Western ostriches

And yes, I’m including myself.

This article linked to by Tyler Cowen caught my eye:

In the second week of February, Kobinger traveled to Geneva for a scientific meeting at the WHO that was attended by experts from around the world. The Asian scientists were all extremely nervous, Kobinger recalled, mentioning that a South Korean scientist he knew was shaky.

“I’ve never seen him like this, and I’ve known him for 15 years,” he said, without naming the scientist.

But a number of the Europeans at the meeting expressed the belief the virus would not come to Europe in a big way, noting they’d been testing and not finding anything at that point.

“In Europe, they … are convinced it’s going to die off, that it won’t come to Europe,” Kobinger said after the meeting. Looking back on it recently, he said: “I could not understand that rationale of saying ‘It’s not going to come here.’”

Hmm, I wonder if this somehow relates to the fact that there are more than 10 times as many people in Belgium with Covid-19 (active cases) than in Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macao, Laos, Taiwan, Malaysia Cambodia, Thailand and Burma combined.

And no, this is not about government polices, it’s about whether people take the problem seriously.

As we approach the November election, GOP politicians are increasingly taking the problem seriously, but Trump is not yet on board. Here’s a WaPo headline:

Republican leaders now say everyone should wear a mask — even as Trump refuses and has mocked some who do

Of course Trump both favors and opposes masks, just as he favors and opposes lockdowns, just as he favors and opposes more testing, and just as he thinks Xi Jinping did a great job with Covid-19 and a horrible job with Covid-19. Trump may not be the most cowardly man that ever walked on planet Earth, but he’s surely in the top 10.

And here’s another example of “there are no mask opponents in a foxhole”:

Victoria’s chief medical officer said residents may be asked to wear face masks in light of the state’s surging coronavirus cases, contradicting earlier warnings that wearing personal protective equipment was unnecessary and potentially harmful.

I recall reading that Victorians are puritanical, so they should be happy to cover up a bit of skin with masks.

The Economist understands that the trade-off between health and the economy is mostly a myth:

The best performing rich countries, such as South Korea, are those that managed to keep the pandemic under control. The worst hit economically, such as Spain and Italy, are those with much higher death rates. When public opinion will not tolerate elevated death rates, the trade-off between public health and the economy dissolves. A healthy population and a healthy economy go hand in hand.

Austan Goolsbee and Chad Syverson say that mandatory lockdowns aren’t the main problem with the economy:

While overall consumer traffic fell by 60 percentage points, legal restrictions explain only 7 of that. Individual choices were far more important and seem tied to fears of infection. Traffic started dropping before the legal orders were in place; was highly tied to the number of COVID deaths in the county; and showed a clear shift by consumers away from larger/busier stores toward smaller/less busy ones in the same industry. States repealing their shutdown orders saw identically modest recoveries–symmetric going down and coming back. The shutdown orders did, however, have significantly reallocate consumer activity away from “nonessential” to “essential” businesses and from restaurants and bars toward groceries and other food sellers.

China also had a second wave in mid-June, but now it’s already gone:

China appears to have gotten a second wave of COVID-19 under control following an outbreak at a sprawling Beijing produce market last month that led to at least 328 new cases and the partial shutdown of the capital.

On Wednesday, Beijing reported just one new confirmed case — as well as two asymptomatic cases — following an aggressive campaign of testing around the Xinfadi wholesale food market in southwestern Fengtai district, where a new outbreak was detected June 11. While that broke Beijing’s run of 56 days without any new local infections, no new deaths have been recorded as a result.

No herd immunity in China; they are going to squash it down every time it pops up, until a vaccine is ready.

Off topic, here’s Slavoj Žižek on racism:

It’s interesting that when I’m attacked for racism, it’s always by white liberals. With black people, with Native Americans, I love them! Do you know my standard story, it happens to be in Missoula, Montana. A Native American told me why he hates the term Native American. Like, are you then cultural Americans, and we are native? He told me, “We much prefer to be Indian. At least our name is a monument to white men’s stupidity, who thought they were in India.” My Native American friends have told me, they especially hate white liberals who come to visit them and say, “Oh, I admire you, you have this holistic approach to nature, you know, you don’t exploit nature and so on.” And my Native American friend told me that he shouted back at them, “Look, come and live in my miserable hut and give me your LA summer house, I would quite like to be alienated from nature!”. You know, all Native Americans and blacks that I know, they know very well how hypocritical and condescending this liberal respect for their way of life can be. They knew that here the true racism is hidden. 

HT: Razib Khan, Sam Bowman



18 Responses to “Western ostriches”

  1. Gravatar of foosion foosion
    2. July 2020 at 01:01

    More than 40 South Bay school principals are in quarantine after being exposed to COVID-19 during an in-person meeting to plan the reopening of schools.


  2. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    2. July 2020 at 01:08

    I secretly enjoy it when snobby white liberals are stereotyped and castigated.


    I had an extended series of conversations with a Cree, who lived on the Canadian side of the border, a couple decades back. These conversations, which I enjoyed, lasted for about one year.

    At great length the Cree described Cree culture as non-materialistic, community oriented, and reverent of land and natural beauty, as opposed individualistic and materialistic mainstream white culture of North America.

    He called himself a “Cree,” and I do not remember if being a “Native American,” or “Aborigine” (the PC-term in Canada) or an “Indian” was important to him. I remember extensive use of the word “Cree.”

    BTW, white immigrants to the New World figured out pretty quickly that North America was not India.

    Should the existing peoples of North America embraced early European immigration? Or banned it?

  3. Gravatar of Josh Josh
    2. July 2020 at 03:02

    The US is going to get herd immunity whether we want it or not. When 1% of the population is actively infected and 90% don’t know it, you’re getting herd immunity. The same was true by the time we woke up in March too. There was no reasonable way to contain the virus then, we just didn’t know it because we thought it was much less widespread than it was. Our only hope now is to have the young get it so herd immunity comes with negligible cost (which seems to be what’s happening, as the lagged death numbers have become divorced from the positive test numbers).

    The good news is that the only area that was really bad in terms of hospitalization and deaths – NYC – was only so bad because 40% of their nursing home workers had been infected by early May (their patients, who they obviously infected at a high rate, are the group that requires lots of hospitalization). So if we can just stop that from happening with more testing, this really shouldn’t be too bad. https://finance.yahoo.com/amphtml/news/opko-healths-bioreference-laboratories-reports-121500083.html

    Regarding the last point on race, black people (at least some) seem to feel the same way: https://www.reddit.com/r/TrueOffMyChest/comments/hj0kz2/as_a_black_person_white_guilt_is_cringe/

  4. Gravatar of nicholas nicholas
    2. July 2020 at 03:07

    Is it worse than the Spanish Flu in 1919?
    The fatality rate is 2%. Is that much worse than the common flu?
    A study from Carnegie Mellon shows that cloth masks are ineffective. An MIT study shows that the virus can travel 27 feet, so how is 6 feet effective? How long does such a law last? Should the government have that kind of power?

    or as a Florida lady put it:

    ‘I don’t wear a mask for the same reason I don’t wear underwear: Things gotta breathe.’ – Florida Resident

  5. Gravatar of ryan ryan
    2. July 2020 at 03:15


    In my view, this sums it up. Be careful what you are agreeing too.

  6. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    2. July 2020 at 06:54

    You suggest it is possible that the reason Asia’s death rate (China and east of China) is 1/50th (using Japan’s 9 per million versus an estimate of 450 per million for Europe depending on who you include) is because they were aware earlier.

    Some of the difficulties of determining differences between areas of the world and deaths Per million include 1) counting differences; 2) measuring “viral load” from area to area; 3) measuring quality of masks; 4) determining the average time (or better—total time) persons are within 6 feet of other persons; 5) potential genetic predispositions; 6) how the old are protected in one area versus another area 7) determining if actual herd immunity has hit Italy, Spain and N.Y. and whether that is better than Asia—-I.e., is it possible Japan has as much herd immunity as N.Y. or Italy even as there death rates are 1/50th?

    Probably 20 more questions. I am virtually certain, and you will hopefully correct me if I am wrong (not just an opinion—although you can have that too)—-that we have close to zero “comparative epidemiology” on this.

    The one set of facts that appear reliable are the percent of people by age who die if they contract Covid. As we keep having deaths decline (I.e. each day of the week has lower deaths than that same day the previous week) here in the US, we also have doubled the daily cases as our tests per million increase by about 3-4K a day.

    I do not believe the lower death rate in Asia is just due to being aware earlier—-as the difference just seems to great. But in the end it does not much matter. What matters is “tomorrow”

    We are currently freaking out over cases doubling in the last 2 weeks. Makes sense. But if in two weeks, the marginal death rate continues to be low——what does that suggest regarding policy? Looking forward we should open up and where masks when we can (which means not when drinking beer!).

    Texas, Cal, and Arizona are being cautious. I would too. In two weeks however, I hope we are not .

  7. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    2. July 2020 at 07:09

    Test increases are high but not 3-4K per mil per day—-yet

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    2. July 2020 at 08:05

    Nicolas, You asked:

    “Is it worse than the Spanish Flu in 1919?”

    No, why bother with silly questions?

    And no, the government should not mandate masks; people should wear them voluntarily.

    Ryan, What am I agreeing to?

    Michael, I didn’t say “aware”, I said taking it seriously. Yes, I believe the East Asians take it more seriously, even today. (Ditto for Australia/NZ.)

  9. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    2. July 2020 at 09:01


    Like you I used to think Trump would get re-elected, especially if the Dems nominated someone crazy like Bernie. But even Biden wasn’t exactly inspiring.

    But now, Covid seems to really have given Trump a mortal blow. Do you still think he wins again?

    He doesn’t even seem to care if he wins again, it’s no fun being president during a pandemic that’s not your fault, that you can’t do anything about (because you aren’t capable of even being a leader), and that people blame you for every day and thus aren’t talking about your great economy anymore.

    I bet he wants out. He’d enjoy a weekly show on Fox railing at how the election was rigged.

  10. Gravatar of Aladin Aladin
    2. July 2020 at 10:00

    Hear Boris Johnsons recent speech? He articulated right-leaning views clearly and is actually trying to implement something positive. And those views are debated on those merits.

    I wish conservatives would look to him as the model and say, here is what we mean when we have the policies we want to implement. Here is what we mean when we want a government run by an outsider. Trump doesn’t represent our views.

    And at least then, agree or disagree, we have the discussion of what views to implement on the merits themselves, and not this whole back and forth about the nonsense Trump spouts on a daily basis.


  11. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    2. July 2020 at 17:18

    Interesting that Scott didn’t include Australia and New Zealand in his list. Oh, that’s right, they had a low level of mask wearing yet had 104 and 22 deaths, respectively.

  12. Gravatar of anon anon
    2. July 2020 at 22:18

    And some ostriches that are starting to realise the threat and still some more pretending no threats


    Slavoj Žižek

    It’s very interesting how, for example—and even leftist friends are telling me this—how much China is now hated in parts of Africa and Latin America. Where Chinese capitalists come, they are worse than any old fashioned imperialist, and so on. Did you read a couple of days ago—again in Zambia they have copper mines I think, I’m not sure—in unrest, they killed some Chinese managers. They are much more brutal in their exploitation. You know, Syriza [party leader] Tsipras himself told me, when the Chinese bought the Piraeus harbor, the first thing they did is find the legal loopholes, abolish trade unions, fire half the people, and so on and so on. It’s time for us—with all my best wishes for the Chinese people—to start to talk also about Chinese neocolonialism, which can be often more brutal than the standard Western economic neocolonialism. And this is very important, what you said. It’s not as simple as it [being] the moment of China, where the United States is out and China is the only power. First, we will see the real data. As I always said, what we need now—I hope you’ll agree—is a couple of Chinese versions of Assange. But you know, I signed letters for Assange, I support him. But always I warn my friends that before—yes, we should criticize, it’s horrible what the United States is doing—but just imagine what would happen to a Chinese Assange. We would not hear about him, his entire family up to second cousins would probably have been disappeared, and so on and so on.


  13. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    3. July 2020 at 03:31


    love the Žižek piece. Have you seen https://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/ ? Not updated since 2010 (!!) but still a riot. It’s larger than just about white guilt being more cringe worthy than white racism, it’s about a whole bunch of cringe worthy white liberal love interests.

    Related in a roundabout way to “anon”‘s second Žižek quote. I have long waited for the moment that China is finally taking up the “white man”s torch of being the group that’s blamed for everything bad on the planet, maybe we finally have arrived. As a past Chinese leader supposedly once remarked, and no, I can’t find the quote, A truly great power has no friends.

  14. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. July 2020 at 08:11

    msgkings, The betting market gives him a 40% chance, so I guess that’s my view.

    Aladin, Not a fan of Boris, but he’s light years better than Trump.

    Todd, Yes, and only one factor explains Covid-19 rates, we can ignore all the others.

    Anon, China is unfortunately very illiberal, and in some ways getting worse. But they should be thanked for getting rid of Greek labor unions.

    mbka, Interesting comment about great powers. It seems to me that there was a brief period around Clinton when we didn’t try to bully the rest of the world. Or is that just my imagination?

  15. Gravatar of Thomas Hutcheson Thomas Hutcheson
    3. July 2020 at 14:42

    But if Goolsbee and Syverson are correct, it means that the recession is due almost exclusively to a demand shock and that the Fed need not target ST inflation much ABOVE PCE 2.0 to get NGDP on track.

    Unfortunately the 5 year TIPS is still far BELOW the equivalent of 2% PCE.

    What can explain this policy?

  16. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    3. July 2020 at 19:44


    certainly the Clinton years were much better in how the US was respected internationally, and I also don’t want to overly defend that phrase – indeed the US received a lot of sympathy for a good Century world-wide for, well, for lack of a better word, defending values that the rest of the world was also aspiring to.

    That said, the Clinton era ended in 9/11. Because power, no matter how it is exercised, becomes the simultaneous target for the projections of others’ aspirations and fears. The lofty ideals are inevitably missed, so the supporters are disappointed, and the mere fact of power incites hatred and fear. The various failures in the Middle East, even with, then, the best intentions, didn’t help. The withdrawal from Somalia after the Black Hawk down incident suggested that he US didn’t really mean it with Bush I’s New World Order if a nation didn’t happen to have oil, and would withdraw from conflict once Americans died. So Osama bin Laden attacked the “Great Satan” US because it was the biggest and most prominent symbol of what he thought was wrong with the world, and therefore a much better target than, say, the UK (the “Lesser Satan” in, say, Iran’s parlance. Yes, Iran speaks of the US as Great Satan and of the UK as Lesser Satan). If you are looking for fight, you look out for the Greatest Satan of them all, right?

    tl;dr, powerful nations are blamed for all the evils of the world, and disappoint even their friends. They draw all the aspirations and all the hatred. Witness the EU, also being blamed for everything an EU citizen thinks is not right with the world. The EU of course is only blamed internally, by its own members and citizens, which it has power over, and not by the wider world, where it projects no power.

    Internationally, the US has worn that lightning-rod crown for nearly a Century now, symbolizing the West in all its glory and its failures. A China becomes more powerful, it is now in the same position, to start drawing a lot of hatred simply for existing, and both for real failures, and for lacking to live up to impossible ideals. For the US, China already has become “Great Satan”, with Russia shrinking to a distant “Lesser Satan” in the public imagination. (For while in the 80s, Japan had a chance for Great Satan but they missed it. Everyone likes Japan now, which indicates that Japan has no power.)

    And globally too, attitudes towards China are shifting because of this psychological transition. I could have said re: China, “take up the white man’s burden” but that would have been real bad taste, and also wrong – I mean this sarcastically and not in earnest, like Kipling did. But that’s the idea I wanted to express.

  17. Gravatar of anon anon
    3. July 2020 at 20:00

    Scott, Greek trade unions, no idea if that is good or bad, overall. The jury is still out I believe on whether trade unions are good or bad.

    Eventually the economists/capitalists might come to a belated realization that nsimilar to letting all manufacturing shift to China was bad. You need to ensure robust supply chains that have redundancy built it and similarly you need counterbalances to capitalism run amok. Even a democracy needs a powerful opposition (not enemy).

    Relatedly, would the academia also get rid of tenureship? If trade unions are bad (what about police unions?) because they entrench vested interests – one hopes collective bargaining & people wilingly associating together and electing representatives aren’t the issues at contention, are’t tenured professorships and chairs etc. bad too.

  18. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. July 2020 at 09:14

    mbka, Yes, I think the lightening rod analogy is right.

    Anon, I don’t like either tenure of police unions. Indeed I’m far more opposed to police unions than to ordinary trade unions.

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