All of Daniel V's Comments + Replies

My Bitcoin Thesis @2022 - Part 1

Great point on trust. Here's a recent paper by Eric Budish reflecting on the issue, via Tyler Cowen.

My Bitcoin Thesis @2022 - Part 1

Thanks for doing your own research and laying out clearly what you think Bitcoin offers.

All these features of Bitcoin make it an attractive candidate for being a store of value and medium of exchange.

I think you're mostly right on what features Bitcoin has, but I think you're mistaken that they make it a good currency.

  1. Bitcoin is scarce. No debate there.
  2. Bitcoin has no counterparty risk. In theory, sure, but in practice as you note in your parenthetical, it will remain intermediated, even if it could deliver some gains.  
  3. Bitcoin is durable, portable, an
... (read more)
"Divisibility" is meaningless. Your accounting ledger can use however many decimal places are desired. And unless price tags are denominated in a currency, it doesn't matter if I have 1,000,000 yen or .0000001 BTC. And if price tags are written in a currency, it helps to have common items cluster in a clean set of values, preferably near 1, but Xthousand or Xmillion or Xhundreths or Xthousandths etc. can also work.
Abadarian Trades

Related: probabilistic negotiation (linking to my comment)

Because of asymmetric information about demand schedules in the individual one-off context, either you're guessing or accepting their self-reports (i.e., I agree with Kokotajlo and Shlomi). As nice as probabilistic negotiation is in theory, practically you just hope to converge to splitting the surplus, and giving-in happens for whomever tires of the negotiation first. Depends on how much you know about your counterpart.

It's much easier to set market prices where you have repeated transaction... (read more)

Covid 6/16/22: Do Not Hand it to Them

Previously after Pfizer's 11/5 interim report on Paxlovid in high risk patients, you said an 89%, 95% CI: [64, 97] (n=774) was certain enough to conclude efficacy but not certain enough to stop the trial because the CI was uncomfortably wide.
After they had their 12/14 final report on Paxlovid in high risk patients, you said an 89%, 95% CI: [72, 96] (n=1379) looked good.
At that time they also shared the interim report on Paxlovid in standard risk patients, showing 70%, 95% CI: [-8, 92] (n=854).
Now after their 6/14 final report on Paxlovid in standard risk p... (read more)

That looks quite straightforward to me. When you're looking for evidence on the reduction in number of severe cases, you need a larger sample in a population where the proportion of severe cases is very small to begin with. The important n here is not really the total number of people enrolled in the study, but the number of people who would suffer severe effects. It's just that you don't know which ones those will be (and if you did they'd be called "high risk" anyway), so you need to also enroll a much larger number of people to get enough who end up having severe effects in the control group and hopefully not in the treatment group. Their June 14 press release says that they ended up with only 10 people out of 569 in the control group who developed severe disease, which is obviously not enough to draw conclusions from and they should have known that in advance. Even if Paxlovid had been magically 100% effective, the study was barely large enough to give reasonable confidence that it had any effect. The problem is that the risk of severe disease in most of the population is low enough to be hard to cheaply study, but high enough to have huge health and economic impacts since the incidence case rate is of similar magnitude to the total population per year. Halving COVID hospitalizations in the standard risk population would save on the order of a hundred billion dollars per year in net medical costs alone, without even considering quality and duration of life and productivity. So yes, this should absolutely be followed up with larger studies. Even if larger studies somehow cost more than a billion dollars, they would on net be obviously worthwhile. They would either verify that the drug reduces risk by some decent percentage and everyone should take Paxlovid when they contract COVID, or reveal that it doesn't work well enough to be worthwhile taking for most people and so avoiding the cost of unnecessary medication and its side effects. In practice they would
Why it's bad to kill Grandma

It was at that point I thought, "we've rediscovered Kant's categorical imperative."

That's exactly what I came here to comment. But I think all these problems really come from a weird, abstract idea of "welfare" that imo doesn't make any sense. It's the volition of sentient beings that is important. Beings ought to get what they want to the extent that this doesn't interfere with the same right in others. When two (or more) beings cannot both get what they want, they are obligated to try to find an acceptable compromise. (If they are not of equal degrees of intelligence, of course, the burden of ethical behavior is shared unequally - humans are responsible for treating small children or nonhuman animals correctly but they, being unable to understand moral rules, are not responsible for treating us correctly in turn.) It is simply not reasonable to unilaterally impose one's own desires onto others - it breaks that foundational rule. In principle we should maximize getting-what-they-want-ness across all beings, but to do so in a way that blatantly disregards the right not to get imposed on is obscene. That is: the right to get what you want and not get what you don't want, is what generalizes to consequentialism over volition - not the other way around. That right is primary and must be respected as much as possible in every single instance. And all these examples disrespect that right in some way. The debate team guy made an agreement which he then broke without renegotiating it first; the people getting killed to help others did not agree that this should occur; etc. To put it another way: people can do whatever they want as long as they don't break contracts they have negotiated with other people. (In practice not every social contract is actually agreed to - nobody signs a contract saying they won't murder anyone - but that's part of how our world is not currently maximally ethical in its arrangement.) However, what people ought to do (but are not imo obligated to do) is that which, relative to their subjective knowledge, maximizes the total g
The "Measuring Stick of Utility" Problem

Transitivity is a fundamental axiom necessary for a consistent utility function, which is central to rational choice theory. Sure, the potential for resource loss makes it more problematic for the agents you're studying, but if you don't have a consistent utility function to support your modeling in the first place, it's already problematic for your studying of the agents. Put another way, you don't even need to "reach" the coherence argument if you can't get over the consistency bar.


The "Measuring Stick of Utility" Problem

Why is a resource central here? Consider (if it helps, also change "upgrade" to "switch"):

Let’s start with the simplest coherence theorem: suppose I’ll pay to upgrade pepperoni pizza to mushroom, pay to upgrade mushroom to anchovy, and pay to upgrade anchovy to pepperoni. This does not bode well for my bank account balance. And the only way to avoid having such circular preferences is if there exists some “consistent preference ordering” of the three toppings - i.e. some ordering such that I will only pay to upgrade to a topping later in the order, ne

... (read more)
If there's no resource loss in that cycle, why is it a problem at all?
Covid 5/19/22: The Law of Five

On fluvoxamine, the FDA's report includes additional analyses that even go beyond what I talked about regarding the NIH's. Though I will say their discussion of the meta-analysis seemed a little disingenuous (though some comments in peer review can feel the same, so) - garbage in, garbage out is always a potential problem, and one should never hope for a meta-analysis to "substantially alter the assessment of the individual trials," so failing to deliver on that is just par for the course and should not be viewed as a negative.

But even just taking the meta... (read more)

Are smart people's personal experiences biased against general intelligence?

Selection-induced correlation depends on the selection model used. It is valuable to point out that tailcalled implicitly assumes a specific selection model to generate a charitable interpretation of Taleb. But proposing more complex (/ less plausible for someone to employ in their life) models instead is not likely to yield a more believable result.

Did you mean to write your comment in response to ACrackedPot, rather than to me?
How Does The Finance Industry Generate Real Economic Value?

It is still tempting to assume each exact transaction is zero sum (while the macro level invisible hand is yielding positive sum) but that would be a mistake. First, there may be a little bit of buyer and seller surplus (represented by a market maker facilitating a strike price between the bid/ask spread). Second, risk matters - could be that gain the seller missed out on was just not the right deployment of their capital for their risk profile, so they actually aren't "missing out" on it at all. Third, you're not observing opportunity costs in strike pric... (read more)

Kosher Hot Dogs

Here's an extremely related episode about Nathan's from the History Channel, addressing signaling.

Covid 3/31/2022: More of the Same

As nuts as IRBs can be, their purpose is not to protect people from research findings but from research (mis)conduct. They are to protect the human subjects.

Misconduct of gain-of-function research (i.e. leaking a plague) might harm people. So might research misconduct for nuclear weapons (blowing people up, irradiating a water supply) and world-changing AI (grey goo / insert your favorite scenario). The most you can say is that IRBs are for protecting human subjects selected for the research from harm, and the above research types don't select any human subjects (even though they implicitly might affect any nearby civilians and possibly the whole world). I would call that "technically correct: the best kind of correct".
Probabilistic Negotiation

Plus if you think about the Proposer's optimization problem, it really hinges on "what is the probability that the Responder will accept my offer?" Obviously, the probability is at a maximum for 0,10 and one expects it to remain very high, even 1.0, through 5,5. Proposer is already aware that their own expected value declines after that point, and probably assumes it does so monotonically. If the Responder can share their particular probability schedule, that's great, and it's actually important if Proposer for some reason is unaware of the incentive structure. Yudkowsky and Kennedy's explication is nice and probably helpful advice, but not really a "solution."

Covid 3/3/2022: Move Along

I'm in an area that is only back to an early October 2021 rate of new cases. My gut says it seems a couple/few weeks early to go completely mask-optional (and it's not like we did in November 2021...), but there is actually quite a bit different now - a much higher share of non-susceptibles (thanks Omicron! and the booster), milder illness (thanks Omicron! and the booster), kids are getting vaccinated, better treatments are available. It's also annoying that these decisions are really just made ad hoc ("does the current CDC map give us cover?" never gettin... (read more)

Yeah, I'd be mostly fine with 'professors agreed to teach knowing there would be masks so it's professors' choice' if that was the logic. For your own decision, it's your call but number of cases is a pretty bad metric and forward risk is a lot lower than that, as you know, so...
Russia has Invaded Ukraine

I agree, since the start of the rumblings, I had updated from (significant territorial gains to Dnieper and maybe Odessa region) to (integrating Luhansk and Donetsk with fighting in other parts of Eastern Ukraine). Putin got me there.

However, the initial reporting making it sound like an all-out invasion is happening is based largely on missile attacks, so it's possible that we're just seeing forward strikes and fighting could remain in the East (including Northern East). Kyiv is of course eventually on the radar in any situation. But "invading from Belarus" would be very different if it were into Volyn and Rivne vs. Chernihiv (BBC says Chernihiv).

Help me understand the rationale of the NIH to not recommend Fluvoxamine for COVID treatment.
  1. Choice of primary outcome - it's a good idea to choose a primary outcome measure of relevance. This 6 hour threshold is a little weird (apparently because the study was done in clinical sites not hospitals, so they wanted to get to a sort of hospitalization-equivalent), but they targeted that from the outset, so it's not that troubling, but maybe not of interest. If the NIH is worried about any ED visit and not just long ones (or doesn't have a lot of faith in the equivalence), then this measure doesn't necessarily speak to what the NIH cares about. The NI
... (read more)
Retrospective forecasting

Yes I misunderstood your post. I appreciate your taking some responsibility as the communicator (e.g., probabilities and likelihoods are pretty quant!), but your post could have also been reasonably read as referring to inexplicit models, and that is on me. Communication breakdowns are rarely on one party alone.

I agree that cliodynamics has been a dicey application of quant modeling to history - the valuable parts of it are generally in the inexplicit modeling rather than the real quant model per se. Inexplicit forecasting is more common, but it's also les... (read more)

Retrospective forecasting

Maybe I missed something, or maybe it's simply that the study of history portrayed to us laypeople is usually so qualitative, but this just sounds like a call to apply quantitative model building and testing to the study of history. With some choice word replacements, you could get the post to sound like basic statistical modeling.

In some respect, people do this all the time with "event studies" (and then generalizing those to future events), or in "economic history." Perhaps they don't really address broad strokes of history, but "cliodynamics" tries.

I wa... (read more)

1Ege Erdil6mo
In a lot of my forecasts about the future, I don't actually use quantitative modeling at all. In fact, the best forecasters are those who rely on such models, but who make forecasts that are ultimately based on their judgment. If anything, calling for quantitative modeling to be used can easily result in a kind of "scientism". Cliodynamics is actually a good example of that. I would instead recommend taking forecasters who have a good track record when making predictions about the future and have them do retrospective forecasting through whatever means they deem appropriate, for example. I don't know what you're talking about here. When I talk about "models" in the post, these "models" could just be heuristics in your head, inexplicit intuitions, et cetera. I never called for using statistical modeling to study history and I think excessive reliance on such models at the expense of your judgment is actually a mistake. You must have misunderstood what I was trying to say in my post for you to make a comment that's so orthogonal to the point I tried to make, and I think that's my fault for not being sufficiently clear.
Long covid: probably worth avoiding—some considerations

Florin's right that the 15-64 age group doesn't pain a clean picture of the actual numbers since it combines very different excess death rates, but even the 25-44 group experienced a serious increase. Rather than Katja being "wrong," they are very much right.

"For the next 2 years, you will have a 25% higher risk of death than usual" is not a high absolute risk of death, but that shift from baseline is not just "not entirely insignificant" either. 

I think we mostly agree, although I still think using the OWID chart is wrong or at least very misleading. While the 25% is okay in aggregate, there does seem to be a 60% peak in mortality in 2021 at week 35 for the 25-44 group. So, I was wrong about that. However, the 45-64 group has only a 37% peak in mortality in 2021 at week 36, and using the raw data, I calculated (just averaged and didn't do any fancy weighting) that there was only a 18% increase in excess death overall. But that's not the end of the story. 2020-2021, 25-44: 757,645 (single year average) 2015-2019, 25-44: 542,284 (single year average) Difference: 215,361 (2x what eyeballing the chart suggests, but whatever), 28% increase in excess deaths 2020-2021, 45-64: 2,632,764 (single year average) 2015-2019, 45-64: 2,162,344 (single year average) Difference: 470,420, 18% increase in excess deaths Each age group makes up about 26% of the US population, but the 45-64 group has more than double the risk of death, even though it has a lower increase (relative to pre-2020 years) in excess deaths. So, the focus on the relative (what the OWID chart is about) rather than the absolute increase in death is misleading. The IFR data (mentioned in another comment) also seems to suggest this.
Long covid: probably worth avoiding—some considerations

Right, there is a ton of misunderstanding regression floating around on this issue it seems. Yet, one would still think that Having covid would be more predictive of Long covid than Believing you've had covid, since Believing and Long ought to be correlated only through their shared association with Having (common cause rather than mediation). The fact that this is not the case could indicate that people with chronic conditions come to think they Had covid (discussed at the end of the study) or that the measure of Having covid is not that good (see Siebe's... (read more)

Yet, one would still think that Having covid would be more predictive of Long covid than Believing you've had covid, since Believing and Long ought to be correlated only through their shared association with Having (common cause rather than mediation). The fact that this is not the case could indicate that people with chronic conditions come to think they Had covid (discussed at the end of the study) or that the measure of Having covid is not that good (see Siebe's comment), or that it's psychosomatic (loose usage of the term), or something(s) else
... (read more)
Omicron Post #14

My worry was that maybe an antigen throat test would need a different design/reagents/whatever (since there'd be a lot more saliva, etc.) than an antigen nasal test to be sensitive. Apparently the health authorities will not explain any of the "under the hood" issues (just that a throat swab is more difficult, and therefore more dangerous, to do to yourself), and the expert WaPo got is worried not about false negatives but false positives! First, the specificity of the tests are great so it's hard to fathom what would be introduced to drop that, and second... (read more)

Omicron Post #13: Outlook

A single omicron antigen test is good after showing symptoms, not before (Table 1). The good news is antigen doesn't miss randomly (of course not) - it misses lower viral load cases (Figure 1a). But we can't be sure those cases are at a steady-state of viral load, so it doesn't necessarily ensure that missed cases remain low viral load. Asymptomatic cases tend to be lower viral load than symptomatic cases (makes sense), but it's by no means a guarantee (Figure 1b-c, median Ct of symptomatic is ~25 while median Ct of asymptomatic is ~30, higher Ct means low... (read more)

Is it accurate to say that Ct count is similar to the # of zero bits of the density of RNA in the sample (expressed in binary)?
Omicron Post #13: Outlook

Yeah the "ethical rules" linked tweet asks, since tests are available in the UK, what if we just had Londoners take two - one in the nose and one in the throat, to see if they work? (so a non-confident version of #3)
It's more complicated too, not just #2 of developing tests we know work with saliva. From the linked preprint, the viral loads are somewhat higher in saliva than nasal earlier but nasal than saliva later (low sample size for this inference though).

And those data are a bit sad as they show that regardless of the saliva/nasal viral loads, antigen... (read more)

1Daniel V7mo
A single omicron antigen test is good after showing symptoms, not before (Table 1). The good news is antigen doesn't miss randomly (of course not) - it misses lower viral load cases (Figure 1a). But we can't be sure those cases are at a steady-state of viral load, so it doesn't necessarily ensure that missed cases remain low viral load. Asymptomatic cases tend to be lower viral load than symptomatic cases (makes sense), but it's by no means a guarantee (Figure 1b-c, median Ct of symptomatic is ~25 while median Ct of asymptomatic is ~30, higher Ct means lower viral load). []
What are sane reasons that Covid data is treated as reliable?

And we have VAERS, to which individuals can report directly. Plus, the surveillance system (including our crappy contact tracing systems run by the states) means we get sub-hospitalization data. Ideally contact tracing would also help arrest spread (not so much if they call you 3 days after you test positive 3 days after you first show symptoms...sheesh), but at the very least you're getting a survey done.

I think just from becoming aware of the surveillance and adverse event reporting systems, Valentine's base for a high degree of skepticism is pretty shak... (read more)

Thanks. I'd have to check, but I think it was the VAERS system that these folk were told to report to, and who turned down the data based on the circular logic I described in the OP. But this is based on my recollection of that acronym looking familiar in this context. Don't take that too seriously. Just a little seriously.
Covid 12/30: Infinity War

You know what we still never got anywhere on settling, and which is super relevant right about now? The extent to which vaccines make some people immune to infection while others largely aren’t, versus the extent to which they make most people less vulnerable to infection in each encounter but not fully immune.

My model now says it’s a hybrid. People have different levels of antibody and other responses to the vaccines, which means some people are effectively fully immune (at least for a while), others get more limited protections

This is definitely an im... (read more)

Does Braess's paradox show up in markets?

I'd be hesitant to conclude from prices -naturally- skyrocketing that welfare is lower. "Reasoning from a price change" as Scott Sumner would say. If you have a shortage due to supply constraints, and innovation eases the supply constraint and unlocks complementarity value in other products, that'll be reflected in their prices and does not necessarily mean people are worse off.

I like your positioning of Braess's paradox as an externality. It's a special case in that it isn't the participation in the system that exerts a social cost but the particular path... (read more)

Why did Europe conquer the world?

You may also enjoy Why the West Rules - For Now, which also addresses environmental, rather than institutional, factors. As Kaj_Sotala notes, these kinds of books are often entertaining reads but just-so stories.

1Jackson Wagner4mo
If you like entertaining reads and don't mind just-so stories, you yourself might enjoy my Song Dynasty alternate-history parody post in the style of Why the West Rules (I did enjoy the actual book). Here's "Why the East Rules []".
Testing, Testing, Hopefully

This is again a threshold, not comparator, complaint. Ct values are generated by PCR. Instead of using a crosstab for all samples, this approach is to use a crosstab for a subset of samples with higher viral load. It's reasonable! IIRC from a previous paper, this (90% of Ct<25) has a similar effect as just reducing the overall cutoff to (80% of all). It's also reasonable to use studies from other countries or to follow other agencies, in either case the ones we think are credible, which is again about the evidence threshold. What I've been hammering on is that the idea these tests are so different that they're noncomparable is not sensible.

Testing, Testing, Hopefully

I somewhat like the distinction between "testing for infectiousness" and "testing for whether I have it" (especially from a public health, rather than personal healthcare, standpoint). "People want to go to parties so they want fast, even if slightly less sensitive, tests because sometimes they don't really even care about their own health status, just whether they can reasonably party" is also a great reason to try to market the product (let party organizers or other organization police what tests they will accept or whether they will expect pre-testing),... (read more)

The EU and the UK also have regulatory agencies that require evidence for accepting tests. From [] it seems that the alternative for using the straight comparison to PCR is: That means that the test has to has a sensisitivty of 90% for patients with "Very high viral load" The world is bigger then the US. In a case like this it makes sense to look at other countries who have enough tests for everyone who wants instead of just declaring the task impossible.
Testing, Testing, Hopefully

The requirement for products to have the same cost/benefit profile really hampers innovation in the marketplace. A less sensitive test (literally, as a % of PCR) over the cumulative test-testing window (e.g., -2 to +5 days from symptom onset) may be desirable when used in a specific part of that window where it doesn't actually have as severe of sensitivity disadvantage (e.g., -1 to +1 days). Depending on the disease, we may not want to compromise on specificity at all. These are just the "cost" profiles (haha I left out price) - the personal benefit is di... (read more)

The way antigen tests are used, they are frequently used to check whether or not someone is infectious when attending a given event on the day after the test was taken. If a person is infected but there's only were little virus in their upper respiratory system, they aren't infectious so it's less problematic when the test doesn't detect that.
Omicron Post #4

They'd be vaccinated-lite. The neutralization titers in vaccinated plasma are better than in convalescent plasma. Lots of room to complicate things and get it closer to reality, but that doesn't touch the public good value thing so much.

You can do better than vaccinated lite. Since we know that neutralization titers in vaccinated decline as a function of time from vaccination, we can say that the unvaccinated recovered are like vaccinated ~4 months from vaccination, or 5 months and then we can treat everyone as vaccinated with x time passed from last vaccination.
Omicron Post #5

Trevor Bedford gets into this, and the short answer is technically yes, but the important part about decomposing Rt is not the decomposing it per se but the info it yields on how much vaccine escape might be going on. For reasonable R0s, there has to be substantial vaccine escape.

Omicron Post #5

Regarding translating fold reductions of neutralization titers into vaccine effectiveness, I always go back to this: (Fig 1a). Titers ~4x convalescent is what mRNAs do against wild-type, getting them to about 90%+ efficacy. About a 2x reduction against Delta means titers ~2x convalescent, getting them to about 85% efficacy. These conform with what we've seen. A 25-40x reduction against Omicron means titers .10-.16x convalescent, getting us down to 40% efficacy for two shots. Pfizer says a booster gets us back to "full" efficacy, and hopefully that holds up!

Omicron Post #4

Good job looking for cruxes! I agree with you that quantifying a differential in exposures would help nail down how much we should favor vaccination (or not), but the idea behind the probabilities I laid out was getting at the risk of inducing asymptomatic-spread. At the most unfavorable to vaccination (like how I also assumed vaccination leads to only asymptomatic disease), asymptomatics generate N infections from N exposures with p=1 and symptomatics generate exposures with p=0 (because they quarantine), so we can just look at the risk of inducing asympt... (read more)

Omicron Post #4

Your POV really turns on (emphasis added):

Having a relatively rare belief that vaccinated people seem much more likely to get asymptomatically infected and to have lower mortality BUT also noting that vaccines do NOT prevent infectiousness and probably cannot push R0 below 1.0.

Much more likely than what? It would seem the relative comparison you want to make would be vs. the unvaccinated, but that's obviously false (and that's the important part). It's true they are more likely to be asymptomatically vs. symptomatically infected (yay mild COVID), but so wh... (read more)

How do you incorporate unvaccinated who recovered from covid in your model? Are they equivalent to vaccinated?
Thank you for this high quality response! The numbers were helpful and I had to stop and grind out some of the math and parse your sentences carefully. Making this part of the model more quantitative might reveal a crux? I think we agree here directionally (symptomatic people change behavior in a way that has pro-social results, exposing fewer people "out in the world") but if the effect was very large (like if the average asymptomatic person infected a mean of 30 people and the average symptomatic person only infected 1.1 people) then I think it might overwhelm other parts of a full model, even with the numbers you specified (which I will get to below). (Empirical Digression: This meta-analysis [] suggests that on the order of a half to a third of all infections occur not "out in the world" but specifically in a medical context... where "worse symptoms" might tend to evolve in order to cause infected people to go to clinics where they could infect a large portion of the people who ever get infected with covid. This other study [] suggested that "Brigham and Women’s Hospital" in Boston had a much much lower rate of nosocomial covid, so covid's evolutionary incentives under endemic conditions might be regionally heterogeneous? Under an institutional heterogeneity model... it might be pro-socially wise to isolate any region with normally bad hospitals until these breeding grounds of infectious mortality are closed or repaired to adequacy. Obviously we are not wise, however, so this is unlikely to happen even if it was a net good for sure. Also, the model might be false, and it is certainly controversial, so I do not advocate this directly right now, based on current credence levels.) In terms of your proposed model I think you didn't specify how many more people the average asymptomatic covid carrier might infect but you did give these: A commo
Forecasting: Zeroth and First Order

I like the distinction between target-only forecasting and reference class forecasting.

It's interesting you use the mathematical terms zeroth and first order (and higher order) approximations, when one could take reference class forecasting into statistical terms instead:
1. Identify a reference class (relevant population from which the target was drawn)
2. Model it and make predictions

The zeroth order approximation is Yi=b0. Intercept-only model, your prediction is the average from the reference class.
The first order approximation is Yi=b0+b1*X. Now there's... (read more)

Covid 11/11: Winter and Effective Treatments Are Coming

There is still far too much uncertainty in how effective Paxlovid is, due to the trial being halted early – the idea that we know what we need to know here already is absurd.

The chi-squared statistic (df=1) on hospitalization is 20.23, p<.00001. This is strong evidence against non-efficacy. What's your prior on non-efficacy? Or how unstable do you think these sample proportions are at this N? I've got a (non-Bayesian) 95% CI on treatment efficacy against hospitalization at (64%, 97%), so sure there's uncertainty in how effective it is, but I think we kn... (read more)

On the effectiveness question, I think 64% and 97% are hugely different numbers - they are an order of magnitude difference in remaining risk. So a CI that wide to me very much screams not enough data in terms of deciding how to act. I expect tons of expensive prevention efforts to be justified by that 64% number, that would be much harder to justify if we could be confident in 89%, and if it was known to be 97% would be much harder still. On treatment versus prophylaxis, yes I understand that, but treatment and prophylaxis can be either complements or substitutes depending on the situation - if you have a good enough treatment it makes it less important to do prophylaxis (and vice versa).
The treatment means that it's less bad if you get infected. Therefore it decreases the benefits of preventing infection. Therefore, infection-prevention efforts that were previously justified in a cost-benefit analysis might no longer be justified (on the margin). For sake of illustration, if the treatment had negligible cost and total availability and was 100% effective at eliminating all COVID symptoms, then it would be essentially pointless to make any prevention efforts anymore.
How much of the supply-chain issues are due to monetary policy?

Sumner, and I, think it's mostly real supply issues (chassis, restrictions at port of LA). The trick with the general supply chain, rather than particular supply chains, is that it affects a lot. But, as jmh says, if it were Fed-induced aggregate demand, inflation should probably be even more broad-based. And even if the increase is due to a sectoral shift in quantity demanded in goods vs. services, that's not an aggregate demand (i.e., Fed) source; the Fed doesn't control the services-money and good... (read more)

[Book Review] "The Bell Curve" by Charles Murray

Robin and Duncan are both right. Speakers and listeners should strive to understand each other. Speakers should anticipate, and listeners should be charitable. There are also exceptions to these rules (largely due to either high familiarity or bad faith), but we should as a whole strive for communication norms that allow for concision.

Recommending disclaimers, recommending almost-another-post's-worth-of-wrestling, censorship...all are on a spectrum. Reasonable cases can be made for the options before outright censorship. I am of the opinion that additional... (read more)

If someone posted a summary of Mein Kampf on here, I would be quite interested to read it! I’ve never read that book myself (and I’m not sure that I could quite bear to do so—which is a personal weakness/fault, I hasten to add, not something at all to be proud of), but I am a firm believer in being familiar with the views of your opponents… or your enemies. If someone were to write a high-quality review of Mein Kampf for Less Wrong, I expect that I’d find it edifying, and it would save me the trouble of, you know… actually slogging through Adolf Hitler’s w... (read more)

[Book Review] "The Bell Curve" by Charles Murray

I agree the post didn't address Murray's points that critically or look deeply into the long list of critiques of the book, but it's a useful summary of the main points (with some criticism here and there), which I think was the point.

I'm not sure how most of these options would ensure the benefit of summarizing without the cost of reputational risk: (1) This one might, until the connections are easily followed by, say, the NYT or any random internet sleuth; (2) Maybe the title has been edited (?), but I'm not seeing a provocative title or framing, most of... (read more)

Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

Well sure, there you go, paternalism is easy to justify when people are seen to be so irrational that their perceived needs can be dismissed and replaced with your personal preferences.

That's a good point about encouraging rationing through price ceilings, as -finally- a reason why they might push in the right direction. As we saw already, price ceilings are not a necessary condition for the rapid implementation of rationing by business. I doubt any induction would be incrementally strong enough or implemented early enough to either matter or justify aband... (read more)

... in a real-world example of people being irrational over perceived needs.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

I've been keeping speculation separate from panic buying in my mind, perhaps that has confused us, but I thought it was clear earlier. Panic buying is part of the demand shock. It's not "smart" but it isn't a "fake need" either. There are varying of uncertainty here, and eventually it does slip into stupidity ("I think I'll run out next week, I might have enough til then, better get some in case" ... "I have enough for months but I better grab more!"), and yet again mandating low prices does not defeat this tendency because it operates just like any other demand. If you want them to think twice, charge them more. Or ration. But mandating low prices is counter-productive.

Panic buying is a fake need when the supply shock has minimal direct effects. If you mandate low prices, stores will often implement purchase limits--that is, the store will ration the product themselves.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

WTP is a pretty standard measure of valuation, but I understand the reticence to rely on that. Distributional concerns are legit, after all. If the goals didn't contradict, I'd be much more reliant on efficiency/welfare arguments, and it would be quite messy and assumptive.

Anyway, they do contradict. This is because "bought by speculator, kept in a warehouse, and discarded months later" makes up so little of the sales volume, and that's even if you include "bought by speculator, kept in warehouse, and successfully sold back in the market for a profit month... (read more)

If you're suggesting that there actually was a greater total need for toilet paper at the start of the pandemic in the sense that the majority of the excess demand was not made up of speculators and panic buyers, I'd like to see some evidence for this.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

If you assume speculation is the biggie here (I'm skeptical) or if it is the only thing you care about, then that is correct. If there is a supply shock or a herding demand shock, then there will be faster stockouts.

What's the goal, reducing speculation or helping allocate product to its most valued uses? I'll take the latter every time, and letting price work as a signal is a useful means for that. I can also see a role for rationing.

Those goals don't contradict. Reducing speculation is a method of helping allocate products to their most valued uses. "Bought by speculator, kept in a warehouse, and discarded months later" is not a valued use for a product, after all. Furthermore, it sounds as if you're defining "valued" as "willingness to spend on". Defined this way, I have no desire to allocate products according to their valued uses. Poor people exist, after all. (I see a motte and bailey here where the motte is "spending money indicates what is a valued use, according to my definition" and the bailey is "spending money indicates a valued use, as most people would understand that phrase".)
Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

Like I said, it's their buying that is the problem. Higher prices or rationing are the key. Mandating low prices doesn't solve it.

If you mandate low prices, they won't be buying since they won't have an incentive to speculate.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

For personal consumption: if prices are ceilinged to be low, "might be out later" becomes "might be out sooner," which makes getting to the store quickly more imperative, and not just for the hoarding-inclined but also the marginally-hoarding-inclined and maybe even the people who just heard something on the news.

For resale: Indeed, there is a weaker incentive to hoard at low present prices if near-future prices are capped. But costs are also part of that equation, and you can weaken the incentive power of high near-future prices by bringing those prices i... (read more)

Speculators aren't selling back into the market now, and if their speculation doesn't pan out, they might discard the product due to transaction costs rather than sell it back into the market later.
Lies, Damn Lies, and Fabricated Options

Definitely but banning gouging doesn't fix this problem. It makes it worse. Hoard without consequence!

I don't see how. Maybe you can hoard without consequence but you also remove a major reason to hoard. The two reasons to hoard are either for personal consumption, or for resale. For personal consumption: For people inclined to hoard it's hard to see how "I'd better buy it now because they might be out later" is likely to induce a lot more hoarding than "I'd better buy it now because it might only be available for an unaffordable price later." For resale: This is the kicker and this is Jiro's point - people get the idea "I'll buy TP now before those rubes, then when its out everywhere I can resell for higher." If its illegal to resell for higher then this excess TP is not hoarded because there's no incentive to do so - people know approximately how much TP they actually need for personal use and there wouldn't be much incentive to buy more. This is even more pronounced for durable goods like snow shovels, you only can use one shovel at a time but you could imagine yourself able to re-sell an unbounded number of snow shovels. I think the gods-eye optimal solution would be something like allowance of price increases for people who are bringing goods in from outside and a ban on speculation. But in the real world it's really hard to differentiate speculation from "legitimate" buying and selling, and, maybe it's wrong or maybe it's right, but it's definitely not crazy to think that the net effect of second-order speculation induced shortages is worse than the net effect of first-order disaster induced shortages.
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