Jeffrey Tucker We Were Wrong: So Sorry that We Ruined Your Life

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, is moving up in the betting odds for getting the Democratic presidential nomination, even though he is not running. The reason is that binge-watching newshounds have noticed something about his comportment during this crisis. He seems just slightly struggling to know what’s true. Sometimes he is even honest.

Consider this. On Thursday March 26, Cuomo dared question the orthodoxy that has wrecked countless businesses and lives. He revealed what actual experts are saying quietly all over the world but had yet not been discussed openly in the endless public-relations spin broadcast all day and night.

He said the following:

“If you rethought that or had time to analyze that public health strategy, I don’t know that you would say quarantine everyone. I don’t even know that that was the best public health policy. Young people then quarantined with older people was probably not the best public health strategy because the younger people could have been exposing the older people to an infection. “

Further:

“What we did was we closed everything down. That was our public health strategy. Just close everything, all businesses, old workers, young people, old people, short people, tall people. Every school closed, everything.”

It’s true that anyone following the unfolding fiasco and the gradually emerging data behind it knows that Cuomo is right. The response has not been modern and scientific. It has been medieval and mystical. The theory behind the policy has been nothing but a panicked cry of run and hide before the noxious gas gets you. Lacking reliable data – which is the fault of the CDC and FDA – we replaced knowledge with power.

In the end, this fiasco is an epistemic crisis. As Ed Yong has written in a beautifully detailed article for The Atlantic, “The testing fiasco was the original sin of America’s pandemic failure, the single flaw that undermined every other countermeasure.” Even the wide acceptance of social distancing as a norm, however much it helps curb the spread, presumes this absence of knowledge. Stay away from everyone as much as possible: a slogan that reveals how little we know.

And yet lacking that knowledge, the politicians, cheered on by the media, acted in ways that have fundamentally wrecked life as we knew it, all in the course of a couple of weeks.

The massive knowledge gap was filled by a cascade of predictive models made possible by modern statistical packages readily available by subscription to any member of the clerisy. If this, and this, and this, and if this and this and this, then ENTER. Out pops what appears to be a precise presentation of our future under the following conditions, along with an overlay of embedded cause-and-effect assumptions about certain policies followed or not followed. Day after day we were bombarded with such predictions, and we paid close attention because we had little in the way of actual on-the-ground facts that have been available to us in previous disease panics.

It then became the perfect storm. Risk-averse politicians deciding to do something, anything, to avoid blame. Bureaucrats doing what they do best, which is telling people no, you cannot innovate, you cannot produce, you cannot distribute. Local tyrants stopping price gouging and therefore preventing the price system from working. A howling media famished for eyeballs, ears, and clicks. A public panicked about disease and death. An egregious dividing of people into essential and nonessential. Policy snares, tangles, missed opportunities all around.

The cacophony of information chaos has been palpable, unbearable.

All the while, a few knowledgeable experts have been trying their best to weigh in and get some slight attention for rationality. My heart, in particular, goes out to the esteemed Professor John Ioannidis who has been exposing fake science based on bad data his entire life and has been previously celebrated for doing so. He writes as often as he can, while still trying to be as precise and accurate as he can. Apparently such high-end people have a private email list in which they share observations and data, while doing their best to bring calm while civilization is falling apart.

His first salvo appeared March 17. God bless The National Post for publishing Ioannidis’s latest exasperated piece.

At the moment, we are enacting extremely severe measures in an effort to do something. However, we have very little evidence-based data on how to guide our next steps. We really don’t know where we are, where we are heading, whether our measures are effective, or if we need to modify them. There is a possibility that many of our aggressive measures could be doing more harm than good, especially if they are to be maintained in the long term. There will be major consequences in terms of lives lost, major disruptions to the economy, to the society, and to our civilization.

At this juncture we need to act swiftly. At the same time, we need to act equally swiftly to collect unbiased data that will tell us how many people are infected, the chances that someone who is infected will have a serious outcome and die, how the epidemic is evolving in different settings and places around the world, and what difference we are making with the measures that we’re taking. This information can make a huge difference and there is a lot that can go wrong if we don’t have the right data.

This has been an acute situation. At the same time, collecting reliable data should not take time and should not halt our decision-making process. Getting information on representative samples of the population is very easy. It has been done in Iceland, where they have a cohort covering most of the national population looking at samples that have been provided. They see that they have an infection rate of 1.0 per cent, and up until now only two people have died. So, out of the 3,500 infected people in Iceland there have been two deaths, which corresponds to an infection fatality rate lower than the common flu. Of course, some people may be infected later, but nevertheless, these estimates would be very different compared with the original claims of case fatality rates of 3.4 per cent that were circulated.

At the same time, we have other pieces of evidence that the number of people who are infected is much larger compared with the number of cases we have documented. In most places, with few exceptions around the world, we are just testing people who have substantial symptoms who have come to seek health care or even to be hospitalized. These are just the tip of the iceberg. The Iceland experience and other data from Rome and Italy where entire city populations were tested shows that the vast majority of people are either completely asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic in ways that you would not be able to differentiate from the common cold or common flu. This information makes a huge difference while we are proceeding with aggressive measures of social distancing and lockdowns that may have tremendous repercussions, especially in the long term.

As the song says, stop making sense.

I write on Saturday morning March 28, and right now there are two contrary strains about to collide. On the one hand, you have scientists reducing their death-rate predictions further and further, lopping off zeros by the day. On the other hand, this is accompanied by appalling levels of despotism, even to the point of National Guard checkpoints at state borders and restrictions on what you can buy even at “essential” stores. This gigantic gap between emerging professional medical consensus and appalling policy ignorance is revealing as never before the practical impossibility of scientific public policy.

Then you have the cascade of unintentional and unexpected outcomes of the rush to coerce. It began with Trump’s disastrous block on flights from Europe that sent millions scrambling for tickets and led to an unspeakable crush of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder at our nations’ airports, contradicting the demand that people social distance just when the virus was revealing itself as highly contagious. The very opposite of intended results!

That’s just the beginning. I doubt seriously that the political class in this country, as low a regard I have it, set out to destroy all that we call civilized life, instantly generating millions of unemployed workers and bankrupt businesses all around, not to mention a pandemic of utter hopelessness on the part of vast swaths of the world’s population. Still, this is what they have managed to achieve. This is what their pretense of knowledge – as opposed to actual wisdom – has unleashed on the world, with incalculable human cost.

As for economics, are we talking recession? Depression? Those words indicate cyclical changes in business conditions. My friend Gene Epstein suggests another term for what we are going through. The Great Suppression. There will be months, years, and decades in which to more clearly observe the countless ways in which the supressors piled error upon error, blockage upon blockage, to add to the grotesquery.

What truly should inspire us all right now are the grocers, pharmacists, truck drivers, manufacturers, doctors and nurses, construction workers, service station attendants, webmasters, volunteers of all sorts, philanthropists, and specialists in a huge variety of essential professions who keep life functioning more or less. And let us not forget the “unessential” people (it’s an incorrect and vicious term) who have innovated ways around the Great Suppression to continue to serve others, keep the rent being paid, and food on their tables. They are the means of salvation out of this mess.

The market, hobbled and bludgeoned, still loves you.

As for the politicians, Andrew Cuomo has admitted some of the error. In a much-welcome change, he has even deregulated medical services. There’s just a hint of humility and humanity embedded in these statements and actions. We need more of that, vastly more, if only to contribute to calming things down long enough to gain some perspective, and, hopefully, some eventual realization that in the “land of the free and the home of the brave” a virus should be regarded as a disease to mitigate and cure, not an excuse to bludgeon life on earth as we know it.

Jeffrey A. Tucker is Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research. He is the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press and eight books in 5 languages, most recently The Market Loves You. He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He speaks widely on topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture. Jeffrey is available for speaking and interviews via his email.
This article was first published at the AIER. Read the original here.
This entry was posted in COVID-19, Guest Post. Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to Jeffrey Tucker We Were Wrong: So Sorry that We Ruined Your Life

  1. stackja

    Trump should have let the European infected into the USA?

  2. Sean

    There’s always a lag of 5-10 days between active case count and deaths so even a simple cases/deaths on the same day doesn’t reflect the fatality rate we might expect in a weeks time.

  3. Robber Baron

    Stay at home otherwise you will cause people to die. You are surplus to the needs of government. Pay your taxes and shut up.

  4. Tel

    Seemed to forget to mention that the best strategy would have been to close all national borders early and securely.
    * Existing quarantine checkpoints already in place.
    * Well accepted and well tested federal authority to control international borders.
    * Disrupts only tourism, some education sectors, and elite “junket” flights, none of which are essential.

    Then you have the cascade of unintentional and unexpected outcomes of the rush to coerce. It began with Trump’s disastrous block on flights from Europe that sent millions scrambling for tickets and led to an unspeakable crush of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder at our nations’ airports, contradicting the demand that people social distance just when the virus was revealing itself as highly contagious. The very opposite of intended results!

    The problem was that he should have stopped flights much sooner.

    Stay away from everyone as much as possible: a slogan that reveals how little we know.

    We have a very good idea that disease is caused by germs, and that this particular disease is a corona virus approx 100 nanometers in diameter with no capability of self propulsion. If can travel on the wind for short distances, or it can sit on surfaces for at most 3 days (yes this has been tested).

    Therefore the virus will not make international transit all on its own without help. Think about it, you don’t need to be an expert to figure this one out.

    I agree that shutting down random business around town isn’t a good strategy, but it requires constant repetition that the best strategy available was deliberately not used, so they went for stupid “seen to be doing something” strategies.

    I also note that Jeffrey Tucker has no comment on the shortages of essential supplies like gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, bogroll, etc. The free market strategy to solve this is to allow prices to rise steeply in times of hardship but that’s a bitter pill and people don’t like it. Unless you can encourage people to accept a price mechanism they will demand rationing instead. The CDC and major hospitals should have had strategic stores of the items they knew they would need in any SHTF situation. Any group, be that government or private that was in a position of responsibility and did NOT have good stores in place should be held accountable. People should be fired because without HIGH LEVEL decision makers getting their ass busted there won’t be any learnings.

  5. stackja

    Red China and WHO lied.
    Wuhan virus spread.
    Borders not closed down early because of WHO.

  6. DHS

    We have a very good idea that disease is caused by germs

    No we don’t. We have a collective delusion that it does.

    But germs do not cause disease. They cannot.

    There is no negative feedbacks in the germ theory model therefore recovery from any kind of infection would be impossible.

    So if the germ theory were true, no organism could exist.

    PS the “immune system” would be a positive feedback.

  7. DHS

    Therefore the virus will not make international transit all on its own without help.

    Everyday a trillion viruses rain down on you from the sky. The idea that closing air travel can prevent you from being subjected to viruses is utter lunacy.

  8. PB

    Retrospectoscopes ready? Start criticizing.

  9. yarpos

    In other areas Cuomo has come across as a dictatorial thug. Very well qualified as a potential Dem Presidential candidate.

  10. max

    The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918:

    During the single month of October, influenza killed 196,000 people in this country

  11. stackja

    max – 1918 people had to wear masks.

  12. DHS

    The Spanish Flu was caused by the mass vaccination program – especially targeting soldiers and their direct contacts.

  13. Ed Case

    If that’s correct and germs don’t transmit disease, then how did Spanish Flu get from the vaccinated to the unvaccinated?

  14. DHS

    Spanish Flu get from the vaccinated to the unvaccinated?

    It didn’t. No doubt many people died of panic or other medical treatments though.

  15. jupes

    Jeffrey Tucker We Were Wrong: So Sorry that We Ruined Your Life

    I read that and thought Tucker had had an epiphany about his open-borders lunacy.

    But no.

  16. max

    max – 1918 people had to wear masks.

    yes correct

    experts disagree if it is helpful or not — they always do.

    even that flu is in my opinion overblown

    About a third of all Australians were infected and nearly 15,000 people were dead in under a year.

    Australian population 1918 ~ 5 million
    Sydney population in 1918 ~ 700 000

  17. Ed Case

    I think the Official Line on Spanish Flu is still that it was spread by birds.
    Some might wonder how that works?’As the flock fly fleetly overhead, do little Fluey bits drop from their tiny wings and a week later you’re breathing your last?

  18. DHS

    A trillion viruses rain down on from the sky each day. I guess some of them might come from birds but none of them cause disease.

  19. Colonel Crispin Berka

    the gradually emerging data behind it

    In which Tucker admits the truth that destroys his entire argument.

    This is what their pretense of knowledge – as opposed to actual wisdom

    Tucker never needed facts about this specific threat, he can put on his Wisdom Of The Ages blindfold of faith and confidently lead us all incompetently into something.

  20. Spurgeon Monkfish III

    Jeffey Tucker: “I’m one of the few imbeciles on the planet responsible for this clusterfuck who’s still stupid enough to be getting around in plain view while desperately trying to claim credit for it”

    To paraphrase Arks: “You stupid, stupid arseholes.”

  21. Tim Neilson

    Shorter Version:
    Open borders loon insists that continuing to permit mass transit from infected areas would have somehow inhibited the virus, and assumes that acting on the presumption that the “best case” will occur is somehow wiser than planning for the possibility of the worst case – conflates all that with reasonable suspicion that some government measures are Yes Minister “politicians’ logic”:
    We’ve got to do something
    This is something
    Therefore we’ve got to do this.

  22. Kneel

    “…Cuomo dared question the orthodoxy that has wrecked countless businesses and lives.”

    Heh.
    Who would believe this guy?
    He’s the one who blamed Trump for a lack of both hospitals and ventilators, and said it would result in deaths because DJT “doesn’t care”.
    Yet NY state withheld Medicaid payments to hospitals, meaning 16 closed in the poorer parts of NYC since 2002.
    And NYC has over 1,000 ventilators delivered by the Feds sitting in a warehouse.
    Once that last gem came to light, the whinger-in-chief claimed they “weren’t needed yet”.
    Oh – and his city officials were telling people to “take the subway, take the bus, go to your favourite restaurant” as late as mid Feb!

    But, hey – Orange Man bad!

  23. It began with Trump’s disastrous block on flights from Europe that sent millions scrambling for tickets and led to an unspeakable crush of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder at our nations’ airports, contradicting the demand that people social distance just when the virus was revealing itself as highly contagious. The very opposite of intended results!

    This is just nonsense on steroids.
    As if regular days at all major US airports were calm sunday picnics. They have been shoulder to shoulder delayed operations for over 20 years but especially since 911.
    We know exactly what happens when borders are left open to people from highly infected areas. Just ask the folks in Northern Italy who welcomed with open arms (and even had a hug a Chinese day) people from Wuhan Province for their rag n leather trade.

    Just because someone is highly published, doesn’t mean they are knowledgeable in this particular case.
    Even so called “experts” can be fvckwits. See the “Climate Crisis” for evidence.

  24. Squirrel

    Sounds like Cuomo is doing his best to walk both sides of the street – definitely candidate material.

    History buffs will no doubt be thrilled at the thought that a New York Governor came to the rescue last time the US faced an epic crisis.

  25. Leo G

    At the same time, we have other pieces of evidence that the number of people who are infected is much larger compared with the number of cases we have documented. In most places, with few exceptions around the world, we are just testing people who have substantial symptoms who have come to seek health care or even to be hospitalized. These are just the tip of the iceberg. The Iceland experience and other data from Rome and Italy where entire city populations were tested shows that the vast majority of people are either completely asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic in ways that you would not be able to differentiate from the common cold or common flu.

    His argument makes little sense.
    If the majority of people are completely asymptomatic it is far more likely that overwhelmingly those people have not been infected or somehow already have immunity.
    If mildly symptomatic in ways that you would not be able to differentiate from the common cold or common flu, it’s far more likely that they have the common cold or common flu.
    Otherwise, those vast numbers of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people would within a few days infect everyone else, there would be a massive spike of serious and critical cases that would peak within a few weeks then drop off to nothing.

  26. Youngster

    The piled up bodies in Spain and Italy say this is different. Even in a bad flu season, Spain doesn’t use skating rinks as morgues. It will likely end up less deadly than the “experts” forecast, but it’s still obviously something serious, which requires a serious response.

    The other side to this whole debate that many Cats cannot grasp is that the average punter is willfully ignorant and not that bright. Instructions need to be so simple that a 5 year old can grasp what must be done – hence the instructions are unnecessarily harsh and broad.

Comments are closed.