Richard Epstein: expert commentary.

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?







This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

36 Responses to Richard Epstein: expert commentary.

  1. “Will” peak at under one million? It’s been more than a million for a while now. Probably over 9 million right now. Death counts don’t lie.

  2. Frau Katze says:

    He can’t be thinking very logically, the assumption that mild versions always occur aside.

    This virus is already in a good evolutionary position. Kills mainly the middle-aged to elderly (and even then not all of them), who have already reproduced. Goes easy on children and young people. What more could it want?

    In an earlier era, this bug might not have even been noticed in big cities. There were so many other diseases in mid-19th century cities (before city water was centralized).

  3. kpkinsunnyphiladelphia says:

    Epstein is 77, but he looks early 60ish, looking so good, in fact, that a few years ago, while still in his 70s, Epstein was asked by Reason’s Nick Gillespie if he had work done. Epstein said no.

    So maybe he’ll be one of the…what’s the number?…oh 8% of those in his age cohort who GET infected who actually go on to meet the Maker.

    Assuming it is 8% and assuming he gets the virus. He’s at Stanford’s Hoover institution, and the great Commissar Gavin Newsom has all his comrade lefty pals in Palo Alto sheltering in place.

    So we may have Epstein for a while yet. Sorry.

    But if he coughs up a lung lobe in the next 45 days, we’ll be sure to find out. Epstein is semi-famous.

  4. peter connor says:

    It’s hard to get so many things wrong, but professional; libertarians are usually up to the task…Reason magazine is exhibit A…

    • Thersites says:

      Having spent several years of my adolescence under the spell of libertarianism, I can at least say that I learnt a lot about the world and its workings whilst trying to figure out why our predictions so rarely seemed to come true. Mr. Epstein has been around a lot longer than I have, though, so I couldn’t tell you his excuse.

    • ASR says:

      After encountering a number of Libertarians I came up with a definition: A Libertarian is someone who believes everyone has an absolute right to do all the things he wants to be able to do.

  5. teageegeepea says:

    I had heard the virulence of the 1918 flue was attributed to the sickest soldiers being sent back to where they could infect more people. Is that accurate?

  6. Craken says:

    Rather depressingly, Epstein today put out a comprehensively ignorant sequel–capped off by “let the virus run its course.” Anosognosia or malice? Madness or egomaniacism?
    When you’re dead wrong, you don’t double down. You either rectify yourself or at least leave the stage. After Pearl Harbor, Lindbergh’s America First Committee first issued a statement of rectification, then left the stage.
    Speaking of rectification, I’ve heard nothing more from Ioannidis, who is surely the greater villain among the public opinionators.

  7. Jack Amok says:

    “As I write, the total is 486, with 132 deaths today. Anyone want to bet whether it eventually breaks 500?”

    Eventually? More like tomorrow.

    I’m puzzled at the insistence these people have that nothing unusual is happening. I’m beginning to suspect a psychological aversion to real problems that might require real action.

    • NumberOneCustomer says:

      Dude, people are effing laaaaazy AND they rationalize every bad decision faster than the local slut

      • Anonymous says:

        “lazy”: Reacting properly to this, being disciplined, planning, figuring out how to substitute one thing for another, not socializing, managing kids at home… This is hard work for a lot of people. And that’s just just the people that have their shit together enough that they aren’t shitting their pants because they lost their job.

      • Jack Amok says:

        Well, the local slut is temporarily distracted, but I get your point.

        Every political form on the planet, from commies to capitalists to muzzies to whatever you want to call Europeans, are trying to enact social-distancing protocols, and a bunch of introverts are freaking out about it… interesting times doesn’t begin to describe it.

  8. Pingback: Richard Epstein: expert commentary. | West Hunter

  9. jbbigf says:

    “and in fact good evidence that everyone is susceptible”?

    You provide evidence that no age group is exempt, but that does not mean that everyone “is susceptible” Some people get it and some don’t. We don’t know why, and it matters. Unless you think that everyone who is “exposed” gets the disease. Whatever “exposed” means..

  10. jbbigf says:

    BTW, I contacted John Ioannidis, using the e-mail address at the article. His reply;

    “both the 1% and the 60% infection rate that I state are illustrative examples to show what it would mean. Current data suggest different infection rates in different locations, varying from 0.1% to 20%. Infection fatality rate seems to be very low, close to seasonal flu.”

  11. Enquiring Mind says:

    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.

    What a repulsive and stupid thing to say.

    • kpkinsunnyphiladelphia says:

      Are you implying that our esteemed blog proprietor Greg Cochran is NOT all warm and fuzzy and all kumbaya?

      Oh, wait — he called the evidence based medicine guys at Oxford “insane.” Never mind. When you come on this blog, be prepared to duck.

      Meanwhile, Cochran and Epstein have a couple things in common. They could care less that you disagree with them and are immensely confident (perhaps overconfident?) in their intellectual abilities, believing they are the sort that don’t suffer fools gladly.

      As a result, with both, the entertainment value is high, intellectual quality (or lack therof) not withstanding.

  12. vaniver says:

    “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.”

    I found this paper pretty convincing that temperature and humidity both matter, but also that we’re still looking at exponential growth potential in the summer almost everywhere. Is there better or more recent data?

    • Martin says:

      Greg, in your estimation what are the chances that:

      a–survivors do NOT clear the virus, they always have it like herpesviruses and typhus and it can come back out to play whenever the chips are down;

      b–you beat this incarnation of COVID now and a more virulent strain evolves which is different enough that you have no accrued immune experience in fighting it the second time


  13. Tl Howard says:

    Is this the Richard Epstein, formerly of Univ of Chicago Law School?

  14. Tom says:

    He predicted 5,000 deaths in the US, not 500

  15. Pincher Martin says:

    Everyone here will find this hilarious.

    Richard Epstein has been interviewed by Isaac Chotiner in the New Yorker.

    Key quote:

    First of all, let me just say I wrote an amendment to that, the thing I regret most in that whole paper. But I was not so much interested in explaining why my number was right. I was interested in explaining why the other projections were wrong.

    First he said that only 500 Americans would die from this disease, which was wrong almost immediately after he wrote it.

    Then he said that fewer than 5,000 Americans will die from this disease, which will be wrong by next week.

    Now he says he’s not interested in discussing HIS number of projected dead, but would still like to discuss why OTHER people’s numbers are wrong.

Leave a Reply to Enquiring Mind Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s