Histories of the Great Panic.

How will Western historians in 2050 remember 2020? In scenario 1, “The Great Panic, a lost generation”, I sketch my best guess. Scenario 2, “A job well done” is the one I imagine many current Western governments hope is told. Scenario 3, “The dark path of the Great Panic”, is one of my main fear scenarios.

How Past Plagues & Pandemics Have Shaped Human History | PocketOne should of course not take any of these too seriously, but they do help put some perspective on matters because constructing a future history of today forces one to detach from current concerns and nominate long-term forces that might come to the fore.


                   H1: The Great Panic, a lost generation.

In 2020 a new coronavirus appeared that health authorities and the media whipped into a huge panic that went viral around the world. Forced by their populations to pretend to be in control, governments instigated lots of highly damaging restrictions on the movements of their own citizens. Whilst this did very little to the spread of the virus or the eventual death toll from it, it opened enormous opportunities to governments to extend their powers, sidestep parliaments, and rob their populations.

The ideology of the Great Panic was an echo of the Fremdkörper ideology of national socialism of the 1930s: an ideology in which the country was seen as an organism that could only function if the ‘elements alien to it’ were excised. This ideology reached great popularity in 2020 when it was directed towards the new coronavirus, but, as in the 1930s, the ideology morphed when the coronavirus ceased to be a threat to include all infectious diseases and large groups of citizens. Zero-covid became zero-other-things. Increasingly draconian and destructive policies were rolled out in the 2020s by governments eager to hold on to the power they had amassed.

After the period of initial shock in 2020, an unholy alliance between opportunist local commercial interests, the global ambitions and immediate interest of Big Tech, the virtue industry, and governments emerged that thrived on continued restrictions. The surveillance state they instigated survived the end of the actual pandemic which had run its course by early 2021. New viral threats were identified to justify massive random testing regimes, with the inspectors who could use those test to order lockdowns of whole regions becoming feared figures of derision. Immunity passports became compulsory for most international travel. Masks became compulsory everywhere outside.

The disruption and ideology inherent to the Great Panic formed the kernel of its own eventual demise. The disruption to the economy and social life lead to large-scale unrest and even civil war in poorer regions like India and North Africa. High levels of mental health disruption aggravated the collapse of the economy, which is now estimated to be 20% of world GDP loss in that period, masked in the early periods by increased government debt and money printing. The eventual inability to buy off social unrest as debt and quantitative easing ran into its limits lead to high inflation and loss of confidence in governments.

The Fremdkörper ideology eventually became the enemy of the emerging medico-industrial complex: just as populations saw the virus as an ‘element alien to it’, so too did they view new vaccines, particularly the new RNA-based vaccines. Increasingly, tests became seen as invasions of privacy and unwanted attempts at stigmatisation, with individuals increasingly reluctant to be identified with any infectious disease.

Eventually, massive popular disapproval lead to a reversal of the main ideology and restrictions in Western countries, followed by other countries. A restoration movement was dominant for a few years, including a greater role for nationalistic libertarian movements.

One long term effect was the large-scale destruction of the independent middle classes made up of shop keepers, service workers, small hotels etc.: their businesses were replaced by franchise systems tethering nearly all former independent small businesses to large corporations. This worsened inequality and lead to more feudal societies.

Another long-term effect was the disruption of the education and the ability to socialise normally for a generation of children. As a result, average wellbeing and prosperity took decades to recover.

The huge collateral death tolls and the illegality of the 2020 restrictions were not recognised in the courts in most countries until the 2040s but are now part of textbook teachings on ethics and law. When a few large countries decided in special commissions that they had been the victim of international emotional contagion, regionalisation of social media became institutionalised.

In the poorer part of the world the Great Panic lead to a lost generation whose education and economic prospects got disrupted, leading to a widespread primitivisation of their economies. The situation got aggravated by civil wars and by reductions of the aid budgets of the richer countries, leading to a large political pivot towards China in that period.

Economic historians estimate the death toll of the Great Panic to be around 70 million unnecessary deaths, making it the world’s second biggest self-inflicted catastrophe, only behind the second world war. Still, from a longer-term point of view the crisis was seen as a blip that exposed the susceptibility of existing democratic and scientific systems to contagious mass emotions. Some of the innovations and restrictions of that era are still with us, like immunity passports: though many countries eventually decided they were unconstitutional and illiberal, enough countries remained adamant about not letting in anyone without them that they became a standard feature in the tourism and business sectors.


                   H2: a job well done

In 2020 a new virus emerged of unheard potency hitherto. Though at the time not everyone was convinced of its danger, it was in hindsight definitively proven to be directly responsible for long-term problems like dementia, depression, anxiety, insolvency, terrorism, violence, unemployment, and loneliness.

Governments sometimes were late to heed the science but eventually all recognised that a working economy and social system needed to first focus on the eradication of this new virus. Whilst scientists were working hard at a variety of solutions, governments kept their populations safe by means of restricting their movements. A vocal minority of covid-terrorists resisted these restrictions but eventually a combination of marginalising their voices in the social media and physical containment ensured they did not prevail.

This period is now recognised as a triumph of human ingenuity, where the world went from a new disease to 95% safe vaccinations within 6 months. Nobel prizes went to the inventors, knighthoods to the industrialists who produced the vaccines at marginal cost, and lucrative government contracts to the transportation companies who disseminated the vaccines. Grateful populations voted for the governments that had more decisively protected them by large majorities, with covid-deniers like the US president Trump roundly thumped at the ballot box.

The long-term benefits of having gone through this challenge were the complete registration of the entire world’s traveling population and a fail-safe viral recognition-technology that follows nearly everyone wherever they are in the developed world, warning them via wrist-bands against the illegality of any imminent meetings that would put them at risk of infection. Quarantine camps all around the Western world now operate to intern those for whom positive tests have revealed them to have subverted the International Pathogen Safety Protocol. A new international agency oversees these camps and a large force of pathogen-marshals makes sure adaptive local protocols are adhered to, with the rule-making-bodies fed by state-of-the-art simulation models.

Though there was much criticism at the time by out-of-touch scientists of how the attention to the new virus lead to tens of millions of deaths via neglected other diseases, new studies since then proved the so-called collateral damage to be the results of the virus itself. After extensive investigation it turned out that the propensity in that period to become a dictatorship was higher in countries with the lowest vaccination rates, proving it was ongoing covid-risk that lead to the new dictatorships. Similarly, the initially claimed higher death tolls of hunger and tuberculosis where eventually proved to be because farmers with covid were less productive and hence produced less food, whilst tuberculosis was found to be more dangerous for those who also had covid. Nobel prizes went to the discoverers of these important insights as they definitively showed the importance of focusing on the coronavirus. It has been estimated hundreds of millions of lives have been saved by its eradication.

In decades following, the rational scientific approach to the coronavirus pandemic came to be seen universally as a triumph of the Enlightenment.


                     H3: The Dark Path of the Great Panic

The Great Panic of early 2020 cemented the Fremdkörper ideology around the world and lead to the demise of the international system of migration and travel that had ballooned in the decades before. The impoverishment and deteriorating health of the populations that followed was aggravated by a collapse in the birth rate in Western countries, the large-scale destruction of the independent middle-classes, and the instigation of the surveillance state. These consequences combined to create existential panic in the populations of the West.

When Western societies woke up to the enormity of the destruction, internationalism was blamed and ultra-nationalist groups fought on the streets with the internationalist activists of black-lives-matter, extinction-rebellion, and others.

The conflict between internationalism and nationalism that had been simmering for decades grew and grew. The early running was done by the internationalists: armed with anti-nationalist ideologies, the media clout of Big Tech, and the coercive power of the state in many Western countries, they initially managed to successfully push the nationalistic protest movements to the margins of their societies.

However, within a remarkably short time, the increased economic desperation of large sections of the population and the ability of nationalists to have large numbers of sympathisers on the ground turned the tables on the internationalists whose means of communication were increasingly sabotaged, with city-wide internet blackouts increasingly common in many countries. Crucial in the conflict was the inability of the internationalist to gather because of the travel bans and international migration stops.

Partnered to the nationalists, a virulent nativist movement arose that was obsessed with the low birth rate and regarded anything that was not pro-family an existential threat to their culture and population. Forced by popular opinion, state bureaucracies switched sides and started to censor ‘foreign divisive and anti-family content’ on social media. Lists of national values and habits were set up, taught as compulsory subjects in schools and universities. Without a ‘national certificate’ one could not have jobs or access social services in many countries.

The ultra-nationalist movement counted many high-profile homosexuals, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities. The victorious ultra-national movements they belonged to turned the Fremdkörper ideology away from viruses and towards what it termed ‘woke internationalism’ and anything associated with ‘anti-family values’. Re-education camps were set up for the ‘enemy within’, camps in which eventually millions perished. Among the first initial groups sent to the camps were critical race theorists, intersectionality academics, and various groups that came to be seen as inherently anti-family.

List of sympathisers with ‘anti-family’ groups and ‘enemies of the nation’ were harvested from stored copies of Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, WeChat, Instagram, and other social media sites. Special tribunals were set up for young offenders to see whom they had been lead astray by. High profile trials of crimes against humanity were instigated for the leaders of those scientific and media institutions held most responsible for the Great Panic.

The ultra-nationalist movements then turned on ‘radical’ Muslims and on foreign enemies, in particular China. Chinese minorities throughout the West, even if they had lived there more than 150 years, were forced to swear allegiance to ‘national values‘ and denounce the Chinese Communist Party. Large groups of reluctant newer waves of Chinese migrants were deported to China. There were many voices to put them in re-education camps but after several nuclear standoffs with China such plans were abandoned. The identified Muslim minorities who did not swear allegiance and who failed regular checks were not so lucky.

Nowhere did the nativist ultra-nationalist movement get more fanatical than in the US. The Democrats only managed to regain the presidency after the fourth Trump term, with the second one ending in Trump senior giving the reigns to his Vice President, Trump junior. To win the White House, the Democrats promised a total war on China, a green wall with Canada, a ban on the speaking of any language not on an approved-language list, a ban on any executive job being done by someone with less than 2 confirmed children, and a strategic alliance with Russia.

In Africa and some parts of Asia, the disaster of the Great Panic lead to widespread civil wars, a population explosion as education systems crumbled, and a mass-exodus in terms of migrants. The ultra-nationalist movements in the West immediately responded to these migration streams militarily, forcing the migration streams towards neutral countries or poorly border-patrolled countries like Turkey, Iran, the Caucuses, and elsewhere. Eventually, a semblance of order was restored as Western countries and China competed for influence via neo-colonialist projects.

The main longer-term consequence of the Great Panic was thus the victory of ultra-nationalist and nativist movements in the West. It also accelerated the construction of regional internets and the polarisation of world politics into various camps, with the West and China on opposing sides with nearly completely detached economic and political spheres.

Historians disagree on whether the excess death toll of 500 million that eventuated in the 2020-2040 period should be entirely or only fractionally attributed to the Great Panic.



As said before, the first suggested history sounds about right to me at this moment. The second one is basically the history I imagine the medics within the pro-lockdown brigade tell themselves. The third one is the dark road I fear we might be on.

Do add your own scenario in the comment section.

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91 Responses to Histories of the Great Panic.

  1. Dugald says:

    Geez Paul I was depressed enough already.

    Now we have the Handmaid’s Tale to look forward to !

  2. John Goss says:

    Its hard not to be affected by where you are when you write the hypothetical history. I presume Paul you are in gloomy virus ridden London. Whereas I am in (mostly) sunny Canberra where the only COVID around is being imported, and in a country where there have been no flu deaths for 4 months, and overall mortality rates in June and July were 10% below normal. (I still don’t know why). Restrictions are rapidly easing, so the main restriction of consequence now is with regard to overseas travel. The economy is rapidly recovering. Hours worked in October were 2% below the February level for all States excluding Victoria, where in October it was 9% below the February level. But even Victoria is now rapidly increasing. Retail sales (including restaurants etc) are booming, though some retail outlets still have lower sales than pre-COVID. But overall quite a bit higher. Most of the negative effects of varying degrees of lockdown seem to be short-term, with no signs in the preliminary numbers of an increase in suicide or attempted suicide. We’re looking forward to the overseas travel freedom that will come with the vaccines, but we will suffer (!) through our Australian summer while waiting for that.
    Governance hasn’t changed much. But we trust in governments more, because the brief few months when the national cabinet was operating effectively showed that we could pull together during a crisis.
    So no doom and gloom from down under.

    • paul frijters says:

      Hi John,

      yes, definitely the gravity of the panic looms larger in gloomy London, though I have personally escaped and am writing this from a sunny Greek island. I do not ascribe to the theory that unnecessary suffering is ennobling. :-)

      But I actually think Australia is one of the worst hit countries by the changes. It is just not being realised widely. Its economy is propped up by massive borrowing, the huge free inflow of human capital and wealth from the skilled migration programs have come to an abrupt stop, it is veering into a cold war with 40% of its trade (China), a large medico-complex is looking for any excuse to further its brisk trade in tests and whatnot, the data shows mental health suffering in Oz is actually on a par with some of the worst countries in Europe, etc. It is true that there is a lot of blissful ignorance, but its largely willful ignorance and not sustainable.

      Even in terms of how bad it can get, Australia is in a very bad position. It has a large Chinese diaspora and is very heavily influenced by the happenings in the UK and the US where things are not going well at all. And it has this complacent attitude to authoritarian control that makes the population such easy victims meaning that they will only wake up when its realy really bad, at which point the anger is the greater.

      So I am very fearful for my Australian friends and family. If the US and Europe go ultra-nationalist as a result of the tensions and crowd phenomenon created, Australia will too.

      • Aidan says:

        A quarter of a million people have died in the US, their hospitals are overwhelmed and soon enough their will be 2K+ deaths/day .. and you think Australia is one of the worst hit?

        This sounds delusional.

        • paul frijters says:


          we all die so its about the length and quality of life. If you reduce the quality of life for 25 million people, that is equivalent to a few less years of life for rather a lot of people. As soon as you put up a metric of quality years of life (health, happiness, whatever), suddenly you find most common narratives in the media need to be turned on their head.

          Have a look here for another crack by other people to make this basic point: https://ipa.org.au/publications-ipa/media-releases/modelling-finds-covid-elimination-strategy-equal-to-entire-health-defence-education-and-welfare-spend-combined

          • Aidan says:

            You have that much faith in your WELLBY metrics?

            What are you failing to measure?

            The harrowing experiences of relatives of COVID victims and their lonely deaths, and perfunctory funerals?

            The ongoing struggles on long COVID sufferers, burdened by chronic debilitating symptoms?

            Health care workers stretched beyond breaking point, traumatised by death on scale they have never previously witnessed, with little ability to do anything but minister and hope they survive?

            What will the long term effects on those health workers? How many will be suffering from PTSD symptoms?

            This is what they’re experiencing in many parts of Europe and the USA.

            I read the IPA report. It is high on assertions but light on detail on which those assertions are based.

            There are some decent points about overly aggressive policies on low risk outdoor activities, but they undermine it with some of their OTT rhetoric:

            “Elimination is not a strategy, but indulgent utopian theorising by a small group of elites who are divorced from the lived experience of mainstream Australians.
            To date, elimination has only succeeded in one country which is Taiwan.
            Simply put, a goal of zero cases means zero jobs, zero freedom, and zero hope.”

            To their credit they do propose a staged series of control levels but I’m skeptical they are a long term solution. They are complex, so difficult to communicate, and the thresholds when the highest control levels cut in are at a level where it risks out of control spread. It sounds great in theory, but in practice controlling the virus once it has started spreading widely can be very difficult.

      • Chris Lloyd says:

        I cannot agree in context Paul. The issues you cite a mainly independent of Covid. Oz is in good shape regarding its response to Covid. Is massive borrowing really a problem – compared to other countries. Why can’t the reserve bank just print money until inflation becomes a problem. The unsustainable reliance on educated immigrants and the immigration/development ponzi scheme (I have read you Game of Mates book) are structural issues that Covid might force us to confront. The unsustainable relationship with China was always going to come unstuck but has again been brought into the light by recent events.

        I do not agree that we will accept authoritarian control in the way you imply. There was plenty of discomfort about Dan Andrews actions and tone but, ultimately, it was accepted as a once off necessary exceedance of powers. You might be right that this has set a precedent but I will be out there protesting if it seems to be turning out that way.

        Surely you would have to say that if a vaccine appears soon then, since we lucky enough to get the virus under control early unlike Europe, that it has turned out well for us. of course, if a vaccine did not appear then it would be a different story.

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        Just what data on mental health. Certainly depression is not part of it.

        Mind you mental health problems would probably skyrocket under herd immunity as people desperately try to avoid the virus but are unsuccessful.

        Funny how most the problems you point to would be worst under your sceanrio

    • oh, and to be clear, many of the scenarios above were discussed more than 18 months ago (https://clubtroppo.com.au/2019/04/30/six-tough-institutional-challenges-this-century/). So you not looking at scenarios constructed from scratch in a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic, but more issues I have been writing about a long time combined with the current situation.

    • Marilyn Shepherd says:

      You are kidding, all the destruction and control over nothing, all over Australia the ignorant premiers are led by the goosestepping paranoid CHO’s enjoying their power and governments who think they can spy on us all – in the name of a fake virus

  3. John Goss says:

    Glad that you were able to escape gloomy London Paul.
    I agree Australia faces challenges. It is hard to predict how long the world recession will be, and what impact that will have on Australia. But the response of governments to the recession so far has been very good. The cutting off of the imports of human capital would be a major problem if it continued. But in the uncertain world of 2021 to 2022, Australia I think will be seen as a safe haven. I expect also we will get substantial migration from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    It is hard to know how serious China will be with its trade sanctions. It is not in their self interest to go too far with their punishment. But it is hard to know what their motivation is in all this and what they are trying to achieve, so unquestionably our trade with China is a major risk.
    The possibility of greater authoritarian controls is also a major risk. So far there has not been major change but we will need to be vigilant to avoid greater authoritarianism. The Murdoch right wing disinformation system continues to strengthen, and while there is some quite good sprouting of alternative information sources eg ‘The Conversation’ there is also the worrying increase in the left suppressing opposing view points in their information bubbles.

    I would be interested to see any data you have on the health of Australians getting worse in this period. The household surveys picked up a big increase in ‘anxiety’ during the shutdowns but that is now almost back to normal levels. Naturally the mental health professionals are trying to beat up any increase in mental illness/symptoms they can find, but as far as far as I can see, overall health has improved.

    So overall I think we are dealing well with this crisis. We will have to see how we deal with the emerging and continuing risks, but so far so good.

    • Chris Lloyd says:

      The Conversation is not an alternative news source. It is a uniform political diatribe somewhere to the left of the Guardian. No deviance from the party line is allowed. I should know. My last three articles were rejected and they have now banned me from commenting on the site. Nothing I ever posted was abusive or hateful.

      Their stuff on real science (i.e. not social science) and medical stuff is usually OK though.

      • Chris the conversation is a closed shop, virtually the only people who can publish on it , on anything ,are those who have appropriate academic qualifications. (Fine for areas such as medico related. ) However when it comes to the Arts in particular, it’s truly weird.

        For example despite exhibiting successfully for about forty years and having major works in most of our major collections etc, I have no academic credentials and therefore would not even try to get them to publish anything by myself.
        And very few if any of the people who I regard as having a good feel for and deep knowledge of art would be eligible to publish on the Conversation either.

      • John Goss says:

        ‘The conversation’ certainly has its blinkers on in certain areas but it includes a wider range of views than ‘The Guardian’. For example Gigi Foster has been published on COVID.

        • John I agree its wider than the Guardian or the Oz. And it does have its good parts. None the less it is essentially a closed shop-door if your not ‘qualified’.

          • John Goss says:

            The requirement to be qualified is certainly a limitation of ‘The conversation’. It is also part of the quality control. And it is not all that hard to get an adjunct position at a University if one is well-respected in one’s field.

            The requirement to be qualified is also an important incentive for academics to publish in ‘The conversation’. A publication in a forum where qualifications are required means that publication counts more towards the KPIs that academics are required to comply with. The performance assessment that academics are forced to engage in has many undesirable effects, but academics have to play that game.

    • paul frijters says:

      Hi John,

      the data I had in mind on the mental health claim for Australia is in an ANU working paper.

      On the slide towards authoritarianism, this has actually gone on for a long time in Australia. Its just gotten a big jolt extra, but simply think of the politicisation of the public service, the dismantling of the investigative institutions, the big increase in the powers and scope of the security services. All that has happened without much push-back, so I see it as a statement of fact that Australians do not care about this. The expansion of the things governments can do due to self-declared health emergencies is just another big step.

      The issue of migration is more important than I first realised. Australia used to get 50-100 billion of human capital and physical wealth walking in for free via that program. Per year. You dont easily replace that, its a big ongoing loss. Now, if you get the South Koreans and Hong Kong then that would make a big difference. And the stop to that program is entirely policy. Australia didnt have to close its borders, it was a decision.

      The issue of debt is twofold. One is that it means government services have to be scaled back at some point, which will cost lives and wellbeing. I have calculated how much already in previous posts, but it is vast multiples of the life-years that could potentially have been saved. People are simply not aware that things like the ‘deaths of despair’ after the GFC were largely preventable with better government services (or indeed, the 3 years less life expectancy in the US rather than Europe, a difference easily 100 times as bad as the entire death toll of covid). Aidan above seems simply not to recognise how small the covid death toll is in the final tally when one looks at the proper metric (happy/healthy lives lost).
      The second point about debt is that money printing can, if sustained too long, lead to run-away inflation which is also devastating.

      I find your insistence that Australia has done well indicative. By what absolute measure that you would have agreed with 10 years ago or 10 years from now, would you count that to be the case? Only by adopting a very time-specific measure that includes very little of Australia’s overall wellbeing (namely covid-cases now) has Australia done well. A more proper accounting tells you it has done horribly. Unfortunately.

      • Chris Lloyd says:

        “I find your insistence that Australia has done well indicative.” I mean (a) compared to not having the lockdown as in Sweden which would have meant more infections than in Sweden because we do not distance the same way and (b) assuming that the vaccine is effective and arrives soon.

        Very early on, I was strongly advocating a more targeted lockdown. Everybody over 70 not allowed out. Everybody 50-70 lighter restrictions. People under 50, nothing to fear at all. Postcode lockdowns with residential proof required at all stores etc. I think this would have been better than either extremes.

        “A more proper accounting tells you it has done horribly.” Compared to?

      • Chris Lloyd says:

        “The second point about debt is that money printing can, if sustained too long, lead to run-away inflation which is also devastating.” We do not seem to be anywhere near at the moment. Or can the inflationary effect be latent and delayed?

        I do not understand monetary theory at all Paul. Indeed, I simply do not see why anybody has to ever pay this money back. What (apart from current legal restrictions) can the RBA not simply create the money and give it to treasury?

  4. KT2 says:

    Ultima Ratio Regum^1.

    Anyone notice how detailed the 3rd doomsday scenario is. Nic Gruen, please may we have a thread where and “issues you [PF] cite a mainly independent of Covid” as said you Chris Lloyd, are expounded. Minor pedantry Chris- zero citations. As PF stated it is only a scenario and “”because constructing a future history of today forces one to detach from current concerns and nominate long-term forces that might come to the fore.” So recomending my suggestion. Thanks PF.

    Nominees of “issues you [PF] cite a mainly independent of Covid” from Paul’s own “constructing a future history”.
    ● Fremdkörper ideology around the world
    Fremdkörper = 4 letter N word. No dog whistles at club troppo?

    ● demise of the international system of migration and travel 
    ● The impoverishment
    ● deteriorating health of the populations  
    ● collapse in the birth rate in Western countries
    ● large-scale destruction of the independent middle-classes,
    ● instigation of the surveillance state [ rofl – covid wot did it]

    ● “When Western societies woke up to the enormity of the destruction, internationalism was blamed and ultra-nationalist groups fought on the streets with the internationalist activists of black-lives-matter, extinction-rebellion, and others.” [ yes – the whole para]
    ● increased economic desperation of large sections of the population  [jobkeeper, JG, UBI???]
    ● means of communication were increasingly sabotaged, with city-wide internet blackouts increasingly common in many countries.” Two word rebuttal… Elon’s satellites.
    [I saw the damned things and they ARE a blight on the sky – but we will have several ‘skynets’]
    ● inability of the internationalist to gather because of the travel bans and international migration stops. [ see above – 2g, 3g, 5g, 5g, US, Chinese, private comms]

    ● “obsessed with the low birth rate”
    ONE word rebuttal – WOMEN!

    ● “bureaucracies switched sides and started to censor ‘foreign divisive and anti-family content’ on social media”

    OH, belt & road prevailed. Was that before during or after covid Paul?

    ● “Without a ‘national certificate’ one could not have jobs or access social services in many countries”. See above.

    ● “The ultra-nationalist movement counted many high-profile homosexuals, ethnic minorities, and religious minorities.”. Paul Fritjers blanket strikes again. WHY do you lump these 3 together AND ‘high profile” AND ethnicity??? Cuban Americans hate the C & S word. Second generation Latinos dont even know what you arensaying Paul. Your scenarios IS FOR A FOUR TERM TRUMP and a 16 YEAR PANDEMIC.

    Any statisticians willing to put a probability on 4 term trump + 16 yr pandemic?

    ● “Re-education camps were set up for the ‘enemy within’, camps in which eventually millions perished”. What Paul – the WHOLE WORLD lost it’s mind? You are becoming the Hiedegger of Covid. 

    ● “High profile trials of crimes against humanity were instigated for the leaders of those scientific and media institutions held most responsible for the Great Panic.” You be ok Paul. Nick, conrad, trampis and I may not. Three word rebuttal for areas where the WHOLE of the popn hasn’t lost their mind – Truth & RECONCILLIATION. We donwar crime admission in that timeframe. A truth & reconcilliation shouldn’t be too hard to get up in 4 trump terms?

    ● IRONY! – We already have an aid and ABETZ so again, you bell your own cat as we DONT need covid for this “even if they had lived there more than 150 years, were forced to swear allegiance to ‘national values‘ and denounce the Chinese Communist Party”. 7.5 generations and ‘living here’ is meaningless. Don’t you mean like Minority Report? An octopussy like robot will scan our eyes? Or Fifth Element – we have a saviour in hiding so the NON Fremdkörper aliens [Ha! Never thought Id write that] will save us

    ● “presidency after the fourth Trump term,” Oh Paul. You missed the civil war after term 3 was announced! You talk of lockdown fatigue yet fail to input such trump fatigue into you doomsday sci-fi fiction plot.

    ● “a ban on any executive job being done by someone with less than 2 confirmed children” – WOMEN!

    ● “a population explosion as education systems crumbled,” cunning reversal of other points in Paul’s mind to trick us – all.

    ● “poorly border-patrolled countries like Turkey, Iran, the Caucuses, and elsewhere”. Oops – Russia and Australia,  as arms sales was all that was keeping them afloat GAVE such countries enough weaponry to stave off US, China and Russia AND NATO. IT WAS CALLED AN ATOMIC WEAPON! [my fave is the weapon called “Reason” in Snow Crash by Steaphenson. Paul, you’ll have to do better than this for your scifi book advance – too many plot holes. Via wikip… ^1. “Reason is a railgun in a rotary cannon configuration which fires depleted uranium flechettes. It is mounted to a large, wheeled ammunition box and is equipped with a harness for user comfort, a nuclear battery pack, and a water-cooled heat exchanger. The weapon, created by Ng, was still in beta testing, and suffers a software crash during a battle, resulting in the death of its user. Hiro is later able to apply a firmware update, and uses it until its ammunition supply is depleted. It bears, in inscription on its nameplate, the Latin phrase Ultima Ratio Regum, “the last argument of kings”.^1.]

    ● “Historians disagree on whether the excess death toll of 500 million that eventuated in the 2020-2040 period should be entirely or only fractionally attributed to the Great Panic.” Barring the values (geddit) this paragraph may be the only correct one.

    Such a thread will do more to cure the covid club pony of this virus of “constructing a future history” fictions of Paul’s fears and opinions. In my HUMBLE opinion.

    • paul frijters says:

      seems your main critique is of the kind “it hasn’t happened yet, so how do you know?”. Why dont you add your own alternative?

  5. KT2 says:

    Anyone notice how detailed the 3rd doomsday scenario is? And 9 comments and nobody has called out Fremdkörper ideology??? NG? 

    Paul Fritjers says, “an echo of the Fremdkörper ideology”! No other word barring the [4 letter] ‘N’ word would be as polarising or unwarranted to further PF’s position and gbdeclaration. Nor worse for the standing of “club NOT Fremdkörper ideology”.

    Paul, …” … according to Faye, Fremdkörper was a term that belonged to Nazi vocabulary, and not to classical German.”…

    PF as usual you use every linguistic /emotional / polarising trick in the book to both dismiss and haughtily deny and pontificiate to chilling effect about – others. And promote your ‘world’.

    I find this para particularly distasteful… and if others here don’t rail against “Fremdkörper ideology” & the ‘great panic’, your ommission will show something is wrong at club pony. ..

    “The ideology of the Great Panic was an echo of the Fremdkörper ideology of national socialism of the 1930s: an ideology in which the country was seen as an organism that could only function if the ‘elements alien to it’ were excised.”

    Please detail, with citations or original research, how you can possibly justify – “Fremdkörper ideology” Paul – which we all need to note is gt barrington in reverse. Just because you said it doesn’t make it so. PF in future scenario replies “just scenarios’ – see I can make stuff up (s) too.

    The above phrase “as an organism that could only function if the ‘elements alien to it’ were excised” is EQUALLY A VALID DESCRIPTION of YOUR lock up granny scenarios.

    Nick Gruen and others need to call you out on this. Conrad & Trampis (you all seem to know who conrad & trapis are) your replies will have to be at a level above previous, as you now have – cunningly –  a three hole set up. 

    In one you get to choose this strawman ” Fremdkörper ideology”. 

    In the 2nd NO ONE DIES! ROFL! From ” Fremdkörper ideology” to heaven in a few words. Wow. 

    And of course PF throws in “Though there was much criticism at the time by out-of-touch scientists”. Again just reverse that phrase for PF’s prior positions. And a great rhetoricical maneuver. And a blanket statement.

    PF: “Increasingly draconian and destructive policies were rolled out in the 2020s by governments eager to hold on to the power they had amassed.” – in my opinion. Humble, eh.

    Yet you forgot this paragraph Paul –
    … and in 2022 such was the goodwill in the community after eliminating the virus, from young and old alike, mass protests saw the repeal of many of the restrictive policies and power reversed, thankfully including delibrative democracy as per Nick Gruen’s pleas for citizen democracy, leading to a better compact in future between governments and the public.”

    And Chris Lloyd says above …”but I will be out there protesting if it seems to be turning out that way.”. Me too. I’ll accept draconian once in a hundred years for a time, against a backdrop of a pandemic. 

    Binary game theory. On to the heart of darkness – ooohhhhh.

    PF says “H3: The Dark Path of the Great Panic
    “The Great Panic of early 2020 cemented the Fremdkörper ideology around the world and lead to the demise of the international system of migration and travel that had ballooned in the decades before.”. No citations needed in fiction. 

    “The impoverishment and deteriorating health of the populations that followed was aggravated by a collapse in the birth rate in Western countries,” Huh? Effect size please. Collapse? Oh, 400 yts before Japan is populationless. Hmmmm…. about 20 generations to sort out. 

    “the large-scale destruction of the independent middle-classes,” oops neoliberalism, negative int rates leading to – oops – no  mention of action to amelliorate this? Or only in your preferred scenario? All pandemic and no government policy? Chris Lloyd again “The issues you cite a mainly independent of Covid”. I am not an economics prof yet ‘mailnly independent of covid’ is what I’ve been thinking all along. Suicide rate in qld down – probably free money but jobkeeper seeker will be wound down soon. How will you disentangle Paul, your covid woe is me suicides from woe is me I am now a pauper – in particular women?

    And then you bell yourself re the “issues you cite a mainly independent of Covid” – “So you not looking at scenarios constructed from scratch in a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic, but more issues I have been writing about a long time combined with the current situation.”…

    … and “though many countries eventually decided they were unconstitutional and illiberal,”. Chris Lloyd and I were vigilant on this. And you seem to say here that countries with liberal democracies will return to less draconiam measures and many stay the same, some worse. Sounds like geoploitics before and after covid. And against your own statements.

    If we had a Pmurt – a reverse Trump – we would just sign executive orders to mitigate all the above effects. And say “we valued all life above a 6-20% gdp hit suppirting everyone theough the process”.

    PF…”and the instigation of the surveillance state. These consequences combined to create existential panic in the populations of the West.”. Survallience state / capitalism??? Yes Paul, you can blame anything on anything in fiction. Or Covid. Hadn’t heard of biased AI? A individual allowed to downliad 300m faces? Before covid?

    I’ve been bothered by the surveillance state waaaaayyyy before covid. They’ll come for you before me Paul, Nick etc. Covid just shuffled the list a bit. If Trump was shuffling Nick would come up to the top and you Paul would be invited to the Trump House – during his 4th term. Hiediggger again.

    As some philosopher said ‘Most Paul Fritjers couldn’t be alone with themselves in a room’ as in you can’t wait a year or 2 in 100 to mitigate against the biggest cull of sick & old, in the history of the world. This para is written in Paul Fritjer’s polar-opposite-put-as many-negative-triggers-in-as-possible-tone-and-all-positives-left-for-my-preferred-scenario style. Forgive me.

    All of the above is able to be written and prosecuted in reverse.

    Paul, you’ve done everything now from economics to story telling straw. Your prognostications are as damaging to ‘others’ as you think the others is to ‘your’ scenario. Niether of which solves for a better world.

    The whole of humanity cut down to 3 scenarios, one a deathless zone of utopia. Oh, I might have mixed up which one.

    Marks for above: in philosophy you received a b+. In economics a fail. Division Indcing – high dustinction.

    PF said “Do add your own scenario in the comment section.”
    Here is another. Not mine tho. But why bring a knife when you can have reason? Go on… drag this into your “Fremdkörper ideology” long word for the 4 letter n word gutter… or write scifi. I may like it then.
    “Socialist utopia 2050: what could life in Australia be like after the failure of capitalism?”

    The failure of capitalism to socialist utopia or the whole world loses its mind for 16 years?  Hmmmm….

    • paul frijters says:

      I should thank you for these first-round reflections, but I encourage you to have a second look and do second-round reflections. That could lead to important discussions like “why do you think ultra-nationalism would not pick on ethnicities or sexuality?” or “under what kind of (dark) circumstances would the world in 2050 still look back on 2020 with the blinkered triumphalism of scenario 2?”.

      The prediction in the main scenario 1 of immunity passports for travel already seems prescient when you look at the Qantas announcement today demanding pretty much exactly that. https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/health-safety/alan-joyce-slammed-over-covid-vaccination-rule-for-qantas-flights/news-story/aa42d7858c7615511a73e4def7505a15

      and the idea that the covid-mania will broaden to include other diseases might look a little less outlandish to you if you read newspaper stories like the following one on a single case of TB in Queensland being presented as another huge risk…

      etc. Its not hard to find suggestions of the developments I sketch in our daily news. Proves nothing, of course, but that’s not the point. I am sketching possibilities, not claiming anything.

      So as I said at the start of the post, none of these scenarios should be taken too seriously. Its about finding perspective. One learns most from such exercises, I have found, when one applies a liberal but light touch to each detail. One is trying to make out figures in the mist. At least I find I learn a lot from doing these exercises. Try it out. It’s harder than it looks. And a humbling thing to do because it forces one to acknowledge what one doesn’t know, and to see the narrow nature of what one thinks one does know. Indeed, presenting three different histories of the current time is a form of acknowledging the uncertainties.

  6. Conrad says:

    I have a fourth hypothesis, in that it will be largely forgotten — as has the Spanish flu, which was vastly worse than Covid. No doubt it has made some things worse, as noted by some other commentators, but they were basically here already and they are things we accept or even like, not things that people couldn’t change if they wanted to (e.g., inequality, surveillance, nationalism, etc.). Apart from this, global warming is clearly a worse problem and that will presumably occupy people more in 2050 and they will probably look back and think of us rather negatively for it. Thus, 2020 will be just another year where we didn’t make much effort to solve the problem, and we had a few other problems too, none of which were very serious or at least memorable compared to things that fill out history books like cities blown to bits.

    • paul frijters says:

      that is close to scenario 1 which calls it a blip. Like the Spanish flu.

    • Conrad
      I have no idea what the longterm impacts of the massive amount of debt and money printing will be , just as with long term zero-negative interest rates, there simply isn’t any historical precedents.
      However find it a bit hard to believe that it won’t have long term effects ‘all be forgotten in a year ‘ either.

    • Conrad on reflection you surely cannot be serious.
      The Spanish flu was the culmination of four years when nearly all of the lights went out.
      And that was not something that the world ‘got over’ quickly.
      What we are seeing is more like WW1 and the Spanish flu, combined.

      • Conrad says:

        The Spanish flu killed 50 million people and infected 500 million when the world’s population was only 1.5 billion. Covid has nothing on that — it must have been a nightmare.
        The fact no-one thinks about it much tells us something about the lack of human memory for important parts of history and why covid will be forgotten!

        I agree the long term debt is problem (even China just sold bonds with a negative yield and Greek bonds area almost at zero). This of course has been accumulating since before covid. My final end-game for that is that countries stop trading magical money with each other and so countries with trade-deficits will get into serious trouble. You can imagine large drops in living standards for highly militarized countries like the US might not be very pretty. But who knows how long it can drag on for. I suspect a very long time. A cold war with China might speed things up.

        • Conrad WW1 killed far less people yet it’s impacts were far more long reaching than that of Spanish flu, I.e. your analogy re death tolls and ‘Forgetting’ is not at all convincing

          • paul frijters says:

            I think Conrad was claiming that historians have written about Spanish flu as a kind of blip, not something with additional follow-on consequences or that lead to a transformation of society.

            That’s basically quite true. Many people had not heard of the spanish flu before 2020, which tells you it has been seen as a relatively inconsequential world event.

            There have been other events with large loss of life that history has all but forgotten. The Chinese “Great Leap Forward” is a disaster few know about. The Chinese famines in the 19th century are all but forgotten (and they were amongst the deadliest things ever to have happened to humanity in proportional terms, a whole order worse again than the Spanish flu).

            • Conrad says:

              One of the interesting ways I find that my knowledge is really incomplete is when you take the long lasting civilizations and look at their population over time. Here is a good graph of China from almost prehistory until about 1700. You see huge fluctuations in the population, which must correspond to interesting events and huge chunks of the population dieing out. This usually gets summarised as something like “dynasties falling, becoming more corrupt, and governance getting worse — apart from the occasional war”

              How little people care about these sorts of events is evident when you find the same data which is smoothed so you don’t see the population changing meaningfully — this implicitly changes the interpretation of history from the chaos it must have been to one where life generally got better.

  7. Paul

    When philosophy paints its grey in grey, one form of life has become old, and by means of grey it cannot be rejuvenated, but only known. The owl of Minerva takes its flight only when the shades of night are gathering.

    Its a tad premature for to do history . :-)
    However i suppose
    1)it could end-up being kind of similar to Salem , a small group of cranky very immature girls ( they were about 8 years old at the time , not 14 15 as often portrayed ) said things that triggered a runaway chain reaction at the end of which, those left still standing were in a state of numb disbelief.
    Or 2 (my personal pick) is the epoch is of the character of the Book of Job: where the almighty allows an ‘examiner-tester’ ( one the old meanings of devil) to test everything.
    I say that particularity because all through Jobs ordeal his ‘friends’ keep turning up and speculating : you must have done something to deserve all this ; try and think of what it was. The eventual answer coming out of the whirlwind of shining light was: it is not for you to comprehend creation, its for you to stand and stare at its beauty and terror .

  8. Paul i know you are a bomb chucker 😀however to my mind your piece and the responses of adian kt etc ether border ( or even cross the line) into the truly unhinged
    . Are you on a fishing trip?

    • paul frijters says:

      Hi John,

      no, not a fishing trip, more trying to put the present into perspective. Constructing artificial histories of this period (where you can see I have folded in predictions I made more than 18 months ago) is one way of discovering what matters about today, what developments might be accellerated and whether I now have to revise my earlier long-run projections (I basically dont. Covid might make some developments come about sooner and make them deadlier, but not fundamentally different).

      It is hence an ‘intellectual trick’ of sorts to gain understanding. I of course also put in a bit of humour, such as in Scenario 2 with the ‘covid causes unemployment’ stuff, but its a gallow humour (there really are economists our there who say such things. And you will get others who say things like I predict in the final paragraph: pure nonsense that passes for science because it sounds just learned enough to trick the uninitiated).

      It is also an invitation to others to join in with wide speculation in a manner that forces them to detach from their immediate concerns (which you can see Aidan finds almost impossible to do. I am talking about the rise of ultra-nationalism and he wants to talk case numbers and distraught nurses. It reveals the obsession of the current times).

      These things are not easy to construct, btw. One has to generate a lot of ideas as to how things might fit together, what the big underlying forces are, and how historical events might be presented by different ‘winners’ of history.

      • Paul where do you think all this money printing and the like will end up?

        • In the short run (a few months), one hardly notices the effects of money printing. The extra money shows up in asset prices (housing, stock markets) and a bit of capital flight, but whilst demand is suppressed and many businesses are simply not allowed to operate, one doesnt yet see it in consumer prices. That is largely a statistical artefact though: to be viable, lots of services would have to incfrease their prices given the extra costs they have to make in terms of social distancing and the like, but whilst they are not allowed to operate at all the consumer index people will just use last year’s prices for the index, or the prices for things that are still selling briskly (food). The impoverishment of much of the world also means in the short run that they are willing to sell cheaply. So in the short-run, one doesn’t notice the effect of the money printing.
          If it goes on for longer than that though we get into high inflation territory. Its then effectively a way of destroying savings. If it still goes on, the price system collapses and one gets primitivisation of the economy. The soviet economy crashed more than 50% in the early 90s, and Zimbabwe had a similar experience when its authorities kept printing money.
          In a place like Australia, with its low initial public debt, it takes a lot of money printing to get to the extreme impacts. I am watching the capital flows carefully though because capital flight is the weather vane.

  9. and right on cue, what is UNICEF’s latest report on the devastation of children’s lives in the developing world called? “Averting a lost COVID generation“.

  10. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    another nail in the coffin of Paul’s arguments.

  11. KT2 says:

    Another another nail in the coffin of Paul’s arguments.
    IZA DP No. 13742: Lives Saved during Economic Downturns: Evidence from Australia

    “We conclude that the economic recession is an unlikely mediator for pandemic-related deaths in Australia.”


    Paul, why did you use Fremdkörper ideology?

    • that article and paper are one of the more bizarre pieces of non-science to come out this year. The idea that poverty and unemployment are good for the nation’s health is, what shall we say, not a serious theory in the field of public health or health economics. Health experts have for a long time known that recessions dont have much short-run negative effect on health, but that doesnt mean there is no long-run relation between health and public spending financed by a large economy.

      A nail in a coffin indeed.

      • Paul curious does that paper show that ,the inverse applies, good times are ‘bad’ ? ,or does it show that it makes no difference, or what?

        • Conrad says:

          There’s vastly too much focus on suicide rates. In places like Australia, they basically don’t have strong correlations with anything apart from very major events like WWII, where they went down with males (https://www.aihw.gov.au/suicide-self-harm-monitoring/data/deaths-by-suicide-in-australia/suicide-deaths-over-time). They are also so small in number that even if they went up, the numbers would be tiny. If people think looking at excess death rates is the only thing that is meaningful, then you are never going to see anything in the Australian figures (the US figures with some particular groups are a somewhat different story).

          In terms of health, I’m with Paul that public spending matters. For example, long term spending on Australia’s Aboriginal population has clearly done wonders, no matter what the Liberal would like to say (just look up the figures). That being said, inequality is an even bigger factor after you are spending a reasonable amount, and given Covid will increase that, people should think of ways to fix it if they care.

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        wow what a reply. Very catallaxyian

    • “Paul, why did you use Fremdkörper ideology?”

      A Dutch professor of history (Kees van der Pijl) alerted me to that ideology. He is writing a book on how our societies are supposedly in the grips of it, though he sees it as a more unique ideology than I do (many purity ideologies have an element of this). I had to reflect on his arguments a while but decided he had a point. What clinched it was the fact that many people who have been diagnosed with covid feel ashamed about it, tainted. And I heard reports that over 50% of the French and German populations said they didnt want to be vaccinated, which fits in with this notion of not wanting to be tainted. So it fits the psychology and patterns of the reactions. It is a quite predictive way of seeing the current times. It explains why people are so averse to the idea of herd immunity by letting the young and healthy get the virus. Within the Fremdkorper ideology, it is like asking them to do something dirty, immoral.

  12. Chris Lloyd says:

    Kudos to Paul for the way he engages with everyone without being insulting, despite some provocation, for his evidence based arguments and for his refusal to just accept the wisdom of the mindless mob.

    I remain agnostic about whether or not he is humble. But he is a US trained economist after all… ;)

    On a personal note, I am getting irritated by how many notifications I am receiving on this thread. I am still getting paid to work! It reminds me of the famous Catallaxy banking thread, which may still be going afaik. I am sure Graeme Bird would never have let anyone else have the last word. So either Sinc killed it off, or it still lives….

    • Dugald says:

      Yes definitely.

    • thanks, though I am definitely not US trained. I have spent no more than a few weeks in the US in my whole life. I am very much the product of a classical central European education. Latin, Greek, world literature, history, lots of mathematics and statistics, the whole shebang.

      • KT2 says:

        Nail? Or lever?

        “Data from 45 countries show containing COVID vs saving the economy is a false dichotomy

        “… there has been a tendency to consider the problem as a trade-off between health and economic costs

        “Effects on GDP per capita
        Our first chart plots nations’ deaths per million from COVID-19 against the percentage change in per capita GDP during the second quarter of 2020.
        “If suppressing the virus, thereby leading to fewer deaths per million, resulted in worse national economic downturns, then the “slope” in figure 1 would be positive. But the opposite is true, with the overall correlation being -0.412.

        “The two outliers are China, in the upper-left corner, with a positive change in GDP per capita, and India at the bottom. China imposed successful hard lockdowns and containment procedures that meant economic effects were limited. India imposed an early hard lockdown but its measures since have been far less effective. Removing both from our data leaves a correlation of -0.464.

        • Chris Lloyd says:

          Obviously Paul will argue that the GDP measure excludes lots of Qaly and wellby measured stuff.

        • Dugald says:

          This correlation is meaningless.

          June qtr GDP basically reflects how much fiscal stimulus each government decided to apply to its own economy. This decision was entirely separate to how hard or soft their lockdowns and restrictions were.

          • Conrad says:

            At least from the figures, some of which are available here that seems rather unlikely. Otherwise Korea should be terrible shape and the US, UK, France, and Spain, terrific shape. Someone should make a graph of stimulus vs. GDP to confirm this — I bet it is negative. That is, countries generally spent more the worse Covid got in their countries (which hurt GDP).

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        didn’t help much on the study on masks

      • Chris Lloyd says:

        My mistake. I guess the whole profession has been influenced by the Chicago style of fearless, un apologetic argumentation, which I am very familiar with and don’t mind in the least. It’s a fresh change from Statistics conferences where there is often silence after a mediocre talk and then back stabbing at coffee time.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:


      • Feel that all of this is a tad premature, the UKs Sunak has today warned the economic emergency “has only just begun ” . And do much of what’s going on is really without any historical precedents to guide us.

  13. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Is Paul right.
    I ask one question.
    When would hospitals be overrun and doctors and nurses run off their feet?
    would be under a lockdown which is clearly finite to reduce the virus in the community or would be under Paul’s scenario of let it rip where the virus increases exponentially for perhaps a number of years.

  14. All I can say is that swedens deaths per capita are significantly less than those of the UK France Spain Belgium etc and Swedens economies downturn is less that half. And at no point were their hospitals overrun either.

    And if recessions are good or even simply harmless to wellbeing then WITF have we been worrying about for all these decades?

  15. a good and nasty example of the direction of travel in Europe. From my home country the Netherlands comes the revelation, in a court case that a lockdown sceptic group instigated against the use of the PCR tests as a diagnostic tool by the government, that the state plans monthly testing of the entire population. Those who fail the test (which a lot of people will do because of the false positives) would essentially be under house arrest for a minimum of 7 days, having to prove they have no symptoms and have another non-negative test. So guilty until proven innocent. Moreover, neither they nor their household members would be allowed any visitors, not even people known to be immune already.

    I would be speechless if it weren’t for the fact that this is actually one of the policies foreseen in Scenario 1 and 2 above. The bunker mentality of the Dutch government is very obvious: a determination to excise the virus from the population at all costs. Chilling. Particularly worrying now that the Oxford vaccine that the Dutch government bet on is proving very disappointing.

    • Paul the rate of false positives depends quite a lot on how it’s done, I gather in particular on how many cycles of ‘amplification’ are done and also how clean scrupulous the labs are. It’s pretty obvious that in Australia that false positives are very rare: NSW the other two days did something like 36,000 tests and found about 6 positives.

      Frankly I’d put it to you isn’t it more efficient effective and also less net punitive, to test the whole population and isolate the small number that test positive than effectively repeatedly put the whole population under house arrest?

      • paul frijters says:

        yes, normal prison is better than solitary confinement in prison. Both are bad though, and this whole normalisation of the idea that the state determines who can do what within and outside of their own homes on the basis of rolling tests … chilling how quickly such things start to seem benevolent ….

        • It makes me very uneasy. However if you think lockdowns are ok then the question becomes :
          for countries with large populations given the how very infectious it is and how impossible it is to actually lockdown all those who work in essential services plus those who live a bit outside the law makes locking down hard enough for long enough to really make a long term difference both impossible and very costly, surely testing next to everybody and isolating those who are infectious looks a better option?

          Is it a good thing to do ? is it worth transgressing so many principles , feel not.
          As I’ve said the whole idea of “elimination “ seems to me to be so wrong in so many ways both pragmatic and ethically .

    • Conrad says:

      The vaccine isn’t necessarily disappointing, it’s just some of the results are surprising. Even in the worst case, it’s only disappointing in comparison to the other vaccines that very recently have been partially reported and were surprisingly good. There is an article about it in the nature commentary section. To me it’s another case of wait and see — if it turns out the .5+1 dose is 90% effective it will be really good, especially because they are going to sell it very cheaply. I also doubt it will have the type of side-effects you see that exist in the newer vaccines. As noted by someone in the article, the current problem is also logistical and no doubt those made will be used even if only 70% effective (presumably + symptom reduction).

  16. John Goss says:

    As you point out Paul the health effects from recessions don’t normally show up in the short-term. So its long term unemployment which is the main driver of poor health rather than short term unemployment.
    But this means we don’t yet know what the health effect of this rather strange COVID induced recession will be.
    If we act effectively we can reduce unemployment fairly quickly and reduce the amount of long term unemployment that emerges, so reducing the health effect of the recession.
    On the other hand if our policy interventions with regard to reversing the recession are ineffective, then there is a very large health effect.
    I know this is like saying we won’t know the impact of the COVID control measures until the long run (!) plays out, but it is unfortunately true. We can make hypotheses based on past experience, but there is a lot of uncertainty. Its a good reason for some humility, and tolerance towards alternative hypotheses.

    • paul frijters says:

      not really, John. The mental health effect of unemployment is immediate and ongoing. And its big: about a 10% drop in wellbeing, as if you take away 3 days from someone’s life every month. Probably another 6 days a month are lost among family, friends, and colleagues.
      The physical health effects are less due to long-term unemployment (though that effect is definitely there), but much more from reduced public services. Both basic welfare, health services, and many other public services (police, quality roads, food safety, etc) have big physical and mental health benefits. That’s not a controversial statement, but the basis of the whole field of public health and health economics. There are tons of experiments showing it, from the introduction of GP services in Turkey to the Masschusets experiments on health insurance, to basic housing experiments in Mexico, etc. I should know, if I have taught this stuff. I have had this debate twice already on troppo when similar questions came up.

      The issue of uncertainty goes the other way: its the pro lockdown brigade who are running the experiments. They should have good evidence for what they are doing. And yet, to rationalise the lockdowns one has to set aside 50 years of epidemiology, much of health economics, much of labour economics, and much of wellbeing science. I find it amazing to see colleagues come up with arguments opposite to their training and what they said just 12 months ago.

      Humility would have meant no lockdowns at all. Its another perversion of these times that those arguing from the point of view of what was normal science and normal trade-off parameters 12 months ago are told to have humility when opposing experiments that were predicted to be damaging (I did so in March) and that so far have proven even more damaging than predicted.

  17. John Goss says:

    I think many on both sides have lacked humility. But humility shouldn’t mean you don’t act. Nor does it mean you don’t choose lockdowns as you are arguing Paul. Policy makers have had to act under extreme uncertainty. You can’t argue that someone like Steven Kennedy – Secretary of Treasury- isn’t aware of the tradeoffs being a nurse, and with a PhD on the relationship between unemployment and health.
    We should fiercely argue about whether the policy makers are making the right decisions, and whether something else should have been done, or should be done, but we should also accept that we won’t have a really good idea of which were the better decisions until we have a lot more information that only comes with time. That’s the humility we should have.

  18. On the other thread, Nick asked “Hi Paul, do you have any comments on Nassim Taleb’s attack on the Danish study?”

    Just for you, I had a look, and am not impressed. Let me say why, but first explain his basic argument in plain English in case his eloquence escapes you. His main claim is that there is a false positive rate with the anti-body tests and that this means one will find less of a true signal when comparing two populations (the mask-wearing group and the non-mask wearing group), simply because in both groups your tests will give you a certain number of false positives by accident even if no-one in either group actually has covid, a number which in expectation is the same in both groups. For instance, if there was a 2% false-positive rate then this would lead to the results in the paper (about 2% covid in both groups) whilst in that reality no-one got the virus at all and so there was nothing to find. His second claim is that the paper doesnt make enough noise about the fact that a second type of testing was done on the sample (PCR tests) where 5 in the none-mask group showed up positive and none in the mask group.
    In principle, there is a possibly valid point there that false positives make it harder to detect a signal in that it becomes more likely than otherwise that one fails to find a statistical difference when there is an actual difference, but it depends totally on how big the false-positive rate is (if its below 0.5% the basic result of the Danish study remains, which is that masks dont protect the wearer enough to show up in that sample). Nassim then does his usual trick of adding an appendix which just copy-pastes textbook statistical formulas on part of the phenomenon he is talking about (something that impresses many readers), but not actually the whole phenomenon.
    That’s his basic point. On the whole I am not impressed at all. Why not?

    1. Nassim is one-sided in his “false positive rate” argument. He makes it for the anti-body tests but then conveniently doesn’t make it for the PCR test where the same phenomenon is at play. He wants the authors to say the 5/0 in PCR tests are a significant difference despite the known false positive issue for the PCR test. He doesn’t supply the required copy-paste of standard statistical textbooks on that issue but presents a calculation that implicitly has it as non-existent. Very naughty, but something only a trained statistician would pick up on. Its especially naughty because the 0 positive PCR tests for the masked groups (on 2500 people) suggests extremely careful testing by those authors, implying that false-positives are unlikely to be an issue on any of their testing.

    2. He claims a false-positive rate on the anti-body tests but then doesn’t follow up to have a look at how large that issue actually is likely to have been. He hasn’t asked the authors, nor took a look at the details of the Danish study and related the particulars of their test regimes to what is known now in the literature on false-positives. So he is basically lazy and claiming “gotcha” without truly informing the reader of whether his point is relevant at all. Now, as with many tests, one can do them more carefully and cut down on the error-rates. More careful testing is more expensive and so is not done for mass-testing, but for a study of this type one expects very careful testing. A recent BMJ article says that the anti-body tests have high specifity (compare that to the PCR tests!) and that there is a lot of variation in the quality of tests done (meaning that the false positive rates can be cut down by being careful. In the example in that BMJ article, the false positive test for the combined samples are 1.2%, which suggests to me its much lower for better test regimes. The Danish study had the benefits of knowing how to avoid the mistakes leading to false positives, so one would think its a lot less than 0.5%, making Nassims point second-order). Now, I dont know with certainty what the false positive rate on the Danish version of their test is, but those authors should have a pretty good idea because its an obvious thing to worry about and their study is really careful, so you can just ask them, for instance, whether they ran placebo test (testing pure water or blood of a long time ago) on their instruments. Nassim didnt do any of this, or at least he is not reporting it. Lazy if you are going to go after authors of the only RCT on an important topic. And rather convenient given his stance.

    3. Nassim plays the one-sided game again when saying the Danish environment didn’t have certain kinds of mixing in pubs and such during this period since the pubs were closed for much of the period. That’s true, but also true for many places that have compulsory face masks, meaning that the Danish study does give you an answer on the usefulness of masks in circumstances that go beyond just Denmark that period. Nassim makes it seem as if having facemasks but closed pubs is something unusual that makes the study irrelevant, whilst that congruence is the situation right now in Greece, the UK, and many other countries. Again, very naughty. He does the same for other aspects of the Danish environment (like masks and home infections: he is claiming most infections are at home (which is not clearly true about that period at all, particularly not in Denmark with its low case numbers), but crucially neglects to mention that masks are not compulsory or normal at home almost anywhere in the world. People do not sit at home with masks on around each other, which is one of the reasons the whole mask thing is so secondary anyway). So Nassim is being very very naughty.

    Unfortunately, this behaviour is normal for Nassim in this period.

    At the start of the pandemic I saw a couple of videos by Nassim and noticed him playing these same tricks constantly. He for instance did it with the idea of the precautionary principle. He had impressive graphs and lots of maths, which were all extremely basic when you know these models, but impressive to the uninitiated for whom words like Gaussian-distrubutions are new: he claimed the precautionary principle meant one should presume the worst-case for how deadly the virus could be as a reason to support lock-downs, neglecting to say one should by the same token presume the worst-case for what the disruption to the economy and the social system could be of lockdowns (ie, world war III). Its pure smoke and mirrors to smuggle in the assumption that there is no huge risks to the disruption of the economic and social system by burying that assumption in mathematics that are impenetrable to the vast majority. Also, he does not apply his same bag of tricks to the scare-mongering pieces of ‘science’.

    After seeing him play his tricks a couple of times, I regard Nassim as a non-scientist with a large following of gullible people. I treat him like a weather vane for whether someone can spot whether they are being played or not: if someone can’t see through his constant technical trickery, I regard them a lay person who faces the difficulty of not knowing whom to trust. If they should be able to see through it but enthousiastically promote it anyway because they like the conclusion he always comes to, I regard them as morally corrupt.

    This latest missive doesnt make me change my mind on that initial assessment. Same trickery, same conclusion-lead approach, same followers.

    Nassim is not alone. A lot of supposed ‘scientists’ come up with this kind of stuff at a huge rate. I dont have time to read and debunk more than a trickle of it. In normal times, lots of scientists would go after Nassim for his trickery. Its very telling about the situation in the US that they don’t. One wonders if the mood there switches whether Nassim will try to hide his tracks. In Scenario 3 of the post above, he has a lot to worry about.

  19. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Thanks for going to the trouble Paul

    Without endorsing – or criticising – your conclusions about Taleb, I agree that you can only take on the occasional case and try to go into it in depth. I face the same ‘debunking function’ which is to say there’s a lot of nonsense out there, and one picks and chooses one’s cause. This was the piece of charlatanry I put the most effort into debunking in recent years. It was comical really, but sad also, because the main person responsible for it all is a decent fellow and probably thinks the dreck he’s served up is in a good cause. And whole university units have been dedicated to the same nonsense.

    I also thought doing a little debunking of courtier journalism was worth the much lower level of effort involved.

  20. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Can I suggest there are three very good statsblogs which are essential reading for anybody interested,
    They are:
    Thomas Lumley’s Statschat
    Andrew Gelman’s Statistical modelling etc
    Kaiser Fung;s Number rule your world

  21. paul frijters says:

    Pop quiz: who recently said

    “At a time when we need to be close to one another …. worldly forces would isolate us and have us believe that we are alone and dependent upon secular forces, which would make us slaves to their godless and murderous agenda…. Our nation is going through a crisis which threatens its very future as free and democratic. The worldwide spread of Marxist materialism, which has already brought destruction and death to the lives of so many …. now seems to seize the governing power over our nation”

    It was Cardinal Burke. At least HE recognises a competitor!

  22. paul frijters says:

    nice example of the knives coming out for the Black Lives Matter movement among the nationalist pro-family groups, as flagged in Scenario 3. Fringe-media now, but growing very rapidly. I fear things are not going to end well for the BLM crowd.


  23. Pingback: 7 Questions and hypotheses for 2021 | Club Troppo

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