URLs du Jour

2020-03-24

[Amazon Link]

  • Probably-paywalled commentary from Allison Schrager in the WSJ: Risk, Uncertainty and Coronavirus.

    The government response to the coronavirus pandemic has seemed chaotic—underreaction one minute, piling on restrictions the next. It has left many wondering whether anyone is weighing the trade-offs. Do heavy-handed measures carry the benefits to justify the considerable costs? The uncomfortable answer: We don’t know.

    The novel coronavirus appears at first to be a problem of risk management. It is a dangerous disease that threatens the lives of our neighbors and loved ones. Our response—increased social distancing, shutting down businesses—is aimed at reducing that risk. But the problem isn’t risk so much as uncertainty.

    The difference is important. Risk is a measurable quantity and can be managed. Uncertainty means you just don't know enough about the situation.

    The distinction is lost on politicians.


  • I respect the argument Sally Satel makes at National Review: Trump's ‘China Virus’ Coronavirus Phrase -- Needlessly Antagonistic.

    But over the last few weeks, politicians and the media have taken heat for missteps in terminology, particularly since Trump seemed most strongly to insist upon calling it the “Chinese virus” in the wake of China’s “putting out information, which was false, that our military gave [the virus] to them,” as he put it.

    The remedy is easy, critics say: Just call it coronavirus. They’re right. In fact, the profession has been trying to take identity out of diagnosis for a long time. Calling it the Chinese virus goes against a humanizing trend.

    Pissing people off isn't going to get us back to normal any faster. Obvs. Ms. Satel goes through a lot of examples, among them the move away from (for example) calling a patient "schizophrenic", and toward calling him “someone with schizophrenia.”

    Fine. But it seems like another example of the "euphemism treadmill". It will only be a short while before we're looking for even gentler language to designate a problem.


  • Virginia Postrel proposes something sensible: Coronavirus Testing Should Be Random, Not Celebrity-First.

    When something is in short supply, getting it can depend on who you know. That’s true of the coronavirus test, with an added twist.

    A striking number of rich and famous people, from basketball star Kevin Durant to Senator Rand Paul, have tested positive for Covid-19 without showing symptoms of the disease, let alone being hospitalized. That’s led to charges of unfair access. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio criticized Durant’s team, the Brooklyn Nets, for testing its players. “An entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested,” he said on Twitter. “Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”

    Virginia has a long history of reasonableness. Must have been that stint as Reason editor.


  • Unexpected announcement from Robert Tracinski at the Bulwark: We're All Libertarians Now.

    In a moment of crisis, people like to assert a sense of control, no matter how illusory, by reverting to well-worn habits. In the case of COVID-19, that means using it as a vessel for whatever political hobbyhorses they had before the pandemic. So it’s no surprise to see the headline, “There Are No Libertarians in an Epidemic.” By “libertarians,” the author means advocates of small government and individual liberty.

    This talking point has since been taken up by others in a more technically accurate form: there are no libertarians in a pandemic. The idea is that when a crisis hits, everyone suddenly realizes how much they need Big Government.

    This is a bizarre argument to make about a virus that got a foothold partly because of the corrupt and tyrannical policies of a communist government in China. The outbreak is currently at its worst in Italy, where socialized medicine has not turned out to be a panacea. And it was allowed to get out of control in America because the feds imposed an incompetent government monopoly on COVID-19 testing, blocking the use of better and faster tests developed by private companies.

    Agreed. And finally:


  • I can't help but chuckle at a Tweet from Rand Simberg:

    I went to Walmart for their 6am Senior Hour this morning. I'm pretty sure everyone was wearing pants. Although I'm not sure I would have noticed if someone wasn't.