Ram Z Paul, CoronaVirus, and the Meaning of Conservatism

Ram Z Gates Paul put out another video

Yet again he is being downvoted and criticized heavily in the comments. It seems he is flailing and treading water, trying to win the approval of his audience but failing. The problem Ramz has is that, first, he is repeating month-old talking points that are mostly wrong, and, second, that he is getting basic stuff wrong.

A common mistake is he keeps framing it as an old person’s problem. According to a March report by the CDC of 2449 US patients, is true that although the elderly are 15-20x more likely to die than the young, young people are affected at the same rate as the elderly and 15% of patients below the age of 40 were hospitalized. 3% require ICU treatment. The difference is, young people are way more likely to survive. But the evidence is incontrovertible that this virus is more severe then the flu regardless of age. Is it worth shutting down the economy over this virus? In agreement with Ramz, no. But we need to also get the facts right too, and also at least address the economic and moral calculus of the issue with some rigor instead of glossing it over, which I will expound on in an upcoming post.

Regarding virus deaths being small relative to other causes of death, guys like Vox and Ramz have been making this argument since January, and although it is true that Corona deaths are tiny relative to other causes of death, obviously it has not resonated. The problem with a virus is the contagion and unpredictability factor. Most of the deaths are elderly and or people with preexisting conditions or smokers, but a 1-2% mortality rate is high enough to be in the same realm of deadliness as something like early stage prostate cancer or testicular cancer, both of which are quite serious despite having low mortality rates. You don’t get heart disease or cancer from standing next to someone. This causes people to be justifiably scared and change their behavior such as staying home and not buying stuff, and it also leads to politicians and the media to overreact.

The difference between 1% morality and .1% in terms of secondary effects is not 10x, but 100-1000x. This is why so many people were wrong a month ago when they tried to dismiss the virus as merely a flu. Even if they are right that most cases are mild and that the number of deaths is very small relative to other causes of death, they underestimated how people would react, because a 1% morality rate is high enough that people are genuinely concerned they may die, and this leads to the secondary effects such as risk aversion and reduced spending. And also the media also plays some role in making this worse too . If this only had a 1/5000 morality rate similar to swine flu, none of this disruption would be happening.

So in other words, we are absolutely right that in the grand scheme of things, a few extra million deaths due to a virus is not that big of a deal, but we all failed to foresee the panic that would unfold anyway. We overestimated the rationality of individuals, politicians, the media, etc. It’s sorta like a path dependency problem. I can tell you that an investment will return 10%/year historically, but you would probably inquire as to how much volatility there is in-between. Just knowing the final outcome is not enough.

Second, ironically, shut-downs can be blamed on a lack of central planning, not because of it. Ramz is mistakenly laying blame on Washington and Trump, when almost all of the blame goes to states, local governments, mayors, and governors. A fully centralized government could unilaterally force states to not close such non-essential services, but because the US is a federation, states have a lot of autonomy. The problem has always been democracy. Sick people are bad optics and cannot vote, so politicians want to keep as many potential voters alive even if everyone pays a collective price.

On the 15th of March, Trump merely suggested that for 15 days keeping crowd sizes limited to 10 people and some other stuff. Trump never passed any legislation or an executive order requiring businesses close or people quarantine. Trump has not actually mandated a national lockdown, although the possibility has been floated. Given how bad the stock market is doing and massive projected declines of GDP–and also the fact that existing measures have not slowed the number of cases, which suggests such measures have been ineffective–I think Trump will not impose a national lockdown. But anyway, all Trump did was echo the suggestions of the CDC. He did not make any sort of mandate that states close services.

The reason why oil fell so much is due to Russia and Saudi Arabia entering a price war on the 8th March after a failed OPEC deal. It was in the news everywhere.

In the comments someone writes:

Paul says at 13:38 “I know we are sad about grandma dying from COVID19…..” For the umpteenth time, its not about grandma dying…it’s about swamping the healthcare delivery system. This is a novel virus that no one has immunity to so it spreads very rapidly (every afflicted person infects on average around 3 people) and exponentially in short order. The number of infected individuals double every 5 days and a minimum of 10% will require hospitalization. The entire US has only about 300,000 spare hospital beds at any one time. If just 5,000,000 people were to be infected at any one time, at least 500,000 would require a hospital bed – we don’t have that many. If 50,000,000 were to be infected at any one time – a real possibility, 5,000,000 beds would be required – no way could we take care of that many and mass death ensues. Got it?

Just become something is a real possibility does not mean is in any way probable. There are conflicting reports. Some say there are enough of beds. But people are getting annoyed that Ramz is dismissing this concern or that he has not made an attempt at supporting reasoning with evidence beyond the empirical (if I cannot see hospitals being flooded, it won’t happen). This is not Fox News, Daily Wire, or conservative talk radio, in which the communication between the host and the audience is largely one-way. If you make unfounded assumptions or dismiss valid concerns, you will be challenged on it by your viewers.

Ramz also does not understand conservatism that well, but in his defense it is a very complicated ideology despite the mainstream appeal of Fox News , the complexity of which reveals itself when one looks past the superficial. Even William F. Buckley found it hard to define. Ramz is framing it incorrectly that conservatism means being opposed to central planning and big government, when conservatism is not necessarily opposed to such things. He’s conflating conservatism with paleo-conservatism and libertarianism. The overwhelming majority of self-identified conservatives supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the establishment the Dept. Homeland Security, and the ratification of the Patriot Act. Such wars and initiatives were effectively forms of central planning. Conservatives seek stability and preservation of social order, and to maintain those things sometimes necessitates some central planning. So supporting drastic government action to stop the virus, including even shutdowns and quarantines and giving more power to the CDC, is not inconsistent with conservatism, if that is what it takes to maintain order. I think he also misjudged/misread his audience as supporting the conspiratorial, anti-government type of dissident thought, when that type of thinking tends to be low status and confer lack of intellectualism. It does not mean the person making such an argument is dumb or uneducated, but aligning oneself with that which does not have power, is fundamentally antithetical to conservatism.

Ramz is a smart guy but he is failing to do the necessary research in order to understand this issue better. The problem is humans are lazy. There is no evolutionary reason for humans to try to understand complicated or abstract issues, as these arose out of modernity. Most people try to make sense of the world by gathering bits of information and arranging them to form a narrative/story, that is often incomplete or wrong. Another problem is that people tend to confuse or interchange things that categorically similar but are functionally distinct. An example is local and state governments vs. federal. They are both governments yet their roles are completely different.