countries, and many Southeast Asian countries) yet they don’t seem to be getting any more cases than neighboring countries that have restricted travel. Hubei effectively jumped on the grenade here (or was thrown on the grenade by the Chinese central government).

  8. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. February 2020 at 19:51

    Scott Sumner–my apologies. Please delete earlier comment, and sub this in:

    I am a little surprised American libertarians have taken so little umbrage at the proposed sentencing of Roger Stone. Yes, Trump and Stone are controversial, even disagreeable characters. Should that color one’s perspective?

    Stone’s crimes?

    “On January 25, 2019, Stone was arrested at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home in connection with Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation and charged in an indictment with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements.”

    —30—

    Then, during his trial, the federal judge placed a gag order on Roger Stone, in regards to the trial.

    So the federal government was prosecuting a private citizen for not cooperating with the government, and then banned that citizen from speaking in public about the trial.

    We have a private citizen, Stone, who is not actually charged with an underlying crime, such as espionage, theft or violence against another person.

    The witness-tampering charges regard a radio comedian named Randy Credico, who says he never took Stone’s witness tampering efforts seriously. Apparently, no one takes the gadfly Stone seriously, except for peevish federal prosecutors.

    Nine years in prison? Gag orders? Pre-dawn arrests at gunpoint (twin modified M-16s, the arrest is one YouTube).

    Do you see a pattern here?

    Another spooky thought: reportedly, federal prosecutors could have sought a 50-year prison sentence for Stone.

    In some nations, citizens learn never to get sideways to power groups in government. It becomes second nature.

    Americans may wish to ponder their natures.

  9. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    13. February 2020 at 21:21

    Sumner missed the elephant in the room, which Christian List–my ally here–spotted, namely, the coronavirus is a species jumping virus that results from China’s “wet market” dietary preferences, where people eat live animals (sometimes literally) which harbor pathogens, e.g., fruit bat stew (which I hear is delicious actually). So indeed Sumner is right, but he fails to cite the main reason. Sumner is right. Did I just type that?

    OT – I remember when Ben Cole was rational, not a troll, and was an early MMT advocate. What happened? Has somebody hijacked Ben’s email?

  10. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. February 2020 at 22:41

    Gene— Yes, but the individuals you mentioned were charged with the crime. The federal prosecutors did not charge Roger Stone with hacking emails.

    Ergo, Roger Stone is not guilty of hacking emails, and has not even been charged with such.

    Be aware of political or PC prosecutions. Sometimes it’s the communists, other times its the polluters, then on a third time it might be purported rapists, or then white-male police officers.

  11. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    13. February 2020 at 22:48

    Ray Lopez:

    I am still an MMT advocate. Although I’m open to using money financed fiscal programs to obtain that end, and I am skeptical that quantitative easing or interest rate reductions alone are effective (by the way, so are most central bankers and BlackRock, Pimco and Ray Dalio).

    I believe myself to be a brilliant and effective advocate for My Views and not a troll!

    That said, I really want to be your valet at $250,000 a year. I can even beat you at chess…but let you win often enough to make it interesting.

  12. Gravatar of Matthias Görgens Matthias Görgens
    13. February 2020 at 23:16

    > They didn’t do those things because their repressive political climate caused the central government to be unaware of the severity of the problem. Local doctors knew, but were ignored. It was an obvious “unforced error’ by the Chinese government, ultimately caused by their lack of freedom.

    I wonder how many false positives there are with epidemics?

    Ie given enough people, even just pure randomness will cause lots of clusters of people with weird and dangerous symptoms. When the government learns that some doctors have learned of a weird cluster, they don’t know yet, how it’ll pan out.

    If they suppress news of a truly random cluster, they will have avoided bad PR and there will be no other consequences to hold them accountable.

    If they suppress early news of a true epidemic in the making, you get the current situation.

    As outsiders, we don’t know how many false positives they suppressed, so it’s hard to evaluate the situation.

    More liberal governments face similar choices, but there it’s more about ‘take serious’ vs ‘ignore’ than ‘suppress’.

    Overall a freer press seems like a more stable situation, because rumours have less impact when the official news are trustworthy.

  13. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    14. February 2020 at 01:31

    Scott,

    as usual, many intellectuals simply admire “state capacity” as it is now called… so they admire and envy the things they imagine “state capacity” can achieve. This then transfers neatly to the assumption that without that state capacity, it would have been much worse (i.e., had it not been in China). In reality, looking at the past – SARS disappeared eventually, both in countries with high state capacity, and in countries with low state capacity. You can claim that Singapore, Hong Kong, and various other wealthy countries stopped SARS transmission because of superior measures taken. In reality, SARS disappeared everywhere, even where the measures taken were vastly inferior. It has always puzzled me that no one at the time seemed to ask – what truly made SARS disappear? If I had to guess, a combination of the humidity hypothesis (that paper appeared around SARS time, though it was about the common flu virus), and proliferation of harmless mutants that effectively “vaccinated” enough people through subclinical infections to provide herd immunity. Let’s just hope we get as lucky this time around too.

  14. Gravatar of P Burgos P Burgos
    14. February 2020 at 05:50

    Couldn’t a virus like this have come from somewhere in West or East Africa? Nigerians and Ethiopians travel all over the world too. I suspect it would take their medical communities and governments a lot longer to even come to the conclusion that they had a new virus.

  15. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    14. February 2020 at 08:05

    Scott—-I really am very surprised you believe Barr is corrupt. I hope you are better on MM :-). -because I have chosen to believe your arguments (because you are so persuasive)——I do not know if you simply disagree with his “Scalia” like views of the constitution or if you really think he is corrupt. If the latter, you are really off base. I tell you that not to “argue” but to inform you. So be it.

  16. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    14. February 2020 at 09:07

    Regarding Stone – there was little chance he was ever going to get 7-9 years.

    Popehat (former fed prosecutor, current defense attorney and the opposite of a Trump fan) is a great follow on this type of stuff.

    Likely outcome regardless of Trump interference is 2-3 years or less.

  17. Gravatar of Chris Chris
    14. February 2020 at 09:09

    @mbka – ‘State Capacity’ isn’t synonymous with authoritarian power.

  18. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    14. February 2020 at 09:27

    Ben Cole, if the underlying crime is serious you really need to cooperate with law enforcement officials. The fact a St. Louis Cardinals employee got 4 years in a federal prison for guessing his former boss’s email password shows in America email hacking is a serious crime.

  19. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. February 2020 at 09:46

    Ray, As usual, your lack of logic astounds. I am well aware of the animal markets, but those are irrelevant to this post, which is not about where the disease is likely to occur, it’s where it would spread most widely. Are you becoming senile?

    Matthias, It would be worth 10 false positives to avoid this disaster.

    mbka, Good point.

    Burgos, Yes, but far fewer people travel from those countries.

    Micheal, I’m not the only one who believes he’s corrupt, that’s the consensus view of well informed people who don’t rely on Fox News. You are free to disagree.

  20. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    14. February 2020 at 10:40

    With this virus, you need 20 people to be sick for over a week in order to get a statistically suspicious cluster of 4 or 5 unexplained pneumonia cases.

    At that point the sick would’ve infected over 100 more, including much of the hospital staff.

    China obviously wasted about 4 weeks thereafter which destroyed any ability to trace cases, but identifying a new disease is still inherently harder than looking for a known one.

  21. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    14. February 2020 at 10:44

    P.S.

    “Corruption can be right in front of your face, and some people just refuse to see it.”

    Agree. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Stone trial. Why were so many high-level DNC operatives on the jury? The foreperson was a friend of Donna Brazile, and another juror was a cabinet official from the Clinton administration… The judge refused to strike either juror.

  22. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    14. February 2020 at 13:05

    I’m not sure that the corona virus episode so far is different from a bad flu season. And nobody is making any conclusions about US public health capacity based on our regular handling of the flu.

    There are 60m people in Hubei and there are 1300 deaths in the 2 months since corona virus showed up. Lets say that rate continues for a full year ( i would bet it doesn’t), that would bring the death toll to 14k by the end of the year. That would equate to about 70k deaths in the US. The US averages around 30k deaths from the flu each year and I imagine those 30k are not evenly distributed. There are probably clusters.

  23. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    14. February 2020 at 16:46

    Thank you BC for your open words. Someone had to say it.

    90-100% of the charges and trials in the Mueller investigations are evidence of how the American judicial system has run amok for decades.

    It is always a very similar pattern: the American judicial system imagines crimes and starts an “investigation”. The investigation takes months and years, no relevant crimes are found, but the accused are then charged with ridiculous imaginary crimes and put in prison for years. “Crimes” that are caused by the “investigation” of the state itself. “Crimes” that do not exist in normal constitutional states. “Crimes” such as: “He lied to the FBI.” Oh no, he lied to the FBI. Sorry guys, in a real nation of law (Rechtsstaat), the accused can lie as much as he wants. “He obstructed the proceedings.” Are you kidding me??? It’s so grotesque and absurd, it leaves you puzzled, shocked and speechless.

    But that’s not all. Now take the information that we have from the Mueller witch trials and apply it to the general population: In the Mueller witch trials, relatively rich, relatively powerful people have been tried and convicted (many years in prison), even though they were so rich, so powerful, could afford relatively good lawyers, and sometimes had a president on their side.

    The normal population has none of this. So the reality in America must be even worse (!) than we know from the Mueller witch trials, which are already incredibly absurd and grotesque in their own way. It’s so unbelievable. And the mainstream press is not saying a word. What kind of sick country is the US, really?

  24. Gravatar of cbu cbu
    14. February 2020 at 17:04

    Judging by CDC and the Obama administration’s response to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu outbreak (which started in Mexico), I think a outbreak in the U.S. will be even worse.

  25. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    14. February 2020 at 17:10

    if the underlying crime is serious you really need to cooperate with law enforcement officials.

    This is the mindset of a state that is dominated by injustice. If you say something, you basically have to accuse yourself, so to speak, otherwise the prosecuting authorities can always charge you with lying. If you say nothing at all, you can still be accused of “obstruction”. The witch trials in the Middle Ages were similar: you were sunk alive in a well, if you drowned you were innocent. If you didn’t drown, you were a witch who was burned at the stake.

  26. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    14. February 2020 at 19:39

    @Carl,

    “I’m not sure that the corona virus episode so far is different from a bad flu season”

    Unfortunately, it seems it spreads as easily as H1N1:

    https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid19-lawrence-wong-sars-h1n1-12436330

    H1N1 apparently infected about 10-20% of the world population and killed about 0.02% of the infected, albeit people of all ages. (going by Wikipedia here). COVID-19 appears to kill about 2% of the infected, i.e. at 100x the rate of H1N1, albeit mostly older people. This is why these numbers are of great concern.

  27. Gravatar of Bastiat_Fan_Boy Bastiat_Fan_Boy
    14. February 2020 at 22:43

    My source for information re the novel corona virus from Wuhan is “This Week In Virology “ podcast, led by Vincent Raccaniello, a world class virology prof at Columbia U. in NYC.

    He tells me that Wuhan coronavirus is overwhelmingly killing old men who have one or several comorbidities. To be blunt, it is killing people on their way out already, No?

    Tonight, Lester Holt, on the 18:30 news, informed me that the garden variety, perennial winter influenza in the USA has already killed 14k Americans OF ALL AGES with comorbidity not being a necessary condition…

    Why is the world freaking out about Novel Wuhan Corona when regular flu season in the USA is much more frightening to me?

  28. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    15. February 2020 at 02:16

    @ssumner – ” I am well aware of the animal markets, but those are irrelevant to this post, which is not about where the disease is likely to occur, it’s where it would spread most widely.” – and, duh, you don’t think that noting the animal markets where the virus originates or first occurs is not relevant to the discussion of where the virus would spread most widely? BTW I was actually *agreeing* with your OP, just in a disrespectful way. One of these days I’m going to agree with you that money is not neutral, and in your lust to castigate me, you’ll probably disagree with me, lol.

    PS– I think Christian List is probably the best commentator in this site, his insights often correlate with mine (yes, America’s legal system is a make-work mess).

  29. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    15. February 2020 at 05:13

    Scott: “the consensus view of well informed people” is that Barr is corrupt. Well that sure settles it. Particularly if the non-consensus view come from people who watch “Fox News”. Actually, I do watch Fox News. Emphasis on News. Excellent production values, and believe it or not, not everyone is Hannity or the former bow tie guy. But that is beside the point. I cannot convince you, I realize, and all joking aside, I find that too bad. This is not a forum for that. The reason it is regrettable, is not because I want to change your political opinion on, for example, Trump—-that would be foolish——but knowing you have such a view on a straight guy just makes me wish it were not so. Plus you quoted Tribe——I am not willing to say he is corrupt (a hack, yes :-))—-but he is a political partisan—-which is fine—-but partisans argue to win.

    On something you know something about and I don’t, Monetary Policy, the WSJ editorial page is at is again. They are non stop by the way. In an editorial called “Agony of the Democrats” They say the cause of the 2008 crash was “Failed government regulation, subsidized housing and Loose Monetary Policy”

    I have noticed the Journal is pretty ignorant about MP——meaning they are unable to explain themselves—-and not just Greg Ip—-who used to have a pretty good handle on guessing what the Fed was going to do. Your book should target public media as well as academics (now I am your editor too—jeez).

    You probably know this——but you might not because you are so deep in your own field you assume people know way more than they do——but it is my experience that few people have a clue to even begin to think about monetary policy. Frankly, your concept of money and “supply and demand” is the one of the few things that keeps me tethered to to your writings.

  30. Gravatar of Thaomas Thaomas
    15. February 2020 at 07:43

    @ Rulle” Fukushima is probably not the best counterexample. The immediate response was better in Japan, but USSR did not shut down all nuclear power generation.

    @ B Cole “I am skeptical that quantitative easing or interest rate reductions alone are effective (by the way, so are most central bankers and BlackRock, Pimco and Ray Dalio).”
    Are you/they skeptical about arbitrary self-limited injections of QE, or QE as an instrument being obviously used to restore the PL or NGDP level to a target trend?

  31. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. February 2020 at 15:22

    Steve, LOL, It’s tinfoil hat time.

    mbka, A voice of reason in a sea of idiocy.

    Ray, You said:

    “you don’t think that noting the animal markets where the virus originates or first occurs is not relevant to the discussion of where the virus would spread most widely?”

    I generally try to believe things that are true. How about you? (Your double negative makes it hard to even answer your questions.)

  32. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    15. February 2020 at 15:46

    Thaomas–Well, you ask a large question, about a lot of different people.

    Stanley Fischer advocates money-financed fisal programs, as has Bernanke for Japan.

    Michael Woodford says QE plus federal deficits is a helicopter drop.

  33. Gravatar of Gene Frenkle Gene Frenkle
    15. February 2020 at 16:08

    Christian List—Hacking into email accounts is a serious crime in America. Trump and his minions were behaving like a serious crime was just a big joke…you play with fire you might get burned.

    Rulle—Obviously the people that believe the underlying cause of the 2008 was “ Failed government regulation, subsidized housing and Loose Monetary Policy” are in good company with apparently Bloomberg even believing that theory. Do people that subscribe to that theory believe that those things also undermined the 2001-2008 economy?? So that particular malinvestment led to companies not investing in their businesses because they could make bigger returns investing in the housing market?? Were people staying out of the labor force because of the hot housing market?? Were people enrolling in law school because the cheap loans were sucking them away from a healthy job market?? To me the Housing Bubble/cheap credit just seems like a symptom of an economy that is fundamentally dysfunctional. So 24 year olds with BAs and 30 year olds with no savings that want to buy a house seem like the last people I would want investing in an economy during a time of cheap credit.

  34. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    15. February 2020 at 16:17

    Thaomos: add on. My real concern is that we have globalized asset markets or capital markets and money is a fungible commodity.

    Ergo, the Federal Reserve is trying to stimulate the US economy by raising asset prices globally, when it conducts a quantitative easing program.

    It is even possible to imagine a scenario in which other major central banks are conducting quantitative tightening programs while the Fed is conducting a quantitative easing program.

    Then what?

  35. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    15. February 2020 at 22:26

    @Ssumner – “(Your double negative makes it hard to even answer your questions.)” – I see. You really *are* dyslexic. OK let me explain how colloquial English works. If I say: ‘You don’t think X is not relevant to Y?” it means ‘X is relevant to Y’.

    PS–I really like that Rolling Stones song “I can’t get no (satisfaction)”!

  36. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    15. February 2020 at 23:22

    It seems that Scott’s theory (China as worst place for the disease) might be seriously tested.

    Virologists still worry that there are too many undetected cases in other countries and that the Chinese containment measures will only buy so much time, for example to decouple the disease from seasonal flu, but at the end a wider spread is still quite possible, for example because the transmission mechanism is so different from SARS.

    Scott said that the markets do not see a pandemic, which might be true (or not). I find this possible discrepancy between markets and virologists quite interesting. Maybe the markets have already priced in a pandemic, but somehow they don’t think it will have much impact on the economy? Or they somehow don’t really listen to what the virologists have to say? It’s a bit hard to explain right now. I’m currently going with the first explanation: They’ve priced in the pandemic, but they think the economy will cope with it, and if not then the markets seem to be confident that the Fed will react fast enough this time. An interesting bet indeed.

    Ray, I dig the humor of your comments. Not always the content but the style and humor is quite entertaining, it shakes things up.

    Gene, joking is not a crime and I don’t want to live in a country were you end in prison for things like that. It’s a nightmare.

    mbka,

    SARS disappeared everywhere, even where the measures taken were vastly inferior.

    Where were the measures vastly inferior? Where is this “where” exactly? Could you elaborate on that??? I think it’s ridiculous how you keep inventing things just to save your layman theory. A theory which makes even yourself wonder why no one else has discovered yet. Yeah, why do you think that is?

    And didn’t you say that one could simply do nothing, because according to your theory, SARS disappeared out of the blue, without special measures needed. So let’s do nothing, great idea.

    And then just 18 hours later you have finally found the actual mortality figures of the new virus, which are lower than SARS, but now you are saying that these numbers are a great concern? So which way is it???

    For once say something that has a half-life of more than half a day — always accompanied by Scott’s infamous “good point, mbka, great point mbka, how can I suck up to you even more, mbka?”

  37. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    16. February 2020 at 07:09

    Christian List,

    “SARS disappeared everywhere, even where the measures taken were vastly inferior.
    Where were the measures vastly inferior? Where is this “where” exactly? Could you elaborate on that??? I think it’s ridiculous how you keep inventing things just to save your layman theory.”

    You really don’t have one iota of reading comprehension. You have zero knowledge of the world at large either, and are totally unable to see anything in context. You realize that the measures taken to contain SARS in, say, Singapore, were likely, umm, somewhat different in quality from, say, neighboring Indonesia, which is both about 60x as large in population as Singapore, AND has easily 10x lower GDP/capita = resources. Let’s not mention India, or China itself for that matter, 17 years ago. SARS hit countries with ridiculously different levels of human, medical, and financial resources, and yet, disappeared everywhere. Do I have to proceed? Does it make sense now?

    “And then just 18 hours later you have finally found the actual mortality figures of the new virus, which are lower than SARS, but now you are saying that these numbers are a great concern? So which way is it???”

    I thought you implied you were a doctor (I’m just a garden variety biologist, by training). Yet you apparently don’t get the idea that total mortality depends both on spread (infectivity) and morbidity, how many die of it once they have it.

    So yes, both can be true simultaneously: on one hand it might disappear by itself. At the same time, the potential total mortality is large, so there is reason for grave concern. Certainly one should do what’s possible, but that may not be much, given we don’t even truly know why exactly SARS disappeared. Nor do we have a clear clue on how COVID-19 spreads or may disappear. There is some indication that buffet lunches in hotels or on those cruise ships may have had an influence – large crowds talking and possibly spreading droplets over open food. Hence the cruise liner and hotel cases. But that’s just one possibility. There is one cluster in a church here, no one knows made that church different.

    And just to illustrate the above – even resource-rich and well-prepared Singapore is pondering to simply send lighter cases home and give up on contact tracing, should COVID-19 infection rates explode. There won’t be much else left to do if that happens. Right now, with 70-odd cases, it’s a containment strategy, everyone goes to isolation ward and every contact is quarantained – right now about 1200-odd. Yet, cases still rise. If circumstances change, it may move to a mitigation strategy, to treat the severe cases only and to send the light ones to recover at home.

    None of the above should be hard to understand for anyone who can think like a scientist. Obviously you’re not, and now I am much less surprised about your illogical and inane opinions in matters of immigration or other pet peeves of yours.

  38. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. February 2020 at 09:05

    Ray, LOL. Why not just say X is relevant to Y?

  39. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. February 2020 at 09:06

    mbka, Christian and Ray like to type first, think later.

  40. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    16. February 2020 at 17:25

    Scott,

    sometimes it’s just jaw dropping.

    Christian List,

    just one more thing, here’s an expert now saying verbatim what I wrote here a few days ago, and which you ridiculed:

    “According to Dr Leong, there are four circulating coronaviruses that cause the common cold, and one of them periodically causes severe pneumonia. […] But it became attenuated with time […] COVID-19 will go the same way. What we need is time for it to accumulate mutations, and it will become milder. […] there is a “natural tendency” for viruses to mutate to something milder.

    If the virus is too pathogenic and it kills its host, it is unable to continue spreading. But if it is mild, it can continue to propagate and pass on to other individuals, eventually picking up mutations that reduce the virus’ ability to cause disease, said Dr Leong.”

    Note: not talking millions of years here.

    https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/covid-19-threat-could-erode-with-time-just-as-with-h1n1-say-12438600

  41. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    16. February 2020 at 17:43

    Scott,

    just found this – you may be even more right in your post than you thought. All this may have been amplified by a mass banquet in Wuhan organized by the local government.

    https://www.ft.com/content/fa83463a-4737-11ea-aeb3-955839e06441

  42. Gravatar of Phil H Phil H
    16. February 2020 at 20:20

    Not the worst, not the best, just the most likely. Surely the best view to take on this is a descriptive rather than prescriptive one? Where are the biggest cities in the world? Where in the world is there mass intensive agriculture with less-than state-of-the-art veterinary hygiene? Clearly China is going to be a hotspot for animal viruses. Politically, I don’t see the Chinese government asking for a lot of help in containment. So my hopes are pinned on more free trade, because companies will. If more international companies are involved in Chinese agricultures (like KFC), then they’ll introduce more best practices whether the government does or not.

  43. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    16. February 2020 at 20:50

    @mbka
    I realize that i am speaking in the official capacity of Some Dude in the Comment Section and not that of a national health minister. I won’t be held to account if I under-react to a novel virus that ends up killing millions. But speaking In my official capacity, I would wager that the flu ends up killing an order of magnitude more people this year than COVID-19 does.

  44. Gravatar of Ray Lopez Ray Lopez
    17. February 2020 at 12:22

    @Carl – you claim to be a national health minister? LOL. But if Covid-19 reaches 25k deaths, up from the 1775 deaths at the moment, you’ll lose your bet. Internet: “about 250 000 to 500 000 flu season deaths worldwide occur due to the influenza virus (2018)”

    @mbka- don’t try and suck up to Sumner, it won’t work. He’s grouped you, me and Christian List together, you might as well accept it. Prof. Sumner is quite strange, believing in such medieval concepts as the quantity theory of money (first formulated by–no kidding–Copernicus) as well as the discredited “money illusion” and “sticky prices” theories. An amusing old coot though, and a good sport since he even answers me, as most people would just ignore me.

  45. Gravatar of Carl Carl
    17. February 2020 at 14:38

    @Ray Lopez
    Those are about the numbers I was thinking.
    And regarding you mocking me for claiming to be a national health minister, let me recommend the following website: https://m.k5learning.com/reading-comprehension-worksheets

  46. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    18. February 2020 at 04:06

    OT but in the ballpark.

    BlackRock is calling for central banks to effect monetary policy directly, and bypass banks.

    This makes sense to me.

    “By contrast, a Blackrock publication, ‘Dealing with the next downturn: From unconventional monetary policy to unprecedented policy coordination’ deals with this issue head-on. Its authors, including Stanley Fischer, former governor of the Israeli central bank and vice-chair of the Fed board, say monetary policy’s capacity to act is ‘almost exhausted.’

    Should the ECB significantly undershoot its inflation target in future, it would use conventional and unconventional instruments to stimulate the economy through lowering short- and long-term interest rates. Yet we have already reached the lower bound of these instruments’ capacity. Policy-makers would need, as the ECB has frequently stated, a more pronounced fiscal impulse – but would face economic and legal limits.

    The Blackrock study concludes that ‘unprecedented policy coordination’ is needed through ‘going direct’; monetary policy would circumvent the banking system. In contrast to proponents of ‘modern monetary theory’, it underscores the socioeconomic importance of inflation-targeting and independent central banks.

    It suggests creating a ‘standing emergency fiscal facility’ that would simultaneously activate monetary and fiscal policy during crises, specifically in a liquidity trap. Central banks would finance fiscal policy to help reach the price stability target, with the central bank determining when the timing and volume of facility usage.”

    —30—

    Well, okay it is not MMT…or is it?

  47. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    18. February 2020 at 06:48

    Carl

    +1 on Ray, he needs some help!

    And of course I’d love it all to be over more quickly than assumed. I live in Singapore and I can assure you, no joy here these days.

  48. Gravatar of DonG DonG
    18. February 2020 at 11:26

    China is a bad place to raise the alarm, because CCP managers are incentivized to downplay local issues. Dr. Li Wenliang was forced to denounce his observations.

    I am wondering if China will use the epidemic to solve their Hong Kong problem. There is effectively martial law now, who will be in charge after the crisis ends?

  49. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    19. February 2020 at 11:29

    Do I have to proceed? Does it make sense now?

    No, please do not proceed. You never made any sense. You are just digging your hole deeper and deeper. Not to mention that India and Indonesia are pretty much the dumbest examples you could have picked for your ridiculous SARS theory. Good job. I mean your theory is bad enough as it is, and on top of THAT you manage to pick India and Indonesia. You are an idiot on stilts — and that’s the polite way to put it.

    I’m just a garden variety biologist, by training

    I live in Singapore and I can assure you, no joy here these days.

    You are such a phenomenon, mbka. No matter what crisis and no matter what place we discuss: you always have the fitting expert training to talk about it and you always live right nearby. It is really astonishing. Just make sure that you don’t lose track of all your false identities and fairy tales. It must get very confusing at some point, even for you.

    mbka, Christian and Ray like to type first, think later.

    So Scott, you admit that we think, so we are ahead of mbka and some others.

    😛

  50. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    19. February 2020 at 19:30

    Christian List,

    you’re a riot. But I now start to understand where you’re coming from. If you really believe I’m some kind of internet fraud who makes up stuff on the fly, basically a storyteller and mythomaniac, then no wonder you question even the no brainers. Fox News for sure must look more reliable.

    Truth is, there are competent people in this world. But if you’ve never met any in your life, then you could indeed conclude that surely, the elites must be morons too, just like your regular acquaintances.

    I could satisfy your desire for the argument from authority and give you verifiable data on myself. It’s just that, using an avatar instead of my real name makes me feel a little freer in saying what I think on blogs, because I do have a position in the world. Yes, in Singapore. Besides that: it wouldn’t help anyway if I showed you that I really am all these various things. You would just put me in the category of, member of the globalized elites, cosmopolitan overlord oppressing the unwashed masses (you), right next to the Bilderbergs and the Illuminati. For starters, my immediate superior, a Chinese (gasp) woman (!!), is a regular at Davos. Hope I’m not giving you nightmares now.

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