Monday Message Board (on Tuesday)

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

27 thoughts on “Monday Message Board (on Tuesday)

  1. Scott Morrison has rejected mandates for measures like vaccines and masking in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The rejection of mandates seemed to be couched in the vein of “personal responsibility, not mandates”. I supposed we can expect to see him opposed to all sorts of mandates (mandated behaviors) from now on. All speed limits on roads will be lifted, people won’t be required to obtain licenses to drive and they will be permitted to drive as drugged up and intoxicated as they like. While getting rid of mandates (the prescribed) maybe we should get rid of the proscribed as well. We don’t have to have laws against murder do we? Surely, it’s just a matter of “personal responsibility”?

    We have to ask why mandates in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic are special or exceptional, in that they are NOT to be used when mandates are so commonly used for multiple other facets of societal interactions, to keep people safe. Behind the emotive appeals to personal “freedoms”, the real reason is that there are to be no impediments to business. Anything that could save lives is NOT to be mandated IF at the same time it might place an impediment in the way of business or rather just in the way of certain businesses in the current set-up of business as usual.

    If I were an owner of a business about to undertake the manufacturing of certified N95 masks, I might reasonably wonder why, in a time of pandemic, I received no subsidies to compete against cheap, below-standard, unreliable imports while tourism (moving people around and accommodating them in fashions guaranteed to spread pandemic) did receive government subsidies. The answer can only be that established business (with its lobbying and donation powers) gets the inside track. Overall, the rationale is that the needs of (established) business must be prioritized over the needs of the bulk of the people.

    The heavy reliance on (non-mandated) vaccines to the near exclusion of other measures can be likened to a (subsidized) encouragement to wear seat belts while dropping all laws on (as I said earlier) speed limits, drivers’ licenses and driving drugged or intoxicated. The analogy is apt. People are encouraged to implement one form of self-protection only while careering around with multiple collisions imparting dangerous kinetic energy in one instance and dangerous virions in the other.

    The demand, essentially, that people die to keep non-essential businesses running is a clear case of capitalism unmasking itself for what it really is: a system of meticulously planned exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few. One of the things that has been lost is the proper concept of essential versus non-essential economic activities. In the attempt to keep capitalism running, non-essential and wasteful consumption perversely has become essential. While we destroy the climate we cannot stop the extravaganza of fossil fuel consumption. It would dry up too many income streams and put too many people out of work. While we suffer (or are about to suffer) a runaway pandemic explosion of cases, we cannot stop the extravaganzas of non-essential entertainment and self-indulgent personal consumptions. It would dry up too many income streams and put too many people out of work.

    Capitalism, as the corporate-oligarchic capitalism to which it naturally tends, is structurally incapable of implementing the changes necessary to save the world from climate change and to save the people from zoonotic pandemic. The proof is in the outcomes. The empirical evidence is incontrovertible. The climate is being destroyed and the pandemic is unstoppable, under capitalism.

  2. I suspect that, given another week of rising case numbers, people’s individual behaviour with respect to going out will be subdued, hitting the restaurants, cafes, and pubs, since they largely rely on customers. Sure, they can pivot to doing takeaway/delivery service, but that isn’t as profitable, and isn’t sustainable if you have rent, loans, food, and wages, to pay.

    If I am right about people curtailing going out to pubs, cafes, restaurants, and shops, then the let ‘er rip strategy goes from “merely” being rather immoral to also being economically reckless, for retaining some basic public health measures would have meant people were less fearful of potentially catching Covid (omicron variant), for their relative risk would have been significantly lessened, due to far fewer transmission events per unit time.

    Unfortunately, the on again, off again, nature of the public health measures that help, i.e. wearing masks, keeping a distance where possible, use of good ventilation and/or outdoor venues, minimising the size of gatherings, etc., just makes people cynical and less likely to adhere to those basic measures. QR codes and check-ins were not onerous on a business, since the mobile app does the work, and hell, only takes a few seconds for it to do the job. The pulling of the rug from out underneath the test/trace/quarantine system only goes to show that now it is all about reducing costs of public health measures, rather than about managing the pandemic.

    My guess is that once the Xmas/Boxing Day sales are over, the government(s) will be panicking over the sheer scale of the omicron wave they have committed us to having. The brutal question is whether the extra deaths are justified by getting a Boxing Day sale discount on a new telly or whatever.

  3. Don said “then the let ‘er rip strategy goes from “merely” being rather immoral to also being economically reckless” … “The pulling of the rug from out underneath the test/trace/quarantine system only goes to show that now it is all about reducing costs of public health measures, rather than about managing the pandemic”.

    The Federal Government has been doing less than statutory requirements in a pandemic, and now NSW is capitalising the gains by canabalising GP’s, and dumping State responsibilities.

    No warning. 1 week before Christmas.

    “How the hell are we supposed to manage this?’: GPs in NSW left scrambling after new Covid order

    “Exclusive: statewide directive sent a week before Christmas tells doctors they are now responsible for low-risk patients in the community

    “But those staff, and GPs, are exhausted, broken and were looking forward to trying to get a bit of a break. This additional work has come on top of ramping up boosters and managing vaccinations including for children.

    “We are all feeling the pinch of these increased Covid numbers and it’s not easy for anyone in health. But general practice has been thrown this at the last minute and we were not expecting it to come the week before Christmas.

    GP Jane Basden told Guardian Australia that there was an expectation that GPs now hold a telehealth consult on the day the Covid patient contacts their doctor. She said doctors felt Chant understood the pressures, even if they felt premier Dominic Perrottet did not.

    “What I am feeling – and what I’m hearing from many of my colleagues – is that this is a move Dr Kerry Chant and NSW health have virtually been forced into making as case numbers in NSW rise out of control,” she said.

    “We are so angry at the politicians who are ‘letting this rip’ – as if the only sign of a health system and health workers being under incredible strain is the number of ICU beds being filled.

    “Every one of the thousands of new Covid cases per day is a person who needs a long, same day appointment either with already stretched ‘Hospital In The Home’ services, or now with already stretched GP practices. It’s not like GPs have been twiddling our thumbs for the last 21 months. Just about every health and government announcement has ended with ‘talk to your GP’.

    “We’re all busting our guts to look after our communities…. and the current premier hasn’t been able to bring himself to just ensure masks are worn to slow the spread. All he – and now Morrison – can talk about is ‘personal responsibility‘.”

    And West & Central West NSW don’t have enough health staff

    “Covid could overwhelm ‘chronically understaffed’ health facilities in western NSW

    “Rising cases are putting strain on regional facilities where nurses are working more than 18 days of long hours straight”

  4. The difference between “Don” and “Dom” is one letter of the alphabet. Using the alphabet as an index for economic insights, I’d say lets move forward from m to n.

  5. The difference between Delta and Omicron is this:

    “UK hospitalizations spiking —now the highest in over 6 months. But mild you ask? Even if it’s 50% milder, but you double the cases infected… you’re at same hospitalization. What’s then the problem? Omicron doubles every 1.5 days! You wipe out a mild benefit in <2 days!" – Eric Feigl-Ding.

    "Let this sink in – with Omicron, we might be compressing 2 years worth of infections into just 3 months, says @AliHMokdad – an 8:1 time compression ratio! Anyone who doesn’t think hospitals will be overwhelmed is living in fantasy land." – Eric Feigl-Ding.

    Now for some political economy implications. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown in time compression fashion, just two years so far, how the political economy of capitalism is incapable of responding to existential crises in a rational, humane and sustainable manner. It has shown how it is incapable of changing when it needs to change. The slo-mo (slow motion) demonstration of this phenomenon has occurred with climate change. Over a time span of well nigh 50 years (1972 to 2022) we have received a demonstration of how capitalism refuses to respond, indeed how capitalism is structurally incapable of responding to climate change.

    The notion of structural incapacity ought to be clear. But in case it is not, we need an example. A submarine is incapable of flying. Its inability to fly is a function of its structural design which in turn was influenced by its design objectives. The notion that capitalism is structurally incapable of responding to climate change or global zoonotic pandemics is more difficult to conceive and more difficult to prove. It is, at least on the surface, contestable.

    However, empirical outcomes ought to count for something. Has capitalism yet done anything significant to slow or stop climate change? The answer is no. Has capitalism yet done anything significant to slow of stop the global COVID-19 pandemic? The answer is no. The net effect of capitalist responses has been to accelerate the pandemic and spread it to all corners of the globe except perhaps China. For every useful response (vaccines, where by the way the R&D was state funded, a statist response), one could number off several responses which spread the pandemic. This includes refusals to implement quarantine, ring-fencing, lock-downs, masking and free IP and vaccines for the third world. All these refusals arose out of the standard structures, practices and processes of capitalism. (Processes are structures in motion. Standardized practices and processes are also structural.)

    Why is capitalism structurally incapable of addressing existential, and as we see, public health threats? It has to do basically with the valuation of everything in money and the particular processes used to implement that valuation process. Money (and financial capital) measure everything in a fictitious dimension. The notion that unlike items can be aggregated usefully (in the long term) in a fictitious dimension is absurd. Believing in money valuations is as absurd as believing in sympathetic magic.

    To keep this post short, I will again appeal to the empirical outcomes. The objection can be raised, "Capitalism has worked". Yes, it has worked for 300 to 400 years about, depending on how one defines it. This is a puny timescale compared to most historical and earth processes. How has it worked? The short answer is inequitably and to the destruction of many peoples and now the biosphere. This fact is incontrovertible and inescapable. Captialism will soon be proved to not be a sustainable system. The biosphere it has destroyed will shortly destroy capitalism and all polities which adhere to that system. You cannot manage real stuff properly with notional measures.

    The capitalist response to COVID-19 has finally and fully demonstrated Marx's claim that everything would be reduced to the "cash nexus", the cold calculations of profit over all other values.

    "The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation." – Karl Marx.

    Marx was also a satirist. He was aware that feudal relations and even bucolic life were not idyllic for most but instead brutal, nasty and short for the serfs and rural laborers. But he is warning all classes that capitalism will tear asunder all their values and replace them with only one value. A case, if ever there was, of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Good values are thrown out with bad. And "naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation" will replace "exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions".

    I think Marx underestimated the human ability to create new illusions. The new illusions of caring for minorities and idiosyncratic identities (identity politics) are the new veils which bourgeois politics employs and throws over its actual practices. The cash nexus calculations and capitalization calculations at the heart of capitalism drive the current "infect the nation, infect the world" policies. Profits cannot be reduced near term for any other goal. It is a policy of social Darwinism, ageism and ableism. The weak must die. The Moloch of Capital must be fed.

  6. +1 Ernestine classic.
    “I’d say lets move forward from m to n.”

    One of my kids classmates has been, all year, compiling a list of notables quotes including the teacher. Not as dry as you as yet Ernestine, but they show promise.

  7. Ernestine: short and to the point. Ta.

    Today, omicron in Australia has clearly demonstrated what happens if you don’t have a solid suite of the simpler to implement non-pharmaceutical interventions mandated. An interesting preprint, i.e. Interplay between risk perception, behaviour, and
    COVID-19 spread
    (Dönges et al. 2021) I found this arvo models several scenarios, from let ‘er rip, through to stringent NPI, and takes into account some of the (media reporting as) feedback and the response at the individual level, based on data acquired from the lived experience in Germany. Among other things, they found reported ICU occupancy figures, once high enough, have a real impact on changing individual behaviour, as you might expect, with a saturation effect beyond a certain point. Same thing with overcoming vaccine hesitancy among some of the non/anti vax crowd.

    More interestingly, they found that too stringent NPI risk a rebound effect once the restrictions are relaxed, and that the rebound can overwhelm health resources; on the other hand, leaving it all to personal responsibility means that, due to the substantial delay between infection breach and later presentations at ICU, by the time the reported ICU occupancy figures are sufficient to cause individuals to alter their risk perception and to initiate personal behavioral changes, the proverbial horse has bolted.

    The take home message from the modelling is that there is a sweet spot between weak NPI and strong NPI measures, where humans have some personal sense of some control over their uncertain future, yet have a solid foundation of mandated NPI community protection that they’ll adapt to in time, i.e. it becomes second nature. Goldilocks scenario, and one that gives a government some capacity to add or subtract NPI as the pandemic rolls on. The experience of bang-bang control with NPIs is that it is not at all near optimal, for all the reasons above, and plenty more.

  8. Qld. Chief Health Officer John Gerrard’s plan for COVID-19 Omicron is a statewide “Measles Party”. Measles parties are a really bad idea for measles. Times that by 1,000 for COVID-19.

    “Not only is the spread of this virus inevitable, it is necessary. In order for us to go from the pandemic phase to an endemic phase, the virus has to be widespread. We all have to have immunity, you will all have to develop immunity and there’s two ways you can do that: by being vaccinated or getting infected.” – Qld. Chief Health Officer John Gerrard quoted by the ABC.

    These statements are astonishing and a complete abrogation of his responsibilities as a medical professional and Chief Health Officer. Let’s unpack these statements.

    1. The spread of the virus has been made inevitable by deliberate acts (and refusals to act) of public policy. There was nothing intrinsically inevitable about it. It was a set of policy choices by Australia’s governments and officials plus the foolish actions of an indulged section of the population.

    2. To claim that it is necessary to spread a dangerous disease to go from pandemic to endemic is to turn upside down all the precepts of public and preventative medicine developed from about 1800 onwards. What next? Are we going to apply these principles to Malaria, TB and so on?

    3. Yes, we all have to acquire immunity (realistically only partial immunity), if we can, and preferably by vaccination not by infection which Omicron evades better than it evades vaccination. The absolute or near absolute acquisition of immunity by all is impossible. There are many immune-compromised people in our Australian community. Co-morbidities which increase the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 number in the millions. Here are few examples: 1.2 million people with diabetes in Australia, an estimated 600,000 people with coronary heart diseasea and 1.7 million with biomedical signs of chronic kidney disease. Then there is the immunosenescne afflicting the elderly. Then there are the people who can’t be vaccinated at all for medical reasons or who develop no immunity after vaccination. The spread of the infection is NOT necessary. The suppression and eradication of COVID019 was and still is necessary.

    The new variant(s) are making natural immunity and vaccination immunity seriously leaky. Indeed, it is looking like COVID-19 might acquire extensive immunity evasion capabilities unless there are further vaccine and medicine developments. This is a watershed moment. Late-stage capitalism has given up on public and preventative medicine. It leaves vulnerable people to die. No! It is capitalism that must be ended. Otherwise, we have no hope.

  9. Decoding Neoliberal Management Speak, in this case from Ms D’Ath, Queensland Health Minister.

    1. “As we move into this new phase of managing COVID in the community…”

    Translation:- You won’t be able to get an ambulance or a hospital bed. Try to get a telehelp consultation from your overworked GP. You won’t be able to. Feel free to sip fluids in the stifling summer heat, curl up and hope for the best.

    2. “I want to acknowledge and thank everybody for the tremendous work throughout 2021, particularly of course our frontline health workers who have done such an extraordinary job of keeping us safe…”

    Translation:- No more staff and no pay rises. Feel free to risk your lives to make me and me m8 Anna look good. Remember, thanks is all the thanks you will get. When you are burnt out from long hours and long covid, don’t expect any help us, you unionized malingerers.”

  10. It looks like we will all contract Covid over the next year. If you are doubly vaccinated then get your booster shot and hope for the best. If you are not double vaccinated at this stage should immediately take action to to do so. The longer you can delay the inevitable infection the better the chance that you will be confronted with a health system that is not overtaxed. Avoid meetings with large numbers of people particularly in closed areas and mask up – these precautions cost you little.

    It isn’t “neoliberal capitalism” that is driving this outcome but the fact that we have vaccines and methods of treatment that were unavailable in early 2020. The virus is with us and will remain so – it is a matter of living with it given the improved health resources we have.

    I think the initial phase of ultra restrictive shutdowns made sense when we had no vaccines. Now a better strategy is for individuals to take care and to rely on vaccines to protect against serious illness.

    Its Xmas tomorrow and I will eat too much and take a swim in my pool. I am an oldie and feel I have lost a good deal of quality of life over the past two years. I am not prepared to go beyond modest personal care over yet another year. We want to get on with living and to accept what seem to be modest risks and costs of doing so. Yes there will be deaths but there will also be more deaths from cancer and other diseases. No to the pessimists who wish to condemn us to indefinite lockdowns.

  11. Harry,

    I agree with your first paragraph. It is a statement of the current reality and of necessary actions to safeguard oneself and others.

    Of course, I do consider it is neoliberal capitalism which has, by the decisions of our oligarchic and governing elites, unnecessarily spread this disease to nearly all corners of the globe and permitted it to explode to pandemic status. A different approach was possible, and without the authoritarianism of China.

    The advent of vaccines has changed matters less than people think in terms of fighting off the virus. The vaccines have changed people’s expectations and behaviors a lot and this has influenced the course of the pandemic and pandemic decisions because non-expert people think the vaccines are a silver bullet. They are not.The current vaccines have proven seriously “leaky” and will prove more so over time. The virus, by mutation and even recombination splicing, escapes vaccine immunity. This was predictable and predicted by the top virologists and epidemiologists as a high probability, at least for the mutation aspect.

    Indefinite lock-downs were (and are if they occur again) the result of a halfhearted reaction to the virus: the attempt to remain “half pregnant” when it comes to the virus. Either you let the virus completely ravage you and your society or you fight it to suppression and then eradication. There are no half-way houses. Now, like the rest of the world, except perhaps China, we have opted for complete “ravagement”.

    The current vaccines are proving inadequate to fight the virus on their own without other measures. This can go three ways. Either some newer vaccine technology proves to be THE silver bullet (and there are signs this might be possible) or we live with it ravaging us indefinitely (you and I won’t long survive this course) or we get serious and do what we should have done in the first place. We suppress and suppress and then eradicate. But it will be much harder now. Omicron is vastly more contagious than the ground zero “Wuhan” variant.

    I am always amazed when people think we don’t need to totally change our political economy when the current one is leading us to straight to total disaster. Do you really think our system is going to survive climate change and this pandemic combined? I am so often accused of being a pessimist. Heck, I am the craziest optimist of all. I am still hoping humanity will change their minds and this system. Pessimists are those who say this system is the best we can do and it’s unchangeable.

  12. Merry… all.
    I was caught in the riggin’ o’ quiggin
    It was sayin’ we shouldn’t be diggin’
    Cos the lesson was more
    As just one was a boor
    With opportunities galore
    And a lunch without any friggin’
    Best wishes & few consequences in 2022…

  13. Merry Xmas to all !

    ” to all ” -. Our master’s don’t seem too concerned about how ,over time , the pandemic will trim away those of lower market value .

  14. “I am an oldie and feel I have lost a good deal of quality of life over the past two years.”
    You haven’t caught the ‘rona. Not even once. Something economics redux about counting chickens before they hatch springs to mind. All the best to you and good luck with the status quo continuing Harry

  15. Got to love twitter!

    Over here on Prof Quiggins site we have Ikon continuously telling us we are all going to die of Covid ( and that of course Capitalism is the culprit ), endlessly quoting an ‘Eric Feigl Ding’ as his source of this revelation. I have been to this guys twitter feed and he sounds knowledgable, if a bit hysterical.

    So this morning I’m perusing our esteemed hosts twitter account where he retweets Steven Hamilton who is complaining about ATAGI and their delay in bringing forward booster shots. This is also reasonable ( I am of the opinion that governments rarely get much right ) so I click on his twitter timeline to see what else he has to say. Lo and behold after scrolling a bit I see he approvingly retweets Dan Davies telling everyone to block Eric Feigl Din as an unreliable source of info!

    Who to believe? Merry Xmas everyone!

  16. Ikonoclast: – “Omicron is vastly more contagious than the ground zero “Wuhan” variant.

    And the Delta variant. Matt (@crudeoilpeak) tweeted today (including a graph of rising COVID cases & hospitalisations, from Jul 5 to Dec 26):

    In yellow columns history of wrong decisions in the past. Mandatory mask wearing in shops re-introduced reluctantly by @Dom_Perrottet

    Will Premier Perrottet learn the power of the exponential function and act effectively before too many people suffer?

  17. The Australian Government’s Office of the Chief Economist published on 20 Dec 2021 their Resources and Energy Major Projects: 2021 Report.

    Table 1.2 is a summary of projects in the planning pipeline up to Oct 31, and includes:
    * 69 coal projects, and
    * 45 LNG, gas and petroleum projects.

    NSW coal projects:
    * Announced: 9 projects (valued AU$3.1 to 4.3+ billion)
    * Feasibility: 10 projects (valued AU$4.8 to 7.5+ billon)
    * Committed: 4 projects (valued AU$0.8 billion)
    * Completed: 1 project (valued AU$2.0 billion)

    Queensland coal projects:
    * Announced: 13 projects (valued AU$15.7 to 16.4+ billion)
    * Feasibility: 27 projects (valued AU$40 to 43 billion)
    * Committed: 4 projects (valued AU$3.0 billion)

    South Australia coal projects:
    * Announced: 1 project (valued AU$2.5 to 5.0 billion)

    So much for net-zero by 2050, eh? 🙄

  18. Geoff,

    If you looked at that report in a bit more detail the picture is actually much more positive. Coal and LNG projects are down 7% and 15% respectively. The reason given for this is:

    “There are 37 coal projects at the feasibility stage, but many of these have been delayed (Table 1.1). There is a growing preference for expansions of brownfield sites over new greenfield investments. The growing reluctance to commit to greenfield coal projects has been impacted by an expanding list of lenders/investors who have withdrawn from financing new thermal coal projects. Some pension and equity funds are also divesting from, or limiting their exposure to, thermal coal, limiting the range of investment financing options available to coal project developers.”

    Tony Seba has often said that most more recent fossil fuel projects will end up being stranded assets that will never make a return on their capital. Investors are increasingly realising this and are reluctant to invest. The market will kill off these projects before governments ever get their act together. People shouldn’t worry too much that governments aren’t doing enough to bring about the end of fossil fuels. It is happening at an exponential rate, mainly through market forces, and the next 10 years will see dramatic change.

    The other good news in the report is that ‘new energy’ projects are going gangbusters.

  19. The latest data from the Imperial College of London:

    “Overall, we find evidence of a reduction in the risk of hospitalisation for Omicron infections relative to
    Delta infections when averaging over all cases. The extent of reduction is sensitive to the inclusion criteria used for cases and hospitalisation, being in the range 20-25% when using any attendance at hospital as the endpoint, and 40-45% when using hospitalisation lasting 1 day or longer or hospitalisations with the ECDS discharge field recorded as “admitted” as the endpoint (Table 2). However, these reductions should be balanced against the much larger risk of infection with Omicron, due to reduction in protection acquired from both vaccination and natural infection.” – ‘Report 50: Hospitalisation risk for Omicron cases in England’ – 22 December 2021, Imperial College COVID-19 response team.

    As has been pointed out in multiple places, 2x more contagious combined combined with 2x less lethal is far worse for overall morbidity and death rates, especially for a continually mutating and re-infecting pathogen. Contagion is exponential. Lethality is linear. This makes it an open and shut case that Omicron is the most dangerous variant and stage of this pandemic yet. So why are we having this argument and taking seriously Joe Blow’s confabulated and minimizing position?

    Also, why are we taking seriously the attacks on Eric Feigl Ding’s reputation when he is reporting Imperial College of London’s data and has degrees in the relevant sciences? And when he has been vindicated in the majority of his dire predictions from the very outset of this pandemic? He’s been right far more often than the great majority of his detractors. The so-called alarmists on covid-19 (actually realists) have been proven right over and over again. The minimizers and denialists, like Joe Blow, have been proven wrong over and over again. Just like climate change.

  20. Some rather disjointed thoughts on John’s prediction angst.

    True predictions are the gold standard for science – that is, the test is unreliable, oversold and in good part a superstition. Einstein famously got the orbit of Mercury right. But the greatest work ever in theoretical biology, Darwin’s Origin of Species, did not SFIK make predictions; Copernican astronomy did not make them before the return of Halley’s comet in 1759, which he predicted in 1696. This was long after the heliocentric theory had won general acceptance from simplicity and elegance (Kepler and Newton).

    It’s not a simple story. Obviously we want doctors, engineers and lawyers to make predictions, based on expertise, about surgeries, bridges and lawsuits, otherwise they are no use to us. Many sciences like geology have specialised predictive corners (minerals, geothermal) derived from a generally non-predictive body of learning. Economics seems to fit this pattern. Short-run macroeconomic modelling is such a predictive corner. This is not John’s speciality, and SFIK he has not offered non-trivial predictions from his professional expertise.

    The two errors he cites, on self-driving vehicles and democratic institutions, were not made wearing his hat as professional economist, but the floppier sorting hat of public intellectual. The criteria here are a lot mushier. But I question whether predictive accuracy is what we primarily want from such writers. They are not stock or horse tipsters, who will in any case often be right from pure chance. What readers look for is not winning a bet but clear arguments based on evidence. It’s up to us to weigh these arguments against the competition and decide for ourselves.

    My stock tips for 2022:
    1. Omicron will be the final big covid wave.
    2. The energy transition will speed up as the finance people run for the exit from fossil fuels.
    3, At least one of Biden, Trump and Murdoch will not make it to the end of the year,
    See the difference? I don’t have defensible arguments. So even if I am right, it won’t say anything about my augury cred.

  21. I can only give my perspective. To me it seems science does much more than make predictions. It also explains observations by developing explanations of causative mechanisms. In explaining some of the “meta” mechanisms of speciation (natural selection) “On the Origin of Species” certainly, implicitly at least, predicted more speciation as an ongoing reality of this world. In turn, Darwin’s theory and Mendel’s work initiated the search for the micro mechanisms of both breeding true and mutating.

    My tips for 2022 and beyond:

    1. Omicron will not be the final big covid wave.
    2. The energy transition will speed up but fail to speed up enough to save the world from catastrophic climate change.
    3, Any dead reactionary leader will be easily replaced by the system so individual deaths are immaterial.

    I will give arguments for 1 and 2:

    1. The world has recorded about 250 million covid-19 cases thus far: a bit more but I am rounding numbers. I estimate the under-counting at 1/10th of the real numbers. Thus, about 2.5 billion people have probably caught covid-19 at least once: some twice or more. That leaves about 5 billion, very roughly to catch covid-19. In addition, it has proven possible to catch covid-19 multiple times, especially in the form of new mutated variants while immune escape and vaccine escape remain factors. These will remain factors for years yet, especially due to the slow rate of vaccines reaching the the third world plus the low levels of vaccination in parts of the first world. In addition booster protection against Omicron lasts only 10 weeks against symptomatic (and hence most likely) contagious infection.

    Covid-19 will circulate indefinitely and dangerously into the “longer-run” human future (20 years or more) unless a variant-proof vaccine is developed or unless it evolves into a very mild variant in less than 20 years. Both events are quite possible. Work has begun on variant-proof vaccines and they look theoretically and technically possible. Also, twenty years may be enough time for covid-19 to evolve to a very mild dominating variant but mutant outbreaks would still be possible just as with flus. A variant-proof vaccine looks our best bet. I don’t expect a variant-proof vaccine to be ready next year or to stop a new wave outbreak the year after that in the third world. The years 2024 or 2025 are probably the very earliest we could expect COVID-19 to be globally under control. I doubt it will happen even by then.

    2: The current system has already failed to take action in time. We are over the threshold already and new coal mines, oil wells and gas projects are still planned in Australia and all over the world. Fossil fuel use will continue to increase until at least 2025 and probably 2030. Why? Humans are near-termists. They have no feel for long runs.

  22. Joe Blow: – “If you looked at that report in a bit more detail the picture is actually much more positive.

    Per NOAA (updated Oct 7):

    Based on preliminary analysis, the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide in 2020 was 412.5 parts per million (ppm for short), setting a new record high amount despite the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the jump of 2.6 ppm over 2019 levels was the fifth-highest annual increase in NOAA’s 63-year record. Since 2000, the global atmospheric carbon dioxide amount has grown by 43.5 ppm, an increase of 12 percent.

    Carbon dioxide levels today are higher than at any point in at least the past 800,000 years. In fact, the last time the atmospheric CO₂ amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period, when temperature was 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) higher than today.

    There are enough greenhouse gases (GHGs) already in the atmosphere to likely drive the Earth System in the longer-term to equilibrate to +2 to +3 °C global mean temperature (relative to Holocene Epoch pre-industrial age). The Earth System will INEVITABLY overshoot the +1.5 °C global mean warming threshold, likely BEFORE 2030. On current emissions trajectory, the +2.0 °C global mean warming threshold is likely to be breached by the 2040s. See Breakthrough’s Climate Reality Check 2021.

    How is encouraging and approving more fossil fuel projects, that contribute to adding more GHGs into the atmosphere, that increases the risk further of civilisation collapse “more positive“, Joe?

    How is continuing to divert finances to more fossil fuel projects, whether they are ‘greenfield’ or ‘brownfield’, that could/should be better spent on GHG emissions reducing projects “more positive“, Joe?

    JB: – “People shouldn’t worry too much that governments aren’t doing enough to bring about the end of fossil fuels. It is happening at an exponential rate, mainly through market forces, and the next 10 years will see dramatic change.

    I’d suggest so-called “market forces” are now too slow for the actions required to avoid climate worst case. Only a ‘war-time’-like action is now likely to be effective, and that window of opportunity is also rapidly closing.

    We have to move rapidly, what we do over the next three to four years, I believe, is going to determine the future of humanity.” – Sir David King, former UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor

    The COVID crisis temporarily reduced GHG emissions in 2020, reportedly by 6.4%, but they are rising again. Data indicates atmospheric GHG concentrations continue to rise as if it is near business-as-usual.

  23. Well, well, well. Now we know what “personal responsibility,” and “living with covid” look like; long snaking lines of cars and/or people queued up, waiting for tests that mightn’t be available, and if done, mightn’t get processed, for days at a time. Woo hoo. Pubs and clubs and cafes closing and leaving staff with no income, voluntarily closing, because they have too many staff in isolation to be able to run their businesses. Big events that were booked out, having to cancel and to refund the tickets. How crushing this is, and while some of the big retail stores can exploit delivery services, small places that rely on human presence are unable to trade at a profit, if trade at all. The measure of the economic health needs to peer under the hood, in order to see the carnage among the smaller businesses and event managers, theatre, cinema, etc.

    Obviously there are many trade-offs in coordinating some kind of path through covid, and over time we’ll have adapted to some kind of routine that keeps the risks from covid as low as feasible, while allowing a reasonably stable economic environment. Politicians who went for the sugar rush of “Freedom Day” propaganda, essentially electioneering with their political group among the population, they really screwed us over. It didn’t have to be this way. There were alternative paths that wouldn’t have been so destabilising to business operations.

    The lost productivity, the collapsing financial situation of both businesses and the stood-down staff, the time wasted queuing for tests, of being in self-isolation, and the destruction of the arts sector, the loss of so many university staff, and the burn-out of medical professionals; none of this was inevitable; it was a calculated choice.

    As a final note, I see that there are some researchers who are optimistic that omicron will be a turning point for this pandemic, and they seem to think the virus will become more like the common cold viruses, in virulence and in the way it infects the host. The earlier variants caused a lot of harm through infecting multiple organs; if—big if—omicron tends only to infect the upper respiratory tract, then it’s long term impact on the victim might be negligible. At least, that’s the optimistic view. Previous variants should be warning enough that the evolution of this virus could go in any direction, becoming more virulent, or less virulent, more contagious, or less contagious, a lingerer, or a short infection and recovery. We know this thing can mutate a lot, for that’s how omicron and delta arose. I think the optimists are reading a bit too much into the time sequence, i.e. a seemingly less virulent variant coming to dominance. There are other diseases that have vanished from prominence, only to arise decades later, for reasons unknown. At this stage of the game, I reckon the most we can say is that we have the technology for producing effective vaccines for this virus and its variants. It might be a game of wack-a-mole though, as the Yanks would say. In the meanwhile, it would be rather helpful if the federal government showed some real leadership, and put in place stable restrictions that can slow the spread of SARS-Cov-2 variants, while allowing businesses to operate in some regular capacity. Perhaps some businesses will ultimately collapse, but most will survive in one shape or form, so long as they have clarity as to the operating environment. Bang-bang control is not optimal in this scenario.

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