Nassim Nicholas Taleb: No, Covid 19 Is Not an Old Person Problem

Yves here. Nassim Nicholas Taleb shreds the misguided logic behind Covid age-ism. And that’s before getting to the fact that in South Africa, the notion that the old are more likely to get really sick is simply not true:

The newscaster starts by describing an “exponential” rise in cases, then interviews the head of ICU in the in Gauteng’s (and entire Southern Hemisphere’s) largest hospital. Prof. Mathivha gives a grim front line view, and confirms that the number of Covid admissions in the last week has increased “exponentially” and a sharp shift towards hospitalization among the young, even toddlers and babies.

However, the problem with her interview is that it is clear she has no idea how many of her patients have Omicron versus Delta. In addition, she’s not an epidemiologist or virologist, so you have to discount for when she is speculating and not clearly saying so versus conveying what she is seeing. She points out that some and maybe most of the skew towards hospitalizations among the young is due to their extremely low vaccination rates, as contrasted with older adults and vulnerable groups. As she explains, there is a great deal of vax resistance in the youth due to a successful anti-vax lobby, while the vaccination campaign that targeted at risk groups did well. This picture was made worse by near-total abandonment of precautions after the last Covid wave receded.

Another caveat, regarding the emphasis that this interview puts on the discovery of Omnicron cases in the Netherlands before the sequencing in South Africa: our GM, presumably following the thinking of other scientists, said at the time of the initial finding that it meant that the then unnamed variant had been circulating in RSA in October. And B.1.1X was observed in Africa in mid-2020 and then not sighted again until the Guateng cluster. So it is way too early to rule out RSA as the incubator.

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Originally published at Medium

Clearly Covid affects the old, disproportionately. But so do practically almost all other ailments. A simple fact of life, in a population, it is the old that die disproportionally of all causes.

If you look at the force of mortality of the population, you would notice that Covid reduces life expectancy across the board in proportion to people’s mortality, an effect at starts before middle age.

Fig 1- Multiplier of the Force of Mortality Across Age Groups >30, Nov. 2021. For the youth the ratio is both lower and much more unstable owing the rarity of both death and death from COVID.

Now the numbers in the graph represent the boost in mortality for all citizens over the period concerned (U.S. fatalities represents about 800K and counting, not taking into account a potential underestimation by ~200K). Now this represents the mortality boost after all mitigating measures, which includes travel restrictions, quarantines, lockdowns, vaccines, isolation, masks, etc. Nor does the graph above show the delayed effects of morbidity. Recall that only 48 million U.S. citizens have been reportedly affected so far. Should the entire population be infected (what some ignorant idiots call “herd immunity”), the effect would potentially be multiplied by >5 (or, taking into account the underestimation of cases, perhaps >3).

Now if we were to compute the effect on life expectancy, note that the effect acts across the board: a 30 year old loses more than 50 years of life, an 80 y.o. loses about a decade, etc

Unconditional Eugenics

The inconsistency is as follows

If Covid is an old person problem, deserving to be ignored on that account, let’s treat cardiology, oncology, urology, and most of internal medicine in the same manner.

The “old person problem” related to Covid becomes effectively an argument of unconditional eugenics, unconditional senicide/geronticide. The main trait in civilized society is to protect the weak: Ancient Mediterraneans gave a higher status to the elderly (senators). The same with almost every society that is not decaying.

The same people who advocate senicide fail to get counterfactuals right. For instance, just as one legislator one day announced that airplane checks were redundant (and costly) because there had been no recent terrorist incidents, many are arguing about mitigating measures on ground that fewer people have been dying on Covid.

Golden Rule (Ergodic) Argument

Another problem young psychopaths don’t get is that the way society is built is via dynamic not static reasoning. As I keep writing in the Incerto, a certain class of people (usually involved in technology) affected with Black Swan blindness have a mental disorder making them ignore that things move. A 30 y.o. is not going to be frozen in complete youth and (civilized) societies have been organized around intergenerational commitments: you treat the current elderly the way you would like to be treated when you grow older. For even psychopaths will be older some day.

It is not about a single event (this pandemic) but all future pandemics, including the one that will hit when you are older. Why is it so difficult to grasp that by killing seniors, you reduce your own life expectancy ?

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  1. Joe Well

    >>Clearly Covid affects the old, disproportionately. But so do practically almost all other ailments.

    A thought on the psychology of the failure to accept this reality:

    Initially, the news out of China was of youngish hospital staff dying. Also, AIDS and the Spanish flu disproportionately attacked people in their late teens to 30s. And many infectious diseases cause devastating child mortality in low income countries.

    So circa March 2020 it was a surprise that the victims trended older.

    But now that surprise has turned into a comfort blanket for many people.

  2. GramSci

    “… (civilized) societies have been organized around intergenerational commitments”

    Pardon me for again mounting my hobby horse, but factory model universal education has been undermining these commitments for over a century. “Educating” the young in narrow age cohort echo chambers teaches them the lesson, amplified by peer pressure, that “there is no such thing as society”.

    1. JBird4049

      This and that education in the United States has become more limited with an increasing focus on “practical” degrees like in tech, ignoring “useless” degree like liberal arts, philosophy, or art. Downgrading education that limits your mental horizons and skills and promoting education that is only good for limited employment opportunities. The increasing costs and the ending or decreasing of support after completing a degree also limits learning. Unless you come from a wealthy family of course.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If ” no money equals you die” , then college education in the finer higher things becomse downgraded by designed default.

      2. Eric377

        Hate to break it to you, but art education is thriving in the US. Not sure exactly which are the liberal arts, but hard not to notice many departments now exist in non-technical areas that simply were not offered 40 years ago, specifically in a variety of “identity studies” that I think probably are liberal arts. Philosophy, no idea.

      3. Fazal Majid

        Liberal Arts studies are pretty much a Veblen good nowadays, valuable to signal your family’s wealth precisely because they are useless. Viz. Boris Johnson who read Classics at Oxford.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, their unemployment rate is only slightly lower than STEM grads. And if your aim is to go to law school, if you major in a liberal arts major that is tough at that school (in my day, English at Yale, any of the elite liberal arts program at Harvard like History & Lit, which took only 1/3 of the applicants), and got good grades, you were seen as a serious contender for law school. Admissions departments know which majors are guts and which are rigorous.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I think the key ‘signalling’ these days is not the type of degree you do, but where you do it. Hence degrees from mediocre courses in high profile famous universities count far more than top class degrees from obscure city colleges and universities.

          Although it should be said that I’ve encountered quite a lot of reverse snobbery in some industries. In construction I’ve found that a lot of engineers and architects (including those doing the hiring), tend to take a low view of graduates from leafy universities over technical colleges. Although in my experience the latter produce graduates who can hit the ground running, while the former produce graduates who are utterly clueless for the first few years, but are often better in the long run as they’ll have a stronger baseline theoretical grounding.

  3. Joe Well

    Taleb’s logic is incontestable and I am thrilled to see it put forward so clearly, but no mention of the fact that First World inequality has been skyrocketing and has a strong age dimension?

    Why don’t the young empathize with the old have-nots empathize with the haves? Morally defensible, no, but not surprising, either.

    >>you treat the current elderly the way you would like to be treated when you grow older.

    Does Taleb think that any American under 55 expects to have a functioning safety net when they’re 75? Or even to live to 75? We will be living, if at all, in the climate and economic Armageddon that older voters have (very disproportionately) chosen for us.
    Eat drink and be merry, today. There is no old age for us to prepare for, is the attitude, and the architects of that destiny are among today’s seniors. They gave us Trump and Biden, we’ll give them COVID — indefensible but understandable.

    1. drsteve0

      Unquestionably there’s a lot of inter generational friction, by design perhaps (more divide and conquer). But did you mean to say why don’t the have-nots empathize with the haves? In ‘murica at least many of the have-nots worship the haves and struggle in vain to join their ranks. It’s the haves that couldn’t care less about and disdain the have-nots.

      1. Joe Well

        The bottom line is that it is a frequently expressed sentiment that you only have one youth and the future of youth today is a downward slope.

        Absolutely there is a lot of divide and conquer by the mass media which downplay the effect of many issues on all age groups. And then there is literal divide and conquer ​like two-tier union contracts.

        As for have nots worshiping haves, you would be surprised at, for instance, how much Elon Musk skepticism there is when you talk to people. There is just so much money to be made in hyping him and his ilk.

        And the propaganda is to worship “innovators” not someone who bought a house cheap in 1981.

        1. juno mas

          Buying a house cheap was not easy in the 1980’s since the run-up (national median) in price (43%) occurred in the 1970’s. In California the median price levelled out in the 80’s and then exploded again in the 1990’s. It has continually risen since then. California has exploded in growth since the 1950’s and now there is very little cheap land to build on for the highly valued single-family home.

          The caveat is: In real estate it’s Location. Location. Location. See:

          With Climate Change many of the current stock of homes are likely to burn to the ground in California.

            1. juno mas

              Yes, toward the end of the 1980’s. However, mid-decade the inflation adjusted cost of a home (according to the data presented) in the 70’s was ~$196,000. Mid-decade in the 80’s the median IACost of a home was about $180,000. The 90’s were the precusor to the current housing unaffordability.

              Of course, the price of homes (in the US) is closely aligned with long term interest rates. So cost and affordability are fluid. It’s apparent to most that two incomes are now essential to buying a home, adding to the upward pressure of price when demand is greater than available homes.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Did the older voters choose it or did the Overclass engineer it?

      If the pigeons peck the button which the Skinner Box operators train them to peck, do we blame the pigeons?

      Well, we do if the younger pigeons have been taught by all the propaganda engineering at the ruling class’s command that the older pigeons did it on purpose out of greed and malice.

      1. Joe Well

        I talked to a lot of older pigeons while volunteering on the Bernie campaign.

        Very, very sad how much TV news and newspapers have trapped them in a propaganda bubble. Race came up constantly, but they had no idea, for instance, that Latinos and Asian Americans outnumbered Black voters and were hugely favoring Sanders (particularly in swing states), or that huge majorities of Black voters considered him an acceptable second choice.

        We had a lot of 60+ volunteers and they often mentioned either being driven by disillusionment with MSM or having to resist it their whole lives. It was not as easy to just ignore as it is for younger people because your peer group keeps drawing you back in.

        But nonetheless, they still give very little thought to the plight of younger or elderly people (which they soon will be themselves), which was maddening. The selfishness and myopia are partly the result of propaganda but are still real. It’s pretty much a philosophical conundrum where the self begins and the dominant society ends.

    3. Earl Erland

      Well it’s hardly the over sixty crowd that came up with the eat drink and be merry approach. That’s pretty much baked into our DNA, you know, sowing oats, being passionate and immediate and blistering.

      1. Joe Well

        No, I meant the under-60 crowd is on board with “eat, drink, and be merry” and the younger, the merrier.

        I have talked to a lot of teenagers and 20-40-somethings and I have very often heard, “it’s not like I’m likely to get a severe case at my age” and the whole issue of spreading the disease to ask-risk people just hangs in the air unsaid.

  4. BeliTsari

    She certainly has a point about sneering, entitled churls, subliminally threatening seniors, or anybody perceived as vulnerable; by maskless invasion of personal space. In Manhattan’s UWS, it’s almost a religious obligation to sneeze, cough and/or scream directly into stranger’s face? Tiny, ancient elevators, airless classrooms, bathrooms, bars all jammed with bloviating drunks, markets filled with loutish, mouth-breathing nudges, kvetching into iPhones @98dB about “antivax” bubba’s… ALL speciously oblivious, yet again. Seems like conditioned, genetic denial?

  5. ven

    Isn’t this a straw-man argument by Taleb? Not quite sure who / what he is arguing against.

    I can’t comment on the latest RSA data, but hitherto, the hospitalisation / death rate has been higher with older / immuno-compromised people, and negligible for children. Therefore for that group, vaccinations may make sense. For the younger age group, especially children, the relative benefit of vaccines against the risk of side-effects (myocarditis, etc) is less clear. And there have not been sufficient studies to assess this.

    Further, a number of virologists / immunologists have pointed out that the risk of vaccinating in a pandemic, is that it tends towards selection of variants that can evade the vaccinal antibodies. So we may actually be priming for a continuation of the pandemic.

    The argument for leaky vaccines seems to be the one that is static, rather than considering the dynamic effects of vaccine mutation and evolving innate immunity.

    1. TBellT

      Not quite sure who / what he is arguing against.

      Yea me neither. Best you can get at is “young psychopaths”, which doesn’t make much sense:

      Biden; 79. Pelosi; 81. Trump; 75. Schumer; 71. McConnel; 79. Fauci; 80 Birx; 65. Older people vote at higher rates than younger people. Anecdotal but the bosses I know who are most hung up on in person offices are the older.

      If this is “geronticide” it’s almost certainly self inflicted rather than something inflicted upon them by “young psychopaths”.

        1. TBellT

          I have but it’s almost certainly along class lines, not generational. For instance the most explicit endorsement of this argument was Dan Patrick at the beginning of the pandemic: “No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all Americans love for your children and grandchildren?” ; He’s 70.

          If I see something like this from young people of modest means it’s of the form “We have no impact on government policy but for now hopefully we will be spared the worst due to our age”

          1. Basil Pesto

            I must say, I’m young and wasn’t unduly triggered by the ‘young psychopaths’ line. I suspect when he said ‘young psychopaths’ he was referring to the likes of Nick Coatsworth, the type of unctuous political operator that legendary political sitcom The Thick Of It once memorably described (at 5:33) as a ‘brushed aluminium cyber-prick’.

            1. TBellT

              lol , that show does have a way with words.

              But this person is 45, well past the Australian median age of 38, he’s most decidedly middle aged. I guess for Taleb it’s Soprano rules where anyone who’s younger than you is/was just a “kid”.

      1. Basil Pesto

        Biden; 79. Pelosi; 81. Trump; 75. Schumer; 71. McConnel; 79. Fauci; 80 Birx; 65.

        Without wishing to sound overly tinfoily in my generalisation: these people answer to lobbies, ‘special interests’, whatever you want to call them, that are bigger than themselves. They do this so that they may stock up their fridges with artisanal icecream, etc. That is to say, they benefit directly, personally, from working for these interests as opposed to, say, the people. Incidentally, Obama’s only 60 but he’s not using his considerable celebrity leverage to advocate for taking this problem seriously, is he?

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          If he did, the pro-Jackpot Overclass will stop giving him money.

          The fear of pre-losing a billion dollars pre-seals Obama’s lips.

      2. Brian

        Taleb ignores so many things in his short essay. He ignores there is no treatment for prophylaxis, even though they do exist and the healing is not conjecture. He ignores the simplest fact that upon getting covid and recovering, you begin the immunity process for society. He ignores that the newly profitable injections are not a vaccine, because vaccines aren’t allowed to kill 2.4 million people in the US alone before they are pulled off the shelf and relegated to the dustbin. But the part that is most telling is the claim that some of those against what he sees as science are psychopaths. Science doesn’t see it this way because there is no indication that people who survive the disease being reinfected. (There is one that I am aware of) This is how herd immunity is generated. I would suggest that for some reason, paranoia is driving his statements.
        Now he is a savvy investor, and he does sound like someone in the CDC or NIH telling everyone to get vaccinated with this substance that kills so many on a for profit basis.
        For those of us that don’t understand, a betacorona virus mutates. It never stops. Vaccines can’t function against it and we have known that for a very long time. Previous attempts end in death. This attempt does as well, it is demonstrable. It is apparent that only the profit motive can be at play here after so many deaths and so many treatments denied, always knowing that they work very well at providing immunity that comes one recovery at a time.
        My profound hope is that those choosing to take this substance will recover. But the totals of damage to otherwise healthy people doesn’t bear well for such an outcome. Who would put health after the importance of profit? A psychopath? Who labels people against a supposed cure or treatment as a psychopath? Or is this because he is demonstrating paranoia? But he suggests he knows more than MD’s that work on the front lines. I am embarrassed for him and I know that I am not as smart as he is. I have a medical degree and understand why he is wrong.

      3. GM

        You are missing the wealth redistribution aspect of this.

        Those people, though they might be old, will always get the best treatment.

        But even if they do die, the goal here isn’t to set themselves up, it is to preserve the high social status of their progeny.

        To that end, the goals that are pursued are:

        1. No meaningful public health measures aiming for elimination because you cannot do that without downwards wealth redistribution, and they are in the “up”, not the “down”.

        2. Killing off the poor and middle class old and weak frees up all the spending that would otherwise go to healthcare and pensions to be redistributed up. A few of the 0.1%-1% might die in the process, but as I said, this is an acceptable collateral damage in the name of the higher goal. They also don’t care about things like brain damage from COVID — I do because I work in science and I kind of need my brain to function well — but they plan to use their status to spend their time lounging in the pool with servants catering to them, and the loss of a few IQ points is not really a problem in that context.

        It is a gerontocide in that sense. When the competition for resources in a society become a problem, what often happens is that some group of people is cannibalized by the rest.

        The problem with all this is that it does not seem to have taken into account what the virus thinks. And this virus has the potential to eventually start taking out young people in really serious numbers. So we will see how long this can go on without a realization from wider society it has to stop.

        1. Medbh

          “2. Killing off the poor and middle class old and weak frees up all the spending that would otherwise go to healthcare and pensions to be redistributed up.”

          If the 1% started to be really concerned about overpopulation or environmental destruction, it would be handy to have a virus that primarily affected the poor, uneducated, disobedient, or obstinate.

          I’ve wondered if the covid vaccine might create a similar dynamic as the Marek’s chicken virus.

          Chickens vaccinated against Marek’s disease rarely get sick. But the vaccine does not prevent them from spreading Marek’s to unvaccinated birds.

          In fact, rather than stop fowl from spreading the virus, the vaccine allows the disease to spread faster and longer than it normally would, a new study finds. The scientists now believe that this vaccine has helped this chicken virus become uniquely virulent.

          The reason this is a problem for Marek’s disease is because the vaccine is “leaky.” A leaky vaccine is one that keeps a microbe from doing serious harm to its host, but doesn’t stop the disease from replicating and spreading to another individual…

          “Previously, a hot strain was so nasty, it wiped itself out. Now, you keep its host alive with a vaccine, then it can transmit and spread in the world,” Read said. “So it’s got an evolutionary future, which it didn’t have before…

          “One way to look at that experiment is that shows vaccinating birds kills unvaccinated birds. The vaccination of one group of birds leads to the transmission of a virus so hot that it kills the other birds, said Read said.

          I’m not saying this as an anti-vaccination point. I’ve fully boosted and my children are vaccinated too. But I read a recent post about how Omicron is 1.3x more transmissible than Delta, & unvaccinated have 2.4x greater risk of severe. Those with BOOSTERS: 90% lower risk of severe outcome. It got me to wondering what’s the difference between vaccination for covid versus Marek’s disease. If vaccination was creating “hotter” variants, would anyone even care?

      4. Earl Erland

        It’s interesting that readers view Taleb’s piece as an argument, or even a response to any argument. I get that one might conclude he is responding to the gutteral concept of herd immunity, and perhaps he is.

        To me, this piece does not have a precise and current antagonist. I read that he is feeling his way through fearful possibility, on as yet unrecognized Autobahn to crematoria.

        1. Earl Erland

          It reminds me of Guernica. That painting never struck me as an argument. Hell, between 1937 and 1939 how many people had seen and thought about? And it was a new hell.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Project much? You are straw manning Taleb. No where does he advocate vaccines. He could just as well be advocating for China’s policies.

      And I know someone who has had 2 40 year old relatives of their partner die and their own 29 year old daughter hospitalized. None overweight or diabetic. The 29 year old is a petite cop who is so attractive she could model, as in athletic too.

      And do you really not get his argument? It’s not hard but your lack of comprehension is remarkable.

  6. Adrian D.

    his is so poor it’s hard to know where to start.

    “If Covid is an old person problem, deserving to be ignored on that account, let’s treat cardiology, oncology, urology, and most of internal medicine in the same manner.”

    Who is saying we should ignore it? The question is whether the costs – across society and all age groups – outweigh the potential benefits. All of Taleb’s age related problems could be massively ameliorated with drastic interventions across all ages – dietary mandates, enforced exercise regimes, regular & intrusive probing, measurement & monitoring with daily reports across all media – so why isn’t he demanding these now the monster?

    “you treat the current elderly the way you would like to be treated when you grow older. For even psychopaths will be older some day.” – and what of those elderly who see the restrictions cast upon the young as horrific – like my 85 year old father and all of his friends? Do they not exist?

    Taleb’s assertions might just about hold if there were calls from the young (or whoever it is he’s criticising here – it’s hard to tell) that treatment for the elderly should be withheld & them simply left to die – that would be psychopathic – but I’m not sure anyone has suggested this.

    It’s nonsense from start to finish.

    1. tegnost

      …dietary mandates, enforced exercise regimes, regular & intrusive probing, measurement & monitoring with daily reports across all media – so why isn’t he demanding these…

      mandates, mandates, mandates…

    2. redleg

      How is returning to pre-pandemic levels of unmasking and congregation because the young and not-so-old are (supposedly) minimally affected by the virus, but then spreading the virus to the old people via mixing with those old people any different than saying “go & die, old people”?

      Personally I don’t see any difference at all.

    3. drsteve0

      ‘…that treatment for the elderly should be withheld…’ Yes, that would be psychopathic to just let them die. But isn’t that exactly what happened in Sweden? My Swedish BIL’s father was left to die in a Swedish care home under just those circumstances.

    4. JCC

      “Who is saying we should ignore it?”

      I have a close friend, 69 years old, and this is exactly his position and he states it often. His reasoning? “Most of the people dying are in their 80’s. They’re gonna die anyway. Open everything up.”

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      Advocating for herd immunity is consistent with “kill the old”.

      You are saying with a straight face you have never seen that?

      Fauci who is 81 has advocated for herd immunity and that was the explicit policy of the Swedish government until it became evident it wasn’t working.

      You need to pay closer attention and not shoot messengers.

    6. Basil Pesto

      Who is saying we should ignore it?

      Well, for all intents and purposes, we might as well have been. This is made possible with propagandistic rationalisations of the “only the olds get sick” variety with no basis in reality. Have you forgotten about Long Covid? It is an indisputable and massive problem. All the Freedom For The Youngs in the world is hardly worth a damn when large numbers of them are now living with a long term illness that they never had to be subjected to in the first place. Do you think, in the event these people
      do live to 85, and the next pandemic comes along, they will think “ah yes, no worries, stiff upper lip, I’m ready to make the ultimate sacrifice so my grandchildren don’t have to wear a mask and can go Cancun”? Doubtful. What is more likely is that they will have the necessary perspective that tells them that when an event like this comes around, you don’t fuck around. You grow up and address it.

      The question is whether the costs – across society and all age groups – outweigh the potential benefits.

      The costs – acknowledging the necessity of temporary hardship so that we may work together to stop transmission of the virus and give it nowhere to go – can hardly be said to outweigh what we stand to gain: a return to the 2019 status quo ante (before anyone else remarks: yes yes, I know everything sucked in 2019 too, but at least we didn’t have this enormous disruption on top of it, which continues to have no end in sight). Keeping in mind that the aforementioned temporary hardships are going to be required indefinitely for as long as this problem is treated as casually as it is, unless we get miraculously lucky with the course of the virus. I hate lockdowns, I hate wearing masks. I advocate for using these as a sensible tool for elimination – for getting the R0 manageably low – so that I may one day be able to throw most of my masks in the bin.

      All of Taleb’s age related problems could be massively ameliorated with drastic interventions across all ages – dietary mandates, enforced exercise regimes, regular & intrusive probing, measurement & monitoring with daily reports across all media – so why isn’t he demanding these now the monster?

      You should ask him, I’m sure he’d have no end of fun with such idiocy.

      and what of those elderly who see the restrictions cast upon the young as horrific – like my 85 year old father and all of his friends? Do they not exist?

      No, they are simply ignorant of the scale and scope of the current problem – for whatever reason – and consequently their opinion is worth next to nothing. Irrelevant ideological tendencies may have a role to play in their opinion formation, as well. I’ll try to avoid a snide remark about apples and trees.

      but I’m not sure anyone has suggested this.

      Well, it would be terribly gauche to just come out and suggest such a thing, and yet it’s incontestable that reams of people – many old – have died since this all began that never had to and never would have had the problem been addressed with adequate seriousness from the beginning (that is to say: almost all of them), no matter how squeamish that might have made those of a libertarian disposition (which includes Taleb, but even he seems to understand there’s a point where the stupidity really can’t be indulged).

      1. Basil Pesto

        and never would have

        edit: rereading this I realise this is an unreasonable claim for me to make, since of course older people are more likely to die the older they get. The point in the instance of older people who were at high risk of death within the next 5 years at the time when the pandemic hit, is to increase the chance that they die of a known-quantity disease that we are more familiar with, and in conditions that are as humane as possible. Dying of Covid seems to be a deeply unpleasant process at all ages, not least of which because the tendency in critical treament thus far has been alienation of the dying patient from their relatives as a precautionary measure against further spread of the virus.

    7. drumlin woodchuckles

      If you are presented with a dietary mandate to “eat your vegetables” and the only vegetables you can get are nutrient free virtual vegetables from mineral-nutrient-depleted soils, what good is that mandate for actual health outcomes?

      If the Global Overclass is let off scot-free for marinating you in a sea of carcinogenic chemicals, what practical good is an “oncology mandate”?

      If the Global Overclass is let off scot-free for feeding you a diet of heart-disease-o-genic petrochemical GMO shitfood, what practical good is a “cardiology mandate”?

      If the Global Overclass is let off scot-free for feeding you a diet of diabetogenic diet of ultra-processed shitcorn, shitwheat, high-fructose shitcorn syrup, etc., then what good is a “diabetes mandate”?

      And especially, in our own modern age, if the Global Overclass makes very sure that you marinate around the clock in a sea of background glyphosate residue, what good is any sort of ” whateverology mandate” of any kind whatsoever?

      etc. etc. etc.

  7. Hayek's Heelbiter

    For an interesting take on this, I suggest you read Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin, a social researcher.
    Having spent a lot of time in multigeneration households in the East, I’ve always been dubious of the nuclear family. But reading Ms. Martin’s work was the first time it had ever been pointed out to me the pernicious, deleterious effects age cohort stratification in Western primary and secondary schools has on society at large.

  8. Eric377

    Taleb seems kind of off his rocker here. Not in noting that this disease effects younger folks too, or that young people age, but the implicit idea that there is a seriously significant group of young people putting the elderly in grave risk by psychotic actions or attitudes.

    1. Joe Well

      Just an example: around Halloween 2020, there were a lot of underground nightclub parties in basements, and also informal raves, also in basements. Some of these were reported in the Boston Globe (I am in Boston), but I have no doubt this was a nationwide phenomenon.

      I saved one of the Halloween party promo images I got off Snapchat. You had to reply to the person posting it to get the address.

      Less spectacularly, I knew of a lot of maskless parties in 2020 when authorities were preaching social distancing, all among people in their 20s to 40s.

  9. Mikel

    What hasn’t been determined is exactly how many bouts of Covid can be dealt with before it starts causing a strain on the immune system or body/organs.
    And someone may not have to wait 10 or more years to be in a danger age bracket
    There are a host of other things that could cause morbidities in someone within the next 10 years.

    But what do expect? This is a country plagued by short-term thinking. It’s almost a way of life of its own.

      1. Orca

        Taleb is advocating that we do “something” to save the seniors. If he has any suggestion besides the official vaccine policy, he should state so publicly. His position on the vaccines is quite clear in the following two tweets after a cursory google search –

        Viruses have #multiplicative risks. #Vaccines don’t.

        Wrong calculus to evaluate the risks of the vaccine v/s those of Covid *to you*.
        Evaluate the risks of the vaccine *to you* ag. risks of Covid *to others*:
        the 2-5 pple you may infect & the 2-5 pple they may each infect…

        There’s a confusion abt risks/benefits of vaccines. It is’nt so much abt the individual, but the de-multiplication of the spreading!
        Vaccines have error rates for individuals: vane at the collective.
        Fewer pple infected ➜ fewer pple infected.


        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Those tweets were pre-Delta. I note you don’t find more recent tweets by him advocating the vaccines as preventing spread. The vaccines were devised based on wild type and did reduce contagion of the original virus. They don’t much/at all for Delta.

          As I said, Taleb was quite capable of taking up that argument here and did not. He is not constrained by a word count on Medium. You need to deal with the article as written and quit projecting.

          I’m astonished and disappointed by reader behavior here.

          1. Orca

            I tried but could not find any change in Taleb’s public vaccine position. If he has changed his opinion on the vaccines materially, he should update his public stance.

            Thank you for posting my previous response.

          2. Eric377

            Sorry but while Taleb puts together a good case that young people have an important stake in controlling coronavirus, he doesn’t establish a good case that young people are acting as “psychos” and are trying to kill off the elderly (senicide) in some manner. I am dealing with the article as written and this is a big hole.

            1. JBird4049

              >>>he doesn’t establish a good case that young people are acting as “psychos” and are trying to kill off the elderly (senicide) in some manner.

              The writer could, and probably should, have made a better case, but I did read last year stories downgrading the importance of the lives of the old. None of them were explicitly eugenical or euthanasic, but some were close to it.

              Considering how our society has treated the old for over a century, it is obvious to me that too many Americans do not think about how they will be growing old themselves. Short term thinking, a belief in future riches, or just being an uncaring psycho. Our society does discourage long term thinking, compassion, or even community.

              So, perhaps, he was thinking it is more obvious than it is.

              1. drumlin woodchuckles

                Were those arguments that you read written by “young people advocates”?

                Or were they written by ” rich people advocates”?

                1. JBird4049

                  I think it was more the latter than the former with “the olds have lived a life, so economy,” but I also did get whiff of “the strong will survive (and the weak/poor/stupid will die)” I have to be careful from making too strong an inference because no one just flatly said go die.

                  It just that I have done some reading over time on eugenics, racism, sexism, etc. and some of writings and speeches for them done by scientists, academics, lawyers, and politicians sound so… reasonable… that it is only later that they are advocating actions like euthanasia or sterilization really hits.

                  One of the arguments of the Nazis (and the earlier American proponents) for first sterilization and later euthanasia was of the supposed costs of allowing the “imbeciles” to breed and the institutionalized disabled to live.

                  So, when I hear some dipshits talking about how much it costs to do the right thing with Covid, with the more strident of them starting to echo “those worthy of life” argument right out of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.

                  The Nazis did get their ideas on eugenics from the Americans; they only expanded on them like the Americans expanded on the British. Each new group of adherents expanding on the ideas. The various active extermination programs were the Nazis contribution.

                  Hmm, Neoliberalism can be thought of as a slick, shiny camouflaged expansion of the Nazis. Because of money, go die.

              2. Orca

                This is a very dangerous position. There is zero evidence that vaccines help the very young and healthy demographics. How many 5 year old children or 18 year old adults will die of Covid vs the vaccines? I suspect it is the latter. Are we justified to ‘save’ the old by mandating vaccines on healthy children and young adults?

                1. Joe Well

                  This is the same “if you’re not dead, you’re OK” fallacy we’ve heard nonstop every day since the pandemic started.

                  There are other bad things short of dying, aka morbidity: damage to lung, heart, and brain. Also, the emotional trauma of severe illness and hospitalization. Also, pediatric hospital beds are in even shorter supply than those for adults.

                  Against the extremely minor risks of the vaccine.

                  1. Orca

                    There is little or no supporting evidence in many FUD statements you made.

                    As to pediatric hospitalization, do you have data to show that Covid takes up even 1/4 of the beds?

                    I feel compelled to call you out.

                    1. Joe Well

                      You claim that vaccines harm children and feel like you should “call me out.” Lord, grant me the confidence of an anti-vaxxer.

                      From the CDC:

                      “Weekly COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates among children and adolescents rose nearly five-fold during late June–mid-August 2021, coinciding with increased circulation of the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. The proportions of hospitalized children and adolescents with severe disease were similar before and during the period of Delta predominance. Hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated than among fully vaccinated adolescents.”

                      >>As to pediatric hospitalization, do you have data to show that Covid takes up even 1/4 of the beds?

                      You say that as if 1/4 would be no big deal because our country is just overflowing with pediatric healthcare capacity. It isn’t. Children don’t typically need hospital beds so there aren’t a lot of them and the system will be overwhelmed with lower numbers than for adults.

                2. Basil Pesto

                  How many 5 year old children or 18 year old adults will die of Covid vs the vaccines? I suspect it is the latter.

                  That’s a bold and ostensibly absurd claim you present with absolutely no evidence. Let’s see it. Your claim that ‘there is zero evidence that vaccines help the very young and healthy demographics’ is also conspicuously fact free. You can suspect all you like, but if you can’t back it up or are unwilling to submit the evidence you’re relying upon for wider scrutiny by the readership, perhaps you should keep it to yourself.

                3. Yves Smith Post author

                  That is false. We do know that the vaccines reduce the incidence of long Covid, which disproportionately strikes the young and those free of co-morbidities, often after asymptomatic cases.

                  1. Joe Well

                    From the CDC, the risk reduction wrt hospitalization is 1000%:

                    “Weekly COVID-19–associated hospitalization rates among children and adolescents rose nearly five-fold during late June–mid-August 2021, coinciding with increased circulation of the highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant. The proportions of hospitalized children and adolescents with severe disease were similar before and during the period of Delta predominance. Hospitalization rates were 10 times higher among unvaccinated than among fully vaccinated adolescents.”

            2. megrim

              Nowhere did I see him making an argument about anyone’s behavior. This essay is about the incessant *talking point* that covid is only dangerous to the old. I’ve been hearing it ad nauseum for nearly twenty months now. It’s a pretty callous and short-sighted argument, even if it were true.

              1. JBird4049

                >>>Nowhere did I see him making an argument about anyone’s behavior.

                With respect, he didn’t? Not even by inference? Talking informs belief, which determines behavior.

                Further, to not act is to act. We do not have to “do” anything to kill. And we, as a society, have been skirting with eugenics simply by not acting and then justifying it during and afterwards with lies of omission at best, or worse, with deliberate lies of commission made into a campaign of propaganda in an effort to both justify and commit murder. First, with the poor and then with the elderly. This is all linked.

          3. Badbisco

            More and more you seem to be astonished and disappointed that everyone doesn’t absolutely always agree with you. Have you ever considered that your own personal Covid take is so fervent that it is weakening the strength of NC analysis and the articles you promote? I’m still astonished that a site of this caliber regularly amplifies the wildly inaccurate, solely designed to generate panic, tweets of Feigl-Ding.

            1. Basil Pesto

              Are you happy with where not “panicking” (an insidious PR euphemism to mischaracterise those who merely advocate action, instead of Panglossian “lalala I’m not listening this virus will attenuate by itself soon”) has got us so far? If so, why?

            2. Yves Smith Post author

              Project much? We are disappointed because the responses are illogical and emotional personal projections on what Taleb said. I see you side with the emotional and illogical. Glad we have that clear.

              Tell us where our Covid take has been wrong. It hasn’t been except for erring early on in buying the authorities trashing masks, which we corrected early. So you are shooting the messenger because you’d rather have happy talk. I suggest you watch Disney movies and stop trying to censor us.

              And as for Feigl-Ding, your statement is ad hominem and a violation of our written site Policies. I can’t recall a single reader every contesting the accuracy of any of his tweets that we reproduced here. The time was to take issue then, and not attempt a drive by smear now.

    1. ptb

      @Orca – Comparing two groups selected based only on vaxx status, we are also introducing an age difference, because the vaccinated subpopulation tends to be older. Thus, without further controlling for age, it wouldn’t be clear whether the higher mortality is from of the vaxx or the difference in age between the two groups being compared.

      1. Orca

        Yes, demographic is certainly a factor. But I have seen multiple data points that show excess mortality among vaccinated. The most glaring ones show much higher deaths soon after mass vaccination. Below is one German study that concludes “the higher the vaccination rate, the higher the excess mortality.” You will need a translation plug in to read in English.

        P.s. Even if unvaccinated has a higher overall mortality risk, it may not be apparent. The excess mortality can ‘spread’ over many months/years until they contract Covid. On the other hand, vaccinated gets hit with excess deaths (due to spike protein) ‘immediately’.

  10. I.M.

    Yves Thanks For This
    Comments were interesting!
    Taleb is always interesting love him or hate him – a smart man, entertainer, and voice of reason and sanity!

  11. ven


    My assumption was that his argument was with respect to take-up of vaccines by the young.

    If the issue is about herd immunity, it is quite a nuanced subject. Many virologists have argued that herd immunity is the only way to get out of this pandemic. So then the challenge is how to protect the old / vulnerable, and also how to treat the sick. Hence the argument for vaccinating only the old.

    The only other option to herd immunity is a stringent lockdown and effective contact tracing, which China did. But given that we are beyond that point now, achieving herd immunity combined with active treatment of the ill seems to be the only way out. Leaky vaccines that spur virus mutations certainly aren’t.

    And there are plenty of treatment options available – from oro-phangeal sanitation to hydoxycholroquine and ivermectin. The issue is that they are banned rather than widely discussed, debated and disseminated.

    The case fatality rate is relatively low – and declines with youth. So imagine what CFR COULD be if early intervention treatments were more actively propagated.

    Your / Taleb’s ire should really be directed there.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Taleb is very opinionated and says what he means. And he didn’t make ANY policy recommendation. Stop sticking words in his mouth. You’ve made two violations of our site Policies, straw manning and now broken record. You are accumulating troll points.

      You are the one who keeps insisting on attributing prescriptions to him. Do you not understand that you can’t come up with the right approaches if you proceed from a false characterization of the problem? Our GM, who is young, has banged on regularly about the morbidity danger, that even with complying fully with the vaccination regime, the average young person will get Covid at least 3x before the ages of 60. And he was assuming annual vaccinations when he first came up with that estimate. More frequent vax cycles = more infections for the average recipient.

      GM has estimated easily a 10 year decline in life expectancy among the young as a result. Taleb makes essentially the same argument. But you want to blow off what Taleb actually says and attribute your own view to him? That isn’t on.

      The young get Long Covid at much higher levels, and there’s reason to think it creates long term morbidity. Symp

      1. saywhat?

        GM has estimated easily a 10 year decline in life expectancy among the young as a result. Yves

        That’s an average decline, no? And assuming no aggregate lifestyle changes? In other words, not all the young will have 10 years trimmed off their lives?

        I see Covid as a challenge to healthier living, ie. those who meet it might live just as long as before but those who don’t won’t.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is arrogant and for someone who professes to be religious, taunting God.

          You don’t know what your genetics are like. As I said, a healthy and fit 29 year old cop I know second hand wound up hospitalized with Covid. It is very widely reported that young people with no known co-morbidities, often after asymptomatic cases, are getting Long Covid, and it looks conceivable that Long Covid will generate long-term morbidity.

          1. saywhat?

            Thanks for the correction; I seriously misspoke. Mea culpa.

            Except for your excellent reply it evoked, I should wish to have never made that remark.

            These are interesting times …

        2. Joe Well

          >>That’s an average decline, no? In other words, not all the young will have 10 years trimmed off their lives?

          You don’t seem to know what an average is.

          No, not all will have 10 years trimmed off. Some will lose 1 month and some will have 60 trimmed off (that is, they’ll die at 20). You add the losses up, divide by the number of people, and the average is 10 years (hypothetically).

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I have read that there is no such thing as “herd immunity” with respect to any of the coronaviruses.
        That is why we keeping catching colds over and over and over again.

        So referrences to ” achieving herd immunity” by the Great and the Good, and the Commanders of society, were a cynical diversion designed to distract people from the unstated policy of ” let covid Jackpot rip”.

        We can either adopt the ChinaGov approach of “exterminate covid from existence” or we can accept the current nonChina policy of “let covid Jackpot rip”. If we keep applying the policy of “let covid Jackpot rip” then we will finally achieve the false appearance of herd immunity when every last person who could get sick and die prematurely because of covid has finally done so. And all their descendants too. That would not be herd immunity. That would be Darwinian selection immunity, treating covid as a Darwin filter to force every single person in the world through so as to kill every single person who cannot make it through the Darwin filter. At which point the Overclass spokesmouths will say: “There! You see? Herd immunity!”

  12. jim truti

    Taleb is way overrated as an intellectual imho.
    His only readable book was the Black Swan, and for anyone who reads Bertrand Russell and classic philosophy, its obvious that Taleb borrowed most of his work from him/them, even the turkey anecdote.
    His latter books are complete gibberish in my opinion.
    I dont know why people who make a lot of money by specific skill or accident, all of the sudden feel entitled to lecture humanity on the wisdom of life. Oh the human vanity! (The most egregious example being Ray Dalio’s Principles).
    My respect for Taleb (in a similar way as for Jordan Peterson) doesnt stem from his/their intellectual work. I respect him for the courage to stand up and speak his mind in matters that most people self-censor not to damage their reputation and standing. He has some skin in the game in this sense.
    Yet, as Schopenhauer says, that which we do not wish we cannot perceive, Taleb’s essay speaks well to his wishes, he is getting old.
    I dont disagree with his conception of filial piety and elderly care, but if anything, Covid has made the chasm between young and old only bigger. Its not going to be bridged easily. The sacrifices seem to be borne always by the young. Stop lecturing them.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You have not read his best book, Fooled by Randomness or apparently his work on the Fourth Quadrant, which describes the sort of situations where using probability to guide decisions does not work.

      He also said in the Black Swan that he chose to write in a difficult to understand manner to force readers to think. That may just be rationalization but he knew what he was doing.

      And he does not depict himself as an intellectual but a flâneur and an expert on risk and statistics. However he makes clear that he respects intellectuals, academics and artists way way more that businessmen and pols. He is very proud of his French sensibilities.

      1. jim truti

        Nassim was a profitable trader who made his money during 1987 stock market crash.
        He had accumulated a large position in near-worthless out-of-the-money Eurodollar futures puts which went up in price by more than 10 times during the crash.
        It was absolute luck, (which he had the honesty to recognize by the way).
        You have to keep in mind these optics when you read him because his life was significatly changed by this single event, he made what he calls “Fuxx you money”.
        Throughout his books, there is this central idea of black swan / randomness to life which reflects mainly his own experience and some inherent truth about luck which I dont disagree with.
        Luck and randomness play an indisputable role in life, but you dont need to write so many books to drive home that point. A street vendor in a mediterranean street corner can give/confirm that much and some more.
        Flaneurs dont write books or do complicated math. They “flannent”, which is the opposite of focusing and writing books.
        When we refuse flattery, it is usually because we want to hear it again.
        Taleb is an intellectual, he has some skin in the game, but his skin is very thin, as de la Rochefoucauld would say, ” S’il y a des hommes dont le ridicule n’ait jamais paru, c’est qu’on ne l’a pas bien cherché” – if his ridicule has never shown, its because no one has looked good enough.
        This was obvious for anyone following his feud in twitter with Snowden.
        His relentless and childlike attack on Snowden was pitiful.
        I dont want to diminish him, but his contribution to original and new ideas is nothing, similar to J Peterson. It happened that he embodied a narrative that suited the market crash of the time and he capitalized on it.
        Name one thing original he has said or written that hasn’t been said or known before him.

        1. LilD

          I was in the pit with him briefly and we were both under the same umbrella about 2000-2005. I had deep oversight into the trading.
          Known in the pit as “Nassim the dream”. His tail bet sort of paid off in 1987 but he’s a negative alpha guy overall.
          I like most of his books, but he was and is a bad trader.
          Also an unbelievable asshole, happy to say unnecessarily mean things to people he disdains, which is nearly everyone. He’s mellowed a little with the success of his books and I read him. But calling his total trading record “good” is simply incorrect.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Then how do you explain the performance of his portfolio hedge product run by Universa, which is subject to third party verification:

            Just as important, Universa’s risk mitigation also cost relatively little to employ. The benefit outweighed the cost; thus, the Universa risk mitigated portfolio CAGR bested the SPX CAGR by 3.6% over the total 12 years observed, which translates to a 47.9% gain in terminal wealth. It arguably added more value than could have been realized in any other risk mitigation strategy, at least that we know of (including long-duration treasury bonds).


            1. LilD

              Universa is not Taleb’s trading, though. it’s “Taleb inspired”. Spitznagel is the guy, Taleb is an advisor not a portfolio manager or CIO.

              Empirica was mostly his, as was his options trading.

              1987 was pretty much the win. It was a great win.

    2. Basil Pesto

      Yet, as Schopenhauer says, that which we do not wish we cannot perceive, Taleb’s essay speaks well to his wishes, he is getting old.

      Three paragraphs of puddle-deep critique were building up to that? Good grief.

      1. jim truti

        agree, its a cheap shot, but dont expect me to “deep critique” Taleb’s work here, the format of this forum is not appropriate and Yves wont appreciate.
        I was simply trying to point out some inconsistencies.
        Its always good practice to suspect someone’s intentions and recommendations if they stand to profit from it. I am not sure Taleb would write the same essay if he was 25 years old.
        The older we grow, the more we fear death as its imminence gets closer and closer. Plus you have a lot of time to ponder it. A couple of old people I know are so convinced the unvaccinated are out to get them, they will probably wont hesitate to shoot them given the chance.
        Plus, its an anglosaxone tradition to critique the ideas and the person writing them. Generally, its a shortcut to discover hypocrisy.
        Continental critique usually focusses more on the ideas than the persona, e.g. Rousseau’s prescriptions on child education would have never had the same impact in England given that Rousseau abandoned all his children to be raised by state welfare, yet wrote a very influential book on how to educate and raise kids. Or take Heidegger, he is still venerated as a genius in Europe whereas here is seen more as a nazi collaborator.
        I still think bad people can have valid insights but the integrity and personal interests of the person matter.
        Anyway sorry from this digression from the subject of the conversation.

        1. Lambert Strether

          > The older we grow, the more we fear death as its imminence gets closer and closer.

          Speak for yourself. What I fear is dying badly. (The argument can also be made that thinking of death, as the Stoics recommended, promotes some positive attributes.) Hopefully that fear can be alleviated by good planning. (Though it’s not clear to me that “Terror Management” can be practiced non-psychopathically in a profit-oriented society.)

          It is true that after a certain point, one does the math and counts the days. What I fear, with the Emperor Titus, is wasting those days. “Live all you can, it’s a mistake not to.” –Henry James, The Ambassadors.

        2. Basil Pesto

          Anyway sorry from this digression from the subject of the conversation.

          Yes, about that, do you have any non-sophomoric criticism of this piece that goes beyond “yeah well he’s getting old so he would say that wouldn’t he?”, unadorned with superfluous, trivial, and onanistic references to philosophy?

          Because if you don’t, your “pointing out inconsistencies” isn’t worth a hill of beans. It’s easy to be critical of Taleb on this or that issue. It’s also an irrelevant (and highly suspect) distraction in the present instance.

          And to return to your earlier post and your remark about “not lecturing the young”, I feel compelled to point out: I am young. Furthermore, prior to 2020 I have lead a lifestyle that is highly incompatible with minimising covid infection risk: think almost weekly forays to music venues all over the world with no ventilation to speak of and lots of shouting to be heard above music or the din. Lots of bars too (where I mostly read quietly). I do not feel lectured-to by this piece. In fact I feel exasperated, and indeed infuriated, by dishonest appeals made in the name of the youth of people like me and my friends (typically made by older people guided by a particular belief system, I notice) that are being made to rationalise inaction against a disease that has upended a large chunk of my previous, fairly youthful and pleasant lifestyle, and much else besides. It is the fact of the virus and the willingness to let it spread uncontrolled that has done this. Moreover, by stubbornly avoiding temporary ‘freedom’-crimping inconvenience in the short term we have guaranteed freedom-crimping inconveniences indefinitely for the foreseeable future. What is so difficult to understand about this? How stupid can you get? I cannot believe that Schopenhauer, a non-fool sufferer if ever there was one, would approve in the slightest.

          I am also infuriated by the fact that this inaction will lead to the suffering of the elderly. My mother and father are extremely vulnerable to this virus and, if infected, will die a very unpleasant death (my father has gone invasive medical treatments to avoid such outcomes in the past, and that is what my sibling and I want for him).

          Such people advocating inaction on the basis of a flawed theory of virology (“herd immunity”) while wringing their hands on behalf of the young do not speak for me, you might be interested to know. Moreover, I know at least a few confreres, some even younger than me, who feel the same way. We also benefit from the experience of knowing that ‘living with the virus’ is not only an undesirable goal and a moronic nugget of received wisdom, but one whose antithesis is attainable because we, specifically, have attained it already where we live, and returned to our youthful, joie-de-vivrey ways when we did, relinquishing this superior mode of living once vaccines become available and the government decided “that’s enough of that, let’s be failures instead”.

          Perhaps it is we, the young who you feign such tender concern for, who should be doing the lecturing, and the pseudo-intellectual olds stubbornly in thrall to a meagre, musty belief system doing the listening, for a change.

          1. jim truti

            No, I dont. What I see is that our urge for action and desire to fix things is making it worse. Maybe we should be more humble about the whole thing, including about fixing.
            “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” Pascal.

  13. Reify99

    Fatalism for the other guy. Hmm.

    Ultimately it becomes fair to filter this hot groupthink mess through a psychological model or two. After all,
    these psychological defense mechanisms are just another kind of “vaccination”, if only inoculating our personal delusional systems.

    Currently, when we add the “adjuvant” of neoliberalism with it’s fondness for corporate xxxxxpaths, we get, at the level of national discourse, a blend of the stages of denial and bargaining, somewhere between the Art of the Deal and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief.

    We’re coming off another propagandized flight into health at the moment. Not good. Need better bargaining, er, messaging.

    If Covid has 1% mortality in those it infects and will, over time, find a way to infect everyone, that’s eventual US deaths of 3.5 million, and 80 million worldwide. This is the goal we are grieving toward. Our shambolic failure to modify this will complicate this grief.

  14. PlutoniumKun

    I find the comments here quite curious. When I read this on his Medium I was going to recommend it for links, I’m glad to see it was posted. His arguments seem (to me) to be very clear and a necessary reposte to the implicit policies of so many countries that a certain level of deaths among the old and ill is just a sad necessity. Actually, its not so implicit in many countries.

    Taleb, to my knowledge, doesn’t write much on Covid, but he has consistently been proven right on his basic point – which he made as far back as January 2020 – that infectious diseases of unknown long term impact are a classic example of a low probability but high impact risk which is consistently overlooked by public and private managers alike. The only rational response to a risk like Covid is to over react – do everything you can, as fast as you can, to stomp it out if at all possible. Any other option will prove vastly more costly and damaging. He was right in January 2020 and he is right now.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > His arguments seem (to me) to be very clear and a necessary reposte to the implicit policies of so many countries that a certain level of deaths among the old and ill is just a sad necessity.

      It’s almost like these “many countries” are being run by democidal ruling classes. One can only wonder what their next tranche for culling might be, and what preferred policy options in their portfolio will be exercised.

      UPDATE Adding, it seems that “young” in “young psychopaths” was triggering to some, much in the same way that my contention that MSP and LAX/(JFK+EWR) were not comparable in terms of risk of bringing new variants into the country was triggering.

      I have, however, seen any number of tweets and throwaway comments to the effect that “the sooner the old die, the better”; this has always been implicit in generational analysis, and now it is open. I associate this with the bucket of death concept I wrote about in Water Cooler yesterday. I think it’s fair to categorize this view as psychopathic, and it is rarely held by the olds.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Maybe I tend to attribute bad policies more to stupidity than malignity, but I think most of the bad reaction can be attributed to various forms of cognitive bias (see, for example, this nice concise article in, but then maybe thats my own cognitive bias at work.

        The ‘young pyschopath’ thing certainly was triggering and maybe a little unfair – most of the really nasty stuff I’ve seen has been from the middle aged – those who see Covid as a threat to their own personal career propects and are happy to sacrifice others for their ambitions. But I’ve seen bad behaviour all round. I know of a lady in her 70’s who broke quarantine last year because she refused to lose out on her annual Spanish sunshine holiday (her children were horrified but couldn’t stop her). I also have a family member who had to throw his stepson out of their house because the stepson was breaking lockdown and endangering his mother, who is very high risk.

        But ultimately, we pay our politicians and senior officials to make hard decisions for us. They are the ones ultimately responsible when bad decisions are made at policy level.

  15. Dave in Austin

    A couple of days ago Yves rightly pointed out that the increase in rapid international travel helps foster the spread of diseases like Covid. But the unprecedented increase in 80-100 year-olds also helps explain the high death rates from Covid. Here are the Dutch numbers:
    Over age 90 3,823
    80-89 8,032
    70-79 4,691
    60-69 1,464
    50-59 440
    Under age 50 152

    The US numbers (below) reflect the same trend although the elderly US population has a less-healthy profile because we walk and bike less and eat a less healthy diet:

    I think it is important that we begin to more carefully differentiate between issues related to:

    Covid Status: 1) Covid positive antibody tests (often with no Covid symptoms); 2) Covid cases; 3) Covid hospitalizations; 4) Covid hospitalizations on ventilators: 5) Covid deaths.

    Within most of these category we have individual and population status related to: 1) age; 2) co-morbidity; 3) vaccination; 4) behavior (masks, going into crowds, etc); 5) social capital.

    And finally our outcome profiles can be divided among: 1) those who die; 2) those who 2A) live with no long-term consequences and 2B) those who have prolonged consequences; 3) those who live and get reinfected either by repeating past behavior or at random.

    Creating a taxonomy is relatively easy and very useful. The hard part comes in making decisions about individuals who fall into these different categories, decisions influenced by morality and utility: 1) how do we triage? 2) should triage take personal behavior into account? 3) should we value different lives based on factors like future utility, our personal affection for the victim and the cost of prolonging the life? 4) do we make decisions based on likely outcomes in terms of quality of life and years of life saved? Everything in this paragraph relates to all medical decisions, not just ones about Covid. And we as a society prefer not to think systematically about what we generally call “trade-offs”.

    I’m fairly sure my point-of-view is influenced by growing up in a Catholic academic tradition.

    I propose no answers, just a framework.

    1. redleg

      Why the focus on deaths (in general)?
      Long term effects occur in something like 20-25% of infections, with associated costs of care and list work/wages. These health and economic impacts all affect the greater community and economy. How many people can afford to miss 3 weeks of work? Or three months, if you get post-covid pneumonia?

      The sickness part of the illness by itself probably poses a larger threat than mortality, but I’ve yet to see that addressed at all, let alone in a way that it can be assessed and compared.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        The only way to see that is for enough people to hammer hammer hammer it in the teeth of establishment desire to suppress suppress suppress it until the establishment is sensory-overloaded into surrendering to permitting discussion of the long-term effects problem.

    2. Lambert Strether

      > how do we triage?

      I remember a post at my old blog (not by me but long succumbed to link rot) that compared profit and non-profit hospitals in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

      The administrators in profit hospitals immediately began to plan for triage, and indeed triaged patients died. The administrators in non-profit hospitals immediately began to plan to save everyone, and did. No patients died. Not an RCT, of course….

      I would always beware of starting with the necessity of triage, because that accepts currently configured resources as a given, a political (and administrative) choice.

  16. Bart Hansen

    On this Taleb statement:
    “Now if we were to compute the effect on life expectancy, note that the effect acts across the board: a 30 year old loses more than 50 years of life, an 80 y.o. loses about a decade, etc.”

    This has to do with those who die at the above ages, I assume. Some day there will be more data on the life expectancy of the long Covid sufferers. That also should affect life expectancy.

    Am I understanding this correctly?

  17. LawnDart

    A reminder…

    When someone is infected with COVID-19 the immune system sends white blood cells to battle the virus where they release inflammatory molecules designed to kill off the virus. But it leaves behind fluid and pus that clogs up the lungs and disrupts the vital transfer of oxygen.

    The patient struggles to breathe as oxygen levels in the blood plummet, leading to mental confusion and delirium.

    “We used to get very, very distressed people coming up from the ward to ICU who were hypoxic and they were quite agitated, trying to rip everything off, breathing rapidly but they still couldn’t get enough air,” she says.

    They are also heavily sedated and paralysed, Elliott says, to stop the body’s natural reflex to fight against the machinery that is being pushed into their lungs and taking over their breathing reflex: “The treatment is too uncomfortable. Otherwise the patient would not tolerate it,” she says.

    The virus is doing deep damage to the lungs but with the rest of the body beginning to be deprived of oxygen other organs are also starting to deteriorate. The liver, heart, kidneys and intestines are particularly vulnerable.

    As they begin to malfunction, their vital role in multiple life-sustaining functions is disrupted.

    Many patients experience bouts of diarrhoea as the virus enters the cells of the intestinal tract causing inflammation and a leaky gut lining that can allow intestinal pathogens to escape into the abdominal cavity and reproduce.

    The body is poisoning itself.

    During this phase COVID-19 patients are often diagnosed with brain inflammation causing confusion, seizures and strokes. Similar inflammation is seen in the heart leading to increased incidence of blood clots and heart attack.

    At this stage of the disease organs begin to break down leading to catastrophic organ failure. This is how people die.

    So much for departing this world with dignity and grace.

    The psychopaths that Taleb points toward tend to be much more outspoken on sites other than this. And, for some who may not have noticed, there are functional psychopaths in leadership roles who have or who are busily shaping the reality in which we live (Cuomo, Faucci… …too many to list here).

    Neoliberal capitalism has infected not only our society, but our thinking, our relations towards one another– human interactions are devolving into simple, cold transactions, it seems. This othering very much takes me to Niemoller’s famous poem, in a sense, as we leave the age of enlightenment and reason behind us as an abstract and faded memory, together with our humanity.

    The fact that any one of use could suffer a covid fate, drowning in pus while s**tting ourselves, totally alone, seems only to be growing more likely with each passing mutation. Personally, I don’t think Omicron is the one: I am waiting for Omega.

    Third iteration of the Golden Rule: What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      The bed you make for someone else is the bed you lie in when you become someone else’s someone else.

      1. LawnDart

        Yeah, ain’t living life in the food-chain wonderful? I much prefer the illusions that the pretense of civility can afford, at least, for those of us who can on occasion afford it.

        About two grams of soma ought to work…

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