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Richard Epstein has yet more to say about our little pandemic

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UPDATE: This is academic fraud, straight up:

https://mobile.twitter.com/JohnPMacke/status/1251716101819584513

Summary: Epstein took down the original link to his March 16th piece that predicted 500 deaths, and replaced it with a link to an edited piece that claimed “My original erroneous estimate of 5,000 dead in the US is a number ten times smaller than I intended to state…”

The original version of this “correction” read: “That estimate is ten times greater than the 500 number I erroneously put in the initial draft of the essay.”

Now he’s fraudulently altering his original text to make it seem as if his original “gaffe,” as he’s calling it, was to predict 5,000 deaths, because he intended to predict 50,000. He’s trying to make the original version look like a typo, AND he’s removing a zero from the original prediction. Note that SEVEN DAYS AFTER the March 16th column he had upped his prediction to 2000-2500 deaths. He’s trying to produce the Internet equivalent of a forged document to muddle the record.

h/t Dilan Esper

Oh look, Prof. Econ 101 is back with more lectures about how to think about COVID-19.

I mean if I had made an initial prediction about a social crisis that as of right now was off by 8,400%, with that already impressive figure sure to grow quite a bit more going forward, I would consider the option of simply shutting the fuck up about the whole subject, going forward.

But I guess that’s why I’m not a law professor, i.e., a walking case of Dunning Kruger syndrome in highly paid academic form. Let’s go to the tape:

At the outset, the shutdown was justified as a public health emergency. On March 13, the New York Times published its account that the coronavirus presented an unprecedented health risk to the nation. In this view, the pandemic could result in the infection of some 100 million people in total, with a peak of over 9 million infected on a single day in July. Without intervention, it argued, there could be a million deaths in the United States by the time the virus ran its course. But an intervention could cut that number in half. I thought that dire presentation was too pessimistic. Predictions of death tolls from earlier pandemics have consistently run hot.

Yet the Times’ projections resonated with the governors, who sent their states into lockdown mode. 

Like so many other right wing hacks inside and outside academia, Epstein is obsessed with the apparently magical powers of the New York Times. You will be shocked to learn that Epstein presents no evidence whatsoever for the remarkable hypothesis that one particular newspaper story in mid-March was the primary determinant of how the political systems of the USA reacted to a pandemic that had thrown the whole world into turmoil. (This reminds me of a claim Bill James made in the 1980s about a column LA Times sportswriter Jim Murray wrote in the 1960s. Murray argued that, despite their gaudy batting averages, Ty Cobb and Ted Williams were fake Hall of Famers because their teams didn’t win any championships. According to James, this column by itself stopped the development of more sophisticated metrics of baseball performance for a whole generation. I mean I loved me some Bill James back in the day but even then I was like “what??”).

Speaking of causality:

The question is why Cuomo thinks that doubling down on government restrictions is justified by the science and data. His own daily report of April 17 indicates that the rate of new infections is down and that the number of hospital discharges in the state now far exceeds the number of new admissions. Further data prepared by the New York Times reveals that the rate of infection is now slowing down rapidly throughout the United States.  It also shows that new cases peaked at about 35,000 on April 3, with an erratic decline since that time. The total death count stands at about 36,000. Even though we can reasonably anticipate thousands of additional deaths, this figure is fortunately far lower than the predictions issued at the outset of the pandemic.

If you’re not familiar with the work of Richard Epstein, you’re probably assuming I haven’t gotten yet to the part of the essay that discusses the critical question of exactly what role governmental restrictions have played in keeping death totals to this point a mere 8,400% higher than his initial estimate of what they would have been if no governmental action had been taken in the first place. I mean this would be pretty important question to answer in regard to determining the extent to which those restrictions should be relaxed, after all. But you would be wrong about that. He simply doesn’t address the issue.

Moving right along:

How should physicians report and health departments record deaths in individuals with comorbidities like asthma, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and the like? Treating everyone who dies with the coronavirus as if they died from the coronavirus necessarily overstates the number of cases by some uncertain amount. But the evidence is overwhelming that the virus by itself kills few individuals. The CDC reported that “approximately 90% of hospitalized patients identified through COVID-NET had one or more underlying conditions heavily concentrated in people over 70 years of age (where the comorbidities are more severe).”

The upshot is that no matter how one counts these cases, it makes no sense to shutter large number of businesses.

I think the argument here is that if these now-dead people had exercised their natural liberty to choose to be young and healthy instead of old and sick at the time the pandemic struck, the virus wouldn’t have killed them, which, when you think about it, means being old and sick killed them, not the virus, which was at best a mere medical co-conspirator, if not a completely innocent epidemiological bystander.

If you think this paraphrase is satirical, go back and read that quote. The Libertarians!

Firms themselves will make adjustments to attract uneasy customers, and people with higher rates of risk have every reason to stay at home to preserve their own lives.

This is literally the only idea Richard Epstein has had in his 52-year legal academic career: the Market will regulate more efficiently than the government. (It would be rude to mention that it’s not even his own idea, so I won’t).

That is the strategy that has been followed in Sweden, which has imposed restrictions on large gatherings and has shut down some activities, but has allowed elementary schools, restaurants, offices, and other businesses to remain open. To date, the pattern of deaths there is very similar to that found in the more heavily locked-down United Kingdom, which is not to say that the Swedes have made all the right choices. 

If only there were an otherwise very similar country to Sweden with which it shared a thousand-mile border, and which had employed stricter restrictions? Such a thing could produce a kind of natural experiment.

Deaths per 1,000,000 population as of 4/20/2020:

Sweden: 175

Norway: 34

There’s a bunch more nonsense in there about how governmental orders closing free-standing medical and dental clinics have overwhelmed the health care system, not the coronavirus, but I’m tired of quoting this oblivious buffoon, so go hunt for more mangoes if you’re so inclined.

. . . I really should mention that he also doesn’t even gesture at the very real possibility that lifting government restrictions would produce very little economic gain — most people aren’t going to risk their lives as long as the epidemic is raging — but would still cause a big uptick in cases, because even a small decrease in social distancing might have big negative effects in regard to transmission rates.

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