Tomas Philipson: Such a Maroon—Note to Self
UCSF: Grand Rounds (Covid)—Noted

Why Were University of Chicago Professional Economists Republicans So Stupid About Coronavirus?

I look at the Trump professional economists Republicans—Kevin Hassett, Tomas Philipson, Casey Mulligan, & co.—and I really do wonder: Why were they so incompetent? Why did they get so strongly behind the "epidemiologists have it wrong", the "reopen the economy"—originally by Easter—and the "this will burn itself out quickly"—deaths down near zero by mid-May—pushes? At least now Philipson and Hassett appear to be silent—although Mulligan is still out there, claiming that the depression is the result of government lockdowns alone, which he values at "15,000 dollars per household per quarter" not counting "intrinsic costs of forgone civil liberties".

By the end of January we knew that this coronavirus was (a) highly infectious, (b) transmitted by the presymptomatic, (c) something against which no human had immunity, (d) a disease with a normal-behavior herd-immunity point likely to be more than 50% of the population, and (e) a disease that killed—with treatment—about 1% of the infected. Those facts made it obvious that keeping it from killing 30 million people worldwide would bet a very difficult task, and that adding up mortality and morbidity costs valued at three million or so per death meant that the stakes we were playing for to avoid a worst-case three million dead epidemic amounted to ten trillion dollars, compared to which the 350 billion cost of a one-month complete non-essential business lockdown that reduced national income by 20% was relatively small change.

And, indeed, the rest of the global north—even Britain—with the exception of Sweden has bit the bullet, taken the lockdown hit, now has the virus (temporarily) on the run, and can move to test-and-trace and social distancing to stomp the virus. We and Sweden have not. We have thus become pariah nations, as far as coronavirus is concerned.

So I looked back—and found the professional economists Republicans getting way out in front in terms of minimizing public-health worries in February. For example, Thomas Philipson in February at the NABE saying "it's much less than the normal seasonal flu:

Tomas Philipson (2002-02-25) <>: I think the president obviously has the safety of the American people as his number one priority. He wants to avoid what happened with the swine flu, which was 60 million Americans infected at the time in 2009. And we obviously taking strict measures. Secretary Azar is leading our task force. We have already sort of put border control policies in place that are pretty, uh, uh, seems to be very successful or, or, uh, so far in terms of combating anything any impact here. In terms of the public health impact on the economy. I think that's been, uh, exaggerated. If you look at seasonal influenza in the U S, it kills roughly on average 40,000 Americans a year. Uh, so that's a big deal relative to the numbers we were talking about, uh, for coronavirus that's, uh, killed two and a half thousand worldwide. So far in 2018, we're at 60,000 Americans in a high growth year, uh, being killed by influenza. So those are, you can vaccinate against those new strains. When you vaccinate against seasonal flu, you think you're protective against everything. You're not you're, you might be protected against a fraction of the strains, but a lot of new strains you can vaccinate against successfully. So it's important to keep in mind that we every year take a huge, huge hit from infectious diseases that can't be vaccinated against. And the economy is still sort of a resilient to that. That doesn't mean that the economic effects from, from all the shutdowns in China won't have an impact here. It will. The question is, you know, how large are those effects and that's sort of where we're currently taking a wait and see approach...

Contrast that to what I was saying to my classes at the start of February. I was wrong in thinking that this thing would be stopped at borders. But I was right on the magnitude of the threat: 'The next six to nine months are likely to be quite unpleasant for the world Globally, the public health authorities are still hoping to keep deaths at much, much less than 30 million dead worldwide. This will be accomplished largely by slowing down international travel, and interregional travel in China, for a great deal of time. The National Institutes of Health and other research organizations need to figure out what this sucker is and how to train all of our immune systems up to deal with it. Border control authorities will have to pull people with symptoms aside and quarantine them until they conclude that they do not have it. This is a new age.... Wish all the public health people luck. This is a potentially big challenge. Curses on the Chinese government, which failed to have the right incentives in place for officials in Wuhan to report what was going on early enough. As a result of that failure to report, we are still largely flying blind. We do not have good public health indications of the rapid spread of this thing in its first stages. And those would be very useful now in trying to figure out what it's going to bring to the world. Be anxious but not too anxious: We have a powerful, rich, and enormously technologically capable civilization. Our public health technologies, especially, are mighty. And while the worst-case scenario as of now looks much, much more likely than it looked two weeks ago, the worst-case scenario itself looks much, much better than the worst-case scenario of two weeks ago looked—or so my public health contacts say...'

And contrast that to me at the end of February getting out ahead of the Berkeley administration by telling my clases that everybody with any respiratory symptoms should stay home: 'Iran says that it has so far had 3,000 coronavirus cases, and that 100 people have died of coronavirus. However, at the cabinet meeting Wednesday morning, both Vice President Jahangiri and Industry Minister Rahmani were absent. There are reports about Rahmani being hospitalized in an ICU. The chief of staff is also absent. The Supreme Economic Coordinating Council appears to be down from six people to three. What are the odds that the 3,000 and the 100 or so are all members of Iran's elite? We have no clue how large this is in Iran. But it seems like the thing has majorly jumped, from China to Iran, and elsewhere. As a result, we now are living in the spring of coronavirus. Calls for what Berkeley will do are Carol Christ's. That said, if you are coughing and sneezing—if you are coughing and sneezing, go get tested. And until you get tested, please stay home. Email me, and I'll give you lots and lots of extra credit points for being willing to hang out in your home, eating potato chips, rather than infecting other people with possible coronavirus…'

People I talk to say "Dunning-Krueger to the max". And then they shrug their shoulders...

.#coronavirus #economicsgonewrong #highlighted #moralresponsibility #orangehairedbaboons #publichealth #2020-06-30
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