Expected and Unexpected Winners in the West from the covid hysteria.

[micro-trigger alert: dark humour ahead]

The top prize for economic winners in the covid hysteria goes to the pharmaceutical companies who were quickest to jump on the covid-vaccine business. They are already selling billions of unproven vaccines that will now clearly arrive too late to have noticeable benefits anyway.[1]

Second prize goes to the covid-testing and protective-wear industry. Its been an amazing ride for them. Hundreds of millions of tests done by now, costing billions, feeding the hysteria that leads to ….. more testing. Such a self-enforcing drug habit is every coke-baron’s wet dream. Ka-ching! Continue reading

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Professor Foster’s cost-benefit analysis for the Victorian parliament.

[below the exact text (with different font/highlight) as Gigi Foster’s submission to the Victorian parliamentary library in mid-August here. To see her health-related notes, including on topics like non-linearities and Sweden, see here, and to see all documents of that inquiry, see here. I helped write some of this and largely agree. So this is the place you can raise objections and suggest additions.]

Cost-Benefit Analysis Executive Summary.

NOTE: The analysis presented here is based on only a partial accounting of the costs of lockdowns. A comprehensive cost-benefit analysis should factor in many additional costs, as detailed below (see “Other costs not tabulated explicitly here, but that should count in the government’s calculus”).

For all of Australia, the minimum cost of a month’s worth of wholesale lockdown is estimated at 110,495 QALYs. This includes:

83,333 QALYs lost due to reduced wellbeing in the immediate term [2 million QALYs lost per year divided by 12 (to recover QALYs lost per month) divided by 2 (to attribute only half of this reduction to lockdowns per se)]

25,812 QALYs lost due to reductions in economic activity directly attributable to government restrictions

600 QALYs lost due to increased suicides during lockdowns

750 QALYs lost in the form of foregone wages of children suffering disrupted schooling during lockdowns.

For all of Australia, the estimated benefit of locking down “ad infinitum” (not only per month) is 50,000 QALYs.

Hence the minimum cost *per six weeks* of wholesale lockdown is at least three times greater than the benefit in terms of Covid-related welfare that could potentially be saved *in total* by wholesale lockdown. For Victoria alone, simply multiply both costs and benefits by the fraction of the Australian population resident in Victoria.

Costs Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus crisis, Democracy, Economics and public policy, Education, Employment, Ethics, Health, Medical, Politics - national, Science, Social Policy | 158 Comments

Sparkling rapid chess

In the Age of COVID chess has been reinvented. In March (I think it was) the Candidates Tournament was dramatically ended a few rounds in and everyone wondered “what next”. Enter Magnus Carlsen entrepreneur. With his star power, he has been getting himself a piece of the action. He owns something like 11 percent of Chess 24 a website which provides information and live televised commentary on chess as it happens. It does so on a freemium model. It’s free unless you want to get some extra features one of which is having a chance to play Magnus and others among the Great and the Good of chess when they play ‘banter blitz’ which is fun if you like that kind of thing. They comment on the destruction as they beat patzers and damn good people – and occasionally get beaten spectacularly as here.

Then Magnus came up with the Magnus Carlsen Chess Tour which is a series of online tournaments among the best ten or so players in the world and some veterans for interest sake. The format is best of four ‘rapid’ games – in which each player gets 15 minutes plus 10 seconds per move. If that doesn’t produce a result there are two blitz games of 5 minutes and (I think) 3 seconds a move. And if that doesn’t work there’s a game of armageddon in which white gets five minutes and must win to win the exchange and black four and wins if they draw or win.

In any event, it’s been great fun for chess tragics. Magnus has been in each of these tourneys and they’ve been very exciting, rapid chess rewarding more aggressive games – though. The final has turned out to be between Magnus and American Hiruku Nakamura who’s in and out of the top ten in classical chess but is arguably better than Magnus at blitz and perhaps at rapid.

He’s been playing incredibly well getting Magnus into lines he’s uncomfortable in, getting ahead of him on time and putting huge pressure on. The score is 3-2 in a best of seven match, so the tourney will be settled with a Nakamura win tonight – or will go to a final ‘set’ if Magnus wins tonight.

Some of the games have been stunning such as this one in which Magnus gets Hikaru into serious trouble, and Hikaru finds a way to force Magnus to sacrifice a rook and then his queen to keep his chances alive – without doing so Hiruku’s mating threats start dominating. Amazing he could conjure such threats so quickly out of such a bad position. Anyway if you want to play any of this together with computer analysis of the positions, this link will do it for you. And here’s the game I spoke about.

Next game starts in 29 minutes!

Oops – pressed ‘save’ rather than ‘publish’. Here it is after the first game of the evening. Another rip snorter.

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Could lock-downs lead to a baby boom in several Western countries? If so, why?

For months now, demographers and other social scientists have been predicting a covid baby bust because marriages were postponed, pubs were closed, anxiety levels were up, measured fertility intentions were down, sexual activity went down (in some reports), and economic uncertainty was up.  The dominant story of lock downs and babies so far has been (also for Australia) that the genders cant find each other, can’t close the deal, and think its a bad idea to have children in these circumstances anyway. Historically also, recessions are bad for babies.

And yet, whilst cycling through the Netherlands during the family holidays, I was struck by a story in a regional newspaper that said the local mid-wives expected a baby boom. The article said they had many more inquiries and bookings. There is a similar (but somewhat inconclusive) report from New Zealand that the mid-wives are overbooked for some of the coming period.

Mid-wives are only part of the pregnancy story though and the reports for individual mid-wives prove very little. How about hospitals? Well, some hospitals in Switserland are also reporting an increase and, like in Australia, more pregnancy tests sold in shops. There was another such recent report from the National maternity ward in Ireland. So we have indicative reports from four countries of a possible baby boom, plus national data from at least two countries on strong increases in pregnancy tests. Not conclusive, but still. What could be going on and how would it affect the tally of the pros and cons of lock downs and social distancing? Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus crisis, Dance, Geeky Musings, Health, Life, Parenting, Philosophy, Science, Social, Social Policy, Society | 2 Comments

How change has changed: changemaking then and now

Below is a piece I published on the NESTA website in early 2016 which they took down in a web revamp. It’s still available on archive.org, but I thought I’d also publish it here for the record.

Quick Troppo Quiz: Are there as many strategic diagrams on the web as there are molecules in the universe?

There’s a fascinating world of difference between social change seeking a generation ago compared with today. Then, political projects – around equal rights for women, employees and minorities, and greater respect for our environment – were largely about public policy and wider cultural norms. Accompanying this, ‘theory’, political campaigning and raising awareness were at the heart of activism.

Today’s change-seeking is different. The ultimate concerns are similar. Most change-seeking shares left-of-centre values, but today a lot of the focus is directly on the doing of good. Typical forms of the new activism include social entrepreneurialism, personal commitment to such things as ‘ethical’ consumption and investment, and its corporate analogue – corporate social responsibility and/or ‘shared value’, transparency (of governments and corporations), hacktivism and open data.

There’s a lot to like about this new world where the prizes go, not to those with the loudest, angriest voices, but to those who’ve done the most. Instead of asking kids what their take on Marx is (and following that whether they’re Stalinists, Leninists, Trots or Maoists), and how many times they’ve been arrested, we ask: if you believe in these causes, what have you achieved for them? Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Economics and public policy, History, Philosophy, Political theory, Politics - international, Politics - national | 5 Comments

A snippet: when to use consultants

A stupid diagram which I have made small for obvious reasons.

The Mandarin asked me to provide a summary answer to this question:

What is the appropriate level of the use of consultants in the public service? Has it gone too far? Are consultants doing too much core/routine work or are they providing a vital service?

It’s a fair enough question, but rather too decontextualised for me to make much sense of it really – but I didn’t think the Mandarin wanted my musings on that, so I offered them what’s below the fold. My main point is really on contracting out in the first two paragraphs rather than consulting per se. Continue reading

Posted in Economics and public policy | 7 Comments

A short story by Herbert Simon

Models of My LifeI’ve been dipping into Herbert Simon’s autobiography, Models of my life. He’s from an interesting time in the intellectual history of economics and the social sciences. The major contributions of his professional life began in the 1950s and, though he was part of the mainstream, he was highly critical of that mainstream. Being in search himself of the means for scientifically formalising economic subject matter himself, I think he was far more reflective in its pursuit than many of the neoclassicals whose approach was very formulaic.

He is pretty scathing about neoclassical economics, but from an unusual angle. He’s a very rigorous thinker. You won’t find me using the word ‘rigorous’ often because of its ambiguity. Most people use the word to mean ‘with lots of maths’, whereas I use the word to mean “being careful in proceeding from the premise to the conclusion of an argument”. In Simon’s case it’s both, which distinguishes him from a lot of his neoclassical colleagues.

In any event, the major preoccupation of his professional life was decision making. That led him into economics, the psychology of decision making (and precisely in how one might build a ‘science’ of such a thing), and he then ventured into computing and artificial intelligence in the mid-1950s. This immensely enriched his thought. I’m realising how much he anticipates embodied cognition as it emerged in the late 1970s and has matured into its own field since a landmark paper by Clark and Chalmers in 1998. I’m writing a little more about that which I hope will appear here soon.

In any event, Simon’s best-known contribution to economists is his idea of ‘bounded rationality’ – of the necessity to make decisions with less knowledge and understanding than one would like. The book contains Simon’s only short story which I reproduce below. It riffs on one of Simon’s obsessions which was the labyrinth as metaphor for decision making in life. It won’t surprise anyone to know that he was most intrigued by Jorge Luis Borges writing on the same theme and the book also contains a transcript of their discussing their shared interest in the labyrinth as metaphor. Anyway, below the fold is a transcription of Simon’s short story. It’s quite intriguing. Continue reading

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