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Peter Dorman



Articles by Peter Dorman

A Framework for Coronavirus Policy

July 16, 2020

A Framework for Coronavirus Policy

There are two general ways to reduce the transmission of the virus.  One is “engineering”, changing the physical environment, the other is “social”, changing behavior to keep people distant from each other.  Under engineering, we can include not only physical partitions, UV lighting and ventilation, but also mask-wearing and other PPE.  I know, there is a very large behavioral component to masking, but I want to focus on the distancing aspect, so let’s put everything else in the engineering box.
Now for distancing.  Suppose we know instantaneously and with certainty everyone who is infected.  In that case, we can selectively quarantine them, and this will cut off transmission.  That is possible only in rare

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A Framework for Coronavirus Policy

July 13, 2020

There are two general ways to reduce the transmission of the virus.  One is “engineering”, changing the physical environment, the other is “social”, changing behavior to keep people distant from each other.  Under engineering we can include not only physical partitions, UV lighting and ventilation, but also mask-wearing and other PPE.  I know, there is a very large behavioral component to masking, but I want to focus on the distancing aspect, so let’s put everything else in the engineering box.Now for distancing.  Suppose we know instantaneously and with certainty everyone who is infected.  In that case we can selectively quarantine them, and this will cut off transmission.  That is possible only in rare circumstances, such as a country that has fully eradicated the virus but has

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Why Trump Is in Trouble

June 14, 2020

Why Trump Is in Trouble

Trump is staggering.  He’s plunging in the polls, and his behavior has become erratic and unhinged.  I don’t mean he’s being crude, infantile and wrapped in a world of fantasy—he’s always like that.  Rather, I see him as suddenly incoherent, fumbling with threats and catchphrases as if he were locked out of his house at night, frantically trying one key after another to see if any will work.
Why?
Here’s my theory: throughout his career, Trump has been resolutely self-defining.  He selects his issues, positions and attributes (clever deal-maker, hardass boss, financial/sexual/political winner, tough guy warrior for patriarchal values, underdog rebel against the Establishment) to construct a persona of his own choice.  He takes the

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Why Trump Is in Trouble

June 14, 2020

Trump is staggering.  He’s plunging in the polls, and his behavior has become erratic and unhinged.  I don’t mean he’s being crude, infantile and wrapped in a world of fantasy—he’s always like that.  Rather, I see him as suddenly incoherent, fumbling with threats and catchphrases as if he were locked out of his house at night, frantically trying one key after another to see if any will work.Why?Here’s my theory: throughout his career, Trump has been resolutely self-defining.  He selects his issues, positions and attributes (clever deal-maker, hardass boss, financial/sexual/political winner, tough guy warrior for patriarchal values, underdog rebel against the Establishment) to construct a persona of his own choice.  He takes the initiative.2016 was a great year for him.  While much was

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Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

May 28, 2020

Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

This is an age of rampant conspiratorialism.  Bill Gates is behind the pandemic because he wants to shoot you full of vaccines.  No wait, it’s all those 5G cell towers.  Or maybe it’s bioterrorism from China.  Or just a hoax perpetrated by international capital to undermine Donald Trump, the people’s tribune.  The right wing disinformation machine cranks out this stuff constantly, but paranoid fantasies also emanate from the left/alternative world.
So to counter the conspiracy pandemic, mainstream experts have come forward to advise us on how to detect and puncture unfounded rumors.  The problem I see is that sometimes there really are conspiracies, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to separate

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Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

May 28, 2020

Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

This is an age of rampant conspiratorialism.  Bill Gates is behind the pandemic because he wants to shoot you full of vaccines.  No wait, it’s all those 5G cell towers.  Or maybe it’s bioterrorism from China.  Or just a hoax perpetrated by international capital to undermine Donald Trump, the people’s tribune.  The right wing disinformation machine cranks out this stuff constantly, but paranoid fantasies also emanate from the left/alternative world.
So to counter the conspiracy pandemic, mainstream experts have come forward to advise us on how to detect and puncture unfounded rumors.  The problem I see is that sometimes there really are conspiracies, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to separate

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A Compromise on Liability

May 28, 2020

A Compromise on Liability

So Mitch McConnell and the senate Republicans want blanket employer liability protection as the price of another round of economic support.  They have this leverage because Democrats kept postponing their agenda until they were the only ones with a list of things they wanted to spend money on.
(This illustrates classic bargaining theory to a T.  Bargaining power depends on how much you think you will lose if the agreement is delayed [Rubinstein] or fails completely.  Democrats feared economic damage to the public if bailout bills weren’t approved immediately.  Once the financial markets were backstopped Republicans considered the rest to be low stakes.  Hence the strong tilt to McConnell et al.)
So here is a possible Democratic

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Woke Is Reactionary: The Small Business Lending Edition

May 27, 2020

Woke Is Reactionary: The Small Business Lending Edition

We live in a drastically unequal society.  Everywhere you look you will find injustice, constraint and exploitation.  Being a member of a racial or other minority increases the odds you will end up on the short end, so what should we do about it?  There’s a progressive solution, to change the system so injustice, constraint and exploitation are minimized.  And then there’s the woke solution, to demand benefits targeted to minorities (and women) that will more evenly distribute the injustice, constraint and exploitation that remains.
You can support the woke solution, but please don’t confuse it with progressive social change.
For a current example, look at this recent op-ed in the New York Times by

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A Compromise on Liability

May 26, 2020

So Mitch McConnell and the senate Republicans want blanket employer liability protection as the price of another round of economic support.  They have this leverage because Democrats kept postponing their agenda until they were the only ones with a list of things they wanted to spend money on.(This illustrates classic bargaining theory to a T.  Bargaining power depends on how much you think you will lose if the agreement is delayed [Rubinstein] or fails completely.  Democrats feared economic damage to the public if bailout bills weren’t approved immediately.  Once the financial markets were backstopped Republicans considered the rest to be low stakes.  Hence the strong tilt to McConnell et al.)So here is a possible Democratic counter:OK, you want liability protection.  Let’s give it to

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Conspiracy Theories: How to Pick Out the Plausible Ones

May 25, 2020

This is an age of rampant conspiratorialism.  Bill Gates is behind the pandemic because he wants to shoot you full of vaccines.  No wait, it’s all those 5G cell towers.  Or maybe it’s bioterrorism from China.  Or just a hoax perpetrated by international capital to undermine Donald Trump, the people’s tribune.  The right wing disinformation machine cranks out this stuff constantly, but paranoid fantasies also emanate from the left/alternative world.So to counter the conspiracy pandemic, mainstream experts have come forward to advise us on how to detect and puncture unfounded rumors.  The problem I see is that sometimes there really are conspiracies, and it isn’t immediately obvious how to separate the ones that might be true from the purely crazy.In the public interest, I offer the

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Woke Is Reactionary: The Small Business Lending Edition

May 23, 2020

We live in a drastically unequal society.  Everywhere you look you will find injustice, constraint and exploitation.  Being a member of a racial or other minority increases the odds you will end up on the short end, so what should we do about it?  There’s a progressive solution, to change the system so injustice, constraint and exploitation are minimized.  And then there’s the woke solution, to demand benefits targeted to minorities (and women) that will more evenly distribute the injustice, constraint and exploitation that remains.You can support the woke solution, but please don’t confuse it with progressive social change.For a current example, look at this recent op-ed in the New York Times by Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet, “How We Spend Tells Us Whose Lives Matter”.  They point

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Reopening Isn’t Reopening—It’s Cutting Off Unemployment

May 15, 2020

Reopening Isn’t Reopening—It’s Cutting Off Unemployment

Donald Trump, cheering on his “warriors” who demand that states lift their lockdown and distancing orders (where they have them), would have you believe this is about bringing the economy back to life so ordinary people can get their jobs and normal lives back.  Elitist liberals who work from home and have country estates to retreat to don’t care, but “real” people do.
The reality is different.  The shuttering of stores, restaurants, hotels and workplaces didn’t begin with government orders and won’t end with them.  If the rate of new infection and death is too high, a lot of people won’t go along.  Not everyone, but enough to make a huge economic difference.  Ask any small business owner what it

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Reopening Isn’t Reopening—It’s Cutting Off Unemployment

May 13, 2020

Donald Trump, cheering on his “warriors” who demand that states lift their lockdown and distancing orders (where they have them), would have you believe this is about bringing the economy back to life so ordinary people can get their jobs and normal lives back.  Elitist liberals who work from home and have country estates to retreat to don’t care, but “real” people do.The reality is different.  The shuttering of stores, restaurants, hotels and workplaces didn’t begin with government orders and won’t end with them.  If the rate of new infection and death is too high, a lot of people won’t go along.  Not everyone, but enough to make a huge economic difference.  Ask any small business owner what it would mean for demand to drop by 25-50%.  Lifting government orders won’t magically restore

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Planet of the Humans: A De-Growth Manifesto

May 5, 2020

(Dan here…Great comments for this post at Econospeak)
Planet of the Humans: A De-Growth Manifesto

Planet of the Humans, directed by Jeff Gibbs but featuring Michael Moore as its “presenter”, has been viewed by almost five and a half million people since it popped up on YouTube last month.  In case you haven’t heard, it’s quite a provocation, and the response from almost every quarter of the environmental movement has been outrage.  It traffics in disinformation and scurrilous personal attacks, they say, and I can’t argue.  Two big problems: it falsely claims that more carbon is emitted over the lifespan of a photovoltaic cell than by generating the same energy through fossil fuels, and it uses dishonest editing techniques to portray activist Bill

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Planet of the Humans: A De-Growth Manifesto

May 2, 2020

Planet of the Humans, directed by Jeff Gibbs but featuring Michael Moore as its “presenter”, has been viewed by almost five and a half million people since it popped up on YouTube last month.  In case you haven’t heard, it’s quite a provocation, and the response from almost every quarter of the environmental movement has been outrage.  It traffics in disinformation and scurrilous personal attacks, they say, and I can’t argue.  Two big problems: it falsely claims that more carbon is emitted over the lifespan of a photovoltaic cell than by generating the same energy through fossil fuels, and it uses dishonest editing techniques to portray activist Bill McKibben as having sold out to billionaire ecological exploiters.  You can read about the misrepresentations elsewhere; my point is that,

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An Update on Shadow Government

April 29, 2020

An Update on Shadow Government

Not only is the current level of testing for the coronavirus insufficient, the tests themselves are flawed.  Read this summary by infectious disease specialist Michael Osterholm and a coauthor for particulars.  Their key policy conclusion is
A blue-ribbon panel of public health, laboratory and medical experts, ethicists, legal scholars and elected officials should be convened immediately to set out a road map with realistic goals for testing and contact-tracing.
If we had a reliable government, it would get this done, but we don’t.  Concretely, one of the main jobs of a shadow government organized by Democrats would be to assemble this group and give it a regular, high profile platform.

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An Update on Shadow Government

April 28, 2020

Not only is the current level of testing for the coronavirus insufficient, the tests themselves are flawed.  Read this summary by infectious disease specialist Michael Osterholm and a coauthor for particulars.  Their key policy conclusion is
A blue-ribbon panel of public health, laboratory and medical experts, ethicists, legal scholars and elected officials should be convened immediately to set out a road map with realistic goals for testing and contact-tracing.
If we had a reliable government, it would get this done, but we don’t.  Concretely, one of the main jobs of a shadow government organized by Democrats would be to assemble this group and give it a regular, high profile platform.

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We Need a Shadow Government

April 27, 2020

We Need a Shadow Government

Republican rule in the US is a horror show.  We get incoherent ramblings from our president on injecting bleach into our veins, calls for the states to file for bankruptcy from the Senate majority leader, a veto of modest IMF support for developing countries hammered financially by the virus, and a complete absence of guidance on the most crucial aspects of public health.
We already know this.
The greater tragedy is that the Democrats are barely better.  Their program, to the extent it makes sense to speak of one, is protecting the immediate interests of their key constituents.  This begins with the financial sector, and since the Republicans share the same commitment, their multi-trillion dollar bailout zipped right through.

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We Need a Shadow Government

April 24, 2020

Republican rule in the US is a horror show.  We get incoherent ramblings from our president on injecting bleach into our veins, calls for the states to file for bankruptcy from the Senate majority leader, a veto of modest IMF support for developing countries hammered financially by the virus, and a complete absence of guidance on the most crucial aspects of public health.We already know this.The greater tragedy is that the Democrats are barely better.  Their program, to the extent it makes sense to speak of one, is protecting the immediate interests of their key constituents.  This begins with the financial sector, and since the Republicans share the same commitment, their multi-trillion dollar bailout zipped right through.  Small business is also important to both parties, if not quite

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Does Google’s Search Algorithm Protect the New York Times?

April 22, 2020

Does Google’s Search Algorithm Protect the New York Times?

Yesterday morning, after reading the Sunday New York Times, I posted two pieces on EconoSpeak within a few minutes of each other.  One was a short, cute little item (a visual grab from the paper) entitled “The Art of Juxtaposition”; the other was a longer, more substantial takedown of a deficit hysteria “analysis” I called “The Usual Deficit Blather from the New York Times”.
As usual, I monitored the posts through the day to see if they were being picked up anywhere.  This has become largely an exercise in nostalgia, since with the fading of the economics blogosphere there isn’t much to track.  What happened next was interesting, however.

Before long, Google had indexed “The Art of

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Does Google’s Search Algorithm Protect the New York Times?

April 20, 2020

Yesterday morning, after reading the Sunday New York Times, I posted two pieces on EconoSpeak within a few minutes of each other.  One was a short, cute little item (a visual grab from the paper) entitled “The Art of Juxtaposition”; the other was a longer, more substantial takedown of a deficit hysteria “analysis” I called “The Usual Deficit Blather from the New York Times”.As usual, I monitored the posts through the day to see if they were being picked up anywhere.  This has become largely an exercise in nostalgia, since with the fading of the economics blogosphere there isn’t much to track.  What happened next was interesting, however.Before long, Google had indexed “The Art of Juxtaposition” and returned it on my search, but the “Blather” piece was nowhere to be found.  Curious.  Then

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The Usual Deficit Blather from the New York Times

April 20, 2020

The Usual Deficit Blather from the New York Times

The Times today ran a truly execrable article warning us that, once the virus has passed, we will suffer dire consequences from the runup of government debt.  As most readers know, this argument is theoretically illiterate, derived from the false comparison between household and government debt.  We’ve been through this many times before, and I have nothing to add.
I do want to focus on one sentence, however, to illustrate how intellectual blinders can lead to absurd conclusions.
To quote the author, Carl Hulse, “In other words, the bill will come due, as it always does.”
Does it?  Check out total Federal debt measured as a percent of GDP:

As you can see, it skyrocketed during the 1940s, when the US went

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The Usual Deficit Blather from the New York Times

April 19, 2020

The Times today ran a truly execrable article warning us that, once the virus has passed, we will suffer dire consequences from the runup of government debt.  As most readers know, this argument is theoretically illiterate, derived from the false comparison between household and government debt.  We’ve been through this many times before, and I have nothing to add.I do want to focus on one sentence, however, to illustrate how intellectual blinders can lead to absurd conclusions.To quote the author, Carl Hulse, "In other words, the bill will come due, as it always does."Does it?  Check out total Federal debt measured as a percent of GDP:

As you can see, it skyrocketed during the 1940s, when the US went to war against Germany, Italy and Japan.  By the time the war was over it was at an

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World Chess Championship Ends

April 17, 2020

World Chess Championship Ends

The two best chess players in the world faced off this month, undeterred by lockdowns, travel bans or any other restrictions.  They never had to see each other either.
It helped that they were both computer programs.  The former champ, Stockfish, is the strongest of the traditional type of program, designed by humans and invested with all the fine points of judgment the best human players can translate into code.  Because of its tremendous calculating abilities, it is rated far higher than the top flesh and blood competitors: 3600 to 2800+ for Magnus Carlsen and his closest challengers.  (The numbers are measured on the Elo scale, named for physicist and chess enthusiast Arpad Elo, who developed it over 50 years ago.

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World Chess Championship Ends

April 14, 2020

The two best chess players in the world faced off this month, undeterred by lockdowns, travel bans or any other restrictions.  They never had to see each other either.It helped that they were both computer programs.  The former champ, Stockfish, is the strongest of the traditional type of program, designed by humans and invested with all the fine points of judgment the best human players can translate into code.  Because of its tremendous calculating abilities, it is rated far higher than the top flesh and blood competitors: 3600 to 2800+ for Magnus Carlsen and his closest challengers.  (The numbers are measured on the Elo scale, named for physicist and chess enthusiast Arpad Elo, who developed it over 50 years ago.  Players’ scores rise and fall based on how they do against other rated

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CNN’s Slavish Service to Trump

April 12, 2020

CNN’s Slavish Service to Trump

I had to do a double-take when I saw this news item.  First came the headline, “Pence won’t let public health officials appear on CNN unless Trump’s disinfo briefings run in full”.  I thought, this is horrible: the administration is holding Fauci and Birx hostage to force CNN to cover not only them but also Trump in his daily blatherings.  But no, it was exactly the other way around.  Pence was keeping them from being interviewed on CNN unless the network also covered their regular briefings.  What CNN has been doing instead is broadcasting the Trump portion and then cutting away when people who actually have something to say step forward.
Bad enough that Trump has a high profile daily outlet for his ravings; it’s

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CNN’s Slavish Service to Trump

April 11, 2020

I had to do a double-take when I saw this news item.  First came the headline, “Pence won’t let public health officials appear on CNN unless Trump’s disinfo briefings run in full”.  I thought, this is horrible: the administration is holding Fauci and Birx hostage to force CNN to cover not only them but also Trump in his daily blatherings.  But no, it was exactly the other way around.  Pence was keeping them from being interviewed on CNN unless the network also covered their regular briefings.  What CNN has been doing instead is broadcasting the Trump portion and then cutting away when people who actually have something to say step forward.Bad enough that Trump has a high profile daily outlet for his ravings; it’s incredible the media would treat this as news and CDC updates as disposable

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Lessons from the Pandemic

April 11, 2020

Lessons from the Pandemic

First, all who produce things we need or want are “essential workers”.  Health care practitioners are essential, but so are the people who stock pharmacies and grocery and hardware stores or staff customer service phone lines.  Truck drivers are essential.  Farmworkers who pick the crops we plan on eating are too.  Nothing demonstrates whose work matters in this world better than a pandemic that threatens to pull them off the job.
Second, because they are essential, whatever these workers need is what we all need.  If they need a bus to get to work, we all need that bus.  If they need childcare, we all need it.  Obviously, if they need healthcare or time to stay home and get over an illness or tend to their kids, that’s our need

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