Richard Epstein has a piece out on coronavirus. He’s a well-known libertarian legal scholar – even I had heard of him.
He thinks that the number of cases, worldwide, will peak at under one million, with total worldwide deaths under 50,000. Total death in the US should be under 500. *
There are some errors in his essay. He says that a particular model he cites in the New York Times does not mention the doubling time. it is of course implicit in the graph itself, but models routinely estimate this, and it is only a few days. He say that it does not allow for any changes in viral toxicity: well, there is no evidence for any, at least on this short time scale, and it is by no means inevitable that it will become more benign. In 1918, influenza got _worse_ with time. He says that it doesn’t allow for human behavioral changes: that’s the point of course, to show what is likely to happen if If This Goes On – if we don’t do anything, or don’t do much – which course, is exactly what he’s advocating.
He says that the model does not account for the most vulnerable people being hit first And it shouldn’t, because there is no evidence that they _are_ hit first, and in fact good evidence that everyone is susceptible. It is more dangerous in old and ill people, but not more common, except insofar as there may be significant transmission in hospitals. In fact there seem to be many cases in children, who are mostly vectors, rather than victims.
He criticizes the model for not assuming that infections will decline as the weather gets warmer: but, unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case either.
He shows some charts of deaths and number infected, but does not understand that deaths lag cases ( by about three weeks). For example, he mentions that the number of deaths in New York State was 6 as of March 16 ( he says 2, from local exposure): but today, March 23rd, one week later, 43 died from coronavirus.
Epstein mumbles about how natural selection, about which he knows nothing, is sure to tame the virus. Just as it tamed smallpox and yellow fever. Maybe he should learn math and read a book. it’s not too late!
He suggests that the virulent forms of HIV were replaced by milder forms, after the bathhouses were closed, and that this is a goodly part of the explanation for HIV’s decline. But that never happened: it was the protease inhibitor drugs. In Cuba, HIV never became an epidemic at all, but that was because of Fidel Castro’s libertarian voodoo.
He guessed that that death rate would go down among known cases in SKorea. But considering that spread had almost stopped ( so the # of cases was close to constant) , while a fair number of older cases were still lingering in intensive care, this was unlikely: it would have required a fair number of resurrections. And in fact case fatality rate has gone up in SK, as one might expect. It takes time to die.
Almost every substantial point in this essay is incorrect, and all the errors are in the same direction (minimizing the seriousness of the epidemic), presumably in the service of opposing expensive shutdowns. It’s a lawyerly way of arguing: making the “worst appear the better cause” is a big part of the job.
This essay, does, however, by its very existence, make a subtle and potent argument for letting the virus have its merry way with us: Richard Epstein was born in 1943.
- As I write, the total is 486, with 132 deaths today. Anyone want to bet whether it eventually breaks 500?