Saturday, April 25, 2020

Coronavirus - herd immunity

Herd immunity "is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through previous infections or vaccination, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune. In a population in which a large proportion of individuals possess immunity, such people being unlikely to contribute to disease transmission, chains of infection are more likely to be disrupted, which either stops or slows the spread of disease. The greater the proportion of immune individuals in a community, the smaller the probability that non-immune individuals will come into contact with an infectious individual, helping to shield non-immune individuals from infection" (Wikipedia).

It's clear that herd immunity is effective when the already-immune portion of the herd is high, but has little effect when the already-immune portion of the herd is very low.  Amid all the panic, herd immunity has received little attention during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Given the newness of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, and no vaccine for it, the already-immune portion of any country's population is very low.

In this interview Professor Knut Wittkowski relies heavily on the idea of herd immunity to combat the coronavirus. He may be correct, but I didn't share his confidence. First, the already-immune portion of people is very low. Without vaccination, many, many people would have to become infected -- in a non-controlled way unlike vaccination -- to reach the critical mass for herd immunity to have much effect. Second, it seems he relied too much on mortality rates from the flu. The range of annual flu deaths is wide. He predicted the number of deaths in the USA will be in the low end of that range. Deaths from the SARS-CoV-2 being one cause already are near the high end of that range and will exceed it. Wittkowski emphasizes children becoming immune via exposure to SARS-CoV-2 without it being fatal (or even sickening). However, children ages 0-14 are only about 19% of the USA's population, with ages 0-18 about 24%. In summary, the downside of non-immune people being exposed to SARS-CoV-2 seems risky. He also relies on isolating the elderly, but there are many elderly living among the general population, not in nursing homes or assisted care residences. Of course, non-immune people avoiding exposure to the virus does not require the sort of massive lock-downs that have been implemented by governments.

These two articles #1, #2 reach the same conclusion about how lethal the virus is. The lack of a vaccine is likewise a weighty factor.

One country, Sweden, has relied on a herd immunity approach and no strict lock-down. Its neighbors Denmark, Finland, and Norway have kept reported infections and deaths lower, especially deaths (link). This article addresses Sweden's case somewhat favorably. This article addresses Sweden's case more negatively.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Coronaviris - innovation

A Wall Street Journal article is about innovation during the coronavirus pandemic. Shoes to Masks: Corporate Innovation Flourishes in Coronavirus Fight. It features several cases of how private companies have changed what they do in response to economic demand. Since the article is behind a paywall, the following -- until the asterisks -- are some excerpts.

The innovations "run the gamut from individuals using 3-D printers to turn out N95 masks and academic labs repurposing themselves into coronavirus test centers to General Motors Co. teaming up with Ventec Life Systems to make ventilators."

The "shoes to masks" in the title refers to a small Pennsylvania company that switched from making children's shoes to making face masks for protection against the coronavirus.

The True Value Co. switched some of its paint production lines to make hand sanitizer.

During World War II, government agencies "such as the War Production Board and the U.S. Maritime Commission decided what should be produced and which companies would get contracts, which generally had a guaranteed profit margin."

"Yet compared with wartime, the federal government has thus far mostly played a supporting role in mobilizing economic resources to combat the pandemic. Most of the acquisition and production of vital supplies has fallen to states and health-care providers working with private suppliers and intermediaries."


The above innovations occurred in a partly free market economy, where production and decision-making are not centralized. Any market participants may make decisions and take initiative. They do not need authorization from government officials (with exceptions). Socialism is usually the idea that government should own and control all production. (Even socialists who advocate worker-owned firms typically desire extensive government planning at a macro level, especially for finance and capital allocation.) Production, capital allocation, and decision-making are centralized, subject to laws, regulations, and approval by government officials. The spontaneous order of markets is more conducive to innovation and more adaptive to changing circumstances than the command or planned order of politicians and government bureaucrats.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Net neutrality - USA vs Europe

Coronavirus Crisis Vindicates the FCC’s ‘Net Neutrality’ Rollback is the title of a Wall Street Journal op-ed. The subtitle is: In Europe, meanwhile, heavy-handed regulation is forcing internet providers to throttle video speeds.

The article is behind a paywall. The title and subtitle summarize it nicely. The following excerpts tell more.

The widespread imposition of stay-at-home orders has underscored the critical role that access to the internet plays in modern society. In Europe, networks have struggled to meet bandwidth demand. U.S. networks have faced fewer problems adjusting to the increase in demand. The European Union has embraced a heavy-handed regulatory scheme designed to allocate access to the existing network, while the U.S. has emphasized private investment to expand network capacity.

European regulators were guided by the legal system developed to govern traditional telephone service largely built with taxpayer funds.  Rather than fold the internet into an outdated legal regime developed for a different era, the American vision concentrates on encouraging telephone and cable companies to compete by investing to increase their bandwidth. The only major deviation from this pattern occurred in 2015, when the Federal Communications Commission adopted a “net neutrality” rule applying legacy telephone regulation to the internet for the first time. The agency returned to its longstanding investment-oriented policy in 2018.

The U.S. and EU have seen dramatically different investment and utilization. Between 2010 and 2016, American providers invested on average annually 2.35 times as much per household as their European counterparts. This allowed the average U.S. household to consume more than three times as much data as the average European household in 2017, according to Cisco. [End].

The article doesn't say what net neutrality is. Wikipedia and Investopedia say more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Income taxes 2019

Today was -- not is -- the deadline for filing 2019 personal federal income taxes in the USA. April 15 is the usual deadline unless it falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or holiday. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) changed the deadline to July 15, 2020. The deadline to make contributions to IRAs and HSAs for 2019 was also extended to July 15. Link.

Among other things, the CARES Act eliminated required minimum distributions (RMDs) for taxpayers who were subject to them in 2020. The age at which RMDs begin to apply was 70.5. This was changed to age 72 in December, 2019.

THE HILL reports that participation in the IRS Free File program is up this year. "The IRS has received about 1.53 million tax returns through the program as of Feb 28. That's a 22.4 percent increase from the roughly 1.25 million Free File returns received last year as of March 1, 2019, according to interim data in a report released Monday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA)."

Participation was higher this year probably in part because the program received lots of news coverage during the last several months, especially by ProPublica's sustained smear campaign of Intuit and its TurboTax. Maybe the coronavirus keeping more people at home with more time on their hands and less money will also boost the number. TIGTA said that about 34.5 million filers were eligible to use the Free File Program last year but didn't. It also said about 2.5 million did use the Free File Program. If the final count of users this year is 25% more, that will be about 3.1 million, still less than 10% of those eligible. I won't even guess how many of the other 90% use computers nil or little.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Coronavirus - death of a campaign

Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign. A New York Post article attributes the death of Sanders' campaign to COVID-19. Bernie Sanders’ socialist fantasies lost their appeal when coronavirus hit. The news media's attention is monopolized by COVID-19. It has pushed aside the huge amount of attention the news media previously gave to Sanders and his campaign. The following copies liberally from the article.

Socialism and Medicare for All, the subjects Sanders has hammered home with metronomic monotony for many years don’t matter right now. Sanders is a politician with an ever handy villain. But the coronavirus "can’t be blamed for its greed or taxed [or regulated by government] into submission." It's useless to yell at the virus, and yelling at things is Sanders’ political m├ętier.

Sanders prefers "to traffic in fantasies rather than provide realistic and workable solutions to glaring and inescapable realities."

"Who among us hasn’t noodled on what it would mean to win the lottery, to consider what you would do to fix things if you had unlimited money and power and were unconstrained by tradition or precedent or reality?"

"That is the seduction of socialism — it monopolizes resources and power and then distributes the goodies. But ­resources don’t work like that; if you seize them and centralize them, you pull them from their roots, and they begin to die."

'Whatever the world is going to look like once this [pandemic] is over, it won’t be a world that will have time for the ludicrous [ ] delusions of Bernie Sanders."

It is often said that Bernie Sanders' greatest support comes from young people. They aren't swayed by the common arguments against socialism or the history of socialism when put into practice. Why do they support Sanders, or more accurately, socialism? An audio on this page by Professor Stephen Hicks tries to answer this question. Starting at about 17 minutes Professor Hicks describes several mindsets he has found among young people who consider themselves socialists and the values on which they base their support of socialism. He calls these positions anti-cronyist, altruistic, central-planning, free stuff, communalist, welfare state, environmentalist, and emotionalist. His goal is only to explain, without criticism.

In an earlier audio Professor Hicks described socialism in theory or put into political practice by eight historical people. Their ideas of socialism are very different from those of modern young people.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Coronavirus - Medicare for All #3

The publication Current Affairs is also using the pandemic to advocate socialism, more specifically Medicare for All. The title of this article proclaims that our (the USA’s) for-profit healthcare system is failing us.

Firstly, it’s absurd to call the USA’s healthcare system as only for-profit. Government spending is about half of total spending on healthcare. There is also a lot of not-for-profit spending beyond that. Employer spending on health insurance for its employees is a big cost with no financial profit in it. Only 26% of hospitals are for-profit; 74% are nonprofit or public.

The author proclaims “Medicare for All would have solved all these problems.” This is merely a product of his wishful imagination and no reality check. He ignores the fact that the USA already has Medicare-for-all-over-age-65 plus Medicaid. He proclaims it despite the tragic result of Medicare for All in Italy and Spain. His only mention of either country is to smear detractors of Medicare for All. “But then, of course, as detractors point out, there’s Italy—which despite government health insurance found itself battling, for a time, the most serious COVID-19 outbreak in the world. Until, of course, we passed them.”

Duh! Yes, with about 5.5 times Italy’s population, the latest numbers show the USA has passed Italy in the number of cases. However, the USA has not passed Italy in the number of deaths nor the ratios deaths/cases and cases/populationItaly leads the world in deaths/cases with about 12.5%. Its neighbor Switzerland, with more cases/population than Italy and nothing like Medicare for any of its population, has only 3.6%. The USA ratio is even less. I predict the USA ratio will rise but will remain below 1/3rd of Italy’s ratio. Yet the author judges USA healthcare a failure, but doesn't judge Italy's healthcare!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Coronavirus -- supply chains

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined some light on the significance of supply chains. To a final user the supply of toilet paper and milk products are ordinarily so reliable that they can be easily taken for granted. However, the pandemic has caused disruptions in the supply chains for them.

While there has been hording of toilet paper, the disruption has also occurred because there are two major kinds of toilet paper -- commercial and household. More people staying at home, schools closed, and many workplaces and businesses closed has lessened demand for the commercial kind and increased demand for the household kind. As this article explains, the two kinds are made, packaged, and distributed very differently. The changes in demand have caused a ripple effect back through many links in the supply chain.

A similar disruption has occurred in the supply chains for milk products. The first link in all chains is raw milk from the dairy farmer. However, the chains differ after that. As this article explains: "Mass closures of restaurants and schools have forced a sudden shift from those wholesale food-service markets to retail grocery stores, creating logistical and packaging nightmares for plants processing milk, butter and cheese. Trucking companies that haul dairy products are scrambling to get enough drivers as some who fear the virus have stopped working. And sales to major dairy export markets have dried up as the food-service sector largely shuts down globally."

There was also a sudden surge in demand for personal protective equipment (masks, gowns, etc.), beds in hospitals, and ventilators. The supply chains for these things did not have the size and resilience to adapt as quickly as many wished.

Facts like these should be a wake-up call for socialists like Bernie Sanders and Nathan Robinson, but I doubt they will. They talk like they take supply chains completely for granted. They show no grasp or interest in supply and demand or how products get made and distributed to the end user. They have nothing to say about the informative value of prices and quantities. Their sole concern is how income is distributed. All BS can say about prices are that some are too high for middle and lower income people and the cause is the greed of the wealthy. They show no grasp or appreciation for higher level decision-makers along any supply chain. Their overwhelming concern is the welfare of middle- and lower-income workers not responsible for any higher-level or even mid-level decision making.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Coronavirus - Medicare for All #2

On March 27 I wrote about an article using the coronavirus pandemic to make propaganda favoring Medicare for All. I was unaware of the website before then, and I guess it has a small audience. Only three days later comes more propaganda rationalized on the pandemic, this time from The New Yorker with many readers and the presumptive title "Reality Has Endorsed Bernie Sanders."

The author writes: "In the last Democratic debate, former Vice-President Joe Biden insisted that the U.S. doesn’t need single-payer health care because the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy proved that it doesn’t work." She quickly moves on, ignoring Biden's statement as not worth considering.

Fittingly on April Fools Day, the site of the first propaganda follows with this story. Engaging in fantasy, it is oblivious to the toll of the pandemic in Italy and Spain, the countries with health care systems most like Medicare for All.

The Hollywood Reporter gives Bernie Sanders another opportunity to air his propaganda amid the pandemic. BS asks how is it that in the USA, with the highest per capita spending on healthcare in the world, there are shortages of protective equipment and ventilators. He names his usual scapegoats --  for-profit insurance companies and drug companies. He fails to address why there are even greater shortages of beds in hospitals and ventilators in Italy and Spain, the countries with healthcare systems most like Medicare for All. BS's mindset has no use for such a reality check.

Bernie wants the USA to guarantee healthcare to all its people. "Guarantee" is hyperbole. A government can promise all it wants. Delivery is what matters. Like Italy and Spain demonstrate, promises can be broken. No bed in a hospital and no ventilator for a horde of seniors.

A Washington Examiner article is far more objective. It isn't based on fantasy and does a reality-check. The reality is Italy and Spain, the countries with healthcare systems most like Medicare for All. Comparing them to Switzerland -- with nothing like Medicare, less tragic, and much less governmental interference -- would have been a plus. The article is still excellent. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Twisted news about ventilators

Two days ago ProPublica published a story about ventilators, which have been in high demand to treat patients with COVID-19. Taxpayers Paid Millions to Design a Low-Cost Ventilator for a Pandemic. Instead, the Company Is Selling Versions of It Overseas. The story is rather long, more than 3,000 words.

A short version is this. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2015 signed a $13.8 million contract with a Pennsylvania manufacturer -- Philips, a subsidiary of a Dutch firm -- to create a low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ventilator that could be stockpiled for emergencies. The contract was very open-ended regarding delivery of the ventilators with a deadline in 2022. In September 2019, the contract was modified. Still, it gave Philips almost a year before delivering any ventilators and until 2022 to fulfill the order. Meanwhile, Philips has raised production and been selling other, higher-priced models responding to the high demand.

Showing their political leaning, the ProPublica authors believe the HHS should have forced Philips to accelerate delivery. I wonder if they also believe any direction given to Philips by its Dutch parent should be disregarded. I wonder how well the low-cost, portable, easy-to-use ventilator the HHS contracted for would perform in the more severe COVID-19 cases.

Yesterday The Hill rode the coattail of the ProPublica story. Its headline is Stockpile of US-manufactured ventilators sold overseas. In other words, The Hill twists 'an empty stockpile because it hadn't been stocked yet' into 'an empty stockpile because Philips sold from the stockpile to overseas customers.'  Also, The Hill story omits the part about the delivery terms of the contract between Philips and HHS.