Critical Gender Theory and Trends in Gender Identity

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The growing influence of critical gender theory (CGT) in schools is unacceptable to many parents, especially at early grade levels. In fact, it’s been coming from certain areas of pediatric medicine for some time. Like critical race theory, CGT is another branch of critical theory, which was developed by a set of European social thinkers in the 1930s. CT is fundamentally a Marxist construct, and it lies at the heart of nearly all appeals to “social justice”. C. Bradley Thompson offers this concise perspective on critical theory:

The principal aim of Critical Theory was and is, first, to deconstruct the forms of domination and hierarchy (i.e., the power relations) found in traditional or bourgeois societies, and, second, to reconstruct society toward what it calls ‘real’ or ‘true’ democracy, which is a neologism for socialism. Critical theory seeks to liberate any and all ‘victim’ groups based on their inferior and subjugated social status in capitalist societies (e.g., non-whites, women, and LGBTQ+ persons, etc.).

LGBTQ+ Numbers

It’s fair to ask whether exposure to CGT in schools has any influence on the sexual orientation and preferences of students as they mature. That can be true only to the extent that these preferences reflect socialization, rather than other environmental factors or heredity. Apparently, most LGBTQ+ individuals are disposed to claim that their sexual preference is genetic. However, the claim that sexual preference is heritable to the exclusion of social influences is dubious. And there are other non-genetic, environmental influences that play a strong role as well.

Bryan Caplan discusses some fascinating generational differences in sexual orientation / identification revealed by a recent Gallup survey. Here, I reproduce the table shown in Caplan’s post. The sum of these categories (not shown) is taken as the LGBTQ+ share of each generation.

Taken at face value, those are extremely large increases over five generations… or even over two generations from millennials to GenZs, the gay proportion being the only category in which millennials and GenZs are reasonably close in 2022.

Another important wrinkle is that the share of older generations identifying as LGBTQ+ has been stable since the last survey conducted by Gallup in 2017, as shown by the Gallup chart below:

Millennials have increased by more than a third, and the LGBTQ+ share among Gen Zs has roughly doubled to 20.8%. Gen Zs surveyed in 2017 ranged from roughly 18 – 20 years of age, but that range was roughly 18 – 24 years of age in the latest survey. Therefore, the 2022 survey might capture a greater share of GenZs having “matured” into acceptance of specific sexual identities. Nevertheless, the levels and changes in these two generations are striking.

Causal Quandary

Caplan wonders how these increases would be possible if sexual orientation was predominantly heritable, especially given that these groups are unlikely to produce offspring at the same rate as the general population. The shrinking genotype / expanding phenotype paradox leads him to conclude that heightened LGBTQ+ socialization is generally responsible for the dramatic increases.

A number of Caplan’s commenters questioned his conclusions for one or several of these categories. At the risk of missing some of the nuance in the comments, I’ll attempt to summarize a few common threads: First, as Caplan himself notes, closeting is much less common than in the past. Therefore, increases in the reported shares of these categories might be illusory. Less closeting has brought little change in the responses of the older generations, however, and perhaps that’s because they tend to associate primarily within their own age cohorts.

Second, there could be environmental influences that have led to a smaller share of cis-gender males and females, as well as more “mis-genders” at birth. For example, anything that changes the flow of testosterone to a fetus in the womb might change a child’s sexual orientation, but whether some force has induced systematic changes in those flows over time, and across the population, is another matter.

Finally, the bulk of those claiming status as LGBTQ+ among millennials and Gen Zs are bisexual. For those who are otherwise heterosexual, identification as bisexual might be fairly “costless”. That suggests a possibility that the bisexual share may be influenced by status-seeking among GenZs, especially females. One joke goes “How can you tell if a girl is bi-sexual? … Don’t worry, she’ll tell you!” Thus, some commenters viewed the large increase in reported bisexuality as inflated by status seeking among what amounts to a kind of “larper” set. There might be so much emphasis on being open-minded about sexual experimentation among younger cohorts that minor incidents from childhood or adolescence are subsequently exaggerated into claims of bisexuality.

Socialization

Obviously the reduction in closeting leads to greater social exposure of non-traditional sexual preferences, including exposure to the nation’s youth. That’s a powerful social change, and it creates an atmosphere increasingly conducive to further socialization of these preferences, if not recruitment. Like many trends, this one feeds on itself: this 2021 study found a positive association between men “coming out” as gay and state legalization of same-sex marriage, the presence of gay communities, and positive attitudes toward gays. Moreover, there are definite signs of social contagion, as demonstrated by this clique of teenagers who, one and all, suddenly decided they were trans!

What forces led to the cascade in LGBTQ+ identification among more recent age cohorts? As a group, the full LGBTQ+ coalition has greater visibility, political power in asserting “victimhood”, and potential for socializing the general population to alternative lifestyles. However, there might not be any single trigger spanning LGBTQ+ identities that can explain the trend’s genesis. Perhaps the trends were set in motion by the sexual liberation of the 1960s and 70s which, as a libertarian, is not otherwise something I find objectionable.

The rise of radical feminism might have provided a basis for some females to reject males as a source of sexual gratification (and companionship), or as an exclusive source thereof, at any rate. There’s a likelihood that this contributed to the rise in lesbianism as well as female bisexuality. Feminism also served as a pretext for identity politics, which relies on claims of victimhood and is therefore fertile ground for critical theorists.

Critical theory first gained significant ground in the U.S. at universities along dimensions of race, but gender and sexual preference weren’t far behind. This “social justice” perspective filtered its way into departments of education, where academic standards are exceptionally forgiving. This, in turn, led to more fertile ground for critical theory in elementary and high school education.

CGT promotes the idea that gender is a social construct. If an individual feels that he or she is not well-suited to their biological sex, then CGT holds that they should identify as members of the opposite sex and pursue any medical paths to transition as might be available. This view has increasingly been applied to younger individuals.

Medical Experts

Paul W. Hruz, Laurence S. Mayer, and Paul R. McHugh (HMM) discuss the 1980s development of certain pharmaceuticals prescribed today to many children suffering from gender dysphoria. One might suspect that these drugs helped to set some of these trends in motion, together with so-called “gender-affirming” therapies that are now widely practiced. The latter involve therapists who accept and support the gender identity with which a patient feels most comfortable. Needless to say, this approach is likely to encourage a gender dysphoric youth to continue their exploration of a change in gender.

Synthetic hormonal “puberty blockers” became available in the early 1990s as a treatment for early puberty (so-called “precocious puberty”). At about the same time, the treatment was tested to stop production of sex hormones in adult males identifying as females. In the 1990s, the treatment was first used to suppress puberty in children with gender dysphoria, but the effects are supposedly reversible. Advancing to a full “transition” protocol involves the subsequent use of cross-sex ­hormones ­and ultimately surgical­ reassignment. Today, puberty suppression techniques are widely used on children with gender dysphoria because it is viewed as a safe choice that might “buy time” while other forms of maturation proceed. Here are HMM on this point:

The­ use­ of­ puberty­ suppression­ and ­cross-sex hormones ­for­ minors­ is­ a­ radical­ step­ that­ presumes ­a­ great­ deal ­of­ knowledge­ and­ competence­ on­ the­ part ­of­ the­ children­ assenting to­ these­ procedures,­ on­ the­ part ­of­ the­ parents­ or­ guardians­ being­ asked­ to­ give­ legal­ consent­ to­ them,­ and­ on­ the­ part­ of­ the­ scientists­ and­ physicians­ who­ are­ developing­ and­ administering­ them.­ We­ frequently­ hear­ from­ neuroscientists­ that­ the ­adolescent­ brain­ is­ too­ immature­ to­ make­ reliably­ rational­ decisions,­ but­ we­ are­ supposed­ to­ expect­ emotionally­ troubled­ adolescents­ to­ make­ decisions­ about­ their­ gender­ identities ­and­ about­ serious­ medical ­treatments ­at­ the­ age ­of­ 12­ or­ younger.­ And­ we­ are­ supposed ­to­ expect­ parents­ and­ physicIans ­to­ evaluate ­the risks­ and­ benefits ­of­ puberty ­suppression,­ despite­ the­ state­ of­ ignorance ­in­ the­ scientific ­community­ about­ the­ nature­ of­ gender­ identity.

HMM also discuss the strong influence that activists have had on the medical establishment. This is summarized nicely by Emilie Kao:

“… the largest LGBT lobbying organization, the Human Rights Campaign and World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) influenced medical organizations like the Endocrine Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics to embrace gender affirmation over the last two decades. Jason Pierceson, author of Sexual Minorities and Politics, explains that ‘political activism and consciousness raising has also changed the way in which the medical community views transgender persons.’ He describes how this activism led the American Psychiatric Association to “abandon the mental illness paradigm of transgenderism” by changing the description in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to treat only the stress associated with gender dysphoria as a mental disorder. No breakthroughs in science or medicine led to the change, which was accomplished just by political activism.

HMM do not claim that puberty blockers and gender-affirming therapy are at the root of increasing transgenderism. However, they express strong reservations about widespread use of puberty blockers among gender dysphoric adolescents.

We know that gender dysphoric youths have high rates of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Unfortunately, transition doesn’t seem to alleviate those problems as a general rule. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that unhappy adolescents are nothing new. It can be an unhappy time for many kids who are full of self-doubt. Most of them get over it, however, and many with dysphoria get over it as well. One has to ask: does helping dysphoric children along the path to transition so early have any real gains in the aggregate?

Educational Experts

What role have the schools played in the gender confusion? The answer is just as horrifying as the role of the therapists and medical doctors encouraging and overseeing the early encouragement of transitions discussed above.

As early as 2007, for instance, California’s education code stated that gender pertains not to anything biological but to ‘a person’s gender-related appearance and behavior.’[3] Gender is, in other words, a choice and has no relation to biology. This means that children have a smorgasbord of gender identities to choose from.”

So this is not new and could well have played a role in the Gallup survey results, especially for GenZs. Read at the last link about such things as “Gender Support Plans” in the schools, teacher training in dealing with gender issues, a “children’s garden” where five-year olds can learn the difference between biological sex and “gender”, a kindergarten book called My Princess Boy, the GayBCs for ages 4 – 8, the provision of a “transition closet” in which kids change their clothing once they arrive at school, school nurses who provide puberty blockers to kids they evaluate as dysphoric, pronoun lessons, of course, and many other examples. Also see this article for further information about CGT in schools, including the “Gender Unicorn” first introduced in 2016 and now used nationwide, starting as early as pre-K and kindergarten. And for a running catalog of the outrageous lessons taking place in our schools, check out Libs of Tik Tok.

Other Causal Forces

There are other vaguely plausible explanations for the trend toward more common identification as LGBTQ+ among millennials and GenZs. The internet and especially social media come to mind. Small and large social contagions are frequent on these platforms. Pre-social media, members of certain sub-cultures, and dare I say outcasts, had more difficulty finding, communicating and sharing information with one another. Today there is much less friction in that regard. Social media is also a hotbed of misery for many individuals, afflicted all too often with feelings of inadequacy or a feeling that they are outcasts. Among unhappy youths, the suggestion to try something different, to join a new “tribe”, may be very tempting. The internet serves as a guide.

A phenomenon that might be related to trends in gender identity is an increase in celibacy and decline of “partner sex”, especially among younger individuals and men. While so-called partner sex includes gay sex, the trend in sexual identity is not about any decline in sexual activity per se, but about representations of sexual identity. The uptrend in celibacy is consistent with the hypothesis that some cisgenders, frustrated by a lack of sexual partners (as distinct from the small, mostly male and angry “incel” community), might seek out a broader array of prospects. However, I know of no actual evidence to suggest such a connection.

The entertainment world is certainly no newcomer to controversies surrounding sexual identity. Gayness has long been celebrated in the theatre community, to a fault. I love theatre, but the near ubiquity of the theme in recent years has grown tiresome. There have always been gay stars of the screen, television, and musical entertainment, though it was often closeted in the past. Gay and gender identity themes have become much more common in film, but it was only recently that Disney began to emphasize gender issues explicitly with the children’s audience in mind. Some adults and even adolescents must grapple with gender dysphoria as they always have, with varying degrees of success and failure. However, to subject an audience of young children to themes that are beyond their ability to comprehend, and for whom the early exposure is completely unnecessary, is not acceptable.

Finally, the decline of religiosity might play a role in the trend toward LGBT+ identities. For one thing, church-goers have one more place to meet potential mates. More importantly, traditional religion has nearly always frowned on homosexuality, at least officially, and the LGBT+ coalition is largely areligious. Therefore, it seems likely that the negative trend in religiosity might be related to the positive trend in the LGBTQ+ population.

Conclusion

There is no question that identification as any of various forms of LGBTQ+ has increased dramatically among millennials and GenZs, with the largest increase in the bisexual category. Bryan Caplan hypothesizes that the trend is one of socialization, if not recruitment. It seems likely that this is the case, though much of the LGBTQ+ community’s internal, personal recruitment is probably of the passive variety. In addition, it seems likely that some of the gap relative to older generations is due to a reduction in closeting as well as “costless” status-seeking among individuals who wish to be perceived as enlightened or woke.

It’s also evident that the portion of the medical establishment concerned with issues of gender identity, as well as schools and certain entertainment institutions, have adopted the extreme views espoused by critical gender theory. They are actively encouraging children to learn about and explore various gender identities. This may encourage gender dysphoria, and when children show signs of dysphoria they are encouraged to move to the next stage, which involves affirmative therapy and puberty blockers, A bit later, teenagers might move on to other hormonal treatments and later-still, sex-change surgery. Our major medical, educational, and entertainment institutions appear to be real sources of non-passive recruitment, and indeed, the grooming of children for lives as LGBTQ+ adults.

Credit for the image at the top of this post goes to the Babylon Bee.

Markets Deal With Scarcity, Left Screams “Price Gouging”

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Democrats claim profiteering by oil companies is responsible for the sustained rise in oil prices since Joe Biden’s inauguration (really, his election). That’s among the more laughable attempts at gaslighting in recent memory, right up there with blaming market concentration for the sustained increase in inflation since Biden’s inauguration. At a hearing this week, congressional Democrats, frightened by the prospect of a beat-down just ahead in the mid-term elections, couldn’t resist making “price-gouging” accusations against oil producers. These pols stumble over their own contradictory talking points, insisting on more oil production only when they aren’t hastily sabotaging oil and gas output. Their dishonestly is galling, but so is the foolishness of voters who blindly accept the economic illiteracy issuing from that side of the aisle.

Break It Then Blame It

Those who level “price gouging” charges at oil companies are often the same people seeking to eliminate fossil fuel consumption by making those energy choices unaffordable. The latter is a bad look this close to mid-term elections, so they follow the playbook I described recently in “Break the Market, Blame It, Then Break It Some More“. And this post is instructive: “House Dem: Big Oil is profiteering by, er … doing what we demanded”.

Not only have the Democrats’ policies caused oil prices to soar; for many years they’ve been undermining the stability of the power grid via forced conversion into intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar, all while preventing the expansion of safe and carbon-free nuclear power generation. It’s ironic that these would-be industrial planners seem so eager to botch the job, though failure is all too typical of central planning. Just ask the Germans about their own hapless efforts at energy planning.

As economist Lawrence Summers, former Treasury Secretary under Barack Obama, said recently:

Look, the net effect of the things the administration talks about in terms of micro policies to reduce inflation, this gouging talk is frivolous, nonserious, and utterly ineffectual. A gas price holiday would, ultimately, push up prices by raising demand. … The student loan relief … is injecting resources into the economy at a hundred billion dollar a year annual rate when the economy needs to be cooled off, not heated up.The administration could be much more constructive than it has been with respect to energy supply.

The market functions to allocate scarce resources. When conditions of scarcity become more acute, the market mechanism responds by pricing available supplies to both curtail use and incentivize delivery of additional quantities. That involves the processing of vast amounts of information, and it is a balancing at which the market performs extremely well relative to bumbling politicians and central planners, whose actions are too often at the root of acute scarcities.

Antitrust Nonsense

Of course, the Democrats have seized upon the inescapable fact that soaring oil prices cause profits to soar for anyone producing oil or holding stocks of oil. But oil company profits are notoriously volatile. Margins were negative for most of 2020, when demand weakened in the initial stages of the pandemic. And now, some companies are bracing for massive write-downs on abandoned drilling projects in Russia. The oil and gas business is certainly not known for high profit margins. Short-term profits, while they last, must be used to meet the physical or financial needs of the business.

The threats of antitrust action by the Biden Administration are an extension of the price-gouging narrative, even if the threat reflects an injudicious grasp of what it takes to prove collusion. It takes a fertile imagination to think western oil companies could successfully collude on pricing in a market dominated by the following players:

Fat chance. In any case, it’s a global market, and it’s impossible for western oil producers to dictate pricing. Even the OPEC cartel has been unable to dictate prices, not to mention keeping it’s members from violating production quotas. But if a successful conspiracy among oil companies to raise prices was possible, one would guess they’d have done it a lot sooner!

Nor is it possible for the oil majors to dictate prices at the pump, because retail prices are set independently. While the cost of crude oil is only about 54% of the cost of refined gas at retail, fluctuations in prices at the pump correlate strongly with crude oil prices. Here is a ten-year chart of daily price data, where the blue line is the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil and the orange line is the average price of regular gas in the U.S.:

Here are the same two series for 2022 year-to-date:

Coerced Scarcity

Again, oil prices have been under upward pressure for over a year until a break in early March, following the steep run-up in the immediate wake of the Ukraine invasion. First there was Biden’s stultifying rhetoric, before and after the 2020 election, assisted by radical members of Congress. Then there were executive orders halting drilling on federal lands, killing the Keystone pipeline, efforts to shut down several other existing pipelines, and the imposition of regulatory penalties on drillers. In addition, unrest in certain parts of the Middle East curtailed production, compounded this year by the boycott on Russian oil (which, as a foreign policy matter, was far too late in coming).

However, existing facilities have been capable of squeezing out more oil and gas. Lo and behold, supply curves slope upward, even in the short-run! Despite all of Biden’s efforts to cripple domestic oil production, higher crude prices have brought forth some additional supplies. Biden’s raid on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve has also boosted supply for now, but its magnitude won’t help much, and it must be replaced for use during real U.S. national emergencies, which the war in Ukraine is not, as awful as it is.

That said, investing in new drilling capacity is not wise given the political climate created by Biden and the Democrats: they have been quite clear that they mean to crush the fossil fuel industry. For some time, the oil companies have been busy investing cash flows in “green” initiatives in an effort to bolster their ESG scores, a dubious exercise to say the least. Arguably, in this policy environment, the most responsible thing to do is to return some of the capital over which these firms are stewards to its rightful owners, many of whom are middle-class savers who hold oil stocks in their 401(k) funds. That approach is manifest in the recent stock buybacks and dividend payments oil companies have announced and defended before Congress.

Conclusion

A forced shutdown of fossil fuel energy was much ballyhooed by the Left as a part of Joe Biden’s agenda. Biden himself bought into the “Green New Deal”, imagining it might win him a vaunted place alongside FDR’s legacy in American history. The effort was unwise, but Biden is trying to hang onto the narrative and maintain his punitive measures against American oil companies. All the while, he begs OPEC producers to step up production, bending a knee to despots in countries such as Iran and Venezuela. Why, it’s as if their fossil fuels are somehow cleaner than those extracted in the U.S! The feeble Biden and congressional Democrats are proving just how mendacious they are. They can rightfully blame Vladimir Putin for the recent escalation in oil prices, but they bear much responsibility themselves for the burden of high gas prices, energy bills, and the unnecessary, ongoing scarcity victimizing the American public.

The SEC’s Absurd Climate Overreach

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The Securities and Exchange Commission recently issued a proposed rule for reporting on climate change risk, and it is fairly outrageous. It asks that corporations report on their own direct greenhouse gas emissions (GHG – Scope 1), the emissions caused by their purchases of energy inputs (Scope 2), and the emissions caused by their “downstream” customers and “upstream” suppliers (Scope 3). This is another front in the Biden Administration’s efforts to bankrupt producers of fossil fuels and to force the private sector to radically alter its mix of energy inputs. The SEC’s proposed “disclosures” are sheer lunacy on several levels.

The SEC Mandate

If implemented, the rule would allow the SEC to stray well outside the bounds of its regulatory authority. The SEC’s role is not to regulate emissions or the environment. Rather, as its web site makes clear, the agency is charged with:

“… protecting investors, maintaining fair, orderly, and efficient markets, and facilitating capital formation.

Given this mission, the SEC requires management to disclose material financial risks. Are a firm’s GHG emissions really material risks? The first problem here is quite practical: John Cochrane notes the outrageous costs that would be associated with compliance:

“‘Disclosure’ usually means revealing something you know. A perfectly honest answer to ‘disclose what you know about your carbon emissions’ is, ‘we have no idea what our carbon emissions are.’ Back that up with every document the company has ever produced, and you have perfectly ‘disclosed.’ There is no asymmetric information, fraud, etc.

The SEC has already required the production of new information, and as Hester Peirce makes perfectly clear, the climate rules again make a huge dinner out of that appetizer: essentially telling companies to hire a huge number of climate consultants to generate new information, and also how to run businesses.

In a separate post, Cochrane quotes SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce’s response to the proposed rule. She emphasizes that companies are already required to disclose all material risks. Perhaps they have properly declined to disclose climate risks because those risks are not material.

Current SEC disclosure mandates are intended to provide investors with an accurate picture of the company’s present and prospective performance through managers’ own eyes. How are they thinking about the company? What opportunities and risks do the board and managers see? What are the material determinants of the company’s financial value?”

Identifying the Risk Causers

Regardless of the actual risks to a firm caused by climate change, the SEC’s proposed GHG disclosures put a more subtle issue into play. Peirce describes what amounts to a fundamental shift in the SEC’s philosophy regarding the motivation and purpose of disclosure:

The proposal, by contrast, tells corporate managers how regulators, doing the bidding of an array of non-investor stakeholders, expect them to run their companies. It identifies a set of risks and opportunities—some perhaps real, others clearly theoretical—that managers should be considering and even suggests specific ways to mitigate those risks. It forces investors to view companies through the eyes of a vocal set of stakeholders, for whom a company’s climate reputation is of equal or greater importance than a company’s financial performance.

In other words, a major risk faced by these firms has nothing to do with climate change itself, but with perceptions of “climate-related” risks by other parties. That transforms the question of climate risk into something that is, in fact, regulatory and political. Is this the true nature of the SEC’s concern, all dressed up in the scientism typically relied upon by climate change activists?

The reaction of government bureaucrats to the risks they perceive is a palpable threat to investor well-being. For example, GHG emissions might lead to future regulatory sanctions from various government agencies, including fines, taxes, various sanctions, and mitigation mandates. In addition, with the growth of investment management based on what are essentially shambolic and ad hoc ESG scores, GHG or carbon emissions might lead to constraints on a firm’s access to capital. Just ask the oil and gas industry! That penalty is imposed by activist investors and fund managers who wish to force an unwise and premature end to the use of fossil fuels. There is also a threat that GHG disclosures themselves, based (as they will be) on flimsy estimates, could create litigation risk for many companies.

Much Ado About Nothing

While there are major regulatory and political risks to investors, let’s ask, for the sake of argument: how would one degree celcius of warming by the end of this century affect corporate results? Generally not at all. (The bounds described in the Paris Agreement are 1.5 to 2 degrees, but these are based on unrealistic scenarios — see links below.) It would happen gradually in any case, with ample opportunity to adapt to the operating environment. To think otherwise requires great leaps of imagination. For example, climate alarmists probably fancy that violent weather or wildfires will wipe out facilities, yet there is no reliable evidence that the mild warming experienced to-date has been associated with more violent weather or an increased incidence of wildfires (and see here). There are a great many “sacred cows” worshiped by climate-change neurotics, and the SEC undoubtedly harbors many of those shibboleths.

What probabilities can be attached to each incremental degree of warming that might occur over several decades. The evidence we’ve seen comes from so-called carbon-forcing models parameterized for unrealistically high carbon sensitivities and subjected to unrealistic carbon-concentration scenarios. Estimates of these probabilities are not reliable.

Furthermore, climate change risks, even if they could be measured reliably in the aggregate, cannot reasonably be allocated to individual firms. The magnitude of the firm’s own contribution to that risk is equivalent to the marginal reduction in risk if the firm implemented a realistic zero-carbon operating rule. For virtually any firm, we’re talking about something infinitesimal. It involves tremendous guesswork given that various parties around the globe take a flexible approach to emissions, and will continue to do so. The very suggestion of such an exercise is an act of hubris.

Back To The SEC’s Mandated Role

Let’s return to the practical problems associated with these kinds of disclosure requirements. Cochrane also points out that the onerous nature of the SEC proposal, and the regulatory and political threats it embodies, will hasten the transition away from public ownership in many industries.

The fixed costs alone are huge. The trend to going private and abandoning public markets, at least in the U.S. will continue. The trend to large oligopolized politically compliant static businesses in the U.S. will continue.

I would bet these rules wind up in court, and that these are important issues. They should be.

Unfortunately, private companies will still have to to deal with certain investors who would shackle their use of energy inputs and demand forms of diligence (… not to say “due”) of their own.

The SEC’s proposed climate risk disclosures are stunningly authoritarian, and they are designed to coalesce with other demands by the regulatory state to kill carbon-based energy and promote renewables. These alternative energy sources are, as yet, unable to offer an economical and stable supply of power. The fraudulent nature of the alleged risks make this all the more appalling. The SEC has effectively undertaken an effort to engage in corporatist industrial policy benefitting a certain class of “green” energy investors, exposing the proposal as yet another step on the road to fascism. Let’s hope Cochrane is right: already, 16 state attorneys general are preparing a legal challenge. May the courts ultimately see through the SEC’s sham!

ESG Scoring: Political Tool Disguised as Investment Guide

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ESG scores are used to rate companies on “Environmental, Social, and Governance” criteria. The truth, however, is that ESGs are wholly subjective measures of company performance. There are many different ESG scores available, with no uniform standards for methodology, specific inputs, or weighting schemes. If you think quarterly earnings reports are manipulated, ESGs are an even more pliable tool for misleading investors. It is a market fad, and fund managers are using it as an excuse to charge higher fees to investors. But like any trending phenomenon, for a time, the focus on ESGs might feed-back positively to returns on favored companies. That won’t be sustainable, however, without legislative and regulatory cover, plus a little manipulative help from the ESG engineers and “Great Reset” propagandists.

It’s 100% Political, 0% Economic

ESGs are founded on prioritizing objectives that have little to do with shareholder value or any well-understood yardsticks of financial or operating performance. The demands on company resources for scoring highly on ESG are often nakedly political. This includes adoption of environmental goals such as fraudulent “zero carbon” impacts, the nebulous “sustainability” objective promoted by “green” activists, diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives, and support for activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa.

Concepts like “stakeholder value” are critical to the rationale for ESGs. “Stakeholders” can include employees, suppliers, and customers, as well as potential employees. suppliers, and customers. In other words, they can be just about anyone in the broader community, or more likely activists for “social change” whose interests have but the thinnest connection to the business’s productive activities. In essence, so-called stakeholder capitalism amounts to a ceding of control over corporate resources, and ultimately confiscation of wealth from equity owners.

Corporations have long engaged in various kinds of defensive actions, amounting to a modern-day trade in indulgences. No one will be upset about your gas-powered fleet if you buy enough carbon offsets, which just might neutralize the impact of the fleet on your ESG! On a more sinister level, ESG’s provide opportunities for cover against information that might be damaging to firms, such as the use of slave labor overseas. Flatter the right people, give to their causes, “partner” with them on pet initiatives, and your sins will be ignored and your ESG will climb! And ESGs are used in attempts to pacify leftist investors who see the corporation as a vessel for their own social objectives, quite apart from any mission it might have had as a productive enterprise.

Your ESG will shine if you do business that’s politically-favored, like renewable energy, despite its inefficiencies and significant environmental blemishes. But ESGs are not merely used to reward those anointed as virtuous by the Left. They are more forcefully used to punish firms in industries that are out of favor, or firms refusing to participate in buying off authoritarian crusaders. For example, you might be so berserk as to think fossil fuels and climate change represent imminent threats of catastrophe. Naturally, you’ll want to punish oil and gas producers. In fact, if you are in charge of ESG modeling, you might want to penalize almost any extraction industry, with certain exceptions: the massive extraction and disposal costs of renewables will pass without notice.

All these machinations occur despite the huge uncertainty surrounding flimsy, model-based predictions of warming and global catastrophe. Never mind that fossil fuels are still relied upon to provide for most of our energy needs and will be for some time to come, including base-load power generation when intermittency prevents renewables from meeting demand. The stability of the power grid depends upon the availability of carbon-based energy, which in fact is marvelously efficient. Yet the ESG crowd (not to mention the Biden Administration) seeks to drive up its cost, including the cost of capital, and these added costs fall most heavily on the poor.

ESG-guided efforts by activists to deny capital to certain segments of the energy sector may constitute antitrust violations. Some big players in the financial industry, who together manage trillions of dollars in investment funds, belong to an advocacy organization called Climate Action 100+. They coordinate on a mission to completely transform the energy industry via “green” investments and divestments of presumptively “dirty” concerns. These players and their clients have huge investments in green energy, and it is in their interest to provide cheap capital to those firms while denying capital to fossil fuel industries. As Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich writes at the link above, this is restraint of trade “hiding in plain sight”.

Manipulation

ESGs could be the mother of all principal-agent problems. Corporate CEOs, hired by ownership as stewards and managers of productive assets, are promoting these metrics and activities, which may not align with the interests of ownership. ESG’s are not standardized, and most users will have little insight into exactly how these “stakeholder” sausages are stuffed. In fact, much of the information used for ESGs is extremely ad hoc, not universally disclosed, and is often qualitative. The applicability of these scores to the universe of stocks, and their reliability in guiding investment decisions, is extremely questionable no matter what the investor’s objectives. And of course the models can be manipulated to produce scores that suit the preferences of money managers who have a stake in certain firms or industry segments, and who inflate their fees in exchange for ESG investment advice. And firms can certainly engage in deceptions that boost ESGs, as already discussed.

Like many cultural or consumer trends, investment trends can feed off themselves for a time. If there are enough “woke” investors, ESGs might well feed an unvirtuous cycle of stock purchases in which returns become positively correlated with wokeness. Such a divorce from business fundamentals will eventually take its toll on returns, especially when economic or other conditions present challenges, but that’s not the answer you’ll get from many stock pickers and investment pundits.

At the same time, there are ways in which the preoccupation with ESGs dovetails with the rents often sought in the political arena. Subsidies, for example, will be awarded to firms producing renewables. Politically favored firms are also likely to receive better regulatory treatment.

There are other ways in which firms engaging in wasteful activities can survive profitably, at least for a time. Monopoly power is one, and companies often develop a symbiosis with regulators that hampers smaller competitors. This is traditional rent-seeking corporatism in action, along with the “too-big-to-fail” regime. Sometimes sheer growth in demand for new technologies or networking potential helps to conceal waste. Hot opportunities can leave growing companies awash in cash, some of which will be burned in wasteful endeavors. ESG scoring offers them additional cover.

Cracks In the Edifice

John Cochrane notes a fundamental, long-term contradiction for those who invest based on ESGs: an influx of capital will tend to drive down returns in those firms and industries, while the returns on firms having low ESGs will be driven upward. Yet advocates claim you can invest for virtue and superior returns. That can’t outlast real market forces, especially as ESG efforts dilute any mission a firm might have as a productive enterprise.

Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has revealed other cracks in the ESG edifice. We now have parties arguing that defense stocks should be awarded ESG points! Also, that oil production by specific nations should be scored highly. There is also an awakening to the viability of nuclear power as an energy source. Then we have the problem of delivering on Biden’s promise to Europe of more liquified natural gas exports. That will be difficult given the way Biden has bludgeoned the industry, as well as the ESG conspiracy to deny it access to capital. Just watch the ESG hacks backpedal. Now, even the evangelists at Blackrock are wavering. To see the thread of supposed ESG consistency unravel would be enough to make you laugh if the entire conspiracy weren’t so grotesque.

Closing

The pretensions underlying “green” initiatives undertaken by large corporations are good mainly for virtue signaling, to collect public subsidies, and to earn better ESG scores. They are usually wasteful in a pure economic sense. The same is true of social justice and diversity initiatives, which can be perversely racist in their effects and undermine the rule of law.

Ultimately, we must recognize that the best contribution any producer can make to society is to create value for shareholders and customers by doing what it does well. The business world, however, has gone far astray in the direction of rank corporatism, and keep this in mind: any company supporting a sprawling HR department, pervasive diversity efforts, “sustainability” initiatives, and preoccupations with “stakeholder” outreach is distracted from its raison d’etre, its purpose as a business enterprise to produce something of value. It is probably captive to outside interests who have essentially commandeered management’s attention and shareholders’ resources.

When it comes to investing, I prefer absolute neutrality with respect to out-of-mission social goals. Sure, do no harm, but the focus should remain squarely on goals inherent in the creation of value for customers and shareholders.

Full Blame for Monstrous Aggression On Putin

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One would think condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine would be easy for anyone who cares about human rights. This action and the threats he’s made against the West are the work of a psychotic. Yet there are some who place the ultimate blame for his behavior on the West and on NATO in particular. These reactions range from “This is all our fault” to “He’s evil, but we should not have provoked him”. Other reactions are much wilder, such as “We’re hiding something in Ukraine” to “We orchestrated this whole thing.” I am a small-government classical liberal, and no one trusts government power less than I do. However, I certainly place more trust in Western governments than in Russia’s authoritarian regime. If the West deserves any blame here, it’s because we made it easy for Putin.

Authoritarian Longings

For certain Western conservatives who’ve developed a man-crush on the “strong leader” Putin, the first thing you should understand is that he is an inveterate gangster and thug. Brute force fascism has always defined his approach to governance and foreign policy. That’s how this so-called “genius” came to power: three Russian apartment buildings were bombed in 1999, an act believed to have been instigated by the Russian Federal Security Service, of which he was head. Putin blamed Chechen rebels, prompting an attack on Chechnya that led to his ascendency.

Even among more moderate voices we hear statements like this:

“Russia has an existential interest in keeping NATO away from his border.

Existential? “His” border? NATO may have expanded to include members from Eastern Europe, but that didn’t change its basic defensive posture nor the Putin regime’s expansionist goals. Objectively, it might have been more in Russia’s existential interest to be less belligerent and avoid the kind of rogue-state trap it’s now sprung on itself.

There are a few so-called leading intellectuals in the West who have condemned NATO eastward expansion as the root cause of Russia’s vengeful mind set, such as George Kennan and John Mearsheimer. However, Russian scholar Stephan Kotkin says they have it all backwards:

The problem with their argument is that it assumes that, had nato not expanded, Russia wouldn’t be the same or very likely close to what it is today. What we have today in Russia is not some kind of surprise. It’s not some kind of deviation from a historical pattern. Way before nato existed—in the nineteenth century—Russia looked like this: it had an autocrat. It had repression. It had militarism. It had suspicion of foreigners and the West. This is a Russia that we know, and it’s not a Russia that arrived yesterday or in the nineteen-nineties. It’s not a response to the actions of the West. There are internal processes in Russia that account for where we are today.

I would even go further. I would say that nato expansion has put us in a better place to deal with this historical pattern in Russia that we’re seeing again today.

Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen agrees with that assessment, noting several early attempts at outreach to Russia:

Russia is not a victim. We have reached out to Russia several times during history…. First, we approved the NATO Russia Founding Act in 1997…. Next time, it was in 2002, we reached out once again, established something very special, namely the NATO-Russia Council. And in 2010, we decided at a NATO-Russia summit that we would develop a strategic partnership between Russia and NATO.

Nazis At the Kremlin

Putin contends that Ukraine must be “de-Nazified”, which is bizarre given the large Jewish population of Ukraine and its representation in leadership. Putin’s claim is also complete projection, as Melanie Willis has written:

It is in fact Putin himself who has unleashed neo-Nazism on Ukraine using the Wagner Group. This is a private army of mercenaries financed by pro-Kremlin oligarchs. It’s led by Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence officer sporting Waffen-SS tattoos who allegedly named his outfit after Hitler’s favourite composer.

Far-right extremists comprise the core of this group, which has committed horrific atrocities across Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine as a front for Russian imperial policy.

The Russian Imperial Movement, which has fought in Ukraine, was designated a terrorist organisation by the US in 2020 for training and funding neo-Nazi terrorists across the world in its military camps, which operate under the Russian security services’ eye.

Love Letters To Soviet Monsters

As if to emphasize his bona fides as a vicious authoritarian, Putin lionizes the failed Soviet empire, as if to forgive the horrors perpetrated by the communists: millions of lives lost to the engineered Ukrainian famine of the Holodomer genocide in the 1930s, the widespread raping of Russian, Polish, German women by members of the Red Army at the end of World War II, the millions confined to concentration camps over the entire Soviet era, and the repression, murder, or exile of many others. And this is to say nothing of the long economic nightmare inflicted by communist central planners, including the denial of property rights to ordinary people in the USSR and its satellite states.

Also recall that Putin’s army has made a practice of bombing civilian targets in separate conflicts starting with Chechnya in 1999, Georgia in 2008, and Syria in 2015. Cluster bombs and thermobaric weapons were used against residential areas in all three of these actions, the first two of which were Russian invasions of sovereign nations, and the third was on behalf of the Bashar Assad regime. It’s no surprise that we’re now seeing atrocities committed at Putin’s behest in Ukraine, and it could get far worse.

NATO: Not All About Russia

Another thing to understand: NATO’s original and ongoing purpose goes far beyond simply defending against Soviet and now Russian aggression. Claire Berlinski has a good post on this subject. She quotes “A Short History of NATO”:

In fact, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.

Much of Europe was reduced to rubble after World War II, with many millions of soldiers and civilians dead. Homelessness and hunger were everywhere. Berlinski points to outbreaks of “militant nationalism” that plagued Europe in the wake of earlier crises.

The enormity of the destruction transferred the responsibility for preserving Western civilization to the United States.

Americans who resent Europeans for being reluctant to militarize and for placing so much importance on political integration should remember that this is the world we created. We insisted upon this. Europe had no choice. It’s very strange for Americans suddenly to view the United States’ greatest military and foreign policy achievement as a failure. It was the United States’ plan for Europe to focus on economic growth rather than maintaining large conventional armies …”

Indeed, this point was lost on Donald Trump. There is no question that European states should pay up to their commitments to NATO, and today more balance in those commitments is probably well-advised. However, as Berlinski notes, even when the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR dissolved, NATO’s role in ensuring European stability was still paramount. One might even say it ultimately required NATO expansion to the Eastern European states. And no, Russia was never promised that NATO would not expand to the east. That is a complete myth promoted by Putin and the Russian misinformation apparatus.

The rise of Russian belligerence over the past two decades meant that all three components of NATO’s original mission remained relevant. And through all that, NATO’s posture has remained defensive, not offensive. Yet many in the West have fallen for a continuing barrage of Russian propaganda and misinformation that the U.S. should withdraw from the alliance. On that, Berlinski says,

It’s an idea very much like unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The West Did Not Impede Putin

As a staunch Russian nationalist, Putin has always been butt-hurt about the fall of the USSR. And let’s not fool ourselves into thinking he hasn’t been coddled to a significant degree by the West, even as he grew bolder in his provocations and bullying. I already discussed NATO’s attempts to reach out to Putin before 2010. This article recounts, from a series of tweets by Kyle Becker, the subsequent course of affairs. Becker notes the following:

  • As Secretary of State under Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton approved the Uranium One deal giving Russia 20% of U.S. reserves.
  • In early 2010, the new START treaty left Russia with huge tactical nuclear advantages, and the agreement had very weak enforcement mechanisms.
  • Obama’s incredible hot-mic moment in 2012 caught him promising “more flexibility” to the Russians on ballistic missile defense after the November election.
  • The 2014 takeover of the Crimean Parliament and the subsequent rigged referendum to leave Ukraine was met with ineffective sanctions.
  • Missiles fired by pro-Russian forces took down a Malaysian Airlines flight over the Dunbas region in 2014. Earlier, Obama had denied Ukraine access to equipment that would have defended against anti-aircraft fire, and might have prevented the tragedy.

Even more recently, Joe Biden in January practically issued a pass to Russia on action against Ukraine: “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion…” Well then! Townhall’s Matt Vespa says:

Russia is invading because they’ve been getting away with using brute force for years, coupled with an eight-year administration in the United States that did all it could to weaken everyone around them. Obama did nothing when Crimea was seized. He did nothing when Russians established themselves in the Middle East… For a solid decade, the use of force has worked, and Biden being Obama’s former VP, he sees a continuation of that weakness. Putin was right in that regard, gaming out the West’s response to a senile U.S. president. What he did not expect was the tenacity of the Ukrainian resistance.

The Biolabs Pretext

What about those biolabs in the Ukraine? Putin’s propaganda machine went into high gear to characterize the labs as threats of biological warfare on Russia’s border. Many Western populists and conservatives thought this seemed like a rational pretext for Putin’s actions, but without a shred of proof. We really don’t know what’s happening there, but biolabs are not exactly uncommon, and the vast preponderance of biological and virological research is benign. The mere existence of those facilities is certainly not synonymous with “bio-weapons” research, as many have taken for granted. And, of course, a biolab in the West is likely to be engaged in bio-defense research as well. You can be sure, however, that Putin has contemplated the use of bio-weapons against Ukraine.

Conclusion

Vladimir Putin has made ominous threats against NATO countries, but if he didn’t have a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons he’d be merely a bad actor from a low-tier industrial society, and without the clout to frighten the entire world. His belligerence is long-standing and quite out-of-hand, and it is unlikely to stop with Ukraine should he succeed in crushing it. That seems to be his intent. NATO and the West did not do anything to justify Putin’s conspiratorial fantasies. In fact, the West coddled Putin for far too long, to our detriment and to the horror of the Ukrainian people.

I’m trying to maintain some optimism that Putin’s miscalculations in this invasion will eventually lead to Russian defeat. At the very least, it may be impossible for his occupying forces to maintain control without disastrous consequences to them. That might eventually lead to a withdrawal, much as it did in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Western leaders still hope to find an “off-ramp” for Putin allowing him to save face and perhaps settle for small gains in the separatist regions. If so, I won’t be surprised to see repeat offenses from Putin in the future, either in Ukraine or elsewhere.

Projecting a Wobbly Stick

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Why reveal your intentions when you don’t have to? That’s exactly what the Biden Administration did with respect to the question of a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, and it might as well apply to all future incursions backed by wild threats from aggressor states possessing WMDs. This was another unforced error by Biden’s team and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. John Cochrane writes that “strategic ambiguity” has real value in deterring an aggressor, but apparently our current leadership hasn’t thought that through. From Cochrane:

Once again, the U.S. declares, publicly, ahead of time — ahead of the possible collapse of the Ukrainian government — what we will not do, and elevates it to a matter of principle.

Who else is listening? Well, Xi Jinping. And the Iranians. And the South Koreans, Japanese, Saudi Arabians, and more. …

We have just wrapped Taiwan up and delivered it to China.

Message to Iran: test one nuclear weapon. Invade Syria, Iraq, or whatever. The US will not respond. Message to others. Get nukes. Now.

This war isn’t just about Ukraine. It is about the kind of world we live in for the next generation.”

As Cochrane’s says, the U.S. and NATO calculated that supplying anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine would not trigger Putin to make good on his larger threats. At the same time, the thinking is a no-fly zone is too chancy. It’s probably true, but there was no reason to say so. It could have and should have waited. It might have given Putin some pause, any instance of which could be of great value to the Ukrainians as they marshal their defense.

This kind of up-front pusillanimity more broadly undermines the credibility of other options we might wish to have against aggressors in the future, such as trade embargoes, naval blockades, or even conventional weapons. Nor do the particulars in this case limit the range of actions a future aggressor might make threats against. We’ve more or less revealed that whatever a future aggressor chooses to forbid, under the menace of some drastic reprisal, is off the table. Acquiescence is adopted as doctrine, and that is a huge blunder.

Excess Deaths and Avoidable Deaths

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Understanding the severity of the coronavirus pandemic is more straightforward when measured in terms of excess deaths, rather than total Covid deaths. We’ve had a large number of excess deaths in the U.S., but not all of them can be attributed to Covid. It’s also worth asking whether some of the deaths were avoidable, because that reflects even more profoundly on the success or failure of public policy and the health care system in dealing with the challenge. Unfortunately, while the precise number of avoidable deaths the nation has suffered is speculative, it is nevertheless significant.

Bad Metrics

A huge problem with using total Covid deaths as a measure of pandemic severity is that no one is confident in the accuracy of official statistics. There are reasons to suspect over-counting in the U.S. due to financial incentives created for hospital systems by the CARES Act. These were exacerbated by the CDC’s absurd 2020 recommendations for the completion of death certificates. Essentially, any non-primary Covid entry on a death certificate was sufficient to count the death as from Covid. No other disease is or has ever been tallied like that.

There is an important distinction between deaths “with Covid” and deaths “from Covid” that has been acknowledged only recently by health authorities. A death “with Covid” can occur when a patient tests positive for Covid after being admitted to a hospital for another primary ailment. Thus, deaths from other causes like heart failure have been improperly coded as Covid deaths under the CDC’s guidelines. Even tragedies like auto fatalities have been coded as Covid deaths.

At the same time, some public health “elites” insist that many Covid deaths in the community have gone unreported. That might have been true in the early weeks of the pandemic. However, post-mortem testing by medical examiners began to spread by April 2020, though there was a shortage of tests, and the CDC issued guidelines to encourage it late in the year.

Counting excess deaths from all causes avoids these controversies, including differences across countries in the way they record Covid deaths. It’s also possible to break down excess death into broad categories of causes, though the task is complex.

How Many?

First some simple accounting. Let’s define all-cause mortality during a period (Mort) as Covid deaths (C) plus plus all other mortality (M), or Mort = C + M. Expected mortality in the absence of a pandemic would be Exp(Mort) = Exp(M). Usually this expected value is taken as an average of deaths over several previous years. Therefore, excess mortality during the pandemic is:

EM = C + M – Exp(M)

How many excess deaths have we actually seen during the pandemic? According to Our World In Data, the figure was 950,000 as of Jan 9th. USMortality.com puts the excess at about 965,000 through the end of 2021. So these two sources are in close agreement, which says a lot given the usual difficulty of getting pandemic numbers to tie-out across sources

Through 2021, cumulative Covid deaths (by date of death) were almost 850,000. That’s less than excess deaths, so it’s obvious that other factors have contributed to the excess. Interestingly, 2021 was worse for excess deaths than 2020 for all age groups except 85+. Some have suggested the most vulnerable in this highly vulnerable age group had already succumbed to Covid in 2020, but there may have been other reasons for the difference.

Non-Covid Excesses

As noted above, some of the Covid deaths were misattributions. If we understand C to include only deaths “from Covid”, then we must acknowledge that M includes deaths from other causes but “with Covid”, as well as all deaths without Covid diagnoses. For example, because of the confounded way in which Covid deaths have been counted, a death from heart disease could end up in the official count of C, but it should be included in M instead.

The figures above imply 100,000+ excess deaths during the pandemic not associated with Covid diagnoses. If we add to those the “with Covid”, incidental total, then perhaps 300,000 – 400,000 excess deaths during the pandemic were from non-Covid primary causes!

Lockdown effects are a prime suspect in these non-Covid deaths. For example, if health care was deferred because hospitals cancelled or delayed elective procedures, or because patients feared the hospital environment, that would certainly manifest in premature deaths. Deaths of despair or neglect were also in excess, as one should expect when populations are subjected to prolonged periods of isolation.

These kinds of deaths are so-called “lockdown” deaths because they could have been avoided without such stringent policy measures and the propagation of fear by public health authorities. Those who might protest this nomenclature should note that lockdowns have been unsuccessful in mitigating the pandemic (and see here). After all, in terms of excess deaths, the Swiss approach was quite successful!

Avoidable Deaths

Many of the excess pandemic deaths were avoidable. Prolonged lockdown policies were driven by politics rather than sound public health reasoning. However, within the Covid death totals there is another category of avoidable deaths, and it is every bit as controversial. This post from The Ethical Skeptic (TES) goes into great detail on the matter. He takes a strong position, and some of his assertions and his accounting are subject to challenge. I sometimes find that TES’s posts contain ambiguities, and the graphical evidence he presents is often poorly labeled. Still, he has proven correct on other controversial issues, such as the ancestry and surprisingly early “vintage” of the Omicron variant.

Most of the “avoidable” Covid deaths (again, as distinct from the non-Covid lockdown deaths) occurred well after the primary symptoms of the infection (fever, cough, and cytokine storm) had passed. In the end, the real killers were follow-on problems induced by Covid, primarily related to blood clotting and compromised vascular integrity from endothelial dysfunction. These deadly complications were known very early in the pandemic. The following schematic from TES shows a Covid “death timeline”. The figures listed under the schematic show the large share of clotting and vascular problems involved in these deaths.

Over the past two years, not all of these patients were placed on anticoagulants or blood thinners early in the course of their infections. Indeed, many of them were told to “go home and sleep it off”. This is what happened to TES as well as a number of commenters on his Twitter account. I know several individuals who received the same advice from medical professionals. Even among the hospitalized, many were not placed on these drugs in a timely fashion, or until it was too late. TES adds the wrinkle that his physician indicated he should have been vaccinated! Short of that, tough luck, said the healer.

TES blames this medical “malfeasance” on the CDC’s Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) for the Covid vaccines. In fact, he calls these deaths “EUA Shadow Deaths”, citing legal requirements associated with EUAs that would appear to prohibit alternatives such as therapies and even tests or studies of alternatives. That contention seems questionable given the CDC’s issuance of other EUAs for certain treatments, and there was no shortage of published experiments conducted during 2020-21.

The vaccine EUAs were not issued until late 2020, but TES claims that forces leading up to those EUAs were responsible for the failure to put patients on anticoagulants/blood thinners even earlier in 2020. The schematic says more than half of Covid deaths through the end of 2021 involved blood coagulation issues, and I have no reason to doubt those figures, which TES sources from the CDC. But He uses a value of 50% of Covid deaths to estimate that 421,000 Covid deaths were avoidable.

I’m not sure about that total, or rather, the use of the term “avoidable” in all those cases. I am sure, however, that we’ve seen a remarkable under-emphasis on therapeutics (and see here and here) relative to the emphasis on vaccines. The news media contributed to the dysfunction by condemning certain promising therapies for political reasons.

I’m also sure that there have been a meaningful number of patients who should have received anticoagulants/thinning agents but did not. Why did they not? Plausibly, the restrictions imposed by the vaccine EUAs made a difference, but clearly the medical community was not tuned into what should have been an obvious treatment regimen.

How many Covid deaths were truly avoidable? TES’s estimate of 421,000 seems too high if only because we can’t expect the dissemination of information through the medical community to be perfect. Moreover, some of these patients were undoubtedly on blood thinners already, or there might have been contraindications preventing the use of anticoagulants/thinners.

Nevertheless, a substantial number of deaths could have been avoided by more timely use of therapeutics and less stringent lockdown measures. Here is a chart from a tweet by TES showing another accounting for excess deaths:

Here, TES uses a slightly longer time frame, through about February 5, 2022, so the “EUA Shadow Death” total is somewhat larger, about 437,000, than shown in the earlier schematic. He attributes about 800,000 excess deaths, or 77%, to Covid, most of which he believes were avoidable deaths.

Lockdown deaths account for some of the additional 236,000 excess deaths reported in the chart, and probably a large share of the roughly 90,000 non-natural deaths labeled #3 (SAAAAD = “Suicide Addiction Abandonment Abuse Accident & Despair”; the two other categories in #3 relate to non-Covid illnesses acquired in-hospital or adverse reactions to medications). The Unknown/Abnormal category may include some lockdown deaths, but more on that category below.

If TES is correct about shadow deaths, the “avoidable” pandemic death total might account for well over half of all excess deaths. I suspect it might account for half, but even if less, it’s clear that avoidable deaths have been a huge part of the pandemic’s toll.

Vaccine Adverse Events

There’s been much speculation about the large number of Unknown/Abnormal deaths that have been coded during the pandemic: more than 65,000 in the chart above. One caveat is that an “unknown” cause of death usually means the cause is ambiguous: there might have been several factors contributing to the death such that the medical examiner was unable to assign a definitive cause. That status can be temporary as well. Still, the surge is noteworthy.

Unfortunately, there were an unusual number of excess deaths in younger age brackets in 2021, especially in the second half of the year after vaccinations had reached a fairly large share of the population. The pace of those deaths hasn’t yet abated in 2022. The next chart, from USMortality.com, shows excess mortality in the 25 – 44 age bracket in 2020 – early 2022.

Many of these prime age deaths could be a continuing hangover from deferred medical care and depression. There are claims, however, that the vaccines themselves killed a significant number of individuals. The upsurge in excess deaths suggests to some that the vaccines have had a much greater number of “adverse events” than we’ve seen reported by the CDC and the news media.

Here is how TES presents the data on excess deaths and vaccinations. The chart title is his somewhat confusing attempt to summarize the meaning of the lines plotted. The left axis measures the pace of vaccinations by week and the right access measures weekly excess non-Covid natural-cause deaths.

I have no doubt as to the efficacy of the vaccines against serious Covid outcomes in high-risk groups, though vaccine efficacy has been drastically overstated by the Biden Administration. The balance of risks for older individuals is clearly in favor of vaccination. Still, I’ve long felt that vaccination is less compelling for people in younger age brackets, and it’s possibly a bad idea. That’s both because Covid is a much smaller risk to them and because of possible vaccine risks, such as myocarditis.

To the extent that natural-cause, non-Covid excess deaths among younger age cohorts have been driven by unnecessary vaccinations, those deaths were avoidable. I’m not convinced of the significance, and it’s clear that among hospitalized Covid patients, outcomes have been better among the vaccinated. The following chart is from the link in the previous paragraph:

That sort of pattern might mean more deaths among the unvaccinated could have been avoided, on balance, had they opted for the jab. In almost all things, however, I believe we should eschew blanket mandates and instead offer protection to those seeking it in the high-risk population.

Conclusion

As many as 30% of Covid deaths to date are likely misattributions in which Covid was not really the primary cause of death. Nevertheless, excess Covid deaths “from Covid” as the primary cause are probably approaching 700,000 today.

The pandemic was certainly bad enough without a slew of bad calls by the public health and medical establishments. Of the 950,000+ excess deaths that occurred through the end of 2021, over 100,000 were not attributed to Covid. If we include deaths mis-attributed to Covid, the non-Covid total is likely in excess of 300,000 and could be as high as 400,000. It’s time to acknowledge that lockdowns and fear-mongering led to a large number of those deaths, and most of those deaths were avoidable. However, while I am skeptical, the number of deadly adverse effects from vaccines in the prime age population is an open question.

Another class of avoidable deaths was a product of the underemphasis on Covid therapies by the medical establishment. There were many cases of promising, repurposed drugs that were shouted down after so-called experts insisted that their use must be withheld until adequate randomized control trials (RCTs) had confirmed their efficacy. Not only did this ignore the long history of clinical evidence as a guide to medical practice. It also ignored the frequent real-world inadequacies that plague RCTs.

At the same time, obvious complications of the vascular system, primarily blood clotting, were not treated in a timely way or as a precautionary treatment’s, at least prior to hospitalization. Adding a conservative allowance for these deaths to the other avoidable deaths probably means that at least half of the excess deaths during the pandemic were avoidable. As of March 2022, that’s over half a million deaths! We can chalk it up to mismanagement and miscommunication by the public health establishment with a dash of ignorance, and perhaps some malfeasance, by health care practitioners. The death of expertise, indeed!

On Quitting Facebook, One Year Later

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I’m very happy to be off Facebook, or “Meta” as it now calls itself. The platform has become, effectively, a propaganda arm of governments, and one that appears to be engaging in unconstitutional censorship. More on that below.

One year ago my profile dropped off of FB entirely. I had decided to quit in January 2021 after about 15 years. I downloaded everything from my profile and wrote a blog post called “On Quitting Facebook”. It was my last entry there, so that’s really when I quit, but it took a month before they completely deactivated me.

You have to resist the temptation to go back during that interim month or it starts all over again — a new interim period, that is — when you finally decide to get out. I knew immediately that I loved being free of it, so that part was easy. My feelings haven’t changed a bit.

F-R-Double E

I no longer have to put up with the propaganda that FB prioritizes nor the “demoted post” phenomenon. None of my posts had actually been blocked outright, but I knew “Facebook jail” was happening to users with increasing frequency, as well as post blocking and “red flags” authorized by politically-motivated FB “fact checkers”.

Free of FB, I no longer have to put up with various “frenemies” I’d somehow collected. And quitting FB allowed me to reclaim precious time I’d been wasting on an obsession that one would think avoidable: scrolling through my news feed, sometimes more than once a day, to view an assortment of photos of meals, puppies, and peoples’ lovely feet propped-up in “relax mode”, plus huge dollops of left-wing political and economic BS, often delivered with snark. But of course the lefty BS is almost everywhere in media.

There was one other disturbing anomoly on FB that became more frequent for me: friend requests from exceptionally gruesome-looking characters. I think they were fake requests, but I had tight security on my profile, so the source and motive is anyone’s guess. The increasing frequency led me to wonder whether someone had information about me, which my security settings should not have allowed. That would have meant it was partly an “inside job” on FB, perhaps designed to intimidate me in one way or another. I have no idea, but I don’t miss those requests.

So there’s a lot to like about quitting FB! It certainly brought a few disappointments and challenges. Unfortunately, I did lose touch with some good people. In what follows I elaborate on certain legal ramifications of FB’s poor conduct in hosting users both privately and within what’s purported to serve as a “public square”; the social media frustrations I’ve experienced since quitting; and my impressions of a few other platforms.

Government Censorship?

FB is a private company, so the usual libertarian position is that it can run its platform any way it wants. It is therefore no business of the government’s whether FB moderates content, bans certain users, or takes editorial positions. However, FB benefits from immunity to prosecution under Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was traditionally intended for common carriers like telephone companies. That means they can’t be held liable for anything a third party might say on their network. Say what you want on the phone, because liability-free carriers shouldn’t care. FB and other social media platforms receive this same protection. But should they?

While we can think of FB as a kind of modern public square, in some respects it looks more like a common carrier. By that I mean much of the communication that takes place on the platform is voluntary and between private contacts, or groups of “friends”. The voluntary nature of these connections is a key aspect of what Eugene Volokh calls the “hosting function”. No one is forced to look at what you post. Yet FB makes a habit of moderating the content of those posts and conversations and still receives immunity under Section 230.

In other respects, FB does resemble a public square. Content posted by one party can be shared by each contact with their own network of friends, and thus can “go viral”. But if FB moderates content, censors users, or takes political positions of its own via the “recommendation function” often exercised by social media platforms, then it is not acting purely as a public square. Indeed, in that case it is more like a publisher, which otherwise would not be immune from lawsuits.

The case against FB is even stronger than that, however. It has acted as a de facto agent of the government in several respects. A recent FOIA request has revealed a White House email showing:

… Facebook, Merck, and the CDC Foundation, whose corporate partners includes Pfizer, have formed an alliance ‘to use social media and digital platforms to build confidence in and drive uptake of vaccines.’”

FB has also acted to delete user accounts at the behest of the U.S. and Israeli governments. And FB has partnered with a security firm called FireEye, which is funded by the CIA. There are other areas of “cooperation” between entities performing government-funded activities described at the last link.

The topic of social media giants censoring speech on behalf of the U.S. and other governments has been discussed by Vivek Ramiswamy, who notes the obvious breach of constitutional rights that it represents. It’s fine for a private firm to regulate speech on its own premises, but conducting censorship at the behest of government is equivalent to censorship by government and a flat out a violation of the First Amendment.

Moreover, FB has had the audacity to propose government “oversight” in its effort to moderate content. What, in the name of regulatory capture, could go wrong? I’d say the whole thing is Orwellian, but perhaps no more than what we’ve already seen. The best policy response, as Volokh suggests, might be to separate the hosting and conversation functions of social media from the recommendation function. The former can be treated as “common carrier” functions for the purpose of applying Section 230, with an obligation for non-discrimination and minimal content moderation, while the latter function would receive no immunity under Section 230.

My Post-FB Social Media Escapades

My blog lost a lot of readership when I quit FB. Last spring, however, I began a roughly five-month stint as a contributing blogger on a site that brought a jump in my readership. Unfortunately, it became clear, over time, that it was largely an audience unwilling to entertain more objective and sometimes technical considerations. I also became disillusioned after finding myself writing posts to debunk certain conspiratorial fantasies of other contributing bloggers on the site. I didn’t want to be associated with those writers, so I cut ties. My readership crashed again, but I’m not sure I lost many high-quality readers in that instance.

I joined various “free speech” social media platforms: first Parler (until it was taken down by Amazon, and I haven’t been back), and I’d been on MeWe, but then Gab, CloutHub, GETTR, and Telegram. MeWe, Gab, and CloutHub sponsor groups with shared interests, and I’ve made it a point to join Libertarian groups when I can find them. Those groups are not very active on CloutHub. GETTR feels a bit more like Twitter to me, and there are no group pages. Telegram is a secure messaging app with extra features. I just started a so-called “channel” there to which I can post my content. Users can view and subscribe to my channel if they wish, but I have to cross-post to other channels to find them. We’ll see how it goes, but there are a lot of people who LOVE Telegram!

A few friends from my FB days followed me to one or two of the “free speech” platforms, but only one of them seems to have maintained any presence there. Most of them became entirely inactive from what I can tell. I know some went back to FB, upon which so many people are dependent. Sometimes that’s for business reasons, which is both understandable and regrettable. Anyway, at least one of my former FB connections is still cross-posting some of my articles to FB, which is fine and I truly appreciate it.

Like FB, the alternative platforms I’ve tried are dominated by meme warriors. While a few trolls lurk there, MeWe, Gab, and CloutHub are very much echo chambers. But at least dissident voices have a place where they aren’t censored! In an ideal world we’d have diversity of thought and civility.

I’ve grown kind of numb to all the memes. I tend to scroll right past them in search of meatier fare. Memes tend to over-simplify complex issues and appeal to mood affiliations. They generally offer zero evidence in support of their messages. Even worse is their impact on attention span. It’s extremely difficult to get users to read anything longer than a meme blurb. In fact, there are people who notice the headlines on my posts and make immediate comments on that basis, as if I’m posting memes! But again, FB is very much a hall of memes, so I don’t mean to imply that there’s been any change for me in that respect … I just like to bitch about memes!

There are a few anti-semites on some of the “free-speech” sites, Gab in particular. In fact, Gab is thoroughly dominated by the religious right, so the anti-semitism is all the more striking. Excepting the Jew haters, whom I can block, I respect the religious right, and our interests are often aligned. However, a steady diet of posts with Christianity as an emphasis makes Gab less than ideal for me. Besides, every time I click on the Gab app it takes like 15 seconds to load on my phone!

I joined MeWe well before I quit FB. Nevertheless, I’ve had trouble getting traction there and I’m thinking of dropping out just to simplify my life. So far, CloutHub seems a little better in terms of generating visits to my blog.

It’s hard for a small-time blogger like me to get much notice on GETTR. There are some well-known conservative personalities there, so there are some decently informative posts. I have not been very active on Telegram, but that might change, as I said above.

I’ve been on LinkedIn for many years, but I’ve only recently decided to begin posting my articles there. I’ve lost a handful of connections as a result! That’s okay. As I like to say, eventually I’ll piss everyone off! I do get some views from LinkedIn, but users who might agree with my point of view are often too chickenshit to say so. That’s more understandable on a platform oriented toward career and professional contacts. However, I think the perception of social pressure is not very much different than the intimidation some people feel on FB.

I’ve considered joining the Truth Social platform, Donald Trump’s foray into social media. It’s billed as a “big tent”, but it will be another echo chamber, I’m sure. It’s also been a technical mess so far (not unique among new apps in that respect). I’m no Trump hater by any means, but any post that might be critical of him is almost certain to attract some hate on Truth Social (the link no is satire, btw). That’s not censorship per se, but TS might not be a great place for some of my posts.

No Going Back

Maybe the last section above was more self-assessment than anything else. As a personal decision, quitting FB was unequivocally positive for me. It hurt my blog readership, but I still hope to gain momentum on other platforms and to promote Sacred Cow Chips by placing links on other sites. In any case, I blog for myself as much as anyone else, just because I enjoy writing, thinking about issues, and occasionally doing a “deep dive” to research an issue.

The censorship occurring on the big social media platforms is simply unacceptable, and I wish more people would rise-up against it. I experienced some schadenfreude when I saw that Meta’s (Facebook’s) financials were a disappointment last quarter. The number of active users declined ever so slightly, but that was a first for FB. One can only hope it’s a trend in the making. And see this, though it might be a bit over-optimistic. Damn the censorship!

Every Gentleman Best Heed the Power of Hysterics To Censor

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Here are the gender conventions we’ve adopted in Western society on the rules of debate:

We accept gender double standards, and tolerate more aggression towards men than we do towards women. We also tolerate more hyper-emotionalism from women than men.”

So says Richard Hanania in an essay called “Women’s Tears Win In the Marketplace of Ideas“. Hanania is the president of the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, and a research fellow at Defense Priorities. He offers some cogent examples of this disparate treatment, such as the Yale Halloween costume imbroglio and the “cancelling” of Ilya Shapiro at Georgetown Law School. To those we can add Eric Landers’ forced withdrawal as Joe Biden’s chief science advisor, and there are countless others. About this, Hanania says:

What makes these cases difficult is that male versus male argumentation just has completely different rules, norms, and expectations than male versus female. … A man can’t just yell in another man’s face for 5 or 10 minutes about how he’s hurting his feelings. If a man does behave this way, bystanders are more likely to feel disgusted than join in or play the role of white knight. The man at the receiving end of the abuse is at some point going to have to escalate towards violence, or back down and say something about how this is beneath him. Depending on the situation, observers may assume violence is a distinct possibility, and get between the two sides.

None of these options are available when getting yelled at by a woman. You certainly can’t make an implicit threat of violence. Raising your voice will turn everyone against you, and even walking away can look heartless.”

I’ve witnessed a few pathetic crying jags in the workplace myself, as well as some volleys of verbal belligerence from females on social media that were pointedly anti-social. In my experience, most women can dish out barbs good-naturedly in jest and conduct themselves with dignity in debate. On the other hand, there are too many men who become hostile in debate, which most observers will find much less sympathetic if the counter-party is a woman. And there are a few men, here and there, who have trouble holding back tears in a fraught exchange, but we all know it’s not a good look.

To state the obvious, tears are a natural reaction to grief or real hurt. Anger is well-justified in response to criminal or personal wrongs. Nevertheless, it’s necessary to distinguish between these kinds of reactions and the ignoble tears or venom sometimes brought to controversial debates by neurotic partisans. As Hanania says of our disparate gender conventions, considerable censorship is instigated by an intransigent minority of women who manage to “… indulge their passions in ways that men cannot … .” Most men, anyway… and if they do, they’ve usually lost and know it.

These passionate displays are often tied to claims of individual or group victimhood. The objector could be anyone who feels an under-appreciated beef, but acting-out in order to signal “virtuous victimhood” in this way might indicate a deeper instability.

Again, as Hanania says, females have a definite advantage in the deployment of tears, confrontational rhetoric, and screams. Coincidentally, in a post to which Hanania links, Noah Carl marshals data on the extremely skewed representation of degrees awarded to women in Grievance Studies (e.g. Gender Studies and Critical Race Theory).

Too often, claims of victimhood are invoked in attempts to rebut any number of principled policy positions. For example, your views might be construed as offensive, racist, or sexist if you oppose such things as an increase in the minimum wage, racial quotas, disparate impact actions, equal pay rules, family leave mandates, and abortion. Expressing a strong and reasoned defense of many positions can foment imagined micro-aggressions or even harassment.

The real danger here is that honest debate is suppressed, and with it, very often, the truth. I acknowledge that people must be free to express or defend their views passionately, and with tears, screams, or otherwise, which the First Amendment guarantees. Our gender conventions in this matter should be revisited, however, if men and women are truly to be on equal footing.

Whether baring fangs or shedding tears, there are self-appointed arbiters of acceptable speech represented in almost all of our public and private institutions, ready to shut down debate on account of their feelings. They have more than a few sympathetic allies, male and female, at higher levels of their organizations. In the past, Hanania has discussed the over-representation of females in Human Resource departments. In these contexts, adjudication of disputes often relies on vague notions of what constitutes “hate speech” or “harassment” under Civil Rights Law. If you manage to provoke the tears of a colleague or underling, you’re probably behind the eight ball!

Hanania considers some alternative ground rules or “options” for debate:

  1. Expect everyone who participates in the marketplace of ideas to abide by male standards, meaning you accept some level of abrasiveness and hurt feelings as the price of entry.
  2. Expect everyone to abide by female standards, meaning we care less about truth and prioritize the emotional and mental well-being of participants in debates.”

Either of these options is better than the double standard we have now, and Hanania point to a number of egregious manifestations of our double standard. As he notes, #2 might be what’s meant by the “feminization of intellectual life”, but it fosters the arbitrary prohibition against discussion of any number of ideas that belong on the policy menu.

Option #1 would undoubtedly be condemned as “traditional male dominance” of public debate, but it would bar no one from participation, and obstacles perceived by females, or any sensitive soul, can be viewed as a matter of socialization. Both tearful and ferocious argumentation should be marginalized regardless of the antagonist’s gender.

Imperfect as they are, we have laws and/or social strictures against harassment, bullying, and other aggressive behavior thought to be largely associated with malcontented males. But as Hanania says:

We haven’t even begun to think carefully about equivalent pathologies stemming from traits of the other sex.

This problem obviously pales in comparison to the fascist tactics typical of the far Left. That includes the violent behavior of Antifa and BLM, unethical attempts blame conservatives for various, often fabricated deeds, and to threaten and punish them economically, even to the point of state-sponsored thievery and threats of harm to family members. Despite the more benign nature of the disparities discussed here, restoring gender equality to the terms of civil debate, without tears and hysterics, would be a great step forward.

Chill-Out Advisory: Pandemic to Endemic Means Live Again

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We might be just be done with the coronavirus pandemic. That is, it appears to be transitioning to a more permanent endemic phase. What follows are a few details about the Omicron wave and its current status, an attempt to put the risks of Covid in perspective, and a few public policy lessons that are now gaining broad currency but should have been obvious long ago.

What’s The Status?

The Omicron variant became the dominant U.S. strain of the coronavirus in December. Omicron outcompeted Delta, which was very good news because Omicron is far less severe. The chart below (from the CDC Data Tracker site) shows Omicron’s rapid ascendance and displacement of the Delta variant. The orange bar segments represent the proportion of cases of the Delta strain, while the purple and pink segments are Omicron sub-variants known as BA.1 and BA.2, respectively. BA.2 is even more transmissible than BA.1 and is likely to become dominant over the next month or so. However, the BA.2 sub-variant appears to be far less virulent than Delta, like BA.1.

Despite a record number of infections over a period of a month or so, the Omicron wave is tapering just as rapidly as it ramped up, as the next chart demonstrates. In fact, covidestim.org shows that cases are now receding in all states, DC, and Puerto Rico. Here are new cases per million people from Our World in Data:

Whether BA.2 causes cases to plateau for a while, or even a secondary Omicron “wavelet”, is yet to be seen. That would be consistent with the normal Hope-Simpson seasonal pattern of viral prevalence in the northern hemisphere (hat tip: HOLD2):

Data problems make the Omicron wave difficult to assess, however. We don’t know the share of incidental infections for the U.S. as a whole, but more than half of hospitalized Covid patients in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are classified with incidental infections. The proportion in the UK is estimated to be rising and approaching 30% of total cases, with much higher percentages in many regions of England, as shown below.

As I’ve emphasized in the past, case numbers should not be the primary gauge of the state of the pandemic, especially with a more highly contagious but relatively mild variant like Omicron. Hospitalizations are a better measure, but only if “incidental” infections are removed from the counts. That’s been acknowledged only recently by the public health establishment, and even the Biden Administration is emphasizing it as a matter of sheer political expediency. Another measure that might be more reliable for assessing the pandemic in the community as a whole is the number of emergency room patients presenting Covid-like symptoms. From the CDC Data Tracker:

There is no doubt that incidental infections create complications in caring for patients with other ailments. That has a bearing on the utilization of hospital capacity. Generally, however, strains on hospital capacity during the pandemic have been greatly exaggerated. This is not to diminish the hard work and risks faced by health care workers, and there have been spot shortages of capacity in certain localities. However, in general, staffed beds have been more than adequate to meet needs. This chart, like a few others below, is courtesy of Phil Kerpen:

With the more highly transmissible variants we have now, it’s not at all surprising to see a high proportion of incidental cases among inpatients. Incidental infections are likely to inflate counts of Covid deaths as well, given the exceptional and odd way in which Covid deaths are being recorded. It will be some time until we see full U.S. data on cases and deaths net of incidental infections. Moreover, many of the Covid deaths in December and January were from lingering Delta infections, which might still be a factor in the February counts.

How Are Your Odds?

The mild or asymptomatic nature of most Omicron cases, the large proportion of incidental hospitalizations, and the knowledge that Omicron is not a deep respiratory threat should offer strong reassurance to healthy individuals that the variant does not pose a great risk. According to a recent CDC report, in a sample of almost 700,000 vaccinated individuals aged 65 or less without co-morbidities, there were no Covid fatalities or ICU admissions during the 10 months from December 2020 through October 2021. There was only one fatality in the sample of healthy individuals older than 65. There were just 36 fatalities across the full sample of over 1.2 million vaccinated individuals, so COVID’s fatality risk was only about 0.3%. Of those deaths, 28 were among those with four or more risk factors (including co-morbidities and > 65 years). And this was before the advent of Omicron!

I have a few doubts about the CDC’s sample selection and vagaries around certain definitions used. Nevertheless, the results are striking. However, the study did not address risks to unvaccinated adults. Another more limited CDC study found that vaccinated patients were still less likely than the unvaccinated to require critical care during the Omicron wave.

A separate CDC study found a 91% reduction in the likelihood of death for Omicron relative to Delta. A study from the UK (see summary here) found that Omicron cases were 59% less likely than Delta cases to require hospitalization and 69% less likely to result in death within 28 days of a positive test. Omicron was far less deadly among both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, and the latter had a larger reduction in the likelihood of death. The study was stratified by age as well, with less severe outcomes for Omicron among older cohorts except in the case of death, for which there was no apparent age gradient.

Another unnecessarily contentious issue has been the risk to children during the pandemic. Based on the data, there should never have been much doubt that these risks are quite low. Apparently, however, it was advantageous for teachers’ unions to insist otherwise. Phil Kerpen soundly debunks that claim with the following chart:

Covid has been less deadly to children from infancy through 17 years than the pre-pandemic flu going back to 2012! Oh yes, but teachers FEAR transmission from the children! That claim is just as silly, since children are known to be inefficient transmitters of the virus (and see here).

Now that Omicron has relegated the Delta variant to the history books, the risks going forward seem much more manageable. Omicron is less severe, especially for the vaccinated. Levels of acquired (natural) immunity from earlier infections are now much higher against older strains, and Omicron infections seem to be protective against Delta.

In commentary about the first CDC study discussed above, John Tierney lends perspective to the odds of death from pre-Omicron Covid:

Those are roughly the same odds that in the course of a year you will die in a fire, or that you’ll perish by falling down stairs. Going anywhere near automobiles is a bigger risk: you’re three times more likely during a given year to be killed while riding in a car, and also three times more likely to be a pedestrian casualty. The 150,000-to-1 odds of a Covid death are even longer than the odds over your lifetime of dying in an earthquake or being killed by lightning.

Yet with all this research confirming the low odds of death induced by Omicron, why have we seen recent deaths at levels approaching previous waves? First, many of those deaths are carried over from Delta infections. That means deaths should begin to taper rapidly as February reports roll in. And remember that daily reports do not show deaths by date of death. Deaths usually occur weeks or even months before they are reported. That also means some of the deaths reported might be “harvested” from much earlier fatalities. Second, given the high levels of incidental Omicron infections, some of those deaths are misattributed to Covid, an issue that is not new by any means. Finally, while Omicron is relatively mild for most people, the high rate of transmission means that a high number of especially vulnerable individuals may be infected with severe outcomes. We have seen much more severe consequences for the unvaccinated, of course, and for those with co-morbidities.

Things We Should Have Known

I’ll try to keep this last section brief, but as an introduction I’ll just say that it’s almost as if we’ve been allowing the lunatics to run the asylum. To paraphrase one comment I saw recently, if you wonder why there is so much dissent, you ought to consider the fact the much of what our governments have done (along with many private organizations) was to prohibit things that were demonstrably safe (e.g., going outside, using swing sets, or attending schools) and to encourage things that were demonstrably harmful (e.g., deferring medical care, or masking small children).

The following facts are only now coming into focus among those who’ve been “following the politics” rather than “the science”, despite pretensions to the latter.

Grow Up and Chill Out!

Life is full of risks, and nothing has changed to alter wisdom gained in earlier pandemics. For example, this pearl from a 2006 publication on disease mitigation measures should be heeded (hat tip: Phil Kerpen):

If there is one simple message everyone needs to hear, it is to stop allowing the virus bogeyman to rule your life. It will never go away completely, and it is likely to present risks that is are comparable to the flu going forward. In fact, it might well compete with the flu, which means we won’t be dealing with endemic Covid plus historical flu averages, but some smaller union of the two case loads.

So get out, go back to work, or go have some fun! Get back truckin’ on!