The Great Barrington Declaration

I am reprinting this on my blog:

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical, and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection. 

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. 

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza. 

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity. 

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. 

Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. 

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 4th October 2020

To sign the declaration, follow this link (will be live later today):
www.GBdeclaration.org

Bonne vacances d’ete (11ieme lettre a toi)

Cher Daniel,

Bonjour mon cher fils! J’espere que tu profites bien des vacances (il a quand meme fait beau ce dernier temps, bien que un peu frais pour la saison).

Moi je dois encore travailler, mais ta soeur Daphne est deja parti en vacances avec ses grand-parents (J’etais un jour a la plage au Pays-Bas, magnifique!). Anna va venir a Bruxelles aujourd’hui et ensuite elle partira en France pour marcher dans les montagnes – tres, tres joli la-bas (il parait qu’il y a meme des loups!)

Je ne sais pas si tu pars en vacances, mais si c’est le cas, et bien j’espere de tout coeur que tu t’amuse bien. Peut-etre aller a la plage et manger une glace? Peut-etre faires des stages avec tes copains? Tu es devenu tres grand maintenant, donc, je suppose qu’il y a beaucoup d’activites possible pour toi (malgre le corona).

Et puis, pour Septembre, esperant qu’ils ne vont pas fermer les ecoles de nouveau. Ces mesures corona sont tres nuisibles pour nos enfants, qui ont bien le droit a une education libre des peurs et des craintes des vieux…

Je te donne un gros calin virtuel,

– Dad

Take me back

Take me back somehow

To when I dreamed I’d have

A better now than now.

 

Return me in place and mind

To those fledgling times when we were lax and preened,

So small we lodged ourselves between the cracks

Of that and this unchanged machine

In which we now have risen to be full-fledged cogs.

 

Take me back

To when my back impressed upon the chain-linked wire

Dangled legs all splayed, tired out

From too much tennis played,

And spent this one forgetless hour

Before a shower and off to watch a movie.

 

Return me even to those since-forgotten fears,

To the stoney months and years

Of want and doubt and grit and scree,

From which Nostalgia – liar that she is –

Pans out her precious golddust memories.

 

Take me back

And if you say it can’t be done

For pity’s sake,

Give my back the strength to carry on.

My review of George du Maurier’s Trilby

TrilbyTrilby by George du Maurier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It happened the other day, while I was reading George du Maurier’s Trilby, that a young man asked me whether I read mainly fiction or non-fiction – his preference clearly being for the latter. I answered the former, and had to supress within me a slight sense of shame. Does the fiction reader not, after all, sunbathe in supercillious fantasy while lazing on the beach; whereas the non-fiction reader applies his mind to the ‘hard facts’?

Maybe it is engrained in us to think so. But the distinction is shallow and meaningless when you dig a little deeper. For one thing, if 2020 has anything to teach us, it is that the ‘hard facts’, even those that are as hard as rock, are so numerous and tiny that they give way to the cudgel of dogma and zealotry, like grains of sand on that very same beach. One eye-catching event, propelled by the right algorithms, can trump an entire discipline of rigorous empiricism.

Non-fiction can easily fall into the trap of pretending the ‘castle of truth’ which the author has built up is structurally sound. Fiction, as written from the perspective of the narrator, or better still, the third persons who inhabit the narration, harbours no such pretense of architectural stability. The reader knows that the truth on which a novel is based is a shifty one; changing with the tide and giving way to the footprints left by the author’s own biases, those of his characters and those of the reader.

In this respect, a book like ‘Trilby’ helps us gain perspective on the ‘truthiness’ of our own age. It places fantastical events in a historical and subjective context, and in doing so removes us from the fantastical context of our own time, allowing us to regard these as no less subjective and ephemeral.

At the time of its publication, ‘Trilby’ was a sensation – the ‘Da Vinci Code’ of its day. Upon reading it, it’s easy to see why. Borrowing with self-effacing openness from Thackery, Dickens and Dumas, this festival of vanity, a tale set in Two Cities, chronicles the adventures of three very British ‘musketeers of the brush’ (artists) and their acquaintance with the Anglo-Irish Parisian washerwoman of the title. The narrative is light and fun, rich in the tradition of turn-of-the-Century satirists like Wilde or Saki. The plot is compelling, though perhaps somewhat too linear for modern tastes.

Mostly though, I read it as an antidote to the irrationality and illiberalism of the dominant ‘Liberal’ world view. If we must inhabit sand castles in order to have a coherent frame of reference, let’s at least decorate them with the colourful seashells of funny, well-written Victorian prose.

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Open Letter to Dr Trish Greenhalgh on her BMJ article concerning face masks

Dear Trish,
I’m writing to you to express my concern about the medical consensus that has slowly formulated around the use of face masks in public settings as a measure to mitigate against the spread of COVID-19. I read your bmj article on the subject and was frankly alarmed at the arguments you used to back this position.
Having looked at the issue in some detail, it seems reasonably clear that there is at best, as you put it, ‘sparse and controversial’ evidence that face masks stop the spread of SARS-Cov-2 in the community setting.The fact that you nevertheless argue in favour of such measures, on the basis that you see them as essentially costless – “we have little to lose” – is deeply worrying.
Mandatory rules around the use of masks in public are far from costless. In the first instance, they have important and detrimental consequences on the hearing impaired, who rely on lip reading to understand and contextualise verbal meaning. More generally, facial expression is an intrinsic part of human interactions; physical barriers impede not only droplets of saliva, but also the visual appreciation of body language which is a large part of the context in which speech is delivered.
Second, there is the economic and environmental cost of mass production, dissemination and disposal of face masks. A single mask is of low cost, but multiplied by millions, it represents a not-insubstantial addition to our impact on the planet, and a related economic burden, particularly on the most vulnerable in our society.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the very act of mandating an accoutrement of this kind entails a system of state intervention and imposition on public life. The symbol value is strong; it is a mark of control, just as certain religions mandate the use of clothing to demarcate adherence to doctrine; just as military and law enforcement mandates the wearing of uniforms to instil discipline and diminish any instinct towards individualism which might threaten the goals of the collective.
Indeed, the very requirement to conform is a small – but persistent and deep – incision into our liberties. It lessens our individuality all the more to have the most expressive and personal part of our anatomy covered from view in public, and it allows the state and the medical establishment to dictate our behaviours, not – I repeat – on the basis of any substantiated scientific knowledge, but rather on the whim of a cadre of experts, who merely deem it possible that this measure could have a beneficial effect.
Apropos the beneficial effect: Your article was written in early April, when less was known about the shape and scale of the COVID threat. Though even at that stage the contours of the epidemic were crystallizing as less than apocalyptic, there was still some concern that COVID could carry with it an infection fatality rate of as high as 1-2%, with an infected population of 70 to 80% of the general population.
It is now amply clear to anyone who takes an honest look at the data that this worst case scenario is not only implausible, but in fact nearly impossible. In Belgium, where I live, almost all lockdown measures have been relaxed since early June – schools reopened, shops, bar and restaurants are full – all with no effect on new ICU admissions. Hospitals are almost completely empty.
Indeed, as some experts wisely predicted even at the time, populations would reach full exposure (Belgium, France, Northern Italy, most of the UK, New York) as the disease followed a classic gamma trajectory, with heavy left skewness; whereafter the rate of new infection would cease to be a major public health concern. The infection fatality rate will never exceed 0.01%, and is even lower when measured in quality adjusted life years.
As the evidence gathers, in fact, it becomes increasingly obvious that the lockdowns put in place had only marginal or no effect on the spread of the disease, and that to the extent they did anything, it has been only to slow the virus’ inevitable progression across the population.
In this context, your core argument for insisting on the use of face masks: “covid-19 is a serious illness that currently has no known treatment or vaccine and is spreading in an immune naive population. Deaths are rising steeply, and health systems are under strain.” appears much less compelling than it perhaps did in April.
Given the above, I would ask you to reconsider your position as expressed in the article, and work with your co-authors to publish a corrigium, in which you argue against the mandatory use of face masks in the community setting.
The stakes are, in fact, quite high.
Kind regards,
Graham Stull

Unmasking the ignorance and superstition of the modern age

An age of Twitter-fuelled ‘truthiness’

I have rarely felt so profoundly disappointed with the state of the rational world as I do these past few weeks. Perhaps it was my own cognitive dissonance at play, but if you had asked me a few short months ago, I would have rated our level of collective rationality as – overall – pretty high. Boy, was I wrong.

In fact, we live in a world in which the principles of scientific observation are disregarded, or else regarded selectively, in such a way as to concur with our collective feelings; in this case, collective hysteria. It is, as someone I know once put it, the essence of ‘policy-based evidence-making’. The clearest and most horrible example is the widespread use of the ‘number of cases’ statistic in the context of the COVID flare-up that struck in March/April (and has since gone away from almost all parts of the world). You won’t see a news report these days that doesn’t quote the ‘number of cases’, despite all honest epidimologists knowing the case count is a meaningless number: It tells you a little bit about the level of testing and nothing at all about the infection rate, for the strikingly obvious reason that the denominator is completely unknown.

See no evil, hear no evil, spit no droplets of evil

Another good example is the use of face masks. They are more than just ubiquitous, they are fashionable. While in a shop yesterday, I took the opportunity to engage the mouthless young woman behind the til in conversation. Did her employer insist she wear one? No, came the muffled response from where her mouth should have been, but she chose to, because it made her feel better. “Although I don’t really know if it does anything,” she added, almost apologetically.

That’s of course fine. In a free society, anyone should have the right to adorn their bodies with whatever tin foil armour they believe might protect them from their chosen alien invaders. The problem is when the use of such adornments becomes compulsory thoughout the ‘free’ world, as is now the case on public transport, on flights, in indoor spaces, and even on public streets.

A narrative built on a meta-study built on a not-so-randomised control trail

Let’s be perfectly clear: there is no evidence that face masks protect against the spread of viral infections in the community setting. And I say this after having spent some time reviewing, line by line, the extant literature that has been recently quoted by proponents of the practice. What is shocking is how disingenious the pro-mask campaign can be.

One good example of how bad some of these studies are is to be found in one NYC radomised control trial from 2010, in which 450 households in a predominantly Latino neighbourhood were studied, divided into three control groups: Group one was given ‘education’ only about how to reduce infection. The second group was given ‘education plus hand sanitizer’. The third group was given ‘education plus hand sanitizer plus face masks’, with instructions that the head of household should wear one if anyone displayed symptoms, as well as children over 3 and ‘if possible’ the sick elderly person in the household.

One bad virus multiplied by Twitter rage and lo! we're back to the Middle Ages
One bad virus multiplied by a nasty dose of Twitter rage and lo! we’re back to the Middle Ages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The study reports the characteristics of the three groups, which despite ‘randomisation’ show clearly that the group which received face masks had different socio-economic characteristics: 50.8% of the face mask adults had high school diplomas or better, as against only 40.2% for the ‘education only’ control group. Then, though admitting that the face mask group never really used the face masks anyway, the authors proceed to conclude that the face masks are effective in reducing transmission of influenza.

This, in turn, is one of a number of studies quoted in the metastudies, such as the  May 22 2020 Annals of Internal Medicine review, which in turn is used by media sources to support the public narrative. Even if these studies are cautious not to lie (the May 22 metastudy includes the rather unambiguous statement that “No direct evidence indicates that public mask wearing protects either the wearer or others.”), the authors know it’s the headlines that grab the public attention. And theirs is unambiguous in its messaging: “Cloth Masks May Prevent Transmission of COVID-19”. Again, not a lie, but it’s also true that pulverised moondust mixed with elephant tusk may cure cancer. No evidence, mind you, but it may.

Unmasking the cover-up

A question is why, if I can discover all this in a few days’ reading as a lay person, the medical, scientific and political establishment is so keen on pushing the face mask narrative? I posit a couple of possible answers.

First, a benign suggestion: The shock which COVID hysteria caused in society is best managed by allowing for a gradual return to normal. Like the masked salesgirl I refer to above, people actually feel better, more secure, with the masks. The argument then goes that we, as a society, should all mask up – at least for a while – to help the shellshocked return to public life without undue fear.

Now a more malignant thought: What if the political forces, including state-associated virologists and medical experts, now know that they massively overreacted to the outbreak of COVID-19? Maybe they have figured out, well ahead of the public, that the lockdowns were mostly ineffective (coming weeks if not months after they could have made any difference), and the infection fatality rate may in fact be as low as 0.05%. They also realise that they have wreaked untold harm on the economies and societies whose management was entrusted to them. Reputations, maybe even careers, are at stake. The game is now one of making ‘unlocking’ seem gradual, complicated, drawn out; because if they went back to normal too quickly, questions might be raised about why exactly we were forced to give up a third of our economy and two thirds of our civil liberties.

My review of Gary Paulsen’s ‘Hatchet’

Hatchet (Brian's Saga, #1)Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books smack of polish. The prose is heavy with the weight of old creative writing classes or mimickry of past literary idols.

Sometimes the polish even drips and coagulates into globs at the bottom of the page. It’s as if we can smell the coffee from the Starbucks where the author sat, back in February of 1998, when she first read Hemingway and, looking out the window at the drab Seattle rain, dreamt of one day living in New York City and ‘being an author’. Or else we hear the writer’s impatient fingers upon the keyboard at his office in the community college’s English department, desperately trying to ‘find his voice’ the way he tells his students to, rather than just telling a story.

Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet is certainly not one of these books. The prose has no polish whatsoever. As a result, the writing is crude, almost to the point of distraction. Choppy. Fragments of sentences, running on. An attempt. An attempt to convey the protagonist’s panicked state of mind. A heavy-handed abuse of language. At least in my opinion.

But what Paulsen lacks in literary finesse, he more than makes up for with the quality of his story. The tale is a simple one – a teenage boy named Brian survives the crash of a single engine plane and must learn to live in the Canadian wilderness, with only the eponymous hatchet and the clothes on his back.

Like all great stories, Paulsen has no need to mimic other writers, or to worry about finding a voice. He simply tells Brian’s story, and that is more than enough for the reader to suspend disbelief; to join Brian in the woods, rejoicing with him over every little comfort, salivating at the taste of berries and fish in the starving boy’s mouth.

I understand completely why this book has become a favourite of high school English teachers. And as is the case with all good young adult fiction, it reads just as well, even if you are much older.

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Costs and Benefits of Lockdown (2): Translating GDP into human lives

In order to meaningfully compare costs and benefits of lockdown, it is necessary to have some assumptions about the value of human life. There are different approaches that can be taken to this, such as using the (quality-adjusted) life year thresholds used by public heath systems to ‘price’ a year of healthy human life. Of course, it is popular and politically expedient to ignore the price of life issue, indeed some like to argue that human life is of infinite value. This is nonsense. Human life has a finite value, else we would have no basis to determine whether it made sense to approve treatments based on their cost and their medical merit.

Modelling life expectancy in terms of GDP

The approach I will take is slightly different here. I will attempt to model the relationship between GDP and life expectancy using a simple regression model for the EU-28 countries. The intuition is that higher GDP enables a prolongation of human life, through better diet, investment in workplace health and safety and investment in curative and preventative medicine. Over the relevant part of the curve, we should see a clear relationship emerge, which will allow us to understand what the cost in terms of life is, of reducing GDP. This can then be compared with the estimated benefits – also in terms of human life – of implementing a lockdown.

I use the data from Eurostat for 2018 GDP per capita in euros, (GDP), for life expectancy at age 1 (LE) to construct a simple regression model specified as follows

LE = a*GDP+b*GDP^2

The spreadsheet with the data is here. I exclude Luxembourg and Ireland because of well-known problems with the measurement of GDP. While other control variables are not included, in fact the institutional nature of the EU suggests that many other relevant factors (such as the design of the public health system, workplace health and safety rules, and other cultural factors) enjoy a certain degree of harmonisation.

The results of the regression are as below:

LE on GDP and GDP^2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And show that both variables are statistically significant (high t Stat values), and that quite alot of the variation (around 60%) in LE can be explained by GDP/capita alone (high ‘Adjusted R Square’).

The coefficients in the last three rows imply:

(a) that in the absence of any GDP, life expectancy would be at 70 (intercept). Although this seems unreasonably high, suggesting more non-linearity in the relationship as income falls to the zero-threshold, it is not a big deal, however, as we are only concerned with the relationship over the relevant space, i.e. in terms of the GDP/capita of developed, Western countries.

(b) there is a positive relationship between GDP and Life Expectancy; namely that a one Euro increase in GDP/capita results in an increase in life expectancy of 0.0007 years. This is what we would expect to see.

(c) there is a negative relationship between GDP squared and Life Expectancy; namely that as the square of GDP rises by one euro, LE falls by 0.000000001 years. This is also what we would expect – the gains to life expectancy are limited, and at very high income levels, there may even be a reverse effect, due to stress from work, pollution or other lifestyle effects.

The graph below shows the scatterplot of actual values and the estimated line of the curve from the regression:

LE against GDP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using this model, we can estimate what the 5% reduction in GDP caused by a four month lockdown would mean in terms of life expectancy for the EU-28 countries. Here is what we get when we do that:

LE reduction chart for 5% drop in GDP

 

 

 

 

 

 

In summary, on average, a 5% reduction in GDP will result in a loss of an estimated 0.5 years, or 6 months, in the average life expectancy of people in Europe. This will happen because of many reasons, such as reduced spending on curative health, increased crime, more suicides, greater occupational risks and reduced spending in preventative health and safety.

Costs and Benefits of Lockdown (1): The Costs of Lockdown in GDP

Whether lockdowns make sense or not is an important question, and it is hard to answer definitively. Hard, for a number of reasons. First, as is often said, we do not have all the data at our disposal. On the epidemiological side, we are only just beginning to understand how the virus has been spreading and whether or to what extent lockdowns make a difference.

Quantifying the economic costs of lockdown

On the economic side, there is a large degree of uncertainty. While clearly the economic costs are large, there are inherent difficulties in untangling the costs of lockdown per se from the costs of the general COVID hysteria which would ensue, even in the absence of any government measures. And even then, calculating the costs of lockdown itself is tough. As economists are at pains to stress, this episode is without precedent in modern times, and given the extent to which Western economies have developed over the past fifty years, the older precedents such as WWII or the Great Depression, lose relevance due to the differences in how modern economies operate and the level of prosperity we have come to take as a baseline.

So we have to really try to go back to first principles. What have lockdowns done? As I see it, they have done two things to the economy. First, they have stopped production. Quite simply, governments have closed stores, factories, restaurants, bars, schools, etc., meaning there are fewer goods and services being produced by the economy. How much of the economy is now closed depends on the nature of the lockdown (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Germany, New York City, Michigan, Ireland…, are extreme examples; many other US states and the Netherlands less extreme, Sweden the least extreme), but easy estimates put the number at close to a third of the economy.

In some cases, production will have shifted from the formal to the informal economy: restaurants are no longer preparing food, but people are cooking more at home; teachers are no longer caring for and minding children, but parents are doing so at home, etc. However, in many cases, the production is simply being lost. Again, how much is the result of the lockdown and how much of the generalised COVID panic which would have occured anyway? It’s difficult to say, but to put the loss at 15% of the economy does not seem unreasonable, especially when we consider that the two are interlinked: people panic in part because governments lockdown.

The second effect is the productive efficiency loss. We can take teleworking to be less efficient that working in offices, as otherwise the economy would have phased to telework years ago. (After all, the technology is not particularly new and companies wouldn’t willingly fork out for prime office space if they could get the job done as efficiently with no rental costs.) Home schooling is also a large efficiency loss, related to scale diseconomies (a class of 24 formally taught by one teacher, is now being taught by 24 parents) and the fact that parents are not trained teachers. Supply chain disruptions mean that work stoppages occur even in otherwise unaffected sectors: E.g. construction companies cannot pop down to the local supply shop to get an extra bucket of 3″ screws). Quantifying these efficiency losses is tricky, especially because they may be partially offset by some efficiency gains (fewer useless meetings for people to sit through).

There is also, I think, a non-linearity here with regard to time. If we think of businesses as having both an operational and a strategic component, then the former can probably cope better with remote working for some time, and in the short term, a company can get by without a new strategy. But in the long term, the lack of face-to-face contact will make strategic decisions like restructuring, brainstorming, hiring and firing…, much more difficult. This means fewer new ideas, less innovation, less efficiency gain.

Finally, there is the economic impact of social costs. The harm to people’s mental health from isolation, the loss of emotional development for, in particular, vulnerable children. The scarring effects of unemployment and disattachment from the labour market for those who have lost their jobs. While these are all first and foremost social costs, they will also impact the economy through reduced output, higher crime and wasted human potential. Again, these are non-linear with regard to time: the longer the lockdowns go on, the more costly each added day of lockdown will be.

Quantifying all these effects is not easy. If we take as a baseline four months of effective stoppage, and assume this halts 15% of output, then countries in full lockdown can expect at least a 5% one-off loss to annual GDP from the first effect. For the other two, the effects are likely to be more drawn out, but less acute. Using the four-month baseline again, the efficiency cost of teleworking could be estimated using the rental value of the office space currently being leased. In the EU, there is an estimated 650 million square meters. At an annual rent of €400 per square metre per year, this makes about 90 billion in lost office for the 4 month period, or about 0.5% of GDP. Of course, this is a lower bound; it’s reasonable to assume, given the transition costs associated with the shift, that this number is closer to a full percentage point in GDP.

Next is lost productivity for parents. Here we can assume that working parents of dependent children suffer, as a result of the caring responsibilities. Data is available from Eurostat on employment rates of parents by number of children, the distribution of population by number of children. Combined with data on industrial annual earnings for the age group 30-39 (a proxy), we can estimate the lost productivity using wage data and assuming single parent households lose 50% of productivity, two parent households with one or two children lose 25% of productivity and households with three children lose 10% of productivity. (Households with more than two adults are assumed not to lose productivity). This amounts to another €90 billion for the 4 month period, another 0.5% of GDP.

Other costs arise from the stoppage of routine medical activity and the mental health toll. Here indeed, disentangling lockdown from baseline costs is tricky. Undoubtably, any alternative to lockdown would carry with it a certain mental toll, as well as an increased (albeit likely short term) demand on health services. Similarly, other social costs such as the damage to disadvantaged children cannot be readily quantified, but are nevertheless important qualitative considerations.

In summary, the upfront costs of a four month lockdown can be roughly estimated to be between 15 to 20% of GDP, with scarring effects causing a permenant reduction of GDP that is far more difficult to quantify – not least because it will depend on the policy response. Given these impacts on human capital, on educational outcomes for children and on mental and physical health, it seems difficult to imagine a swift V-shaped recovery. In present value terms, a permenant drop in the order of 5% does not seem like an unreasonable working assumption.

Lockdown madness goes on, even as science shows COVID isn’t that deadly

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that the coronavirus related disease COVID-19, is not nearly as deadly as is being widely reported in the media and as is believed by the public.
Here is one of many serologic studies which uses the best scientific evidence available to demonstrate this fact:
“Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate — 2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases.”
This study was performed by researchers are Stanford University, and follows a similar study, which found similar results, performed by Bonn University. It also follows the data gathered early on from the cruise ships, which provided near-laboratory like conditions for seeing the spread of the virus on a population crammed together under contagion-inducing conditions. Please understand that this is not right-wing propoganda, these are not fringe institutions. They are among the best scientists in the field, and the message is clear:
Coronavirus SARS-Cov-2, and the COVID-19 disease it causes, kill only about 0.5% of its victims. The clear majority (over 80%) of the deaths are among the very old, and the vast majority among those who are over 65 and have preexisting conditions (93%). While of course their passing is tragic, a disease that kills someone who is very close to their natural life expectancy is very different to one that cuts down healthy people in their prime.
What is more, the Lockdowns that have been put in place have no proven impact on the spread of this disease.
What the lockdowns certainly do cause is a massive contraction in economic activity. On this point, there seems to be some confusion on what such a contraction means. This isn’t a case of ‘the banks losing money’, rather it means there are fewer goods and services in the economy – an estimated reduction in 10% for the current year in most countries. Concretely, this will certainly mean an increase in poverty by at least 10% – fewer resources to fund schools and hospitals. Many, many more people will die from this that could possibly be the case from the virus itself.
In addition, the lockdowns represent an unprecedented curtailment of our civil liberties. Governments everywhere have overstepped their constitutional limits, locking their citizens in their houses and literally surpressing public debate. The only public forums available for discussion are online businesses, who have a direct economic incentive to keep the non-virtual economy closed for as long as possible. Not surprising therefore, that those who oppose lockdowns are being shadow-banned or blocked on Facebook and Twitter (e.g. Brazil’s democratically elected president).
Those of you who know me know that I am a measured, reasonable person. I have been educated in economics at a leading university and have worked number-crunching for public institutions for many, many years. In that context, I write policy documents that by their nature avoid hyperbole and sensationalist conclusions. But before I go, I just want to leave you with the following graph, to help you understand that not everyone is losing out, and that the very companies that are winning in this crisis are the ones who have the most control over how we understand this crisis:
covid amazon stock price