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Friday 17 April 2020

Big State, small State, middling State

The Wuhan virus will not only change the world, it is set to provide evidence for scholars of social and economic theories for the next century. How many times have you heard economists say in the past "Haha yes it's only theoretical - we can't know for sure unless we experiment on an entire national economy"? Well, now we can. One of the glories of the diversity of national responses across the world is that they range across the entire spectrum.

At one end we have the big State authoritarianism of China and North Korea - curfew breakers shot, an iron fist of State control, people walled up in their dwellings, total command of the economy and no role for private enterprise in solving the crisis. At the other end we have the US, a nation whose collective mistrust of the State and federal structure together with a loosely regulated economy and patchy coverage of the healthcare system has meant a massive and immediate economic impact - and to Trump's chagrin, he doesn't have the power to control the Covid measures. Under the US constitution, public health measures are the responsibility of state governors. The federal government has issued 'guidelines' but they're not compulsory. Then we have Sweden, now far less certain about its laissez-faire approach to the virus as the bodies pile up. And between the extremes we have the mass of middling-State nations, including most of Europe.

Comparisons are not just body counts, of course. Economies will have various degrees of resilience, flexibility, responsiveness, survivability and agility, different patterns of trade, different mixes of manufacturing and services, differing resource supply patterns and the impact of the recession and recovery from it will also depend on the same social and economic systems.

And then of course there's demography. Young nations with educated, mobile, deployable workforces and low proportions of unproductive olders to be cared for as fragile and vulnerable porcelain, against those with less capable workforces, older populations, lower educational and trade knowledge infrastructures.

So which nations will win out? Which countries are the future? Where will the young be best placed to create a stable, secure and prosperous future for themselves and their families? Will it be authoritarian China or chaotic America?

Thursday 16 April 2020

Predictable and unpredictable

Just as the EU's manifold and abysmal failures to co-ordinate the 27 nations of the EU during the Wuhan virus crisis are becoming clear to all, the cabal of technocrats continues to act entirely to form. They are dealing with Covid-19 as they deal with everything else - slowly. Agile the EU is not. So it's creep, crawl, a little bit of consensus, iron over the immovable barrier, and a bit more creep and crawl. Sadly, the Wuhan virus moves a lot faster then the EU, and by the time they reach an agreement, the nations of the world will already have found a solution. And of course, as the crumbling behemoth is facing an existential crisis, some official pops up to warn the UK, in relation to the Brexit trade talks, that at this difficult time we must not be irresponsible by refusing to accept the wonderful partnership agreement that the EU has crafted. All this madness from the EU is entirely predictable. 

Likewise the slurry of health fascism embodied in that failed and unfit for purpose pressure group, Public Health England. This is the organisation that counts its biggest health policy triumph as banning smoking on hospital grounds, whilst conveniently ignoring levels of multi-drug resistant TB in London greater than in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Ethiopia. PHE has not only failed in every respect to prepare for a novel pandemic, it has failed to co-ordinate measures to combat the old ones; our crowded cities are as vulnerable to Cholera, Dysentry, Typhus and parasitic diseases as they were in mid-Victorian times. Now they are actually obstructing efforts to fund a way out of the virus stasis. But it seems that for the most important departments in PHE - those charged with campaigning against alcohol, sugar and fried chicken - it's business as usual. A prize for the first reader to spot the PHE advice warning that drinking alcohol at home during the Wuhan virus crisis should be banned. Again, entirely predictable.

D-list celebrities are finding it hard to break through the new hard mood of national purpose. Several have made efforts to use the crisis for self publicity only to be slapped down with great force by social media (I knew it would be useful some day ..). Even Meghan Markle, who must be throwing tantrums of frustration at her lack of column inches, has become transparent. Her latest wheeze, spending an hour handing out sandwiches in an LA homeless shelter, then having her people 'leak' the story of her 'secret' charity work, has fallen as flat as a damp chapati. Give your money to the NHS, sweetie - it's the only thing that works, as the Duke of Westminster (£12.5m) and Ed Sheeran (£1m) are finding. And Capt. Tom Moore has raised £12m from the little people. All entirely predictable.

Rod Liddle, always a ray of sunlight in the gloom, penned a thoughful piece on the importance of cigarettes during the crisis for the Speccie. He even joked
It is even just about possible that the precise opposite is true, and that smoking conveys a degree of protection against Covid-19, much as it does against Parkinson’s disease, ulcerative colitis, endometrial cancer and possibly skin cancer and thyroid cancer. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.
Well, it may not be such a joke. It seems that ACE2, the protein to which the SARS-CoV-2 virus sticks in the upper respiratory tract in a fresh infection, in impacted by nicotine in a way that enhances resistance to the virus. The evidence is not in the bag as yet, but initial anecdotal evidence about the low incidence of Covid-19 amongst smokers is now being thoroughly tested - and you can bet that the tobacco giants are putting their hands in their pockets to help fund it. Now if it turns out that shares in BAT, Philip Morris, Imperial and Altria are as much marked as winners as Glaxo, that truly would be unpredictable. And if vaping nicotine in offices and public places became an accepted prophylactic against the Wuhan virus, prescribed and funded by the NHS, the increase in apoplexy amongst the nation's health fascists would be a small price to pay.

Wednesday 15 April 2020

The curve

When, a couple of weeks ago, the death figures for w/e 20th March came out, I commented that we'd have to wait until the first week or so in May, given the 11 day delay, to see whether the lockdown had reduced the R0 of the virus to below 1. Yesterday's figures, to 3rd April, show an overall increase of some 6,000 deaths a week. So far, I still hold with my early take on the roll-out. The 10th April figures, out on the 21st, will give us the curve. My guess, and it's no more than that, it that we could be 15,000 deaths a week above average. So far I knew personally only one victim of the Wuhan virus, who died last week. I suspect some of you will be in the same position.

The government is doing what anyone piloting a boat in grunty weather does, balancing course and speed over ground with the effects of wind, waves and tide. To avoid going beam-on in dangerous seas you may have to go in a direction for a while you don't want. Or in really grunty weather, get into deep water and ride it out. The government is balancing excess deaths against both their ability to maintain public order and keep the economy from tanking by more than 20% of GDP.

You'll find various bloggers and tweeters around the manor all claiming to know exactly what the answer is. Well, if they were really that clever, someone in authority would have noticed by now, I reckon. So like most folk of the Realm, I put my trust in the government's response, knowing it to be flawed and imperfect, but nonetheless better than any alternative. I don't know the answer, you see, and don't condemn anyone else's opinion because like the lucky sod picking the winner in a sweepstake they may be right. Or they may have picked the munter that falls at the first fence. We need the evidence - the curve - to validate future plans.

However, the realisation across the world is that herd immunity is the only outcome that will allow us to rescue what we can of the world we had at the end of 2019, and that means getting some 60% of the population infected, starting with those most likely to survive. That means allowing the R0 of the Wuhan virus to rise above 1. That's why Denmark, Germany and others are planning to re-open schools and universities and manage a return to a simulacrum of normal life. Albeit one in which facemasks will be the norm for some time to come. Whilst continuing to protect those at most risk.

And that's the next hurdle. There seems to be a consensus about opening schools early in May, but hundreds of millions of facemasks will be needed, and indications are that supplies are not due to come on-stream until July and August. If the MSM knew their arse from their elbow, instead of destroying their own cred by trying to ambush the government, that's the sort of question they should be asking.

The Telegraph reports the spike in deaths

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Boris's trickiest manoeuvre

With the news that Boris is out and convalescing I'm sure we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. The latest polls give us a lead of more than 20% over Labour, and Kryten is spending his first week in the new job dealing with a schism in the party so deep it may split it altogether. The leaked report details the deep disloyalty to Magic Grandpa from the senior ranks of Labour officials, and the comrades have now convinced themselves that they could have won Disaster May's vanity election in 1917 2017 had the Mensheviks and Agrarians Blairites and Fabians united behind the Bolsheviks Momentum.

Kryten's troubles and Parliament's holiday are giving Boris's ministers an easy ride. And some of them are not doing so well. I suspect many are unable to manage their civil servants, and those unmanageable civil servants are seeking as much to cover-up and rationalise their past blunders as to solve current problems. It may be uncomfortable for ministers to face a grilling either in the House or in select committee, but it produces a better result for us all. The minister is really just the medium through which our scrutiny of the civil service passes, and the opposition are acting as our scrutators. So yes, Parliament resuming its effectiveness in a week's time is in all our interests.

Boris's dilemma is his gross personal popularity, behind which both his ministers and their civil servants will seek to hide. He must now manage the trickiest manoeuvre - leading a collective cabinet whilst leaving individual ministers sufficient distance to answer for their own performance. One or two may have to be swapped-out pour encourager les autres. A couple of weeks convalescence leaving Dominic Raab at the despatch box (he's sound and secure in his job and can take the knocks - and is loyal to Boris) is not a bad thing.

We can only hope that the comrades manage to focus. The party is not exactly short of lawyers, and signs over the weekend are that they are getting ready to sue the arse off eachother over either (a) their anti-Corbyn comments having been leaked  or (b) their having sabotaged Corbyn's leadership. sadly, their antics may prove more diverting than the real business in Parliament. However, we have the BBC and MSM to help ensure that coverage of Labour's infighting is minimised whilst fighting their own partisan media war of attrition against the government.

Labour's leaked report will give some chortles over the breakfast table

Monday 13 April 2020

Food, farming and nitrile gloves

Supply chains, maritime trade, nearshoring and onshoring manufacturing from China and the far East, diversification (HT Mr Drew and C@W) and such things are part of the national dialogue for the first time in a generation. Possibly since Suez. And there are any number of Who Knew? realities being revealed. I'm learning, even from Twitter. @Uncle_Albert_ posted a thread pertinent to the PPE debate asking us to remember that latex and nitrile both come mostly from Malaysian rubber (Albert claims) and that as trees take several years to grow, the current global demand for gloves may easily outstrip all possible production.

Of course it may be that if we don't buy tyres because no-one is going anywhere, there will be more rubber for gloves, but it won't be anytime soon. And even if we push to the head of the 'Top Glove' (the world's largest single manufacturer of latex gloves, he says) queue and buy a batch FOB port, you may still have great trouble getting it because of the shortage of ships and containers, many also locked down in port. Ha, OK, so you'll fly them in - except much of the previous commercial freight capacity was in the bellies of passenger aircraft, mostly also now grounded.

And then there's food.

Back in the days, I kept half a dozen hens running in a little six-tree orchard at the back of my little cottage in Needham Market. I supplemented their foraging with frost-damaged spuds bought by the sack and similar, and with Pauls and Whites layers' mash (cue Edward Spalton). The only problem was, it not only stank of fish but made the eggs taste of fish. Some time later, I think the feed manufacturers reduced fishmeal in their mixes and increased grain, corn and suchlike. Back then we were such destructive bastards that we would hoover up fish from the sea just to crush the entire catch for animal feed. Now every fish counts - and we will need every square nautical mile of our exclusive economic zone from the end of the year.

Not only do we only produce half the food we eat, but much of it is the wrong food, according to Tim Lang. The reviews of his 'Feeding Britain' in both the Telegraph and in the Guardian are instructive. Firstly, we're eating far too much Ultra Processed Food, he says - fruit loops, biscuits and chicken nuggets - and it's killing our guts (cue Stephen J) and making us obese, diabetic and natural Wuhan virus victims. Half the UK diet is UPF. It may seem cheap at the supermarket, but the true cost must include the increased health care costs of eating harmful crap that makes us fat. And then we're growing the rest the wrong way.

Instead of growing maize and cereals to feed livestock for meat, we should use that acreage to grow fruit and veg instead, and put animals out to grass. We could up our self-sufficiency in food from 50% to 80% if we do it right. And farmers and fishermen must get much more of the price we pay for our food - "Currently primary producers do most of the work but are only left with 8 per cent of the Gross Value Added from food"

And to be frank, gaining a diet rich in fish, seafood, grass-fed beef, seasonal greenstuffs and natural butter and cheese and losing one packed with fruit loops, reconstituted chicken, carcass slurry burgers, chemicals, palm oil, fillers and preservatives is, in my opinion, no bad thing.