This is not World War Two

Entrenched hierarchies do not like outside criticism, especially when it’s right. They fight off knowledge that they don’t have or can’t control. In a business setting, the main way out is to found a competing company and drive the one that won’t change out of business. But when it’s not possible, the way out involves a massive crisis – something like a total war, in which people can rapidly rise through the ranks through demonstrating success in battle.

I bring this up because the coronavirus crisis in not such a total war. Branko Milanovic compares it with World War Two, contrasting economists who view it purely as an economic crisis akin to the 2008 crisis or the Depression. That comparison is apt when it comes to looking at non-economic aspects of it, namely the need to centrally plan a public health response. But the scale of the crisis is much smaller, it seems. The rich countries of Asia are emerging only somewhat battered, and even in the West some places seem to be over the hump judging by growth rates in the last few days, especially the Nordic countries but possibly also France. This isn’t the next Spanish Flu, a crisis so big that it would force Westerners to reckon with the fact that the West needs to learn from other places. Even in the United States, where things look worse, the solipsistic population looks for internal comparisons (e.g. between blue and red states) more than international ones, let alone international ones with Asia.

A small crisis is not going to nudge the hierarchy in a more open direction. I see this often in public transportation – institutions that feel embattled respond by entrenching and refusing any reform. The standard excuse is “we’re too busy fighting fires,” often by people that fires seem to erupt around regularly. The virus seems to have the same effect so far – less openness, less sanity checking proposals by looking at what works elsewhere, more digging in around traditional social hierarchies.

American nationalists are saber-rattling with the Chinese government, as in the “Chinese virus” dysphemism and Tom Cotton’s blaming the entire death toll on the PRC. But they still do this on the usual American terms, that is without any assurance that Taiwan is a success story to learn from, or even South Korea and Japan, two American allies that unlike Taiwan the US formally recognizes. If a virus that demonstrates to starkly that Taiwan governs itself better than the PRC won’t get American nationalists to start speaking favorably of Taiwan, what will? To people like Cotton, a crisis is a perfect time to proclaim American superiority, no matter what reality is.

Domestically, too, the American response seems to be to repeat old wives’ tales – for example, traditional American hostility to big cities. Governor Andrew Cuomo went as far as saying that New York is too dense; Seoul, a bigger and denser city, has 700 infections as of 2020-3-22 out of a metro population of 26 million, maybe a factor of 20 better than New York. But he’s the governor and he keeps giving speeches and appearing on television, and a few hundred and even a few thousand dead New Yorkers is not enough to make people ask questions about his and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s squabbling. After all, when nearly 3,000 New Yorkers died on 9/11, few asked why Mayor Rudy Giuliani had put the city’s anti-terrorism response center at World Trade Center against the advice of security experts who pointed out the Twin Towers were a likely target; 9/11’s effect on Giuliani’s popularity was an unmixed blessing.

In an environment in which more national pundits say Cuomo is looking presidential than say he should resign in disgrace, it’s unlikely the crisis will lead Americans in a more open direction. The magnitude of the crisis isn’t enough to create a new crop of leaders. It’s a good thing in the sense that the death toll will not be apocalyptic, but it just underscores what I mean when I say this isn’t World War Two.

Budget-cutting administrations, demanding reform before revenue, have not produced any reform. American state building stalled in the middle of the 20th century when various white middle-class interests realized localism could protect them from too much racial and economic equality. Then around the 1980s and 90s it went into reverse, with a continued assault on state capacity through public-private partnerships, outsourcing planning to consultants, and impositions of managers whose experience was in the private sector in unrelated industries. American construction costs were already high beforehand, but in Canada and Singapore, both of which seem to have had the same trend, costs exploded in the 2000s and 2010s.

The question remains: how come the reform-before-revenue mentality never produced any reform?

I bring this up because I believe the answer is the same as what we are seeing right now with the response to the coronavirus crisis. Budget-cutting or timid politicians are not an existential crisis to the civil service. They can scare off ambitious people the way Cuomo ran Andy Byford out of New York City Transit leadership; they can create a hostile work environment; they can force managers to contend with scarcity; they can force the unions to agree to wage reductions for entering workers. But they do not have the power to close entire departments, to stop running schools or public transportation or firefighting entirely, and the managers and workers both know this.

Just as the Covid-19 crisis is not World War Two, all attempts at privatizing the state in the Anglosphere have amounted to much less than a total war of extermination. It’s a cold war. Like the original Cold War, it has the same stupefying effect as a hot war – hierarchs are all too happy to be unaccountable to the broad public and to pretend their cloak-and-dagger politics achieve any results. Unlike a hot war, it is too low-intensity for people who disagree with the hierarchy but are right to demonstrate competence – nor is the other side going to be destroyed at the end.

The construction cost crisis in the United States, particularly New York, might actually be a big enough crisis to have the same effect on the established order as a total war. It’s unclear, but before the virus came to the United States, there was a lot of genuine interest in making things better, though not in every city.

I suspect the mechanism for costs is that they are so high that there must be a significant enough reduction to make a career without screwing some politically necessary constituency. I don’t know; I don’t yet know the drivers of high New York costs in sufficient detail. But the magnitude and breadth of the problem point to many different explanations each increasing costs by a significant but not apocalyptic amount. Moreover, the fact that there must be many causes seems to be accepted in the local political ecosystem. Thus, people can afford to make reforms, perhaps focusing on the politically low-hanging fruits.

This is less cynical than it may sound. A small success story, such as if Ned Lamont had figured out a way to build 30-30-30 or if the MTA manages to noticeably reduce the cost of some project, creates a visible trail of success, creating more pressure to keep the reforms. Nothing succeeds like success.

A New York that can build subways even at $300 million per kilometer, let alone $100 million per kilometer, and builds housing at a pace befitting a rich global city with considerable immigration, is a completely different place from the failed city that it is today. That New York is a dynamic, rapidly growing city in which there is far more kvetching about how it’s sucking in jobs and people from more static places than kvetching about how it’s exporting jobs and people to cheaper places. I’m using analogy here because low costs by themselves do not protect a city from disease (Italy and Switzerland both have low costs and high coronavirus infection levels), but the same kind of public-sector resurgence can presumably be done for public health, ensuring New York will respond to the next pandemic like Seoul or Tokyo or Taipei.

53 comments

  1. michaelrjames

    but the same kind of public-sector resurgence can presumably be done for public health,

    Probably not. The problem is that the Big Money issue is far, far greater. Healthcare is the biggest budget item by a massive margin and those on this gravy train will fight ferociously to retain it. Coronavirus may give some pause for thought for others, even the UK and Australia who have been slowly relentlessly drifting to the American model, but it is hard to see it making any real difference in the US.

    • Alon Levy

      Special corporate interests in Britain are not why the response to the virus has been so bad, and even the herd immunity strategy came from solipsistic civil servants rather than from Boris. Ditto Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland…

      • michaelrjames

        Special corporate interests in Britain are not why the response to the virus has been so bad

        It is not so different. There has now been a decade of austerity politics applied by the Tories, and relentless outsourcing of internal services in the NHS, plus of course the NHS-PFI debt burden fiasco which is nothing less than covert privatisation. And just because the “corporates” are murky financial organisations–how British–doesn’t make it much different to the Purdue Pharmas of the US. Indeed it meant they were under the radar for a long time, until it all blew up as it was bound to. The grotesque indebtedness schemes have a whiff of the MBS scandal, only better because it is a necessary public institution that holds the debt and won’t be allowed to default. It also means less money spent on healthcare while servicing those debts. (And yes, the worst of PFI was begun under Blair.)

        • Matthew Hutton

          In Britain we elected the class clown as our prime minister and all our best people work in financial services because the pay and culture is better.

  2. Benjamin Turon

    I actually have been reading a incredible lot in the US Media over the past month — including The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Wall Street Journal — on how several East Asian nations have done a far better job than the United States in responding and containing the coronaviris of the current pandemic emergency. And these news articles have been pretty detailed, pointing out how the measures under taken in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea were the result of recent perceived failures with SARS and MERS. I have read from US media sources detailed articles on the efforts of individual nations, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea.

    They learned from their failures, invested in capability, drew up contingency plans, and then decisively and effectively applied them to the current contagion. There also have been pieces on how better personal hygiene — frequent hand washing and wearing of masks when sick — has help slow the spread. The fact that societies in East Asia have not been has drastically disrupted or halted as in China and the Western Democracies seems readily apparent. The fact the Japanese have been holding on to the idea of NOT delaying the Summer Olympic Games is a good example of how even Japan has responded effectively to the threat of the virus so far.

    The one apt WWII comparison of the current pandemic emergency I see is this as a “Pearl Harbor” moment. The Trump Administration had at least a month, if not several weeks more to effectively respond to the threat and they failed. Just has a attack on the US naval base in Hawaii by carrier planes was war gamed out by the US Navy in the 1930s, pandemics war gaming was done as recently as last year by the Trump Administration. In my mind South Korea in the pandemic is like the UK during the Battle of Britain, while the US has been asleep at the radar console, just as at Pearl Harbor. A British style air defense (radar, observer corps, fighter control, and fighter plane crews on alert waiting to scramble) would have blunted the Japanese air raid. Instead intelligence and actual morning of radar and submarine warnings where ignored and the air force was largely destroyed on the ground by strafing Zero fighters.

    Ya, make America won’t be changed by this, but most people I know are now out-of-work and its hard to find food in the store, that’s going to be kind of hard to forget. Economically the travel and tourist industry is a big slice of the US economy and work force, and even has restrictions are lifted I don’t see that coming roaring back so that by the summer or fall everything will be back to normal. For many this is much bigger than 9-11, because its directly effecting everyone. Many people here in Upstate NY are gun loving and Fox News watching Republicans (there has been a run on guns in the Capital District, by both Asian Americans and redneck folks like my iron worker cousin) and yet they are now saying nice things about Gov. Cuomo and his daily briefings who they have heaped scorn on for years. That’s a pretty amazing change, since Cuomo is despised by conservative working class people.

    Maybe things won’t be as bad as the scientific and medical experts predict it could very likely get in the USA, but I think its wrong to so soon adopt the Donald Trump perspective that all will be well and forgotten in a short time. That public and individual life will go on unaltered and unchanged. That has been a fault of America going back since out beginnings, and often it takes a great shock to shake us out of our complacency and ignorance.

    • adirondacker12800

      Your college educated upper middle class biases are showing again.
      People who say “everybody goes on vacation for August”, do they think everybody stockpiles a month’s worth of food for their camping trip in the wilderness or do they think all the service people clustered around them are invisible. Or not part of “everybody” or both.
      There are office towers in the meatpacking district. They have been there since the meatpacking district was “improved” in the 1930’s. To get the office workers who have been there since they started packing meat around there, higher off the ground. For the people who were packing meat and selling it. For work. Which means it’s been a work destination for a really long time. Not like you have claimed is was becoming. Because if you are selling something anytime after the Venetians invented double entry bookkeeping you have a bookkeeper who can read and write invoices. And read the books to you. Hence “auditor”. Because way back when many business owners were illiterate. Or like Donald Trump, find reading unpleasant. And making it easier to be in the meatpacking district means they don’t get the urge to move to Newark. But you don’t realize that Newark has been a important center of technology since Edison left Manhattan for Newark. Before he went to Menlo Park. And still is and is getting bigger because these whiz bang start up don’t have your narrow view and moved to Newark. Years ago. And are quite happy being there. It’s a short ride on PATH that runs 24 hours a day 7 days a week to get to the Meatpacking district. Which is how big cities work. Everybody can’t work in the same building so they spread out. And up. And where are these well paid symbol manipulators going to come from to reinvigorate Utica if you make it cheap and easy to be in the Meatpacking District?
      …. and upper middle class symbol manipulators can be extraordinarily un self aware. One of the two overlapping historic districts that cover the Meatpacking district but with slightly different borders are aghast that Google wants to put offices in the National Biscuit Company buildings. Where they apparently think robots baked things. It a place people work.Quell horror. That you can’t put condos in because it’s overlapping COMMERCIAL historic districts, which they though was FAABULOUUUUS idea when it was done. But then working with your hands isn’t what they have in mind when they think of going to work.
      I’ll stop. Step down off the soapbox once in while and contemplate what you are going to say.

      • Nilo

        Maybe I’m just a moron, but I have zero idea how what Adirondacker said above relates to the comment he responded to, much less the original point of this post.

        • adirondacker12800

          It should be an independent post. to Alon, this thing has a mind of it’s own once in a while when comes to placing things in the right thread

  3. Coridon Henshaw

    There isn’t enough solid epidemiological data to know how the COV-SARS-2 outbreak will play out in terms of the human toll. If the worst case data are extrapolated, however, there’s clear potential for the virus to kill so many people that WWII will look like a footnote in comparison.

    The current estimate for R0 places the maximum infection rate the virus can achieve before running into herd immunity at around 70% of the population. The Chinese experience has been that 20% of known cases require hospitalization to have any chance of survival. 70% * 20% = 14% of the population will require hospitalization in the worst case. No country has that level of hospital capacity so the worst case scenario is that each wave of the epidemic will kill 14% of the population. In the US, that’s about 45 million people dead over the next few months. The overall hospitalization rate will be lower if the number of actual cases is higher than the number of known cases; if Chinese authorities only detected 1 in 10 cases, the worst case is still %1.4 of the population dead, or, in the US, 4.5 million people.

    A 14% population death rate is likely to cause a mass breakdown of civic order. This would be a fall-of-Rome scenario on a global scale, except with a horrific secondary mortality rate as everyone in the developed world relies on global supply chains for access to food. Humanity would not recover for centuries if ever. The future of rail transport would be people pushing improvised handcarts over long-abandoned LGVs.

    A 1.4% population death rate would cause severe and unpredictable political consequences but would hopefully be survivable on a civilizational level. There would be some localized collapses of civic order (possibly up to the scale of entire countries falling into anarchy akin to Somalia or worse) but the broader strokes of global civilization would probably survive in the long run. Expect a few years or decades of border closures and movement restrictions unless a vaccine can be developed. In the short run, the Americans would re-elect Trump, of course, because their solution to every problem is to blame everyone who tries to make things better and then back elites who will make things worse. I don’t track European politics closely enough to even begin to guess how a 1.4% death rate would play out in Europe.

    Aside from the direct impacts of the epidemic, the economic consequences of attempting to slow it must not be underestimated. GDP contraction rates so far are worse than the worst they were during the Great Depression. Unless there are radical, coordinated, efforts to effectively suspend capitalism for an indeterminate period, many countries could see 50% of their populations, or more, becoming jobless, homeless, and losing access to food. This outcome will kill many people in its own right and will have very profound political consequences. Some countries (if they survive the epidemic) may become more socially oriented but others will take the shoot-the-peasents approach and retreat to despotism.

    Regardless of exactly what happens, the world in July 2020 will be nothing like the world of July 2019. We are passing through a singularity and nothing will be the same again.

    I’d very much like to be wrong, but the maths of epidemics don’t leave much reason for hope without being presumptuous enough to think that everything everyone knows about this epidemic is wrong.

    • adirondacker12800

      A 1.4% population death rate would cause severe and unpredictable political consequences
      This is very very cold. 1.4 percent of the population dies, it returns the population to what it was a few years ago. The Black Death killed a much larger percentage. After they recovered from mourning, life went on. And people who wrote things down, who were rich because they knew how to write, complained bitterly for a very long time that they couldn’t get “help”, the ones they could get were uppity and wanted to be paid a lot. Whining that you can’t get help sounds sounds like a first world problem to me. It doesn’t conjure up widespread scenes of hysteria that last for a long time.
      And this is even colder, it’s taking people who don’t have any dependents. And many of them are dependents. That is really cold. But it’s true.

      …..The gloom and destruction types were predicting that if the Blitz happened there would be chaos. There was a bit but the survivors picked themselves up and carried on. there isn’t going to be any mass chaos.

      • keaswaran

        And yet we naturally divide Britain into post-war and pre-war eras. The social order, the development pattern, all sorts of things were different.

    • Nilo

      The Soviet Union lost more than 14% of its population during WWII; China probably killed something close to that with the Great Leap Forward, and almost certainly did if you count all the babies not born. There’s not going to be a 14% death rate (your model requires quite literally everyone getting infected at once), but even if there were trains would still exist.

      • Matthew Hutton

        The average estimate for the Great Leap Forward are that it killed 5% of the population (30 million), still there are higher estimates which may well be correct.

        • Herbert

          If huge numbers of people dying cannot lead to civilization collapse by itself, what did the End of the Roman Empire and the Late Bronze Age Collapse have that a mere pandemic can’t do?

          • electricangel

            The end of the Roman Empire only caused a civilizational collapse in Britain. Read Gregory of Tours for a view of what went on. Pirenne, in Mohammed and Charlemagne, makes the case that it was the Islamic conquest, cutting off trade with the East, that caused the collapse in the West. There’s good evidence to support his thesis in France and Spain.

            Britain was actually worse off after the end of the empire than it had been before the Romans conquered; they lost technologies known to the Celts who ruled before Rome. That has probably coloured the view of the collapse of civilisation.

          • michaelrjames

            Britain was actually worse off after the end of the empire than it had been before the Romans conquered; they lost technologies known to the Celts who ruled before Rome.

            So, a good model for Brexit?
            And come to think of it the Brits weren’t really put back on the path of civilisation until the Norman Conquest (1066 and all that). To this day they are in denial about their relationship to Europe.

          • Matthew Hutton

            One of the requirements for civilisation is being about to read fluently. If you can’t do that you have no ability to transmit information with any accuracy over any serious distance.

            Until comparatively recently only a small percentage of the population could do that, making civilisation vulnerable to extended famine (as people wouldn’t have been able to afford to teach their kids to read if there was an extended food shortage) as well as disease that primarily affected the most healthy members of society. Most likely the late Bronze Age collapse had both.

          • Herbert

            Which is also an explanation for the statistically remarkable percentage of people of Ashkenazi descent among Nobel laureates.

            From at least the destruction of the Second Temple most adult Jews were at least somewhat literate in Hebrew. Often they could read and write several languages and converse about religion and philosophy on a pretty high level…

          • electricangel

            Matthew,

            Interesting addition to your thought about literacy. One theory for the collapse of the Western Roman Empire was the end of cheap papyrus, which was cut off with Islamic conquest of Egypt. We know that the older Royal records from France are recorded on papyrus. Then, they switch to much more expensive parchment.

            The same must have happened to businesses recording information, in one theory. It would e like losing access to cheap data storage today. The accounting system collapsed and business got less complex.

            Needless to say, mass production of books also ended.

          • electricangel

            Alon,

            What really crushed civilization in Italy was a different plague of Justinian, Belisarius. The widespread destruction of the Gothic War collapsed living standards that did not recover for hundreds of years. At least we got the mosaics of Ravenna from the deal.

            As to collapse of civilization, the churches in Ravenna offer counter-testimony. They have been active and their mosaics maintained for over 1500 years, something not possible without the survival of craftsmen and an economy developed enough to pay them.

            There were great mosaics in England, too, but these are now in museums that expose the long-buried floors of great Roman villas. The one in Gloucester is stunning.

          • michaelrjames

            Apropos of nothing much except your mention of the Late Bronze Age and that I read this last night (in Elaine Sciolino’s latest book). I never knew of this.
            (And for Alon, you know what an irrepressible Francophile he is …):

            That’s how we discovered Châtillon-sur-Seine, thirty miles from the source, and home to one of the most unusual archaeological treasures of Europe: the Vase of Vix. The Seine flows through the village, splits around a tiny island, and gets bigger–three feet deep and thirty-six feet wide in some places.
            … The local museum, once a medieval Cistercian abbey, holds the sixth century BC tomb of an unidentified Celtic princess who would have been about thirty years old when she died. It was discovered in 1953 five miles away from Châtillon-sur-Seine, near the small town of Vix on Mont Lassois, the highest navigable point on the Seine as it flows downstream. The princess was buried with a carriage, bronze kitchenware, ceramics, and a heavy, skillfully crafted gold diadem. The tomb also contained a bronze cauldron fit for a giant’s cave: the Vase of Vix. At nearly five-and-a-half feet tall and weighing more than 450 pounds, the vase would have held about 300 gallons of wine. It is the largest object of its kind from the ancient world.

            Oddly the author doesn’t relate this princess to the Roman goddess Sequana for whom the Seine was originally named.

          • Henry Miller

            Most historians are coming around to concluding the literate in Europe was specific to reading Latin. Most houses had one person who could read and write the native language, but that wasn’t enough to be considered literate.

            Most writing was on bark and other things that were unlikely to survive, but the historical evidence is people were reading and writing.

          • Herbert

            Whether that’s true or not (I very much doubt it’s true for the sixth or seventh century) it is definitely true that there weren’t many authors who wrote books clearly for an audience of peasants or the urban lower classes. During the Roman Empire such books existed. Even when early modern writers wrote clearly “practical” works like Agricola’s “De Re Metallica” they did so in Latin, which hardly any miner would’ve been able to read…

            The end of publishing on papyrus seems to indicate one thing above all: a collapse in the demand of relatively cheap books. Medieval codices are often lavishly decorated and expensive because those who bought books could afford expensive books.

            By the way, there are indications that some of the monks who copied books were illiterate, only copying the shape of letters and Alkuin, the biographer of Charlemagne complains about a law banning illiterate bishops having little effect in practice…

          • electricangel

            Herbert,

            It’s simplistic, but take a look at the number of authors of Latin literature in the 6th, 7th, and 8th centuries. You’ll notice that the real drop off is in the 8th century, at least by quantity of writers; we know more authors from each of the two prior centuries. This is likely due to the suppression of papyrus availability, and to he Arabic conquest of Spain which ended Visigothic rule.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_medieval_literature#6th_century

    • Nilo

      Also Trump definitely isn’t getting reelected if millions of Americans die, since the ones dying will disproportionately be his voting base (the elderly).

      Alon, feel free to consolidate these two comments.

    • michaelrjames

      The Chinese experience has been that 20% of known cases require hospitalization to have any chance of survival. 70% * 20% = 14% of the population will require hospitalization in the worst case.

      No. This is in error. The critical word is “known” cases which is a lot less than the infected cases. The property of the disease is that while some, mostly older, people develop serious illness, many people barely notice they have the virus and this may be extreme in children (it remains unclear but if infected it appears they are not very infectious which is very different from standard influenza). South Korea is the only place that has done sufficient wide-testing to make a reasonable attempt of IFR (Infected Fatality Rate) which was 0.65%.
      Note that most seasonal influenzas infect only 15-20% (or less) of the population, so the 70% is not an inevitability.

      The Diamond Princess cruise ship: 3,618 tested, 696 (19.2%) were positive, of whom 410 (11.3% of ship; 59% of all positives) were asymptomatic; and 11 deaths (1.58% of infected ie. IFR; 3.85% of overtly infected ie. CFR; 0.3% of ship). All the deaths were of people in their late 70s or 80s. The death rate is higher than in general populations because of the age skew on these cruises and even more so with this Japanese-skewed cruise: the first three deaths were Japanese in their 80s.

      The point is that there is no worst-case scenario that comes close to your proposition (which was put about in the early days of covid-19). In Asia we see how they controlled its spread, and even though the west has been very tardy, the late application of quarantining and (eventually) even testing to enact contact tracing, will result in relatively modest impacts. Healthwise. The economy is anyone’s guess.

      Here is a nice animation that shows the impact over time of quarantine or self-isolation:

      • Coridon Henshaw

        The Diamond Princess and South Korean IFRs are under conditions where advanced medical care is still available. The percent of cases that required medical care to survive would be a better figure to estimate real-world worst-case IFR in the rest of the world given that the infection rate is high enough to overwhelm hospital capacity everywhere there is an outbreak.

        As far as the upper limit on infection rate is concerned, the highest R0 for influenza is 2.1. The highest R0 I’ve seen for COV-SARS-2 is 4; I don’t know if that’s based on confirmed or estimated total cases.

        The divergence between the outbreak trajectory in parts of East Asia and the rest of the world is very interesting and I do wonder if there’s more than just public health policy differences at play there. Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea are using extensive health- and security surveillance systems to identify, track, and quarantine suspected cases quickly. China is rolling out similar infrastructure, in the hopes of blunting the second wave, as they reopen after their lockdown. Japan, however, isn’t doing much of that and, despite a much older population, I’ve yet to hear of any reports that Japanese hospitals are overwhelmed. Low case numbers can be explained by inadequate testing, but overflowing ICUs and large numbers of dead are more objective. The Japanese outcome seems very odd.

        • michaelrjames

          There is no reliable estimate of R0 due to incomplete data. But it is not as high as you seem to suggest. In fact it appears to be relatively low but that will depend on what fraction are asymptomatic (the extreme case of Diamond Princess shows 60%, even amongst old people). And of course R0 by itself doesn’t solely determine, or inform, about rate of progression in a population. Here’s something from Singapore that implies rather lowish R0.

          https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30162-6/fulltext
          For the baseline scenario, when R0 was 1·5, the median cumulative number of infections at day 80 was 279 000 (IQR 245 000–320 000), corresponding to 7·4% (IQR 6·5–8·5) of the resident population of Singapore. The median number of infections increased with higher infectivity: 727 000 cases (670 000–776 000) when R0 was 2·0, corresponding to 19·3% (17·8–20·6) of the Singaporean population, and 1 207 000 cases (1 164 000–1 249 000) when R0 was 2·5, corresponding to 32% (30·9–33·1) of the Singaporean population. Compared with the baseline scenario, the combined intervention was the most effective, reducing the estimated median number of infections by 99·3% (IQR 92·6–99·9) when R0 was 1·5, by 93·0% (81·5–99·7) when R0 was 2·0, and by 78·2% (59·0 −94·4) when R0 was 2·5. Assuming increasing asymptomatic fractions up to 50·0%, up to 277 000 infections were estimated to occur at day 80 with the combined intervention relative to 1800 for the baseline at R0 of 1·5.

          However there do appear to be several strange things happening. No doubt explanations will emerge (probably too late to help this round). Some of these low rates are simply due to being too early in the cycle (eg. UK & USA) but still peculiar.

          Current: 25 Mar 2020
          Location CFR
          World 4.5
          Italy 9.9
          Iran 7.8
          Spain 7.1
          UK 5.2
          Netherlands 5.0
          France 4.9
          China 4.0
          Japan 3.7
          Belgium 2.9
          Turkey 2.4
          Brazil 2.1
          Denmark 1.9
          Sweden 1.7
          USA 1.4
          Portugal 1.4
          South Korea 1.4
          Switzerland 1.3
          Canada 0.9
          Austria 0.5
          Germany 0.5
          Norway 0.4
          Singapore 0.3
          Australia 0.3
          Israel 0.2

          No matter the cliches about Italy (and Spain), I find the very high CFR to be very odd. Equally, why Germany is so low (with its 33,000 cases). Age structure surely cannot account for much of the difference. So far Japan is not so different. Singapore is partly explained by their intervention and wider screening (so their figure is somewhere between a CFR and IFR), though possibly high effective sequestration of their very old might play a role? The age distribution of their cases would give a clue but I can’t find it. Australia’s CFR is very low too and I have no explanation, unless it is too early (good health system but not 10x different to France). I’ve said previously that peak summer which is very hot and dry, could be a factor in apparent lower community transfer (most cases are from returned travellers; the very first fatality was someone from Diamond Princess). The same factor might be active in Israel and Singapore (though it is always humid), and maybe Indonesia which one would have predicted would be a disaster (might yet be).

          Nevertheless none of this really points to something approaching Spanish Flu etc. There’s even a smidgin of truth in, dare I say, what Trump said: the cure might be worse than the disease. BUT if one wants to reduce this lockdown stage to a minimum and get the economy back on track, the most important thing is to ramp up testing by log orders and put huge teams on to contact tracing. All of the potential drugs share the property that they only amelioriate the disease if administered early in the course, and if we are only testing the overtly infected, they are not going to be very effective at all. Singapore is the model for this, and they haven’t locked-down and not closed schools!

    • electricangel

      Italy lost410,000 people in 1918, higher than 1.4% of its then population. So when you write:
      “A 1.4% population death rate would cause severe and unpredictable political consequences but would hopefully be survivable on a civilizational level.” It suggests you’re being overly dramatic.

      They got Mussolini a few years later, they survived him, and a lot worse.

  4. Eric

    In order to make NYC a dynamic rapidly growing city, I think fixing zoning is more important than fixing transit construction. By definition the city can’t grow if more people can’t live there. And the existing transit system, for all its flaws, does manage to transport everyone who needs to be transported (even if it often takes twice as long as it should). Only a few lines are overcrowded, and even those not critically overcrowded.

    • michaelrjames

      “dynamic. rapidly-growing”

      Is it really true, and in any case isn’t it time to be looking to alternative models? In fact NYC has always had a very high turnover, at least in the “dynamic” sectors. There is migration out of NY state (can’t find NYC data) of about 700,000 over a decade.

      • Eric

        There is migration into NYC and migration out. Of course they have to be equal, because the housing supply is not significantly increasing. Migration in is obviously due to the economic opportunities. Migration out is due to the housing prices. Increase the housing supply and more people will live there because fewer people will be forced out by the housing prices. That is good for their personal economic situation, for the overall productivity of the economy, for carbon emissions – you name it.

        • michaelrjames

          Of course, but my point is that the people who contribute the most to the dynamic parts of the economy are the most mobile, often putting in the hard yards in their prime then migrating elsewhere (probably seeding significant parts of the US economy with their dynamism).
          The thing is that we are in the era of our evolution that we must start preparing a civilisation–and an advanced, dynamic one–that is not so dependent on endless growth. Something other than the cancer cell model. I would have thought NYC was beyond the stage where it really required endless absolute growth.

          • Eric

            Who says we *depend* on constant growth? Growth means that people are richer rather than poorer, that is a good thing. The level of wealth could be steady, but better a high steady level than a low steady level. Anyway, in the last few decades we see that economic growth in rich countries is accompanied by decreasing environmental impact and below replacement fertility, so there is no reason to describe this growth as a “cancer”, it seems to have good rather than bad effects.

            Lower housing costs means that both high-productivity and low-productivity people can live in big cities, where they are more productive (and have less environmental effect).

  5. Herbert

    Can we confidently say there wasn’t an infectious disease during the Late Bronze Age Collapse?

    • Benjamin Turon

      Correct, that was due to the brief Martian invasion and brief colonial occupation. After six months they gave up on “civilizing” the barely-intelligent native bipeds lifeforms, leaving to conquer Alpha Centauri, which they since have transformed into a successful spaceport and casino destination of the Orion Arm. Excelsior! Ever Upwards!

      • Herbert

        I think trying to understand the Late Bronze Age Collapse is much more instructive than trying to understand the Fall of Rome. We have never since had any part of the world (except maybe China’s Sphere of Influence) where the decay of one singular empire would lead to the virtual disappearance of literate culture (The biggest “Libraries” of the 5th and 6th century would’ve been a shelf or two in Alexandria), What we have had for centuries is interrelated polities with complicated diplomatic and trade ties which seem awfully susceptible to outside shock… Which is exactly the world of the Late Bronze Age, before whatever brought them down brought them down…

        • adirondacker12800

          What do you want to learn from the Late Bronze Age? From what I remember from watching television, there is some controversy about whether or not the “The Sea People” the exist, whether it was one group of people or different groups of people and if it was the cause of the collapse or symptom of the collapse. We know so little about the collapse that those kinds of discussions are related to the audience of TeeVee programs. What do you want to learn from the Late Bronze Age?

          • Herbert

            How sophisticated cultures with cosmopolitan interconnected trade networks and elaborate diplomacy can suddenly disappear and leave only hamlets without writing or much of anything behind…

          • adirondacker12800

            We know that they cultures can collapse. Are you expecting ours to even though the Spanish Flu didn’t cause a collapse? The Black Death was rough but we know rich people were whining it was hard to get help, they were uppity and wanted to be paid a lot. If had to speculate what the death rate is going to be, it’s going to be similar to the Spanish Flu not the Black Death. I vote for that is very very very unlikely society is going to collapse any time soon. People who have access to the internet may have more than the usual amount of first world problems.
            I knew someone who went to church on Sunday, in 1918, with his extended family. By Friday there were three of them left. He lived through the Great Depression and World War II to tell me the story. He experienced all of that in Minnesota. I also knew people who had numbers involuntarily tattooed on their arm. During World War II, in Europe.
            The reports from Italy are that people are taking it reasonably well. Because they know people who can tell them it’s not that bad, nobody is shooting guns. They have experienced that in the street outside the window.
            …..it’s gonna be first world problems except for the unusually high amount of mourning. I’m doing everything I can to remain a mourner. It is very likely I will mourn. Stay home, wash your hands,

          • Herbert

            Those who say they’ve survived worse are those who survived it. Can’t ask a corpse…

          • adirondacker12800

            Fewer dead people isn’t better than more dead people? People shooting guns whose goal is to make dead people is a good thing?

        • electricangel

          ” (The biggest “Libraries” of the 5th and 6th century would’ve been a shelf or two in Alexandria)”

          What happened to all the bookS in Constantinople? It wasn’t conquered in that time frame. It is a European city, you know.

  6. electricangel

    Loss of papyrus makes a pretty good case for why expensive books weren’t propagated. The loss of knowledge is horrible to contemplate.

    The article ignores that there was no such loss in Constantinople. One thing they will tell you in Istanbul: the Renaissance was sparked when knowledge and artisans fled to Italy as that empire was collapsing.

    • Herbert

      The German language article goes into much more detail and explains that sadly, Constantinople was NOT able to conserve all that much. And we HAVE Papyri that have endured centuries, sometimes even millennia. We know the loss occurred somewhere between 300 and 800 of the Common Era and it somehow affected East and West…

  7. Pingback: Today’s Headlines – Streetsblog California
  8. RossB

    World War 2 united the United States. The Cold War did not. The Vietnam War — the height of the Cold War from the American perspective — was a major dividing point, and we have rarely been united since. The post Vietnam era (Ford and Carter) had some level of moderate agreement, but under the pressures of an oil crisis, the moderate consensus that had created the greatest middle class the world had ever known began to fall apart. Then Reagan got elected, and its been a mess ever since.

    The U. S. was united after 9/11, especially when (another) reactionary right wing president — a man widely mocked and derided by the left — actually gave a wonderful, unifying speech. It has been downhill every since. Bush invaded Iraq, mishandled Afghanistan as well as domestic problems like Katrina (“Bush doesn’t care about black people”) and the financial crisis (“Bush doesn’t care about poor people”). A smooth, good looking centrist was not enough to unite the country. The current president of the United States accused him of being born overseas — a claim both untrue and irrelevant. Under Obama the country should have been united. Obama borrowed Nixon’s idea (first implemented under Mitt Romney) and yet not a single Republican voted for the proposal. With interest rates essentially at zero, every economist in the world recommended large deficit spending, but Republicans called for austerity. Their goal was to stop Obama, at any cost.

    Now we have Trump. He is the manifestation of the evolution of the Republican Party. He is not part of a fringe wing of the party. He is as mainstream as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and every other right wing radio host that represent the heart of the party.

    Has the virus united the country? Of course not. As Benjamin Turon points out above, lots of people saw this as a threat, and knew what countries were handling the problem well, and what countries weren’t. If I’m not mistaken — and please correct me if I am — every country that has dealt with the problem has done so at a national level. The South Korean government made all the big decisions in dealing with the crisis, not the mayor of Seoul, or the head of the province. But Trump has so badly botched the response that mayors and governors are forced to manage things on their own. It is hard to exaggerate how poorly he has done. He initially said that the virus was a hoax — a minor threat exaggerated by Democrats to derail the economy. This has forced governors and mayors to fend for themselves. In this environment, it is no wonder that governors like Inslee and Cuomo look like FDR and Churchill.

    With regards to transit, don’t expect anything better. Much of the Republican Party has no interest whatsoever in it. You can make the case about a transit project being a “great bang for the buck” (a phrase made famous by a Republican) but a lot of Republicans will still oppose it. This polarization contributes to the problem on both sides. Votes are seen as either pro-transit, or not. There is very little discussion as to whether the proposal is actually a good value.

    Of course there is a “transit industrial complex” although it is much smaller than those for the military, prisons and highways. But it is the same mindset. If you believe that we need a “Green New Deal” — regardless of cost — then, like the Cold War, you are going to spend way too much money for what you get.

    • Herbert

      In Germany the response to CoViD19 was in large part state based. Markus Söder (head of state and party in bavaria) did a lot of grandstanding and fast acting…

  9. Michael

    In terms of the cost crisis, I don’t recall a time where America has been cost effective at building anything other than greenfield. For at least the last 35 years, there’s always been a huge geographic arbitrage away from the northern legacy cities toward the west & south.

    That’s because the way the US builds cost effectively is through huge production housing & infrastructure construction with giant economies of scale, which only exists where there’s snowballing growth. Just looking at housing, the stuff getting built in medium & low growth northern metros is either custom or small-timers doing one apartment building or one cul-de-sac at a time. It carries a huge cost premium. In the south, they stamp out full towns at scale & everyone gets their new 5 BD McHouse for the price of a 1946 2 bed cape built on a slab in New Jersey.

    Anyway, every single institution has over time been re-calibrated to do things small. Whether it’s the fire marshal, the permitting office, the inspectors, the general contractors, the subs, the equipment, “public outreach,” the zoning office….

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