The traditional yeomanry is losing out

Tuesday, January 18th, 2022

The working class may have suffered the most in the past decades, but the angriest class in America may be the small business and property-owning class, Joel Kotkin says:

National chains and online services are replacing many traditional Main Street businesses — the insurance and travel agencies, the local banks, the High Street retailers and restauranteurs. To make matters worse, local smallholders increasingly find themselves dependent on what analyst Mike Lind calls “toll booth” companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, tech megaliths which are able to coerce small businesses to give up their data. Amidst the supply chain crisis, firms like Amazon and the big box stores use their bargaining power to minimize delays in deliveries in ways not available to smaller businesses.

The traditional yeomanry — like the “kulaks” or wealthy peasants in Stalin’s day — is losing out. As executive compensation reached the stratosphere at the big tech and finance firms, small businesses faced what Harvard Business Review described as “an existential threat.” Experts are warning that one-third of small businesses, which comprise the majority of U.S. companies and employ nearly 50 percent of all workers, could ultimately shut down for good.

Perhaps, Arnold Kling suggests, we are now living in the New Servants economy:

Tyler Cowen has a series called “those new service-sector jobs.” My favorites include Coffin Whisperer and Wedding Hashtag Composer. The demand for such services can only come from people with excess wealth, and the supply comes from people who realize that their best source of income is to cater to those with excess wealth. This is very different from the age of mass consumption, when Henry Ford tried to manufacture cars that his workers could afford.

Actually, I think that the biggest engine of the trickle-down economy is the nonprofit sector. I don’t have data on this, but I suspect that if you ask the next 10 young professionals you meet where they work, at least 3 of them will reply that they work for nonprofits.

[...]

I would much rather see billionaires invest in businesses in minority communities than fund nonprofits that donate to BLM.

What we needed instead was scientific socialism

Thursday, January 13th, 2022

The “Utopian” socialists were wrong, Bryan Caplan notes, but Marx was worse, as this excerpt from a piece by Joshua Muravchik explains:

He [“Utopian socialist” Robert Owen] was no obscure crank. When he arrived in the United States in 1824, he was received by a joint session of Congress that met over two separate days with outgoing President Monroe and incoming President John Quincy Adams, among the many luminaries who came to hear him out.

Owen then bought an already developed settlement on the banks of the Wabash River from a religious sect. The members of this group had developed it, and it included not only homes but vast fertile farmlands and more than twenty highly productive workshops that produced goods sold all across the country. Yet within a year after taking it over, Owen and his thousand followers had turned this little Switzerland into an Albania. All the other collective settlements, except for some that were first and foremost religious communities, had similar histories of failure.

But along came Marx and Engels, who wiped this record of failure away with one of the great intellectual conjuring tricks of all time. Owen and his ilk, said Marx and Engels, were utopians. What we needed instead was scientific socialism, which they then outfitted with great pseudo-scholarly paraphernalia: means and modes of production, historical forces, class struggle, and all the rest.

What I mean by conjuring trick is this: Owen and the other so-called utopians had an idea. What did they do? Owen and the other communitarians actually created experiments to test their ideas. Experimentation is the very essence of science. They were the real scientific socialists. Marx and Engels dismissed all experimental evidence, replaced it with an idea that was sheer prophecy, and claimed thereby to have progressed from utopia to science.

Let the psychologists keep their reverse psychology

Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Tim Harford looks at uses of reverse logic:

The problem with queues is obvious: they waste time. Less obvious is that each queuer is getting in the way of everyone behind them. If someone gives up and walks away, everyone behind them benefits. Imagine a line of Christmas market stalls serving hot chocolate, mulled wine, mince pies and other seasonal comestibles. People stroll along the row of stalls, keen to enjoy a warming treat on a winter’s day.

The problem is that every stall has a queue. One person a minute is served, and people are willing to wait for up to 10 minutes. If there are already 10 people in line, they keep walking. This common-sense way of queueing is a disaster. Each queue will be near the maximum length, otherwise people would quickly join it. Each stall operates at capacity, but nobody gets their mulled wine without waiting around until the very limits of their patience.

What does reverse logic tell us about this problem? Steven Landsburg, the author of the classic The Armchair Economist, proposes an alternative rule: those that are last shall be first. Each new person who joins a queue goes to the front, standing immediately behind the person being served. This is, of course, an outrage against reason, intuition and natural justice. It is also highly efficient. If you’re next in line to be served, but someone shows up and shoehorns herself into position in front of you, you walk away. The line is only going to get longer, and you’re always going to be at the back.

Under the Landsburg system, the stalls still serve one seasonal treat a minute, but the queues are short. Alas, the Landsburg rule can only be imposed in controlled environments such as a theme park, perhaps. But you might consider applying a dose of Landsburg’s logic to your own “to do” list: don’t add a new item to the list unless you’re willing to do it immediately. A little impractical, yes, but also bracingly realistic. If it’s not important enough even to be the top priority right now, maybe it will never be the top priority, and it shouldn’t be sitting on your “to do” list at all.

Is there something about economists that makes them particularly attracted to reverse logic? Perhaps. Two classic ideas in economics are Frédéric Bastiat’s “things seen and things not seen” and Adam Smith’s “invisible hand”. These ideas point to the way in which economists think: obvious and direct changes unleash indirect and less-than-obvious consequences. Let the psychologists keep their reverse psychology; we’ll enjoy our reverse logic.

Gift givers believe that spontaneous gifts are as welcome as those on a wish list

Saturday, December 25th, 2021

Recent research by psychologists — notably Gabrielle Adams and Francis Flynn of Stanford, and Harvard’s Francesca Gino — reveals a startling lack of self-awareness in our gift giving, Tim Harford notes:

  • Gift givers believe that spontaneous gifts are as welcome as those on a wish list, while wish list gifts seem charmless and impersonal. Recipients feel otherwise — they have no problem being given something from a list, and often lament the poor choices when people venture away from it.
  • People feel awkward giving money yet are perfectly happy to receive it.
  • Gift givers think more expensive presents are appreciated more yet gift recipients don’t care about the expense either way.

There is nobody more generous than the miser

Friday, December 24th, 2021

Ebenezer Scrooge is underrated, Tim Harford argues:

Dickens’s story is viewed as a journey of redemption; I am not so sure.

In his original, miserly form, Scrooge actually gives us much to admire. He was a model of inadvertent benevolence. He earned vast sums and avoided spending so much as a farthing if he could help it. The economic implication of this? Regardless of Scrooge’s motives, because he spent little, everyone else enjoyed more, as surely as if Scrooge had divided his fortune and sent a few coins to everyone in the country. As the economist Steven Landsburg once wrote: “There is nobody more generous than the miser — the man who could deplete the world’s resources but chooses not to.”

This isn’t an intuitive proposition but it is true. Scrooge reminds me of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, formerly of successful dance band The KLF, who in the summer of 1994 filmed themselves burning 20,000 £50 notes — £1m — on an island in the Inner Hebrides. People who wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if Drummond and Cauty had blown the cash on fast cars and drugs were outraged at the waste. As the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come might have pointed out, the money could have been spent on a worthy cause. On a chat show, in front of a jeering audience, Drummond explained that “burning that money doesn’t mean there’s any less loaves of bread in the world, any less apples, any less anything. The only thing that’s less, is a pile of paper.”

Drummond was quite right. He had a claim on £1m worth of goods and services and by burning the money, he didn’t destroy those goods and services — he merely relinquished his claim and let others enjoy them instead. The likely economic effect is that everything in the country became a tiny bit cheaper. If the Bank of England had worried about the (minuscule) fall in the money supply, it could have printed replacement banknotes for a couple of grand.

Most decisions along the way make individual sense, even if they lead to collective failure

Thursday, December 16th, 2021

Mancur Olson’s The Rise and Decline of Nations is one of Alex Tabarrok’s favorite books and a classic of public choice. He shares four of its nine implications:

2. Stable societies with unchanged boundaries tend to accumulate more collusions and organizations for collective action over time. The longer the country is stable, the more distributional coalitions they’re going to have.

6. Distributional coalitions make decisions more slowly than the individuals and firms of which they are comprised, tend to have crowded agendas and bargaining tables, and more often fix prices than quantities. Since there is so much bargaining, lobbying, and other interactions that need to occur among groups, the process moves more slowly in reaching a conclusion. In collusive groups, prices are easier to fix than quantities because it is easier to monitor whether other industries are selling at a different price, while it may be difficult to monitor the actual quantities they are producing.

7. Distributional coalitions slow down a society’s capacity to adopt new technologies and to reallocate resources in response to changing conditions, and thereby reduce the rate of economic growth. Since it is difficult to make decisions, and since many groups have an interest in the status quo, it will be more difficult to adopt new technologies, create new industries, and generally adapt to changing environments.

9. The accumulation of distributional coalitions increases the complexity of regulation, the role of government, and the complexity of understandings, and changes the direction of social evolution. As the number of distributional coalitions grows, it will make policy-making increasingly difficult, and social evolution will focus more on distributing wealth among groups than on economic efficiency and growth.

You can gauge the book’s continued relevance from this thread by Ezra Klein, he notes, which gets at some of the consequences of the forces Olson explained:

A key failure of liberalism in this era is the inability to build in a way that inspires confidence in more building. Infrastructure comes in overbudget and late, if it comes in at all. There aren’t enough homes, enough rapid tests, even enough good government web sites. I’ve covered a lot of these processes, and it’s important to say: Most decisions along the way make individual sense, even if they lead to collective failure.

If the problem here was idiots and crooks, it’d be easy to solve. Sadly, it’s (usually) not. Take the parklets. There are fire safety concerns. SFMTA is losing revenue. Some pose disability access issues. It’s not crazy to try and take everyone’s concerns into account. But you end up with an outcome everyone kind of hates.

I’ve seen this happen again and again. Every time I look into it, I talk to well-meaning people able to give rational accounts of their decisions.

It usually comes down to risk. If you do X, Y might happen, and even if Y is unlikely, you really don’t want to be blamed for it. But what you see, eventually, is that our mechanisms of governance have become so risk averse that they are now running *tremendous* risks because of the problems they cannot, or will not, solve. And you can say: Who cares? It’s just parklets/HeathCare.gov/rapid tests/high-speed rail/housing/etc.

But it all adds up.

There’s both a political and a substantive problem here.

The political problem is if people keep watching the government fail to build things well, they won’t believe the government can build things well. So they won’t trust it to build. And they won’t even be wrong. The substantive problem, of course, is that we need government to build things, and solve big problems.

If it’s so hard to build parklets, how do you think think that multi-trillion dollar, breakneck investment in energy infrastructure is going to go?

Americans do indeed spend more when Thanksgiving falls early

Thursday, November 25th, 2021

Retailers don’t just put up decorations to steal Christmas sales from each other, Tim Harford notes. They are also boosting the total amount we impressionable customers spend:

In 2005, the economist Emek Basker…studied the US, where Thanksgiving now ranges between November 22 and 28, leaving as few as 26 or as many as 32 shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She found a clear pattern: Americans do indeed spend more when Thanksgiving falls early. The sums aren’t trivial: about $10 per person per day in today’s terms. Robert Urbatsch, a political scientist, used a similar approach to examine the jobs market and found that longer Christmas seasons lead to higher levels of employment.

Professor Basker estimated total holiday spending by comparing all spending in November and December vs all spending in September and October; the difference was about $300 per person in today’s money. Using a slightly different method, the author of Scroogenomics Joel Waldfogel has produced broadly similar estimates of the Christmas bump in sales.

We want to replace much more than 100% of current gas, coal, and oil with zero-carbon sources of electricity

Sunday, October 10th, 2021

Over the centuries, Matthew Yglesias reminds us, people have invented many different kinds of machines that help us do things and improve living standards:

But in a very general way, what most of these inventions do is let us substitute some form of power for human effort. And as long as we were totally ignoring the costs of burning coal and oil, this was a great mechanism for progress — you invent new ways to do things by burning coal and oil, so then you burn more coal and oil.

But since the mid-1970s we’ve been increasingly aware of the limits and problems with this model, and it’s put us on an energy diet. Now when we invent something cool, we often have to say “too bad the energy requirements are so high.”

But as Ryan Avent (from whom I borrowed that chart) and others have written, this is a backward way of looking at things. The turn toward conservation and efficiency was a necessary evil in an era when we couldn’t come up with a better way to deal with geopolitical instability linked to oil and pollution linked to all forms of fossil fuels.

Instead, we should raise our clean energy production ambitions. We don’t want to replace 100% of our current dirty energy — we want to generate vastly more energy than we are currently using and make it zero carbon.

What difference does it make in how you look at it?

In the “energy is a necessary evil” frame, we look at our current electricity needs and then ask, “How can we generate all that from zero-carbon sources?” In the alternate framing, you say that to the extent we can develop affordable, zero-carbon sources of electricity, we want to generate tons and tons of electricity. Ideally, we would want to replace much more than 100% of current gas, coal, and oil with zero-carbon sources of electricity and use that to literally power a bold new era of rapid economic growth.

I find that this vision tends not to be intuitively compelling to a lot of people who are accustomed to living in the efficiency era. But let’s just imagine a world with small modular nuclear reactors and advanced geothermal energy production — a world in which we have plenty of baseline power. As our ability to make batteries gets better and better, we can put them all in vehicles rather than using them to address intermittent renewables. Then when the sun shines or the wind blows, we have even more power that we can use for stuff that doesn’t need to be on all the time. It’s a world of energy abundance — Lewis Strauss’ dream of electricity that’s “too cheap to meter.”

Nobody will pay you more for cleaner air directly

Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Alex Tabarrok finds it puzzling that there isn’t more attention given to air filtration and UV light disinfection in hospitals, since these techniques have been shown to kill superbugs:

The authors installed portable air filters with UV disinfection on two COVID hospital wards in the UK. The air was tested for viruses, bacteria and fungi before the filters were turned on, during the time the filters were on and then again after the filters were turned off.

The results:

Airborne SARS-CoV-2 was detected in the ward on all five days before activation of air/UV filtration, but on none of the five days when the air/UV filter was operational; SARS-CoV-2 was again detected on four out of five days when the filter was off.

Importantly, in addition to greatly reducing SARS-CoV-2 the portable filters and UV light also greatly reduced multiple viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens.

A commenter explains why this hasn’t become common practice already:

The main regulation rests largely on ASHRAE 170-2017. That in turn has been addended over a dozen times since the pandemic began. We have done things to change how air is handled in light of these and the more direct regulators (e.g. the Joint Commission) are adapting.

But it is not trivial to do all of this. Some hospitals have ductwork that is over a 100 years old. Adding in UV creates problems for reactive species in the air. And then there is the problem that any refits (e.g. to handle higher pressures/volumes) often means opening up the ceilings inside the ICUs or going through the floor in the the floor above. These are highly disruptive activities at the best of times. When you are (or may soon) be at or above bed capacity, well not the best time to bring in a small legion of contractors to close large areas of the hospital.

Then, yes, money is a huge thing. Funny thing is, nobody will pay you more for cleaner air directly. You might be able to eke out some sort of capital return through fewer nosocomial infections or uncharged readmissions, but those are speculative returns at this point and pretty long run things when, again, right now beds in many places are still exceptionally highly utilized. Worse, when you do open up the tubes and start mucking around there is a very high risk that you will disturb some collection of spores that has found some dark corner to accumulate in over the last few decades. When you have a bunch folks who already have respiratory compromise, this is a particularly bad time to risk that sort of contamination.

So faced with high upfront costs, a strong litigation risk, and remote cost savings, this is not a priority right now. If you want a massive overhaul of the air system right now it is going to need liability waivers and giveaways to the AHA crowd. A slower roll out via changes in ASHRAE and the like is already underway, but I figure it will be over a decade before everyone updates.

Men are abandoning higher education

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Men are abandoning higher education in such numbers that they now trail female college students by record levels:

At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline.

This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65% of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59% of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man, if the trend continues, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse.

No reversal is in sight. Women increased their lead over men in college applications for the 2021-22 school year — 3,805,978 to 2,815,810 — by nearly a percentage point compared with the previous academic year, according to Common Application, a nonprofit that transmits applications to more than 900 schools. Women make up 49% of the college-age population in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.

[...]

The college gender gap cuts across race, geography and economic background. For the most part, white men — once the predominant group on American campuses — no longer hold a statistical edge in enrollment rates, said Mr. Mortenson, of the Pell Institute. Enrollment rates for poor and working-class white men are lower than those of young Black, Latino and Asian men from the same economic backgrounds, according to an analysis of census data by the Pell Institute for the Journal.

If the process is meritocratic, it is a good idea to trust the people at the top

Monday, September 6th, 2021

Humans are social learners, Arnold Kling reminds us:

We have to trust other people in order to gain knowledge and to make decisions. Our social epistemology will not get better by simply showing less deference to people who have a reputation for expertise.

I believe that the fundamental issue in social epistemology is the process by which people climb the status hierarchy. If the process is meritocratic, as in a chess tournament, it is a good idea to trust the people at the top. If the process is corrupted, by rules that are unfair or easily gamed. then the high-status people are not so worthy of our trust. But the solution to corruption is to improve the process, not (just) to belittle high-status people.

[…]

How do I determine that you are knowledgeable in a field? If I knew enough to independently verify your knowledge, then I would not need your expertise. Since I cannot personally evaluate your knowledge, I rely on a signal. The fundamental social challenge is to make sure that these signals are accurate.

Incumbents with high status in a field usually participate in setting up and operating the signaling system in their field. To at least some degree, this is desirable. You want doctors involved in the system that decides the qualification for who becomes a doctor.

But you also need a system that is open to innovation and capable of discarding conventional views that turn out to be wrong. If there is insufficient competition, an entire field can decay. I saw this happen in macroeconomics in the 1980s, as Stanley Fischer all but monopolized the placement at prestige universities of young macroeconomic specialists. Students who did not want to conform to Fischer’s approach ended up avoiding macroeconomics and/or accepting low-status placements. The result, in my opinion, was the atrophy of macroeconomics.

Donald Shoup debated calling his treatise Aparkalypse Now

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Donald Shoup debated calling his treatise Aparkalypse Now, but he went with The High Price of Free Parking instead:

America’s 250 million cars have an estimated 2 billion parking spots and spend 95% of their time parked. To make cities more equitable, affordable, and environmentally conscious, Shoup makes the case for three simple reforms:

1. Stop requiring off-street parking for new developments.

2. Price street parking according to market value, based on the desirability of the space, the time of day, and the number of open spots.

3. Spend that revenue on initiatives to better the surrounding neighborhoods.

If people had to pay for street parking, he argues, it would bring in money to pay for local repairs, infrastructure (like that free Wi-Fi he was talking about), and beautification. It would also make public transit more attractive and force many curbside cruisers to head straight for parking garages and other paid spots—a win for neighborhood air quality, global greenhouse gas levels, and those still playing those two-ton games of musical chairs.

As anyone who lives in a city knows, the pandemic blew up most of what we understood about parking in America. Oh, it was possible this whole time to hand over parking spaces to restaurants? To turn whole streets into semi-permanent pedestrian thoroughfares? To cut traffic enough to yield noticeable improvements in air quality? All it took was a once-in-a-century public-health catastrophe.

[…]

According to his research, U.S. cities dedicate more land to parking than any other single use, including housing and commercial space.

[…]

In many cities decades-old ordinances require real estate developers to set aside a certain amount of space for parking — usually, a shocking amount. America has an average of 1,000 square feet of parking for each car, vs. 800 square feet of housing per person.

[…]

Most American restaurants have at least three times the square footage devoted to parking as they do to the restaurant itself.

They are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move

Monday, August 30th, 2021

To compete means to risk losing, and women, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing explains, judge this risk differently than men:

A Stockholm University study of 1.4 million [chess] games over 11 years showed that elite women are less likely to use an aggressive opening move than elite male players. The women devote more deliberative thought to their first 25 moves: they are looking for the best possible move every time, instead of a good move.

(That means they often run short on time in tournaments and have to rush at the end.)

Women are less likely to arrange a draw when the outcome is predictable — women want to play the game out. If it’s a sure win for women, they want to get that win.

(Men seem to get bored or decide that the time spent finishing the game is more trouble than it’s worth.)

That’s $300 million dollars per day

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

In the 20 years since September 11, 2001, the United States has spent more than $2 trillion on the war in Afghanistan:

That’s $300 million dollars per day, every day, for two decades. Or $50,000 for each of Afghanistan’s 40 million people. In baser terms, Uncle Sam has spent more keeping the Taliban at bay than the net worths of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and the 30 richest billionaires in America, combined.

Those headline numbers include $800 billion in direct war-fighting costs and $85 billion to train the vanquished Afghan army, which folded in the weeks since the Pentagon’s sudden early July closure of Bagram Air Force Base eliminated the promise of air support against the advancing Taliban. U.S. taxpayers have been giving Afghan soldiers $750 million a year in payroll. All told, Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimates the total spending at $2.26 trillion.

[…]

Naturally, the United States has financed the Afghan war with borrowed money. Brown University researchers estimate that more than $500 billion in interest has already been paid (included in the $2.26 trillion total sum), and they figure that by 2050 the cost of interest alone on our Afghan war debt could reach $6.5 trillion. That amounts to $20,000 for each and every U.S. citizen.

Wearing cloth masks outdoors, far from other people, in the wind, as is the fashion in Palo Alto

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

John Cochrane, the grumpy economist, can’t help but rant about covid incompetence:

Delta is the fourth wave of covid, and amazingly the US policy response is even more irresolute than the first time around. Our government is like a child, sent next door to get a cup of sugar, who gets as far as the front stoop and then wanders off following a puppy.

The policy response is now focused on the most medically ineffective but most politically symbolic step, mask mandates. All all-night disco in Provincetown turns in to a superspreader event so… we make school kids wear masks in outdoor summer camps? Masks are several decimal places less effective than vaccines, and less effective than “social distance” in the first place.* Go to that all night disco, unvaccinated, but wear a mask? Please.

If we’re going to do NPI (non pharmaceutical interventions), policy other than vaccines, the level of policy and public discussion has tragically regressed since last summer. Last summer, remember, we were all talking about testing. Alex Tabarrok and Paul Romer were superb on how fast tests can reduce the reproduction rate, even with just voluntary isolation following tests. Other countries had competent test and tracing regimes. Have we built that in a year? No. (Are we ready to test and trace the next bug? Double no.)

What happened to the paper-strip tests you could buy for $2.00 at Walgreen’s, get instant results, and maybe decide it’s a bad idea to go to the all night dance party? Interest faded in November. (Last I looked, the sellers and FDA were still insisting on prescriptions and an app sign up, so it cost $50 and insurance “paid for” it.) What happened to detailed local data? Did anyone ever get it through the FDA’s and CDCs thick skulls that even imperfect but cheap and fast tests can be used to slow spread of disease?

Last summer, we were talking about super-spreader events, and the idea that you don’t have to have disastrous lockdowns of everything but maybe packed all-night disco parties are a bad idea? (Reopen smart, I wrote at the time, for example here) Today, silence. Masks. Nice big symbolic masks. Period.

And then we indulge another round of America’s favorite pastime, answers in search of a question. Delta is spreading, so… extend the renter eviction moratorium.

[…]

In the talk “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” I hear, basically, resignation. We offered you vaccines. If you won’t take them, fine, we’re done. We’re back really to what quite a few people argued for and were pilloried for in March 2020. Let it sweep through, get to herd immunity, it peters out, bury the dead and go on with life.

The good news. A reproduction rate of 6 means Delta will spread really fast, peak really fast, and decline fast. The bad news: a lot of people will needlessly get sick and quite a few will die. The economy will slow down as people voluntarily pull back. Evolution got one more step ahead of bureaucratic bungling. A variant that transmits even more easily through vaccinated people can’t be far behind.

It did not have to happen. The vaccine was in hand, the lines were done, anyone could walk in and get the vaccine. All we had left to do was get pretty much everyone vaccinated before the new variant hit, and it would have been pretty much over. Something like $5 trillion dollars of extra debt, the economy closed for a year, thousands dead, thousands unemployed, huge pain and now we lose sight of the ball when all we had to do was pay a little attention, get some small incentives going for everyone to get vaccinated. (Aaron Stupple suggested, just pay people $1,000 to get vaccinated. 100 million people times $1,000 is $100 billion. Couch change in what the pandemic has cost us, or the upcoming $3.5 trillion “infrastructure” bill. That’s not much more than rail and transit subsidies alone.)

[…]

Of the many things we don’t know, just how much masks help or don’t help is one of them. You think with $42 billion dollars one could find out. Of the studies I have read and seen cited, I see a guesstimate of 20% reduction in reproduction rate. So if Delta has R0=6, masks might reduce that to 4.8. Even if a vaccine is only 50% effective in stopping transmission, then R0 among the vaccinated is 0.25.

Masks do much more to stop you from giving it to someone else than to protect you. Cloth masks are close to useless. Well-fitting N95 masks work much better in both directions. Neither comes close to vaccination. Wearing cloth masks outdoors, far from other people, in the wind, as is the fashion in Palo Alto, is just part and parcel of the pointless virtue-signaling so prominent here. If you do go to that crowded all-night disco, wearing an N95 mask might be a good idea. Of course if you’re even thinking about wearing a mask, you’re not going in the first place, which is why the whole mask-mandate business is a bit silly.