Friday, March 13, 2020

pandemic and protection

A pandemic can have useful side effects, one being that it makes us see the costs of protection.

Next up: how do you stop people from hoarding ex ante? Answer, commit that there will not be the usual price controls and rationing ex post.

Thanks to a correspondent for the link.


  1. What follows are a few brief excerpts from:

    "‘It’s Just Everywhere Already’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response: A series of missed chances by the federal government to ensure more widespread testing came during the early days of the outbreak, when containment would have been easier." By Sheri Fink and Mike Baker • March 10, 2020 •

    Federal and state officials said the flu study could not be repurposed because it did not have explicit permission from research subjects; the labs were also not certified for clinical work. ... On Monday night, state regulators told them to stop testing altogether.
    the C.D.C.’s ... released criteria for deciding which individuals should be tested for the virus ... so strict that the sick man in the Seattle area who had visited Wuhan did not meet it. Still, worried state health officials pushed to get him checked, and the C.D.C. agreed. Local officials sent a sample to Atlanta and the results came back positive. ...

    ... “If you want to use your test as a screening tool, you would have to check with F.D.A.,” ... But the F.D.A. could not offer the approval because the lab was not certified as a clinical laboratory under regulations established by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a process that could take months. ...

    The C.D.C. had designed its own test as it typically does during an outbreak. ... But when the C.D.C. shipped test kits to public labs across the country, some local health officials began reporting that the test was producing invalid results.

    The C.D.C. promised that replacement kits would be distributed within days, but the problem stretched on for over two weeks. ..

    The Association of Public Health Laboratories made what it called an “extraordinary and rare request” of Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the F.D.A., asking him to use his discretion to allow state and local public health laboratories to create their own tests for the virus. ...

    Dr. Hahn responded two days later, saying in a letter that “false diagnostic test results can lead to significant adverse public health consequences” and that the laboratories were welcome to submit their own tests for emergency authorization.

    But the approval process for laboratory-developed tests was proving onerous. ... Dr. Alex Greninger, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, said ... that at one point the agency required him to submit materials through the mail in addition to over email. ...

    Later that day, the investigators and Seattle health officials gathered with representatives of the C.D.C. and the F.D.A. to discuss what happened. The message from the federal government was blunt. “What they said on that phone call very clearly was ... Stop testing.”
    On a phone call the day after the C.D.C. and F.D.A. had told Dr. Chu to stop, officials relented, but only partially ... They would allow the study’s laboratories to test cases and report the results only in future samples. ... They were not to test the thousands of samples that had already been collected.

    But on Monday night, state regulators, enforcing Medicare rules, stepped in and again told them to stop until they could finish getting certified as a clinical laboratory, a process that could take many weeks.

    1. The present problem has been handled no differently from any other question that has ever come up to confront the federal, or any other, bureaucracy: All of this, every detail of it, is risk aversion for the bureaucracy, not for the population.

      This insight is as old as the Chicago School. Ignored, anonymous people will pay the price. I cannot imagine that the present problem motivates anybody to change the rules. It's rules we should be after, not necessarily heads.

    2. Go read the whole article. The intransigence of the Federal bureaucracy is astounding. We have given them a great deal of power and they have misused it in the most predictable ways.

    3. I have now. There comes a point where one has to say that evil intent [too much risk aversion] stops and stupidity starts:

      "They were not to test the thousands of samples that had already been collected."

  2. Yes and no. This is good for Mass in the short run, and for doctors. It is bad for everybody else. Even if every state did this, the supply of doctors would not change.

    Why doesn't the good governor put his weight behind a move to increase the number of medical schools, drastically?

    1. It is not really a state call. The Federal Government holds the keys through its funding of the residency.

      Besides. The first freshmen in Med school would not be credentialed as physicians for 8 years. It is not a bad idea, but it is a long run solution to the problem.

    2. Patience. Another idea. Medical Schools and Nursing schools students to be allowed to intern -- at full pay and why credit -- to help staff facilities, especially in any school that chooses to close.

    3. Yeah, I know it's the feds, the AMA, and the medical schools themselves [in sum, the cartel]that determine medical student numbers. But a governor would make a very good lobbyist.

      Upon reflection, Mass already has a number, so why should he?

  3. "how do you stop people from hoarding ex ante? Answer, commit that there will not be the usual price controls and rationing ex post."

    Could you explain? It seems that effective rationing (maybe coupons so you can't just buy some at multiple stores?) would make it impossible for people to hoard, or to purchase massive amounts and then attempt to resell it. I think that currently no major business would dare jack up their prices in an emergency because of the PR nightmare it would cause them, but I don't see how you can prevent the individuals looking to make a quick buck.
    This guy bought out the stores that wouldn't sacrifice their reputation and increase prices themselves. The price controls are primarily socially imposed on corporations, by the [economically illiterate] public. It's not worth it to sell a bit of toilet paper and soap for a few extra dollars if you lose a lot of customers that now hate you for understanding supply and demand.
    So, how exactly do you propose to prevent the hoarding and "price gouging" via individual resellers? Do you actually think the public will somehow magically understand economics? Given there are ECONOMISTS who don't seem to understand it...(cough) Saez and Zucman (cough)... sorry, my coronavirus is acting up...does AOC ACTUALLY have an economics degree?! (cough)...I'm not very optimistic....


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