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AvatarComments by Swami in reply to Brandon Berg*

On “Here Comes the Pain, Shared and Otherwise

In the larger scheme of things, it seems pretty shallow to complain about park and nature access, but I will anyways...

The real problem is crowding. The problem with crowding is that it is an emergent phenomenon which isn’t ever intended by any individual action. Crowds are almost certainly good environments for viral spread. No argument here from me.

So, in rational response to crowding concerns and the lack of social distancing, the various government authorities (including the Governor of California and the mayor of San Diego) close the parks and the beaches. Next thing we know, a surfer gets ticketed for paddling a stand up paddle board alone at Malibu. On the same day, I went to the beaches in Cardiff — to surf by myself at 6AM with nobody anywhere near me at a secluded cliff which has never had a crowd ever — and was met by a barricade of police tape and cops with masks on and ticket books in their hands.

Somewhere between weekend party crowds and ticketing solo surfers there is probably a reasonable balance. I am OK with the ideas of closing parking lots (a crowd can’t gather easily if it can’t park), and having police shut down or turn away emergent crowds when they actually develop. I can even see the benefit of a no loitering policy on weekends on some boardwalks and tourist beaches. But fining solitary people trying to enjoy the outdoors is just excessive.

I will put up with this through May 1st. After that, Civil Disobedience needs to be considered.

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When the president declared the emergency mid month I wrote down my expectations on what would happen in my journal (so that I could see how my opinions and views change over time). My expectation was that unemployment would exceed 20% virtually immediately, that the stock markets would drop by over 50% and that slightly more people would die of the flu (all strains) compared to last year (60k). In other words, all in, it would be a bad but not exactly catastrophic year for flu deaths.*

We will see.

Here are some not-so random points...

1) Over 95% of those dying have significant underlying conditions. 50% have three or more.
2) Somewhere between twenty and fifty percent show no symptoms, yet can probably transmit it
3) Four fifths of those going on ventilators are dying anyways.
4) Assuming we reduce social distancing requirements in the next 4- 8 weeks or so, all it takes is a couple of infected people to start the process again
5) It is doubtful that a vaccine will be widely available before next year, if then.
6) The economy could be closed for a long time
7) This could snowball into secondary and tertiary issues as state pensions go bankrupt (sorry Illinois teachers), and those depending on the revenue streams of the unemployed also go under

My take on the issue is that the proper course of action is a mixture of social distancing (masks, distance, work from home where possible, no cash handoffs, washing, no crowds or parties, etc) combined with MUCH better voluntary "quarantining" for those at risk. IOW, that ANYBODY with underlying issues would be granted safe shelter, food, energy, etc, etc, etc by the rest of us. Asthmatics, those with immune deficiencies, bad hearts, extreme weight or fragile age would be isolated — if desired — and taken care of by others with virtually no exposure to other people.

This would still hurt the economy, would still lead to some people becoming unemployed, but it would also create massive jobs and requirements for food, shelter and such for the millions at risk who choose "quarantining."

Most businesses should continue, most employees should continue to work, and those losing work should be rehired into serving those desiring the safety of a quarantine (or replacing their role in the economy).

* My logic was that we WILL take drastic measures and this would reduce "normal" flu deaths thus partially compensating for Coronavirus deaths.

On “Serving Up a Recession

Love it! This is a truly brilliant idea. Then the govt only has to assist the lienholders.

That along with a $1000 check per person and Extended unemployment insurance and we are talking about real relief.

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Yeah, I like these, especially the $1000 guaranteed income. I am in no way a proponent of UBI in most circumstances, but then again this isn’t most circumstances.

Not sure those in charge will listen to this type of wisdom though.

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I just heard that my sister told her recently jobless tenant that he could just pay half his rent this month. But she also made it clear she and her husband are likely about to both lose their jobs now too. Now she has two mortgages and no income.

My mom may be forgiving, but I have never known my mother in law to give a tenant so much as an inch of leeway. I will suggest she reconsider for a few months (95 year olds don’t listen very well though LOL)

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So now my 89 year old mother and 95 year old mother in law won’t be able to demand rent from their tenants either? That impoverishes both of them as well.

The whole system implodes until "social distancing" is overcome (via a vaccine or immunity or burn out)

Social distancing = laid off service workers = less demand for goods = less people in manufacturing = financial collapse = ?

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"A lot of cities in North America were like mine over the last few decades: industrial production dried up quite a bit (not completely) and the cities tried to replace an industrial economy with a service economy by promoting restaurants, hotels, and tourist amenities."

I think this anthropomorphizes economies way too much. The "cities" didn’t have to try to do anything, and it tended to happen whether the city "tried" or not. The economy shifted, as developed growing economies tend to do, from manufacturing to services over time. Full stop.

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A six week GLOBAL snowstorm, with a forecast for no end in sight for more snow, maybe. But in this case, I think a significant portion of the globe would be dead with only our boots sticking up out of the ice.

A global complex adaptive system like a market is great at bringing goods and services to a local area hit by a disaster. But in this scenario the entire network takes a hit globally all at once.

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The shift in developing nations from manufacturing to services is intrinsic in economic growth. See the writings of economist Dietrich Vollrath for an explanation. In a nutshell, the steadily increasing productivity of goods, drives consumers to services. The exporting of manufacturing overseas only hastened what is inevitable in a growing economy.

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"I’m thinking that the recession is only not going to be a depression because we know how to deal with that sort of thing now, but, yeah. It’s going to be bad."

But do we know how to deal with a services recession in an economy where half of all workers are in services and half of these are no longer able to offer their services?

In one week, we went from a mild health concern, to a shut down. Most people I know are in the service industries and they either can’t go to work, or nobody wants their services any more. And a lot of the rest are in jobs where they manufacture things for those same people no longer working. And this phenomena is happening globally!

On top of this, the government employee pensions in places like Calif. and Illinois are as good as bankrupt. Their assets are gone, and now the taxes on workers and profit needed to prop up their pensions are gone too.

If this is not solved in a matter of weeks, then the global economy grinds to a halt. It collapses, with no quick way for anyone to restart it (you’d have to convince everyone that flying, eating out and going to NBA games is safe again, when it still isn’t).

I think people are vastly underestimating how serious the market collapse can be. We aren’t talking about a significantly lower DJIA, we are talking about no DJIA.

If I had to bet on the situation, I would predict we solve the pandemic with no significant rise in total flu deaths in developed nations by year end (more Coronavirus but less other flu as a result of social distancing). But as a negative side effect, or unintended consequence of our efforts, I predict the largest global depression of our lives.

I hope I am completely wrong.

On “In Case You Missed It, It Isn’t 2009: Pandemics Then and Now

"...in America we don’t know how this is going to go yet, and are just now starting to really test."

I have a question for everyone. What do you predict will happen over the year?

Here are some specific questions.

1) Will total flu (all strains) deaths in the US go up or down or stay about the same from the pace of prior years? (Measuring from March to December of 2020 vs the last three year average)
2) What will the impact be on the US economy in terms of GDP?
3) What will the impact be on finance in terms of year end stock market? (Let’s say S&P500 and NASDAQ compared to End of Feb)

On “Dawkins Sticks His Foot In It…Again

Yeah, and that is why Dawkins and everyone else isn’t recommending eugenics. It is a bad idea to give someone this power. A terrible idea.

But.... I suspect parents will be doing this in the very near future. They will use our imperfect but not impotent knowledge of the genome to make choices on which babies to take to term. Decentralized, voluntary Selective breeding may not be eugenics, but it will lead to huge changes to human populations in very few generations. Again, not all desirable or intended.

(Adding on, I notice you said something similar but even more insightful right below)

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I too disagree with much of the article. Eugenics would clearly work, and we don’t need to know which genes do what any more than livestock breeders knew two centuries ago. If we select for the desired traits, whatever that might be, and bred people with those traits, we would quickly get more people with desired trait.

Yes, we would probably get undesired side effects.

On “The Classy, Modern, and Forgotten TwixT

I was playing it regularly with my grandson until I moved a few months ago. I’ve always enjoyed it. I must have gotten it as a kid in the 70s.

On “Holiday Reminder: 3 Ways America Could Care for It’s Veterans Better

This is an extremely informative comment.

It is hard to take political extremists like Kate seriously when their "solutions" tend to lead back to more problems which always results in the benevolent government assuming control. What I find even stranger is the tendency of a subset of extreme libertarians such as Bryan Caplan to do the same thing. Open borders is a sure fire path to massive increases in homelessness and increases in state initiatives to address it compassionately. I can see why socialists would love the idea of open borders. But libertarians should know better.

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Actually, I agree. The point is that housing affordability (which the links define as more than 50% of income and thus implies regular income) is addressed via less interference in growth in housing stock. Homelessness is explicitly addressed via shelters and treatment centers and zero tolerance for vagrancy.

I honestly believe that most of the money localities in Calif are spending on homelessness is in fact incentivizing more homelessness.

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Wow, what a surprise, I disagree with something Kate wrote.

Here is a better idea on housing affordability. First, stop all the regulatory BS and limits to growth which are driving up property values along the coasts. The federal government does not need to be involved in building affordable housing, they just need to be involved with not letting the government stop it from being built.

Away from some booming cities, housing is actually pretty affordable in the heartland. I suggest those who want more affordable housing use their freedom to relocate. Building more public housing is not needed, and would end poorly here. Google Cabrini Green for an example. I used to be afraid to even drive by it. This ain’t Austria, Kate.

Second, regarding homelessness in America, the root problem has little if anything to do with housing prices. It has to do with substance abuse and mental illness (both likely higher in veterans). The key here is not public housing, which would be taken over by gangs and allowed to squander by the mentally unstable, it is treatment centers and shelters. Anyone refusing to use such shelters and caught committing vagrancy should be sent to a shelter immediately. Repeated violators, unfortunately, should be incarcerated or deported out of the metro area. The only good way to deal with people defecating in our streets, parks and waterways is zero tolerance.

My third disagreement is with Kate's issues with fragmented and decentralized approaches to the issue of veterans aid. I have no idea why she believes a giant centralized bureaucracy would be better suited to the issue. My guess is that this is just her innate bias on the issue. I probably am biased the opposite way. She mentions we currently spend 50 times as much already on VA programs as nonprofits, but her concern is somehow that we need MORE centralized spending and less local. I fail to follow her logic.

This probably isn’t the place to take on health care spending, other than to reinforce what I said almost ten years ago on this site when I suggested that there is no better way to screw up an already screwed up system than Obamacare. As predicted, it is in a death spiral with increasing premiums, increasing deductibles and OOP amounts. Only the employed, the poor or the rich can afford it in now, and it will continue to get worse every year as only those who are most in need remain in the individual market. Health care is a complete and total fluster cluck.

On “School Lunch: Remember When “Hungry for Knowledge” Used to Be A Metaphor?

This entire conversation comes across as bizarre to me.

If a student wants a lunch, they can pay for it.

If the school wants to build a prepaid lunch program into its tuition, then they should be free to do so (which allows subsidized lunches as most tuitions are massively subsidized).

If the school wants to develop a credit program for ala carte food, then it should be free to do so however it sees fit.

If students or parents disagree with how the school handles it, they can voice their concerns or take their business elsewhere.

If someone here wants to fund student lunches, feel free to do so. Please leave me out of it.

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But food clothing and shelter needs do not expand at anything remotely close to exponential rates. Look at the consumption basket 200 years ago, where these three made up most expenditures, now they are less than half in the developed world.

Even if we, for the sake of argument, agree that human demand is infinite, the economics of scarcity predicts that the relative utility will shift toward more and more ephemeral goods and services.

Your argument via the impossibility of limitless exponential growth is a fail. The reason is that economic growth can occur with less and less scarce resources, and the way economics works it is "attracted" to this direction.

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"Under a worst case scenario, which many scientists believe we are facing, neither of these minimal solutions are going to be enough."

Those not on the far left have read the (historically pessimistic) IPCC reports on the economic headwind of climate change. This is that we are on pace to only grow per capita GDP of the developing world by 580% by centuries' end as opposed to the 600% in the base case without warming.

Let me be real clear. In one sentence those skeptical of the far left's mantra believe that:

The authoritarian solution will be much, much worse than the cure.

See North's great comments for examples of why or read Chip's excited belief that this will require Stalinesque authoritarian control. Those not of the far left believe that Stalinesque authoritarian control will completely eradicate all economic growth, and if past history is any guide, it will fail absolutely at doing anything real about climate change too.

"And I find it telling that the Right keeps pushing for a market anarchy nobody wants..."

I am not of the right in any way, but let’s be clear that the argument from other than the far left is that largely decentralized market based solutions (not "anarchy"), combined with largely decentralized scientific solutions are almost certainly going to be a major part of the solution. New tech. New efficiencies. Better energy sources. Certainly government is the third part of this stool, and will likely play a role too.

Nuclear energy, carbon taxes, R&D into carbon extraction and solar and such are obvious no regret paths to addressing this headwind of progress. I think the far left would do more to obstruct these than will all the other political affiliations combined.

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Excellent comment, North

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"The earth’s capacity to provide us with enough food, water and goods is finite, but human demand is infinite. Even if population stabilizes, our desire to consume won’t. So no matter what course we take, changing our consumption patterns is going to happen no matter what.The only question is whether we change on our own volition, or whether the change is forced upon us by events."

This is something I hear repeated constantly, but it is simply wrong. In a word, the solution is

Ephemeralization

From Wikipedia...

"Ephemeralization, a term coined by R. Buckminster Fuller, is the ability of technological advancement to do "more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing," that is, an accelerating increase in the efficiency of achieving the same or more output while requiring less input. Fuller's vision was that ephemeralization will result in ever-increasing standards of living for an ever-growing population despite finite resources."

In economics terms, the relationship between supply and demand leads to changes in price. As such, there is a dynamic toward solutions which require fewer and fewer scarce resources.

As an example, in 1980 I bought a VCR tape to watch a movie. In 1995 I bought a DVD. In 2012 I bought a higher quality blue ray. Today, I just stream it over the internet. The same entertainment has gotten better, with better quality, available with additional variation and choice in more languages with more convenience and no physical box or product at all. Once digitized, the same movie can be transmitted to billions of people.

The point is that demand may be infinite, but over time there can be trade offs to more and more ephemeralization. Yes, energy is still required and a sophisticated infrastructure which requires a healthy amount of physical goods and services. But as physical goods and energy become more scarce, the economics of the situation shifts this demand toward increasingly ephemeral products and services.

Let me put it this way, a virtual reality game of hell doesn’t necessarily require any more energy or material than a virtual reality game of heaven. Consumer utility can increase without additional resources, and any review of modern trends reveals to a great extent the conversion is already beginning to occur.

On “Joe Biden’s Right

In a previous life I led innovation and new product development at a Fortune 500 company. It always shocked me how many people would argue pretty much exactly that way against new ideas.

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Well said, DM. I too think we could do a heck of a lot more with social experiments and variations.

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