Keeping up with the FITs, 1-5
Yascha Mounk tries to be stoic; Razib Khan's latest recommendations; Noah Smith on price controls; Emily Oster on pandemic data; Persuasion on YIMBY
Stoic philosophy offers a set of instructions for how to make the most of life while accepting that we are not in full command of our fate. In times of deep uncertainty, such as ours, we must be determined both to live up to our duties and to enjoy what is good in the world despite our knowledge that it may be gone tomorrow.
It is important to keep politics in perspective. I believe in close, multi-generational families. Grandparents in such families are very happy people. All we ask of the world is that it not do terrible things to our families.
The best place to find family relationships is in a family. If you don’t find them there, then you can go looking for them at work or in political activism. But try to remember that those are rather imperfect substitutes.
Razib Khan points to a bet between Holden Karnovsky and Zvi Mowshowitz. Holden writes,
Zvi thinks there’s a 70% chance of the following: “Omicron will blow through the US by 3/1/2022, leading to herd immunity and something like the ‘end’ of the COVID-19 pandemic.” I think there’s only a 50% chance of this (and I would’ve had a lower probability before learning that Zvi thinks it). We bet at 60%.
Again, I want to be personally cautious while waiting for Zvi’s prediction to come true. I have a daughter due to give birth soon, and I’d rather not carry the virus into her household or get sick and not be able to visit.
Note that Freddie deBoer said that Razib was his favorite substacker in 2021. The competition is very strong, but I agree that Razib is a contender. Razib also writes,
Academic Ideologues Are Corrupting STEM. The Silent Liberal Majority Must Fight Back. I think this is probably a lost cause, if I’m honest. “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Case in point: The Complicated Legacy of E. O. Wilson We must reckon with his and other scientists’ racist ideas if we want an equitable future. The person who wrote this clearly does not even know what a “normal distribution” is, for example, but this uninformed righteous dreck is politely met with relative silence from science social media, because she is a credentialed part of the in-group (yes, yes, there was all the brave mockery in private message groups). Instead of higher standards, people like her are being held to lower standards than if someone in the public had made such “not-even-wrong” claims. The smug-tsunami on science social media would be overwhelming for days.
the balance of evidence certainly looks to be against this tool. There are multiple obvious downsides and potentially catastrophic possible downsides. That’s why until we know more — which will be decades from now, and will involve a lot of careful research effort — we should avoid using price controls to fight inflation.
Price controls lead to shortages and rationing, which is worse than letting the price rise to clear the market. Trust me: the lines at gasoline stations in the 1970s did no one any good.
But I have no confidence that sensible economics will predominate. The Overton Window will move toward making price controls acceptable again. In contrast, cutting government spending, which I believe is the key to getting inflation under control, will be way outside the Overton Window.
This post marks one of many, many times I’ve written about our lack of sufficient data infrastructure to track the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Two years in, I continue not to understand the abject failure to do a better job with this. Perhaps I should stop writing about it, but I cannot help myself.
If our government handled military affairs the way the CDC handles the pandemic, we would be constantly losing wars. Oh, wait…
On Yascha Mounk’s Persuasion Community, Michael Hendrix writes a standard neoliberal essay in favor of easing restrictions on housing supply. But he tosses in this:
set a “shot clock” on building permits, so that if a decision isn’t provided in 60-days, the permit is automatically granted.
I had not heard of that idea before. I wish it could be tried.
A window into military affairs - yes, the process was followed to a T in the DoD, as it always is, and very similar to the process at CDC but with less visibility because DHA (Defense Health Agency) is part of the DoD. Data calls are a regular feature in DoD, followed by organizations asking for clarifications, delaying, ducking, trying to figure out what will keep them off the red lists which are discussed in private at higher levels. A call will come out from one organization to its subordinates, but there will be a cross-cutting call from another organization with a related purpose asking for things in a slightly different format, maybe for a slightly different purpose. Perhaps Public Affairs wants to show how well things are going, but Defense Logistics needs to anticipate class 8 (medical materiel) requirements, and the MTFs (treatment facilities) need to gauge patient load...
Anyway, this is all pretty similar to the way CDC and HHS squabbled over COVID data calls going out to states, localities, hospitals, clinics, physicians... the question of what is a reportable illness, what the timelines are, what the diagnostic standards are, who gets to set them, the format of the reports, whether personal information can be included - or whether including it means a sudden-death report to Civil Rights as a HIPAA violation and an investigation - it's all about dynamics inside very large organizations, so large that they have ceased being a single organization, in many ways.
The DoD components and agencies try hard to keep their sights aligned, but a large fraction of COVID related orders for quite a while were about data reporting requirements, subtle and not so subtle shifts in what got reported, to whom, how and when. This also dogged public health and was additionally made a political hot football in the context of the press. In the DoD, the same data is sometimes weaponized as an intra-organizational tool, and so people are similarly cautious and feisty about the data calls.
Three cheers to Emily Oster. Data quality is always terrible in any large organization. What boggles me is that people keep trying to use terrible data and make meaningful arguments around "it is the best data available" as though the answer to having bad, spoiled ingredients for a cake is to just go ahead and make the cake.
Can any number of government agencies at various levels across fifty states and federal organizations, sitting on top of city and county level organizations, actually collect coherent data and make it available in a consistent and meaningful format? I am not optimistic; businesses have trouble doing that at a much smaller scale, for a more focused audience, with a more limited scope, and a profit motive behind it. I think that in many cases we need to get used to the uncertainty and vagaries of what we can know, and at least acknowledge we are mostly blind at the large scale.