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]

Kieren McCarthy criticises the proposed coronavirus contact-tracing app

Here is a link to yesterday’s article by Kieren McCarthy in the Register:

UK finds itself almost alone with centralized virus contact-tracing app that probably won’t work well, asks for your location, may be illegal

Is he right?

Update: Guido Fawkes is also on the case. He is engaged in a vigorous and very public debate with the government, specifically the Department of Health. Earlier he sent this missive their way: 10 Problems With the NHS’s New Coronavirus App. Fair play to them, they did respond, and he has now issued this: NHS App: Rebuttal and Response. (Hat tip to Niall Kilmartin, who independently mentioned this link in the comments.)

“Possible equity issues”

“Coronavirus in Scotland: Parents and children left to struggle after councils ban online teaching”, Helen Puttick of the Times reports.

It seems many private schools in Scotland are using video conferencing and other internet tools to continue to educate pupils while they are in quarantine. Some state schools are doing likewise. But fear not, Scotland’s ever-vigilant local councils have been alerted:

However, a number of councils in Scotland have banned state education via live video interaction. East Dunbartonshire council said: “Streaming live lessons is not recommended at this time due to safeguarding and possible equity issues.” East Renfrewshire said they were “not advocating” the approach. East Lothian and Stirling also cited safeguarding issues. Midlothian council told headteachers: “No platform is considered suitable for interactions involving young people at this time.”

You may send any enquiries as to what “Possible equity issues” might mean by letter or postcard* to:

East Dunbartonshire Council
12 Strathkelvin Place
Kirkintilloch
G66 1TJ

*Enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope if you wish to receive a reply. Please note that the council does not accept owl post as not everyone has owls.

East Dunbartonshire council thanks you for your ongoing understanding and co-operation as we put measures in place to support our children and their families during this difficult time.

A tarantula moulting

It shakes. It convulses. It casts off its old body. It emerges softer and more flexible.

Don’t kid yourself. It’s still a tarantula.

Clare Foges writes in the Times, “We need Big Brother to beat this virus”.

Hands in the air! Step away from the Easter eggs!” The Keystone Coppery of recent weeks has had some people muttering darkly that we are heading the way of a police state. Those who style themselves as defenders of ancient British liberties will soon have bigger fish to fry: the digital surveillance tools that government hopes to use to trace the infected. Prepare for dire warnings of state intrusion and an avalanche of Nineteen Eighty-Four quotes on social media warning that Big Brother is upon us.

Yet if we are to beat a path out of this pandemic without destroying our economy, overblown concerns about threats to our liberties must be countered by pragmatism. To recover some semblance of normality before a vaccine is found, we must accept the need for the state to access more information about ourselves, our health and our whereabouts — and not waste precious weeks arguing about it.

Look east to see how digital surveillance is an integral part of returning to “normal” life. Hong Kong has mandatory tracking wristbands for those in quarantine. In Taiwan the phone-tracking system is known as an “electronic fence”; those who are meant to be in isolation will be visited by the authorities if their phone is turned off. In South Korea the pooling of data from credit card use, mobile phones and CCTV cameras means that they can detail the movements of an infected citizen down to where they sat in the cinema and which bar they went for a beer in afterwards — and in less than ten minutes can trace and contact the woman who was sitting two stools down. Public support for these measures is high, for the simple reason that they are working.

Samizdata quote of the day

About half the patients have managed to recover sufficiently to ‘earn’ a tracheostomy and be weaned off the ventilator. The damage to their lungs makes us all wonder if any will avoid being respiratory cripples. Despite this recovery, COVID is also leading to profound neurological dysfunction. Some patients are agitated and confused but for a significant proportion, the lights are on but no one is home. We wonder how families will react to their loved ones being different people.

Dr Smith at the Adam Smith Institute’s Despatches blog. Smith is an ASI supporter who has gone back to the NHS for the crisis and is reporting from the front line. We are lucky to have a reliable source of information at a time like this.

Japan and Coronavirus

As you know, despite being right next to China – or perhaps because it is right next to China – Japan is having a good coronavirus outbreak. Despite getting it earlier than Western European countries it has had fewer cases and fewer deaths (349 at time of writing). Why is this? I’d had it down to mask-wearing which as anyone who has ever been to Japan will know is very common.

But I wasn’t quite sure, so when the other night NHK (that’s Japan’s equivalent of the BBC. Think bad, but not that bad) had a documentary on the subject I thought I’d take a look. So, what did they say? The first thing that struck me is that they are bricking it. They – meaning the team that has been set up to study the outbreak – can see this killing a lot of people. They in no sense feel that they have turned a corner. They look enviously at the South Koreans and Singaporeans who had far better testing capacity. That’s not to say they aren’t proud. “I had every faith in the Japanese people.” says one.

Another aspect is the way that Japanese government is formally powerless but informally quite the reverse. There is no legal lockdown in place in Japan because – they say – they don’t have the powers. So why doesn’t the government grant itself those powers like they did in Britain, one wonders? They don’t say. But it would appear that the government “requesting” that people stay away from bars and other crowded places has had the effect of law.

The approach of the study team was – and it may well have changed since the documentary was filmed – to study in detail the outbreaks that occurred. They concluded that the big spreader was the 3 Cs: (En)closed; Crowded; Close Proximity. I must admit that I thought crowded and close proximity meant the same thing. But I guess that crowded refers to the number of people present. One of Japan’s hottest of coronavirus hotspots turned out to be a “Blitish pub” – whatever that may be. I was amused to see that their chief modeller spent time at – you guessed it – Imperial College. So there’s a very good chance that they’re using the same dodgy, secret code that we are. It’s not just viruses that get transmitted from human to human.

What they didn’t do was address why they are doing so well. Considering the size of Tokyo and the scale of commuting there you would have thought it would be far worse. So, I’ll stick with my original hunch. Masks work.

Masks work. Usually but not always. Two days later I was in hospital.

Samizdata quote of the day

Swine Flu was never eradicated. It has hung around ever since it first emerged in 2009 but now goes by the name ‘flu’. It’s quite possible that coronavirus ends up seen as part of the viral furniture, lethal, but a manageable risk if the right preparations are there.

Fraser Nelson

Lockdown socialism eventually runs out of other persons’ money

This is too long and not right for a Samizdata Quote of the Day. I am busy today, but just have to put this up:

Under Lockdown Socialism:

–you can stay in your residence, but paying rent or paying your mortgage is optional.

–you can obtain groceries and shop on line, but having a job is optional.

–other people work at farms, factories, and distribution services to make sure that you have food on the table, but you can sit at home waiting for a vaccine.

–people still work in nursing homes that have lost so many patients that they no longer have enough revenue to make payroll.

–professors and teachers are paid even though schools are shut down.

–police protect your property even though they are at risk for catching the virus and criminals are being set free.

–state and local governments will continue paying employees even though sales tax revenue has collapsed.

–if you own a small business, you don’t need revenue, because the government will keep sending checks.

–if you own shares in an airline, a bank, or other fragile corporations, don’t worry, the Treasury will work something out.

This might not be sustainable.

Arnold Kling. (Hat-tip, Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution economics blog.)

Margaret Thatcher once famously said (to the fury of the Left) that socialists always run out of other people’s money. Same applies to locking people down for months on end. It will end. The issue is how high the rubble is going to be.

Samizdata quote of the day

I expect ability to procure was some way down the list of attributes they were expected to demonstrate at the interview, coming behind devotion to the cult of the NHS, commitment to diversity, and being utterly subservient to upper management and bureaucracy.

Tim Newman responding to reports of NHS procurement ineptitude.

Samizdata half-forgotten sorta-quote of the day

If there is a disaster, would you like people for hundreds of miles around to drop everything and make herculean efforts to get those worst affected exactly the sort of help they need most – even when the helpers have no personal connection with the victims? Would you like factories worldwide to rush to switch production to making whatever they are short of in the disaster zone?

You would? Then let people make money by doing it. You can either rely on the small subset of people who will seriously disrupt their lives to help strangers out of pure charity, or you can also get help from the much larger pool of people who who are pushed from vague thoughts of benevolence into action by the prospect of profit. Let them sell goods of which there is a shortage at a higher price and soon there won’t be a shortage any more.

– something sorta like this was said by someone, whom I would gladly credit if I could remember who they were.

My post was prompted by this story by Edward Thicknesse in City A.M.: Coronavirus: Calls for price controls dismissed as ‘economically illiterate’.

This might work. And then?

“NHS phone app holds key to lifting UK’s coronavirus lockdown”, the Times reports.

Ministers have ordered the creation of an NHS mobile phone app the government hopes will help end the coronavirus lockdown.

The app would allow mobile phones to trace users who have come into contact with infected people, alerting them to get tested.

This would make it possible to start lifting the most stringent social-distancing measures from late next month, ministers hope.

Senior sources say NHSX, the health service’s technology arm, has been working on the app with Google and Apple at “breakneck speed”. The system will use Bluetooth technology to alert those who download the app if they have been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.

Combined with a vast expansion in testing, which ministers claim will hit 100,000 a day by the end of the month, the app is a central plank in the government’s push to lift the lockdown. “We believe this could be important in helping the country return to normality,” a Whitehall source said.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, is considering how to incentivise people to install the app. Experts say the “track and trace” concept only works effectively if 60% of people adopt it.

One idea under consideration would mean people being told they could resume normal work and home life if they installed it on their phones.

As I said in the title, the worst of it is that this might be the way to control the epidemic, an outcome greatly to be desired. And then it might be the way to control us.

To be “well-intentioned but ill-informed” is not enough for an officer of the law

“Police under fire for telling dad he can’t play with his kids in his own front garden”, LBC reports.

I found myself with a certain sympathy for the cop lady. Daniel Connell, the man who made this recording, gave her an unnecessarily hard time by pretending to misunderstand what she meant by “special powers”. But his pretended misunderstanding of her powers was not nearly as serious as her actual misunderstanding of them. As the title of this post says, it is not asking too much that those entrusted with the police power should have some basic knowledge of what that power does and does not entitle them to demand.

South Yorkshire Police released a statement on Twitter, saying: “This encounter was well-intentioned but ill-informed and we’d like to apologise for the way it was handled.

“We’ve spoken to the officer concerned and made our approach absolutely clear.

“Again, we apologise for any inconvenience caused and will continue our work to support the NHS.”

Yes, we have no Eurobonds, we have no Eurobonds today

There’s a fruit store on our street
It’s run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.”

Those are some of the words to the 1923 hit song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn. The song is mostly associated with World War II, but according to Wikipedia it had found its way into the history books before that:

The song was the theme of the outdoor relief protests in Belfast in 1932. These were a unique example of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland protesting together, and the song was used because it was one of the few non-sectarian songs that both communities knew. The song lent its title to a book about the depression in Belfast.

For nine decades “the depression” meant the one that started in 1929. But the coronavirus looks likely to bring in its wake an economic depression that may well take the definite article for itself. Naomi O’Leary of the Irish Times reports,

Euro finance ministers reach compromise to fund pandemic recovery

Deal dashes hopes of Italy, Ireland and seven others for the roll out of so-called corona bonds

The 19 members of the euro zone agreed a compromise on Thursday to aid states in need of funding to address the profound economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But it dashed the hopes of Italy, Ireland, Spain and six other member states that had called for eurobonds to bring down borrowing costs and send a signal of unity as the continent confronts a health crisis that is threatens to become an economic disaster.

Under the deal, states can borrow from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to finance spending needed to overcome the crisis.

I do not seek to play down their achievement in reaching a compromise at all. Every finance minister on Earth must be passing sleepless nights wondering how best to deal with our current predicament. But the dilemma faced by the Eurozone countries is particularly acute. Italy and Spain will never forgive the EU if they receive no help in their hour of need. But the northern countries were repeatedly assured that EU membership and the adoption of the Euro would never mean they had to write a blank cheque to what they see as the spendthrifts to the south (and a few other directions besides). The Dutch, the Germans, the Finns and the Austrians must hope that when they say, “yes, we have no Eurobonds” the upbeat momentum of the first three words will carry them over the next two.