A Truth That’s Told With Bad Intent

Epsilon Theory PDF Download (paid subscription required): A Truth That’s Told With Bad Intent

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

William Blake (1757 – 1827)

That’s Isaac Newton in William Blake’s painting, one of the major villains in Blake’s philosophy. Why? Because Newton was a modeler, a proponent of Science with a capital S, the most repressive force in the modern age.

I think Blake was absolutely right.

Our narratives of COVID-19 are all lies.

They are lies of a particular sort, political narratives that have a nugget of truth within them, but are told with bad intent. They are told this way because it works. Because the nugget of truth hides a deeper, unpleasant truth. And a Big Lie.

Some are narratives of the political left. Some are narratives of the political right.

They are all narratives of betrayal, meaning that they seek to excuse or promote policies designed for institutional advantage rather than the common good.

Clockwise from Donald Trump, that’s Fox’s Sean Hannity, the CDC’s Robert Redfield, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Harvard President Larry Bacow, the White House’s Larry Kudlow, and Vox co-founder Ezra Klein. They all get their moment of shame in our magnum opus on the ubiquitous institutional betrayals here in the early days of the pandemic age – First the People.

How do you recognize a political narrative of betrayal?

It’s always based on a model.

A political narrative of betrayal is always a top-down application of social abstraction, where a behavioral model is treated as the thing unto itself, falsely elevated as the subject and object of policy, rather than relegated to the analytical toolbox where it belongs. A political narrative of betrayal will always use “model” as a noun rather than “model” as a verb. A political narrative of betrayal always BEGINS with a prescriptive model of mass behavior – a model that by the most amazing coincidence serves the institutional advantage of the narrative creator – and ENDS with a forced fit to the individual citizen.

All political narratives of betrayal start like this, with a disembodied, modeled abstraction like “the American way of life” or “the economy” or “the market” or “public health” or “national security”. An abstraction that is then defined for you in such a way as to logically require the willing abdication of your individual rights, first as an American and ultimately as a human being.

A political lie always starts by establishing a disembodied, modeled abstraction like “the economy”. From there, the political lie will then start talking about the “sacrifices” that we citizens need to make for this disembodied, modeled abstraction.

Nothing makes me angrier.

Nothing makes me angrier than a politician like Chris Christie, a man whose idea of personal sacrifice is a regular order of fries, shaking his finger at us and telling us how reopening the local Arby’s is just like fighting Nazi Germany, how OUR deaths then and now are a “necessary sacrifice” in order to  “stand up for the American way of life.”

The American Way of Life™ does not exist. It’s not a thing.

What exists is the way of life of Americans.

Start with the individual American. Start with their political rights. Start with the citizens themselves. This is how a legitimate government acts in both words and deeds.

The government’s job – its ONE JOB – is to protect our individual rights in ways that we cannot do ourselves. That’s not an easy job. At all. There are trade-offs and gray areas, and clear-eyed/full-hearted people can disagree on how to accomplish that job. But it is the job.

Its job is NOT to create “alternative” facts like modeled seasonal flu deaths or modeled herd immunity or modeled COVID-19 deaths in nudging service to institutional goals. Its job is NOT to champion the rights of the politically-connected few and ignore the rights of the politically-unconnected many. Its job is NOT to deny the rights of any citizen in service to a politically convenient abstraction like “the American way of life” or “the economy” or “public health”.

When individual rights conflict in unavoidable ways or we are faced with an immediate and overwhelming threat to our system of individual rights, a legitimate government based on the consent of the governed may be forced to decide which citizens’ rights must be temporarily suspended. This is a legitimate government’s last resort.

Today it is our government’s first resort.

Today it is the first choice of our political leaders – White House and statehouse, Democrat and Republican – to decide which rights to prioritize and which rights to deny in service to THEIR conception of what society should look like. All wrapped up in a nugget of truth told with bad intent.

This is how an illegitimate government acts.

Like this:

Model-driven Narrative #1

Whatabout the Flu?

Dr. Sanjay “minor compared to the flu” Gupta 
Rush “it’s just the common cold, folks” Limbaugh
  • Political goal: COVID-19 threat minimization.
  • Truth nugget: The seasonal flu is a nasty (and mitigatable) disease.
  • Deep Truth nugget: We are shockingly blasé about all sorts of largely preventable deaths, and we warehouse our elderly parents in horrible places.
  • Big Lie:  This isn’t a big deal.
  • Policy prescription: Wash your hands, boys and girls!
  • Embedded model:   Laughably inaccurate models of seasonal flu deaths, designed to nudge popular adoption of annual vaccinations.

As the US death toll mounts, this narrative fades farther and farther into the background of our collective memory, but “Whatabout the Flu?” dominated the early weeks of American policy debates. And while it’s easy to find examples of this narrative from the political right, let’s not forget that CNN and Vox were beating this drum as hard as they could when Trump was shutting down some flights from China.

People don’t believe me when I tell them that we don’t actually count flu deaths, that the numbers thrown around by the Dr. Guptas and the Rush Limbaughs are taken from CDC models of pneumonia deaths. But it’s true. Basically we count pediatric flu deaths and hospitalized adult flu deaths, multiply by six, and intentionally generate an inflated flu death total. Why intentional? Because you need to be nudged into taking your annual flu vaccine.

If we compare, for instance, the number of people who died in the United States from COVID-19 in the second full week of April to the number of people who died from influenza during the worst week of the past seven flu seasons (as reported to the CDC), we find that the novel coronavirus killed between 9.5 and 44 times more people than seasonal flu. In other words, the coronavirus is not anything like the flu: It is much, much worse. – Scientific American (April 28, 2020)

On an apples-to-apples, counted deaths versus counted deaths basis, there is no comparison between COVID-19 and the flu. It’s pure narrative. Pure hokum. All based on a laughably inaccurate model. All geared towards the political lie of COVID-19 minimization.

Model-driven Narrative #2

Herd Immunity!

Anders “the death toll surprised us” Tegnell of Sweden 
Dan “more important things than living” Patrick of Texas

  • Political goal: Preservation of economic status quo.
  • Truth nugget: Massive unemployment is devastating.
  • Deep Truth nugget: Massive unemployment is particularly devastating to incumbent politicians.
  • Big Lie:  In the meantime, we can protect the olds and the sicks.
  • Policy prescription: Hey, you’ll probably be fine! I mean … probably.
  • Embedded model:   Laughably inaccurate models of COVID-19 infection spread and severity, designed to nudge fantasies of V-shaped recoveries in the stock market and commercial real estate prices.

Again, it’s easy to find examples of this narrative from the political right, but let’s not forget that the most prominent national example of “Herd Immunity!” policy is driven by the leftwing Social Democrats – Green Party coalition in Sweden. Again, the politicization of these narratives is not a left/right thing, it’s a power thing.

It’s a high-functioning sociopath thing.

What do I mean by sociopathy and division?

I mean the way our political and economic leaders beat the narrative drum about how this virus prefers to kill the old rather than the young, as if that matters for our policy choices, as if older Americans are lesser Americans, as if we should think of them differently – with less empathy – than Americans who are more like “us”.

I mean the way our political and economic leaders beat the narrative drum about how this virus prefers to kill those with “pre-existing conditions”, as if that matters for our policy choices, as if chronically ill Americans are lesser Americans, as if we should think of them differently – with less empathy – than Americans who are more like “us”.

I mean the way our political and economic leaders beat the narrative drum about how this virus hits certain “hotspot” regions, as if that matters for our policy choices, as if hotspot regions are lesser regions, as if we should think of Americans who live there differently – with less empathy – than Americans who are in “our” region.

And once you stop thinking in terms of trade offs, once you stop thinking in terms of probabilities and projected mortality rates and cost/benefit analysis and this expected utility model versus that expected utility model … once you start thinking in terms of empathy and Minimax Regret … everything will change for you. – Once In A Lifetime

Model-driven Narrative #3

Flatten the Curve!

Gov. Andrew “we need 40,000 ventilators” Cuomo  
Dr. Deborah “Trump is so attentive to the data” Birx

  • Political goal: COVID-19 threat maximization.
  • Truth nugget: Lockdowns prevent a surge in cases which can overwhelm the healthcare system.
  • Deep Truth nugget: When we’ve got everyone freaked out about staying alive, there’s no end to the crazy authoritarian stuff we can get away with.
  • Big Lie:  We can get R-0 down to zero.
  • Policy prescription: You’ll find these ankle monitors to be surprisingly light and comfortable to wear!  
  • Embedded model:   Laughably inaccurate models of COVID-19 deaths, malleable enough to serve the political aspirations of both the White House and their opponents.

Of the three politicized narratives, “Flatten the Curve!” has morphed the most from its original form, as its early success in convincing even Donald Trump that lockdowns were necessary to prevent a healthcare system meltdown gave both its White House missionaries and its state house missionaries free rein to use this narrative to fill a wide range of policy vacuums.

The original goals of “Flatten the Curve!” – to prevent a surge in COVID-19 cases with the potential to overwhelm the healthcare system – were achieved. The flood in New York City crested … and fell. Other cities that seemed as if they might follow in NYC’s footsteps … did not. Mission accomplished! But in the grand tradition of other initially successful emergency government interventions (“Quantitative Easing!”, anyone?) “Flatten the Curve!” is well on its way to becoming a permanent government program.

Today, “Flatten the Curve!” has become the narrative rationale for a range of extraordinary executive actions – on both the left AND the right – that would make Lincoln blush. This is the narrative that will propel the Surveillance State into a permanent feature of American life. This is the narrative that will propel the final transformation of capital markets into a political utility. This is the narrative that will propel us into a war with China. If we let it.

If we let it.

Okay, Ben, how do we stop it? How do we turn this misbegotten process of political lying on its head? How do we reject top-down, model-derived policies and their narratives? How do we BEGIN with the biology of this virus and the rights of individual citizens and build a policy framework from THAT?

This virus is 2-6x more contagious/infectious than the seasonal flu (depending on environment), and 10-20x more deadly/debilitating (depending on whether or not your local healthcare system is overwhelmed). It hits men harder than women, and the old harder than the young. Those are the facts. They’ve been the facts since January when we first studied this virus. The facts have not changed.

Knowing these biological facts, what social policies would you design around THAT?

As a 56 year-old man in just ok physical condition, I figure I have a 1% chance of death or disability if I catch COVID-19 when my local healthcare system is in good shape, maybe 4% if my healthcare system is overwhelmed. Both of those odds are completely unacceptable. To me. Other 56 year-old citizens may feel differently. Other 25 year-old citizens may feel the same. Each of us has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and the legitimacy of our government is predicated on preserving those rights for each of us. Liberty and justice for ALL … imagine that.

Knowing these foundational rights, what social policies would you design around THAT?

If you’ve read notes like Inception and The Long Now: Make, Protect, Teach and Things Fall Apart: Politics, you know that I am a full-hearted believer in acting from the bottom-up, in bypassing and ignoring the high-functioning sociopaths who dominate our top-down hierarchies of markets and politics. I still believe that.

But it doesn’t work with COVID-19.

The core problem with any rights-based approach to public policy is dealing with questions of competing rights. Under what circumstances could your right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness come into conflict with my right to life? Under most circumstances, neither of us is forced to compromise our rights, because we have the choice to NOT interact with each other. If my laundromat requires you to wear a mask to enter, but you think wearing a mask is an affront to your liberty, then the solution is easy: go wash your clothes somewhere else. And vice versa if I think your restaurant does a poor job of enforcing social distancing and food safety: I’ll take my business elsewhere.

Let me put this a bit more bluntly. I think that COVID-19 deniers and truthers are idiots. I think that people who minimize or otherwise ignore the clear and present danger that the biology of this virus presents to themselves and their families are fools. And there’s no perfect way to insulate their idiocy and foolishness from the rest of us. But if these idiots and fools want to take stupid risks alongside other idiots and fools, if their vision of liberty and the pursuit of happiness is to revel in some death cult, but in a way that largely allows us non-death cultists to opt out … well, I believe it is wrong for a government to stop them. Yes, there are exceptions. No, this isn’t applicable on all issues, all the time. But I believe with all my heart that if we are to take individual rights seriously, then we must take individual responsibility and agency just as seriously. Even self-destructive agency. Even in the age of COVID-19. Especially in the age of COVID-19.

There are three common and important circumstances, however, where this choice to NOT interact doesn’t exist, where the rights of yes, even idiots, to liberty and the pursuit of happiness as they understand it will inexorably come into conflict with the right to life of those who understand all too well the highly contagious and dangerous biology of this virus.

Only government can provide the necessary resources and the necessary coordination to resolve these conflicts of rights peacefully and without trampling the rights of one set of citizens or another.

You have no idea how much it pains me to say that.

It pains me because I think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that our government will do that.

Here’s how a legitimate government would deal with the three inevitable and irreconcilable conflicts of rights in the age of COVID-19:

Healthcare workers and first responders have no choice but to risk their right to life in caring for all citizens who are sick, regardless of the agency or lack thereof behind that sickness.

How does a legitimate government resolve this conflict?

By mobilizing on a war-time basis to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to ALL healthcare workers and social workers and first responders and public safety officers and anyone else who must serve the sick.

Workers who believe that their employer does not provide sufficient protection against this virus have no choice but to risk their right to life in their return to work, as unemployment insurance typically is unavailable for people who “voluntarily” quit their job.

How does a legitimate government resolve this conflict?

By providing a Federal safe harbor to unemployment claims based on COVID-19 safety concerns, AND by maintaining unemployment benefits at the current (higher) CARES Act level throughout the crisis.

All citizens who use public transit or use public facilities have no choice but to trust that their fellow citizens share a common respect for the rights of others, even if they may differ in their risk tolerance and private beliefs regarding the biology of the virus.

How does a legitimate government resolve this conflict?

By mobilizing on a war-time basis to provide ubiquitous rapid testing in and around all public spaces, starting today with symptom testing (temperature checks) and required masking to limit asymptomatic spread, and implementing over time near-instant antigen tests as they are developed.

It’s just not that hard.

But it is impossible. Politically impossible.

So what do we do?

“I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.”

— Albert Camus, The Plague (1947)

We do what we can. We howl our discontent. We resist. We help our neighbors. We make. We protect. We teach. We keep the small-l liberal virtues and the small-c conservative virtues alive in our hearts and our minds.

So what do we do?

For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing.

Epsilon Theory PDF Download (paid subscription required): A Truth That’s Told With Bad Intent

To learn more about Epsilon Theory and be notified when we release new content sign up here. You’ll receive an email every week and your information will never be shared with anyone else.


  1. Very glad to see your take on this. I was fearful you had fallen into the trap of the Lock It All Down! camp. The Open It All Up! camp is equally brimming with new recruits as well. Both are morons. There are so many more choices than the binary bullshit that this Widening Gyre presents as the only options for us.
    Covid is not the flu. Covid is also not the Spanish Flu. Our models and behavior that are based on the flu are completely wrong and dangerous. Our models and behavior based on the Spanish Flu are equally wrong and dangerous. I don’t know why this is a left/right thing. Everything is today though. God I wish people would wake up.
    I think a lot of the problem now is one of controlling the narrative. The fear of our sheepish sociopath “leaders” of having egg on their faces for overreacting will prevent them from telling the truth.
    The Lock It All Down! camp are fearful of losing their jobs (and maybe heads) if they show how much unnecessary devastation they caused will slowly relax lockdowns and point to data and say “We saved lives!”. The Open It All Up! camp are fearful of losing their jobs (and maybe their heads) if they show how much unnecessary devastation they caused will slowly increase lockdowns and point to data and say “We saved jobs!”. Both camps will be simultaneously right, and wrong.

  2. What is missing is information on how we can help ourselves strengthen our immune system which is being compromised by lockdown. The media is just fear fear fear when we could be taking vitamin C vitamin D and zinc supplements which will boost our immune systems. Expecting governments to tell us something useful like this is another snowballs chance given the cosy relationship with big pharmaceutical who don’t make money out of vitamins and have been lying about their efficacy.

  3. Idiots, huh?

    I can’t imagine why people who have been lied to over and over again wouldn’t believe what their told. I guess we should all go to Harvard so we can get smart too.

    “as unemployment insurance typically is unavailable for people who “voluntarily” quit their job.” Noted.

  4. On the vaccine front pharma has never been able to make a vaccine against any of the earlier Covid derivatives SARS / MERS or the common cold for that matter so we shouldn’t expect them to be successful this time either. Bill Gates can take his “vaccine” and shove it

  5. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Yes, I think COVID-19 deniers and truthers are idiots.

  6. Agree with chudson - I’m glad you clarified your position with regards the role of government. Your highlighted suggestions are a good start e.g. additional words regarding those confined in some way.
    As for ‘and implementing over time near-instant antigen tests as they are developed’ , you left out antibodies. Both antigen (virus) and antibody (host) tests have a way to go. The former (PCR) are indirect, so not definitive, and the latter will likely lead to ‘papers please’.
    Morphing ‘flatten the curve’ to ‘stop the spread, save lives!’ will be an ongoing conundrum for which clear thinking like this article will be a must. So excellent!! Finally, among the governed, the ‘snitches’ and ‘shamers’ are terrifying; I never thought I would see that.

  7. It was a rare treat to read something that differentiates between group “rights” and individual rights. That should be the starting point for any discussion of political solutions: can we first agree on the concept of individual rights, and can we agree that the purpose of government is to protect those rights?

    Unfortunately I don’t think either the right or the left believes that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights.

  8. As we slide and slalom down this slippery slope of believing an effectively articulated lie we ski off the edge of the sovereignty of our country. By the time we total up the cost of fighting COVID-19 we will be in free fall toward a different political economy- one we likely will detest.

  9. My question for you Giggles is… make the case that it is a faux event without stating a political agenda or unfounded claim as your source.

  10. Well you’ve got some policy prescriptions that you say are politically impossible; how much help is that to the policy maker?

    And yet if we hadn’t made the decisions over decades to outsource so much to China and elsewhere we’d be in a better position to test.

    As for the quarrels of human nature seeking power I could say your quarrel is with multi-party representative government and democracy, but I think your quarrel is with human nature itself. Politics and so policy is a power struggle and reflects human nature. The rest is how we organize. No dictatorship or King ever solved that problem. The closest we ever got was Stalin and Mao. Even Stalin had to feed Beria, even Mao had to fend off challenges.

    Mao really did kill or imprison them all, he leaves Stalin in the dust that way. But what did Mao’s heirs do?

    All policy Sir is a series of tradeoffs.
    It cannot be otherwise. War, peace, prosperity, depression. This lesson is being taught now, and harshly.

    The harshening has only begun.
    It will be harsher that we forbade risk now and chose to postpone the consequences. These are Depression level unemployment levels, these are hyperinflationary levels of money creation. There is also a thing called immunity and yes herd immunity and we’ve spit in its face, because we run from death, we hide from it everywhere. We rage rage rage ragehead against the dimming of the light - and demand our government defend us - yet snarl in resentment when they do.

    They who find unacceptable a 1~4% chance of death can perhaps reflect that its actually -100% certainty of death. So how do you want to live in that borrowed time we call life?

    It isn’t just live free or die; its live free then die. To be free one will have to kill and die to hold off those who’d enslave us. To die knowing your sacrifice makes it freer for others.

    Now if I want a proven government death program, if I want Logan’s Run (oh and we do Dear, Logan’s run is what we’ve been doing for decades) if I want to live well and safe in comfort, with the Illusion of freedom I’ll ask the government to save me - from myself, from neighbors, from CONSEQUENCES. That govt that comes to save you or to purify you will, will kill you. Its the history of the 20th century. Killing in great numbers with efficiency is a core strength of the State.

    Maybe Obama was right ignoring SARS, maybe Trump’s question of letting it wash over us wasn’t so stupid.

    As for SCIENCE meet the New Economists. Their time will pass.

    As will our rotten elites.

    But the new Boss will have the same choices as the Old Boss. His best course of action is to leave it alone, let us figure it out. Right or wrong we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.
    That’s Freedom, and Responsibility its price.

    Now that’s the best boss.

    The actual next boss worth mentioning is A Dictator. We’ll settle for nothing less. And by God we’ll get it good and hard.

  11. Short version; if you don’t like this boss, wait until you see the New Boss.

  12. Great stuff as always Ben. In regards to “Flatten the Curve,” the goal of managing the health care system’s capacity to prevent the worst outcomes has somehow morphed into a situation where the expectation really does seem to be 0 transmission so no one will ever get sick again. Not only is this unreasonable without a vaccine for Covid`-19 in specific it has proven a preposterous societal health goal at any point in history. I feel like somehow the most ruthless germ-phobic attitudes have taken control in a quest to achieve the impossible, yet you as always do tremendous work illustrating the motives behind these narratives.

  13. what “they are told” or “they’re told,” not “their told.” One must have a very high standard for oneself to convince other you know things

  14. Avatar for TyB TyB says:

    I love to hear your thoughts.

    I think governments’ burden of proof allowing restrictions on citizens’ liberties and rights should increase over time. The specific example from COVID-19 for me is the initial lock-down. Perhaps because I live in Seattle, with a gaping lack of understanding of the diseases’ infectiousness or lethality, warranted the government’s shut down out of an abundance of caution to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. I was in full support.

    As has been noted, the flatten-the-curve narrative has morphed into “No one will ever get sick again at any cost!” They have no proof this will work, or whether we will be get a vaccine in 6 months, a year, or ever? Frankly, our society has never organized itself around preventing all risk. I’m supportive of requiring masks or limiting large gatherings, I would fully support not only your suggestions but more extensive government support to provide protecting for the elderly, but I am no longer supportive of government restrictions that prevent people feeding their families provided they take reasonable precautions.

    Ben, you introduced me to the phrase “the widening gyre”. I see it everywhere now. I worry about extremism limiting politicians’ ability to be flexible. I see a lot of knee-jerk push back on political opponents’ positions that may-or-may-not prove correct, and I worry that our leaders are losing the flexibility to meet the changing facts as we learn. Leaders must not feel locked in by their past positions as better solutions present themselves. In addition, we need local leaders to address their local conditions differently, not get locked in by what Trump or Cuomo says. In the face of a novel pandemic (or any other challenge) flexibility of response over time strikes me as essential, and a “two teams” mindset works against flexibility. Of course, this would require leaders who would start off by admitting that there is a lot that they don’t know…and are willing to admit when they were wrong. I know, it’s a lot to ask.

  15. One piece that I think most have ignored, is the idea that if we hadn’t shut down - we still would have shutdown.
    Bodies lined up, massive lines at the ER, no beds in the ICU - these would have happened. And if you think anyone watching this unfold wold have said, " Wow, this is terrible, it’s so much worse than we were lead to believe. Oh well, who wants to go to Chili’s for dinner??"
    You’re kidding yourself.
    I’d add, that the massive, nationally semi-co-ordinated lockdown, helped focus policy makers. If it had been a slow, haphazard shutdown, first NYC, then Boston, then San Francisco, but eventually Miami, Dallas, etc - I’m not sure you would have gotten the massive PPP et al bailouts. But they still would have been needed.

  16. For the most part we are people without scientific or medical training ( I am anyway). I know for sure that I have been the victim of a misinformation campaign on this issue from start to finish. Does forming an opinion based on what I see make me an idiot? I guess I need to recognize when my opinion is informed and when it’s not. One of my prayers is to ask God to help me remain teachable.

  17. Surprising to read this on a few different levels.
    First, that you are fully on board the ‘this bug is gonna kill us all’ bandwagon.
    While I agree that most extremists on any issue are idiots of a kind, most of us in this pack are intelligent enough to do the math. COVID-19 is not living up to the hype.
    Call me a ‘Death-Cultist’ all you like, Ben, but the livelihoods of the 50 million newly unemployed do in fact outweigh the lives of the 78,000 80+ year old rest home living ‘victims’ of this bug. And these Greatest Generation old folks would be the first to remind you that they will sacrifice for the greater good of the future generations.

    Every citizen has the freedom to Shelter in Place and reduce personal exposure.
    Shelter in Place has costs and there should be support for those making this choice, particularly the vulnerable.
    Should this choice be imposed on everyone everywhere?
    How about rural areas with zero cases & zero deaths?
    One size does NOT fit all, and ‘We the People’ can see that government has vastly over-reached in this situation.

    MOST surprising is that the ‘REALLY BIG LIE’ was not even mentioned.
    The REALLY BIG LIE is that COVID-19 is CAUSING a Financial Crisis.
    Have seen at least a dozen news stories at local and national level ascribing the financial meltdown to the virus.
    Everyone who reads this site or John Mauldin has been waiting for the pin that will pop this bubble.
    The BIG LIE is that the virus is being pumped up to 11 to cover for the greatest monetary reset of our lifetimes.
    Maybe go re-watch Wag the Dog and see this ‘Pageant’ for what it is.
    We have the ENEMY, the WAR and the HEROES required for the Pageant, but they are going to need a bigger virus.
    When you observe the largest beneficiaries of the FIRST Money Drop were Boeing, the banks, hedge funds and the take-over of the insolvent money markets it becomes a bit more clear. COVID-19 had NOTHING to do with these failures.
    The insolvency bug started in October with ‘NOT Q-E’.

    Clear Eyes means we should be aware that a Second Wave may provide the bigger virus. Be prepared.
    Full Hearts get the pack strong and resilient. Immune Boosters, Vitamins C, D & A. Zinc. Gardens.
    A few extra bottles of brown stuff. A bidet (yes, I said it).
    Take steps now because our ‘Betters’ are warning us that this will be a ‘Dark Winter’.
    And finally, Welcome to the Technocracy.
    The New Boss is a Machine.

  18. The simplicity of your calls to action galvanize the appropriate path forward. I keep promoting your takes to my immediate family, friends and local community in hopes of creating more groundswell. March on, and thanks for the work you do.

  19. I like this post, I allows me to feel smugly superior to everyone. And at the end of the day that is the most important thing to me.

    But seriously, your policy suggestions are spot on and get to the core of it.

    And your worry of the permanence of the Surveillance State mirror my own.
    >This is the narrative that will propel the Surveillance State into a permanent feature of American life.

  20. On the economic front this administration is doing a better job then the 2 previous; PPP is real if not perfect- and its better then enormous bailouts to banks and the connected on top, and unemployment for the bottom while the middle class is left in the Cold ala like last time.

    Yes - it stinks. But at least socialism is making the attempt to be even handed in its subsidies. There was talk and actual programs last time but they were not executed.

    Contra Ben; once America’s pension plans became market based they became a public utility. Sorry.
    That’s social democracy.
    Trying to have a free market and democratic socialism (and we do) was never going to work. Once the masses were allowed and indeed incentivized well past nudging then The Market ™ became part of The Tragedy of The Commons.

    In fact the Market swings between Protagonist and Antagonist on a constant basis. That’s the Tragedy of the Commons measured by Indices.

  21. Ben your posts on this have been way ahead of the common knowledge news since well before “flattening” was a big brother talking point. Good work sir.

    As employees of a non-medical “essential business” my people are conducting a real time experiment in how much “Don’t come to work sick, Distance, Detergent, and Disinfectant” is enough. Not to model or to be a model, just trying to make it through.

    re: for the moment I know this, there are sick people…”

    “ I don’t know how many Covid tests were produced. I just know I didn’t get tested”
    (adapted from 1984)

  22. Thank God…for a while I was afraid that Rush L had been shown to be correct

  23. Flattening the curve has conveniently morphed into ‘wait for vaccine’, this should surprise no one.

  24. He’s partially correct, and partially wrong.
    We could say it’s because of Left/Right politics…but maybe it’s just the limits of humanity.

    Rush has 3 areas of expertise: Sports radio, talk radio, politics. If you view politics through the lens that politics is power and policy is who/whom [who does what to whom] then he begins to be at least half right…the right half. He’s also half wrong; that’s what picking a side means.

    And for all the romanticism of clear minds, brave hearts; picking a side is what it takes to be relevant.

  25. Let’s say hypothetically they have a breakthrough. Are you standing in line to take said vaccine?

  26. The data from many states show that citizens–without mandate by government–started isolating and distancing before they were officially ordered to. We naturally changed our behavior when we saw something potentially dangerous coming. I’m in Ohio, one of the states that acted quickly and (I believe) very thoughtfully before things got out of hand. But prior to our governor shutting things down, many of us had already chosen to skip going to restaurants or theaters or other crowded places. Your point about a shutdown being inevitable is spot on. It was going to happen, either by choice of the people, choice of the government, or a combination of both. It was unavoidable because that’s a normal response to this kind of threat.

  27. You bring up a good point in:re to the cost of the lockdown vs the value of life. Everyone who can discuss things in good faith (so maybe 3% of the population at this point) knows that it’s not callous to have a conversation about the trade-offs we make. Nobody would ever die on the road if the speed limit was 10mph, lots and lots more would die if it were 90mph. So we don’t set it at 10 and just live with the consequences of slower travel. We try to find a balance and hope that we can add other features to the roadways that will mitigate some of the damage done by allowing us to travel more quickly. Trying to have that conversation during a pandemic seems gross and nobody likes it, but that doesn’t make it go away.

    I personally have no idea what the trade-offs should be. I’m willing to listen to anyone who has suggestions. I don’t think caring about the economy and the 40 million unemployed makes me want to kill grandma. I also don’t think the people who are in favor of keeping lockdowns in place are trying to destroy the economy and cause more suffering. Sure, there are fringe elements on both sides of that divide, but I didn’t take those people seriously before and I will continue to not take them seriously now. The problem is the narrative has been established. Hooray Dead Grandmas! and Hooray Unemployment! are not really what people believe, but the cement of the memes has now set. Good luck having a rational discussion in this environment.

  28. Avatar for Dean Dean says:

    A side to what though Brendan, and can’t there be enough sides as to allow relevance to include observation of ‘sides’?

  29. Ben……a great one……Thank you

    I wrote in the comments to Rusty’s piece “First the people’ about my experiences in both Hong Kong , where I live, and Bali where I currently am.

    In HK , there are about 1052 cases since January with 4 dead. This is an ultra dense urban city, albeit with a world class medical system.
    No Lockdowns. Could not be imposed without wholesale rioting breaking out - they would be construed [rightly] as a plot by Beijing to shut down all protests.

    Compared to NYC, gotta ask, are those numbers ‘reported’ in NYC even real?

    Bali – rural, spread out but exposed to international tourism.
    No reliable numbers on fatalities but we all seem safe here, the hospitals are at normal levels, the crematoriums are not reporting above average numbers……

    We go out with masks, practice social distancing in public places like the supermarket.

    As you rightly state, those who are afraid should not go out.

    The concept of responsibility for your own health is one rarely discussed officially.

    Yet this is what we do here – eat healthy, exercise, do meditations and prayers [if that sounds wu wu, ok but mental health is key to a strong immune system ]
    We meet our friends normally, face to face , shake hands, hug…
    Some of us have gotten Dengue fever which can be horrible.
    But so far, we have managed to avoid the china virus……

    Are we in denial or total idiots? I don’t know.

    But this is our day to day real experience.

    And in the face of all the lies and BS we get from our governments, we’ll stick to our own experience rather than surrender our autonomy of mind to fears being stoked by all and sundry……

    Strange to see US policymakers emulate the communists in china instead of basing a response on the more humane traditional values espoused in the constitution.
    Following the communists instead of leading….

  30. “But it doesn’t work with COVID-19”

    That is not our experience.
    Not in HK
    Not in Bali.
    Both are essentially bottom up responses by the public.
    You’re saying this is not possible in the US ?

  31. i agree with the sentiment expressed here…its live free then die

  32. very valid point as well…the set up for the financial mess was already in place…

  33. thats the whole point…is there a need to debate this tradeoff ? My experience below would suggest that there was no real need for any tradeoff’s in the first place…

  34. Correction: Antigen tests detect virus proteins (e.g. Quidel Sofia 2) whereas PCR tests detect viral nucleic acids (DNA or RNA). The former tests can be rapid but have higher rates of false negatives thus far, which would limit the effectiveness in the implied use.

  35. Hmm.
    Love you and Rusty’s insight and don’t change anything.

    However I will voice concern that we are not in denial about CoVid or it’s full scale harm.

    I don’t see any long-term solution “goal” that makes any sense worth avoiding the inevitable exposure at some point.

    If inevitable exposure is basically guaranteed at some point, it’s unfortunate, but I say spin the barrel and let er buck.

    What are we saving if there is nothing (Economically speaking if this continues) left to save?

    I don’t understand what the end goal is here, nor does anyone I socialize with.

    If there was a narrative for the end goal, I would like to hear it.

    We did not create this, but we will not let it destroy us either.

    Lastly, if you believe we are just living in a small space of eternity, we can’t live in fear.

    I do not love your government solutions.

    If I had to choose, I would rather take CoVid willingly.


  36. The best approach is to shift from the narrative of Suppression to one of Containment and Mitigation. This means that we should stop the daily body count, and focus on the infrastructure necessary to Reopen Safely under a standard of “probable (not absolute) safety.” We could accomplish this with massive, accurate/cheap/quick testing, but we need something more to actually Contain and Mitigate - we have to create incentives for people to get tested when exposed, and an infrastructure for exposure notification. Sometimes, people would rather not know, especially if knowing comes with consequences beyond one’s physical health.

    One way to do this is digital contact tracing through an app on your smartphone backed by more sophisticated location tracking of the infected. While not a panacea, it is basically how South Korea killed its epidemic.

    But because people would rather not know, the incentive must be created to compel people to get tested regularly, even when they are asymptomatic and especially when they are told they were exposed. We can’t put guns to people’s heads. How do we get people to install an app on their phone, and follow the app’s instructions? A digital contact tracing app will fail unless there is 70% adoption.

    Its actually not that difficult: local municipal governments have an incredibly strong lever - their business licensing authority. A city could condition reopening a business upon the business installing a scanner / app reader at the point of entry/exit of its establishment. No app, no entry. Moreover, no compliance with the app’s commands (“Go get tested!”), no entry.

    Implementing this simple policy and we could feel relatively comfortable sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley FIeld with thousands of other fans by July, because everyone in those stands scanned in as having recently tested negative and not having been previously and recently exposed.

    Further, the federal government could and should enact Universal Basic Income - but with strings attached. Namely, the UBI should come on a debit card, but one’s access to those funds is tied to compliance with the app. If the app says you’ve been exposed and you test positive, and the app says you must quarantine for 14 days - that debit card is locked for any location outside your own home. We can weaponize America’s selfishness and greed in the service of crushing this virus by September and preventing a 2nd wave and/or a Greater Depression.

  37. The communists in china are following similar policy recommendations…in spirit if not in precise technical fact.
    Facial recognition scanners and ID checks that reveal all your public whereabouts the past 14 days……non compliance leads to financial consequences…
    That’s doubling down on the repressive side of the science modeling that Ben started this post with….

Continue the discussion at the Epsilon Theory Forum


The Latest From Epsilon Theory


This commentary is being provided to you as general information only and should not be taken as investment advice. The opinions expressed in these materials represent the personal views of the author(s). It is not investment research or a research recommendation, as it does not constitute substantive research or analysis. Any action that you take as a result of information contained in this document is ultimately your responsibility. Epsilon Theory will not accept liability for any loss or damage, including without limitation to any loss of profit, which may arise directly or indirectly from use of or reliance on such information. Consult your investment advisor before making any investment decisions. It must be noted, that no one can accurately predict the future of the market with certainty or guarantee future investment performance. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

Statements in this communication are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements and other views expressed herein are as of the date of this publication. Actual future results or occurrences may differ significantly from those anticipated in any forward-looking statements, and there is no guarantee that any predictions will come to pass. The views expressed herein are subject to change at any time, due to numerous market and other factors. Epsilon Theory disclaims any obligation to update publicly or revise any forward-looking statements or views expressed herein. This information is neither an offer to sell nor a solicitation of any offer to buy any securities. This commentary has been prepared without regard to the individual financial circumstances and objectives of persons who receive it. Epsilon Theory recommends that investors independently evaluate particular investments and strategies, and encourages investors to seek the advice of a financial advisor. The appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives.