We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“There must logically be a point at which the cost of the containment measures, in terms of human welfare and even of fatalities, outweighs the cost of the virus.”

Daniel Hannan.

Is Italy heading for a (Terror-)Famine? Spanish press report

The ‘conservative’ Spanish newspaper/site abc.es. has a report about the food situation in Italy (in Spanish) which indicates the following, something our media seems to ignore, per my translation:

‘Increasing woe in Italy due to the coronavirus: almost 3,000,000 people need food aid’

There’s a 10% uplift there, as the report gives a breakdown with more details.

In Campania more than 530,000 people need food, almost 9% of the region’s population. More than 364,000 in Sicily, almost 283,000 in Calabria. Even Lazio has more than 263,000 people in need. One analysis says around 2,700,000 people need food aid.

There is much discussion of raids on pharmacies and supermarkets, with police guarding them. This might be Southern politicians screaming for ‘pork’. Or perhaps the economy collapses when the State imposes lockdowns.

The Italian State has responded (to the problem it created)

Urgent response of the government

On Saturday night, the government responded urgently to this cry of alarm from the whole South of Italy, where there is a grave risk which some have called a ‘Social Bomb’ or ‘A Social Powderkeg’ which could explode if urgent solutions aren’t found.

The Prime Minister announced on Saturday night aid of 4,300,000,000 euros for families (Mr Ed. What type of family?) and another 400,000,000 euros in vouchers “to help the citizenry who have no money to buy basic necessities”

Or is this about something else? This paragraph caught my eye:

The challenge of the black economy

The ex-president of the National Anticorruption Authority, Raffaele Cantone, a prestigious Napolitan magistrate, has indicated that the true challenge is the black economy, with thousands of people who are now helpless: «It’s about the existence –says Cantone– of a parallel economy which everyone knows about, which some, and not only Southerners, exploit and many others tolerate, hypocritically pretending that they can’t see it.»

And how long here before our food supply chains might disintegrate, when people have to laboriously shop 2 meters apart, queueing to get in, queueing to pay, as the capacity of the shops to serve customers is throttled, whether or not the products are limited or in short supply. Is there any modelling of how long this can go on, never mind if it should at all?

Derbyshire police droning on

Drones are fun. I understand that. But people do need to use them responsibly.

The BBC reports: Coronavirus: Peak District drone police criticised for ‘lockdown shaming’

Derbyshire Police filmed people in pairs rambling in the Curbar Edge area of the beauty spot on Wednesday.

In pairs. Not mobs, pairs.

Officers said travelling to remote areas for exercise did not count as “essential travel” as permitted under government lockdown rules.

But travelling to remote areas and flying your drones there, that’s essential.

UK civil liberties group Big Brother Watch branded the move “sinister” and “counter-productive”.

The 90-second clip, shot by the force’s drone unit, showed people walking their dogs and taking photos.

It said “the message is still not getting through” about stopping the spread of coronavirus, despite government guidance and several police posts.

One Twitter user called it “the worst kind of nanny policing” while others pointed out that the walkers were away from crowds.

Here is the tweet in question. I am glad there was some pushback. This response from “miroirdufou” was polite but effective:

Hi. Please explain (in terms of epidemiology) exactly what harm these people are doing, taking quiet exercise away from crowds, in small numbers? And if they’re doing no harm, leave them alone?

Oh-oh

Gordon Brown says world leaders should create temporary global government

A little thing you can do to help businesses struggling due to the quarantine

You could pay now for a session with a business such as a hairdresser, gym or restaurant that has been forced to shut during the quarantine, the voucher to be redeemed whenever the establishment re-opens. The appointment could be for your own use, or as a gift for someone else. It might be a way that someone who has been in isolation can thank whoever did their shopping, while helping the proprietors of the business get some cash coming in when they need it most.

Germany and Italian COVID-19 data – and why they’re so different

Is there something about being Germany which protects the body against coronavirus Covid-19? Probably not, I would guess. In which case why do the latest figures from the Robert Koch Institute show that the country has a case fatality rate (CFR) of 0.3 per cent, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures from Italy seem to show a CFR of 9 per cent? To say there is a vast gulf between those figures is an understatement. If nine per cent of people who catch Covid-19 are going to die from it we are facing a calamity beyond parallel in the modern world. If only 0.3 per cent of people who catch it die from it, this pandemic may yet turn out to be no worse than seasonal flu, which as I have explained here before is estimated by the US Centers for Disease Control to kill between 291,000 and 646,000 people a year without the world really noticing. According to John Hopkins University, which is collating fatalities data, 15,308 have died to date.

Ross Clark, Spectator (behind paywall).

A couple more:

Germany is almost certainly behind Italy in this epidemic. But the main difference between Germany and Italy lies in those countries’ respective attitudes towards testing. Germany has carried out far more enthusiastic testing of the general population – there does not seem to be a central figure for this, but the German Doctors’ Association has estimated that 200,000 people across the country have been tested. In Britain, it is 64,000 people. On the other hand, German hospitals do not routinely test for the presence of coronavirus in patients who are dying or who have died of other diseases. Italy, by contrast, is performing posthumous coronavirus tests on patients whose deaths might otherwise have been attributed to other causes.

It stands to reason that the more people who are tested, the more accurate a picture we will have of the mortality rate, the transmission rate and other metrics which will determine the eventual path of this pandemic. To underline the uncertainties behind the data from which policy is currently being made, the Royal Society of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine the other day estimated the number of people in Britain who already have or have had Covid-19 at between 6,000 and 23 million. That is a pretty broad spread with hugely different implications. If only 6,000 have the disease in Britain, socially-distancing the population or locking down society might have a purpose. If 23 million have the disease, it is pointless – it already has ripped its way through the population but without killing more than a tiny percentage.

What we really need is a huge effort to test a large randomised sample of the population to see how widespread the infection is. Hopefully, that will soon happen. But in the meantime, I am minded to think that the more accurate picture of Covid-19 comes from the country which has conducted the most tests: Germany.

The more I read, the more it seems to me that randomised testing, as Clark writes, is crucial, not least in reducing hysteria and the effects that hysteria is having, and will continue to have, on our society and business. The costs, in terms of stress, the destruction of businesses and so much effort, needs to be weighed.

I have come across a few comments on social media, of the passive/aggressive sort, that “it is so amusing to see all these experts all over social media on epidemics” – the implication being that the mass public should shut up, “stay in your lane” and let the men/women in white coats take charge. The problem with this however is what happens if the experts disagree, or if their policy advice causes so much damage, including to the liberties and welfare of the citizenry, that a democratically elected politician has to make a judgement call? We don’t, rightly, outsource vast coercive powers to everyone who claims to be an expert on something. That’s not how it is supposed to work.

A public service announcement….

Washing your hands must be done properly, and technique matters. Observe…

You are welcome.

Destroying our economy to save the NHS?

This is probably one of the few places in the internet, never mind the regular media, where people can get to debate the wonders of socialised medicine without being under the burden of proving that they are not evil. In the UK, we have had since the late 1940s a healthcare system that dominates the field, with a relatively small private sector. The National Health Service, funded from tax and run as a monopoly, with politicians and civil servants allocating resources, was modeled, as so many post-war institutions were, on the idea of state central planning. The narrative of the time was that planning was the way to go, unlike all that messy, chaotic “laissez faire” that had been associated, however wrongly, with the Great Depression and so on. (Here is a good paper on the NHS by the Institute of Economic Affairs.) I can also recommend this book, by James Bartholomew on the many problems with the UK welfare state.

The NHS, like many of the other socialised medical systems in much of the developed world, faces the monstrous coronavirus. And so much of the current policy approach – the UK is going into more of a lockdown as of this weekend – is designed, so it is said, to flatten the potential surge of infections and deaths, so that the NHS and other systems don’t collapse. The cost/benefit calculation is being made that it is better to smash the world economy, to force millions into idleness, possibly for months, and tide them over with cash payments funded from vast amounts of debt, than it is to allow the NHS/other to be forced into a nightmare of running out of resources. In some ways I can see the merits of preventing a horrendous surge in deaths; I also think that saving the NHS and other models of healthcare is a sort of virility test of today’s Welfare States. Nothing can be done to admit they have limits, even if that means economic damage on a major scale.

That cost/benefit calculation may look just about defensible now, but what about in two months’ time, particularly if there is no real sign of a deceleration in the virus, but if the struggle to buy even basic household necessities leaves a lot of people in real hardship? I assume that farmers and others in the food production business are not being told to stay at home, but such is the level of madness about this situation that I wonder. I’d like to know how locking people in their homes for months is going to be enforced.

There are also health considerations to be taken into account by such a lock-down, particularly if it goes on for months on end. Humanity is not designed for prison, and those of us in relatively free societies (“relatively” being the operative word) will move from being restless to downright homicidal of this goes on into the summer and beyond. There aren’t enough police to keep everyone cooped up in their homes.

Those bastards in the Chinese Communist Party have a lot to answer for. And yes, COVID-19 began there, and it shows how derelict some of our media/political class has become that is frowned upon to point that out. (The anger is rising, and will have major consequences for our geopolitics.) It would be rather ironic to think that something unleashed by a Communist state, whether by accident or whatever, has put such pressure on Welfare State societies in the West.

Final point: I was due to give a talk tonight at Brian Micklethwait’s place about the recent calls for anti-trust assaults on the Big Techs such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, and I was going to look at parallels with the campaign to break up J D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil more than a century ago. One thing you can say about Rockefeller, was that as well as being a brilliant businessman, and philanthropist in the area of healthcare, among others, he also understood the importance of integrated supply chains in commerce. He’d have looked at our current predicament with interest.

Samizdata quote of the day

There are no limits to our commitment to the euro.

Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank. The linked Guardian article in which I found the quote is titled “ECB U-turn shows it fears coronavirus could destroy eurozone project”.

In France you now have to download a permit to go for a walk

At first I thought this was une blague pratique. Apparently not, unless Tim Worstall’s denial is merely evidence that he is in on the joke. He writes in today’s Times:

Among the measures introduced in France to deal with the coronavirus is a requirement to fill in a form before going out for a walk.

No, really, this is not a joke. As part of the lockdown it is necessary, before leaving the house, to complete and sign a download from the Ministry of the Interior. Name, address, what you think you’re doing and so on.

This is not filed with anyone, nor registered. It must simply be carried during the errand. Absence, if caught, will lead to a €135 fine. A new form is required for every exit from the house. And yes, there’s a box to tick for “aux besoins des animaux de compagnie” which my memories of exchange visits have as “for the needs of our furry friends”.

The solution to a global pandemic is a form for walking the dog. Of course, it is easy to mock the French but there is an important point here, for this is an example of a pernicious worldview. That we, the people, are only able to cope if we are told what to do, what we may do. All must be decided and enforced by the clever people in power and nothing left to ordinary folks to get on with.

Our own tradition is vehemently different. I have surprised people in a number of countries by pointing out that a British policeman isn’t actually allowed to ask — or at least not to insist upon knowing — what it is that you are doing. If accosted, a cheery “Going about my lawful business, constable” is all that is required. Such liberties might not apply in moments of crisis but they are indicative of a different manner of thinking.

A similar restriction is being applied in Italy, according to The Local.it:

Now that justification is required simply to be on the street, you’ll need to have a copy ready as soon as you leave the house.

If you have access to a printer, you can download the form here.

Ther’s also now an application able to generate an electronic version of the ‘autocertificazione’ form as many times as needed, to keep handy on your phone with a digital signature.

Police at checkpoints (such as those at train stations) should also have a stack of paper forms available, and you can ask to take a few.

But what if you do not have access to the internet?

Alternatively you can copy out the whole thing by hand: make sure to write everything exactly as it appears on the form, in full.

Samizdata quote of the day

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

Be embraced, Millions!
This kiss to all the world!

– Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, Beethoven’s setting of which is the Anthem of Europe.

Sing all the way through this while washing your hands to help avoid the spread of coronavirus. Other songs recommended for this purpose include Stairway to Heaven and Another One Bites the Dust.

Jurgen Klopp gives a much admired answer to a question he was not asked

The English Football Premier League is one of the world’s great sporting tournaments, and as the current season now nears its end, Liverpool have a huge lead of over twenty points over their nearest rival club. This is, despite a recent stumble in Liverpool’s form, an amazing achievement. (Our own Patrick Crozier, a Watford supporter, might enjoy commenting on that stumble.) This all comes after Liverpool, last season, won the European Championship. All football fans, whether paid or unpaid, are now inclined to regard everything that Liverpool’s hugely engaging and obviously very smart manager Jurgen Klopp says or does as evidence of his all-round human wonderfulness.

Personally, I greatly prefer following football on television and on the internet to actually going to games, which are too noisy, expensive and time-consuming for my tastes and for my fading eyesight. I prefer classical concerts at the Wigmore Hall. (I recently attended this concert there. Stu – I’m now deploying a verbal device that Americans often like to use when they really want to ram their point home, often by swearing at this point – pendous.) Nevertheless, from a virtual distance, I too am a football fan, and so I share the general admiration for Jurgen Klopp.

The above explains why Klopp is getting so much admiring attention for what he recently said about the coronavirus. Klopp was, MarketWatch reports:

… responding to a reporter who asked if the famed Liverpool coach is concerned about the spread of the coronavirus.

Here is how Klopp responded to this question:

“What I don’t like in life is that a very serious thing, a football manager’s opinion is important,” Klopp explained. “We have to speak about things in the right manner, not people with no knowledge, like me, talking about something. People with knowledge will talk about it and tell people to do this, do that, and everything will be fine, or not. Not football managers, I don’t understand that.”

Cue an orgy of admiration for what a stellar human being Klopp is, for saying something so very, very wise. What a guy!

But, perhaps because I only admire people like Klopp from a virtual distance, I am able to dissent. I think that this was an excellent answer by Klopp, to a question that he wasn’t actually asked. He wasn’t asked what he thinks will be the future progress of the coronavirus. He was merely being asked whether he was worried about it. Any conscientious football club manager must now be anxious about how the coronavirus might affect his club in the weeks and months to come, and to be listening out carefully to learn what derangements look like being imposed upon the world and the country in general, and upon professional football in particular. Klopp doesn’t have to be an expert on infectious diseases to be worried about the spread of one of these devilish things while it is still spreading and still killing people, and more to the point while it is causing sporting authorities to ponder doing things like cancelling all heavily-attended sports events for the duration of the coronavirus problem. He just has to be a semi-intelligent person who is keeping half an eye on the news.

To the actual question that Klopp was asked, a simple Yes would have sufficed. Yes, he is worried, as are most other people, and worried precisely because he, Jurgen Klopp, does indeed not know what the coronavirus will do next. He might then have added a few words to the effect that he was already thinking about how future games might be affected, and about what he would be telling his players if cancellations and general disruption of sport in the UK, along the lines of what is already happening in Italy, do shortly ensue.

The comments Klopp made on the habit of regarding people who are celebrated in one field as experts in other fields are very sensible, or would have been had that been what he had been asked about. But I also dissent somewhat from that. Not in the sense that I regard successful football managers as experts on all other things. It’s more that I reckon you can also overdo the reverence for the pronouncements of “experts“. Experts can often be very right, but they are often wrong. The rest of us ought at least to be willing to question the supposed experts, and then ask ourselves if their answers make as much sense as they are claiming.