Monday Message Board

Back again with another Monday Message Board.

Post comments on any topic. Civil discussion and no coarse language please. Side discussions and idees fixes to the sandpits, please. If you would like to receive my (hopefully) regular email news, please sign up using the following link You can also follow me on Twitter @JohnQuiggin, at my Facebook public page   and at my Economics in Two Lessons page

9 thoughts on “Monday Message Board

  1. Does the WHO need reform? Good question, but this Vox interview with an expert does not help much. IMHO the case that the organization has reached a Jean Monnet moment where the challenges require a step change to supranational delegated powers needs a lot more work.

    My impression is that the WHO does a good job considering. Funding needs to be more generous, and the balance shifted back to assessed budget contributions from voluntary contributions, which reflect the priorities of the individual donors not a collective judgement of need. I don’t see the argument that the multilateral model is broken for the WHO’s long-term programmes on prevention and capacity-building. At most it needs more muscle on epidemics: rights of access, duties to supply information, more field capacity in LDCs. Disaster funding could be pre-approved (with supplementary assessments) and spending procedures streamlined.

    I’m still unclear what more the WHO could have done in the early days of Covid-19. The data and advice it sent out to member states and public health professionals was good enough for Kerala, which does not even have a foreign service. It was admirably quick in disseminating test protocols. If WHO officials were too complimentary in public to China at the time, so what? It’s hard to imagine a sanctions mechanism for non-compliance that could work faster than fear.

  2. A Summertime scenic diversion:
    What are the characteristics of a good central committee member.
    1.) Being a good administrator. (perhaps logistician is a better word)
    2.) Being good at detecting lies
    3.) Being able to recognize other people’s talents and quieziness.
    4.) Capable of being devious when dealing with lairs But inspiring faith among others that you will be
    straight with them if they are straight with you.
    5.) Understands the difference between strategy and tactics and is a good strategic thinker
    6.) A degree in engineering, sociology, psycology, and history specializing in the history of philosophy.
    7.) Being good a ballroom dancing.
    7.) Being a good debator.
    8.) Knows the difference between realistic and unrealistic expectations.
    9.) Makes the best decision under the circumstances 100% of the time. (99%?)
    10.) Knows when to cut and run.

  3. Only Karl Friston can say this with a straight face… “To date our predictions have been accurate to within a day or two, so there is a predictive validity to our models that the conventional ones lack.”

    Covid-19 expert Karl Friston: ‘Germany may have more immunological “dark matter”’

    The neuroscientist who advises Independent Sage on Covid-19 discusses the predictive power of his mathematical modelling and the risk of a second wave

    Q. This is the first time the generative approach has been applied to a pandemic. Has it proved itself in other domains?
    A. These techniques have enjoyed enormous success ever since they moved out of physics. They’ve been running your iPhone and nuclear power stations for a long time. In my field, neurobiology, we call the approach dynamic causal modelling (DCM). We can’t see brain states directly, but we can infer them given brain imaging data. In fact, we have pushed that idea even further. We think the brain may be doing its own dynamic causal modelling, reducing its uncertainty about the causes of the data the senses feed to it. We call this the free energy principle. But whether you’re talking about a pandemic or a brain, the essential problem is the same – you’re trying to understand a complex system that changes over time. In that sense, I’m not doing anything new. The data is generated by Covid-19 patients rather than neurons, but otherwise it’s just another day at the office.

    Q. You say generative models are also more efficient than conventional ones. What do you mean?
    A. Epidemiologists currently tackle the inference problem by number-crunching on a huge scale, making use of high-performance computers. Imagine you want to simulate an outbreak in Scotland. Using conventional approaches, this would take you a day or longer with today’s computing resources. And that’s just to simulate one model or hypothesis – one set of parameters and one set of starting conditions. Using DCM, you can do the same thing in a minute. That allows you to score different hypotheses quickly and easily, and so to home in sooner on the best one.

    Any other advantages?
    Yes. …

    … rather to the fact that the average German is less likely to get infected and die than the average Brit. Why? There are various possible explanations, but one that looks increasingly likely is that Germany has more immunological “dark matter” – people who are impervious to infection, perhaps because they are geographically isolated or have some kind of natural resistance. This is like dark matter in the universe: we can’t see it, but we know it must be there to account for what we can see. 

    Are generative models the future of disease modelling?
    That’s a question for the epidemiologists – they’re the experts. But I would be very surprised if at least some part of the epidemiological community didn’t become more committed to this approach in future, given the impact that Feynman’s ideas have had in so many other disciplines.”

    Friston would appreciate Ikon’s call for science & physics in economics – “given the impact that Feynman’s ideas have had in so many other disciplines.”

  4. The government’s new HomeBuilder scheme offers $25k for home renovations but conditions apply. The conditions are so absurd that only relatively few households will qualify. Even that is not the real issue. I wonder why the government is bothering with such a stupid scheme. It is middle class welfare.

    The real absurdity is that you if you have money and property you get more free money! The poor and those in public housing get no assistance. It is absurd when the condition for getting a subsidy is that you must already have significant property plus a significant amount of spare money or other liquid assets. My wife and I could qualify for this stupid scheme if we so chose. However, it would involve absurdly overcapitalizing our house. We won’t apply of course. In any case, middle class people like us should never qualify for such subsidies.

    If the government wants to help the building industry, they should immediately upgrade the stock of public housing and build more.

  5. From the latest CoalWire:
    “Coal power generation in May across Germany, Spain, the UK and France fell by 57 per cent compared to 2019. [….] Great Britain’s power grid has operated for over 50 days without any coal generation.” (Great Britain is for once the correct term; Northern Ireland is part of a distinct all-Ireland grid).

    Anecdata, but strong anecdata as they confirm a known trend. I can’t find matching US data, but coal production January-May was 26% below 2019, with half the period pre-Covid). Weekly US coal production to May 30 was 34% below 2019, with no blip in sight on the chart.

    I haven’t seen reports of power cuts in these countries: unsurprising in a deep recession, with plenty of gas peaking capacity. But have we seen the last of the myth that coal baseload plants are essential for a reliable electricity supply?

  6. This reduction of coal use is good news for the long term. In the short to mid term we will see a spike in temperatures from the reduction of particulates in our atmosphere. This simply shows that we have run ourselves so close to the dangerous climate change tipping point that even pushing back crumbles the “edges” of the complex phenomenon and threatens to send us tumbling over the precipice anyway. It’s going to be a close run thing. I put it that to try to sound hopeful. I actually think we are more likely than not to go over the precipice.

  7. Ikon says “The real absurdity is that you if you have money and property you get more free money!”

  8. Would We Have Already Had a COVID-19 Vaccine Under Socialism?

    Debunking the myth that capitalism drives innovation.

    Perhaps one clue lies in Texas, where a potentially effective vaccine has been stalled since 2016. Dr. Peter Jay Hotez and his team at Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development created a potential vaccine for one deadly strain of coronavirus four years ago—which Hotez believes could be effective against the strain we face now—but the project stalled after the team struggled to secure funding for human trials. Even the looming crisis did not guarantee additional money. Commenting on the effort to resume development, Hotez told NBC News on March 5, “We’ve had some conversations with big pharma companies in recent weeks about our vaccine, and literally one said, ‘Well, we’re holding back to see if this thing comes back year after year.’ ” Under this logic, vaccines for recurring seasonal illnesses, like the flu, are the more attractive investment. Unlike rarer or less-understood diseases, they promise a client base that can be mined again and again.

    Without the likely economic benefit, it is difficult to say whether the Alliance for Open Media would have ever formed—and it is precisely because of this uncertainty that a more dramatic shift to a socialist economy is necessary to maximize new innovation. Those in power stand to benefit from sowing fear around socialism, but the rest of us would be better off in a society reorganized around democracy, equality, solidarity, autonomy and collective ownership.

    That shift would mean more publicly funded medical research and cheaper drugs reaching those in need faster. It would mean more fearless development, unimpeded by expensive shareholder lawsuits and patent disputes. It would mean life-saving drugs like Truvada being available for all, rather than all who can afford them, and widespread economic security through the kind of safety net that empowers anyone to explore their talents, rather than just the children of the welloff. It would mean labor rights that allow workers to shape their working conditions and turn workplaces into places where ideas can thrive. It would mean an expansion of the open-source philosophy to promote free knowledge and perspectives, with collective ownership of the discoveries fueled by collective investment. It would mean an unwavering commitment to the funding of public institutions and projects, without a constant eye toward financial return.

    And perhaps paramount in our minds in this moment: It would mean developing a vaccine against a disease as dangerous as COVID-19—before it could become a global pandemic.

  9. Well, China doesn’t have a vaccine yet… but then it isn’t socialist either.

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