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Tag: usa

The Covid-Shutdowns are Actually a Great Civics Lesson

Currently much of the country is shut down to stop the spread of the coronavirus and there is very active debate about how soon we should open up again. Some people say as soon as possible, others are saying immediately. Those might sound like similar viewpoints, but “as soon as possible” might be anything from two weeks to two months, depending on who you ask. There’s also a lot of debate about how deadly a second wave would actually be if we opened up the country with few or no restrictions. What percentage would get the virus? How many of those would die?

Uncertainty about all of those numbers is slowly decreasing and it seems like the reopening will happen sooner rather than later.

But I want to frame the debate about how it’s actually a great civics lesson. It shows how the government is really of the people, by the people and for the people, and how it can only do things that the people allow it to do. It also neatly shows how we need the government to do things that everyone wants to happen, but that they can’t make happen on their own.

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A New York History of Covid-19, Written at the Half-Way Point

You have to write these things down while you still remember them. I was already beginning to forget that there was a toilet paper shortage. Similarly right now the popular thing is to point out that this was predictable and we should have listened to the experts. But the experts were predicting that this would be much less bad:

The consensus forecast generated by the individual responses indicates that we should expect roughly 19,000 reported cases by March 29

To be fair, they thought that the curve would behave similar as in other countries. They didn’t expect the US government to mess up its response this badly.

Another thing that people are already forgetting is what “flatten the curve” meant. It was supposed to be a strategy to avoid the quarantine lockdown that we all now live in. Western countries didn’t want to do what China did, and “flattening the curve” was the appealing alternative. A lot of these things can only be understood in context, because things are changing so incredibly quickly that it feels like we’re living in a whole new world every couple weeks, and we forget. So lets start at the beginning while we still remember:

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Where do top scientists come from? And what do taxes have to do with it?

I was reading this article recently, which talks about “Where star scientists choose to locate: the impact of US state taxes” It’s a summary of a paper about “the effect of state taxes on the geographical location of top earners.”

It’s a very interesting idea: The problem is that states often lower taxes with the hope of attracting business or talent, but there is very little evidence about whether that actually works. So the authors of that paper decided to find a group of influential people who are somewhat easy to track: people who apply for lots of patents, the so called “star scientists” from the title. So the authors built a huge database, tracking where the top 5% of scientists who applied for the most patents had moved to over the years.

And the authors claim that they found pretty clear evidence that people like to move from high-tax states to low-tax states, so the conclusion is that if you want to attract top scientists, you should lower taxes.

Except, I dug through the data and I found the opposite. Yes, top scientists do move to states that have lower taxes, but high tax states have such a large lead in the number of scientists, that that little bit of migration doesn’t matter. But we’ll have to get to that conclusion one step at a time.

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