Monday, February 22, 2021

Econtalk on virus

About a month ago, Russ Roberts and I had a great conversation about virus, vaccine, and tests for the Econ Talk podcast, and the free market approach. It's out now, here for the podcast, or embedded below  and here video on YouTube. The podcast link already has some excellent comments. 


  1. Russ is so good at interviewing. Tremendous respect. Also, you're the first person of note I've heard flat out say that the virus was likely lab-related. To me this is obvious. If all of a sudden bees started dying near Monsanto's research HQ in St. Louis, the burden of proof would be on Monsanto to prove it wasn't them. You wouldn't just say, well the Monsanto scientists say it wasn't them and they'd be the ones to know. I wish people would be as skeptical of other organizations as they are of corporations.

  2. I loved the show. Would you please expand on a question from the show that was glossed over (near the 50-minute mark): in a purely free-market approach you might have a duopoly on vaccine IP rights, in which case most of the surplus of the vaccine would go to the IP holders. Most people find this unacceptable. What are your thoughts?

    1. I was wondering the same thing. John sort of addressed this by saying if the Government got out of the way, competition would address this. Maybe but we should consider the case of monopoly or duopoly.

      My take is that part of the incentive to find this drug are from the rents you would accrue from this and we are better off paying the above competitive market equilibrium price.

  3. The Wall Street Journal published an article on Monday (2/22/2021) that included a revealing chart showing the differences by racial category of access to the EUA vaccines (on the ordinate, or vertical axis) versus the differences in COVID-19 cases by racial category (along the abscissa, or horizontal axis) in The State of California. A ray (line) having a slope of 1:1 and originating at the origin of the chart divides the chart in half--points lying above the ray indicate that the incidence of vaccination exceeds the incidence of infection (cases) while points lying below the ray indicate that the incidence of infection exceeds the incidence of vaccination. Of the four racial categories shown on the chart, the racial category "Hispanic/Latino" represents 55% of COVID-19 cases reported in the state while representing only 16% of residents of state that have been vaccinated (figures are interpolated from the chart). The data point representing the racial category "Black" lies close to but under the 1:1 dividing ray, while the points for racial categories "Asian" and "White" lie a healthy distance above the 1:1 dividing ray.

    The Journal article reports " workers in Black and Latino neighborhoods say the state’s distribution system makes it too difficult for them to vaccinate patients under 65 who are essential workers or have severe pre-existing conditions. They say the state’s online booking system effectively locks out poorer people who lack internet access or literacy. And they say they should get a larger share of the state’s doses, because their communities have endured the brunt of the infections."

    The gauntlet has been thrown down. Any discussion proposing a "free market" in access to vaccines and vaccination should include proposals for ensuring access to vaccines and vaccinations for those members of the community who lack the means of access to, and/or the means of payment for, vaccines and vaccinations. The challenge to those wrestling with the design of economic structures is the trade-off between the social costs of the incidence of disease and the social cost arising from the removal of barriers to access to the vaccines and vaccination. The analysts' task is summed up in the question: "Where is the frontier marking the practicable 'Pareto-optimal' economic states, and how does the community transition to those states?" If your discussion is not framed in that context, then I suggest that you are on the wrong glide path.

    The article is titled, "California Is Losing Its Campaign to Vaccinate Racial Minorities Equitably As the state vaccinates fewer Black and Latino people than have been infected with Covid-19, clinics in South Los Angeles create workarounds to try to change the trend."

    Navigate to:

  4. There's a study done in India which claims people with glasses are three times less likely to get Covid than others. Seems that mainly because they rub their eyes less often.

  5. I'm glad there was the discussion about testing data. You can test all day long but it doesn't mean people will self-isolate, wear masks, or social distance once they get bits of information. We can talk about getting r below 1 all day long as a goal but people have to cooperate to make that happen. A lot of the mess is self-inflicted and like Dr. Cochrane has mentioned before, we are reliant on technology to save us from ourselves in the form of a vaccine.


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