Pandemics & Politics

The soup of conspiracy mongering about the covid-19 pandemic has never truly settled on a clear story. Even as the virus began spreading internationally, reactions ranged from claims that China was exaggerating the numbers of people infected to China was hiding the ‘true’ scale of infection. The common theme with conspiratorial thinking is that genuine doubt, genuine ignorance and genuine shifts in opinion about a novel situation are actually examples of deceit. There is a paradoxical relationship with authority and expertise in any conspiracy theory as the claims of deception always imply that the authorities genuinely do know a lot more about the true state of affairs than everybody else but are lying about it.

The most recent iteration of covid conspiracy-mongering is the ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video which has sprouted out of anti-vaccine conspiracies. You can read more about it here but there is also a good analysis of conspiracy-theory thinking which uses it as an example here The conspiracy is being promoted among some sections of the media in the usual just-asking-questions/exploring-the-controversy way:

“Local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group are set to air a conspiracy theory over the weekend that suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus.The baseless conspiracy theory is set to air on stations across the country in a segment during the program “America This Week” hosted by Eric Bolling. The show, which is posted online before it is broadcast over the weekend, is distributed to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s network of local television stations, one of the largest in the country. A survey by Pew Research Group earlier this year showed that local news was a vital source of information on the coronavirus for many Americans, and more trusted than the media overall.”[1]

What the various conspiracy theories have in common is a belief that pandemic fears and public health measures are specifically a plot against Donald Trump. The details vary (or even contradict each other) but they aim to support a motive for the imagined conspiracy i.e. that the ‘ruling classes’ have manufactured pandemic fears as a way to undermine Donald Trump. To support this idea conspiracy-theorists point to pre-pandemic articles discussing how Trump might cope with a pandemic (e.g. this one by Ed Yong in 2016 ) as evidence that people were ‘planning’ to use pandemic fears against Trump.

Ironically, across the world many political leaders have gained popular support as a consequence of the pandemic ( ). This pandemic poll-boost has helped politicians both on the left and right and isn’t tied to any particular policy measure nor even whether the covid-19 response was particularly successful. Clear messaging and decisive policy appear to be the main factors but even the shambolic Boris Johnson gained an initial popularity boost (although he eventually squandered it ).

The reality of natural disasters, including pandemics, is that they can often boost the standing of national leaders. Nor is it difficult to gain support because it is mainly a halo effect from the leader being seen in the company of competent people doing their jobs at a time when people will naturally hope for national unity. It actually takes some effort to mess up. Notably, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, managed to do this during the 2019/20 bushfire crisis leading to a rapid plummet in support and humiliating scenes of firefighters refusing to shake his hand. Conversely, Morrison saw his poll numbers boosted during the pandemic, mainly by not repeating the same basic errors he had a few months earlier.

In short, natural disasters are more likely to boost a national leader than undermine them. As a plot against Trump, a pandemic would be a terrible idea: all Trump would need to do is look presidential, let experts speak and pat them on the back. Of course, there is a counter-argument here. A pandemic may well be an actually electoral boost for most politicians but specifically a problem for Trump. As we have seen, Trump has spectacularly failed but this was entirely due to his own incompetence and the incompetence of his cronies. Even so, in late March, the pandemic led to Trump’s approval numbers steadily improving, only to be undermined by Trump’s inability to handle a crisis.

In short, as a plot against Trump, a pandemic would only undermine Trump’s popularity if Trump was actually a uniquely bad president. Of course, he is actually a uniquely bad president, so I guess that is one thing the conspiracy theories have going for them.

[1] Apparently Sinclair media have since changed their plans

More covid cherry picking

There are so many statistics on the covid-19 pandemic that there is usually one that helps a given narrative. Back in June I wrote about one example from the right-wing ‘news’ outlet PJMedia (where one notable Sad Puppy often writes and very prone to covid-conspiracy mongering)

The same writer I linked to in that earlier post has another attempt at trying to minimise the perilous state of things in the US. His focus this time is the case fatality rate i.e. the proportion of confirmed deaths to confirmed cases. The article is correct in pointing out that the CFR for the US is relatively low compared to many other countries. Except, while an interesting statistic the CFR combines both the issues with confirmed cases as a statistic (e.g. testing policy, accuracy and reporting) and the issues with deaths as a statistic (e.g. which deaths are counted). The main site I use for covid-19 graphs ( has a long explainer on it here that is worth a read.

At the end of the article the author points to his earlier article from March and states:

“That data didn’t show the United States as number one for deaths or cases.”

Here he means number one on a per-capita basis and like myself he has been using the figures. Personally I don’t think the deaths statistic is working well for cross national comparisons. Similar countries, with similar health systems and similar histories with the pandemic show quite different figures for population adjusted death rates. Maybe there’s some real difference in mortality there but if there is, nobody is clear on what it might be. With the US mortality statistics there is an odd fact that the deaths are skewing younger than other countries ( ) one possible reason for that might be that deaths of older people are either being under-counted in the US or over-counted in other countries (or both).

I’ve tended to stick with looking at cases per capita. Again, big flaws with using that for comparisons because testing regimes change the figures and also there are differences in who gets counted (e.g. if you get tested twice and a positive both times is that 1 person in the count or 2?). Still, the PJMedia article in both cases points to cases per capita as a statistic where the US is not the worst in the world.

So how is the US doing on that figure? You can look at the figures in a table here

Overall, the US is 11th in the list. 10 countries are worse on this stat! But…most of those ten are relatively small countries or actually VERY small countries (eg the Vatican) and a single outbreak sends a per capita figure soaring. Filter out those nations with populations less than 5 million and you more clearly see nations with proportionally large numbers. This is the top 15. The US is not number one…it’s number 2 because Chile is worse. The top 4 are all in the Americas. Sweden and Singapore are both special cases in their own way and may not be that comparable. After the table, I’ll look at a way both Sweden and Singapore are observably quite different.

CountryCases per millionPopulation
United States11,020.20329,064,917
Saudi Arabia7,061.8734,268,528
United Arab Emirates5,704.729,770,529
South Africa5,692.1558,558,270

As I’ve said, the cases stat is questionable because if you don’t do any testing then you don’t find cases, likewise the number of infections will also lead to an increase in testing and hence finding more cases. However, I’ve found watching the trajectory of cases per million to be an effective way of seeing what is going on. It’s an imperfect indicator but one of the better ones (as always, never depend on one statistic.

I said Sweden and Singapore are different and I think the graph of the top 6 nations in that table illustrates that and shows what I mean by trajectories.

As nations, Sweden and Singapore are chalk-and-cheese in terms of location, demographics, methods of funding healthcare and even pandemic response policies. However, their current paths are similar. Whether their high cases-per-million stat is an accounting issue or due to effective testing policies catching a greater proportion of asymptomatic people, I don’t know but what we can see is that cases aren’t accelerating.

The same cannot be said for the USA. It really is genuinely a very bad situation that it is in looking at the spread of cases. It really isn’t media exaggeration.

What a second wave suggests about lockdowns

After many weeks of stability with covid cases, Australia hit a second wave of cases. The new outbreak began in Victoria and appears to be connected to lapses in quarantine for people returning overseas. It is particularly interesting because Australia pretty much did have the lid on covid spread, so while elsewhere it’s hard to distinguish second waves with just geographical spread (or frank incompetence), it is much easier to match numbers to events here.

A lot has changed since March:

  • It’s winter now and at least in Victoria there is genuine cold weather.
  • Although lockdown measured were eased, they hadn’t gone entirely. Schools are open (or were in Victoria just prior to this new out break) and social gatherings had been allowed. However, many people still worked from home and other restrictions were in place.
  • Testing infrastructure and contact tracing efforts have improved.

I mention all that partly to dismiss it. The trajectory of infections looks very similar to the situation in early March despite all that. During the more severe lockdown phase growth in cases wasn’t zero and officially this was a suppression strategy rather than an elimination strategy (unlike NZ that went for an even stricter lockdown in the hope of bringing cases to zero).

So does this disprove the value of lockdowns or demonstrate the value of lockdowns? I believe it shows the level of lockdown measures needed to keep growth in cases low and linear. There are specific causes behind the current outbreak but when the number of contagious people is greater than zero, outbreaks act as kind of random events (i.e. we can identify the specific errors that led to an outbreak but also shit-happens given enough time).

The lockdown-lite situation Australia was in prior to the Victorian outbreak (and which still applies in the other states) isn’t sufficient to prevent exponential growth in the event of an outbreak, even with reduced interpersonal contact and improved monitoring. I think that fits with what we are seeing elsewhere but Australia’s situation provides a semi-controlled experiment of that idea.

Could Australia have gone for an elimination strategy like NZ? Maybe but it would have been tough in a bigger country with more people returning from overseas. While that’s an interesting question for Australia, an elimination strategy was never going to be viable in Europe or North America.

Of course what level of lockdown a country can manage both politically (i.e. people will willingly cooperate with it) and economically (i.e. the extra economic impact above the impact of the pandemic in general) is another question. However, the sweet spot with lockdown measures for a strong suppression strategy (i.e. growth in total cases low and linear) starts to become clearer.

This is “Stringency Index” and like any such index it’s a bit of a creative work of numerical fiction, created by lumping together incommensurable things. You can see the Australian story playing out here. A rapid rise in restriction in March, April followed by a steady state in May and then slow phased re-lifting of measures. In late June the Victorian outbreak leads to stricter measures in Victoria (less so other states).

So where was Australia in late May?

  • Schools had already re-opened. Schools are shut again in Victoria and right now it’s normal school holidays in most states. Policies on schools are all over the place internationally with some countries with light measure having strict school closures and vice-versa. In Australia, it genuinely does look like opening schools is a relatively safe measure once rates of cases is low.
  • Public gatherings were still limited to very small numbers of people. In June pubs and restaurants started re-opening. Outbreaks in Victoria have been linked to family gatherings and a subsequent outbreak in NSW has been linked to a Victorian visiting a busy pub in NSW.
  • Church services, marriages and funerals are still limited.
  • Travel from overseas is strictly limited. This hasn’t changed but lapses in security in quarantine hotels is linked to the Victorian outbreak that was then spread via family gatherings.
  • Internal travel is partly limited. This is state by state. Western Australia cut itself off (aside from goods traffic). Queensland limited border crossings from NSW. Prior to the Victorian outbreak, NSW/Vic border was open throughout (it’s now closed).
  • Workplaces were largely working from home were possible and that hadn’t changed much since.
  • Public transport was operating throughout.

Looking at that, I’d suggest social gatherings particularly indoors were the key intervention. Since the end of May, beaches have been open (but it’s winter but it’s also Australian winter, so often t-shirt weather), public swimming pools have re-opened (typically outdoors here) and there have been some major protests. None of these appear to have contributed to the new growth in cases.

Masks? Harder to say. At anytime of year in the CBD of a major Australian city you will see people wearing paper masks but primarily people who have lived in major SE Asian or Chinese cities prior. Masks haven’t been a major policy option in Australia and locally I rarely see people wearing them. That’s not say they don’t work, just that there’s no before-and-after like data when looking at Australia. Maybe if masks had been mandated the story would look very different but there’s no way of knowing from looking at Australia alone.

Having said all that: severely limiting the number of people mingling INDOORS really seems to be a key measure. Obviously, how and whether that applies elsewhere is a whole other question.

Covid-19 in Australia Update

For largely good reasons, international coverage of the covid-19 pandemic is not currently focused on Australia. However, the dusty continent is where I keep my body, so I pay a bit more attention to it. While New Zealand remains almost virus free (the exception being people returning from overseas), Australia has low numbers of new cases but there remain a persistent number of cases apparently from community transmission.

The main attention is on the state of Victoria that has had a spike of 41 new cases on Saturday. New South Wales has much smaller numbers but there are still cases that appear to be community transmission (i.e. not people in quarantine who have recently returned from overseas). Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Western Australia has been able to further ease restrictions with pubs and nightclubs opening fully.

One geographic/demographic aspect of Australia that is relevant to WA opening up is the degree to which each state can restrict travel between states. This has lead to some tension between New South Wales and Queensland which still retain some border restrictions.

Things have otherwise pretty much relaxed into a new normal. Cafes and restaurants are sort of open, the roads are busy again but public transport is less crowded. Most people who can work from home (those that work in the great Excel and Microsoft Word mines churning out documents) still are.

Schools have been open for time. Post-pandemic there will be a lot of discussion about schools. As a policy intervention, school closures has been one of the most erratic i.e. there are countries with quite strict lockdowns that have left schools open or partly open and countries with less strict lockdowns that have kept schools closed. Overall, it does look like children aren’t a major source of transmission but it is also clear that the social logistics of closing schools was a genuine challenge. In future pandemics we might not be so lucky (yes, I can’t say anything about this feels lucky except in the sense of it really could have been even worse). A different disease might have more aggressively affected children and governments really need to start planning for ways of closing down schools in a sustainable way.

I travelled into Sydney CBD the other day and there was a normality to the city. The streets were busy with cars and people again. I wore a mask but most of the other people I saw wearing masks were ethnically Asian. Mask wearing hasn’t become habitual here and Australia didn’t have a ‘wear masks at the shops’ level of eased-restrictions mainly because the number of cases fell pretty rapidly (we got to skip that step). Australia likes to boast about itself as part of the Asia-Pacific region but it would do well to adopt the habit of major cities in the region and make mask wearing the norm.

There were Black Lives Matter protests here but so far there have been no recorded covid-19 cases that appear to have originated with the protests. Of course, protestors were generally very good at wearing masks and other PPE (police…not so much).

The shortages in various goods experienced in April had largely been forgotten, aside from some shops being overstocked with off-brand toilet paper. However, the small but scary surge of cases in Victoria has led to supermarket chains imposing restrictions pre-emptively.

The big difference with this new upswing in cases is that testing is now widely available and the infrastructure for contact tracing exists. The contact tracing app doesn’t look like it has had enough people downloading it and using it to make a big difference though.

I think it is still too early to draw any clear conclusions about policy responses to covid-19 other than ‘do not have Boris Johnson or Donald Trump as your national leader’. Mask-wearing? It looks like it works but to have really made a difference to the covid-19 outbreak, people needed to be wearing the masks before they knew about the pandemic. That’s not absurd so long as people in major cities just start adopting that as a habit, particularly if they have the sniffles. Panic-buying of PPE would have been a potential disaster for health workers in the early weeks of the pandemic. However, if people habitually wear them then people will have supplies in and ready. In Australia we may need them anyway if we get another bad fire season (oh, yes that was still this year even if it feels like it was decades ago).

Above all, Australia was lucky rather than smart. Our national government isn’t particularly competent but they managed to step over the low bar that the UK Tories and USA GOP failed on. As I have suggested before, I believe the PR disaster that befell the PM (Scott Morrison) because of his woeful handling of the bushfire crisis resulted in the federal government fearful of a repeat performance.

A current snapshot of covid-19

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted a graph of the covid-19 cases adjusted for population size.

Here’s how the comparable graph looks now:

There’s a jump in Sweden’s numbers that I’m pretty sure is a change in methodology or a data revision around June 3 but I can’t find a note saying that. As always, testing rates, data collection methods and definitions make comparisons between countries dubious. However, the trajectories themselves tell a story.

Back in late March the woeful right-wing news outlet PJMedia was railing against headlines saying that the USA had the most number of cases in the world. It was of course true, within the limits of available data but

“According to their report, the United States, following “a series of missteps,” is now “the epicenter of the pandemic.” But, is it really?”

Well, yes — it really was (again, within the limits of available data). However, the article claimed it wasn’t because (aha!) the US didn’t look so bad if you went with population adjusted stats. The graph at the time looked like this:

I was going to write about it at the time but there was more overt covid-19 nonsense coming from that outlet. It’s a good example though of why one graph is never enough. A single graph is like a two dimensional picture of a three dimensional object except that it’s actually a five or six dimensional object and it is also moving. I like the ‘per million’ graph partly because news media were generally going with headline figures of numbers of cases but they weren’t wrong to do so — I was picking a different graph precisely because it added extra information not because it somehow negated a false impression. The sheer number of cases in the US at that point in time was, indeed, very bad news for the USA because the volume of cases pointed to it being a situation that the US was unlikely to be able to control.

[I should add that the graph above is out of date in a different sense. If we use the tools available from the same source to look back at March 28 the graph now looks a bit different for a couple of countries.

The difference in the two graphs of the same is due changes in methodology as well as data catching up with itself. Yet that fuzzy aspect of ‘current’ data is one way conspiracy theorist try to discredit information]

The raw numbers and the population adjusted numbers told different stories but they were complimentary stories. The US had by late march more cases than it could hope to contain without severe measures. The population adjusted graph also helped illustrate how much worse it could get.

Here is the current graph but for the same countries as the PJMedia one:

[Note: I don’t think the Iran data is reliable and it could be massively worse than what is shown but it was one of the countries picked]

I haven’t written about Covid-19 for awhile

I haven’t written about it much recently because I didn’t have much to say that added to the discussion. In Australia things are opening up again: most schools are open (but not ‘back to normal’), restaurants/cafes have started limited seating and generally people are out and about in shops and offices more. The running total number of cases are low (7 thousand) as are the total number of deaths (102). Luck and timing seem to have made a huge difference here but the big question is how big that reservoir of unobserved infections is. With more wintery weather here and social contact increasing, we’ll need to see if the infection rate starts zipping up again.

Meanwhile, nonsense continues from the usual suspects elsewhere. I’ve seen more than one attempt in conservative and global warming denial circles (but I repeat myself) trying to do a comparison of lockdown policies with infection rates and/or changes in infection rates. The idea is to roughly classify a nation’s response and then look at levels of infection and then (lo and behold) find no connection and declare that lockdowns did nothing.

The reasoning is fallacious. The fallacy is one we’ve seen before: looking at data but stripping out what we already know. Lockdown policies are connected to infection rates in multiple ways. Consider two different examples: Italy and New Zealand.

Italy suffered a massive early spike in infection rates relatively early for a European nation. With hospitals overwhelmed in the north, the country began quarantine measures at a point were relatively little was known and access to testing was limited. As a policy response it was pretty much an extreme emergency measure where authorities had very few options available to them. On the other hand (and in real time, not very long after) New Zealand adopted a strong lockdown policy precisely because the country had very FEW cases. NZ had a shot at an elimination strategy: close off people entering the country, shut down community spread, wait for a few weeks…and (maybe) the virus is gone.

So we have a range of policy measures that have been implemented as a response to quite different circumstances. Among the countries compared, most have significant measures in place of some kind but there is a lot of variety on specific ones (e.g. school closures is quite varied as a policy) and the impact of a government ‘recommending’ as a measure and enforcing a measure is also varied (i.e. in one nation a recommendation might have had a similar practical impact as a mandated policy).

In short, it’s a mess that will require more complex analysis than simply comparing ‘lockdown’ v ‘no lockdown’. The Our World In Data site has a decent overview of policy responses here They also have a kind of aggregate index for a variety of countries ( ). How useful that is, I’m not sure. Again, simply comparing one date with total infections will produce gibberish e.g. currently NZ has a less severe score than Sweden but that hides that NZ had a VERY severe score ten days earlier, so you have not just different levels of severity but different PATTERNS of severity.

What happens next? Different regions have been impacted at different times. Obviously East Asian nations suffered the initial spike, followed by Western Europe and then North America. Cases continue to grow in the USA, although that growth is partly masked by falls in the parts of the US that were impacted first.

This graph shows some selected nations based on previous conversations or places that people have made comparisons between. Different choices of countries might lead to a very different perception of the trajectory. Also, as we’ve discussed before, the extent and efficacy of testing impacts these numbers.

Russia, parts of South America and the Gulf States also have rising numbers. The worldwide spread is far from over.

Whatever happened to Voxopedia?

In 2018 I wrote one of my occasional posts about “Infogalactic” aka Voxopedia, saying:

“Yes, the shambling undead creature assembled from rotting remains of articles discarded by Wikipedia continues to lurch through the countryside occasionally gurgling the word “brrraainnss” (or is it “editorrrrsss”). Somehow it is still not dead despite being edited by a tiny number of people, two of whom seem to be at war over which kind of weird conspiracy theory complex is the right one.”

Although I’ve touched upon the site occasionally since then, the basic situation has remained unchanged. The same small core of editors keep trying to keep it updated with occasional forays into editing out all the “BCE/CE” date designations back to “BC/AD”. Meanwhile, there is a couple more editors using it as a personal blog for their own conspiracy theories and I think maybe as a place to edit a screenplay? It’s amazingly not dead but instead has slowly drifted into irrelevance. There was a point where various alt-right websites would link to it over Wikipedia but sightings have become rare in the wild.

Today though, even Vox Day himself couldn’t be bothered linking to his own vanity wiki:

Yet it had such dreams and ambitions back in 2016 when it first appeared ttps://

By November 2016 the fundamental problem with even maintaining a bad version of Wikipedia was obvious: not enough editors and not enough updates:

People really did sign up in droves. What they didn’t do is start editing or curating. Looking at recent changes today, it is more-or-less the same handful of editors making the same number of editors per day as it was in 2017. Of those, several are just pursuing their own niche articles dedicated to either pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, transphobia, or anti-Semitism.

The development roadmap appears to have stalled in 2017. The encylopedia’s own page on its roadmap ( ) hasn’t been updated since May 2017. None of the promised unique features for the wiki whereby people could somehow see different perspectives on an issue have ever come into being nor, if the technology existed and the concept made sense, would the wiki have enough people to write them.

Back in October 2016 the mood was quite different. In what reads like a weird parody Day announced:

“On Monday night, the Techstars held a meeting, and after a series of intense discussions, it was decided to radically modify our development schedule. Instead of utilizing the existing MediaWiki engine to incorporate the new features we are planning, both the Techstars and the Star Council agreed that Infogalactic will be better served by replacing the MediaWiki engine with a superior engine of our own device, codename DONTPANIC.

We also decided to add additional levels of administration and editing in order to better maintain cohesion in content modification until the preference filters are operational and render content management unnecessary. There will be three levels of Galaxians, create page only, create and add content only, and create, add, and remove content. This will permit the Starlords to more easily contain and constrain the behavior of any editors whose behavior is not in line with the Seven Canons or the objectives of the Star Council.”

A better summary of the state of wiki is provided by this page on “Infogalactic”

Mr Praline enters the pet shop to register a complaint about the dead Norwegian Blue parrot just as the shopkeeper is preparing to close the establishment for lunch. Despite being told that the bird is deceased and that it had been nailed to its perch, the proprietor insists that it is “pining for the fjords” or simply “stunned”.

As this is technically a blogiversay round-up post, I’ll leave you with my favourite post on the topic: the time Voxopedia had an argument with me about whether pi=4 [spoiler: it doesn’t]

Blogiversary: Greatest Hits

Five years of all this nonsense but what nonsense were people reading and when? I’m down here in the archive stacks of Felapton Towers and blowing the dust off the weird old filing cabinets to find out. These posts are just the numbers-game hits rather than special favourites and often other factors drove the traffic to them.


The first year out for the blog and Puppy-kerfuffling was already in full on kerfluff.


2016 was the year that the unreality field started spilling out everywhere.


2017 was dominated by Rabid Puppy shenanigans. In particular Vox Day’s spoiler campaign for John Scalzi’s new sci-fi trilogy.


I was downloading a report from an online database the other day and I was entering a date range. I wanted to cover the whole set of records which started in 2011. So I picked 2011/1/1 as the start date and that day’s date which I typed as 2018/5/8. What? I think my brain stopped updating the year and I’ve been stuck in 2018 ever since.

The reality dysfunction was going full-on as world politics got even stranger. Meanwhile this blog was forced into self-referentiality as I got caught up in my own Sad Puppy kerbungle and then later became a Hugo Finalist.


At the very start of January 2019 I considered winding down the blog. Later I decided to post something every day. I’m fickle. Surprisingly, it was the Nebula Awards that drove traffic to the blog.


The year isn’t finished yet but it started on fire and followed up with a global pandemic. This is a first-quarter list but I think some of the themes for the year are clear…

Larry Correia bullshits about anti-infection measures

To be fair to the ÜberPuppy (and I do try to be fair) he’s largely avoided some of the worst nonsense of his erstwhile colleagues. Some of his posts on the topic of covid-19 have even verged on the sensible. He’s not the one we can expect quack cures or the more outlandish conspiracy theories from. However, when his ‘side’ keeps repeatedly making fools of themselves, there’s a point where he can’t just taking it any more and has to find a way to argue that no-no-its-the-left-that-are-the-stupidheads.

Today he is attempting to defend the Hoyt-style anti-lockdown protestors by linking their demands with the potential of pandemic-related famine in third-world nations.

“But don’t worry, if millions of poor people starve in the third world now, the same smug fucks who’ve been yelling at us to shut down everything for the last couple of months will take zero blame for that. I’m willing to bet that when/if this happens, they’ll still be out there, signalling their virtue from their comfy homes, because They Care So Hard.”

Says Larry, busy signalling his virtue from his comfy home. Despite never showing much concern for the food security of third-world nations, now the people of the developing world have a new champion in Larry Correia. Not that he has any solution to the possible food shortages other than vaguely attacking people who are criticising other people who want an end to the US measures (endorsed by a conservative federal government) designed to limit the impact of the pandemic.

“But that’s okay. You guys with the spicy memes, and your work from home jobs, and savings in the bank, just keep on pretending that everything is simple. Right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, your shit don’t stink, and anybody who disagrees with your hot take, well it can only be because they’re a fool. That guy who lost his job, business, and is worried about losing his house, or how he’s gonna feed his kids? He’s dumb. You’re the real champion.”

And so on. Rather like the “comfy home” jibe, the response is remarkably self-descriptive. While trying to avoid overtly supporting the anti-lockdown protests (so he can later say that he never did), his argument absolutely depends on pretending that everything is simple. The simplicity is the same error we see from the anti-lockdown protestors and can be summed up in a set of fallacies:

FALLACY ONE: The anti-lockdown fallacy: There’s no bad economic consequences to ending lockdown/social-distancing measures and all the bad economic outcomes currently (and projected) are due to those measures.

It’s a massive fallacy and once you identify it you can see it everywhere, not just among ideological extremists like Hoyt (for example) but even in more mainstream news. The truth is that an uncontrolled pandemic would 1. have severe economic impacts and 2. those impacts would be harder to mitigate. Fear fuelled by spikes in infections and by waves of overwhelmed health and emergency services would be devastating to the economy more so than measures because business would have no framework around which to plan. This is a point I’ve been talking around on a few occasions when looking at different national strategies: they actually need to be strategies that result in confidence from the population. Capitalist economies absolutely require public confidence to function. Lockdowns or not, a population (or even just a proportion of a population) needs to have confidence in the short-term future to keep spending and to keep the economy going.

The second aspect of the fallacy, is that lockdown measures can be guaranteed to be avoided. That is not the case. A nation or a state might get lucky and with a low starting rate of infection and a top-notch healthcare structure, avoid infection rates soaring to the points were they face an imminent collapse of healthcare provision (thus compounding deaths) but once infection rates do hit extreme levels then absolutely you are going to end up with far more extreme quarantine measures. Avoiding those extremes is why more moderate measures to keep infection rates lower make sense.

But, but what about famine! Firstly let’s go back to the fallacy one. Getting your local bookstore to re-open isn’t going to get wheat to southern Africa*. The pandemic itself is disrupting the economy but also, measures beyond the personal impact that the anti-lockdown protests are moaning about would also need to be lifted (eg movement of seasonal farm workers). That doesn’t mean we should collectivity shrug our shoulders about the impacts of the virus. On the contrary, anti-pandemic measures REQUIRE measures to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic. Such measures include trying to reduce financial insecurity or food insecurity. However, that takes us to the other big fallacy that Larry leaves unspoken:

FALLACY TWO: The libertarian fallacy. The only solution to poor economic outcomes is more free-markets and the government can only make things worse.

It is, of course, bollocks. Aside from the more genuine (and fringe) libertarians, the pseudo-libertarians like Larry carve out a big exemption to this clause for the military and for war. As I’ve discussed before, this is because they are fine with the idea of the state being a punitive body. What they object to is the state ever helping people. Yet here we are in a circumstance that the best thing to do if you want CAPITALISM to keep going is for the government to hand people free money.

Of course that is much easier said than done in a nation where decades of effort has gone into demonising any support from government and making the process of government as ungainly (and as punitive) as possible. Buying into Reagan’s malicious lie (or pandering to it as the Democratic Party has done) for decades means that the US doesn’t have social infrastructure or the healthcare infrastructure to cope with either a pandemic OR to cope with the impact of measures to mitigate a pandemic.

Which takes me to Larry’s third unspoken fallacy — the other unwritten error made visible by the obvious gaps in his thinking:

FALLACY THREE: The nationalist fallacy. International cooperation is not possible.

There is potential famine, there are crops. This is not an unsolvable problem but nor is it a simple problem. In a different timeline, it would be exactly the sort of problem that a nation with a huge food production industry, a strong central executive government structure and huge international influence could do a lot to solve. Unfortunately, America currently is led by somebody incapable**. Yet, while America’s capacity to act is hampered, that doesn’t mean international cooperation is impossible. Physical international trade hasn’t ceased. Working around the impact of a pandemic isn’t impossible but it requires nations acting in concert.

Of course, when we put fallacy two and three together, the ideological implications become a bit clearer.

  • If government could mitigate economic down turns during a pandemic…then they could do so in other kinds of recessions.
  • If government could intervene to help people get the care they need during a pandemic…then they could do so at any time.
  • If government can help reduce world hunger during a pandemic…then they could do so whenever people were going hungry.
  • If governments around the world can act collectively during a pandemic…then they could do so with other global issues such as…

As I pointed out over a month ago, one major advantage Australia has had (aside from being an island obviously) during this pandemic was the 2007 general election. When the global financial crisis hit, the government of the day went full into stimulus measures rather than austerity measures (or half-hearted stimulus). The resulting relatively mild impact of the GFC shifted the conventional economic wisdom in Canberra to ‘in case of emergency spend money’. Consequently the conservative-leaning government here could politically ditch their existing economic policy and start spending. That doesn’t mean the economic impact of the pandemic has been easy in Australia but it does mean it is so much easier to get people on board with the measures. That means, maybe (and we’ve still got winter to go) Australia will be able to get back to a BAU economy quicker.

But let’s return to Larry Correia’s bullshit. It is, frankly, bullshit. He has a fairly obvious tell when he’s bullshitting because most of the time he’s big on how well-off he is and ideologically he’s very much in the rugged-individualist if you are well off it’s because you worked hard and who gives a shit about other countries etc etc. So when he starts chiding people for living in ‘comfy homes’ or starts crocodile tears about ‘guy who lost his job, business, and is worried about losing his house, or how he’s gonna feed his kids’ or third-world hunger, you have to wonder why the guy who lost his job before the pandemic (and was worried about losing his house, his healthcare etc) or the level of food insecurity not just in developing nations but in his own nation never warranted his concern?

I can’t even given him points for originality. The sudden concern for developing nations from people who normally are disparaging about them has been a feature of people arguing against measure to combat global warming for decades. The argument has been that limitations on fossil fuels will hamper developing economies. Of course, this argument is also accompanied by a claim that isn’t fair if more prosperous nations have to have stricter emission reduction targets because fallacy-mongers love nothing more than both having their cake and eating it to.

BUT the other big tell is there utter lack of substance in his post. It is nothing but chiding of imaginary people. There is a vacuum at the centre. No genuine analysis but also zero solutions. He offers no way forward nor does he even have the intestinal fortitude to even side explicitly with the anti-lockdown protestors. It’s no difference to his anti-anti-Trump stance: ever keen to establish that he personally doesn’t like Trump but forever wagging his primary-school-principal fingers at the naughty children who ever dare criticise Trump. It is simply political cowardice.

*[Worth pointing out that he didn’t even read the article he was pointing to which states:

“This hunger crisis, experts say, is global and caused by a multitude of factors linked to the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing interruption of the economic order: the sudden loss in income for countless millions who were already living hand-to-mouth; the collapse in oil prices; widespread shortages of hard currency from tourism drying up; overseas workers not having earnings to send home; and ongoing problems like climate change, violence, population dislocations and humanitarian disasters.”

*[ I initially wrote ‘…incapable of’ and was wondering what word to use next and then realised it didn’t need the ‘of’.]

A small denial update

A short follow up on the pro-virus faction. Sarah Hoyt is promoting a protest today in Colorado in a big red font “GRIDLOCK PROTEST AT THE CAPITOL TODAY AT ONE.

On April 4 I wrote this post with a section looking at Colorado specifically.

Colorado isn’t a mysterious far away planet. We can literally go and see how Covid-19 is progressing in the state. I’ll use the John Hopkins University visualisation tool for tracking confirmed Covid-19 cases that is available here: The tool allows you to drill down to state (and within state) data in the USA. Colorado (pop. 5.696 million) currently (April 4 6:50 Sydney time) has 3,742 confirmed cases of Covid-19. For comparison, New South Wales (pop. 7.544 million) has 2,389 confirmed cases and that’s with long established Chinese communities (that Hoyt seems to regard as the only risk factor) as well as Sydney being a major cruise ship destination (an actually pertinent risk factor).

In the time since the number of cases in Colorado has reached 9,440 (as of 5 am April 20 Sydney time) with 411 deaths. The comparison I made then was with NSW but those figures now well exceed the whole country of Australia (6,457 cases, 71 deaths). NSW confirmed cases is currently 2,926.

Here is my other fear. We know that Covid-19 isn’t the worst case scenario, even given how bad it is. We will face worse and this current crisis is a dress rehearsal. Counterfactual beliefs on the right only become MORE entrenched and so the next major pandemic in a window of say 20 years will be met with more strident denial from the right earlier.