The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Month: August 2022 Page 1 of 4

Ontario’s Mass Murdering “Top Doctor”

I don’t consider this hyperbole:

Remember that ever since school openings, school infection rates have spiked before general community rates. Schools, as anyone who is a parent or was a child should know, are cesspools of infection even in good times. Kids get sick, pass it along, their families then get sick and in turn pass it along to co-workers and so on.

And letting people who are still infectious go to work is obviously insane. Note that 10 days was the original guideline, then it was dropped to 5, which was absolutely not enough. As for masks, they only partially protect other people, unless you have a respirator or properly fitted n95 and never take it off for the duration of the school or work day. If you’re with other people for hours in a surgical or cloth mask, forget it, you’re exposing them and almost no one wears a properly fitted N95 mask and also never takes it off or breaks the seal.

BA.5 is arguably the most infectious disease we know about, beating measles. It’s certainly in the top 5. If it doesn’t kill someone, it has a good chance of doing permanent damage, and that damage can add up to Long Covid, and be disabling. Every time you get Covid, more damage can be done, until symptoms appear that don’t go away after the infection. People who have had Covid are at more risk for heart disease, diabetes and brain conditions.

Now, some data from the US on Covid:

  • Around 16 million working-age Americans (those aged 18 to 65) have long Covid today. 
  • Of those, 2 to 4 million are out of work due to long Covid. 
  • The annual cost of those lost wages alone is around $170 billion a year (and potentially as high as $230 billion). 

The pandemic isn’t over. Covid keeps mutating into more infectious forms. Our society cannot survive this going on for years and years. Lost wages is the least of it, the economic impact and human cost go far beyond that.


Sweden’s Relative Performance In Covid

Sweden famously chose a herd immunity policy during Covid and deliberately withheld life-saving support from seniors, giving them morphine instead of oxygen when they had plenty of oxygen. It wasn’t triage, it was murder. There are many claims that they did well due to their policy. Did they?

Let’s take per-capita deaths as our proxy. Sweden(196.15) did do better than the US (316.83) and the UK ( 302.59) in deaths per 100,000 population. However, they did worse than all their sister-Scandinavian states: Norway (
72.92) Denmark (118.93) and Finland (100.65).

Their death toll was almost 3x Norway’s, the best performer, and somewhat over half again as much as Denmark’s, the worst performer among the other Scandinavian countries. They did worse than Germany (176.90) but slightly better than France (237.39).

All of these countries are, however, pathetic compared to good performers. Japan (30.87), South Korea (51.92), Vietnam (44.29) and China (1.06).

All of these numbers come from the John Hopkins chart. I have to say that I don’t believe some of the statistics. Russia and India had much higher mortality than the chart indicates, for example. Some will suspect that China falls into the same camp, but the people I know in China support the idea that China’s zero Covid has largely worked. The rare exceptions, Hong Kong and Shanghai, did not follow the same policies as other cities. But even if one were to assume that fatalities were 10X as large as stated, China would still have massively outperformed.

The truth is that most countries completely cocked up Covid. They shutdown way too late in each wave, they didn’t quarantine properly, they didn’t put filtration into buildings and they didn’t massively limit international travelers and make quarantine for those travelers who remain mandatory, supervised and supported.

If we had just properly shut down early (and stayed shut down a bit longer), tracked and traced and quarantined we could possibly have ended Covid early. If we had not been told Covid vaccines were a silver bullet, rather than like weaker flu vaccines (have to take them multiple times, they aren’t that effective) and used proper public health policy, a hell of a lot less people would have died.

As for Sweden. Solidly middle of the pack, worse than their peer Scandinavian countries and deliberately murdered old people. Sweden’s GDP growth was nothing spectacular in 2021: middle of the pack. Inflation was solidly middle of the pack, though better than their peer Scandinavian countries.

It’s fair to say that Sweden’s Covid performance wansn’t terrible among developed nations and not as disastrous as many (including myself) thought it would be. But Sweden is nowhere near best in class, or among its Scandinavian peers. The sad truth is that virtually all Western countries blew it and Sweden is among that group.

It’s not that shutdowns don’t work, contra the propaganda, it’s that for them to work you have to do them early, keep them on long enough (though by doing them early virtually all of China’s shutdowns have lasted less time than Western ones) and support people at home with food deliveries and so on so they can actually stay at home. Paid sick days of essential workers were needed, and people going out to grocery shop and so on probably did a great deal of danger. Once schools were opened up, Covid numbers surged first in schools, then to the general population.

Sweden’s no great victory, but it does show that most of what the West did was ineffective. Effective public health measures, where they were done, reduced mortality and cases significantly, but in the West we did everything half-assed, and that’s what our numbers show. Sweden had the grace to mostly not even bother.

People don’t support shutdowns and other public health measures because they didn’t work well because they were done badly. If they had worked they would have wide support.

So the lesson of Sweden (minus their deliberate murder of seniors) is simply do it properly.



Destruction of the Humanities & Social Sciences and Societal Mis-allocation of Resources

Since 2008 we’ve seen the rise of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and the decline of the humanities and social sciences. Students want to study engineering, programming, science and so on because that’s where the good jobs are, student debt levels are obscene and there has been a social movement towards the glorification of the sciences.

All the good, right? Science and engineering have given us TVs, running water, power and miniature pocket computers which can make phone calls and spy on us 24/7.

But the world has some problems: climate change and ecological collapse and war and plague and so on.

The solution to these problems includes technology and science, to be sure. But generally speaking we aren’t even using the tech we have to solve our problems. Air filtration in every classroom and public building would cut Covid massively, and it’s cheap, and we aren’t doing it. We have known about climate change for ages, and done essentially nothing, even though we have the ability to. Instead, we doubled-down on fracking and finding more oil and gas and we built massive numbers of private jets, whose emission add significantly to the problem.

We’re not using the tech we have to solve our problems, and in many cases we’re using it to make the problem worse.

In other words, are problems aren’t primarily technological: in fact it is our disuse and misuse of technology which is causing many of our worst problems. It’s a sorceror’s apprentice situation, we have power without the wisdom and control necessary to use it safely.

Our problems are social. That means that if academia can help, the help will have to come from the social sciences (not including economics) and from the humanities, which are the disciplines which deal with humanity in all our glorious disastrousness.

Massively emphasizing STEM, except perhaps biological and environmental related sciences, is putting the pedal to the metal until we can sort our social issues which make us use our technology in ways that are vastly self-destructive.

If we want to stop the onrushing disasters, currently epitomized by rivers drying up in Europe and China, that means fixing why we’re doing the wrong things, not the right ones. Technology and science are tools, they tell us how to do things; they can provide some guidance on what to do, but they don’t determine what we do. As climate scientists are well aware, guidance doesn’t work in society isn’t willing to follow it.

Increasing STEM while doing the wrong things with it isn’t a solution, it’s a problem. Perhaps the humanities and social sciences aren’t the solution, but they at least attempt to deal with it, with the fact that we keep doing the wrong things even when we know the right things and know how to do them.


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – August 28, 2022

by Tony Wikrent

The pandemic

”Individual freedoms versus collective responsibility: immunization decision-making in the face of occasionally competing values”

[Emerging Themes in Epidemiology, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2022]

From 2006, still germane: “There are situations where there can be a real or perceived divergence between individual and community benefits of vaccination. This divergence may occasionally be based upon current scientific evidence and may exemplify the need for overriding individual autonomy. Use of the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the US in the early 1990s is such an example. The sustained use of OPV led to the elimination of polio in the US, with the last cases of wild polio reported in 1979. While OPV is extremely safe and effective, the vaccine very rarely caused vaccine associated paralytic polio (VAPP) resulting in 5–7 cases of VAPP annually with near universal use of OPV in the US. Once polio had been effectively controlled in the US, preventing the indigenous transmission of polio, the risks of the vaccine (VAPP) may have been greater than the risk of disease. Assuming the individual does not travel to a region where polio is still endemic, a roughly one in a million risk of VAPP is highly unlikely, but still greater than the risk of wild polio. Yet, if a substantial number of individuals were not vaccinated because of this individual risk/benefit analysis, polio would likely have been reintroduced into the US, as the disease is only a plane ride away, leading to a tragedy of the commons [7]. While this divergence in individual versus community benefits was short-lived (the US switched to the inactivated polio vaccine that can not cause VAPP), such a situation can cause a dilemma for parents, health care providers and policy makers.”


“Barriers to Air Purifiers in Schools Rebuttal Matrix”

[Twitter, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-22-2022]



”How a $100 box is changing the way people protect themselves against coronavirus”

[Dallas Morning News, via Naked Capitalism Water Cooler 8-24-2022]

“Enter the Corsi-Rosenthal Box, a do-it-yourself air filtration system with North Texas ties that has taken the internet by storm. Each box typically costs under $100 to make and is more effective than other, pricier options like High Efficiency Particulate Air filters. The simple contraption consists of a box fan, four MERV13 furnace filters that can be purchased online or in store, some cardboard and strips of tape. It’s the brainchild of air quality researcher Richard Corsi, dean of engineering at the University of California, Davis, and Jim Rosenthal, CEO of Texas-based company Tex-Air Filters. …. The White House recognized the need for better ventilation and launched the Clean Air in Buildings Challenge in March to call on building operators, like schools and companies, to up their inside air quality. But interest in such investments has been weak, even with billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 funding for schools that can be used to upgrade ventilation systems. Portable air filters can make up for outdated ventilation systems, although they tend to come with hefty price tags. Standalone devices that use HEPA filters can cost upwards of $300 to $400, and that doesn’t include the price of filter replacements. So when the DIY air filter prototype – designed by Corsi and first constructed by Rosenthal in the summer of 2020 – worked, the two were elated. With MERV13 filters making up each side of the cube, the box fan on top pulls air through the filters and blows clean air out of the top. In a 700-square-foot classroom with nine-foot ceilings, a Corsi-Rosenthal Box on the highest fan setting can add the equivalent of about seven-and-a-half to eight air changes per hour, Corsi said. ‘If we started at two air changes per hour and we added eight air changes per hour, we’re roughly getting about an 80% reduction in inhalation dose with that single Corsi-Rosenthal Box,’ he said. ‘That’s a huge reduction. That’s like everybody wearing pretty decent masks in the classroom.’”


Restoring balance to the economy

Open Thread

Use to discuss topics unrelated to recent posts.

Preparing for Bad Times Thread

This is a thread for comments on how to prepare for bad times. All off-topic comments will be deleted. The thread will be re-upped every Saturday so that resources can build over time.

The Chinese and European Droughts & What They Mean For the Future

No doubt you’ve seen pictures like the one below from both China and Europe:

Famously, in European rivers “hunger stones” set in the past to indicate when water was so low it indicated an incoming famine, have been uncovered.

Chinese officials are scrambling to find enough water for irrigation. Meanwhile the wheat crop in India was devastated by a heat wave at planting time.

Will there be famine in Europe or China? I doubt it. What will happen instead is famine in the global “south”, because European countries and China can afford to buy grain. Since grain started flowing out of Ukraine, to the best of my knowledge not one shipment went to the “south”.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be suffering in China and especially parts of Europe. Though prices have dropped recently, I expect prices will again rise, and combined with rising fuel prices, winter will be harsh for many (those without a lot of money, obviously. The rich will be fine and still dine on caviar in warm rooms beneath brilliantly lit chandeliers.) I imagine that if Nord Stream 1 isn’t shut off by then, it will have further maintenance issues in the winter.

But what’s interesting about these droughts is that:

1) they weren’t predicted to happen so soon;

2) the knock on effects like the devastation of hydropower in China. Which, ironically, means they will be scrambling to burn more hydrocarbons, especially coal.

What is underestimated when people talk about climate change and environmental collapse is that it makes events far more unpredictable. Once in a thousand year events, under the previous extremely stable climate system start happening often. Weather doesn’t act according to previous patterns, and since there is more energy (heat) available, it is stronger. There’ll be more rain, for example, but you may not like that much. Hurricane top strength is higher than in the past. Droughts happen which wouldn’t have before. The Sahel monsoon has become unpredictable over the last 50 years, caused by climate change, and that has been a large part of many famines.

We expected the weather to act in certain ways, and while there were definitely surprises, mostly it has, for thousands of years. This doesn’t discount Europe’s warm period or little ice age, but overall, weather has been pretty consistent.

Now it isn’t. And it will be more inconsistent for a hundred or two hundred years. When you’re moving from one equilibrium to another, there tend to be wild swings until the new equilibrium settles in. Since we really have no idea what the new equilibrium will look like or when we’ll get there (saying X degrees says little and those predictions are dubious) we don’t know how long this will go on, or how bad it’ll be. A hundred to two hundred years is really just a guess.

What this means for societies is that they need to create systems which don’t expect weather or environment as usual. What it means for individuals and groups is the same. You can’t count on the normal weather. You can’t be sure the environment won’t collapse where you are, or somewhere you import food or other resources from. So you need to be able to handle what amount to near random events.

As I mentioned before, this means that outdoor gardens aren’t the hedge a lot of people think they are. Look into greenhouses and other climate controlled options. Find an independent water source, or store large amounts of water. Etc, etc… If you can’t do that (and Lord knows I can’t do most of it) do what you can, and prepare yourself psychologically.

Because our infrastructure was created for a certain climate and environment, it’s going to fail. During the heat wave some railways in England became unusable as the rail tracks expanded in the heat. It’s possible to build railways made for heat, many countries have, but then they aren’t suitable for real cold. So English railways shut down. Roads in Southern China have literally melted in the sun (this is one reason asphalt sucks and always has.) And yes, those hydropower plants.

We’re in for a very rough period in human history. All the power people were thinking it wouldn’t really start for another 20 to 30 years. They were wrong (as I predicted repeatedly over the years.) It’s here now. There will likely be pull-backs to the previous baseline, not good years, but better ones, but the overall trend will not change.

As for the global economic system, it is in slow-motion collapse. That will not change, and it will also occur in ways that are unpredictable in the short to medium term.

Be prepared, if you can.


Most Zero Sum Games Are Negative Sum & So Are Most Positive-Sum Games

In economics there’s the idea of how much a “game” nets, where a game is any economic activity. The ideal is to have positive sum games, where more good comes from the game than bad, and ideally all players of the game win. A classic zero-sum game is if you and I bet $10 on a coin flip: any win is precisely mirrored by loss. And a negative sum game is where people come out worse: a lot of wars are like this, no matter how much plunder, both sides are worse off at the end.

Just because a game is negative sum doesn’t mean it can’t be positive sum for a few people. War, again, is often like this. Masses of people may be killed, huge amounts of wealth destroyed and certain war profiteers may come out much richer and some politicians or generals much more powerful. Some soldiers may loot enough that war was better for them than peace.

The fundamental environmental critique of capitalism and industrialization is that it only looks like a positive sum game: that the damage we are doing to the environment (which includes climate change, but not just that) and to our health, makes it a negative sum game if one uses the proper time horizon (aka. if you won’t die before the bill becomes due) or if you include everyone (aka. being conquered by Britain was not good for Indians; being conquered mostly Europeans was not good for native North Americans, almost all of whom died) and capitalism has not been a marvel for most of the third world. Which is why, by the way, there are all those “best time to be alive ever” books which try to use dubious extreme poverty statistics to claim this is the closest we’ve ever gotten to utopia: they want to argue that capitalism and industrialization are positive sum games, at least for now.

These folks have no real argument against climate change and environmental collapse and tend to hand wave it with “technology will fix it” as if technology can un-extinct half the world’s species.

So in the big picture we’ve been playing a negative sum game for a long time. The destruction of the native civilizations of North America was a negative sum game. The impoverishment of India under the British East India company was a negative sum game (India started out with more industry than England, by a fairly wide margin.) Africa’s exploitation, from the slave trade to colonization was a negative sum game, which is not to deny they didn’t get some railroads and whatnot out of it. (The Belgians were the worst, but the French who are still making African nations pay them for having been conquered are mighty bad. England’s evils are well known.)

But we’re in a lot of local negative sum games. Wall Street types like to brag they “eat what they kill” and it’s accurate in all sorts of way. The entire run-up to 2008 was negative-sum: that’s why it took trillions to bail them out. All their profits came from creating much larger losses than their profits, then having other people pay them off and suffer a long light depression. And Central banks didn’t then go on to print trillions more because value was being produced after 2008, they had to print to keep covering the fact that real economic value was being destroyed.

Your average Wall Street executive is a sort of super-optimized human locust, getting fat by destroying real value. Private Equity as a whole is so clearly massively negative sum that if you try to deny it you live so far in a fantasy world there’s no point in talking. The entire neoliberal movement, with its poster-child policy of austerity was and is about damaging the real economy to make a small number of people richer.

A lot like those war profiteers we discussed earlier: they cause widespread misery, illness and death but they get very rich doing so.

(The military industrial complex is obviously negative sum, which, again, doesn’t mean it doesn’t benefit some people.)

The job of governments is to create positive sum games and to stop negative sum games. In some ways that’s almost their only legitimate function. (Any crime system with high recidivism, or large numbers incarcerated is negative sum, by the way, but boy, a lot of people get rich locking other people up.)

A society with a lot of negative sum games running can be compared to an animal with a lot of ticks attached, a tapeworm, and some nasty diseases. It’s supporting a lot of parasites, but one day it falls over dead after a great deal of suffering, and then the parasite have to try to find a new host. If they can’t, because they’ve infected the entire herd (or destroyed the grazing land), well, then they too die.

Welcome to the fin de siecle of capitalist society.


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