It is easy to overdo COVID-19 quarantines

We have learned historically that if we can isolate sick people, we can often keep a communicable disease from spreading. Unfortunately, the situation with the new coronavirus causing COVID-19 is different: We can’t reliability determine which people are spreading the disease. Furthermore, the disease seems to transmit in many different ways simultaneously.

Politicians and health organizations like to show that they are “doing something.” Because of the strange nature of COVID-19, however, doing something is mostly a time-shifting exercise: With quarantines and other containment efforts, there will be fewer cases now, but this will be mostly or entirely offset by more cases later. Whether time-shifting reduces deaths and eases hospital care depends upon whether medical advances are sufficiently great during the time gained to improve outcomes.

We tend to lose sight of the fact that an economy cannot simply be shut down for a period and then start up again at close to its former level of production. China seems to have seriously overdone its use of quarantines. It seems likely that its economy can never fully recover. The permanent loss of a significant part of China’s productive output seems likely to send the world economy into a tailspin, regardless of what other economies do.

Before undertaking containment efforts of any kind, decision-makers need to look carefully at several issues:

  • Laying off workers, even for a short time, severely adversely affects the economy.
  • The expected length of delay in cases made possible by quarantines is likely to be very short, sometimes lasting not much longer than the quarantines themselves.
  • We seem to need a very rapid improvement in our ability to treat COVID-19 cases for containment efforts to make sense, if we cannot stamp out the disease completely.

Because of these issues, it is very easy to overdo quarantines and other containment efforts.

In the sections below, I explain some parts of this problem.

[1] The aim of coronavirus quarantines is mostly to slow down the spread of the virus, not to stop its spread.

As a practical matter, it is virtually impossible to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

In order to completely stop its spread, we would need to separate each person from every other person, as well as from possible animal carriers, for something like a month. In this way, people who are carriers for the disease or actually have the disease would hopefully have time to get over their illnesses. Perhaps airborne viruses would dissipate and viruses on solid surfaces would have time to deteriorate.

This clearly could not work. People would need to be separated from their children and pets. All businesses, including food sales, would have to stop. Electricity would likely stop, especially in areas where storms bring down power lines. No fuel would be available for vehicles of any kind. If a home catches fire, the fire would need to burn until a lack of material to burn stops it. If a baby needs to be delivered, there would be no midwife or hospital services available. If a person happened to have an appendicitis, it would simply need to resolve itself at home, however that worked out.

Bigger groups could in theory be quarantined together, but then the length of time for the quarantine would need to be greatly lengthened, to account for the possibility that one person might catch the disease from someone else in the group. The bigger the group, the longer the chain might continue. A group might be a single family sharing a home; it could also be a group of people in an apartment building that shares a common ventilation system.

[2] An economy is in many ways like a human being or other animal. Its operation cannot be stopped for a month or more, without bringing the economy to an end. 

I sometimes write about the economy being a self-organizing networked system that is powered by energy. In physics terms, the name for such a system is a dissipative structure. Human beings are dissipative structures, as are hurricanes and stars, such as the sun.

Human beings cannot stop eating and breathing for a month. They cannot have sleep apnea for an hour at a time, and function afterward.

Economies cannot stop functioning for a month and afterward resume operations at their previous level. Too many people will have lost their jobs; too many businesses will have failed in the meantime. If the closures continue for two or three months, the problem becomes very serious. We are probably kidding ourselves if we think that China can come back to the same level that it was at before the new coronavirus hit.

In a way, keeping an economy operating is as important as preventing deaths from COVID-19. Without food, water and wage-producing jobs (which allow people to buy necessary goods and services), the deaths from the loss of the economy would be far greater than the direct deaths from the coronavirus.

[3] A reasonable guess is that nearly all of us will face multiple exposures to the new coronavirus. 

Many people are hoping that this wave of the coronavirus will be stopped by warmer weather, perhaps in May or June. We don’t know whether this will happen or not. If the coronavirus does stop, there is a good chance the same virus, or a close variation of it, will be back again this fall. It is likely to come back in waves later, for at least one more year. In fact, if no vaccine is found, it is possible that it could come back, in various variations, indefinitely. There are many things we simply don’t know with certainty at this time.

Epidemiologists talk about the spread of a virus being stopped at the community immunity level. Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch originally estimated that 40% to 70% of the world’s population would come down with COVID-19 within the first year. He has revised this and now states that it is plausible that 20% to 60% of the world’s population will catch the disease in that timeframe. He also indicates that if the virus cannot be contained, the only way to get it under control is for 50% of the world’s population to become immune to it.

The big issue with containing the coronavirus is that we cannot really tell who has it and who does not. The tests available for COVID-19 are expensive, so giving the test to everyone, frequently, makes no sense. The tests tend to give a many false negatives, so even when they are given, they don’t necessarily detect people with the disease. There are also many people who seem to spread the disease without symptoms. Without testing everyone, these people will never be found.

We hear limited statements such as “The United States surgeon general said Sunday that he thinks the coronavirus outbreak is being contained in certain areas of the country as cases of the virus rise across the United States.” Unfortunately, containment of the virus in a few parts of the world does not solve the general problem. There are lots and lots of uncontained cases around the world. These uncontained cases will continue to spread, regardless of the steps taken elsewhere.

Furthermore, even when we think the virus is contained, there are likely to be missed cases, especially among people who seem to be well, but who really are carriers. Getting rid of the virus is likely to be a major challenge.

[4] There is an advantage to delaying citizens from catching COVID-19. The delay allows doctors to learn which existing medications can be used to help treat the symptoms of the disease.

There seem to be multiple drugs and multiple therapies that work to some limited extent.

For example, plasma containing antibodies from a person who has already had the illness can be injected into a person with the disease, helping to fight the disease. It is not clear, however, whether such a treatment will protect against future attacks of the virus since the patient is being cured without his own immune system producing adequate antibodies.

Some HIV drugs are being examined to see whether they work well enough for it to make sense to ramp up production of them. The antiviral drug remdesivir by Gilead Sciences also seems to have promise. For these drugs to be useful in fighting COVID-19, production would need to be ramped up greatly.

In theory, there is also a possibility that a vaccine can be brought to market that will get rid of the virus. Our past experience with vaccine-making has not been very good, however. Out of 200+ virus-caused diseases that affect humans, only about 20 have vaccines. These vaccines generally need to be updated frequently, because viruses tend to mutate over time.

With some viruses, such as Dengue Fever, people don’t ever build up adequate immunity to the many disease variations that exist. Instead a person who catches Dengue Fever a second time is likely to be sicker than the first time. Finding a vaccine for such diseases seems to be almost impossible.

Even if we can actually succeed in making a vaccine that works, the expectation seems to be that this will take at least 12 to 18 months. By this time, the world may have experienced multiple waves of COVID-19.

[5] There are multiple questions regarding how well European countries, Japan and the United States will really be able to treat coronavirus.

There are several issues involved:

(a) Even if medicines are identified, can they be ramped up adequately in the short time available?

(b) China’s exports have dropped significantly. Required medical goods that we normally import from China may not be available. The missing items could be as simple as rubbing alcohol, masks and other protective wear. The missing items could also be antibiotics, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications that are needed for both COVID-19 patients and other patients.

(c) Based on my calculations, the number of hospital beds and ICU beds needed will likely exceed those available (without kicking out other patients) by at least a factor of 10, if the size of the epidemic grows. There will also be a need for more medical staff. Medical staff may be fewer, rather than more, because many of them will be out sick with the virus. Because of these issues, the amount of hospital-based care that can actually be provided to COVID-19 patients is likely to be fairly limited.

(d) One reason for time-shifting of illnesses has been to try to better match illnesses with medical care available. The main benefit I can see is the fact that many health care workers will have contracted the illness in the first wave of the disease, so will be more available to give care in later waves of the disease. Apart from this difference, the system will be badly overwhelmed, regardless of when COVID-19 cases occur.

[6] A major issue, both with COVID-19 illnesses and with quarantines arising out of fear of illness, is wage loss

If schools and day care centers are closed because of COVID-19 fears, many of the parents will have to take off time from work to care for the children. These parent will likely lose wages.

Wage loss will also be a problem if quarantines are required for people returning from an area that might be affected. For example, immigrant workers in China wanting to return to work in major cities after the New Year’s holiday have been quarantined for 14 days after they return.

Clearly, expenses (such as rent, food and auto payments) will continue, both for the mother of the child who is at home because a child’s school is closed and for the migrant worker who wants to return to a job in the city. Their lack of wages will mean that these people will make fewer discretionary purchases, such as visiting restaurants and making trips to visit relatives. In fact, migrant workers, when faced with a 14 day quarantine, may decide to stay in the countryside. If they don’t earn very much in the best of times, and they are required to go 14 days without pay after they return, there may not be much incentive to return to work.

If I am correct that the illness COVID-19 will strike in several waves, these same people participating in quarantines will have another “opportunity” for wage loss when they actually contract the disease, during one of these later rounds. Unless there is a real reduction in the number of people who ultimately get COVID-19 because of quarantines, a person would expect that the total wage loss would be greater with quarantines than without, because the wage loss occurs twice instead of once.

Furthermore, businesses will suffer financially when their workers are out. With fewer working employees, businesses will likely be able to produce fewer finished goods and services than in the past. At the same time, their fixed expenses (such as mortgage payments, insurance payments, and the cost of heating buildings) will continue. This mismatch is likely to lead to lower profits at two different times: (a) when workers are out because of quarantines and (b) when they are out because they are ill.

[7] We likely can expect a great deal more COVID-19 around the world, including in China and in Italy, in the next two years.

The number of reported COVID-19 cases to date is tiny, compared to the number that is expected based on estimates by epidemiologists. China reports about 81,000 COVID-19 cases to date, while its population is roughly 1.4 billion. If epidemiologists tell us to expect 20% to 60% of a country’s population to be affected by the end of the first year of the epidemic, this would correspond to a range of 280 million to 840 million cases. The difference between reported cases and expected cases is huge. Reported cases to date are less than 0.01% of the population.

We know that China’s reported number of cases is an optimistically low number, but we don’t know how low. Many, many more cases are expected in the year ahead if workers go back to work. In fact, there have been recent reports of a COVID-19 outbreak in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, near Hong Kong. Such an outbreak would adversely affect China’s manufactured exports.

Italy has a similar situation. It is currently reported to have somewhat more than 10,000 cases. Its total population is about 60 million. Thus, its number of cases amounts to about 0.02% of the population. If Epidemiologist Lipsitch is correct regarding the percentage of the population that is ultimately likely to be affected, the number of cases in Italy, too, can be expected to be much higher within the next year. Twenty percent of a population of 60 million would amount to 12 million cases; 60% of the population would amount to 36 million cases.

[8] When decisions about quarantines are made, the expected wage loss when workers lose their jobs needs to be considered as well. 

Let’s calculate the amount of wage loss from actually having COVID-19. If workers generally work for 50 weeks a year and are out sick for an average of 2 weeks because of COVID-19, the average worker would lose 4% (=2/50) of his annual wages. If workers are out sick for an average of three weeks, this would increase the loss to 6% (3/50) of the worker’s annual wages.

Of course, not all workers will be affected by the new coronavirus. If we are expecting 20% to 60% of the workers to be out sick during the first year that the epidemic cycles through the economy, the expected overall wage loss for the population as a whole would amount to 0.8% (=20% times 4%) to 3.6% (=60% times 6%) of total wages.

Let’s now calculate the wage loss from a quarantine. A week of wage loss during a quarantine of the entire population, while nearly everyone is well, would lead to a wage loss equal to 2% of the population’s total wages. Two weeks of wage loss during quarantine would lead to wage loss equal to 4% of the population’s total wages.

Is it possible to reduce overall wage loss and deaths by using quarantines? This approach works for diseases which can actually be stopped through isolating sick members, but I don’t think it works well at all for COVID-19. Mostly, it provides a time-shifting feature. There are fewer illnesses earlier, but to a very significant extent, this is offset by more illnesses later.  This time-shifting feature might be helpful if there really is a substantial improvement in prevention or treatment that is quickly available. For example, if a vaccine that really works can be found quickly, such a vaccine might help prevent some of the illnesses and deaths in 2021 and following years.

If there really isn’t an improvement in preventing the disease, then we get back to the situation where the virus needs to be stopped based on community immunity. According to Lipsitch, to stop the virus based on community immunity, at least 50% of the population would need to become immune. This implies that somewhat more than 50% of the population would need to catch the new coronavirus, because some people would catch the new virus and die, either of COVID-19 or of another disease.

Let’s suppose that 55% would need to catch COVID-19 to allow the population immunity to rise to 50%. The virus would likely need to keep cycling around until at least this percentage of the population has caught the disease. This is not much of a decrease from the upper limit of 60% during the first year. This suggests that moving illnesses to a later year may not help much at all with respect to the expected number of illnesses and deaths. Hospitals will be practically equally overwhelmed regardless, unless we can somehow change the typical seasonality of viruses and move some of the winter illnesses to summertime.

If there is no improvement in COVID-19 prevention/treatment during the time-shift of cases created by the quarantine, any quarantine wage loss can be thought of as being simply in addition to wage loss from having the virus itself. Thus, a country that opts for a two week quarantine of all workers (costing 4% of workers’ wages) may be more than doubling the direct wage loss from COVID-19 (equivalent to 0.8% to 3.6% of workers’ wages).

[9] China’s shutdown in response to COVID-19 doesn’t seem to make much rational sense.

It is hard to understand exactly how much China has shut down, but the shutdown has gone on for about six weeks. At this point, it is not clear that China can ever come back to the level it was at previously. Clearly, the combination of wage loss for individuals and profit loss for companies is very high. The long shutdown is likely to lead to widespread debt defaults. With less wages, there is likely to be less demand for goods such as cars and cell phones during 2020.

China was having difficulty before the new coronavirus was discovered to be a problem. Its energy production has slowed greatly, starting about 2012-2013, making it necessary for China to start shifting from a goods-producing nation to a country that is more of a services-producer (Figure 1).

Figure 1. China energy production by fuel, based on 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy data. “Other Ren” stands for “Renewables other than hydroelectric.” This category includes wind, solar, and other miscellaneous types, such as sawdust burned for electricity.

 

For example, China’s workers now put together iPhones using parts made in other countries, rather than making iPhones from start to finish. This part of the production chain requires relatively little fuel, so it is in some sense more like a service than the manufacturing of parts for the phone.

The rest of the world has been depending upon China to be a major supplier within its supply lines. Perhaps many of these supply lines will be broken indefinitely. Instead of China helping pull the world economy along faster, we may be faced with a situation in which China’s reduced output leads to worldwide economic contraction rather than economic growth.

Without medicines from China, our ability to fight COVID-19 may get worse over time, rather than better. In such a case, it would be better to get the illness now, rather than later.

[10] We need to be examining proposed solutions closely, in the light of the particulars of the new coronavirus, rather than simply assuming that fighting COVID-19 to the death is appropriate.

The instructions we hear today seem to suggest using disinfectants everywhere, to try to prevent COVID-19. This is yet another way to try to push off infections caused by the coronavirus into the future. We know, however, that there are good microbes as well as bad ones. The ecosystem requires a balance of microbes. Dumping disinfectants everywhere has its downside, as well as the possibility of an upside of killing the current round of coronaviruses. In fact, to the extent that the virus is airborne, the disinfectants may not really be very helpful in wiping out COVID-19.

It is very easy to believe that if some diseases can be subdued by quarantines, the same approach will work everywhere. This really isn’t true. We need to be examining the current situation closely, based on whatever information is available, before decisions are made regarding how to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Perhaps any quarantines used need to be small and targeted.

We also need to be looking for new approaches for fighting COVID-19. One approach that is not being used significantly to date is trying to strengthen people’s own immune systems. Such an approach might help people’s own immune system to fight off the disease, thereby lowering death rates. Nutrition experts recommend supplementing diets with Vitamins A, C, E, antioxidants and selenium. Other experts say zinc, Vitamin D and elderberry may be helpful. Staying away from cold temperatures also seems to be important. Drinking plenty of water after coming down with the disease may be beneficial as well. If we can help people’s own bodies fight the disease, the burden on the medical system will be lower.

 

This entry was posted in Financial Implications and tagged , , , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.

4,403 thoughts on “It is easy to overdo COVID-19 quarantines

  1. Also many thanks to all you commenting.
    OFW is a place of great thoughts being shared.

  2. Looking forward:

    1. Currently in Italy if I understand correctly, those over 80 are being triaged which is a not so subtle way of saying the Dr. is busy and will not see you now.

    2. Sales taxes must be down for local communities and state governments.

    3. Social Security and Medicare seem like a good bet for reform, gen Z is basically partying on and saying the heck with it. There is very little in it for them. See paragraph 1 for a not so subtle solution.

    4. Higher education will see big changes, there really isn’t much reason to attend a personal class other than it is very nice social interaction, many classes are really useless in a practical sense although pleasant intellectually. Colleges are bloated with administration, it seems a difficult area to cut. Simple solution: examinations not unlike boards for medicine, dentistry, examinations similar to those for master plumbers, real estate brokers, etc.

    5. Student housing might have been a very poor investment in retrospect, it is over built and very expensive.

    6. Solid marriages may be become the norm, cheaper for two to live together than separately – this could have a major impact on housing. Common children given a common bond, there is a reason children of two different marriages are called “step.”

    7. One might wonder about the viability of retirement villages. Capital gains income seems in doubt and investment income is hard to come by. This AM watched a video about the villages in FL, everything except golf seems to be shut down, all the reasons a person moves there.

    8. As for automobile sales, perhaps wind back incomes in time to where they are effectively at today and compare houses at that time and the number of two car garages Again with stable marriages, fewer people need work, fewer cars.

    9. Feminism, is it dead? Certainly it did not work out well in the presidential area although one has to wonder who will be Biden’s running mate and should he win by default the next president of the US. We are at a weird time where two very old men are running for the highest office in the land.

    Dennis L.

    • I would agree with you on most of those things.

      I would add:

      (1) Adding extra toll lanes on highways, and in fact, roads paid for by tolls in general, seems like it will be a losing proposition. Related bonds will likely default.

      (2) The medical care system will change dramatically. We will likely lose access to drugs requiring inputs from China. With coronavirus going on endlessly, doctors will remain afraid of treating people face to face. People with multiple health problems will decide not to get elective surgery, since hospitals will be a place where it is easy to get infected by COVID-19.

    • I work in higher education, and agree with you on 4. The main things preventing it so far are inertia, lingering prejudice against external degrees or virtual education, (at elite schools) branding and networking opportunities, (outside the USA) government regulations, and (inside the USA) the fact that the “college experience” is a major reason to attend.

      On 6, there is some indication that quarantines have led to divorces, since spending so much time together has led to disharmony. Once this wave subsides, the next generation will have to consider whether marriage is worth it, or whether they can afford it. (In earlier centuries it was more or less economically necessary.)

      If civilization collapses, then feminism will be dead (men will be farmers or gangsters, women will stay in the house, and no one will get much of an education). I don’t think we’re there yet. My female relatives and connections, I surmise, still expect things like respect and equal treatment, though who knows where desperation may drive us in the future.

      Biden’s promise to nominate a woman strikes me as not much different than the earlier tradition of “balancing the ticket” between a Northerner and a Southerner (a postbellum custom that only ended with the Clinton / Gore “double Bubba” ticket). It really depends on which woman he picks. (Remember the Sarah Palin fiasco?) As you may know, Taiwan’s president is female–this was the first thing the Western media noticed about her, it took them some time to appreciate her more specific qualities!

    • Trump will get four more years. There are no real other candidates, just former losers of campaigns and other nobodies.

  3. We know a person who baby sat a child with a stomach flu. She caught it. She called her doctor. Doctor would not let her come to the office. Doctor declared it to be CV19. Not satisfied this woman work her way through the government levels none of whom would test her. But happily she works in a hospital. She got tested, no CV19. A large part of what is going on is theater.

    p.s. her hospital a hospital that serves two counties has ZERO case, ZERO deaths. located 1300 miles north of NYC.

      • 1300 miles north would be good right about now. Ed whats the problem? You have expressed a desire for this event or one like it for as long as I remember.

        • If it is 90% yes or better 99%. A boring 2% kill of old people (myself included) to make social security and medicare more likely to be funded not so exciting/interesting. But yes, embrace the cull stop wasting effort pretending humans can control everything.

          • I’m in your camp Ed. This thing has been WAY overblown. The only thing this is going to do is KILL the fraudulent global eCONomy. Then we’ll watch the puppet masters we’ve their magic by not letting a good crisis go to waste. As we watch cash being banned so they can institute their long awaited “cashless society” and Bill Gates ID2020.

  4. Today all seems calm . Market up. But if virus arrive Milano…market must closed?

  5. Had to cancel trip from NYC to LA today after governor of California suggested closing all hotels in California. It was bad enough the show was cancelled but sleeping in the rental car that was the straw that broke the tourists back.

  6. New York State shuts all “non essential” businesses. How does this work? Until when? Until 95% of people test exposed? When will we have mass testing? Forced testing? Only those who have not been exposed and can get sick must stay home? Exposed have developed immunity?

    Number at local hospital ZERO. Number of respirators ZERO.

    More and more it looks like a manufactured event. To what purpose I wonder.

    • I STILL think the disease was real because of China’s strong-arm attempt at containing it. .China is not very cooperative when it comes to international things–whether it be IP or manufactured events so it must have been real. However, there’s a lot of uncertainty about where exactly it came from–the meat market story that was widely circulated has been redacted. The symptoms are unclear. One source claims people can spread it by breathing whereas the CDC doesn’t acknowledge this. The CDC doesn’t acknowledge that asymptomatic people can spread it even though everyone else believes it!* The demographics of the people who are dying are being hidden for the most part. I have read as much as I can about it and I feel like I know no more than I did last month.”Experts are still unsure” is what’s driving the fear and hording. It’s like this thing eludes scientific understanding.

      *https://www.sciencealert.com/researchers-confirmed-patients-can-transmit-the-coronavirus-without-showing-symptoms

  7. Prepare for COMET-19 “spectacle” compounding the effects of COVID-19.

    https://www.space.com/comet-atlas-may-be-brightenting.html
    “ The possible celestial showpiece is known as Comet ATLAS, or C/2019 Y4. When it was discovered on Dec. 28, 2019, it was quite faint, but since then, it has been brightening so rapidly that astronomers have high hopes for the spectacle it could put on.”

    Oo-rah 💣

      • Ghost of Fred Hoyle! I have some notion of where you may have gotten this impression, but let me assure you that this line of thought is, at best, highly speculative.

        • It does not quite look like the comet impact where viruses would survive a gigaton blast.

          If life is of interstellar origin, then fungi spores “hitchhiking” along the enormous electromagnetic currents between stars and galaxies are much more likely.

          https://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/m_features/fungi-are-responsible-for-life-on-land-as-we-know-it
          “Fungi were some of the first complex life forms on land, mining rocks for mineral nourishment, slowly turning them into what would become soil. In the Late Ordovician era, they formed a symbiotic relationship with liverworts, the earliest plants.”

          As old as the rock on earth, if not older.

        • As yes, Fred Hoyle. He calculated the probability of a DNA strand evolving spontaneously, and found it ridiculously low. The hidden (false) assumption, of course, is that it had to evolve all at once. It didn’t. the error was pointed out by Arthur Koestler, documenting a story by Herbert Simon, and starring two imaginary watchmakers, Bios and Mekhos. The latter tries to assemble a complex machine all at once, and fails. The latter assemble a bunch of smaller components, each simple, and then aggregates them systematically, and succeeds. His thesis is that Nature uses the former technique, which indeed seems supported by the evidence from evolutionary biology. The “watchmakers”, of course, are a tribute to William Paley.

          • “The latter assemble a bunch of smaller components” Sorry, sorry, brain error. Read it as “The FORMER assembles, …”

            I wish the reply box were long enough to allow one to read at least a paragraph at a time.

          • Interesting.
            But in the end the watch is still a complex system that resulted from a design process. Even if the process has been sliced in multiple simple processes of smaller les complex component designs. The overall process is still comPlex. It’s just a common engineering method. It  doesn’t give  higher probability for the watch to be randomly assembled. The natural path seems to be entropy. To lessen entropy, it seems you need energy,… and design?

            • Thank you, and I agree with all your points. First, life is a dissipative system; it requires an energy gradient to function. It other words, it is parasitic upon the “negative entropy” of some existing system: initially the thermal vents on the ocean floor, later (after the invention of photosynthesis) the Sun.

              Secondly, living things are indeed designed: they are designed by their environment. That was Darwin’s key insight in the Galapagos Islands, that the beaks of the birds were adapted to the characteristics of the plants they fed on.

              Finally, this design is indeed incremental, small step by small step. This is covered in what I think is Richard Dawkins’ best book, “Climbing Mount Improbable”. But then, watches were designed small step by small step, so again we agree.

              But there remains one open issue. It is agreed that selection is non random: slower gazelles are unlikely to survive. But are mutations random? In other words, is a mutant gazelle as likely to be slower as faster? We don’t know, but my instinct is that they are not: over the ages, living things have evolved “the ability to evolve”, expressed as a tendency for more mutations than average to be beneficial. If so, this trait should be strongest in the organisms that evolve most rapidly. Can you say “corona viruses”?

  8. The weakening human population suffered the first strong hit on the way of its decline. This virus is not an accident. And not the worst and the last of the plagues that will finish the you man dominance.

    I guess that due to the energy decline, the social life and work will further diminish (no going to school, no needless offices and shopping centers) and the dispersed human population will become normal, as we have the technology that can bridge the distances efficiently.

    There is no way back.

    • I expect technology will be lost quickly. Not enough raw materials from China, for example. Prices of raw materials cannot stay high enough to make the operation worthwhile.

      • The technology is a part of the human environment/habitat. The question is what technologies are required in the depleted world with the dispersed human environments.

        We can not separate the humans and the technology. Once the technology is lost, the humans are finished.

        We do not know, maybe the humans will be 99 % eliminated, but 1 % survives using the stocks of the produced devices and the stored energy supplies for decades.

        • Mankind doesn’t need technology to survive, even in a depleted world. What is needed is knowledge, labor, common sense, solidarity and a humble attitude towards nature.

          • You have written a piece of usual naive rubbish. There is no such thing as a nature that loves humans. The humans can not survive in the nature, they live in the habitats which they create from available resources. E.g. when the arable land is abandoned, it is replaced by forest. The forest is a habitat of the forest species. The arable land is the habitat of the humans. And the creation and the maintenance of the arable land requires energy, i.e. the supply of the fertilizer.

            The hunter-gatherers never created a civilization, as hunting and gathering consumes a lot of energy of the human body, not only hunting and gathering, but living in competition with predators and pests that attack the food you eat.

            • Of course creation and maintenance of arable land requires energy. But that can be done by humans and animal labour. Agriculture was there before we started to use synthetic fertilizers.

            • “Beavers cannot survive in nature; they live in the habitats they create…” Same applies to bower birds. And meercats. And bees. And termites. Habitat creation is a part of nature. You seem to have bought into the myth of human exceptionalism. We are no more exceptional than the corona virus.

            • Dear Robert Firth,

              the extent to which humans change the nature with the use of the external energy to change it into their habitat is important. No other species does and can do that.

              The humans are really exceptional in mastering external energy.

          • you are quite right about not needing all that stuff

            but you are quite wrong about ‘numbers’

            1 bn humans can live as you suggest

            7.5 bn can’t

  9. “The US Treasury will auction 10Y and 30Y Treasuries on April 8 and April 9. There may not be any buyers anywhere near current interest rates.

    “Foreigners are scrambling for dollars, not Treasuries. They have no spare dollars to recycle to the US because trade has stopped.

    “The Fed has no currency swap lines with the PBOC, so the PBOC will have to sell Treasuries to get dollars as Chinese companies race to cover dollar debts.

    “This is happening as federal deficits approach $2 trillion and helicopter money is imminent, the economy is frozen and inflation is about to jump.

    “As rates rise, the interest on the debt will be unpayable, and a run on Treasuries could turn into an avalanche.”

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4333042-bond-market-crash-begins-on-april-8-and-9

    • like the fed wont buy every single treasury. And if they dont Belgium will. 🙂 PBOC is another matter. Will they be brought into the club? Interesting times.

      • Hah – Belgium! I’d forgotten about that not very cunning subterfuge. 😀

      • What difference will it make, in an imploding economy? What we will see, are already seeing, is very rapid deflation as money starts to exit the mega-bubbles of the past ten years and heads into cash. Specifically, U.S. dollars. Not everyone can be bailed out, as the FED is fast finding out, and the economy is going into lockdown. No amount of money printing is going to substitute for a lack of economic activity.

        • Nope, Japan industrial still at work, while ~70% owned by their gov/CBs now, so what.
          Yes, we can argue the US position being different but is it really? The trust in USD / treasuries is formed by the “upper middle class” individuals and corporate scattered around the globe needing the exposure to that USD flows daily or occasionally.

          Such decades/centuries lasting relationships doesn’t just flip in single GFC event, it’s a long winded process with many twists and detours..

          • If other countries are still functioning gr, then Japan and EU can operate in negative rates or anythinf weird. However when all countries are impacted like right now, then it will not work. The problem that people face is that they can o ly see things on a micro level and not macro. Same goes to those who said to me that they will take the public transport, walk to cycle to work as the petrol is too expensive to drive a car. They just cannot see that petroleum is the driving force for everything.

            Nothing operates in vacuum. That is why we have this “interconnectedness” that will ensure that when it goes down, everything goes down. All at once.

          • Ok, if you say so. Japan had deflated in a world that had not collapsed. China had not industrialised and there was still enough surplus energy to fuel another long cycle of expansion.

            Those conditions no longer apply. They actually ceased to apply with the GFC. 10 years of money printing is all that kept things afloat. That world is over. The air is now escaping Bubblezilla at a huge rate of knots.

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