March 12, 2020

"One of the ironies of the moment is that, where it’s been the usual path, in modern times, to find small, incremental measures having big effects..."

"... on public problems, in this case, big, seemingly outsize measures—cancelling public activities, closing schools and offices—are necessary to create the small changes in vectors that can at least manage the pandemic. This novelty perhaps explains why it is so hard to wrap our minds around the changes: it turns out that it is possible for something to be at once a huge public-health crisis while creating, so far, a minimal number of visible, obvious cases of illness. The sane thing right now is not to hope for a miracle cure but to accept that maximal measures might have usefully minimal effects."

From "The Coronavirus, and Why Humans Feel a Need to Moralize Epidemics" by Adam Gopnik (in The New Yorker).

55 comments:

Shouting Thomas said...

The New Yorker incubated the Russia collusion hoax.

What credibility does that dumb yokel rag have left?

MadisonMan said...

Eesh. I don't see how anyone can read the New Yorker when they throw up articles like this. Can someone explain to me to what "This novelty" refers, for example? Does the sudden onset of Wuhan Flu mean that Editors are all sick, or something?

mccullough said...

Social media spreads ignorance and hysteria rapidly.

The long term benefit of this hysteria will be an increased birthrate for Love in the Time of Corona as people work from home

Leland said...

The whole quoted paragraph sounds like melancholy nonsense. I can wrap my mind around those willing to give up freedom for security. That isn't a novel idea. I do expect such efforts to have minimal effect, because most people aren't so silly as to give up freedom so easily.

Lawrence Person said...

A roundup of Texas coronavirus news.

Nancy said...

I went to the link to find a example of "small incremental measures having big effects". Nope, none.

wild chicken said...

I told my two GOP groups that it's time to think about social distancing as many of us are 70 and over. No response.

Maybe the NBA thing last night will got their attention. No known infections here yet but it's the appearance that counts.

MikeR said...

Pretty common feature of modern society is people who think their job is to convince people that there is no God and no purpose. As in this article, their proof is that they say so.

henry said...

It all depends on the goals. If you want to slow down transmission of a disease... reduce the number of receivers that are in range. Inconvenient, yes. Also very sensible.

MartyH said...

I think when we look back on the coronavirus we'll see it was a panicdemic. The percentage of serious or critical cases has dropped from 20% worldwide to 10%, with China having the highest percentage and number of cases, driving that percentage up. There are currently 10 people in the US in serious or critical condition because of coronoavirus-less than 1% of cases. Same or lower percentage for S Korea and Germany. Italy has a total of 10,000 cases- 200 cases per million people.


If you are in a high risk group-yes, take precautions. But the reaction has not been in proportion to the risk.

Mike (MJB Wolf) said...

“Maximal measures”? You mediaswine called Trump racist for keeping travelers from China out. What fools.

Fernandistein said...

"Why Humans Feel a Need to Moralize Epidemics"

He seems to be trying to equate superstitious teleology with rational but imperfect cause and effect.

Fernandistein said...

Here's my moralizing:
1 - A good parasite doesn't exterminate its hosts.
2 - The Coronavirus isn't nearly as good as the Corollavirus.

ConradBibby said...

I've decided that, physically, I'm not going to do any different from before. But I'm really training to maintain my EMOTIONAL distance from people.

narciso said...

the new yacker, is like those stingrays that drove the colonists on Deneb mad,

gilbar said...

MartyH said...
I think when we look back on the coronavirus we'll see it was a panicdemic


Thanx MartyH! that's a great word!
Of course, some people; like our Beloved Professor Althouse will say:
NO!! NO!!! THIS IS THE MOST SERIOUS, MOST DEADLY DISASTER THAT THE WORLD HAS EVER FACED!!
EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
(within 80 years, or so)
THE FACT YOU DON'T SEE THAT JUST SHOWS YOU ARE INNUMERATE !!!
WAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!

gilbar said...

WASH YOUR SHOES!!! DO IT TODAY!!! DO IT TOMORROW!!!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Well....at least we aren't blaming witches and burning them at the stake to appease God and stop the plague. Yet.

The Democrats are ready to do that to Trump and anyone else so they can get power. Maximal measures...hmmmmm? Marshall law? Property confiscation? Gulags for those that they think will get sick by ethnicity or by political persuasion....and oopsy they all get sick and die anyway ala the Uighers in China.

Common sense measures, like self isolation, canceling Basketball games, , providing more supplies, make some sense. Other "mandatory" measures will just make things worse. Hysterical panic and draconian government measures that will never go away don't.

Never let a crisis go to waste...right?

Phidippus said...

Though it is wrapped up in unnecessarily highfalutin' language, I agree with henry that his basic idea is correct. The rest of it is... The New Yorker.

Char Char Binks said...

Taking common-sense measures to stem an outbreak is a good idea. Maybe handshaking is a custom best abandoned, and I'm sure many of the hands I've shaken were insufficiently washed. I almost never touch my face or lick my fingers, even though these are popular activities. Public schools, in addition to being mostly daycare centers, are disease vectors full of snotty, nose-picking pukes.

What we're seeing is a nation-wide strike, work stoppage, or boycott, call it what you will, to bring down Trump. All the lefty-run universities are doing their part to tank their local economies. If a few students, mostly otherwise healthy young people, are infected with Covid-19, what's the best solution to this pandemic? Send them home to their parents?

Lucid-Ideas said...

Yeah I'm sorry, gonna moralize here:

1) People's hygiene is atrocious. It's so simple, but people simply don't do it.
2) I won't say how well I'm prepared, but let's just say it's 'very', but then again I have means. There is no reason - none - for a person or family to not have $300-400 of supplies, which if chosen correctly and stored properly, can last 20 years...some even forever. The following countries actually require some form of disaster preparedness; Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Falklands (UK), Israel, etc etc etc....and I forgot the whole, like, MORMON CHURCH. I don't think we in the USA should have such a 'requirement', but it doesn't take a lot of brain CPU to realize it's probably just a good idea.
3) Having a disaster plan. Mine for my fiancée and direct family for 'Pandemic' is only a page long and it took a day to write using some help from Army medical manuals. Help can be found on the Dept. of Homeland security's website, etc.

I could go on, but something like this shouldn't be scary at all with some simple tricks of behavioral modification. But as in economics as in life, "people only change when the cost of changing is less than the cost of staying the same." That axiom exactly explains why it is so hard to modify human behavior...

Sebastian said...

"accept that maximal measures might have usefully minimal effects"

This ignores the less-than-minimal effects on the economy.

Apart from the material hit, the reduction in goods and services, lower GDP and loss of employment, uncertainty about investment, and stress about incomes and jobs will inevitably lead to physical harm and a decrease in QALYs.

I am not suggesting that maximal measures are therefore wrong, but I have seen no reasonable assessment of the trade-offs.

bagoh20 said...

Do you think the virus is just going about its life as usual? No. Their leader has a war room, and is probably giving a speech too, telling them to alter their behavior in ways that increase the spread of their forces. They also have very very small hands, which they never wash.

bagoh20 said...

My company is getting hammered right now with business, much of which we have to turn down., becuase I can't find good people who will simply show up for work everyday. Most of our competition is in China, and that means we have no competition right now.

Calypso Facto said...

Sebastian said: "I am not suggesting that maximal measures are therefore wrong, but I have seen no reasonable assessment of the trade-offs."

A close friend told me today he'll probably lose his restaurant to bankruptcy because of this panic. People claiming that there's no harm in taking any and all precautions against potential illness fail to consider the guaranteed damage of overreaction.

joshbraid said...

The only purpose in this measures is to flatten the "spike" in the number of infections over time, which should lessen the stress on hospitals and clinics. Outside of that, we are all exposed at some point, now or in the future. A good personal strategy is to live a healthy life.

rcocean said...

Thanks to Althouse for giving us a window into the wacky weird world of the New Yorker. Whenever a bunch of New York leftists/liberals start talking about "morality" resist the temptation to laugh or vomit.

rcocean said...

BTW, what is the current USA death count due to the Wuhan virus? Does anyone have the actual NUMBER?

rcocean said...

Prediction: Everyone will get the disease. However, we were supposed to wash our hands, isolate, etc. As Limbaugh states, you can't "Contain" a virus. They don't go away, they just run out of uninfected human bodies.

Ficta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francisco D said...

How can anyone read Adam Gopnick?

20 years ago, I tried to read his praised book From Paris to the Moon after spending 10 wonderful days in Paris. It was horrible. He writes like he has his head up his ass and is talking to his psychoanalyst.

Ficta said...

"BTW, what is the current USA death count due to the Wuhan virus? Does anyone have the actual NUMBER?"

38

rcocean said...

Like most writers at the "elite magazines" Gopnick combines an utterly mediocre writing style with the intellectual insight of a NYT Op-ed Columnist. And there are 20 more just like him at the other magazines.

Angle-Dyne, Servant of Ugliness said...

Sebastian:

This ignores the less-than-minimal effects on the economy.

Apart from the material hit, the reduction in goods and services, lower GDP and loss of employment, uncertainty about investment, and stress about incomes and jobs will inevitably lead to physical harm and a decrease in QALYs.


Of course it will. That has to be weighed against the potential for greater damage (economic and otherwise) from just letting 'er rip. And it's not as if anybody can do anything but come up with possible values for a comparative QALY calculation. You pays your money and you makes your choice.

Sure, it's possible that, for example, the decision to shut down air traffic to and from Europe for 30 days was made with precautionary-principle-run-amok, economically-illiterate soccer-mom logic. (Never exclude sheer boneheadedness as a possible explanation for anything coming out of Washington.) But in this case I kinda doubt it.

I am not suggesting that maximal measures are therefore wrong, but I have seen no reasonable assessment of the trade-offs.

I admit my very first thought when any of these restrictive measures are announced is "fucketyfuckfuckfuuuuuuck!, how much money am I going to lose because of this?".

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Calypso Facto A close friend told me today he'll probably lose his restaurant to bankruptcy because of this panic.

This is a highly UNDER rated effect of all the proposed mandatory measures that some (Dems) are proposing. Something like a 14 day paid leave. Sounds like a good idea. But is it really?

Who is going to pay this? Government? The restaurant owner?

The small restaurant business owner is already living on a razor's edge. Losing business is bad enough (and understandable), but having to pay for workers who aren't working will just send the business spiraling into bankruptcy.

THINK before we wave a magic government wand and mandate. What are the unintended consequences?

rcocean said...

Thanks for the info. John Hopkins Site shows the following:

USA Cases 1,323 cases
Deaths 38 (34 on West Coast)

Of those 38 deaths, 19 came from ONE nursing home. All this HYSTERIA for 39 deaths, when 12,000 died of the Flu in 2018!

MayBee said...

Exactly, Calypso and DBQ. We proceed as if there is no downside to over reacting. We're in business for ourselves, plus I teach yoga at a studio whose owner knows we are one reported Corona case, or one health official overreaction to being shut down.
It's very scary both ways, but is someone considering the consequences of overreaction? Or do the people in charge not really have to worry about that?

Fernandistein said...

Marshall law?

I think you meant "marital law", where the woman makes and enforces all the rules, not Matt Dillon.

Angle-Dyne, Servant of Ugliness said...

Calypso Facto: People claiming that there's no harm in taking any and all precautions against potential illness...

Who's claiming this? (And by "who", I mean posters here, or people with the responsibility to make decisions about stuff like this, not your hysterical sister-in-law on facebook.)

(Honest question, btw. I wouldn't bet against there being some public official out there who has said just that.)

...fail to consider the guaranteed damage of overreaction.

Who's failing to consider this? (N.B.: coming to a different conclusion about the wisdom of restrictive measures is not proof of "failing to consider this".)

Under-reaction is also a risk. The economic damage from restrictive measures is upfront and obvious at once. If under-reaction results in serious damage down the road, we all get to have fun playing the blame-game of "why didn't you idiots do something to mitigate the damage from what was obviously going to develop into a serious problem!?!

Bruce Hayden said...

“The only purpose in this measures is to flatten the "spike" in the number of infections over time, which should lessen the stress on hospitals and clinics. Outside of that, we are all exposed at some point, now or in the future. A good personal strategy is to live a healthy life.”

But, here, timing is everything. The sad reality is that, thanks to Obama and the federal bureaucracy, we weren’t ready. Control over testing kits, vaccines, and antivirals was centralized in DC (and Atlanta) so that the Experts could do it more Expertly. Not endanger anyone with non expertly managed options, etc. We probably wouldn’t be where we are today with the ChiCom Coronavirus if we had adequate test kits a month or two ago. But because there weren’t, people who should have been tested, weren’t. The bureaucrats were happy, because procedures were followed, and they were going to get much bigger budgets. Not so much the rest of us.

In any case, we should be getting sufficient quantities of test kits soon, anti virals have been in human testing for most of two months, and a number of parties are in fierce competition for a vaccine, probably led by an Israeli company that had developed a coronavirus vaccine, and theoretically just had to tweak it for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (which is the cause of COVID-19). It shouldn’t be surprising, given his fight against diseases around the world, Bill Gates has apparently jumped into the competition with his billions. What the left and their bureaucracies never seem to understand is that there is always much more brain power outside the bureaucracies, than in them. This would be the case even if the CDC only hired top PhDs and MDs. But, of course, bureaucracies rarely attract the really top talent, when there are any alternatives for their talents.

Once those things are in place, you can then use easily available test kits to identify the spread of the epidemic isolate carriers to a great extent, vaccinate those around them, to limit the disease’s spread, and use anti viral medications to fight the virus in those affected. The longer you can stretch out the progression of the disease, the better it can be fought, once the necessary resources are in place. Hence closing our borders to people from heavily infected countries helps stretch out the timeline, as does aggressive containment.

Bay Area Guy said...

"The Coronavirus, and Why Humans Feel a Need to Moralize Epidemics"

I don't think I feel a need to moralize the epidemics. I do feel a need to properly evaluate their scope and severity.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Marshall law?

I think you meant "marital law", where the woman makes and enforces all the rules, not Matt Dillon.

Thanks Fernandistein. That is what I meant. Martial law AND Marital law. The latter is what we have in our house right now. My husband is calling me the hand washing Nazi. Whatever...😁 wird waschen Sie Ihre Hände !!!

Yancey Ward said...

Here is what is likely to be the most effective policy (and this is me granting that we need an effective policy at this point in time).

(1) Ban all commercial passgenger air travel for 1 month.

(2) Close all indoor concerts, sporting events, political rallies that contain more than 50 people in an enclosed area.

(3) Extensive and continuous testing of medical personnel that work with people who are sick and/or elderly (60+) years of age. This means testing personnel in hospitals, clinics, and nusing home/rehab facilities. Additionally, you will have to isolate this patient population from the outside visitors.

Now, I think the horses were long gone from the barn by the beginning of February, and almost certainly months before that. I think this virus has been circulating planet-wide for over 6 months. However, these are the steps that might slow the spread of the infection if that is considered a desirable outcome, and I think it still is (but that might change if a more drawn out event starts causing more death and destruction from the panic itself).

Calypso Facto said...

Well, Angle, there certainly are opinions online like "There is no harm being afraid of the new coronavirus and to take precautions till more data is available" (from an official medical site), but I was really thinking more in terms of the drastic actions being taken as precautionary, without any apparent discussion of impact costs (including Althouse's UW Madison shutting down or the NBA cancelling all their games). Who's likely to be hardest hit? People at the margins, making an hourly wage in a service industry, and small business owners, like Maybee. The NBA season suspension statement has no reference to impact, for instance. One player infected, and boom, millions of dollars yanked from the economy. Asked about the loss of Bucks games in Milwaukee, "Visit Milwaukee CEO Peggy Williams-Smith said there is no precedent to what is happening to the hospitality and the tourism industry as result of the impact from the coronavirus. "We have restaurant workers who live paycheck to paycheck who are now not going to be able to work," she said. "How are they going to pay rent? How are they going to support their families? This is really going to hurt them.""

I recognize your point about under-reaction as well, but that's not the side I'm seeing all over the blogs and yes, Facebook, with their hair on fire or in the stores buying up all the tp in preparation for a self-inflicted siege. On the under-reaction end of the spectrum, I haven't seen anyone saying there's NO potential problem ... just people suggesting we individually take prudent sanitization and exposure mitigation steps as we go about our otherwise normal business, and societally minimize risks to seniors, and prepare for a medical response in term of staffing, occupancy, and treatment.

Char Char Binks said...

Calypso Facto: People claiming that there's no harm in taking any and all precautions against potential illness...

"Who's claiming this?"

Pretty much every liberal claimed that that Trump did too much, too soon, about ChiCom flu, then switched to "too little too late", and both times he was racist. That's how to play Calvinball!

Life itself is now intolerable to the Left under Trump-- as long as anyone is still alive, he/xe/it is susceptible to viruses and other bad things. What measure is too extreme in the face of this looming calamity? Their best hope is mass suicide; I wish them complete success.

CStanley said...

There are obviously a LOT of downsides to closures and lockdowns. To name just one, many nursing homes and assisted living facilities have instituted a “no visitor” policy. So while we protect the physical health of seniors, we wreck their mental health.

But I don’t understand why anyone would think these things haven’t already been considered and weighed in the decision process. That’s why there have been very few K-12 school closings.

If strong measures are taken then we pay the price, but if they’re not taken we may pay a much bigger price. Act too soon and the pain is prolonged, act too late and it will have done no good anyway. I’m just glad I’m not in a position to make those decisions (especially since good data is lacking since we’re not testing nearly enough people.)

Bay Area Guy said...

@Yancey,

Those are reasonable measures. Here's mine:

1. Close down all public homeless encampments, which are a public health hazard.

2. Close down the southern border and screen all immigrants for Covid-19

3. Cut the payroll tax.

4. Emphasize that the people at risk (elderly & pre-existing conditions) should mostly self-quarantine and stay away from large crowds.

5. Remind people that last Winter, 34,000 Americans died of the flu, and today the number is about 38 or so. Just for perspective.

Char Char Binks said...

"But I don’t understand why anyone would think these things haven’t already been considered and weighed in the decision process."

The response has been a clusterfuck of fear mongering, panic, TDS and ChiDem collusion.

rcocean said...

In 1918, people prided themselves on staying calm and showing courage in the face of the disease. Now, its a contest to see who can quiver with fear and get hysterical the most.

400,000 dead in 1918. 38 in 2020. Pathetic.

n.n said...

The moral aspect of a social contagion is to mitigate its progress, which requires social distancing, and to provide aid and comfort to people who cannot help themselves, with the goal to restore them to individual function in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, reconciled under a constitutional framework.

Angle-Dyne, Servant of Ugliness said...

Calypso: ...without any apparent discussion of impact costs (including Althouse's UW Madison shutting down or the NBA cancelling all their games).

It's possible that there is no discussion of the economic impact costs before these decisions are made, but that wouldn't be my assumption, and I certainly wouldn't base that assumption on the lack of cost-impact analysis in formal public statements. Do you think, e.g., that the 30 day flight ban was made with no consideration of economic impact?

Who's likely to be hardest hit? People at the margins, making an hourly wage in a service industry, and small business owners, like Maybee. The NBA season suspension statement has no reference to impact, for instance. One player infected, and boom, millions of dollars yanked from the economy. Asked about the loss of Bucks games in Milwaukee, "Visit Milwaukee CEO Peggy Williams-Smith said there is no precedent to what is happening to the hospitality and the tourism industry as result of the impact from the coronavirus. "We have restaurant workers who live paycheck to paycheck who are now not going to be able to work," she said. "How are they going to pay rent? How are they going to support their families? This is really going to hurt them.""

Again, you're making the invalid "there will be financial damage, therefore the financial impact of the measures cannot have been considered" argument. Just as "there is economic damage, therefore the measures should not have been implemented" is also invalid. It does not follow that "because 'we have restaurant workers who live paycheck to paycheck who are now not going to be able to work', therefore the measures are ill-advised."

It would be helpful if people could try to be clear about what aspect of the problem they're talking about (and the damage to the livelihoods of workers *is* a serious problem that must be addressed), rather than mixing them all up as if they're all the same thing.

I recognize your point about under-reaction as well, but that's not the side I'm seeing all over the blogs and yes, Facebook, with their hair on fire or in the stores buying up all the tp in preparation for a self-inflicted siege.

Yeah, that's why I noted that I was not talking about your hysterical sister-in-law on facebook.

Consider:

1) The media is freaking out, and gullible people are freaking out, and why the hell are these idiots buying up all the freaking toilet paper?

2) "What's the best model for predicting the behavior of this virus, and what policy recommendations follow from this?

These are distinct issues. "We think this is the most accurate model, and these are the best measures for controlling this disease, but we're going to junk it and recommend other measures (or none at all), because, ya know, morons freaking out". <= This is not a model for logic I would like to see our public health officials using.

(cont'd below)

Angle-Dyne, Servant of Ugliness said...

(cont'd)

On the under-reaction end of the spectrum, I haven't seen anyone saying there's NO potential problem ... just people suggesting we individually take prudent sanitization and exposure mitigation steps as we go about our otherwise normal business, and societally minimize risks to seniors, and prepare for a medical response in term of staffing, occupancy, and treatment.

The contrary view here is that what you describe *is* under-reaction. You are indeed saying that there is "no potential problem" that requires us to do anything but follow normal flu-season type precautions.

Basically, you've accepted certain assumptions about how this disease will behave that indicate that "wait and see, don't take any extraordinary measures" is the prudent public health response. The contrary position says those assumptions are wrong, that the disease will more likely *not* behave in a business-as-usual flu pattern, and that by the time the seriousness of the problem becomes apparent the time for getting our resources on line will have come and gone - result: an overloading of the medical system (as well as greater longer-term economic damage) that could have been avoided by taking measures that would have slowed the spread of the disease.

Not saying your choice of assumptions is wrong (or right). But its rightness or wrongness is not contingent upon the contrary assumptions causing upfront economic damage or facebook freakouts.

Jim at said...

That’s why there have been very few K-12 school closings.

The totalitarian thug, Jay Inslee, just ordered all public and private K-12 schools closed until April 24th.

Lurker21 said...

I'm just not very impressed by the article. Science and hygiene aren't entirely separate from morality in today's world. "Wash your hands" or "use condoms" may not be the highest morality, but there is a moral background to such injunctions.

I also wonder if Gopnik would be complaining about people's need to turn environmental issues into moral questions. The situations aren't wholly different. There is also a moral background to environmental debates. Does it get in the way when we are talking about which practical measures to take?

If not "othering" diseases is good advice, maybe not turning them into occasions for politically correct lectures is also good advice. I am reminded of the criticism from years ago, that the New Yorker wasn't writing about things in the real world, but prescribing the attitude one should take towards them. That's not true of everything they publish, but in this case, there's some validity to the criticism.

wbfjrr2 said...

This is reminiscent of the CAGR climate change crap. Tank the economy because otherwise the earth will burn out in 10 years, rinse and repeat every 10 years. Financial consequences are never part of the equation. Tank the human race’s standard of living back to pre-industrial times so we can stave off THE PLANET WILL DIE.

Overreactions to this disease have immediate and quantifiable disastrous effects on people’s livelihood that have nothing to do with the actually experienced disease.