Monday, May 31, 2021

Thoughts on the complexity of trade

 This is Joseph.

Matt Yglesias talks about the free speech implications of the U.S.-Chinese economic integration:

That being said, it seems really clear at this point that the original premise of U.S.-Chinese economic integration got one important point backward. Rather than trade and development allowing for some spread of American liberal norms into China, it is doing the reverse, and western multinationals’ commercial interests in China are inducing them to impose Chinese speech norms on the West. And we ought to try to do something about it

I think that this is an inevitable part of trade and integration -- if you create this type of tight connection then you end up dealing with the good and bad of your trading partner. 

But the part that I also think we need to consider is how the gains from this trade arrangement have been distributed in the United States. It is definitely true that both sides are better off after a trade deal. But the distribution of gains may vary. Not only did we create legitimacy for a totalitarian regime, but we shifted resources to groups like silicon valley (the same groups Matt Yglesias is worried are vulnerable to trade pressure) by allowing for inexpensive manufacturing. If we had taxed and invested these gains in the rust belt, then we'd probably have fewer billionaires and more social cohesion.

The short version of this thoughtlet is that trade is complicated and very simple mental models of how complicated transactions will work out are probably not an ideal approach. Not that this could be applied to other complicated relationships framed in simple terms, like Brexit

Friday, May 28, 2021

Muskmas in May

In case you've forgotten the reason for the season, we coined the term as a catchier version of the Musk Day proposed by by Neil Strauss in his openly messianic 2017 profile of Elon Musk in Rolling Stone.

Musk will likely be remembered as one of the most seminal figures of this millennium. Kids on all the terraformed planets of the universe will look forward to Musk Day, when they get the day off to commemorate the birth of the Earthling who single-handedly ushered in the era of space colonization.

The tone of this recent Mark Whittington piece in the Hill (a publication more mainstream and sober, in various senses of the word, than Rolling Stone) is more subdued but the sentiment is the same.

Still, Musk has embodied a combination of vision, wealth, skill and no little luck that has served him well. If (when) Americans return to the moon on a SpaceX lunar Starship, he will become more than a celebrity. Musk will be a world historic figure who school children will study for centuries to come.

In some ways, the Hill piece is actually worse than the Rolling Stone cover story. Since 2017 we've seen Musk manipulate markets, commit various ethics violations and possibly fraud, fuel covid denial, break promises, lie constantly, sic a misogynistic army of fan boys on female critics, accuse someone who hurt his feelings of being a pedophile, bust unions, endanger employees, convince Tesla owners that his level 2 cars were actually level 5 and could safely drive themselves, and so much more.

But it takes a lot to dislodge the myth of a tech messiah. The New York Times is still running fawning interviews while public intellectuals like Josh Barro and Matt Yglesias are genuinely perplexed at why so many people dislike Musk. The myth is losing ground, but it's a slow process.

On a more cheerful note, here's a festive clip of some classic Will Vinton animation.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

"He knows Elon knows"

For those wanting to cut through the hype and bullshit around autonomous vehicles on land or in the air, there are few sources better than real engineer (and former fighter pilot) Missy Cummings. This Marketplace interview is highly recommended.

[Apologies for the formatting. Since Blogger upgraded its platform, it now takes twenty minutes of HTML editing just to undo the improvements and I just don't have the time.]

The California Department of Motor Vehicles said this week it’s reviewing whether Tesla is telling people that its cars are self-driving when, legally speaking, they’re not. This follows fatal crashes that may have involved its Autopilot feature. Tesla advertises a “Full Self-Driving” upgrade option. One man has been busted in Teslas more than once for reckless driving. He hangs out in the backseat and steers with his feet.

Meanwhile, no cars are fully self-driving yet. I spoke with Missy Cummings, the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University. She says the so-called deep learning that cars need to see the road around them doesn’t actually learn. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.


Cummings: I think there are three camps of people not just in self-driving, but in robotics and artificial intelligence in general. There’s the camp of people like me who know the reality. We recognize it for what it is, we’ve recognized it for some time, and we know that unless we change fundamentally the way that we’re approaching this problem, it is not solvable with our current approach. There’s another larger group of people who recognize that there are some problems but feel like with enough money and enough time, we can solve it. And then there’s a third group of people that no matter what you tell them, they believe that we can solve this problem. And you can’t talk them off that platform.

The people who are the biggest problem are the people in that second group, the ones that believe that with enough time and money, we can fix it, instead of recognizing the elephant in the room for what it is, which is not fixable under our current approach. And this is why you see companies like Starsky, a trucking company that went out of business, and you starting to see all the mergers across the automotive industry where all companies are either teaming up with each other or with software companies, because they realize that they just cannot keep hemorrhaging money the way they are. But that pit still has no bottom. And I don’t see this becoming a viable commercial set of operations in terms of self-driving cars for anyone anywhere, ever, until we address this problem. 


Cummings: Well, I think the Tesla situation is a little different. Should they be allowed to call their driving assist technology Full Self-Driving? So that’s one problem. And then, if you want to ask, is Tesla ever going to have a robotaxi program? I’ll tell you, that answer is no. But that problem is less acute for Tesla, because they have what is otherwise a great product. I love Tesla cars. I just think Autopilot and especially Full Self-Driving are both overhyped, and they underdeliver in terms of performance, and they’re dangerous.

Wood: So there’s a math problem and there is a pretty significant marketing problem?

Cummings: That’s right. So I think that we’re starting to see increasing numbers of crashes in this country and abroad, where drivers think that their car is far more capable. I think what is interesting to me was how the Tesla driver who got arrested for being in his backseat while he was driving vocalized that he’d already been warned once, and he defied the warning and did it again, and then said he would keep doing it because he knows Elon [Musk] knows what he’s doing. And he fully believes in Tesla.

And so what I find most interesting about that statement is that one man is vocalizing what so many people believe. They believe that this technology really can be fully self-driving, despite all the warnings and despite all the statements and the owner’s manual, and you having to agree that you’re going to pay attention. Despite all of those warnings, there’s some belief likely based in calling a technology Full Self-Driving and calling it Autopilot where people believe in the religion of Tesla full self-driving, and that is dangerous.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Content accumulates. Intellectual property rules.

I wasn't planning on doing another post on the value of television content libraries this soon -- lots of other stuff going on -- but the news forced my hand. 

From The Wall Street Journal. [emphasis added. And if you haven't done so already, check out Monday's post before reading further.] Inc.’s desire to acquire the fabled MGM movie and television studio in a deal valued at $9 billion with debt is the latest sign that the e-commerce giant is renewing its emphasis on entertainment and seizing an opportunity to jump up in weight class.


In MGM, Amazon would gain control of a vast movie and television library including the “James Bond” and “Rocky” franchises. Other MGM properties include “The Pink Panther” and “Robocop.” Amazon is likely to try to create new content from the material, analysts and industry executives said.

Still, Amazon will have to invest yet again to develop and generate successful new franchises out of the intellectual property it may acquire.

Not all MGM content would immediately surface on Amazon’s Prime Video platform. MGM has licensing deals throughout the industry that lock up much of their content for several years. Such agreements would at least, though, serve as revenue generators for Amazon.

A lot of the analysis in this article (particularly around the Netflix comparison) is bad, sometimes crossing the line into factually questionable, but it does suggest that journalists and analysts are finally starting to think seriously about content libraries. (Perhaps they actually did learn something from Quibi.)

We'll come back to this (and how so many people are still getting the Netflix business model so wrong).

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

While we're on the topic of old TV shows...

Check out this 2020 multi-panel cartoon from the New Yorker. The first few panels will give you a taste but you'll need to click to see the pay-off (which is very much worth the trip).

Monday, May 24, 2021

A billion dollars would go a long way in Mayberry

A note on pandemic TV viewing from USA Today.

Last year, NBC's "Friends" – which ended its 10-year run in 2004 – was the most-watched comedy on broadcast or cable TV, with 96.7 billion minutes viewed, a 30% jump from 2019. "Andy Griffith" grew 29%, to 58.3 billion viewing minutes, while ABC's "Roseanne" saw a 70% viewing surge to 20.1 billion minutes.

For a bit of context, check out this 2015 article also from USA Today.
Well, through the magic of syndication revenue, Friends pulls in a whopping $1 billion each year for Warner Bros. Here's the kicker though: That translates into about a $20 million annual paycheck each for Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, who each make 2% of that syndication income.
Without going into the rabbit hole of valuation and Hollywood accounting, we can't start to approximate the money the Andy Griffith Show has brought in, but the Friends comparison gives us some idea of the kind of numbers we're talking about. It's true that the business of television has changed over the past few years but the overall impact of streaming has been to pump tons of money into the industry so I doubt the overall amounts have dropped much.

Even if we ignore the pandemic spike (which is probably a mistake. Once a new audience gets invested in an old show, they tend to stay invested) and assume considerably lower revenue for Griffith compared to Friends per viewing hour, it seems safe to say that the show has brought in billions in 2021 dollars between syndication, streaming and merchandising over the past sixty-one years and will probably go on to bring in billions more.

Keep in mind that for more than fifty of those sixty-one years, we're talking virtually pure profit, a steady, safe, maintenance-free nine-figure check coming in every year. 

There's a good chance that Griffith may go on to surpass Lucy in terms of longevity, but while the show may turn out to be the extreme, it is not an outlier. In addition to Lucy there are a number of other old shows that have continued to attract and hold new audiences. MASH, Columbo, Golden Girls,  Friends, Seinfeld, the Simpsons, and anything from Dick Wolf all come to mind and we haven't even cracked the lid on the franchises and reimaginings (Star Trek, the Addams Family, Battlestar, Perry Mason). 

Content accumulates. Intellectual property rules. With apologies to the long-time readers who have been through this before, these two principles should be top of mind in any reporting on the business of television and streaming, but it is difficult to find mention of them in any coverage outside of the trades. As a result, the value of most of what you read on this, particularly from the East Coast press, ranges from limited to non-existent. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

The nice thing about writing a post on tax increases is that you can dust it off in ten years later and be confident that most people still won't understand marginal tax rates.

And with another Democrat again trying to roll back Republican tax cuts, we are likely to see another wave of just-scraping-by stories.

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2011

"This really isn't about the hunting, is it, Bob?"* -- more on just scraping by on a quarter mil

Comments to my recent post on getting by on $250,000 (which was itself basically a comment on this excellent piece by Felix Salmon) picked up on the fact that, for people making a little over 250K in taxable income, the actual increase in taxes paid under the Obama plan would be remarkably small. This raises an obvious question: why do we keep hearing about the hardship on people making less than 300K when hardly any of the increase falls on this bracket?

The answer I suspect has less to do with math and more to do with marketing.

Sympathy for financial hardship is almost always inversely related to wealth and income. It's hard to feel all that sorry for someone who makes more money than you and yet has trouble keeping the bills paid.

For most of us, a quarter million in income takes you to the far outer edge of the sympathy zone. It seems like a lot of money but you might be able to convince some people (particularly, say, well-paid Manhattanites) that it was possible for a non-extravagant family to have a combined income of 250K and still not have much of a buffer at the end of the year.

Unfortunately for people lobbying to keep the Bush tax cuts, that 250K family wouldn't actually pay any additional taxes if the cuts expired. Neither would a 260K family or a 270K family (assuming those numbers are gross). Because we're talking about taxable income and marginal rates, a family's gross would have to be closer to 400K than to 250K in order to see anything more than a trivial increase.

If you're trying to make an emotional pitch for the Bush tax cuts this creates a problem: the only people significantly affected by the increase are those well outside of the sympathy zone. You can't expand the zone (the suggestion that many families making a quarter of a million were just getting by was met with considerable derision. Upping the number by another hundred thousand is a no starter). The other option is to focus on families making between 250K and 300K while downplaying the actual magnitude of the increase on these families.

Of course, that second option does require an overly compliant press corps that will simply parrot the releases of various think tanks without attempting to correct the false impressions they give. Fortunately for the tax cut supporters, that doesn't seem to be a problem.

* punchline to an old and very dirty joke.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

At least some of them are wearing masks

There's a certain strangely consistent dream logic here. If you can get yourself into these people's heads, you can almost follow the thinking. They are paranoid, meme-fed conspiracy theorists who share a personally defining belief in fringe medicine. It is not entirely surprising that many of them have come to see their perceived enemies not just as evil but as literally infectious. 

Mack Lamoureux writing for Vice:

The conspiracy—which comes in several shapes and sizes—more or less says the vaccinated will “shed” certain proteins onto the unvaccinated who will then suffer adverse effects. The main worry is the “shedding” will cause irregular menstruation, infertility, and miscarriages. The entirely baseless idea is a key cog in a larger conspiracy that COVID-19 was a ploy to depopulate the world, and the vaccine is what will cull the masses. 

Experts say the conspiracy is born from a fundamental misunderstanding of how vaccines work. It has been widely debunked and you can read about it herehere, and here, among other places.  

Anti-vax influencers are instructing their fellow anti-vaxxers as well as anti-maskers (at this point the two communities overlap to a huge degree) that one of the best ways to defend themselves from this blight is to co-opt…social distancing, the very strategy they have long decried. 

Sherri Tenpenny, an anti-vaxxer who was found to be key in spreading COVID-19 conspiracy theories, suggested on a recent anti-vax livestream that you may have to “stay away from somebody who's had these shots…forever.” 

Another prominent anti-vaxxer suggested quarantining people who have been vaccinated. “There is something being passed from people who are shot up with this poison to others who have not gotten the shot,” said Larry Palevsky, a New York pediatrician and anti-vaxxer,  on a separate livestream. They should also “have a badge on their arms that say ‘I've been vaccinated even though it's not a vaccine’ so that we know to avoid them on the street, to not go near them anywhere in society,” he said.

It’s not just social distancing that anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers are begrudgingly accepting. Some conspiracy theorists are wondering if perhaps their longtime bane, the mask, could become their salvation. One perplexed poster on the fringe site 4chan asked their fellow anons if they should “wear a mask around the vaccinated, because they shed the mRNA stuff?” 


Nevertheless, the conspiracy is picking up steam. Recently a private school in Miami went so far as to ban vaccinated teachers from interacting with unvaccinated students. In April, a Gold Shop in Kelowna, British Columbia, caused a stir when the owners put up a sign saying the vaccinated were banned from entering the store, citing worries about vaccine shedding. The store also had a sign that masking was not allowed and instructed customers to “lower their face diaper.” 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

I vaguely remember that bars had a simple and reasonably effective way of checking who was legally allowed to drink. Perhaps we could do something similar.

As mentioned before (until regular readers are sick of hearing it), we have a problem with convergent thinking and solution-phobia. Add to that the journalistic imperative to frame every policy choice as an adversarial contest with no clear winners and you end up with a discussion that not only ignores a number of viable approaches but which often settles on two of the least viable,  a pair of bad choices which go on to dominate op-ed pages and cable news shows. Whether by design or not (and, yes, I do believe antagonism toward solutions is a real thing), the result is a discussion that consists of each talking head listing reasons why the other position won't work.

In addition to the ways defeatism has biased our coverage of vaccine promotion and made precedented compliance levels seem unattainable, it has also largely limited the discussion of compliance checks to two extreme options: a complex and expensive vaccine passport system which raises privacy issues; and an honor system which does not do a goddamn thing. 

We need to open up this discussion starting with ideas like this. 

P.S. Forgery. We need to come back and explain this from a market segment/incentive standpoint (if only there was a blog that covered epidemiology and marketing, that would be perfect), but [spoiler alert] it's probably not that big a concern in this context.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Better than Trump is no longer good enough -- we need to address the CDC train wreck

This is going to be our big thread for the next few days. 

I am trying to think of a case where a federal agency's mishandling of messaging and behavior economics has been this incompetent and this costly, and nothing comes to mind. Back in 2020, it was possible to assume that all of the blame (rather than just some of it) should go to the previous administration but it's mid-May and the fuck-ups just keep coming.

This is not a question of over- or underreacting (though the CDC has remarkably managed to do both). It's not a matter of taking the wrong positions (they've generally gotten the science right). The problem is that when it comes to crafting messages or setting up incentives or predicting public reactions, they are, to put it bluntly, spectacularly bad at their job.

The tragedy here is that the Biden administration's extraordinarily competent handling of the other aspects of the pandemic have brought us achingly close to our goal. We just have to do a few more things right.

P.S. Nor is this generally a good sign

Monday, May 17, 2021

"It's OK to say I'm vaccinated because..." [Why people might not honor the honor system.]

The public discourse is broken part 8,394.

We've had a lot of discussion about whether or not the fully vaccinated can meet without masks and social distancing even though the research is fairly clear on this point. We also talked a great deal about the challenges of requiring verification to enter certain establishments or events even though these problems are likely to be relatively minor (more on that later). 

Instead of the simple and generally effective approach of checking vaccination cards, we're looking at an honor system and we haven't spent nearly enough time going over the reasons that this might be a worse option, such as the way that removing verification and enforceable penalties opens the door for rationalizations.

A very incomplete list:

"I feel fine."

"I already had a mild case. I can't catch it again."

"I'll socially distance."

"I've been careful not to expose myself."

"I'm just stepping in for a little while."

"Everyone else in there is vaccinated."

"It's just this one time."

"The pandemic is almost over."

"If I haven't caught it by now..."

"Everyone else is doing it."

Friday, May 14, 2021

The tragic waste of a sunny day

 It should have been a turning point; it ended up a joke.

William Bryan, acting head of the US Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, outlined the findings at the news conference.

While noting the research should be treated with caution, Mr Trump suggested further research in that area.

"So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous - whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light," the president said, turning to Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response co-ordinator, "and I think you said that hasn't been checked but you're going to test it.

"And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you're going to test that too. Sounds interesting," the president continued.

"And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?

"So it'd be interesting to check that."

Pointing to his head, Mr Trump went on: "I'm not a doctor. But I'm, like, a person that has a good you-know-what."

But the blame for what happened next (or failed to happen) did not rest with Trump alone. The ultraviolet light study and the growing evidence of aerosol transmission had perhaps the most important policy implications of any development in the pandemic up to that point. We could, at the same time, reduce transmission of the disease and greatly improve the economy just by moving as much activity as possible outdoors in daylight. 

Some restaurants started offering curbside delivery and a few put in walk-up windows but these were rare exceptions.  Instead, it was another lost opportunity. We could have made things better but we didn't. Yet another sign that we live in a society fundamentally disinterested in solutions. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Mark's views on the Republican party become more mainstream

This is Joseph.

Mark and I have discussed Donald Trump a lot. One thing that Mark always liked to point out was that Trump's power was his willingness to destroy the party. I was pleased to see that other commentators are starting to see the same issue. Here is Matthew Yglesias in his Slow Boring blog:

The key to understanding GOP leaders’ view of the situation is that Trump has convinced them of the following:

  • While he is not a popular or particularly effective face for the party, he’s not so unpopular as to put winning out of reach.
  • He is sufficiently deferential to conservative policy goals so that a Trump presidency is highly preferable to a Biden presidency.
  • He is sufficiently non-deferential to conservative policy goals so that if he gets angry at the GOP, he will commit his energies to destroying the party.

All pandemic, I’ve been looking forward to the release of the “Dune” movie. Near the end of the book, Paul Atreides scores some tactical military victories but could still easily enough be defeated by his rivals. But he’s able to convince them that he’s crazy enough that he really might destroy a natural resource that the whole universe depends on.

“The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it,” he says.

 This is very much Mark's grenade tossing analogy of 2017. Needless to say, it is going to be a complicated and challenging process to reform the GOP away from this pattern. Yglesias suggests the way forward is increasing democratic accountability, which seems overly optimistic but which I hope proves correct. More likely is a long waiting game for the fundamentals to shift. 

Sane Vampires and Unrecorded Votes -- more notes on a defenestration

Writing Tuesday night (we don't actually get up at six a.m. to post these) on the Cheney affair, we pointed out that Republican officials were caught between needing to distance themselves from an increasingly toxic leader and having to appease a cult-of-personality base that will tolerate no sign of disloyalty.

Yesterday, Josh Marshall explained how the sane vampires of the GOP are trying to cope:

The big story is that Liz Cheney was ousted from her leadership position for not supporting the Big Lie of the stolen election and for not endorsing the insurrection. But we knew that was coming. The big story today had to do with how the vote was held. These are usually recorded votes and secret ballots. That was the case last month when Cheney retained her position by a decisive margin. Today it was a voice vote. After the vote, as Tierney Sneed notes here, a request for a recorded vote was denied.

This tells you the real story of what happened here.

To be clear, I’m confident that Cheney would have been defeated in a secret ballot. I’m not saying there’s a secret pro-Cheney or anti-Trump majority. But I’m pretty sure the vote wouldn’t have been as decisive as Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump wanted. That’s why they didn’t take a recorded vote.

When asked why there wasn’t a recorded vote, Rep. Jim Jordan, a prime mover of Cheney’s ouster, said the voice vote was “overwhelming” and that “you can’t have a conference chair who recites Democrat talking points.”

A recorded public vote would have been a problem too. Even many of those who want Cheney out probably didn’t want to have to commit themselves to it publicly. Many who either oppose Cheney’s ouster or are uncomfortable with it would not want to be put on the spot to go on the record and risk Trump’s wrath.

The great law of legislative politics is safety in numbers. On most divisive issues, most backbenchers just want to stay out of the spotlight. The spotlight is dangerous.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Is Cheney being patriotic? Notes on a defenestration

Read the post from October eighth first. The points weren't original then (they weren't even new to the blog), but they are as or more valid now and they are particularly relevant to today's news.

Is Cheney being patriotic? I don't know. Like her father, she has never put principle before party and it's not obvious she is doing so now. There is a good case to be made that the best option for the GOP is to make the painful break with Trump as soon as possible. As both a loyal and savvy Republican, this could be the most partisan move open to her.

Is Cheney being patriotic? I don't care. The country needs a good, sane conservative party. Instead we have one consisting almost entirely of members who base their positions on increasingly absurd delusions and of "sane vampires" who go along with the believers either out of fear or ambition. Even if Cheney only cares about the GOP, she is still acting in the best interests of the country. 


More on the great unwinding -- the post-Trump GOP is probably inevitable but still unimaginable

Just to reiterate a few points we've been hammering for a few years now.

1. Trump has become more and more toxic to a growing majority of the country. If things continue going the way they're headed, he will be the ultimate example of von Hoffman's rat on the kitchen floor for the Republican Party.

2. But unlike with Nixon,  the base is personally loyal to Trump, not to the GOP.
3. It is difficult to describe what we're seeing as anything other than a cult of personality, complete with the Soviet style propaganda images, the assumption of mental and physical perfection and the messianic overtones.

4. Even if the base were to continue to support the party, the Republicans absolutely must broaden its appeal. After 1988, they have won the popular vote for the presidency exactly once and that was the special case of a wartime reelection.

5. But the base will not tolerate disloyalty to either Trump or his message. Keeping them happy while broadening support is impossible, but the alternative is to find a way to go from a minority to a majority party while trying to make up for the loss of around half of your supporters. 

Are there scenarios where this does happen relatively quickly? Sure, but there are no obvious paths that don't require some deus ex machina plot twist. Which leads to the final and most important point.

6. With a handful of possible exceptions like the extraordinarily sharp Josh Marshall, observers are almost all underestimating the chances of profound and unexpected changes to the way American politics works. I'm not saying what's going to fall or which direction it will tip, but things are going to be different.

From Marshall
But don’t take your eyes off this broader calculus – one separate from Trump, his state of mind, one that is above all rational. Yes, everyone should give their 110%. Everybody get out to vote. The stakes for a second Trump term are too high to take anything for granted. But for those gaming out their own moves and post-January realities, Trump’s defeat is starting to look very likely. Under normal circumstances that would lead congressional Republicans to cut Trump loose and pitch their reelection as a check on the power of a Democratic President. That would be a great card to play for a number of endangered Republican Senators at the moment. But it’s all but impossible since loyalty to Trump is now the centerpiece of Republican identity. And any move away from him would trigger a fatal backlash.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

I am so goddamn sick of hearing things we've done in the past described as undoable.

Endless articles come out with headlines like "herd immunity is out of reach" even though we have contained even more infectious diseases through vaccination.

From the CDC:

Data are for the U.S.

  • Reported number of new measles (rubeola) cases: 375 (2018)
  • Reported number of new mumps cases: 2,515 (2018)
  • Reported number of new German measles (rubella) cases: 4 (2018)

Source: Health, United States, 2019, table 10 pdf icon[PDF – 9.8 MB]

  • Percent of children vaccinated by age 24 months against measles, mumps, rubella: 90.8% (2015)
  • Percent of adolescents aged 13-17 years vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella (2 doses or more): 91.9% (2018)

Source:Health, United States, 2019, table 31 pdf icon[PDF-9.8 MB] and table 32 pdf icon[PDF – 9.8 MB]

From WHO:

An R0 of 2.5 – the absolute maximum the WHO considers likely – would give COVID-19 an infection rate on par with the influenza pandemic of 1918 (2 to 3), at the high end of estimates for the 2014 Ebola outbreak (1.5 to 2.5) and at the low end of estimates for SARS (2 to 5).

Several common infectious diseases have much higher R0s, including measles (12 to 18), rubella (6 to 7) and mumps (4 to 7). Lower R0s were calculated for two recent outbreaks that caused pandemic fears – H1N1 influenza in 2009 (1.46 to 1.48) and MERS (0.3 to 0.8).

 COVID-192 - 2.5Measles12 - 18Mumps4 - 71918 Flu Pandemic2 - 3SARS2 - 5Ebola virus1.5 - 2.4H1N1 influenza1.46 - 1.48MERS0.3 - 0.8Rubella6 - 7Polio5 - 7Smallpox5 - 7Expected number of people a patient will infect, by diseaseMinimum spreadMaximum spread


“Containment of COVID-19 is feasible and must remain the top priority for all countries.”