Thursday, May 21, 2020

Reality Is Too Complicated For The Experts

... and they reach the limits of their expertise long before they'll admit it and long before we realize it. That was the original genius of America. It gave the individual maximal decision authority because reality is best assessed by those closest to it. Aristocrats, be they of noble blood or with prestigious degrees, may well be smarter and wiser than we are, but their decision-making advantages are much smaller than most believe.

Dig this.

That tells you a couple of things. First, the experts were wrong about the lockdown. In hindsight, it appears obvious, but it wasn't at the time. The initial restrictions were a good decision because our data from socialist China was so poor that we had to collect our own before we could accurately assess the situation. After that, the experts hit and passed the limits of their expertise and we would have been far better off doing our own, individual risk assessments.

Instead of economy-crippling, addiction-boosting lockdowns, it would have been better to temporarily ban large-scale, high-compression gatherings like subway rides and sporting events. Given what we quickly learned about mortality statistics, we would have been well-advised to isolate the elderly as well.

After that, the experts not only had nothing to offer, but actually, through their boundless hubris, did enormous damage with their mandates. A traditional, American response would have been for the experts to offer broad suggestions and allow the Normals to make their own decisions. Instead, as Michael Barone discussed in this essay, our nation has indeed been fundamentally transformed along progressive lines and we now grant far more authority to our aristocrats than they deserve.
Fundamental attitudes can change in a nation over half a century, and the very different responses to this year’s coronavirus epidemic and the influenzas of 50 and 60 years ago suggests that people today are much more risk averse, much more willing to undergo massive inconvenience and disruption to avoid marginal increases in fatal risk.
The essay is typically excellent and worth reading the whole thing.

When progressives talk about fundamentally reshaping or reforming America, it's really all about risk avoidance. Everyone should get health insurance so no one has to risk being without it because some don't have a good enough job. Everyone should get housing because addicts can't afford it. Voting should be done almost automatically because some won't figure out how to go to the polls.

In short, the more of our decision-making we hand off to the experts, the lower our overall risk levels will be. At least that's the idea. It's all bollocks, of course. Our Ivy League aristocrats have gotten us a $25T+ debt, a losing, 20-year war in Afghanistan, culturally ruined black neighborhoods, below-replacement birth rates, familial decay through marriage avoidance and much, much more.

The experts hit their limits long, long ago, but we keep turning to them for advice. Some of it is worthwhile, but very little of it. We'd be far better off making our own decisions and handling our own lives instead of thinking they will create a Utopia that will save us from risk.

Their expertise is almost all illusion anyway. In the end, we'll have to go back to making our own decisions like traditional Americans because we'll have run out of money to pay for the experts brilliant ideas.

Note: these numbers have gone up since I posted this.


tim eisele said...

Issues I have with that graph:
1. It doesn't define "R0". From other contexts, I expect that this is the average number of people that an infected person then goes on to infect themselves. These are all shown as nice, sharp points, but to get those numbers you need to know (a) how many people were infected at some time in the past, and (b) how many people were newly infected since that time, so you can divide one number by the other. The problem is, we have only the vaguest notion of what either of those numbers are. You can't take two numbers, neither of which you know any closer than maybe +/-50%, divide one by the other, and get a definite result like that. If this graph was being honest, it would have error bars running practically clear across the graph.
2. It is not usefully cited. "JP Morgan Quantitative and Derivatives Strategy" is not a usable citation, searching on that gets you precisely nothing relating to this graph. I have absolutely zero way of actually checking where this data came from or even whether it is real data at all.

Basically, this graph is straight out of "How To Lie With Statistics". It looks all impressive and sciency, but as soon as you look at it, it means nothing.

My issue is, and always has been, that people keep trying to make positive pronouncements and establish definite policies based on data that is so bad that it barely qualifies as guesswork. Then, they mainly make decisions based on whipsawing between wishful thinking and panic. We need actual trustworthy numbers. We aren't getting them. States aren't even consistently reporting their results (some are rolling in antibody test results with their direct virus swab test results without distinguishing them, while some count nursing home deaths and some don't), so we don't even know if they are even trying to measure the same things. The way it is now, one person could claim that it is ultimately going to kill 10 million people in the US, and another could claim that it will max out at 120,000, and the data is so unbelievably crappy that I couldn't say, at this point, which one is closer to the truth.

It didn't have to be like this. I just take some solace that at least this is a non-civilization-ending disease, not like, say, a version of Ebola that spread by exhaled droplets and kills 50% of the population would be. Maybe, just maybe, after this is all over we will be able to get our collective heads out of our asses and actually put together plans that mean something, before some gene-tailor whips up a weaponized virus that really will have a chance to kill us all.

In the meantime, though, I'm not going to blame the governors for either deciding lives are more important than the economy and putting on stringent restrictions, or for deciding that making people unemployed could kill more than the disease and so loosen things up to save their state economies. They were all handed a lousy situation by a federal government that decided to punt their responsibilities. And now the governors are trying to do the best they can while herding cats in the dark with everyone yelling contradictory instructions at them.

Ohioan@Heart said...

Tim - agree on all accounts. Something I would add though is that as testing is increasing (at least here in San Diego - I have no way to KNOW if this true generally) we are seeing an increasing number of positive cases, but a decreasing percentage of positive tests), from a high rate of almost 8% (at about 500 tests/day) down to just over 3.5% (at more than 3,500 tests/day). Presumably we are capturing a higher percentage of the actual cases now, but precisely how that would affect the apparent R0 is impossible to say.

Even with the varying testing, I'd be careful about assuming that those reduced rates after the reopening (even if accurate) are what would have happened without the lockdown. I would suggest that after suffering through the two month lockdown, it is likely that far more people are being careful (you know: masks, distancing, extra hand washing) and limiting their trips and interactions, all of which will reduce the transmission. This could credibly be counted as a positive outcome due to the lockdown.

K T Cat said...

I would agree that the stats are tainted, but under these conditions, they all are. The graph itself might have been pulled from thin air. However, it matches other tainted data we're getting from the states that have opened. The predicted catastrophes haven't happened.

Other tainted data we have are the mortality demographics. Those are tainted in part by the government's financial rewards for Chicom Flu deaths. Still, when you look at those you don't see catastrophe.

Here's where I think my point gets made: this is a complex world. If you wanted to make a decision about continuing a lockdown, you'd need semi-reliable Wuhan Flu data and you'd need semi-reliable economic data and you'd need semi-reliable addiction, abuse, suicide and similar data. We do have data about the number of doctor visits canceled and from that we can infer semi-reliable mortality stats for curable problems that transition to incurable during the lockdown lockouts.

What I'm fumbling around trying to say is that the real world, with all these factors, is too complicated to leave to the aristocrats to be making our decisions. We can see what's happening and once they give us some general idea of the threat vectors of the Bat Soup Flu, we're much better equipped to make our own decisions than they are equipped to make ours for us.

The American experiment is all about us Normals making our own decisions. I like that setup quite a bit and I think the lockdown saga is showing its value.

Ohioan@Heart said...

KT - I think you'd like this T-shirt.

K T Cat said...

I love it!

Ilíon said...

Don't the pro-abortionists have a saying? Something like, "If you don't like living a normal life, making your own decisions, then don't live a normal life, making your own decisions."

Ilíon said...

This seems like the least Off-Topic thread in which to post this --

I worked (three minutes shy of) 6 hours today ... transporting *one* patient -- 2.5 hours to pick her up and get her to the appointment, 1 hour waiting while she was at the appointment, 2.5 hours taking her home and then driving back to the garage.

Three points --

1) The is Your Tax Dollars At Work -- rather than schedule her appointment at one of their locations local to her residence, the medical conglomerate sent her to one of their outposts three or four counties away from home.

And what do they care? It's not like the wasted expense comes out of *their* bottom line. Either: she will be paying the wasted time and resources; or, as is the case in this case, she will be paying the wasted time and "the government" (i.e. *your* taxes) will be paying the wasted resources.

2) This happens *all* the time.

3) When I was getting her back into the wheel-chair van, she told me that the personnel in the doctor's office had told her to remove the 'face-bra' she was wearing (as per the "rules" we have to follow during transportation), as it is giving her no benefit, and is, in fact, causing her active harm.

3a) Exactly right.

Ilíon said...

Yesterday, I went to take a woman to an appointment two counties away. When she answered her door, she told me that the appointment had been cancelled (and the office called me to tell me that as I was talking to her).

Now, get this -- she told me that the appointment was to have a Covid-1984 test done.

Think about this. Think about all the wasted time, effort and resources to transport this woman at least an hour each way ... just to take a swab.