Let My People Stay Home

When the Jews left Egypt, they were in such a hurry that they did not have time for their bread to rise.

When we packed up the most important things in our apartment, we were forced to leave the bread behind. The pizza was ready in eighteen minutes.

Last real pizza for a while. Happy belated pie day.

We cut it closer than we should have. Our haste turned out to be an overreaction, in the sense that we were able to return the next day and get essentially everything that wasn’t furniture. But it wasn’t enough of an overreaction. Because there was a chance it wasn’t an overreaction. On an exponential curve, exactly correct reactions are not a thing. We could have been stranded. And it’s likely our furniture does get stranded.

Alas, it is hard to overreact. We did ordinary cheap preparing. We had a month’s worth of food, all our medicines and stuff like that. Initially I thought that would be the plan. Hunker down in our apartment, take deliveries with increasing caution, get through this.

Increasingly as the day drew near it became clear this wasn’t a great idea. Going in and out of the apartment at all would be unsafe. Either the nanny would be living with us, or she wouldn’t be available. Either way, the place was so small for us and two children. My wife became increasingly convinced we’d go insane.

So we had to go. We picked a location, where we could ride things out reasonably. We got a real estate agent to go look at houses. But we didn’t want to halt her business too soon, for fear that it would permanently cost clients. So we didn’t see anything until the weekend. At which time, our blowhard mayor took a break from going to the YMCA each morning to say that he was ‘considering a lockdown.’

Which is excellent news. Since, obviously, lock it down. But for us, it meant we could be stranded halfway. We’d be outside, with none of our things. Or we’d be inside, with no way to get out, and a lease we couldn’t use. Everyone was freaking out.

The freaking out is in many ways the worst of it. Sleep has come, but it’s been tricky. Work goes forward when I can, but it’s hard to focus. Keeping up with events seems important. But I don’t know a way to do that and not obsess. Twitter is the best news source yet terrible for one’s mental health. Everyone makes dumb decisions. Everyone is filled with regret. Regret we didn’t get the place ready a month ago.

Regret I didn’t sell everything and go short, not because I had some crazy belief in efficient markets, but because I didn’t expect it to be this bad and I told myself a few years ago I was going to not be a trader anymore and just buy and hold. I’d just come off a decade of looking at markets all day. I needed my mental energy elsewhere. I made myself a promise. Then I looked at the tax implications, and decided it was better to just keep the promise. Didn’t think of buying options until too late. Obviously, regrets now.

We’ll be all right, assuming of course we dodge the virus. Hard pivot. At first, virus kind of welcome on selfish personal level. Hospitals fine, health good, still relatively young, not exposing many people, would recognize quickly and self-isolate. Might be better to get infected early. Then could ride out much better without fear. Now things poised to get bad. Must be increasingly careful. Can’t return to city.

Parents hopefully safe at new location. Got them to take things more seriously. Even made a little progress towards our response as a world – my father was an immunologist. Did analysis, made some phone calls and such. Aunt still in danger. Needs help from someone who can’t quarantine properly. Don’t know what to do about that. Tried.

Crossed the Red Sea known as Hudson River. Now in desert known as New Jersey. At in-laws for now. Our stuff is in a van or around the house. Will being unloading the van at new place later today. Late, but better late than too late. Mazel tov on the new house, I suppose. Anxiety level coming somewhat down.

Political response still crazy, still too slow. Taking forever to come down from mountain with commandments. Many instead choose to build golden calves. Some countries despair, talk of fake herd immunity. America’s federal response beyond terrible, doing untold damage. Active sabotage of testing, then denial. America still not ramping up ventilator production far as we can tell, but talking about grants to airlines. House member stalls bill so it can be read. Turns out the sick leave being granted exempts large corporations. But we already knew hat. Reading request almost certainly member being difficult because he could be. War being waged on small businesses that need help. Sharp contrast to places like France, where lock-down in place and no business however small will be allowed to fail.

Might be lost here for a while. Hopefully not forty years.

Local responses much better. Still inadequate. San Francisco on strangely incomplete lock-down. Going on walks considered fine for some reason, very strange. New York paying price for choosing terrible mayor. Wouldn’t close schools until aids threatened to quit and teachers threatened mass sick-out. Governor much better on relative basis. Even brought together tri-state area to coordinate policy. Perhaps we can add 47 more states. Stranger things have already happened. New York lock-down seems inevitable, should already be here. Who knows when they’ll finally do it.

Still, hope. Increasing action. Curves that should soon bend if actions are held to. Success examples from Asia. We can do this.

Our civilization’s failures exposed. Now can start to fix. Hopefully.

Not touching face still surprisingly hard.

Market crazy too. Can share impressions. Not investment advice or endorsed strongly. Just musings. Hunches.

Giant liquidity crunch and flight to safety doing strange things. In this sense, overreaction. Things vulnerable to this taking big hits, presumably cheap long term. Not where one wants to try and catch a falling knife. Betas dragging stocks down. Companies that want you to always stay inside taking pounding too. Amazon, Netflix and so on. Not enough thinking about future reality, adjusting take to circumstances.

Market seems to still underestimate real effects. Periodically wakes up some more as exact median scenarios play out over next day, sells more stuff. Overreacts to what it thinks is happening, but overreacting to an underestimate. Tricky.

Even more than underestimate, market lacks good estimate or handle on events. Thus, reacts incorrectly to announcements. When things close or people react more strongly and say things are bad, market treats as bad news. Whereas that is actually good news. When people downplay, market treats as good news. Whereas that is actually bad news. Exception is President. President like Vash. Well known liar. Market knows. Everybody knows.

WordPress still not offering automatic or easy way to link to post with exact title equal to link text. Frustrating.

Reactions to relief packages different. There good news is good news. Especially if good news means economic warfare on behalf of big business. Like there’s a maze or something.

All fun to think about. Potentially productive too. Except also happening for real, to us. Which is not so fun.

Still telling myself. Not a trader. Not anymore. Have plenty of cash. Stupidly obvious opportunity is passed. Can make money trading whenever. Let others trade. You chose to end that life. Making a digital card game. Creating efficient digital marketplaces. Much better missions. Stay on target. Fundraising will get tricky. We’ll figure it out. Product market fit stronger than ever.

Life still good. Exploring new life in Warwick likely fun. Technically in New York. Important for medical licencing. And to avoid shame. Having a house will be great. Never had a house. So much space. A yard. A garden. Fresh air. Washer and dryer. No one around. Gigantic supermarket with low prices. Grill! Learn to cook more things. Learn to drive, perhaps. Spend more time with family.

Folders full of links as post topics. Amazon wish list full of books to read. Try to read old ones. Thousands of hours of television I’d be happy to stream. Podcasts in abundance. Endless games to play. Including Magic: the Gathering. And of course, we have a game to develop and bring to market. And other products.

So much to do. So much to see. So what’s wrong with taking the back streets. Or no streets at all. For a while.

Treat as vacation.

Next year in New York City.




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3 Responses to Let My People Stay Home

  1. “Going in and out of the apartment at all would be unsafe.” / “Going on walks considered fine for some reason, very strange.”

    I’ve been assuming that this is sufficiently safe that it doesn’t make sense for me to stop going for daily runs. I’ll do some estimating now to check my assumption.

    Context: On a normal day (absent extra risk from coronavirus) an average 27-year-old male American experiences 4.56 micromorts with 2.02 hours of expected life loss [1]. I think my risk is probably closer to about 2 micromorts with about 1 hour of expected life loss each day.

    I’ll try to estimate the extra risk of death I take on by leaving my apartment once per day to go for a run:

    The process consists of walking out my door into the hallway, elbowing the elevator button, elbowing the bottom floor button, grabbing one handle with two fingers on my left hand, running outside without going near people, using the same two fingers on my left hand to open a door again, elbowing the two buttons again to go up the elevator to the 8th floor, opening my apartment door (copper tape on handles), washing my hands. My hand that touches the door handles doesn’t touch anything else until I wash it. I reliably don’t touch my face while out running.

    I’ll assume the probability of dying soon from COVID-19 conditional on getting infected sometime in the next week is 0.03% or 300 micromorts [2]. (0.03% is only about 6 days of expected life loss.)
    Spreading that out over the next 100 days would mean a 150% increase in risk from 2 to 5 micromorts per day. But that’s assuming going outside to run each day means I’m definitely going to get infected and not going outside to run each day means I’m definitely not going to get infected. In reality, I think going for a daily run over the next 100 days may increase my probability of getting infected by maybe up to about ~10% (maybe from 5-15%? though intuitively it doesn’t feel like it would triple the probability). So then it’s actually a 15% increase in risk from 2 to 2.3 micromorts per day. Plausibly the micromorts from running in a city and crossing the road a couple times are similar to the risk of dying from COVID-19. Checking this thought: Wikipedia gives 17 miles of walking = 1 micrmort. Assuming my average risk when running is twice as high, 100 days of running for me is about 30 micromorts, or 0.3 micromorts per day over the 100 day period being considered. So indeed, they’re very similar amounts of risk.

    Of course a substantial fraction of the expected harm to me from getting infected with COVID-19 is from things other than dying. Additionally, the actual risk of dying if infected may be higher than 0.03% for me. The source I cited gives 0.08% for people in their 30s. Plus maybe that paper’s estimate is just bad and the risk may be higher. Still, a micromort is only about 30 minutes of life loss for me, however. If I assume a 0.3% risk of dying instead of 0.03%, we’re now talking 90 minutes of expected life loss each time I go for a run instead of 9 minutes. Running is also exercise and adds to my life expectancy though, so it might be worth on the order of 90 minutes of increased life expectancy (I have no idea on this one, just blindly guessing).

    I could go for a run only on some days as a half-measure toward caution and run longer those days. I think most of the risk probably comes from leaving and getting into my apartment as opposed to running outside through the city and parks away from people, though I’m not sure.

    After thinking through this, the risk to me seems small enough that I think it’s worth continuing. However, the main consideration with whether I continue my daily runs seems to be that if I get infected I could end up infecting others. Most (and perhaps ~95%) of the expected human life years lost by my riskier behavior probably is incurred by others. The negative externality is significant. I break an important norm by putting others at high risk. I defect. I act unilaterally [4].

    If the expected number of deaths globally is ~7 million[5], then that’s 7*10^12 micromorts. If responsibility for all the deaths is distributed equally among those who get it (~500 million), then that’s 14,000 micromorts caused by getting it on average. For my life expectancy that is 7,000 hours, though in actuality most of those micromorts will be to individuals with far lower life expectancy. So I actually want to look at relative expected life loss, which maybe means average expected life loss is about 7 times greater than expected life loss for me [6]. So that actually means if my extra running (for 100 days) increases the probability I get infected by 10%, then the expected life loss this amounts to for others is (300*0.5 hours)*7=1050 hours. 10 hours/run sounds too high to justify intuitively, but I also suspect that a lot of peoples’ behavior that is normally regarded as permissible as negative externalities this high. Maybe not? I welcome feedback on this. Are my estimates off? Did I miss any significant considerations?

    I’ll sleep on this. Currently still planning on running. My common sense intuition still tells me it’s okay.

    [1] https://www.ssa.gov/oact/STATS/table4c6.html
    [2] https://www.imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/medicine/sph/ide/gida-fellowships/Imperial-College-COVID19-NPI-modelling-16-03-2020.pdf
    [3] 17 miles walking = 1 micromort https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micromort
    [4] http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2020/03/pandemic-ethics-the-unilateralist-curse-and-covid-19-or-why-you-should-stay-home/
    [5] https://goodjudgment.io/covid/dashboard/
    [6] Assuming an average case is that of an ~80-year-old https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=884858740875&set=a.509700885225&type=3&theater

  2. Quixote says:

    Glad to hear that you and your immediate family are well. Safety and best wishes to all.

    You mentioned that you needed to leave to avoid claustrophobia and going nuts from being in a small apartment. That is a totally reasonable response and a reasonable view. I do want to “for the record” a contrary view. From a pure safely evaluation (not open space or sanity, just safe), I think people fleeing New York are making an error.

    If you are under 50, and leaving New York means going somewhere where transportation involves driving, then your increased risk from needing to get around by car probably exceeds your risk from COVID. In NY, ambient violent crime levels (outside of just a few easily avoidable neighborhoods) are lower then they are in the suburbs, even wealthy suburbs. In NY, the response time of emergency services is much faster than than in suburbs. This might be reduced by overload from COVID, but I think I’d still rather have a heart attack in NYC during a pandemic than in the country under business as usual.

  3. Pingback: On R0 | Don't Worry About the Vase

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