Current Affairs

Not so "super" forecasting?

UPDATE: Thanks to a couple of commenters--thanks Albert, thanks Tim--I made a really stupid error. The forecasts are for March 31, 2021. So the post below--I'll leave it up as reminder to me not to be stupid--is premature, at the least.

A week ago I linked to short-term forecasts for the virus made by "superforecasters". (Superforecasters "qualified by being in the most accurate 2% of forecasters from a large-scale, government-funded series of forecasting tournaments that ran from 2011-2015 . . .").

Since the forecasts are for March 31 we can now evaluate how well they did. Most of the forecasts seem to have been made on March 13, but a few may have been made later. Here are the results (all data from the Johns Hopkins tabulations, here and here):

Cases, worldwide. Actual, 857,957; forecast as "most likely," "more than 53 million but less than 530 million".

Deaths, worldwide. Actual, 42,139; forecast as "most likely," "more than 800,000 but less than 8 million".

Cases, U.S. Actual, 188,547; forecast as "most likely," "more than 2.3 million but less than 23 million".

Deaths, U.S. Actual, 3873; forecast as "most likely," "more than 35,000 but less than 350,000".

While I have a healthy respects for the evil power of the jinx and while the forecasters may turn out to be, as they say on Wall Street, not wrong but simply early, for right now, they seem to have missed by an order of magnitude or more.


"US life expectancy stalls due to cardiovascular disease, not drug deaths"

I leave as an exercise for the reader to reconcile this finding with the recent, much-discussed finding of Case and Deaton in Deaths of Despair.

After decades of robust growth, the rise in US life expectancy stalled after 2010. Explanations for the stall have focused on rising drug-related deaths. Here we show that a stagnating decline in cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality was the main culprit, outpacing and overshadowing the effects of all other causes of death.

Good paragraph

Kevin D. Williamson:

The failure of a New York City hospital operator to stock a sufficient supply of medical masks is not an indictment of the world economic order or “capitalist pathologies.” It is an indictment of the management of New York City hospitals, and hospitals elsewhere. That is a big enough problem without imagining it to be grander than it is.

"Is There Wasteful Spending In The Coronavirus Stimulus Bill?"

You betcha. Samples:

  • $25 million in the Senate bill went to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. During the past ten years, the center received $68.3 million in federal grants (2010-2019). The Kennedy Center has total assets of $557 million. The Pelosi bill earmarked $35 million.
  • $75 million in the Senate bill funded the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. Why do National Public Radio and Big Bird get a coronavirus subsidy? The Pelosi bill allocated $300 million.


"The Real-Life Costs of Bad Regulation"

"Early administrative failings of the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control greatly exacerbated the Covid-19 crisis in the United States."

See also "Is the CDC to Blame for the Lack of Adequate Coronavirus Testing?"

And more, from two Univ. of Chicago professor: "To Fight the Coronavirus, Cut the Red Tape".

Still more, from John Stossel: "The Red Tape Pandemic".

Yet more: "FDA Shouldn’t Keep Safe Drugs off the Market".

Oh, there's more: "Doctors need freedom to choose off-label drugs".

Finally, from economist Art Carden: "The Anatomy of Government Failure in a Pandemic".

This means there is a discrepancy between the private and social benefits from flu shots and careful hand washing, and according to the standard stories about externalities that we teach in introductory economics classes, we probably won’t do as much as would be socially optimal. . . . 

 As I wrote over the summer, “just because an externality exists doesn’t mean the market has ‘failed’ enough for command-and-control regulation or even corrective taxation to be appropriate.” The stories we tell in introductory economics classes also tend to assume away the problem of government failure–and governments are failing mightily in response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

"The Unbuildable American Home"

Government policy swings from one extreme mistake to the opposite extreme mistake. Sad, sad, sad.

The irony today is that housing affordability is increasingly a concern, yet we are building new units at historically low rates. This is because policy interventions have made the prices of existing homes lower than the price of the potential new home down the street.

"Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore"

The first reason given, "more communication options," is surely not the primary reason

If I were still teaching, I think I would use this as an excellent example of how markets tend to address things that bother people. Junk calls are annoying. But, in my case, about 70% of the annoyance is removed by having caller ID. Another 20% is removed by having multiple phones with multiple phone numbers, which are now cheap, including one that almost no one has and I can reserve for important callers. And the remaining annoyance could be all but eliminated by using my home phone's mute button. I haven't used it yet, but with election season rapidly approaching, I may.