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3.28M file for U.S. jobless benefits (wsj.com)
558 points by treyfitty 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 670 comments

A few things to note:

1. These figures are only new claims as of 3/21, so the numbers will get worse.

2. This is ~2% of the estimated ~160-165M US Workforce.

3. This is nearly 5x (!) the prior record of 671K new jobless claims from 1982, and redefines the scale for jobless claims. [1]

4. This does not account for the countless gig workers that are part of the modern economy that likely did not file for unemployment since they were not covered prior to the passing of the senate bill last night.

This goes to show just how sharp of an impact the coronavirus pandemic has had relative to past recessions. Even the '08 Financial Crisis took MONTHS to unravel.

[1] https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/ICSA

Further, unemployment benefits are managed by the states, and those states are running web services which typically see a few hundred hits a day. They are now trying to process tens of thousands of new records each day, and at least in MI the service is absolutely not up to the task.

My wife managed to get her filing completed a little after 1am this morning. She was the only one of her 20 coworkers to successfully file, the rest are continuing to attempt to get the state web site to work today, while more people pile in.

These numbers are going to get much, much worse.

Somewhere there is an architect saying "I told you so!" I can almost guarantee the requirement was to handle several hundred requests per day, an architect pointed out if we get deluged then we won't be able to handle it, so maybe they were able to get them to allow for one or two thousand requests per day.

Now of course we don't know what the architecture of this system is and what the deltas in cost would have been to allow this to scale-out more - but I do know that all too often the more robust solution giving you much greater protection and lower cost down the road is often discarded if it costs even just 5%-10% more. Then the day comes when the people making these decisions get caught flat-footed and they try to blame everyone but themselves. It doesn't always happen like this - but it happens a lot.

This reminds me of an old story about an engineer who took initiative and automated the accounts receivable process at his company, now they get paid 25% faster! He shows his boss and gets a promotion.

He decides to do it again, this time with accounts payable, and is promptly fired.

I think that is small-think. The technical solution is only part of the problem and scaling up all systems to meet the .1% case seldom makes sense. They were smart to save 5-10%.

Eh.... On the flip side, processing and storing some simple text forms should be able to handle 1000s of simultaneous users on one box.

So, probably like most software of this nature, the reason it's not scaling is simply because the people who made it probably weren't the greatest engineers on the block.

These are the same kinds of assumptions that lead engineers to think they can build a [any product] clone in a weekend. It's unlikely that the problem or constraints are nearly as simple as one may think.

Consider: single auth across all the state's services, external APIs, identity verification, address verification, employer ID verification, federal/military ID verification, income/tax verification, phone verification, bank account information, translation into multiple languages, accessibility features, etc. Also, there's probably a lot of legacy infrastructure and process.

Also, if "ability to burst to 10x normal filings per week that might happen once every 40 years" wasn't in the spec, I think they were right not to engineer for it.

Admittedly it's a value call. My thought is generally if it's a small incremental cost that greatly increases the robustness then you should go for it. But - sometimes the money or time just isn't there. I'm bothered more by the people not even wanting to have the discussion than by those who do a summary analysis and decide it's not worth it.

That's a fair point. My comment comes from being in too many meetings where people want Twitter scale for conference-room-sized user bases.

It sometimes borders on sealioning.

The 0.1% case happens. And if it’s going to seriously wreck lives when it happens then you should solve for it. Does Instagram need to handle the 0.1% case? No. But the unemployment website should.

Unemployment forms being delayed by a day or two to deal with poor queuing will not "wreck lives".

Yes but for every architect there's an antiarchitect saying YAGNI!!1

You spelled pragmatist wrong.

Wow, just found what my state (CO) is doing to help manage the influx. Talk about a low-tech workaround.

>IMPORTANT NOTICE: Because of the high volume of claims, we are asking that you help us help you and our greater community.

>If you need to file an unemployment claim and your last name begins with the letter A - M, file a claim on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, or after 12 noon on Saturday.

>If you need to file an unemployment claim and your last name begins with the letter N - Z, file a claim on Monday, Wednesday, Friday or before 12 noon on Saturday.

Ooooh, like gas rationing in the 70s.

> Wow, just found what my state (CO) is doing to help manage the influx. Talk about a low-tech workaround.

> Ooooh, like gas rationing in the 70s.

I wasn't born back then, but I heard about that being based on License plates at a few car meetups by the older guys in the group and I had the same thought when I heard that on CPR.

Odd, but it could work if you have total compliance; lets see how that pans out.

Distributed load balancing!

well as long as it works...

As a developer I immediately though of the power of queues. Twenty people trying to submit same form does not work for everyone, but a queue processing one person at a time might allow the twenty people to submit within a short time. It is flattening the curve! If I was contracted to fix this ASAP, I would set up an nginx front-end proxy config that doesn't allow more than X sessions and suggest a time in the future when they could try again.

Having worked on this type of application in the past they should find a new company to work with if they can't handle this traffic. We were handling hundreds of requests per second with ease 10 years ago. That was with MySQL and the app running on the same server.

It doesn't take many resources to show the user a form, validate it, and save to a DB.

A bunch of armchair developers seem to have been summoned to tell the Federal government how to handle form submissions for an extremely security and privacy intense application using their fancy modern techniques.

You are talking about comparing a basic web form with an application for unemployment benefits which must go into a federal tax database and be processed using a what I assume is a garbage mainframe system.

It not only needs to be validated, it needs to securely store records, be able to compare them, and hook up to the system that handles payments, etc.

They can't just circumvent it and dump it into some silly Amazon or MySQL database and call it a day. That would require the employees to basically copy and paste that data into the actual warehouse and considering they have 3+ million to go through as it is making it easy for them to process is just as important as allowing people to submit.

For the time being the correct response is a queue gate.

Stop being silly.

Yep, USDS and 18F folks would have to agree with you here. The arcane crap that we have to deal with in payment and government information systems is beyond frustrating and makes it extremely tough. I read an article about having to fix a multi-decade Cisco router bug to get CI/CD and automated deployments working after USDS / 18F started setting up faster deployments but still needed to figure out how to deal with legacy stateful DB connections.

The reality of government paperwork systems on the backend is much, much closer to this hell and is part of why so many like myself ran screaming from public sector because when you see so many peers doing so well at FAANGS, why would you subject yourself to something that resists change and wants to keep it the same way? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/federal-eye/wp/2014/03/2...

The point is that backend pain shouldn't stop you from accepting it on the front end and putting it into a queue. Making the problem of getting the application through backend systems the states' to deal with, not the applicants'.

So are you applying for the 44k/yr job to fix it? No, most of are not.

Yeah, even in the SF/SJ locality which has the highest Locality Pay Adjustment (at 41.44%)[1], the position would likely have to be GS-12/GS/13 to start being competitive.

There is the option of going to some area with a much lower cost of living and trying to hire there, but the problem might be getting enough people together to form a team. If you can easily get enough people with skill and experience, the area probably has jobs for them that pay better, and if those jobs don't exist, it might be hard to find the people.

1: https://www.federalpay.org/gs/locality/san-francisco

Eh, USDS and 18F jobs are kind of contract-based and do hit past six figures last I saw. However, they were defunded a lot since last I saw by POTUS45 so it's not clear what the state of comp is. DC area tech is a mish mash of rather enterprise-centric businesses and can be challenging if you're in the wrong domains of expertise.

Unemployment services are ran by the state. The entry level Software Engineer salary by the state of California is around $64k, with senior level salaries between about $75-$105k in Sacramento. I do not know if if this is normal, above average, or below average when compared with other states.

Virginia, DC, Maryland have similar cost of living but VA, MD, and DC have drastically different governments, tax rates, rights, and laws despite people working in roughly the same 40 square miles. Even a federal employee graduating and writing software should make more than that. Senior salaries are between $110k and $140k with not a lot of outliers on either end (the distribution matters more to me than a median when talking salary these days for white collar jobs).

California is a huge state and the Bay Area is going to have drastically different stats for even the same industry comparing San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Luis Obispo (yep, there's software jobs there too).

I recall that looking like a fortune last time I was laid off. I would've applied for that in a heartbeat.

Now, not so much, but if my circumstances change, then who knows?

> The point is that backend pain shouldn't stop you from accepting it on the front end and putting it into a queue.

What if the backend rejects the form? The user's already moved on before their form made it through the queue. So then you're stuck re-implementing all the validations the backend needs in order to give the user feedback (which you may not even be able to do) or trying to get the user to come back later to try again.

> Making the problem of getting the application through backend systems the states' to deal with, not the applicants'.

Reducing permanent staff involved in processing applications is probably one of the main reasons the automated system was built in the first place. If they still have to do that, then you might as well just replace the frontend with a printable PDF.

You can pick a balance between some validations and 100%, and I don't think it's that hard unless you're invested in saying this is just UNPOSSIBLE.

There is already processes (a workforce and/or outbound written letters) to reach out to applicants in the case of eg a dispute (terminated for cause vs laid off).

> You can pick a balance between some validations and 100%, and I don't think it's that hard unless you're invested in saying this is just UNPOSSIBLE.

The point is that it's easy to say things should be easy when you don't know anything except the very surface details of the problem, and it's not your job to actually solve it.

Maybe the team that built the system in question were a bunch of dumb-dumbs who just needed a rockstar developer to show them how easy it is to scale, or maybe the problem is actually more complicated than it seems due some hidden complexities or constraints none of us actually know anything about (either technical or business).

Put it in a workflow where a form is filled out until it reaches a point where the back-end needs to do some heavy lifting, queue the form for processing, and then notify the user to continue to the next form in the workflow.

I also completely agree with this sentiment. A gov't form could be an unsightly complex beast that can't be re-architected, sometimes, ever.

They could, they just don't want to pay for it. The government has no interest in being known for easily handling a huge spike of traffic during a crisis. They can just take the lower road and get by with less and saying 'try again later'. There's no repercussions here because it's the government.

Hence mainframe maintainers should really move to charging $1 million/year in a decade or two.

They aren't choosing to have crap infrastructure, their infrastructure is intentionally defunded as part of a political campaign to engender distrust in government functions and increase privatization. Government is incompetent because if it is, its easy to justify selling off the country to the incredibly wealthy so they can get wealthier.

It's a bit worse than that. The infrastructure isn't actually defunded, there are huge funds allocated to projects, but they're being consumed by managers at Deloitte, Lockheed, Booz Allen, Accenture, etc. The times when we see success is when enough funding trickled down to the few engineers who could make it work with what they get. Other times we see success is when there is enough public oversight by sufficiently independent stake holders. I see this in many local government agencies that are small, and projects accountable to city council, and so on.

So, legitimately, how to we make it so the government does have repercussions? I see a lot of people making jokes about guillotines and nooses, but is there no better way?

I suggest by campaigning to bring logic and critical thinking into early childhood education. Then philosophy, the classics. Science education.

Once you have more people who can understand that there are scientific and moral issues with manifest destiny, and religion isn't going to solve global warming, there will be some shifts in the public discourse and public policies.

What's the scientific issue with manifest destiny?

It's the creation of pseudo-scientific explanations for coincidental advantages Europeans had, that created extreme intellectual complacency and bias that is holding back progress.

Having the schools teach RightThink instead of WrongThink tends to be a hard sell to an ideologically diverse nation.

The whole point of logic and philosophy is that it teaches to think and analyze for yourself, Think, not SomeThink.

Unemployment benefits are handled by the states, not by the federal government.

In Canada, it isn't. The parent's username suggests they talkin about the CAN.


In the US, though, it's by-state.

GP was talking about GGP's suggestion, which was about a US state (Michigan).

None of those comments really help explain why the bottle necks.

If the form has to go into a mainframe well just set up an asynconous Queue

Validation is the problem. If someone thinks they’ve successfully applied, rejecting them asynchronously is often worse than not letting them apply in the first place.

The government generally has no problem with rejecting filed claims after review.

I’m sure, but there’s still, I’d wager, an order of magnitude difference between the paperwork rejected now and that if users were unable to receive immediate feedback in order to correct their input.

It's "armchair" to say "you get what you deserve if your entire system depends on garbage"?

...okay, whatever you say.

I called it garbage, but really neither of us know.

It doesn't take many resources to show the user a form, validate it, and save to a DB.

I bet that's what the previous developers thought.

What happens if you need to validate the form data against an external service that's coming and going due to the traffic spike?

What if your database is rejecting transactions occasionally?

What happens when your backup process locks all the database tables?

How do you reject duplicate form submissions from people hammering the submit button? Do you query the database to find previous submissions?

What happens when a scriptkiddie decides it'd be fun to DDOS the site? How do you differentiate good traffic from bad traffic?

What do you do when the cloud provider runs out of space and you can't scale up any more (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22691926)?

You need to think of all of these things and many, many more to run a robust online service that can handle spikes hundreds of times bigger than the usual level. It's really not straightforward or simple.

Or it's a much simpler problem that they didn't make it semi-fast because it didn't need to be semi-fast.

When "hundreds of times the usual level" is still only 50 page loads per second, and 10 milliseconds of CPU per page would be extreme overkill for anything written in a reasonable way, it actually is straightforward.

It's not just CPU though, but IO - I've worked with horrible enterprise systems before that had response times measured in seconds.

Even 5 seconds will work if the actions can overlap. If it can't do things in parallel then we have issues much more fundamental than "performance", and there's no defending it as a competent system.

(That is not to say it's necessarily the devs' fault.)

I don't mean to defend it too much, because realistically it should be possible with relative ease to handle much more traffic than that - but my point is that in the enterprise and government worlds, things are often not as simple as you think.

Aside from potentially having to interface with dozens of unreliable, painfully slow SOAP-based web services, everything is often hosted on creaking, over-subscribed VMWare hosts, in VMs that would be under-specced regardless.

There is also often a "governing body" that severely restricts your tech stack choices.

Want to use Postgres? Nope, our standard is SQL Server - 2008 edition, actually!

Want to use Python/Ruby/Elixir/Clojure/Kotlin? None of that hipster nonsense here, we use good ole Java/VB.NET here!

Message queue, you say? It's Windows Message Queue with distributed COM all the way down here!

"Containers"? What's a one of those? You'll get a crappy VM with 1 vCPU and 1GB of RAM, and you'll thank me for it! etc...

As a dev, it's horrible and soul-destroying to work under such limitations, but if you have no choice...

All of those items are manageable. Some are simple setup or programming errors, some require a bit of added complexity but are normal in modern web apps.

Completely agree with the sentiment. I think most often it is inadequate default configuration that bottle-necks somewhere, that never got tested with more than a handful of users at a time. Going to a hundred highlights some bugs. going to 1000 others. On the other hand, I have worked on a project for USDA and they had 10 year old servers running 15 year old software and did not allow any system administration, while the system admins were some unknown government employees completely inaccessible.

I have had to build python distribution completely in home/user-space in some cases, working on conservatively managed servers.

Usually it's not so much the form that causes things to fall down but some validation step that they are trying to do synchronously, that might have to access an IBM mainframe, and things time out. When you're getting a few an hour, it's not a big deal.

At this point introducing a new company could cause more problems than it solves, and I think it's understandable to not be prepared for a volume of jobless claims that is almost an order of magnitude more than at any point in US history.

Put the web form (plain static assets JS/CSS/HTML) on a globally accessible CDN. Then use SQS intake for each unemployment application form. Then firehouse it out, wherever it needs to go, at a rate which you can realistically deal with it.

Queuing access to the form itself and telling someone to wake up at 4:52 AM so they can then merely access the static assets is a less-than-desirable user experience.

It is more desirable than 504, and first thing I would do in 15 minutes with zero context. If I can get more context, of course something like your solution is more desirable, depending on the issue. It would take some time to figure whether it is necessary to bring in AWS or just database connection pooler, or whatever.

Even typeform/Google Forms would be better suited for the task.

>Even typeform/Google Forms would be better suited for the task.

And now you've given a private company access to market-moving unemployment data. And a million other issues, especially legal ones.

The technology part in and of itself isn't that difficult, it's all of the constraints (and, often, mountains of laws) that are the bigger issue.

In related news on Queue-it: https://tech.eu/brief/queue-it-funding/

Solid company

The matching UK system has a (huge) queue in it: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252480546/Huge-queues-fo...

Is there a human factor in processing these?

Ocado (the IaaS for online supermarkets company, and, in the UK, online-only supermarket itself) has done this in response to the increased demand, and makes you wait in a 'virtual queue' (virtual relative to what in America you call a 'line-up', but we call a 'queue', at a physical supermarket) before you can place or edit your order.

> If I was contracted to fix this ASAP

You’re assuming that the people who built it in the first place (or the people that may or may not be contracted to fix it later) know or care. Remember, this is government contracting we’re talking about - lowest bidder wins. How do you win the lowest bid? By doing it as cheap and quick as you can. That means hiring inexperienced/cheap developers who can build something that looks like it will work for far less money than you can build something that actually will.

Secondhand story:

I briefly interned with a state judiciary's IT department around 2015 and got to get lunch with the CIO. He described to me how most court filings in the state had been manual prior to 2008 when the mortgage crisis hit and judges in the tax courts got _slammed_ with cases surrounding foreclosures. This , in turn, drove a need to develop a platform to automate the process of filing a case. It started with the tax court and gradually expanded to automate filings for other court divisions as well (e.g. Family, Civil).

I wouldn't be shocked if the revelation of "holy shit no one can file for unemployment" drove such an investment. I honestly think the next generation of politicians should take a page from product owners by isolate some shitty process that they'd have jurisdiction over, and finding some way to automate it. Bonus points if it's right before a watershed moment- imagine if someone had considered the problem you described prior to the coronavirus epidemic.

I mean, you can tell the numbers are extremely inaccurate via just a simple, cursory glance at the report.

Pennsylvania reported 378k claims.

California reported... 186k claims.

Yesterday, California's governor said they've received more than 1 million claims since March 13th (so, over a 12 day period from the 13th to the 25th). This DOL report covers March 14th through the 21st.

Are we to believe that the remaining 800k+ people all filed on March 13th, or March 22nd through the 25th?

But there's more. Utah reported an increase of only 9 claims compared to the week before. They went from 1,305 to 1,314.

Then, New York, where more than half of Covid-19 cases in the US are, reported only 80k?

As of 3/21. Lockdown in California began in the evening of 3/19. Still not enough time for the numbers to react.

"Are we to believe that the remaining 800k+ people all filed on March 13th, or March 22nd through the 25th?"

I could believe it over the 22-25 stretch.

Especially since "filed" may here mean when the paperwork was finally able to snake its way into some particular system.

They also tend to have some... interesting features dictated by the state UI office. When I'd applied in Wisconsin about 6 years back the site stopped accepting form submissions outside business hours.

I assume some less computer-literate higher up thought that someone needed to be around to actually accept the form, same as in-person submissions.

I confirmed that the state's unemployment website has slowed to a crawl (if it is working at all).

2008 took months to unravel because of the nature of the crisis. Foreclosure is a process and in some areas can take up to 6 months or more from the time you stop paying your mortgage.

Here we had state governments practically shutting down their economies overnight. Overnight, every restaurant in my state was no longer allowed to have dine in. Only maybe half in my local area stayed open for carryout, and at least 80% of those have closed in the few weeks since.

The speed at which this happened is astronomical, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be multiple times worse than 2008. Just that the onset was very quick.

The biggest risk stated in 2008 was contagion to "main street" economy, which did eventually occur to some degree.

This virus and fallout went directly to the main street economy (of the entire world at same time) and stopped it cold.

I think its entirely unknown what the ultimate ramifications are of this cold stop to the world economy. But I see no reason to think its not bigger than 2008.

This is huge. It may be a months of jobless claims compacted into a week.

Also the knockon effect on landlords ... many bossiness want some sort of rental relief or those with limited cash flow are saying they are not going to pay.

Small business owners almost always have to personally guarantee commercial rents. "My business doesn't have revenue so I'm not paying" is simply not a valid response unless the owner is willing to take it the whole way to bankruptcy, which I'm sure we'll see a surge of in the coming months from the more aggressive landlords. It varies by state but my state is very forgiving to residential tenants and very unforgiving for commercial tenants (I say this as a former commercial tenant who owed past due rent at one point).

The SBOs with resources will just have to continue paying rent out of pocket, or face liens against their personal assets.

Right. Quite a lot of SBOs never thought this day would come, that they had no choice but to sign such agreements. Tenant ignored the reality of these unfair and untenable agreements. And here we are.

My response to a landlord insisting on 100% rent for property, that just become non-revenue generating by order of the government, or else they will take my personal property? Force majeure, I owe you $0, this contract is null and void. Shall we re-negotiate?

Liens are going to require court judgements. That system is about to get plugged up with cases. Most SBOs and landlords are going to have to re-negotiate. Landlords will talk deferred rents and suggest SBOs get one of these SBA 3.75% loans, in order to make the landlord 100% whole, eventually. SBOs should seek better advice than that which comes from their landlord. SBOs could do much worse than mimicking the likes of Subway, Mattress Firm, etc. by insisting haircuts are coming, fast. And by much worse, I mean, paying the landlord 100% and making them whole.

Good. Screw the landlords. Let them liquidate and bring the market back down to earth a bit.

Do landlords drive up prices? I know for residential properties, homeowners are willing to pay way higher prices than what makes sense for landlords.

I don't understand the vitriol towards landlords. Do people get angry at the bank for lending money so they can buy a house?

> I don't understand the vitriol towards landlords.

It's because real estate is - the vast majority of time - a tried and true way to accrue wealth, and it takes a least some measure of wealth (or a lot of personal risk) to get into it. People get angry when they see folks they think of as "less deserving" with money, and literally the only thing you need to get into real estate is money. So there are a lot of "dumb" people doing it, making a lot of money, seemingly for no reason other than they own the right building.

I've dealt with commercial landlords before and they can be ruthless. As a commercial tenant, you're most likely paying everything. Your rent (with yearly increases well beyond inflation), pro rata insurance, pro rata real estate and school taxes, common area maintenance (CAM) fees that can be thousands a month between all tenants for snow to get plowed ten times a year and the grass to get mowed.

If you're a low margin business it's easy to look at half your revenue leaving the door to your landlord who (in your eyes) has zero risk and provides no value and get angry. But I owned a brick and mortar business for 4 years and had 3 landlords in that time because they kept going bankrupt. So there's definitely some risk associated with it.

Most landlords raised rents just because they could.

They were profitable where they were, but since the next guy raised his rents, then they jacked up their own rents.

This is what makes people angry at landlords. And often times, your rent increased, but your pay didn’t, so you get squeezed both ways.

This is literally basic Econ 101.

Commercial leases have rent increases built into them that are agreed to by all parties. Nobody is getting a surprise by their rent going up, and they're typically negotiated and signed close to a year before becoming effective. If the rent is too much, you can move your business or find ways to grow your revenue. If there's nothing cheaper, then that's what the market has decide a square foot of commercial real estate in your area is worth. If your business doesn't support that, the market doesn't want your business.

We tell contract developers all the time "you need to charge more!" and "charge what you're worth!" but the minute someone does it to us we scream about how unfair it is and how the system is broken. I'm sure the guy selling widgets who has his WordPress guy charging him $125/hr thinks that's unfair, too. And I say that as someone who has been both the widget salesman and the $125/hr WordPress dev.

The financial crisis didn’t prevent most people from spending money on entertainment or eating out. People scaled back spending or went to cheaper places.

People are fearful and a lot of folks are supposed to be sheltering in place. Business are being told to do takeout only which is a huge difference.

I was in the restaurant industry during the last crisis. Lots of places stopped hiring and slowed down but business didn’t suddenly stop.

>Business are being told to do takeout only which is a huge difference.

Yeah I've been doing a fair amount of takeout and places where you had dozens of people ... operating with two or three people now.

My brother is a restaurant owner and reports that despite volume being down, profit is up due to less overhead. Others in the restaurant industry are reporting the same. When we come out on the other side of this, I think a lot of businesses are going to rethink a lot of things they held on to as infallible truths.

Sorry as many mentioned, yes the key ingredient is takeout: This is a fast casual italian / pizza restaurant. I find fast casual restaurants doing just fine in my area. It's traditional sit downs that are struggling.

Almost every restaurant owner I know is about to fold or taking emergency loans. From people with several franchised sandwich shops to stand alone restaurants.

Who is reporting profits are up?

I'm guessing they're confusing profit and margin. It wouldn't surprise me if margins were higher now, but I have a hard time believing overall profits are up, anywhere.

Especially when you consider a lot of restaurants make a good chunk of their profit on alcohol sales. While many are offering alcohol to go, I think most of us are picking it up from the corner store instead.

Anecdotally, the owner of one of the nearby pizza places mentioned that both profits and margins are up for her. Of course pizza places historically have a large amount of delivery already. I imagine the current crisis has driven more customers to them at the expense of places that are traditionally dine-in only.

Did his business already have a robust take-out business? If so, I wouldn't be surprised by this comment. I would expect revenues, for awhile, to be the same or even increase... though as individual customers circumstances turn less certain I would expect that to decline over time. Certainly there's less labor overhead, and slightly less expense for utilities, cleaning supplies, etc. But larger pieces, like rents, would remain the same absent some sort of accommodation for the crisis.

A business that didn't have a robust take-out business prior to the crisis I would expect to fare worse. You'd have to do things like get the word out that you are a take out business for one... and some couldn't likely make that transition. Would you order fine dining take out? Sure the food might be good, but half the reason to go to a good restaurant, rather than a cheaper one, is the service.

My personal experience has been that quality of restaurant/food/dining experience has always been negatively correlated with number of tables, or even total sq. ft.

I think fast casual already did that and going say delivery only ... might be a dead end for most small businesses.

Especially as folks get out of their homes and WANT to be out and about ;)

Is the change something that can be stabilized? Or when people have the option to eat out again, will delivery-only restaurants suffer too much from competition with eat-in restaurants? (Assuming there's some level of customer preference for eating in?)

Now I'm curious about pizza places. Most pizza places offer seating. But I feel like Domino's might in fact be delivery-only.

They might be making more money on sales vs staff right now but anyone who has a rent payment isn't going to cover it with takeout alone.

For most major fast food franchises, the drive through constitutes a majority of the food sales. Labor also constitutes the largest line item on a P&L, so if you can work it right, you might be able to make it work. Especially if you're getting assistance (in the form of suspended franchise/royalty fees).

Cheesecake Factory can't make rent this month - https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/26/business/cheesecake-factory-a...

Of course there's less overhead, they are employing fewer people (or drastically reducing paid hours for employees). That's kind of the point of the parent article.

This. It makes you wonder how much long the confinement can really last.

I imagine those less at risk will eventually give up on confinement and continue on with their lives, forcing those at risk (risk factors, 60+, immunocompromised) to remain confined voluntarily or risk a greater chance of death by venturing out. Those not at risk (younger and healthier) will be prioritized for triage and ventilator access if they do get sick.

You can't expect people to shelter in place indefinitely, and they won't.

I think the next couple of weeks are going to be eye opening - we're going to get a lot of reports of deaths, even of the young and healthy, which we're already seeing. That should steel the collective resolve to last a while here. People are talking of lifting the restrictions and our collective endurance and things have barely gotten going. It's really complaining about the length of the red light when it's just turned yellow.

Naturally people aren't going hole up for a year, but we have to stop acting antsy when we've been in our houses a week or two.

Edit: I'm assuming the government does its job and takes care of its people so that they can do the right thing here.

The government is passing relief package of 18,000 dollars for every citizen of the USA. That's more than enough money to tide things over if it's distributed well, in a way that incentivizes the right things.

Unforunately, a very small portion of that money will go to individuals who have lost their jobs, and a very large portion will go to companies that were run on razor-thin balance sheets, ready to topple at the first sign of trouble. No incentives to run things properly the next time around, and limited help for regular people. While costing everyone a fortune in the form of inflation the next few years.

I’ve heard this point made a lot, that these “bailouts” are in any way equivalent to previous bailouts based on poor management and immoral business practices.

These aren’t the same. This shutdown (however justified) is because of the govt. If the government demands you shut down your business, or that you can’t go to work, you deserve to be compensated for that. If the government hadn’t mandated it, young people would still be out working and spending. Those businesses would be fine. If the govt wants to shut everything down, they have to pay people for it.

Businesses (including many of those demanding bailouts) have spent unprecedented amounts of money on stock buybacks in the last decade. If citizens are expected to have a reserve fund to handle unexpected crises, so should businesses.

The alternative seems to be to let millions get sick en masse, potentially leading to similar shutdowns for longer time periods (i.e. failing to "flatten the curve"). I don't think you can claim those businesses would be fine unless you define a timeline to go with your assertion; say, "those businesses would be fine for n weeks."

Remember that sick != dead, unless you have risk factors, 60+ or is immunocompromised in which case you should do everything you can to stay at home and practice distancing.

The other thing is that half of the cost is in the form of low interest loans and loan guarantees, and presumably most of those will not default if this doesn’t go on too long and thus won’t actually be real costs

If those companies go under they take a lot of jobs with them. It seems more efficient to prop them up instead of making direct payments to the employees who would have lots their jobs.

Especially since a lot of the companies are only asking for loans, not handouts.

> Naturally people aren't going hole up for a year, but we have to stop acting antsy when we've been in our houses a week or two.

It's natural to be antsy if you've lost your job, have no social safety net, and can't pay for food or your rent.

Either pay them to stay home, or don't be surprised when they leave to attempt to make a living to survive. They're already at risk of being homeless and destitute, so COVID matters much less to them. And I don't blame them.

I agree. Let's pay people so that everyone can do the right thing in this time of crises.

> I'm assuming the government does its job

What has led you to make this assumption?

State and local governments are doing a good job in many locales. Assuming more Governors don't follow the jackwagon leading Mississippi and override local efforts, the situation should improve despite the lack of leadership and execution at the federal level.

What's going on in Mississippi?

Governor overriding local efforts to contain the virus. While the order improves things in some areas it weakens efforts in the cities that were trying to get ahead of the curve.


It could very well be a bad assumption, but efforts seem ot be being made now to get people support. Hopefully they get there or this is going to be really bad.

>Hopefully they get there or this is going to be really bad.

The right thing for governments to do is to help mitigate the damage they've caused by ordering massive shutdowns. They can't do one without the other otherwise, indeed, it will be really bad.

Got any data to support your claim, otherwise I could argue that risk factors, 60+, immunocompromised are the MAJOR concerns as stated above. Looking to Italy and Spain seems to confirm this view.

Everything suggests this is taking a dark turn in the coming days. I'm doing my best to stay safe.

Does it? Let's set aside the scorekeeping systems we use (money, profit, ownership, wealth) for a moment. I see no reason to think we can't get people properly fed indefinitely. We'll still have power, water, sewage, bandwidth. And it's not like the shut down businesses will evaporate or anything. The buildings will be there. The equipment will be there. 97%+ of the staff will still be around.

Eventually we'll have a vaccine, and life can go back to normal (if we want). The main problem in the interim is keeping everybody from freaking out because the before-times social constructions weren't really set up for a global pandemic. But we can fix that if we want.

> We'll still have power, water, sewage, bandwidth

Don’t forget about food. There’s a lot of complexity and people involved in getting food from a farm to your local restaurants and grocery stores.

If it gets really bad and even a fraction of people in these industries stop working, stay-at-home life might get a lot less comfortable.

As you can see from the sentence before the one you quoted, I didn't forget about it.

I agree there's a lot of complexity there. But it's still a relatively small slice of the population. A friend is a farmer; she's just carrying ahead farming. Compared with urban life, she's been "socially distancing" for years. For the more dense parts of the chain, we need to take other infection-prevention measures. But food production is already pretty good at keeping things clean, and the rest we can work on.

Food production is essential work, so nobody is stopping it.

We are about to have millions unemployed. Any job vacancy will be trivial to fill.

I wouldn't be concerned about the food supply.

It's worth remembering how efficient our modern food systems have become that less than 3 out of 100 people are enough to work them.

That said, it wouldn't hurt anything to start a "victory garden", it's the right time of year. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victory_garden (but that's a good idea anyway, orthogonal to the virus.)

Things stop all the time.

You just need to find the right event for comparison. In this case probably the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami or the 2011 East Japan Earthquake (Tsunami, Fukushima Nuke plant etc)

I don't think that comparison works.

There, you had relatively short duration disasters where very soon afterwards, coordinated efforts were dedicated to putting the pieces back together.

Now, most of the press and leadership seems to be thinking only about how to manage the health related consequences of an ongoing crisis. I really don't hear anyone strategizing how to put the pieces back together or how to contain the crisis (note that I did not say contain the disease) so things don't fall apart so completely. There is a profound absence of thought amongst those in decision-making positions, at least insofar as I can see.

Everyone can go right back to work after the event is over in a few minutes.

This more comparable to a nuclear bomb where the area is still radioactive and people cannot go back without PPE.

Edit: and like another reply said, this isn't local, so it's more like multiple nuclear bombs in multiple countries across the globe.

So they don't stop all the time. Those events you gave did not cause 3 billion people to be forced to stay at home. A tsunami or earthquake is isolated to a particular place. It may affect a few million. This is a different order of magnitude

>4. This does not account for the countless gig workers that are part of the modern economy that likely did not file for unemployment since they were not covered prior to the passing of the senate bill last night.

You (and others) are probably aware, but worth pointing out that these people still can not currently file for unemployment benefits until the house passes the bill, the senate approves any house amendments to the bill, and the president signs the bill.

The house isn't voting on this until tomorrow at the earliest, so there's still a ways to go.

There's probably others as well that have had their pay reduced, that are waiting to see what's going to be passed before filing for benefits. Anecdotally I know of some software engineers in this boat.

I'm kind of confused by what it means for a gig worker to become unemployed; specifically the criteria. Is it along the lines of "I normally drive Uber. There are no riders anymore. Therefore, I can't collect income?" I mean, it'd be hard to verify such a statement is fact. A gig worker could just stop logging into Uber, then file an unemployment application. I hope there's an angle to this I'm missing.

You likely will need to prove that your unemployment or lack of ability to work was caused by COVID-19. So doctors note, test result, order to stop work by governor, etc.

Also doesn't take into account those who have had reduced hours or salary at their jobs, like my wife's entire company (at least the employees that didn't get furloughed at her company). She got reduced to 3 days a week, for a 40% salary reduction.

> 3. This is nearly 5x (!) the prior record of 671K new jobless claims from 1982, and redefines the scale for jobless claims. [1]

This should be normalized to be per-capita, comparing absolute figures is distorted by population growth. The US was only 230M people in 1982, 100M less than today.

After normalizing it's more like 3.9x.

3.9m ~ 5m are pretty similar compared to 670k...

> This goes to show just how sharp of an impact the coronavirus pandemic has had relative to past recessions. Even the '08 Financial Crisis took MONTHS to unravel.

I think we need to couple the two events a little more closely. The 2008 Financial Crisis accelerated inequality, political instability, asset inflation, and the rise of precarious work to such a degree that the damage of this hit is being greatly compounded.

To my mind, the hole that was the 2008 crisis was papered over and someone just came by and dropped a brick on it.

The former Minister of Finance in greece and current MP Yanis Varoufakis has made the same connection [0]. He argues that it's the same crisis, but that the crisis has transformed, so that the solution can't be the same as in 2008. E.g. the ability of China to offer massive renminbi-swaps is set into question because they are being hit hard by this crisis. The weren't hit during 2008.

He also questions whether the US will be willing to offer the same condition-less USD-swaps.

[0]: https://youtube.com/watch?v=OLfHpvJKNg0 is an interview where he explains his position.

> the rise of precarious work

I'm not going to disagree that there was a rise in precarious work, but I think many people don't realize how valuable having this work as option is.

Brazil has been economically struggling for almost a decade now, which is the same decade when this type of work appeared. For many people in Brazil this has been a godsend. It's provided an employment option where previously there would have been none. The option wasn't between precarious work and non-precarious work. It was between precarious work and no work.

Precarious work at least lets workers get back on the work ladder and just being on the ladder makes it easier to grab the next rung on the ladder and pull themselves up. It's especially valuable that the precarious work also tends to be flexible. This lets people study for new skills and go to interviews, which is something much harder to do with scheduled work.

The economic situation in Brazil would have been far worse if another million or more people doing this precarious work had been unemployed for the last decade instead.

It's not that simple, because up to some point, precarious work outcompetes non-precarious work, reducing the later one.

You will see all kinds of arguments and researches, but actually nobody is really sure about what that point is, and if it is a net positive or negative for workers. To make it worse, Brazil is in a kind of unique situation because official work is extremely regulated, while precarious work is well accepted and widespread (and not as new as you think), so one can not even apply the lessons from most of the world.

Not from the US, so not quite in phase with how things work. What can this tell us about actual unemployment and actual people that won't have a job now (short, medium or forever)?

Most businesses do not have capacity to pay workers and rather than hold out, some are terminating immediately so their employees can claim unemployment benefits. I know for example of Dental offices (which in Texas are mandated closed until April 21st I believe) are doing this, but have every intention of re-hiring the same staff the moment they are allowed to re-open. I'm not sure this is the typical case, but its certainly a subset.

I have to say, agressiveness of USA capitalism is shocking to watch.

moral bonus: ability to 'explain' it that is just because you can claim unemployment benefit.

Just my personal opinion here, but one should be careful to view the pandemic through the socialism vs. capitalism lens. I think it's better to focus on the particulars of events rather classifying them as in on of the two camps.

Hard to say. Some of them might still be employed but with zero pay, others might have been laid off, and for others their employers just folded the business.

And yet DJIA is up almost 1000 points. Is this the stimulus $$$ in work, or what is going on here?

Markets are complicated. Especially in the short term, you have large forces that aren't concerned only with future expected value.

For instance, if you manage a fund that sold substantially on the way down, you now have a great deal of cash you need to do something with. Considering a 'local bottom' has been found, you may be very interested in trying to re-enter the market now. The risk of waiting for a lower entry begins to compete heavily with the risk of missing a buying opportunity.

Job losses are expected and are priced in (which is why it crashed a couple weeks ago). The job losses were less than some expected so the market went up.

Unfortunately, it's called "a good time to get the heck out if you haven't already."

Panic selling is generally a poor strategy. Feel free though I'd be happy to pick up some more cheap VGRO.

You don’t think it’s a good time to “panic sell” when the market goes up 20% in just 3 days?

Edit: especially while the US corona curve is not showing any signs of slowing down.

This has got to be a dead cat bounce.

Normally, when a company lays off workers, the market cheers, and the stock price goes up. Investors get to keep more of their money, and no longer have to pay out in expensive labor.

But this situation is quite different, in that the economy just came to a stop, for practically everyone. At some point, this has got to trickle up, and affect the larger corporations. People won’t fly, so airlines go bankrupt. Hotels go bankrupt. Travel Agencies go bankrupt. And on and on.

But of course, maybe Wall Street is expecting a bailout of the airlines, and other big businesses, so maybe that explains the optimism.

Unlikely. I suspect it's more likely month-end re-balancing.

I definitely know more people laid off this week than last week. No one was really sure how much business they could sustain with this whole thing going on, and now that there's been a full week and a partial week employers are starting to pull the plug.

This goes to show how negatively-impacting ignoring health officials is.

Semi tangent, about dealing with mass unemployment.

I like to think this event changes people's perspective on folks out of work in the US. There's a lot of recrimination, and even self loathing about being poor or out of work in the US. It doesn't seem based in reality and certainly isn't helpful.

Perhaps it is time we realize that much like a pandemic things in this world change fast and we need to be able to help folks who are out of work pick up skills quickly / retrain (and maybe retrain employers that people with a 'different' resume might actually be able to do other jobs) so that they can get back on their feet.

Maybe it won't be a pandemic but things are changing fast whole industries of people find themselves offshored, jobs change, etc. I think we need to plan for / get comfortable with the idea that on a smaller scale we should be ready to deal with such things dynamically over the course of people's lives with retraining, support for it, and etc. And maybe a workforce with a variety of experiences will be better for it.

> I like to think this event changes people's perspective on folks out of work in the US.

Sure, just like the Depression did.

And just like the Depression, a few years of boom times afterwards and that effect will be negated until the next similar event.

After the depression the US emerged as the global hegemon because of major shifts in power that happened as a part of WWII. The US was uniquely adapted to grow to be the global super power at the same time that European nations were taking a huge hit from the war.

I suspect this will ultimately lead to China as the new hegemon. We're seeing key advantages to the Chinese state that the US cannot adapt to. Decades of pushing the US government to work more and more exclusively in the interest of capital has lead to a completely impotent state that cannot take care of its people. Likewise we have a complacent populace who, as many here have argued, won't be able to endure extended isolation.

The pandemic is not just a rogue wave that has done some damage and we'll bounce right back. This event has shown deep systemic vulnerability to certain very real risks that the US is incapable of adapting too. And all these same risks are what leave us extremely vulnerable to other similar events like climate change.

The US will recover in a sense, but this is very likely the start of a long process of a major shift in global power, and the end result will look very, very different than the world of a few weeks ago.

Germany lost 2 World Wars and today it has greater GDP than UK by $1 trillion. It doesn't matter who is hit harder it matters whose economy is more efficient and has more innovations.

Not much comparable. Just a random difference - Germany was quickly rebuilt because allies want it to be rebuilt, and not let impoverished and destroyed like after WWI. We know how that ended...

When talking about efficiency, I think China might have the upper hand now - they are much more effective in discipline, they don't mind suffering things that are unacceptable for us, and look where they are with COVID - ahead of every-fucking-body else. West looks pathetically weak and ineffective compared to them. Maybe in 2 months things will look differently, but I don't see much data for that now.

My point was if a country wants to be successful and dominate over others it needs to have an economy which is efficient and which innovates that's why USA is currently world's richest and most powerful country. On the other hand China with its massive workforce and efficiency combined with upcoming innovations is about to become world's new number 1 superpower.

Interesting - the Chinese economy isn’t known for efficiency or discipline. It’s known for its massive scale.

China has been trying to increase its economic efficiency and discipline, but generally failing.


I saw someone make an interesting comparison on this.

In the West, when they think of efficiency, they think of using robots and automation to remove human labor. Labor costs go down, quality goes up, profits go up. Get rid of pesky factory workers and their need for benefits.

The goal in the West, is to maximize profit, above all else.

Whereas with China, when they think of efficiency, they think of production output ratio in mass production. Meaning, how many people can they employ, along with automation and mechanization, in order to massively increase production output.

Humans are more adaptable than robots, and can be repurposed to operate another machine. Quality is not as high, but it may be acceptable. The gain is in mass market share, at a lower cost. And at some point, their higher end manufacturers will automate and compete on par with their western peers.

The goal in China, is to maximize output. Massive profits can come later.

>>West looks pathetically weak and ineffective

That’s what happens when your people have almost no rights and you can literally weld their building doors shut. Their strength comes at a cost, and it’s the freedom of their people.

Edit: Also, China only matters because we allow them to matter. As soon as we wise up and let other countries start making our toys and phones, China will be screwed.

> they don't mind suffering things that are unacceptable for us

When the ruling class exploits the working class and suppresses their access to information and free speech, that doesn't mean they "don't mind suffering," it means one sector of the Chinese population has cannibalized another sector in order to build wealth for themselves. Much like what is happening in the US with the ultra-wealthy. It's not all rainbows and roses in China, in fact if you forgot, there is an active genocide in progress in that country.

Genocide or not (nobody knows what is happening in those camps, so I would not use that word unless we have some solid hard evidence), we talk about consequences of covid on societies. And Chinese one seems to be faring much much better than most others.

I just saw how a video of Chinese doctors dressing up for a visit to a covid patient. My doctor wife just stared with open mouth - nothing like that is done here in Switzerland. They use super basic equipment, which is simply not enough to protect long term doctors exposed to patients. We simply don't have the mindset to handle this situation seriously. We will learn eventually, but it will be a painful lesson for our society.

As somebody on HN mentioned a few weeks ago, China defined its bottom with closure and quarantine, and now they are bouncing back. While west is still in free fall.

We do know what is happening in the camps. There have been numerous leaks, and accounts of former residents.

There’s no ambiguity. The only way “we don’t know” is if we chose to be ignorant.

China understands what matters most and that is controlling the narrative. An authoritarian government excels at manipulating the raw data and thus the narrative.

Controlling the narrative is also what the US Federal government is currently doing.

They hold nightly pressers, dragged their feet on getting tests out, recently asked states not to publish their unemployment reports, etc.

I'm not arguing against the point that China is handling this better than other countries. I'm arguing against the point that it's because they "don't mind suffering." They do mind suffering, but they have no agency, and their government has decided that they must suffer so that the economy can survive this crisis as healthy as possible.

China is an authoritarian country, and they've resorted to literally locking people into their homes until a quarantine period passes, arresting them, and beating them. Can you imagine if American police started locking apartment complex doors from the outside? I don't want to live in a country like that, even if it means we're worse equipped to deal with pandemics.

And let's not forget this whole thing started in China because their food safety regulations aren't adequate.

edit: ah yes, downvotes -- mash that disagree button

I didn't downvote you, and agree with you 100%. Your food safety remark is also right, but makes your whole comment seem less objective.

Well, apparently 40% of the staff in intensive care unit exposed to covid victims has been infected, so I'm not sure how useful those fancy suits are.

Solzhenitsyn predicted this like 30 years ago.

Not having tolerance for suffering. Lack of courage, destruction of masculinity.

P.S. people can downvote me as much as they want. But that is not going to change the facts.


This is not productive commentary. Looks like his numbers are true, thus his statement is worth something.


danharaj 10 days ago [flagged]

You could have only thought that was a scathing retort if your political ideas are entirely based on the formal manipulation of words and aesthetics.

It was meant more as a "there is no real response to a contentless statement like this" comment, though I admit people don't seem to be taking it that way.

Nothing in the grandparent comment is particularly neoliberal; now, if it stated that neoliberal policy assured (or even made more likely) the kind of economic resilience that it suggests is what matters, that would be different, but as it is it is compatible with the criticism of neoliberalism that is common from the center-left to the far left (though each position in this range also has many more criticisms of neoliberalism) that it favors myopic microoptimizations over systemic health and resilience.

Heck, as a center-leftish frequent critic of neoliberalism, I mostly agree with the statement: while who was hit hardest has some effect, differences in the trajectory of the rebound from the bottom tends to matter more for the post-crisis position than differences in the depth of the bottom.

"efficiency" and "innovation" are neoliberal buzzwords. They are the very same buzzwords that were used to justify the cuts to our supplies and offshoring of our supply chains that led in part to this crisis.

It is absurd on its face to summarize Germany's ascendancy to "efficiency" and "innovation" when, you know, complicated geopolitics is a thing. It is literally fluffy propaganda.

> "efficiency" and "innovation" are neoliberal buzzwords.

No, efficiency and innovation are real things. Neoliberals tend to think that they are areas that neoliberal policy produces better outcomes on, and in the case of efficiency at least there is a strong theoretical case that this is true in a very narrow range of hyper-idealized conditions.

People who are not neoliberals often agree that efficiency and innovation are important (though perhaps not of as paramount importance as neoliberals tend to portray them), but often disagree with neoliberals as to the optimality of neoliberal policies at producing them outside of the kind of simplified conditions that dominate the first couple weeks of undergraduate economics classes.

> People who are not neoliberals often agree that efficiency and innovation are important (though perhaps not of as paramount importance as neoliberals tend to portray them), but often disagree with neoliberals as to the optimality of neoliberal policies at producing them outside of the kind of simplified conditions that dominate the first couple weeks of undergraduate economics classes.

People who are not neoliberals often agree that efficiency and innovation are important _up to the point where needs are met for all_. No leftist uses efficiency/innovation as a target (and if they do chase it for the sake of productivity they are by definition not left of capital).

> People who are not neoliberals often agree that efficiency and innovation are important _up to the point where needs are met for all_. No leftist uses efficiency/innovation as a target (and if they do chase it for the sake of productivity they are by definition not left of capital).

Plenty of leftists, agree with neoliberals that utilitarian efficiency ought to be a key goal of an economic system. Leftists, unlike neoliberals, are unlikely to believe that the capitalist markets optimize for utilitarian efficiency, because, even aside from the general failures of the rational choice model due to imperfect information, etc. (which neoliberals often also discount), capitalist markets effectively weight individual utility differently based on the individual’s wealth.

1. The supposedly superior Chinese system is largely responsible for the outbreak being as bad as it is. Never mind the initial coverup and lies about the nature of the disease, their allowance of those horrifically unsanitary wildlife markets is crime enough.

2. I'm wondering what makes you think the US is incapable of adapting. Will we ever be able to do a China-style lockdown? Probably not, but that's a feature not a bug. There are other ways of dealing with a pandemic, and I sincerely doubt anyone from the west, or most of the east for that matter is going to be moving to China for their pandemic-response measures.

If anything I see this as a negative for China. The experience has revealed just how vulnerable China-dependent supply chains are, particularly for medications and medical devices. I expect both political and social moves to diversify away from dependence on China, which would hardly make them more of a Hegemon.

1. China’s early failures were quickly remedied. They enacted a massively costly economic shutdown early, and bought the west weeks or months. What did we do with that bought time? We wasted it by denying the threat, failing to stockpile, and ultimately doing the exact same thing China did (trying to suppress news of it from the top). At least in the US a select few Republicans were able to profit off this, so I guess they can thank China for their generosity. 2) China built two hospitals in a week, and nearly instantaneously shifted a significant portion of their industry to making medical supplies. Thousands of Americans will die because the US President won’t invoke the defense production act. US does adapt, but it does so too slowly to solve the problem.

China has proven themselves massively resilient. Right now, they’re worried about reimporting cases from Europe and have covid largely under control. It would have been better to not get out of hand in the first place, but they’re the only country that’s demonstrated an ability to work themselves back out of the crisis once it’s unfolded.

Already, colleagues in China are returning to work, and I’ll be out of the office likely until May. China gave us weeks if not months of warning that we ignored, so it’s a little frustrating to see Americans and Europeans finger point when ultimately we’re responsible for our own shit.

If you look at China’s trajectory over the past ~15 years, it is obvious that the 21st century is theirs for the taking, as the 20th was for the US.

I sincerely doubt "buying time for the west" was even remotely in the minds of any Communist Party officials in charge of the lockdown. They committed to the lockdown so their own medical systems wouldn't get overwhelmed and cause even more economic damage, just like everyone else.

US adaptation will take the form of putting systems in place to prevent a re-occurrence. Of course we move too slow in the initial crisis, we always have. Any democracy moves slower than an authoritarian dictatorship in the moment, that's one of the trade-offs. It's frustrating, but a natural feature of the system, and pays dividends in the long-term.

China's trajectory over the past 15 years has been providing cheap labor to be the world's workshop. But that labor is no longer as cheap, automation continues to advance, and companies were already relocating their supply chains due to political/economic/IP theft concerns, Samsung being the most notable example. Now this? There will be a surge.

That and the Chinese's government's bottomless-loans-as-political-favor policy can't last forever. And thanks to the one child policy they're facing a major age and gender demographic crisis. China is also dependent on imports for food and energy.

They exist in their modern form at at the pleasure of the rest of the world. The foundation for their economic miracle was the west opening them up to world trade to distance them from the Soviets, and later cheap labor. It was never anything intrinsic to China or Chinese power. The moment they try to force their will on the world they'll find their ability to do so is short-lived.

I’m not sure about this. China is, rightfully, being blamed for the initial outbreak of the virus and their failure to contain it. I think when the dust settles, we’re going to see a rapid decoupling from China as countries look inward to strengthen their domestic supply chains.

I have a hard time seeing China emerging as a winner from this crisis.

Given how poorly the rest of the world reacted after getting two months of advance warning, I can't think of more than three countries that could have contained this outbreak.

Fingerpointing at China when they reacted far more decisively then the West did seems... A tad off the mark.

If this originated in Milan, Kansas, or Bangalore, we'd all be in the exact same boat today.

Hell, if the outbreak started in Kansas, we would probably have a hundred thousand dead by now, with our supreme leader still insisting that the virus will magically go away in three weeks.

Not sure it is fair to say that the world really had advanced warning from China. They were saying everything was okay and people-people transmission is low. All trust was lost, so time was reset when Italy was hit, that is the real time zero, because no one trusts China.

> They were saying everything was okay and people-people transmission is low.

For the first two weeks of January.

When they got to the point of locking down an entire city, it became pretty clear to everyone that it was a serious situation.

We looked at that, and did... Nothing.

The first lockdown in Italy was Feb 21. Trump had alread convened a task force to investigate and handle the spread of the virus on Jan 29, and was later called racist for the travel restrictions placed on people coming from China on Jan 31.

It's apparently been memory-holed, but during this period it was the US media calling it "no worse than the flu", not the other way around.

And what did that task force accomplish?

* Shipping a laughably insufficient number of test kits that didn't work, while banning private labs from developing their own tests. We still have a crippling test kit shortage.

* Asking people traveling from China to self-quarantine, and not following up.

* No stockpiles of necessary medical supplies.

Getting called names has never stopped him from rolling out bad policy in the past. I don't see why it can be credited for stopping him from rolling out good policy this time.

Inner cynic: For now long? 5 years? Then we will again be cutting costs, looking at the bottom line, and find that Chinese manufacturing gives a better bottom line.

If China becomes less dependent on exports to the US, they could dump US treasuries, which could potentially destroy the US economy & the dollar.

They have the US by the balls.

Interesting theory. I suspect China will continue to do what they’ve been doing, and build out their own country.

The United States was built on the foundation of transportation (roads and highways), automobiles, mortgages, and travel. These industries built up the middle class, by providing jobs for home, and profits from exports to abroad. Then came tech and the massive windfall from that.

They essentially have the population of 4 United States, that they can essentially just compete internally among themselves, while still producing products for export to abroad.

They can just follow the same playbook here.

* Infrastructure, check, they have highways, airports, and also, high speed trains.

* Automobiles, check, they have the largest car market in the world. And they are continually working with, and learning from, their European partners. Eventually, they’ll get good enough to not need external partnerships.

* Mortgages, check, lots of high rises, since that’s the only way to house so many people.

* Travel, in progress, they’re working really hard to make a commercial airliner. This will take another 20 years, but Boeing messed up with their 737 Max fiasco, which may give them an opening sooner. But most of the parts to this airplane comes from American companies, so if Trump wants, then he can really crush their airplane independence dreams, at least for 10 years.

* Technology, in progress, they have mostly web companies, and application companies, but not yet core technology companies. They still don’t quite have CPU and memory chip companies yet, and they outsourced manufacturing to Taiwan. This is where Trump can really crush them, but again, at a heavy price, and only for 10 years.

In the end, anything is possible, but I highly doubt they are interested in squeezing the US by the balls anyways. They are finding it more profitable to maintain friendly terms with the US, and sell them cheaper trinkets, than taking a confrontational approach, and getting into a hot war, where nobody wins, except Lockheed.

OP assumed the rest of the world will become less dependent on foreign goods, which would therefore hurt China. I pointed out China is hedged to come out on top in that scenario, not that China would necessarily push for that scenario.


China cares for its people by imprisoning them with brute technology and camps?

I think it is arguable the other way around.

China's own population may be additionally disenchanted with a government unable to handle the situation without iron/hamfisted attempts to clamp down after ignoring the problem / sources for a long time.

A few weeks? Really? A major geopolitical shift the likes of which the world has never seen is going to occur in a few weeks?

These things take place over years, even decades. I do agree that the US hegemony may come to an end if things continue as is. But I don't think that means another becomes hegemon.

A key determiner is who invents an effective treatment and vaccine first. Many bright young minds globally are paying great attention to Covid-19. If it happens in a country, possibly US, East Asia, or Europe, then the institutions of higher learning in the country would gain immediate prestige. (Pretty sure some teams in China have set its sight on this.)

If it happens in East Asia, that would also be a recognition of their recent rapid improvement in STEM research that's not yet common knowledge, and not recognized by many general rankings.

An academic ranking with some objectivity has 5 Chinese, 1 Korean, and 1 Singaporean universities among global top 10 in biomedical engineering, for example:


A shift in perception among talents may start a positive feedback loop that propels innovation in East Asia (incl. Singapore) further. Today, many graduate students in top programs in the US are from Asia.

Over the long term, quality and rate of innovations are what determine global leaders (as a sibling comment suggests).

I agree with the last part of your statement, but not the first. By the time an effective vaccine is developed and run through human trials, most of the population will already have gotten Covid, so it's not likely to be a savior moment. Additionally, given how many vaccine candidates are already in the pipeline, it's pretty likely there will be multiple options approved within a few months of each other.

On a related note, if China wants to improve its STEM research prestige level, it needs to do something about the rampant fraud in research results that cause a lot of people to be highly skeptical of anything they publish.

Many countries, esp in East Asia, have slowed COVID spread down a great deal. Vaccines will likely be invented before it penetrates the populations there. They are among the largest groups of graduate students, ie key research workforce, in the US.

If a vaccine developed in East Asia is either cheaper, more scalable, or more effective, increased self-confidence would mean many top students will choose to pursue graduate studies at home instead of the US. This is in addition to fear of being discriminated against because of the pandemic.

Given the number of top people in East Asia with strong quantitative skills, it would significantly shift research momentum to the east.


Nice username for such a comment. I approve!

> And just like the Depression, a few years of boom times afterwards and that effect will be negated

Actually Depression changed consumer habits for entire generation. People saved more, spent less, kept money under the mattress etc. Not a generation that you can kick-start an economy with.

It also gave rise to whatever social safety net the US has today.

Weird memory but my depression era great Grandma (matrilineal side all had kids at like 18) was teaching me a "depression soup" recipe. The first thing she had me do was peel the potatoes. All I could think was "this is the best part of the potato... We are literally throwing food away right now."

I think lots of experiences like this with her led to me quite unfairly latching onto the "ok boomer" ageist wave. Time and Time again she would do things that would make me wonder "wtf did your generation learn from all the lessons you went through..."

More than likely, older potatos were used instead of thrown out. Have you considered that the potatos may have been green and near toxic, and peeling the old potatos was necessary to be able to eat them without vomiting? https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/horrific-tales-o...

Isn't depression era pre-boomer? (Baby boomers were born between 1944 and 1964). I think you've misclassified your great-grandma

Generally speaking a lot of depression era policies and concepts / the new deal stuck around / are still with us compared to what was there before.

Sure, I think it's possible that some policies will stick around longer than the attitudes that motivated them; I was addressing hope about perspective, not policy.

In Australia, they closed all the 'non-essential' industries. Which turns out to be about 30% of the workforce. I keep thinking that big shift will be when people come out of this they won't allow themselves to be 'non-essential' ever again. They won't take back those jobs, they'll push for agreements that guarantee a safety net.

I wonder how many people feel they have the option to not take back a job?

I have such options, exercised them a few years ago when I was 'done' with a particular industry and I wanted to change (networking to web dev, I'm so much happier with my work now), but my ability to do so was largely because the job I had done was a pretty good job pay wise (so I could save) / I received a severance, etc. The jobs that are getting shutdown are different / the people I suspect have fewer options.... at least in the US.

> I wonder how many people feel they have the option to not take back a job?

This is exactly why social safety nets are limited in the US. A social safety net drives up wages. Workers no longer rely upon a job to the degree they did before.

So it raises wages and raises taxes, which raise cost for everyone else. It forces managers to actually pay a living wage and take care of employees, which hurts them because they can't treat people like shit to get good numbers to show their managers.

When I think about the people who won't take back their jobs, I think about the business owners mostly.

Australians love cafe culture and 6 months ago, if you opened a cafe in the Sydney CBD and if you could make good fast coffee, you'd have a great trade with good revenue to match. But now, those small business owners are going to lose business and homes.

And a lot of workers may come back, but they won't stay.

It's really really bad because we don't have a lot of industries that have openings that can just absorb new hires. Industry doesn't train up people any more, maybe that trend will revert but I really worry for a bubble of people in my community that may loose out and never get a strong footing back.

> They won't take back those jobs, they'll push for agreements that guarantee a safety net.

This event forcing America to adopt more progressive policies after experiencing suffering without them wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Sometimes things must get worse for them to get better.

>This event forcing America to adopt more progressive policies

Most of the legislation is temporary heading into an election. I suspect the GOP would be happy to cut that net ASAP and sadly their own voters would support it.

I have some models as to how this changes the US electorate, based on the burn rate. Curious to see how right I am.

It feels like we're on the edge of a sea change... but it has seemed that way for decades.

History happens gradually, and then suddenly.

Time will tell. In a year, we'll actually have much better evidence about how different systems fared. Right now, both the market-based US system and the public systems in Europe are being put to the test.

I suspect that they will both have failures and successes that will largely be localized and that we'll find out that those features that made a healthcare system robust don't correlate that much with being a public system or a market system. It will probably correlate more strongly with culture.

All systems have capacity limits. This is even a compsci problem: queues. Whether your system is public, private, or a combination of both, under extreme demand that exceeds your workload capacity, you'll either be overwhelmed (and drop work) or apply back pressure (both which will appear as rationing of healthcare; you have no choice but to ration when supply is limited). There are only so many doctors, nurses, ICU beds, and ventilators.

Note that in Italy and Spain, reverse triage is being done based on your at risk status, age, and other complications. If you're young and healthy, you take priority. I imagine the same will be done in the US, and those who are more likely to survive will be provided with ventilators and other medical equipment to survive, not those who can pay or with insurance; medical practitioners are making the call, not the chargemaster and CFO.

Public healthcare systems won't need a bailout, they're already government supported. We'll move money around on the nation state balance sheet and move on. Private systems though may not survive. That's culture though, so perhaps you're right.

I totally understand that. And you'll probably come out the other side of this with a socialized healthcare system of some sort.

Fingers crossed.

> wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Well, unless we libertarians were right all along and these progressive policies are unmaintainable over a longer period of time. At this point, I think we're about to find out one way or another.

Those policies have been maintained for decades in many European nations.

What policies are unmaintainable?

That's a really vague statement.

I think we're going to find that libertarian leaning countries fared far worse in this pandemic than authoritarian ones.

Honest question, as a libertarian, if you were president what would have been your response to this virus?

I'm more cynical - it's very easy to justify losing your job now as driven by external factors while losing your job before as being due to an internal failing. If people get their jobs back within the next few months, I think it could breed a sense of superiority of "I got my job back with the Coronavirus, and you couldn't even get a job in one of the biggest boom markets ever.' there's no basis in reality for looking down on the poor like you said, and I don't know if this shock will force people to really understand reality as you hope, or simply by the basis of a new false understanding as I fear.

Yeah I do worry that the uncertainty and fear... just leads to more poor views of the poor, etc.

Reading your post made Andrew Yang's voice pop into my head:

"And do you know what would really help those people while they retrain for new jobs? A thousand bucks a month!"

Except Yang wanted to make people choose. A thousand bucks a month [with no structural controls on costs], OR food stamps and housing vouchers.

Let's be real about what he put on the table.

Further he went an endorsed a candidate nowhere aligned with his supposed policies. :(

As did Tulsi and as will Bernie :(

Frankly we have a formal education system that is actively hostile to training people to do jobs, and instead teaches "fundamentals" and "how to learn". There's tremendous support for those concepts, though I personally consider them bogus. If we truly want cross trained people, the education system is the one that needs to change. Otherwise the funding and time that could be used for jobs training will always be soaked up by it. My humble opinion.

I know its not a popular opinion, but when I see my Nanny wanting to get ahead by taking night classes, and those classes have her studying and writing 19th century poetry... I can't help but feel deeply frustrated by the disconnect. How could she possibly stay motivated to finish school, when its only giving her hoops to jump through and no practical skills to get into a better job? How could I convince her to e.g. take programming lessons from me, when society and her parents are telling her a college degree (that, at this rate, she'll unlikely obtain) is what will help her most? /rant

> If we truly want cross trained people, the education system is the one that needs to change.

Absolutely and it goes beyond the profiteering that people typically rant about. The barriers to obtaining a degree for the sake of obtaining a degree are high in itself. Then we add bureaucracy and a bottom-up approach to teaching that I think excludes a good amount of potentially qualified people that would otherwise do great.

Software development is a great example of highly successful people that either dropped out of high school or college because they discovered a top-down approach can lead to the same outcome as a bottom-up academic one. Top-down example being: you want to build an app, you learn only what you need to build it (e.g. html, css, and javascript) then with continued years of applying that experience in related areas you naturally acquire more of the fundamentals of computer science.

I don't think it's appreciated here on HN because a good chunk of the members have higher education degrees and can't see past their own bias, hence the down-votes and lack of actual responses. I've seen this topic appear before and with it comes condescending responses towards those that don't hold a degree. This was especially evident on the HN platform when people learned Edward Snowden was a drop-out.

The current attitude towards this is well rooted in society and still a hard one to break. Thankfully tech companies are starting to come around to the idea.

> I don't think it's appreciated here on HN because a good chunk of the members have higher education degrees and can't see past their own bias, hence the down-votes and lack of actual responses.

Ding ding ding. I've gotten my share of flak on a couple occasions for working in IT without a degree.

These people looking down on me are probably right that they're smarter than me and more knowledgeable than me and could probably code circles around me. I know I ain't getting a FAANG job any time soon. I know full well that there are gaps in my knowledge that someday I'd be interested in filling once I've got enough saved up to try college again. Doesn't mean I can't be productive, too, nor does it mean I can't teach myself what I need to know to get the job done. Maybe duct-taping systems together with MSSQL sprocs and proprietary programming languages/runtimes and shell scripts and CSVs ain't the most glamorous work compared to playing around with blockchains and neural nets and Jupyter notebooks, but it's work that needs done regardless, and I ain't too proud to do it, even if it's putting grey hairs on my head decades before they've got any business being there.

"Top-down" v. "bottom-up" is definitely a good way of putting it. The code I write ain't pretty, but it's gonna do exactly what I need it to do to solve the user's problem, and chances are it's solving problems for which there are no elegant solutions. It ain't gonna run like a Lamborghini, but that's okay; I just need it to run like a Tacoma.

>and "how to learn"

Honestly I see that as something that isn't taught enough / we have a very structured system that is "here is how you're going to learn it... good luck" that doesn't provide a lot of options.

I do agree with the idea that your traditional 4 year college education system is poorly equipped to help redirect existing workers.

I can't help but draw a parallel to how machine learning and A.I. automation is supposed to disrupt a majority of blue collar jobs and if this is a taste of what is to come when we crack the code and people's skills are rendered obsolete to specialized sophisticated machinery that outperforms us in every metric and runs autonomously 24/7.

I also think about universal basic income and what life would feel like if I suddenly was left to my own devices and had the luxury to learn any subject I wanted, pursue new hobbies and crafts without dragging myself into work with stop and go traffic both ways, zapping my creative energy and making me a more jaded person day by day and the week progresses.

And this is just the start.

While I think the US response to Corona was slower than the response in my country I feel the US is the only country that's seriously discussing economic repercussions and debating the medical experts.

In EU (at least in my country) it's doctors running things and we are in "stop the pandemic at all cost". Everyone is in panic due to Italy situation. But doctors are only trained to see the medical side of the picture - and there is a point at which this approach to fighting the virus is going to have worse consequences than a full blown pandemic itself - I don't see anyone publicly discussing this point around here.

Unfortunately yes. Even if one wants to keep the quarantine at all costs, it should be a political decision, not only medical, after weighing everything.

In Italy, where I'm in my third week being shut in, experts and doctors are being quoted tiredlessly by the news: the problem is that they're doing their job (which is good!) however they do not realize the impact of their suggested measures. Not their fault by any means, but:

a. They're effectively scaring the population (an WHO advisor here suggested 6-9 months lockdown, which is likely impractical and will have devastating consequences on the social fabric, even without thinking about the economy)

b. The politicians are so scared of the virus that they're completely abdicating their functions (in Italy the Parliament was closed for two weeks, and the judicial system has been completely shut down as well) and doing whatever they're being told.

The fact is this is a good pandemic to practice on. We are very very lucky, to even be debating the economy right now.

If this virus was far deadlier and affected young people, I think the tone on this very site would change in a heartbeat.

Agreed. It's the same reason why I think we'll learn essentially nothing from it and be back to business-as-usual (with poor safety net and tiny stockpile of medical essentials) in just a couple years.

Sure, it's great practice, but practice that comes with heavy costs. And who knows when/where/if the next pandemic hits. If it's not within the next 10 years, the lessons may have been forgotten and the practice was expensive and useless.

My hope is that after this pandemic (assuming it slows down or we gain control over it), governments around the world will enact policies that prepare us for future pandemics. Like a postmortem type of thing where they document what went wrong, what could be done better, and what they can do to mitigate the impacts of future pandemics, in a rational and blameless manner.

Similar to what happened after the financial crisis with additional financial regulation.

I have no doubt another pandemic will happen, and we'll likely have forgotten what it's like, so having policies in place becomes even more important.

> Similar to what happened after the financial crisis with additional financial regulation.

But that's only temporary.

It's like developers starting over and promising themselves that they won't accrue technical debt this time. And then life happens and you need to push that feature quickly and a few years down the line, you're sitting there saying "we need to start over, this is too much trash held together by hopes and dreams".

Companies will cut corners, because that's their main focus. Politicians will reduce regulations, because that's how they stimulate locale economy, and we're back at square one in no time.

The only lasting shift, aside from potentially more work from home, is people making sure they'll always have an extra package of toilet paper. They won't flee the cities (where viruses can spread much better), even though the rent is killing them, and they won't go into voluntary lock down the next time a thousand people die in China of some lung disease.

A lot of things come with heavy costs - the US military is funded billions upon billions year after year for a threat that may never come. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan probably at this point are more costly than the bailout we are giving to the economy.

In fact, most of the hard problems the world faces will require investments that take longer than 10 years to return on.

The economy is important - but maybe our economy needs to be a little less growth oriented and a little more resilient.

The US military isn't funded to respond to potential threats, it's funded to be a threat. It's like Google giving Android away, they'll make that money back multiple times on other deals.

> The economy is important - but maybe our economy needs to be a little less growth oriented and a little more resilient.

I absolutely agree, but I also believe that's not going to happen. And it's not because there's some cabal that won't let it, it's just that everybody wants more and I don't see that changing. Our economic setup with the constant demand for growth is just the result of that. I don't believe you can put the genie back in the bottle, few people are at a point in life where they'd be happy to stay at that level for the rest of their days.

> The US military isn't funded to respond to potential threats, it's funded to be a threat.

This is pointless, circular logic. It is funded to be a threat to defend its interests, from threats, that may never materialize.

It will change in the right circumstances. We may be closer to them than most think.

The point of being the guy with the largest stick is primarily that everybody has to do what you say. A secondary function that emerges after you do that is to ensure that those with the smaller sticks don't gang up on you and pay you back. My point is that "defend its interest" isn't it, it's "advance its interest". The US wouldn't be where they are today if there was no military on earth, their huge success is based on the military being there to bully other countries to comply with political demands, or to simply regime change if they don't.

That sure might change, and it won't be pretty for US citizens, but it will be great for plenty of countries. Until they get under China's rule, of course.

Isn't Italy in a pretty bad shape to restart the virus spread right now?

As soon as the government can detect a 16-times increase in the number of cases, act, and still be soon enough for the next 200-times increase not to be a tragedy, it is a good time to leave the quarantine. Right now Italy can't stand the first increase.

The good news is that each time the disease spreads, those numbers become smaller, the bad news is that we don't know by how much.

> Isn't Italy in a pretty bad shape to restart the virus spread right now?

It won't be able to hold a long-standing quarantine. Probably a couple of months tops. That's not even mentioning the economy. As I said, endured isolation will have very bad side effects.

You know, after a short search and calculation, it looks like today there are about 4 times more people dying in your country than usual. That's pretty big. In a couple of weeks, there will probably be nearly no new cases, so you can detect growth without it immediately being a disaster.

Yes, there are economic consequences, but the alternative is quite a lot of avoidable deaths.

I think this is a false choice.

As Bill gates said, we can't say- "Hey, keep going to restaurants, go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner. We want you to keep spending because there’s maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is all that counts"

The truth is that it seems our choice is relatively simple:

1) Allow the virus to spread rapidly, overload the health system, kill many people, until herd immunity is reached.

2)Do partial shut down measures, some partial efforts at testing and contact tracing, let the virus continue for a long time, and more slowly reach option 1.

3)Do strong shut down measures until the virus is able to be controlled by a strong testing+contact tracing regime.

Iran (seems to have?) chosen option 1.

Italy started with option 2, and will hopefully move into option 3.

Option 3 is the only acceptable option that doesn't destroy the economy and health systems.

Unchecked, 10 cases of this virus will turn into 100s of thousands. That is the same with 10 cases in March, or 10 cases in May or 10 cases in any month.

People just dont get exponentials. They don't understand that if you get a total of a million cases in a week's time, most of those cases appear on day 6. They can't see how 1/7th of those cases turns into a million. Every country should be hoping that whoever calls the shots understands math.

People just don’t get sigmoids. They don’t understand that herd immunity quickly starts to slow the local spread of a virus in a region, and that you can’t model the entire population of a country like bouncy balls in a box. Every country should be hoping that whomever calls the shots understands math better than the average HN commenter.

This might be a logistic curve in the long term. But if this runs wild it will look like an exponential for a while longer. If your doubling time is 3 and a bit days. You can't just sit back saying "the inflexion point is coming any day now!". You need to do something yesterday.

> ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner.

“That pile of bodies” is mainly the elderly and terminally ill, demographics that society already seems to have little problem ignoring. Even now the worry among most of the population seems to be that those demographics will overwhelm the health system, preventing everyone else from getting medical attention. But this could be solved by triaging, which is rumoured to already be the de facto standard in Italy (i.e. if you are over 60 and show coronavirus symptoms, other patients take priority over you).

The longer the lockdowns in various countries go on, the stronger I think societal pressure for solution 1) – with triaging to avoid overloading the health system – is going to get.

Still enough normal 30-49 olds are dying as well

You can also collect data on the risk groups during the current shutdown period, provide the infrastructure for isolating the risk groups (ie. setup delivery services, organise isolated accommodation, etc.), triage appropriately in the case of spikes and then transition in to plan 2.

Considering the numbers of infected people confirmed alone and the percentage of asymptomatic cases contact tracing and testing sounds about as realistic as waiting on a cure.

I generally agree with this assessment, but it's not certain the U.S. is choosing option 3.

How do we assess contingency levels, other than after-the-fact measure of fatalities? Contingency is highly variable across the country. Rural areas have a lot of personal distancing built in. Urban areas certainly aren't in China-style lockdown, or South Korea-style technology+culture distancing based on prior experience. Nationally, I think the U.S. is at best taking a "moderate contingency" approach.

Each state's governor has control over the contingency, short of the president declaring martial law. e.g. in Mississippi the governor has declared most businesses are "essential" and thus open for business, expressly contradicting local ordinances more strictly defining what is essential. We very likely will see localized variations in infection and fatality rates as a result of these variations. https://www.businessinsider.com/coronavirus-mississippi-gove...

Therefore I don't know whether the progression of the disease is even predictable.

There's no guarantee that option 3 can be accomplished in the US. We might aim for it and realize that we're only accomplishing #2 and now inflicted maximum economic damage on top of it.

I think it's a fair discussion to take, but how are you going to run an economy with the health service in permanent overload?

That is what would happen if you just let the thing pass. Those charts of "squashing the sombrero" have the number of beds at a very low place compared to the expected hump of cases. On some of them you can barely even see the gap between the red line and the zero line, due to the scale of the hump.

Death rates would shoot up way above what is normal for the disease, people would die of all sorts of other preventable things too.

Already everyone I know who was going to get a preventative health diagnostic test (myself included) in the next two months has had the test rescheduled. Otherwise healthy people are likely to have some percentage of un-diagnosed issues go on an extra month or two because of this, so it's definitely not just those who are directly infected with Coronavirus.

Some places' ERs are already at capacity, and there's no way I would go to one right now unless I was almost at death's doorstep. That's not necessarily a good thing if something happens that should normally require an ER visit.

Also, some procedures being performed that a patient would normally stay overnight and be monitored are being changed to outpatient. It can now be more risky to stay in a hospital than it is to go home for recovery, even though you can't be monitored for potential post-procedure complications.

It seems to me that the health care system in general is one institution that has shown severe signs of strain in this crisis, and perhaps will need to be rethought along with others.

Interestingly enough, questioning the health of that particular institution is much more taboo than most in this crisis. Given the practical importance of patient faith in the healthcare provider that may be reasonable, but for my money I'd like to be able to try and imagine a better healthcare system in a public forum without getting downvoted for criticizing its current incarnation.

> thow are you going to run an economy with the health service in permanent overload?

You start rapidly building additional capacity to handle the load.

> in permanent overload

It won't be permanent. It will be like a forest fire and kill a lot of people and be horrible, but will eventually die down due to heard immunity.

Ok not permanent as in years and years. But long enough that it's towards the end of the year before there's capacity.

You don't want people dying needlessly for half a year.

And while the overload is on, the economy will be affected, whatever the response is.

Doctors have passed from the illness, too. Even young, healthy ones. Stress and lack of sleep hurt the immune system.

I wonder how much the viral load affects this? People working in these conditions are at a high risk of inhaling a large amount of virus at different times.

I believe this was linked somewhere else on HN. It sounds like this is one of the possible causes of doctors being more affected by the virus, but they don't know for sure.


For those who are willing to go through this thought exercise, if we're purely trying to maximize humankind's total well-being, how much wealth would we have to create to counteract one coronavirus victim's loss of life?

Here's a set of 3 questions that I think leads to a possible answer.

- How much would someone have to pay you to be put to sleep for 8 years, during which period you have no sensory input or output?

- Would you rather be put to sleep for 8 years now or at the end of your life?

- Do you have a preference over being put to sleep for the last 8 years of your life vs just dying straight up?

I think most people would be willing to go to sleep for 8 years for $2 million. And, most would prefer dying 8 years sooner over going to sleep now.

In other words, $2m > sleep for 8 years now > dying 8 years earlier == coronavirus victim

The moral dilemma is that we're asking one person to die 8 years sooner to create an outbalanced improvement in quality of life increase for someone else. That is, you're taking away well-being from one person to give to another. I think government officials implement policies that redistribute human well-being all the time, but it raises alarm bells when we start dealing with life and death.

I think you're framing the question - the tradeoff at this point is not how much value will be created but how much value will be destroyed.

The impacts of corona measures will lead to the economic slowdown and general reduction of wealth - for you this might mean that you lose your job, can't afford to buy a new apartment, car, furniture, electronics, clothes, etc. but for people that live close to poverty level that just got out of that place because of globalisation and increased economic growth this will result in less access to basic infrastructure, medications, food, development opportunities.

And that's not even touching the reduction in R&D and economic activity that would improve the lives of people. For example - consider risky tech companies like Tesla being wiped out by market conditions - who is going to do R&D in things like battery tech in an economy where people are pulling out of capital investment ? Even the established companies with cash reserves will scale back R&D. And this will happen across the board - which will in turn make future crisis more difficult to deal with.

Well the dot com bubble comes to mind concerning people not willing to invest in risky tech companies but that didn't stop new tech from coming to the market

When is an X% increase in GDP per capita worth a Y% chance of death? Illegal migrants perform this calculus every day. Their decisions may be instructive.

You don't see people crowding onto fishing boats or hiking treacherous desert to escape Europe ($38k). We can probably afford to fall to that level. It'll be a major lifestyle adjustment, but a doable one.

Looking down the scale to Latin America: Chile, Panama, and Argentina are pretty okay (~$15k). Less so for your typical American middle-class suburbanite, but people have good lives there. Even Brazil is decent (~$10k). But once we start pushing into Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, etc ($6-7k) the natives start accepting pretty significant risks to get out.

US GDP per capita is about $60k. Although it will be a terrifying shock, we can probably fall to about 10% of that before things are truly desperate. But once we're talking about killing more than 90% of the economy: yes, people might in fact prefer death.

Shouldn't there be a difference between 2m$ I can spend myself 8 years from now and 2m$ that some rich person earns if I die.

Each country has economic and market mitigations. Some are beginning to copy US model of Gov paying bills outright for a period. If everyone can do this with low cost, there's no reason for high risk and damage to economy later. This incident will make us learn fast.

The medical experts do consider economic and market impacts, and there are alignments in governments how to balance everything. However, since this is an unprecedented health crisis with unknown ramifications, that is first priority. Many measures are to create wiggling room to handle what unknown unknowns may come down the road as well.

This shows us systemic vulnerabilities, and societies will be forever changed, probably for the better.

I'm not saying countries are not implementing economic mitigations - I'm saying the only voices in decision making are coming from medical experts - there is no public evaluation or discussion of economic impact as a counterpoint to any action suggested by epidemiologists and doctors. The economy minister here is just putting out fires - he has zero say in the measures taken.

And the politicians in charge are too afraid to debate the experts and frankly lack any leadership at all in this situation - (with a few exceptions in other countries). Blindly listening to experts of one domain because you are afraid is not leadership, they are supposed to do balancing decisions - and from what I see in the media they basically delegated the government responsibilities - if they are discussing this they are certainly not making their discussions or reasoning public.

In my country the different parts of leadership has displayed a unified front in the media and been very clear what they know and that there are unknowns that need to be learned now. If some politicians are "delegating blame" and not taking part, that's indeed a problem. Though it could be a perception problem. I've strong doubts weighted discussions across branches are not happening most sane places. Normal responsibilities during such incidents will be shifted and cease as well.

What about hyperinflation? And why isn't anyone bringing this up?

The issue on the framing of this topic also boils down to who asks it.

I often hear it framed as: "How much is a person's life worth?" or some general reference to stock values.

But when people say "economy" this is what it really means:


Cash flow, supply chains, jobs, bankruptcy, debt, poverty, famine and more than likely families breaking up (financial stress is the #1 cause of divorce) plus a spike in suicides.

That's the economic impact. And when the question of virtually guaranteeing that outcome around the world to a significant portion of the global population vs a risk of a negative outcome for for the percentage of people who are susceptible to serious issues from COVID-19...it gets a heck of a lot murkier.

There's not a heartless bad guy in this situation. Both outcomes are terrible and if you purely look at the number of people negatively impacted, the economic fallout of this approach with its cascading effects look significantly worse.

We should not pretend like we understand the "economic fallout", and that operating under the current "rules" is the only mode of existence. Economics and capitalism are social constructs after all. _Nobody_ understands economics well enough to make statements with any certainty. At least epidemiology is better understood.

Not to mention what happens when you take into account the positive effects a recession and drop in production has to: air quality, worker health, general mortality, and climate change?


That's fair. It's a lot of moving parts to the system.

This boils down to the reality that governments can take measures to mitigate the economic damage caused by an idled labor force (direct payments to workers), but can do very little to mitigate the economic damage caused by a sick or dying labor force.

And mental health too. How many new Alcoholics will this create? How many suicides?

It's interesting that NOW people are concerned with this impact from the economy, yet when people became alcoholics from getting fired when the economy was good, no one seems to care.

It is about the volumes I guess , millions are filing unemployment claims now , the impact is going to much higher on these issues , lot more people will suffer due to this, so more people have been talking about it .

A healthy and growing economy with low unemployment is a boon to the poor, sick, and alcoholic. The entire purpose of pursuing a healthy economy is that improves the quality of life for the citizens. Continuing to hold this position now is not hypocritical.

There is always a tradeoff.

The virus will kill X and reduce the quality of life for Y people. The economic disruption will kill Z people and reduce the quality of life for Z2.

Quality of life is not a defined term.

There is a difference between trading my life, or trading a new laptop now instead of saving for it. That is what we are looking at here.

So even if my quality of life goes down, food/health/shelter contributes the majority to that, probably 85%. The rest is all worthless junk.

If the economy is failing to the extent that food is in short supply - that is different. There is no indication that will happen.

Ignoring quality of life, there is still a death tradeoff to be considered.

Economic conditions have real and immediate health consequences too. For example, in 2010 US unemployment briefly grew about 6% to a total of 10% in the US and there were 40,000 additional deaths from cancer alone[1]. When you consider heart disease, other indications, drug abuse, and suicide, the numbers are much greater. The often cited number of 40k for each percent unemployment may not be far off if these factors are taken together.

This trend also holds true in the OECD where social programs are more common because there are still budgetary constraints on centralized healthcare.


It's a matter of size. If you have 1% "falling through the cracks", it's individually tragic but not something that will negatively impact the economy that much. If you have 30% falling, you're going to be in for a rough time.

A lot more are falling through the cracks in a good economy than 1%. About what, 10% are poor in the US?

One friend I had in school qualified for free school lunch, so presumably below the poverty line.

His parents had a house, with a yard. There was air conditioning, cable TV, and each child had his own room. I distinctly remember a nearly-server-class PC much better specced than anything my family owned (a dual-processor desktop in the 1990's!)

Poverty stats don't tell the whole story, especially if they're only based on income levels. A wage that would have you living out of your car in SF might allow a squarely lower-middle-class lifestyle in the rural Rust Belt.

You just proved that though - owning a house, with a yard, is not a sign of wealth in most of the US. There are plenty of cheap houses, with yards, to go around. Just not in places most people want to live, leading to less wages and less opportunity because of the lack of jobs.

Most wealthy nations already have a robust social safety net in place. They don't need to rush to cobble together a temporary one in the same was the US does.

This really isn't helpful to the discussion. The US has unemployment benefits, Medicaid, food stamps, and many other programs. And it seems to be pretty premature to declare which country is or isn't going to come out of this with the least amount of damage.

It is a bit of a mystery to me why Congress isn't just providing better funding/financing for all the existing programs. I'm not sure why there should be new types of programs to help individuals. I'm deeply suspicious of efforts to prop up businesses, I'd rather have the focus be on individuals and let businesses figure out the best way forward. For some businesses bankruptcy might be the best solution because the business model has completely changed.

The comment pointed out that the US seems to be tackling the economic impact more aggressively than other nations. That is only partially true to begin with since many other nations are discussing or have already passed large-scale stimulus measures for their national economies.

But the urgency and focus on economic measures in the US does have justification. Here in the US, we need things like free testing (already the case in most nations) and to handle the surge in unemployment (we have a system, is is just less robust than most wealthy nations, hence the very urgent need to dramatically expand it).

I made no mention of "which country is or isn't going to come out of this with the least amount of damage", only reiterated the well-known fact that the US has one of the meekest welfare states of any wealthy nation. That had not yet been mentioned in the thread and seemed extremely relevant.

I saw this idea floated around on Reddit a few days ago. Basically the crux is that unemployment has a death toll, too.

So if you close all non-essential businesses, unemployment rises, which increases the likelihood of people losing health insurance, losing homes, not paying electrical bills, communication (internet / phone) bills, etc. If some people lose all those things and don't have access to them again for 2+ months, and have no other safety net, they might die. Doubly so considering the hospitals may be at capacity with COVID-19 cases.

So, what would be better - keep people at home and unemployed, where people die by lack of resources, or keep people going out where people die by spreading COVID-19?

The third options is to keep people at their residences but either pay them or reduce their bills / mortgages etc to 0 while COVID-19 blows over. But that could take 2-18 months. It was hard enough getting $1200 once for every American household - I doubt it will continue for another 18 months until a vaccine is developed.

You've rightly identified the question as a false dichotomy. People in the US don't _have_ to die for lack of resources.

The state helping the people to survive this crisis or not is a political choice.

I'm not really worried about lack of raw resources and immediate needs. We'll figure that out via a mix of savings, private charity, and local/state/federal assistance. I'm assuming that we'll mitigate the virus via treatments, vaccines, or the brutal reality of acquired immunity.

The more difficult political problem is how the financial pain is going to be distributed and how we reboot the economy. How assistance is distributed, taxes are adjusted, or fiscal measures are taken is going to be very complicated with opportunities to create winners and losers based on the policies. So far I'm not particularly impressed by Congress in this area.

> I doubt it will continue for another 18 months until a vaccine is developed.

If any of the 40+ trials going on for drugs is successful and makes COVID-19 clinically manageable, it would improve the situation earlier than just waiting out a vaccine (which, like the drugs, may not work at all).

> losing health insurance, losing homes, not paying electrical bills, communication (internet / phone) bills, etc.

None of this is true because non-essential bills have also been shut down.

None of my expenses have changed. And as far as I know, it would be a problem if I lost my income as I would still need to pay rent/mortgage, taxes, groceries, utilities, health insurance.

I think what you are saying is that discretionary expenses have been greatly reduced. That is true, but I think you then make a very big leap to assuming the savings can easily offset the fixed expenses that you mention (insurance, rent/mortgage, utilities).

Boy that's news to me.

Seriously? There were a number of submissions yesterday to HN discussing the relative merits of sacrificing millions for the sake of the market. Perhaps you missed those?

Please don't take HN threads further into flamewar. Especially not on the topic of this most stressful and difficult moment.

If you'd please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the spirit of this site when posting here, we'd be grateful. Examples:

"Comments should get more thoughtful and substantive, not less, as a topic gets more divisive."

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."

"sacrificing millions for the sake of the market"

This is an unfair way to characterize this difficult issue.

No it is exactly how the issue should be characterized. Besides, it is a false dichotomy. There will be an economic collapse either way.

> Besides, it is a false dichotomy. There will be an economic collapse either way.

In what way is the fact that there will be two different levels of economic costs in two scenarios a 'false dichotomy'?

Edit: I think this is worth clarifying. I may misunderstand you, but it looks like there are two errors in your post. The first is treating differing scenarios with differing outcomes as if they were the same, simply because they have some facet in common.

The second is a mis-use of the term 'false dichotomy'. If you believe that a choice between two options will have the same outcome, that is not a false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is a logical fallacy, a special case of the fallacy of exhaustive hypothesis. Here, one wrongly assumes that there are only two possible choices and uses this assumption to arrive at some seemingly logically derived conclusion.

My apologies if I've misunderstood your intended meaning from your short post.

Hospitals will be overwhelmed much more, and there will be far more deaths if we don't "flatten the curve." In addition, workers will stay home anyway (which many are already doing), collapsing the economy regardless.

It is indeed a false dichotomy. If anything, just irresponsibly letting nature run its course will be worse. Besides, recessions have been consistently associated with decreases of death rates. There is no evidence, and plenty of counter-evidence, that recessions cause increased death. Of course, we are getting a recession either way.

> It is indeed a false dichotomy

What do you think 'false dichotomy' means? How does it apply, here?

Those are not happening in the local media here.

If world runs out of food supply or other important products, then the "young people who don't have any underlying disease" will also die.

Not going to happen because of the virus. Could happen if the politicians don't remember to keep the economy functioning.

Not sure if this was your intent, but "sacrificing millions for the sake of the Market" sounds like you're trying to shift away from the point that right now about 3.28 million more folks (probably more) are wondering how to pay their rent/mortgages and feed their children. If this lockdown continues indefinitely the death numbers from the economic fallout will likely eclipse those of the pandemic.

But nah, the "market" apparently entirely consists of assholes on Wall Street playing Capitalism II and lobbying governments for payouts. No way it has any real impact!

This is where it's very important to distinguish between financial conditions and material conditions. Feeding children and supplying respirators and masks are material conditions, dependent on the production and distribution systems.

Paying rent and mortgage, on the other hand, isn't material. If you don't pay it nothing material changes - it's not an iron law of the world in the way that hunger is, evictions are a choice. Admittedly it transfers the problem to someone else, but if the solution to maintaining everyone fed includes them then they're not going to go hungry.

Financial conditions also have a time tradeoff. Reducing retirement funds affects material conditions in the future. Or the date at which people are able to retire.

If you had a button you could press which let you retire immediately, but (with probability P) took the life of some random person in the world, would you press it? With what value of P?

Economic conditions have real and immediate health consequences too.

For example, in 2010 US unemployment briefly grew about 6% to a total of 10% in the US and there were 40,000 additional deaths from cancer alone[1]. When you consider heart disease, other indications, drug abuse, and suicide, the numbers are much greater. The often cited number of 40k for each percent unemployment may not be far off if these factors are taken together.

This trend also holds true in the OECD where social programs are more common because there are still budgetary constraints on centralized healthcare.

[1] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6...

Edit: Here is a Meta-analysis showing that the risk of death was 63% higher among those who experienced unemployment in the US AND Europe


Mortgages and by extension rent provide liquid funds to banks so that account holders, including essential business's like hospitals, farmers, and factories can pay their employees and bills.

You are delusional to think it is possible to suspend payments without printing massive amounts of money that will certainly lead to more death.

shrug we provided liquidity last time and can do so again. Money printing doesn't kill people, viruses do. The banks are intermediaries. The essential businesses are not affected provided we do not let the banks fail randomly, and there is no need to do that.

Last time we had nowhere near the need for liquidity. There were bad mortgages, but they were the minority.

Currency inflation kills. Look at venezuela. You cannot shrug this off. At least consider the effects.


> By March 2009, it held $1.75 trillion of bank debt, mortgage-backed securities, and Treasury notes; this amount reached a peak of $2.1 trillion in June 2010.

That feels like a lot of liquidity to me.

Liquidity expansion through loans and purchase of credit and equity instruments simply isn't very inflationary. It can only cause real price inflation if the money starts chasing a shortage of real goods and services - which are currently being dramatically underproduced. If it does start causing inflation, the Fed can and will simply raise interest rates from their current near-zero level. Or fiscal policy can be used.

Venezuela is under sanctions which are intended to exacerbate the situation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_sanctions_during...

Yes, quantitative easing is okay. But that is a lot different than the direct money being given to individuals and businesses by Congress. Especially the direct payments to individuals means printing money.

What the fed is doing is printing money now that will be destroyed later, or held in reserve. Either way, it is backed by actual financial instruments (whatever equity or bonds or notes they're buying).

People do not need liquidity to survive. They need air, water, food, medicine, shelter, in decreasing order of importance. No one has ever died for lack of liquidity.

We've done a middling job at making sure people have air and water, less good with food and even worse with shelter and medicine. But liquidity? That should be last on the list of things to worry about. It should always be last.

I imagine some communities will simply sink lower and never recover trajectory, and some sociologist will write a sad book sometime in the future about them. How does Black 2030 look like in America? Optimistic?

We should believe that some economic curses last multiple lifetimes.

> If you had a button you could press which let you retire immediately, but (with probability P) took the life of some random person in the world, would you press it? With what value of P?

Death is not a problem, everyone dies, nobody knows when they will. Could be someone pressing a button, could be a bus, could be old age. You can die tomorrow. But suffering, that really matters. I wouldn't make someone suffer, but if it's quick painless death... way harder question.

I just really dislike the focus on living rather than focusing on the value of life. I mean this in a pre-pandemic sense. Hearing people talk about fear of death, and yet accept a lifetime of meaninglessness.. just irks me.

> If this lockdown continues indefinitely the death numbers from the economic fallout will likely eclipse those of the pandemic.

Seeing that doing nothing will likely lead to lead to millions of deaths, how would the lockdown possibly kill more than that? Are you under the impression people will just willingly starve to death, or that fighting over food will get so bad that millions of people will die?

> Seeing that doing nothing will likely lead to lead to millions of deaths, how would the lockdown possibly kill more than that?

The lockdown is wasting months to years of billions of people's lives. That has to be equivalent to some number of deaths, hard to quantify how many, but it's greater than zero.

Also, a bad economy literally kills people by starvation albeit in foreign, poor countries that don't have food surpluses or the ability to print USD.

It is seemingly easy to (roughly) quantify the number of deaths which have occurred as a result of COVID-19, and it is certainly greater than zero. It would seemingly be difficult or impossible to quantify the number of deaths which have occurred as a result of social distancing policies (aka "lockdown"). For that reason alone the certainty of a COVID-19 threat seems greater than the certainty of death by economy.

First of all the "millions of deaths" comes from one model. There are many others and we haven't tested enough to know the true spread or lethality of the virus in a general population. It's quite possible that many people have already had covid-19 and were completely asymptomatic, which would make the death rate look much less scary. Anyone who tells you with certainty that "millions will die" is going off incomplete data like everyone else at the moment.

And if we locked down the global economy for a year or two until a vaccine is developed, yes it's not out of the realm of possibility that millions worldwide would die a result of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th order consequences of that decision. Look how many stress fractures are occurring after just a few weeks. You think they'll get better with time and continued stress?

Honestly I think the UK had the best original strategy of locking down the people most at risk, make sure they're taken care of as much as possible, and letting everyone else get herd immunity as quick as possible. But people weren't/aren't willing to accept that, and likely still won't for at least the next few weeks.

The millions of deaths comes from most models, which is why governments the world over are willing to endure economic devastation. Also, we are talking about the US specifically, so bringing in the worldwide death toll from 5th order effects (why not 20th?) seems disingenuous.

Finally, the UK changed their strategy away from sequestering the 70+ population because Imperial College told them that would only halve their death toll, and it would still remain solidly in the millions (for a country of 66 million).

Clearly we've been looking at different sets of models with different assumptions. I haven't done an objective survey, but I'd dispute "most" predict millions of causalities.

But if we're just talking about the US: The range from the CDC models last I checked is anywhere from 163,000 - 1.7 million for a country of ~330 million.

By comparison the opioid epidemic alone has already killed somewhere between 100,000 - 200,000+ over the last 5 years. And that was largely the result of a kinder, gentler, less dramatic economic shock known as the 2008 recession and decades of preceding industrial decline.

We've already compressed shocks that took months in 2008 to weeks, not the least of which is the record unemployment filings in the posted article. Hence the largest stimulus package in world history being passed in days.

"The economy" is not some vague abstract number on the evening news, and economic shocks do kill people, it's just less tangible than a virus. If this continues for more than a month or two I expect people returning to work out of desperation and then receiving death threats for doing so, and things will get uglier from there if the lockdowns continue.

>UK had the best original strategy of locking down the people most at risk, make sure they're taken care of as much as possible, and letting everyone else get herd immunity as quick as possible.

The problem in the UK is that they seemed to have no substance to the plan. Yes, hard lock down the people at risk, but where is the government response to make that possible?

If they had a well developed plan to carry out those words it might be worth doing, but they didn't and then caved when it was clear it was just rhetoric.

They have half a million volunteers. When you sign up you get an idea of what for, delivering food and stuff to the vulnerable is part of it. So the boomer generation can have the millennials delivering them their toilet paper with some goodies to eat.

> If this lockdown continues indefinitely the death numbers from the economic fallout will likely eclipse those of the pandemic.

Please show us your calculations.

Yeah I don't see that the tradeoff is "letting coronavirus kill millions of people vs. Jeff Bezos losing 2% of his income" so much as "letting coronavirus kill millions of people vs. letting millions of people die of starvation". We're not there yet, but lets see where we are in a month.

Is there going to be some shortage of food that I'm not aware of?

Or just a shortage in distribution mechanisms for it, because we are unwilling to consider emergency measures during an emergency?

Are you aware of a quantitative model relating economic losses to loss of life / quality-of-life? I see this claim repeated over and over, but after hours of searching I can't find any quantitative models. If such a class of models did exist, we could weigh it against various SIR models and make an actual assessment. Without that economic model, the decision calculus you're suggesting we make isn't really possible.

Also: even that conversation seems like a huge false choice. Why not just give up on market capitalism for a few quarters and make sure everyone is fed/clothed/sheltered? It's not like houses disappear overnight if rent/mortgages aren't paid. And it's not like we've never suspended capitalism in the past -- the federal government put in price controls, effectively nationalized industries/supply chains, etc. during WWWII. And then we returned to capitalism afterward.

> But nah, the "market" apparently entirely consists of assholes on Wall Street playing Capitalism II and lobbying governments for payouts. No way it has any real impact!

TBF, those are the folks getting most of the economic relief so far. And not just from recent Congressional action. Somehow when it comes to ensuring liquidity in certain financial markets, the federal government can move mountains in minutes. But when it comes to people having a safe place to sleep and food to eat we're the mercy of the invisible hand.

Why can't e.g. HUD, unilaterally and without congressional action, create "liquidity in the housing market" by making enormous zero-interest loans to everyday folk whenever they feel like that's necessary?

People who trade in equities and bonds have enormously powerful economic backstops, which people who merely pay rents and mortgages and buy food do not have.

The problem with that black and white reasoning is that on some level "the market" represents people's livelihoods and eventually there comes a point where it's reasonable to say "X people should die to prevent Y amount of hardship for Z people".

I agree. It's easy to fall in the trap of "human life above all else", but there comes a time where tradeoffs become reasonable.

Society already does this with the automobile. 36,000 people die every year for the convenience of driving, which I feel is a completely reasonable tradeoff, and this is not a controversy, at least in the united states.

That seems to only include the accident mortality rate. It would likely be even higher if you included deaths from automobile air pollution.

Unrelated but curious, why do you feel it's a completely reasonable tradeoff? In my mind, automobiles have led to a class (and historically race) divide which further segregates and polarizes sects of society.

I seriously doubt cars cause a "racial divide" in any reasonable way.

As for whether I think it's a "reasonable tradeoff". I don't know, but maybe because it's not brought up as controversial by society. This is not a good reason, I suppose, but I haven't really thought about it. I guess I'm mindlessly mimicing the ethics of people around me.


This is the trolley problem. If we don't keep the economy moving, people will also die as a result. Should we try to calculate how many in various scenarios with various degrees of shutdown? Should we try to reduce harm, numerically? Should we differentiate between degrees of social influence on the causes of death? It's a difficult question.

"Please respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says, not a weaker one that's easier to criticize. Assume good faith."


I believe it was Elon Musk that said the future is essentially the sum of human wills.

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