A Plan which doesn’t rely on there being a greater fool to buy at a higher price

Friday, January 29th, 2021

If you’ve been following mainstream media coverage of /r/WallStreetBets and the wildly swinging Gamestop stock, Eliezer Yudkowsky notes, you may not be aware that /r/WallStreetBets has a Plan at all beyond “Let’s all buy the stock to pump it up, making all of us rich”:

But /r/WallStreetBets has a Plan — a Plan which doesn’t rely on there being a greater fool to buy at a higher price. I was quite surprised, when I first looked into the affair yesterday — surprised enough that I ended up writing this article despite having no specialist expertise or credentials. No, I’m not buying or selling Gamestop, and I won’t be recommending that you do so. I’m writing this because a certain feature of the affair is one I find interesting. On my home planet it would be front-page news, but the media here has other priorities; it hasn’t reported at all the interesting part, anywhere that I’ve read.

So what’s this Plan about? Roughly, it’s to engineer a short squeeze on Gamestop, but with a historically unprecedented twist. No, I can’t just tell you the twist right this minute and stop wasting your time. It legitimately takes some background to explain, unless you’re starting out understanding more than I did. In principle, one could deduce it just from having heard “/r/WallStreetBets has a plan to engineer a short squeeze on Gamestop”; but I had to be walked through several steps myself before I realized.

Sometimes, when you think you’re holding a stock in your account — say, GlomCo stock, for the sake of concreteness — your broker isn’t really holding all the shares of that stock. What your broker did instead, was charge somebody else to borrow some of the GlomCo shares it’s theoretically holding on behalf of end-consumers like you; then the borrower sells the GlomCo stock with intent to buy it back later and repay the loan. Key detail: whoever buys this stock may then have their broker quietly loan it out again in turn, behind the scenes.

Or more concretely, Alice buys 100 shares of GlomCo and holds them at Charles Schwab. Charles Schwab quietly loans those 100 shares to Bob, who short-sells them to Carol, who holds her shares at Fidelity, which quietly loans out 100 shares to Dennis, who sells them to Eileen. If you imagine that GlomCo only had 100 shares in the first place, then at the end of this operation there is “200% short interest outstanding” in GlomCo: Bob and Dennis have collectively borrowed-and-sold (and now owe back) 200 shares of GlomCo, or 2X as much as actually exists. That’s without “naked shorting” or selling synthetic copies of a stock.


The last I heard, Gamestop had 130% short interest outstanding. That is, short-sellers have collectively borrowed, and now collectively owe, 130% as much Gamestop stock as exists anywhere.
This happens, from time to time, in stock markets. When it does, it creates an opportunity for hedge funds to make a daring play. If a hedge fund can buy up enough of the company stock themselves, they can hold enough that the short-sellers have to go to the hedge fund to buy back the stock.


Cases surprisingly close to that have actually happened. In one of the legendary cases, Volkswagen was very heavily shorted, and Porsche announced it had bought up over 74% of Volkswagen… while around 55% of Volkswagen shares were held by index funds, effectively unavailable for trading at any price. That these two numbers sum to over 100% is not an error. Prices of Volkswagen shares spiked to where Volkswagen was briefly the most expensive company in the world. Or for another example, Martin Shkreli once engineered a 10,000% price rise via short squeeze on a small company called KalaBios. It’s not just a weird hypothetical theory; it has actually worked and people have collected huge profits on it.

This is what /r/WallStreetBets is trying to do with Gamestop — buy up enough of Gamestop themselves that there’s not enough other Gamestop shares left, on the broader market, to pay back the 130% outstanding shorts. If it works, it forces the short sellers to buy back some shares at whatever price /r/WallStreetBets decides to charge. The stock price is swinging as I revise this; when I wrote the first draft, as of Wednesday’s close the stock price was at $347, for a market cap of $24 billion. Gamestop was under $5 one year ago.

But so far as I know, this scheme has never before been successfully carried out by a large group of retail investors instead of a hedge fund. And there’s a fundamental reason for that! A group of retail investors face a technically interesting coordination problem in trying to engineer a short squeeze, a problem that one monolithic hedge fund does not face. So I will be really interested if /r/WallStreetBets pulls it off successfully, or even mostly successfully.


What most mainstream coverage I’ve seen, tries to insinuate is going on, is that /r/WallStreetBets is just a horde of suckers on the Internet, trying to buy up enough of some random company that the stock price skyrockets, hoping they’ll all get rich. From reading mainstream coverage, I didn’t realize there was a Plan beyond this; until I mentioned the issue on Twitter, and some more knowledgeable people graciously corrected me. But indeed, if that were all that was happening, it would be a classic “pump” scheme; which can’t generate net profits for all of the buyers, because the buyers are playing a zero-sum game among themselves.


If too many of them try to sell all their shares back, when the price goes astronomical— then the very very earliest sellers may make a vast profit. But the share price will start dropping fast, and only the earliest sellers will get Lambos.


If too many people defect and sell 100% right away, the scheme collapses. The stock price may drop precipitously if it looks like that might be starting to happen; and then the scheme is only repairable if that causes enough of /r/WallStreetBets to lock up, hunker down, and wait for the price to go back up again. If instead it panics a large-enough fraction of squeezers into selling 100%, the whole scheme is over.
This is why short squeezes are usually engineered by a monolithic hedge fund — it doesn’t face the same coordination problems internally.

For a hundred thousand people to do the same would be unprecedented! I don’t just mean that the particular scheme of short-squeezing is unprecedented; I mean that I’ve never heard of human beings successfully solving a coordination problem built out of thousands of strangers, with big financial payouts for early defection and zero ability to enforce against defection.


  1. Jacob G. says:

    He says there is a plan, but then refuses to disclose it.

    I think the plan is to break the hedge fund, then break the bank that is covering it, and then have the fed bail everyone out and pay WSB. Or maybe the plan is to demonstrate that there is a different set of rules for little people and generate popular anger at Wall Street.

    In any case how the coordination problem is solved (the interesting part, in my and in his opinion) is never stated. In fact he never shows that it was actually solved. Most likely, other hedge funds are the ones who are keeping the stock price elevated, like sharks who smelt blood in the water and joined in the attack.

  2. Kirk says:

    No matter how it shakes out, the “elites” ought to be afraid. Very afraid.

    Enough of this crap happens, and with Biden in office as the Fraudulent in Chief? LOL. You’re going to see more and more of this happen, as people rebel against the rigged system at all levels and all places. They can’t stop everything, and the end state is going to be that they’re going to be shown to have lost control. Expect massive freak-outs and much, much delicious whinging by the former elites as their “positions” are shown to be hollow.

    I’d laugh, but the chaos ain’t going to be an awful lot of fun to live through. It will be amusing, though.

    Mesh internet is going to absolutely kill these creatures, because the model where some oligarch like the fools running the “Big Tech” companies right now are able to shut things down won’t last. It’s already on its way. Ten thousand little points of rebellious light will twinkle into existence, and there isn’t a damn thing they can do to stop it.

    The more I consider it, the more I think that “Big Tech” is the last gasp of the ancien regime. They can’t make it last, not without the willing participation and buy-in of the general mass of the public–And, once the public cottons on to the fact that the game is rigged? LOL… Buckle in, baby–It’s gonna be a rough ride.

  3. Jacob G. says:

    Yeah, our rulers ought to be worried and looking to throw the plebs some bones.

    But I expect the immediate result of this short squeeze is going to be some funds profiting at the expense of some others. And the people this will really hurt are those whose retirement is in the targeted funds, or who put a lot of money in the squeeze without understanding the trick is to get out first.

    Its new that prominent republicans are willing to say nasty things about finance, but I expect they will be like democrats on this subject: their walk and their talk will be 180.

    As for myself I don’t like playing chicken with my nest egg, and I think the shorters are in general right – many companies are overvalued right now. I’ve moved my funds into bonds for the time being. Crypto might be good, but it hasn’t yet proven that it’s safe from revenooers and rentiers in my opinion – it hasn’t really been tested.

  4. Kirk says:

    The Democrat idiots who’ve seized control of this country are too stupid to realize or recognize that they’re playing with fire. Which is going to lead to an awful lot of ugliness in the next decade or two. They think they’re smarter than everyone else, but as we’ve seen, they’re really not.

    Just watch and see. They’re going to blow it all up, and what comes after? It absolutely will not be to their liking.

    They want to be like the Chinese oligarchy, but forget two key and salient points: One, they don’t have the ability to call on security forces anywhere near the size of the Chinese ones, relative to the population, and two, this ain’t China and the populace is not going to react to them the way that the Chinese population reacts to their regime.

    One thing I think that most outsiders really fail to appreciate is the fact that the majority of the people making up the US are essentially nonconformist rebels that pulled up traces and left wherever they were to come here. They are not going to domesticate at all easily, and the more you make it obvious that that is what you’re doing, the less likely you are to achieve success. The current crop of idjit politicians in DC are making it abundantly clear what they have planned for “the rest of us”, and it will not go down easy. At. All.

    Shit, the amount of “buyer’s remorse” I’m hearing about Biden/Harris already, around here? LOL… All the rubes are watching the news and going “Oh. So, it wasn’t Trump, was it…?”.

  5. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk: “One thing I think that most outsiders really fail to appreciate is the fact that the majority of the people making up the US are essentially nonconformist rebels that pulled up traces and left wherever they were to come here.”

    I would dearly like to think that too. Then I go someplace and notice the vast majority of my fellow citizens are wearing masks, despite the overwhelming evidence that (a) the “pandemic” is a sham, broadly equivalent to a bad flu year, and (b) masks offer no significant protection.

    Yet the vast majority of the population is knuckling under the scam.

    What I notice is that the people who are most disappointed by the population’s reaction to the CovidScam tend to be (legal) immigrants — people who 15 or 30 years ago decided to pull up roots, leave their defective native lands, and try to make a go of it in the Shining City on a Hill which promised liberty & justice for all.

  6. Kirk says:


    Don’t let the cooperative compliance with what the “experts” have told them fool you. The fundamental American nature of things is that they’ll listen to and obey you so long as they think you’re right and have moral authority to do so.

    The “authorities” are in the process of pissing that away, and what comes after? It’s a preference cascade sort of thing, kind of like what happened to Ceaucescu in Romania–Once enough of the body politic looks around and realizes what the reality is, then the feces is going to hit the fan.

    The left and the rest of their captured oligarchy think they’ve plumbed the depths of “right-wing” conspiracy and aggression. What they’ve plumbed are the nutters and the cosplayers. What, do you suppose, is going to happen once they engage the attention of all the successful small businessmen who they’re in the process of bankrupting? All those masses of former Special Forces types who’re actually half-way competent, and who know how to go about running revolutionary cells?

    Care to forecast the outcome, once those types really get their outrage on? Right now, they’re mostly disengaged, not seeing a reason to “rise up”. They don’t do street protests as street theater the way the left does, and they won’t play-act at things the way Antifa does. Antifa wants to shame Ted Wheeler into giving them what they want–When the real “right-wing” types get going, they’re just going to kill men him, and make it look like an accident unless they need to make a point.

    All y’all sitting on the sidelines and wringing your hands need to stop and recognize that all we’ve really seen so far is the usual leftoid street theater, conducted by the amateur-hour cosplayers. If the really real “right-wing” types start taking action, you’re going to see what I’m talking about, and you’ll know mostly by how many dead cops and other security personnel there are, along with the politicians.

    Things have gotten nowhere near the point where the real professionals at this game feel like they need to get involved. That may be coming, though, and far faster than any of us like to imagine.

  7. Wang Wei Lin says:


    Preference cascade reminds me of Vaclav Haval’s greengrocer. One point of light will get noticed and crushed. Ten thousand points of light notice each other and become an unstoppable movement. 75,000,000 people taking notice of one another is quite a catalyst for what comes next.

  8. Kirk says:


    I think the current imbroglio over GameStop is an early glimmer of just how much things have changed. All that was “organized”, if you can term it such, on a single Reddit page.

    The oligarchs think they have control, and are reaching for more. The reality is that they don’t have it, and don’t know what to do with it. Or, how to keep it.

    Chaos and “power down” is the way of the future; you can’t “manage” anything as complex as the systems we have growing up around us, and any attempt to do so is going to result in disaster for the attempted managers. It’s exactly like the Soviets trying to create and manage the perfect “Five-Year Plan” back in the 1920s–Human knowledge and mentation is just too circumscribed and too limited to manage anything as complex as an economy. You centralize decision-making, and what happens is that local conditions and the fine-grain stuff kills you dead.

    All the idiots that think they’re running the country from Washington DC are going to find out just how little they actually control, and how little the majority care for what they do. Expect to see a bunch of temper-tantrums thrown as more of the “Irish Democracy” movement takes hold–And, that’s exactly what this GameStop deal actually represents.

  9. Sam J. says:

    Gavin Longmuir says, “overwhelming evidence that (a) the ‘pandemic’ is a sham, broadly equivalent to a bad flu year.”

    I’m not totally disagreeing with you but I wish to note that the beginning of this virus it was much more lethal. I know a friend who got it and almost died.

    This behavior is totally consistent with an engineered virus or so says some people who used to work on this sort of weaponized viruses. They say that if not natural they are even more variable and tend to break up.

    The reason I stress this is I can easily see them releasing another more dangerous version and if you are convinced there is no such thing it could be hazardous to your health and you would not take precautions that you need to. I also don’t believe mask to be the end all and be all but it’s certainly that they do something. The cleanest rooms on the planet are just such paper filters mostly that slowly trap particles. If you can lower your viral load it might be that you will not tip over into the fatal side of things.

  10. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Sam J. — We should always try to get a sense of perspective. Globally, about 6,500 human beings were dying every MINUTE before Covid-19 came along — about the same number as are dying now.

    Sometimes those deaths are a life tragically cut short; sometimes they are a natural end to a life well-lived. Be careful about scaremongers (politicians, bureaucrats, media, academics) who use individual tragedies to scare the rest of us into reacting stupidly.

    Tell you what makes my spidey sense tingle about the CovidScam: — when it first started, we all saw internet videos & photos of well-dressed working-age Chinese men collapsing on the street. Truly frightening. Yet that kind of event has never been seen again — not in China, not anywhere else. It makes one wonder.

    Today, China is booming — restaurants are open & busy; rock concerts play to packed audiences; schools & colleges are open; factories are hard at work; exports are reaching new heights. The Rest of the World? Not so much.

    A hypothesis — in the Age of Nuclear Weapons, real war between major countries has to occur by non-military means. War is therefore less obvious, and much slower.

    America’s industrial base has been largely destroyed over the last quarter of a century as effectively as by a sustained bombing campaign, with China as the great beneficiary. US politicians, academic, media have firmly averted their eyes from the ongoing destruction — maybe because of Chinese kickbacks, maybe because of their simple arrogance & stupidity.

    Yes, Covid-19 is one of innumerable diseases that kill an unfortunate few every day. It is real, but the harm caused by Covid is trivial compared to the harm caused in the West by the Chinese-inspired Lock Downs imposed by Western politicians. It is time for us all to Open Our Eyes!

  11. Isegoria says:

    “Since March, about 446,000 more Americans have died than would have in a normal year…. Deaths nationwide were 19 percent higher than normal from March 15, 2020, to Jan. 9, 2021.“ New York Times

  12. Kirk says:

    It’s the New York Times… The fact they published those numbers automatically makes me question them. Not only do they have an agenda, but most of their editors and writers are innumerate dumbasses that have a track record of credulously parroting whatever they’ve been told without bothering to apply the least amount of critical thinking.

    If that weren’t behind a paywall, I’d be able to look at how they derived those numbers and have a better sense of their likely accuracy. As it is, I’m just going to automatically assume “published in the New York Times” equating to “likely false or wildly misinterpreted”.

    Even at their supposed height of their “credibility” the NYT was a questionable source, especially on anything even remotely political. Then there is the fact that this is the same paper which described Goddard as some kind of joke, and that rocketry would never get us out of the atmosphere. They’ve been wrong about so much, and so consistently that I can no longer take anyone who quotes them in an argument seriously.

  13. Sam J. says:

    Gavin Longmuir says, “We should always try to get a sense of perspective…”

    I’m not totally disagreeing with you but my sense of perspective is I know someone personally that got it. He’s a paramedic and got it from a patient. He got really sick and told me he felt like he could have died. I’ve been a friend of his for over 30 years. Now I could be lying but you must admit my take on the whole is not the standard line.

    I think Israel released it. I think it was engineered as 5 different government backed viral research centers said so before withdrawing their papers.

    I also know a Israeli viral researcher said something to the effect of,”we have been working the exact same virus in chickens and can have a vaccine in 6 weeks”. That’s what he said. Combine that with Iran’s leaders breaking out with the same virus in the same time frame and…well there’s just too many damn cohendicences for me. The Jew viral research scientist was so greedy he couldn’t keep his mouth shut salivating at all those vaccine shekels. Even more damning after he said this he never said another damn word. No more talk of vaccines as the Jews could see the same thing I could.

    I mean who is it that has profited most by corona? Jews. Not the Chinese. The idea that the Chinese had some secret plan to unleash an engineered virus in China to hurt the US…that defies all credibility. It’s a stupid hypothesis and too convoluted for even my conspiracy minded effection. No one would do such a thing because there’s no way to game the outcome. There’s no set surety that any of it would work as planned. Too risky and if there’s one thing the Chinese don’t want it’s some risky unsure viral attack. Anything to upset the apple cart and leave the Chinese State vulnerable is a big no no.

    The Jews always screw over everyone but especially those that don’t comply. There’s some talk that the Chinese shafted the Jews somehow. I think this is true. I think the Chinese played the Jews and allowed them to do what they wanted as long as they were stealing western tech and bringing it to China but at some point the Jews wanted something and the Chinese firmly pulled the leash and told them no. I’ve read a quite a few Jews complaining about the Chinese how they would get in business with them and everything went well at first then the Chinese screwed them big time. The Jews are limited parasitic species and their parasitism only works on nice empathetic people like Europeans. It doesn’t work at all on on other races. Their problem is they think different and as they out grew their niche they ran into problems. Which gives me great joy.

    They’ve completely destroyed the west and now for once they have no where to go. None of the Asian countries or India is going to let them dominate them like they’ve done the west and the west is beginning to turn on them. OOPS! Couldn’t happen to a better bunch.

  14. VXXC says:

    I’m with Kirk. Kirk is right.

    Frankly I’m with Heath Ledger’s Joker on our precious financiers; don’t worry, I’m only burning my half.

    Gamestop, by the way, is the Boston Tea Party or Sepoy Mutiny, in terms of damage. The Boston Tea party did not materially really harm the East India company, The Sepoy mutiny finished it.

    Re: your pension funds/nest egg;

    I don’t care about your pension fund, or nest egg. It wasn’t worth our slavery, or possible and desired genocide. Your bourgeois Bund wasn’t worth the loss of the Republic, either.

    This is absolutely the nicest way I can say it.

    And, by the way, chumps, OF COURSE they were going to raid that too. Chumps. Tholes vs US Bank, not that laws apply to the elites.

    No wonder the Bolsheviks and Hitler both had no use for the bourgeois. Hitler put his finger on it; the Bourgeois are only a positive force if they live under good government, they are an encumbrance in removing a bad one.

  15. Felix says:

    Covid is a really, really nasty flu, folks. Not the end of the world, but not like a normal “flu” year.

    Normally, deaths follow a kind of yearly sine wave. Winter brings death. Covid’s 2020 early spring was easy to see in the numbers – even with behavior mitigations in place. Covid made summer look like a normal winter in a many, many places. And now winter is back and the super flu, Covid, is kicking rear end.

    Excess deaths are the thing to look at:


    That’s the US. And a drop-down allows looking at the individual States.

    For some other countries in a slightly different format:


    The latter site explains why you want to look at excess death numbers. So does the CDC site that links to the first URL’s chart.

    The first thing to remember is excess deaths tell you the effect of Covid IN COMBINATION with reactions to it. Good luck teasing the two out from each other.

    Second thing is one death is not the same as another. A 95 year old dies a month or year early? Such is life. A 10 year old dies 70 years early. Different story. These graphs could hide that info.

    I analyzed excess deaths by age and they pretty much follow normal deaths by age. Covid-with-reaction targets people who die. Old people die a lot. So Covid-with-reaction kills old people a lot. There may, emphasis may, be a little bit of extra Covid-with-reaction dying going on with 40 to 65 year olds, but it’s hard to see in appropriate graphs.

    Excess death graphs tend to drop in the most recent couple weeks. Death numbers take time to get reported, so either you ignore the recent couple/three weeks or you use historical data to intuit those numbers.

    You want to see fun stuff? Look at Oregon and New York City. There are lots of other cool things to look at in those graphs.

    Hope this helps.

  16. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Isegoria quoted the New York Times (I know! I know!):

    “Since March, about 446,000 more Americans have died than would have in a normal year…. Deaths nationwide were 19 percent higher than normal from March 15, 2020, to Jan. 9, 2021.“

    Kirk is right to be skeptical. Let’s go to the CDC source, recognizing that all data is subject to revision:

    2019 US Deaths: 2,852,462
    2020 US Deaths: 3,128,424

    That is an increase of 276K or about 10%, not the NYT’s scary claim of 446K or about 19%. Of course, since the NYT can choose what it wants to call “normal”, the NYT’s numbers can be accurate but misleading.

    Reality is that annual deaths vary significantly, especially if there is a bad flu year. That annual fluctuation is superimposed on top of an appreciable annual increasing trend in total deaths due to (1) increasing population, and (2) demographic changes from an aging population.

    Covid is real, undoubtedly. But it is not unprecedented, and it is not a “pandemic” in any meaningful sense. However, the economic and social costs of the political Lock Downs are unfortunately very real & will be long-lasting. The Political Class is playing us — don’t cooperate with their misrepresentations.

  17. Felix says:

    Gavin, that URL got clipped.

    And I entered a comment that contained similar URLs a decade of hours ago. The comment, apparently, went to the black hole of Internet comments. WordPress said I’d already entered it when I tried to enter it again, but … well.

    Anyway, here’s a URL for a CDC graph that shows visually the COVID-with-reaction’s effects on deaths in the US and States. There exist similar graphs for other countries.


  18. Sam J. says:

    I still say most determinedly that corona started out to be very lethal and then declined in lethality.

    I read and saw some pictures of Wuhan at the height of the epidemic where the city was covered in smoke. Could have been faked but people speculated that it was masses of bodies being burned.

    If Chinese people tried to report such things police would very quickly end up at your doorstep and tell you to shut up. I also DO NOT BELIEVE that the Chinese released this on purpose at all. Not even in the slightest.

    The reason I’m so adamant about this is I do not want any of you if you hear of another new virus to automatically dismiss it.

  19. Gavin Longmuir says:


    That is an interesting graph. There were “Excess Deaths” in January 2018, but we did not get Lock Downs forced upon us.

    It is a little suspicious that their “normal deaths” line is so level rather than trending upwards, given the increasing population and the aging of the population — both factors which explain the increasing trend in total deaths in recent years.

    Everyone would agree that there have been some more total deaths in 2020 than usual. Covid is real, and part of the explanation. But the Lock Downs are also real, and have also caused “excess deaths” — individuals afraid to seek treatment for heart attacks, delayed diagnoses for cancer, desperation suicides, etc.

    These things are very difficult to quantify. Some estimates in the UK are that about half of their “excess deaths” have been due to Lock Downs rather than to Covid.

  20. Felix says:

    Gavin, yep, reaction to Covid is complex. We can be excused for thinking some elements of the reaction are, ah, shall we say, less than effective. (Again, select New York City on that graph to make your eyes pop out.)

    A look at each of the US States can give some feel into this, too. Ditto, looking at other nations:


    The unfortunate brown line can’t be expected to show population gains. Too much noise involved in its creation.

    To get a feel for yearly variance in deaths, here’s a URL to download, by country, monthly death count data for a spreadsheet.


    US records go from 1980 through 2015.

  21. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Thanks for the link to that UN data, Felix. It is unfortunate the data stops in 2015, but it certainly confirms the expected trend of increasing annual deaths.

    For what it is worth, the UN data shows a marked increase in US annual deaths from 2012 to the end of their series in 2015. A simple straight line extrapolation would predict 3.0 Million deaths in 2020, versus the actual US total of 3.1 Million, an “excess deaths” number of 128,000. That NYT figure of 446,000 “excess deaths” seems increasingly like untenable scaremongering.

  22. Felix says:

    Gavin, off hand, it might be better to use a population tree to predict normal deaths. That is, death counts aren’t a reflection of total population, but rather of numbers of old folks.

    This leads to some interesting arithmetic. For instance, if you consider the US’s population tree is roughly rectangular (all ages have the same numbers), and US people die at 80, then theoretically you should able to divide the US population by 80 and get the number of people who die in a year. Turns out, if you do this calculation, you’ll want to use the US’s population in 1980 – 40 years ago, halfway through the lives of those scheduled to croak this year.

    Or maybe I goofed that calculation.

  23. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Felix, that is an interesting line of inquiry. The official numbers seem to be that (a) the US population is 331 Million, and (b) the average life span is 79.1 years. Simple division would imply annual deaths would be around 4.2 Million versus the 3.1 Million actual recorded deaths in 2020. Do we have “missing deaths” instead of “excess deaths”?

    One issue is, what is the population of the US? We know there are millions of illegal aliens in the country, but no-one know for sure how many millions. They are illegal, after all, and not necessarily included in the count. One the other hand, there are all those dead people who reliably vote Democrat. Are they included in the 331 Million?

    It seems that the US population age distribution is fairly rectangular up to about the age of 70, and then starts dropping. The old obviously have a higher probability of dying from old age (Covid, as we currently call it). On the other hand, the young have a higher probability of driving a car into a tree or having a drug overdose or a hang gliding accident.

    Bottom line is, it is complicated! The number of people who die in a year is probably fairly accurate. We know that there is a secular increasing trend in the recorded annual deaths, and we know there are significant fluctuations around that trend. All in all, estimating “excess deaths” is a challenge. Reliably ascribing causes to those “excess deaths” is even more of a challenge. Readers of the NYT should be cautious.

  24. Kirk says:

    For even a well-read layman to argue these points is difficult, given that so few are remotely well-informed on the subject of actuarial science. Hell, most people don’t even know what the hell that is, but you better believe the insurance companies do.

    I once got into a very interesting discussion with a guy who did actuarial projections for a major life insurance company. The really disturbing thing was how fine-grained the data he had access to really was–He could tell you what the average death rates were going to be in most zip codes based on recorded causes of death, which is spooky as hell when you realize that in some of those zip codes, there are only about five or six people in specific demographic categories. So, in a given year, you knew that you’d lose an average of one 60-65 year-old man to heart disease in a given zip code, and with there only being a very few in that category… Yeah. He could pretty much narrow it down to “one of these five guys will die this year…”, which is creepy as hell when you think about it.

    Some of the computer programs they use are damn near able to spit out the name of someone who is “due to die” in a given year, if the population is low enough in an area.

    He was telling me that they lock out the actuaries from working on data that might be personal to them, in terms of where their families live, mostly because of the effect it has on the actuaries themselves. It’s a morbid profession–One of his co-workers had a daughter with a rare disease, and it really messed with his head knowing what he knew about the odds of her surviving much past her teenage years.

  25. Felix says:

    Kirk, whoa. Yeah, and you want to see the future? Start with demographic info. Uncanny.

    Gavin, I don’t know a URL, but somewhere (census bureau?) there is monthly data for US/States deaths from 20xx up to now, including the missing 2016.

    Illegals, presumably being young, wouldn’t affect US death numbers for a looooong time.

    BTW, US Hispanic life span numbers are real good. Therefore, following the logic one reads so often, the US should adapt the US’s Hispanic Health System.

  26. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk: “He could pretty much narrow it down to ‘one of these five guys will die this year…’, which is creepy as hell when you think about it.”

    Reminds me of an occasion when I found myself waiting at the back of a meeting room to make a presentation to the assembled Vice Presidents. Human Resources VP was up first. He looked around the room, and gave the mainly 55+ executives the probability that one of the executive team was likely to die in the next year. His point was that the organization needed to put more effort into succession planning and grooming replacements.

    If I remember correctly, that Human Resources VP soon moved on to spend more time with his family.

  27. Kirk says:


    Was he wrong, though?

    Thing about Cassandra wasn’t that she was wrong, but that nobody wanted to hear the bad news. And, what do we traditionally do with the bearers of that bad news…?

    Speaking unpleasant truths is a good way to win enemies, sadly. Puncturing delusional thinking is a thankless job, no matter what context or what it is about.

    Of course, it does get you into the history books, when someone comes along with the honesty to admit “We wuz told…”.

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