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This week’s Open Thread.

 
• Tags: Open Thread 

Navalny didn’t pass through Berlin Airport on his way to Moscow.

Sealed train in 1917, sealed airplane in 2021.

Plus ça change.

 

Natasha Bertrand, writing for Politico, says that conspiracy theories promoted by a “former economic policy adviser” to Putin “raise the specter of Russian attempts to sow chaos and doubt in the legitimacy of US elections.”

Said conspiracy theories refer to a Jan 8, 2021 blog post entitled “Burning of the Reichstag 2021” on his Russian language LiveJournal blog, which is more or less what it says on the tin.

Andrey Illarionov is an emigre Russian libertarian economist who broke up with Putin in 2005 over his opposition to the Yukos case against Khodorkovsky.

At the time, Western journalists were shocked and aghast over his removal as an economic advisor to the President. Kirill Pankratov, writing at the erstwhile eXile, compiled some of the reactions:

  • “…the very fact that Mr. Illarionov was driven to such unusual defiance confirmed that dismay over Mr. Putin’s course is not limited to political opponents or foreign critics…It would be a terrible mistake to gag the very people Mr. Putin prized for their candor” (NY Times);
  • “…These reformers were pushed out when Mr. Putin secured his second term and started to reveal his true stripes. Mr. Illarionov’s pep talks abroad could no longer disguise the real Vladimir Putin. …showed that rule of law and property rights stand no chance in Mr. Putin’s Russia …should destroy any lingering delusions about Mr. Putin. The Russian leader is no democrat or reformer. It also suggests that some ambitious Russians believe that the time may be ripe to stand up and fight Mr. Putin” (Wall Street Journal);
  • “The outspoken silenced… Marginalising one of the few liberals left in the Kremlin… It is time to see Mr. Putin as a challenger, and not a friend” (The Economist);
  • “…another ominous sign that Putin, a former KGB officer, will tolerate no further dissent…” (Knight Ridder Newspapers);
  • “…Kremlin is becoming a closed box to even the most seasoned Russia watchers, one of the few administration insiders who has openly expressed his views is being punished for doing so.” (Moscow Times)

(As Pankratov points out, there was no similar din and seethe when G.W. Bush dismissed his economic advisor Larry Lindsey for not quite being enthusiastic enough about the Iraq War on account of the $200 billion that he estimated it would cost. An extreme underestimate, as it would turn out. But he was out).

After his ejection from the Russian government in 2005, Illarionov spent the next 15 years criticizing Putin and Russia at the CATO Institute – up to the point of demanding sanctions against Russia and advising the US on how best to implement them on the pages of the NATO/Western arms manufacturer-funded Atlantic Council.

Now I suppose it’s too much to expect a Western hack all these somewhat relevant details when pushing the next Russiagate “drop”. (Russiagate being just a slightly less insane but infinitely more handshakeworthy version of Qanon but for libs).

 

As it is, this scandal hasn’t worked out well for Illarionov, who is just the latest Russian opposition activist to personally explore American limits on freedom of speech:

I don’t work at the Cato Institute anymore.
As the vice-president of the institute told me, the reason is the content of the postscripts attached to my post “Burning of the Reichstag” – 2021 on this blog. When I was invited to work at the Cato Institute, to regularly asked questions about the position of the Institute on this or that issue, the answer was always the same: “The Institute has no other position except for the protection of individual liberty. On any issue there is not the position of the Institute, but there are different positions of the Institute’s employees, for the expression of which they have every right.”
Now this approach has changed.
As I have said more than once, freedom of speech is the foundation, the starting point, of a free society.

I suppose that Illarionov’s “problem” so far as a sustainable career in the US goes is that he is a typical 2000s American right-wing libertarian, characterized by mostly neocon takes on Russia and US foreign policy, support for the Tea Party and opposition to Obamacare and the Kyoto Protocols (a “global Auschwitz” for the world economy), and even open discussion of FBI crime stats in the context of Black racial grievances.

As such, as he was very much out of tune by mid-2000s Russia, when Putin had finished up with market reforms and started re-consolidating state authority over the Yeltsin-era oligarchs and drifting out of the 1990s America cargo cult. But by this same token of ideological inflexibility, Illarionov remained in that 2000s right-wing libertarian time warp while his host country moved on. What used to be perfectly mainstream conservative positions under G.W. Bush started becoming inconvenient and cringe under Obama and outright unhandshakewothy under the late Trump.

Now to be sure, Illarionov remained very useful for the American elites for his promotion of anti-Russia sanctions and championing of the Ukraine against “Russian aggression”. But the rants against Greta Thunberg and BLM were now seen as awkward, though his superiors were able to turn a blind eye to them by dint of most of them being confined to his Russian language blog. But “[fueling] hatred and insurrection”, in the words of Ilya Zaslavskiy – the person who did most to raise attention to Illarionov’s problematic blog posts to CATO’s managers – was evidently a step too far. At this point, he needed to be canceled and shut down.

Ilya Zaslavskiy’s bio on Twitter describes him as a Senior Fellow of the Free Russia Foundation, which is sponsored by the anti-Putin emigre oligarch and tax fraudster Khodorkovsky. He runs some grift NGO outfit called the Underminers (I assume it’s a grift based on its having just a couple dozen blog posts and one “research note” on its website over the eight years of its putative existence). Illarionov, at least, was highly “energetic” in his blogging. But there’s limited room at the US State Department & Co. feeding trough.

 

One observation I’ve seen people make is that Elon Musk’s industrial empire seems ultra-optimized for the distinctly non-commercial ambition of establishing a Mars colony:

  • SpaceX for providing the reusable rockets to throw large payloads into space at much lower cost.
  • Tesla to provide the batteries for Mars vehicles.
  • Boring Company to dig out the tunnels to keep colonists safe from radiation and meteorite strikes.
  • Starlink for communications.

Now in fairness, colonizing Mars is something that Musk has talked about for a long time, the ultimate goal being to make humanity into an interplanetary species and hence insulate us from Earth-specific existential risks.

In particular, Musk is concerned – at least in his public rhetoric – about the risks of machine superintelligence. His spats with DeepMind and Demis Hassabis on the topic have already moved from the Silicon Valley rumor mill to MSM coverage.

Problem: As Roko Mijic points out, there are few existential risks that would doom us on Earth while sparing our remnant on Mars… and that’s assuming said presence on Mars is indefinitely self-sustaining, which requires a population of at least 1 million* (a population level that Musk very boldly projects for 2050).

Most notably, malevolent superintelligence – probably the most realistic existential risk this century – is not one of the rare cases in which having a Mars colony will be useful. It would “simply follow humans to Mars,” as Hassabis has joked to Musk himself.

Otherwise, many existential risk scenarios can be effectively hedged with costly but still much less expensive isolated colonies on Earth:

I am sure that Musk is surely smart enough to realize this, so why maintain the Mars narrative?

  • Perhaps Musk has figured out how to make a Mars colony profitable within human timescales after all. I don’t see how, but Musk maxes out on the IQ * executive function scale.
  • Perhaps Musk is a superintelligence himself, and has figured out how putative Martians could ward their planet against other, more misanthropic superintelligence that was to attain terrestrial overlordship.
  • Perhaps it is a really cool narrative to appeal to the techno-futurists, crypto evangelists, and libertarian cornucopians who have propelled Musk into becoming the richest man in the world.

My bet is on that last option. However, there’s a big additional factor that the Mars narrative conceal, and which do not seem to have gotten any attention at all, whether from his starry-eyed fans or his coping detractors.

For the same set of technologies that will technically (if not economically) enable large-scale Mars colonization also constitute a kind of template for terrestrial military dominance.

  • SpaceX for unparalleled strategic airlift – the Falcon Heavy’s LEO payload is equivalent to that of the C-17 Globemaster and can circumlocate to anywhere in the world within an hour.
  • Tesla batteries for pruning logistics chains and powering electric railguns, the future of artillery.
  • Neuralink for cyborg soldiers.
  • Starlink for global surveillance and communications.
  • Boring Company for rapidly excavating tunnels to shelter military units on the battlefields of the future, which precision railgun artillery will make deadly into a range of hundreds of kilometers. This is not as speculative as it seems at first glance – militaries have been exploring the concept of the “subterrene” since the 1930s. At any rate, a military application would explain the focus on acquiring a tenfold speed advantage over existing TBMs.
  • OpenAI for autonomous weapons systems and integrating all of the above into a Skynet-like whole.

Soviet Trebelev subterrene. Materials technology of the time couldn’t handle the high heat stress – but perhaps the problem is more amendable with modern techs?

The US has scant chance of retaining its global military dominance much beyond 2050, if not earlier – much greater Chinese GDP coupled with the multiplier effects of economies of scale amidst a healthy heavy industrial base makes the twilight of US military supremacy but inevitable. Even now, at peacetime levels of military spending as a percentage of GDP, the PLAN grows by the equivalent of a major European navy every year and plans to build 1,000+ Y-20 heavy transports to attain strategic airlift dominance over East Eurasia.

Hence, perhaps, why Musk Industries has what essentially amounts to a credit spigot from branches of the American government, not all of which need be entirely or at all transparent.

Imagine you are an intelligent and perspicacious American Deep Stater, and you see the skyrocketing Chinese GDP, you see that America’s only hope of maintaining military hegemony is to make a qualitative leap, you see that dystrophic bureaucratism and affirmative action hires have made it impossible for anything interesting to get done through the old state institutions like NASA.

So why not bank on a moonshot through Musk Industries?

All the better if you can get the i❤science crowd and SWPL Tesla fans (many of them foreigners** ) who regard Musk’s EVs as the next Apple to pay much of the costs, or even bank a net profit in the process.

***

* In reality, I would say it would be closer to 100M. Perhaps 10M if colonists are strictly filtered for high IQ. But that’s beside the main argument.

** It would admittedly be quite funny if Chinese consumers underwrite an American victory in the next Pacific War that it would have otherwise lost.

 

LEVIATHAN (2014)
Rating: 2/5

 

Finally watched this major Cannes hit, and understood why it was so popular with the “professional” critics, if not quite as much with normies (Metacritic: 92% vs. 73%; Rotten Tomatoes: 98% vs. 80%).

No redeeming characters. Main “hero” is a boorish, highly unlikable, impulsive, and violent alcoholic. His wife is a whore who sleeps with his hotshot lawyer friend, who in turn scurries away back to Moscow as soon as the Chad corrupt mayor physically shows him who’s boss in his town. Almost everybody is some walking caricature of a dysfunctional, vodka-swilling, chain-smoking vatnik. I think the film meant to portray the mayor as the bad guy – the local representative of the Putin “power vertical” – but he at least built the degenerates he fleeced and presided over a beautiful church, so can he really be bad that? was my main thought as the ending panned out, judging the film on its own premises.

Caricature characters in a caricature Russia from a director who seems to have only a very vague idea of the “deep Russia” he wishes to engage in “soul searching” about.

The film is set in Teriberka, a small fishing village in Murmansk oblast that saw hard time after the collapse of the Soviet era fishing industry. However, it seems to have rather well for itself in the past decade thanks to tourism. (At any rate, I should imminently find out for myself).

Here are some specifics about Murmansk and the Russian North generally:

  • It is Russia’s most atheistic region, more similar to the Baltics in that respect than south/central Russia (or indeed Ukraine/Belarus). You would certainly not see the ostentatious (hypocritical or not) Christianity portrayed in the movie amongst both proles to elites.
  • There is little corruption in the Russian North. These pudgy bureaucrats presiding over local power verticals of police/judicial cliques are much more of a southern thing.
  • There is actually very little electoral fraud in the Russian North. Its Russia’s only reasonably “clean” region in that respect, along with parts of Siberia.
  • The film has people handing over wads of cash. Even in a detail as minor as this – 52% of transactions in Murmansk oblast in 2017 were with cash, vs. 65%-70% in the south.
  • The one regional stereotype I suppose it did get right is that the north does a more pronounced alcoholism problem, which translates into more murders and suicides.

Maps confirming above sociological observations here: https://akarlin.com/ruriks-seed/

Still, as a movie that hit all the correct tropes about the “bleakness” and “misery” of life “outside Moscow” in “Putin’s Russia” it was not hard to see why it was such a hit with the Cannes crowd.

But it is also easy to understand why there was a mini-scandal about the fact that 35% of the movie was funded by the Russian Ministry of Culture. Pretty bizarre that Russian taxpayers were funding people who were portraying the great mass of them as stupid, impulsive alcoholics hoodwinked by priests serving mafia politicians for the snickering pleasure of the sort of people who delight in “arthouse” flicks. There is now happily much less Russian state support for “artists” who hate and despise their own people – and don’t have even the minimal talent to hide or disguise it.

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Arctic, Film, Review, Russia, Russophobes 

Jan 9, 2020 marks the 12th year since I began blogging about Russia in 2008, before expanding into broader geopolitical topics, HBD, and futurism within that same year.

Here is a graph of my pageviews across my websites during this period.

(I did not plot visits to my personal webpages akarlin.com and akarlin.ru for 2019-20 since they have largely been inactive legacy archives ever since I moved to UR in 2015, with diminishing numbers of pageviews over the years).

Since the sharp upwards spike of 2018, viewership has stalled, though it hides significant quarterly dips and rises, as you can see from this graph broken down by month:

I was highly preoccupied with personal/work-related matters in late 2019, hence the slump in the second half. Conversely, I was able to be much more productive this year, generating a record 381 posts. This should have translated into a record amount of visits and page views given The Unz Review’s expansion over the past few years, my own increasing profile (e.g. Twitter followers have doubled to 8,600 over the past two years, despite repeated purges) and the large amount of big habbenings this year.

But this was not to be. Google took strong exception to this site in mid-2020 and deranked it in Google searches. Google is a near monopolist in the Anglosphere search market, so that made me virtually invisible so far as search engine “discovery” went. Facebook banned us from the entire platform, making it impossible to share unz.com links even in private messages, as well as deleting all past posts and comments containing them. Considering my accurate and timely coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, it is likely that Sundar Pichai and Mark Zuckerberg have blood on their hands in so far as their interference meant that fewer people, including potential policy-makers, were denied viewership of these posts.

Anyhow, with Google searches and Facebook accounting for about 30% and 10% of my traffic, respectively, what should have been more than 2 million views this year resulted in only 1.5 million instead:

Items PWords Comms CWords Visits Views
2008 70 139,021 304 37,218
2009 72 254,052 867 152,868
2010 81 209,939 1,594 200,483
2011 75 152,706 3,159 406,353
2012 172 153,634 5,164 662,995
2013 167 132,173 1,986 259,421
2014 5 5,154 1,023 147,549
2015 130 156,592 5,504 664,553 128,326 382,574
2016 128 120,956 6,204 597,092 188,570 493,156
2017 262 190,137 17,326 1,808,417 237,477 791,675
2018 341 270,456 56,996 5,721,653 381,300 1,408,092
2019 284 244,409 40,200 4,198,868 336,314 1,221,668
2020 381 184,646 44,573 4,539,035 301,716 1,510,135

On a month to month basis, the decline in the second half was partially disguised by general intensified politicization surrounding BLM and the US elections. But unless there are many more powerful habbenings this year, this factor will recede into the background, while the restrictions from Google and Facebook will, presumably, stay on – and may be joined by additional ones from Twitter, which is now on a banning spree against pundits of both Right and Left that are not aligned with the woke neoliberal elite consensus.

As such, I do not expect any gains in viewership in 2021 for a fourth year running, though I don’t really expect significant losses either on account of continued organic growth.

 

***

Top Posts in 2020

This year did not really see individual “seminal” longreads along the lines of Katechon Hypothesis and The Geography of the Noosphere, though overall I think I did a good job accurately covering this year’s main developments.

(1) Corona:

No need for further commentary, since I devoted what is probably my single longest post this year to it.

Bad outcomes. Lucked out with vaccines. Needn’t have been so. Proof of “politics is the mindkiller.”

Curated list here: https://akarlin.com/archive/#CoronavirusCOVID-19

(2) BLM:

Most #BLM demands are based on lies… toxic lies that constitute long-term threats to the civilizational viability of not just the US but it’s vassal states.

Silver lining is that the US has been giving us ample cause to “socially distance” from them, both in summer and much more recently.

(3) Minsk Maidan

Predicted that Lukashenko would probably stay in power – but that this would not be an unambiguous boon for Russia, since Luka wants to hang onto power (being potato dictator of BSSR is cooler than retirement in Rostov). This has all played out as expected.

However, Russia cannot expect accomodation with the opposition – at least its dominant Tikhanovskaya wing. Their secret program was ultra-zmagarist form the start and I was the first to cover that in English.

(4) Karabakh War 2020

This graph should be recognizable to regulars by now. God favors the side with the drones, not the one with the democratists. Who would have thought.

(5) Notable Russia posts:

(6) Other posts:

(7) Quite a few “rare”/niche obituaries, thanks in part – certainly so in the case of Avdeev, possibly so in the case of Krylov – thanks to Corona-chan.

 

In other news, I also co-authored a couple of psychometrics-related papers:

You can download them via Sci-Hub. I explain how to use Sci-Hub (and other useful piracy tools) here: https://akarlin.com/piracy-guide/

I will try to blog soon about the second paper.

 

My classic article, probably my most read one ever – The Idiocy of the Average – was very kindly translated into Russian by Mikhail Lebedev. I also updated my classic Sputnik & Pogrom article on Russian IQ with new PISA data for Ukraine and Belarus, as well as military testing data for Russian regions.

 

***

Looking Forwards to 2021

I will start off with an extended organizational note on how to follow me and will finish up with my blogging plans for this year.

(1) FOLLOWING BLOG

  • You can follow me directly from The Unz Review front page (though only my three latest posts are displayed), or this archive link.
  • Front page of my personal website automatically has new posts: https://akarlin.com/
  • I repost most of my posts on Twitter (@akarlin88), the last major social network on which I remain active.

I don’t know how long I will survive on Twitter – after Facebook/Google, and a shadowban this summer, I gave my survival this year even chances. I am perhaps no longer as squarely in Jack’s crosshairs – the current wave of purges are targeting Qanon and the more “agitated” boomercons – but the overall level of censorship is likewise much higher, to the extent that NRx blogger spandrell is predicting that the Western social media sphere will go the way of China’s Weibo (i.e. with politicals purged, it becomes an apolitical platform for celebrities, hobbyists, corporate PR teams, etc).

For reasons I will go into in another post, there is limited utility to “getting on Gab” and the like. So, if it happens, I will likely vanish from Western social media (apart from a small private account on Twitter for observation purposes).

Despite the simplicity of the underlying idea – it’s really just an integrated blogging platform + mailing list + Patreon – Substack has driven a small renaissance in blogging from the second half of the year. So much so, that I will post a much needed update to my “blogroll” in the next few days. I will not be “blogging” there, but I do intend to use it to send (very) occasional important updates for those of you who are interested in keeping tabs on my work without checking in here often.

  • Use a blog reader such as Feedly or The Old Reader.

Pretty remarkable that, for all people’s complaints about the toxicity of social media, one of the simplest and most customizable been relegated to the sidelines. I am talking about the humble blog reader, which seems to have gone near extinct when Google nuked its Google Reader in 2013. But plenty of good alternatives exist – personally, I use Feedly, though I know that many people prefer Old Reader. If there are many significant numbers of individual blogs or columnists that you follow, a blog reader is extremely useful. I am happy that Substack is compatible with them.

  • My other social media sites:
    • YouTube – largely dormant, but I do aggregate podcasts/interviews I do (mostly they’re in Russian).
    • VK – largely dormant
  • As per above, I largely stopped using Facebook after they banned me from posting my own articles.
  • My Russian language website is at akarlin.ru

 

(2) REFERENCE MATERIALS

One issue that people have raised with me is how to best “introduce” me to new followers or access some article of mine deep in the Unz Review archives. This is explained in the sidebar of my blog and individual posts (below this photo of me in Nizhny Novgorod), but since it’s quite deep on any given page, many people understandably don’t notice it.

So I’ll take the opportunity to clarify how to navigate my past work/archives:

  • Best/current “intro” to my work can be accessed through my personal website akarlin.com – the front page is pretty intuitive, with hyperlinks to all relevant pages of interest.
  • The website also has a pretty comprehensive (and growing) links to my book/film/video game reviews; travel accounts and travel guides; and various other things that I occasionally update.
  • While Google has deranked my blog on The Unz Review, it obviously did not do the same to the flattering RationalWiki article about me. Wrt those for whom this is an issue – my response to it is here: https://akarlin.com/ratwiki/

 

(3) DONATIONS

I get an income stream from the very generous Ron Unz, so while I do appreciate reader donations, they are not currently necessary for me to keep writing and keep said writing freely available. This is a privilege, and one that many “public intellectuals” don’t enjoy. Furthermore, I am not poor by Russian standards, and I don’t want to feel like I’m exploiting my readers like some BLM or MAGA grifter. So again, please don’t feel obliged to contribute if you’re struggling yourself. In fact, I’d rather you not.

However, if you are substantially moneyed, and derive enjoyment, satisfaction, intellectual stimulation, or indeed monetary benefits from my blogging – e.g., my forewarnings on the global crash last February, or the advice to not bet on Trump or the Republicans in Georgia – then I do give you license to imagine me tipping a piggy bank towards you:

  1. Sponsor me on Patreon
  2. Bitcoin: 17tDufZUEK3DvQh3rY75F3xtVgxj4TzdtB
  3. Paypal donation
  4. Yandex Money via Yasobe (for ruble accounts)

This list of donation methods is kept updated on the sidebar, and on this page: https://akarlin.com/donations/

 

(4) PLANS FOR 2021

I have had an unfortunate habit of overpromising and under fulfilling in previous years, so I am going to tone down on my ambitions this time round, trading caution for completion:

  • Finish my long-promised book about Russia.
  • Maintain UR blog viewership at 1.5M (this will be an achievement in the context of Google/Facebook censorship cutting traffic by 40% relative to what it would be otherwise, not to mention crimping rate of potential growth).
  • Two papers, again (including a repackaging of Katechon Hypothesis into a journal).
  • List of essays that I commit to doing:
    • The long-promised Great Bifurcation (by January 25).
    • The equally long-promised impression of my Poland travels. (Hey, it also took me about a year to get round to writing up Romania).
    • Longread on US politics/society.
    • Translation of my Russian-language longread on Russian IQ (i.e. what I am most famous for in the Russosphere).

 

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Blogging, Open Thread, The AK 

Credit where credit is due – Navalny has come out against Trump’s deplatforming. (He posted the same thing in Russian).

The brighter Blue Checks RT’ed this, saying, OK, good points, though I respectfully disagree.

Some of the duller Blue Checks and Russiagaters in the replies attacked Navalny, calling him a Russian nationalist, expressing “disappointment” in him, or even insinuating he works for Putler.

Another suggestion was that it was some principled commitment to freedom of speech? Doubt. Navalny’s position on this, as on most things, is highly situational. From his “nationalist” days in the 2000s:

An alliance of lower-tier Kremlin propaganda, leftist “Western Russophiles”, and “based” Western racialist nationalists portray Alexey Navalny as a nationalist based on a few racially charged comments he made a decade ago. It is therefore highly ironic that he was the architect of Tesak’s first prison sentence. In 2007, Tesak barged into a club hosting a debate between the a couple of journalists, the pro-Putin Maxim Kononenko and the pro-Western Yulia Latynina. The moderator, who happened to be Navalny, agreed to give him a word. Tesak used the opportunity to ask them if they agreed that Russia would be better off if it killed all democrats, and then started to throw up his hands and “Sieg Heil” with his followers. Navalny, along with fellow liberal Ilya Yashin and Masha Gaidar (the daughter of the late Egor Gaidar, the principal ideologist of Russia’s 1990s economic reforms; incidentally, she has since given up her Russian citizenship and emigrated to Ukraine), wrote a complaint to the Prosecutor-General asking to raise a case against Tesak. As a result, he was imprisoned under Article 282 for three years. Once you’re convicted once under Article 282, it becomes increasingly likely you will be imprisoned under it time and time again, even if you subsequently “moderate” your message (see my Rule 5). So it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that none other than Navalny was a key architect in Russia’s most prominent Neo-Nazi spending most of the rest of his life in prison.

Has he since seen the light? Maybe. Maybe not. Who cares.

The actual answer is that this is the only correct position for someone who clearly remains intent to appealing to at least some segment of the Russian electorate.

First, while one may quibble with many of those points, #10 is undoubtedly correct. This “unpersoning” of Trump in response to trespassing cosplayers is a huge hit on the credibility of American rhetoric on democracy, freedom of speech, etc. It is going to give sovereignist states scope to impose greater restrictions on the operation of American social media in their own Internet, as well as to promote their own native social media apps. After all, consider this from Russia’s position. The US social media giants are going all out to suppress supporters of a fake coup against USG. Are they going to ban Navalny should he hypothetically give the command to storm the Kremlin? To ask the question is to answer it.

This is going to happen regardless, nor is it even going to be confined to “authoritarian” states like Russia, where Putin recently signed on a bill to block or slow down Western social media that restricted the free speech rights of Russian citizens and media:

However, when it does, Navalny can in all honesty deflect charges of hypocrisy. No, I did not support deplatforming Trump.

Second, while Navalny’s potential electorate may be pretty marginal, it does exist. The corruption theme may be all played out, but freedom of speech could become another one. Libertarianism is trendy amongst Moscow zoomers. Not dominant, but the subculture is bigger and more memetic than the nationalist one. (I am personally a nationalist, not a libertarian, so this is not a biased assessment). This new outgrowth of libertarianism incongruously combines social and market liberalism with some elements of Men’s Rights Activism, freedom of speech, Dawkins atheism, Polonophilia/limitrophilia, and some elements of Trumpism. Pepes are a thing in that crowd. (Funny how memes drift and mutate over time and borders).

This position, at least, appeals to that potential (future) electorate.

Because let’s take it, cringe takes don’t even have an audience amongst Moscow’s libertarian zoomers:

They are only interesting to the most self-hating Russian liberals (who would support Navalny by default) and “English-speaking colleagues” in American NGOs and the State Department.

(Vladimir Milov is a “democratic activist” who is a Navalny ally and regularly makes his disdain for Russia felt even by the standards of the democratic opposition).

So at least so far as Navalny’s position is concerned, it is higher IQ than the “significant part” of the Russian opposition that supports Twitter’s defenestration of Trump.

Some more Russian language examples, including Maksim Kats and Lyubov Sobol.

Which of these “wings” of the Russian opposition will win out – the strategically pro-free speech for everyone Navalny or the Katses and Kasparovs who don’t bother to conceal that this is a privilege only for the “liberal”, pro-Western handshakeworthy?

Historical experience suggests it’s the former:

It was these same, multi-national liberal elites that signed the “Letter of 42” demanding the suppression of nationalists and Communists in the wake of Yeltsin’s 1993 assault on the democratically elected Russian Duma.

Incidentally, Americans might want to know that this is how an actual coup against the people’s representatives looks like:

It was these same people who demanded Russia implement Article 282 hate speech laws in the 2000s, which they supported until the prosecutions under it went so haywire and out of control by the mid to late 2010s that ironically the more Russophobe liberals also started suffering under it – they had been fine with it when it was only used to prosecute Russian nationalists for saying things such as “it’s time to do away with this strange economic system” [of subsidies to the Caucasus]. (Putin decriminalized 282 it a couple of years ago).

It was these same people who, by and large, attacked people like Assange, Snowden, and Butina just for daring in some real or imagined way to upset their spiritual masters.

So, given just this historical precedent, we can expect a liberal pro-Western Maidan in Russia to result in the repression of Russian nationalists to a much greater extent than is the case today. Given their open and incessant cargo culting of the West, in which SJWism is assuming an increasingly totalitarian nature, it will indeed likely become impossible to even talk honestly about things like national IQ differences in the context of immigration policy. Likewise, leftism will only be permitted in the context that they restrict their activism to shutting down Russia’s nuclear complex and campaigning for #BLM and gay marriage.

 

He monitored the situation.

Pretty successful poasting career though.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Censorship, Donald Trump, Social Media, Twitter 

There are MAGA people claiming this is a deep fake in the replies, LOL.

As concerns the ability to generate an undying cult of personality, even past the point of becoming a (political) corpse, I suppose Donald Trump truly is the “God-Emperor of Mankind.”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1347334804052844550

Having a non-suspended Twitter account is helpful with that, I imagine.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Treason, United States 

Approaching $200 billion ($195B according to Bloomberg Billionaires Index, vs. Bezos’ $185B), he has blown his way past Bezos after Tesla shares surged north of $800 today. Its p/e ratio is now above 1,600 and accounts for more than 40% of the market capitalization of all the world’s automakers combined.

Brian Wang of NextBigFuture, who had correctly predicted Tesla’s successes, explains it in the short-term as a by-effect of the Dem wins in Georgia, which makes some form of the Green New Deal close to inevitable. Big new tax credits to come.

And this is just the beginning, according to Wang:

This is just the beginning. Tesla will be heading for another ten times increase in share price by 2025. SpaceX, Boring Company and Neuralink will become publicly traded and also will become trillion dollar or multi-trillion dollar companies.

Personally, I think Tesla is a ridiculous bubble at this stage (but sure, obligatory reminder about rationality and solvency).

Though I am strongly bullish on SpaceX, and do think there’s a very good chance that that is what makes Musk into the world’s first trillionaire. That is because SpaceX has unique technologies to fling things into space at massively cheaper prices, this very fact is going to expand the market space launches, and the whole thing is going to become turbocharged by the multiplicate monetization potential of Starlink. State-backed competitors in China and Russia are at least a decade away from replicating the reusable rocketry that SpaceX already has.

Conversely, is there really room for Amazon to grow much further? It was obviously turbocharged by the pandemic, but that’s going to go away in 2021, while unionization pressures may crimp profits. So I don’t see Bezos being a likely candidate for trillionairehood, unless Blue Origin can become a strong competitor to SpaceX.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Billionaires, Elon Musk, Finance, Tesla 
 

But let’s move on to a far more important discussion:

Raz of Chaz or MAGA Viking, who did the techno-barbarian warlord aesthetic better during their occupations of Capitol Hill and the Capitol, respectively?

Both are very strong competitors to be sure.

***

Points in favor of MAGA Viking:

(1) Storming one of the key power centers of a superpower in scenes vaguely redolent of the fall of Rome and post-nuclear apocalypse America is more inherently impressive than squatting and passing around joints in some filthy tents in Seattle.

(2) Asserted authority by displaying physique, intimidating many observers into submission…

… whereas Raz of Chaz has a generic 1990s gold chain gangsta aesthetic, like President Camacho from Idiocracy.

(3) MAGA Viking was accompanied by his Chad friends who put their boots on Nancy Pelosi’s desk and heroically liberated her podium…

… as well as by gamers, making this a literal GAMER UPRISING. (The tattoo on the hand of the guy in the yellow suiter here is a rune from Dishonored, which I recommend BTW).

Possible long-term impact: The splintering of the Republican Party, LOL.

 

***

Points in favor of Raz of Chaz:

(1) Say what you will of the Republic of Chaz, but at least it lasted a few weeks, as opposed to the few hours between when the police let the MAGA trespassers in and Blompf told them to get out…

… even if Chaz didn’t ultimately fulfill the high hopes that many true progressives such as myself initially placed upon it.

Chez also claimed territory and developed many of the rudimentary institutions of a state, such as a police force a militia of gangbangers and borders armed checkpoints.

(3) Raz banged significantly more hos during his reign of power than MAGA Viking, whom we can be reasonably sure banged zero during his raid upon the Capitol. Having a harem is one of the perks of being warlord (for more than a few hours).

https://twitter.com/mattparlmer/status/1270838250349961223

(4) Moreover, not only was the warlord Raz of CHAZ physically beating up the Antifacels and sleeping with their womenz, he was also DOMINATING those same rentoids as an Airbnb landlord back during peacetime.

 

Possible long-term impact: Enriching Seattle tech oligarchs in cahoots with the Seattle City Council by torpedoing property prices in Capitol Hill.

 

My own assessment is that MAGA Viking wins out for sheer impact, though certainly Raz of Chaz seems to have had a much more fun time of it – he tired back to his career as a rapper and kept his Twitter account, whereas MAGA Viking will almost certainly be charged, possibly locked away, and permanently blacklisted from most interesting career prospects by the assorted NPCs of the country he sought to “make great again.”

 
 

If you gaze long upon the Ukraine…

The Ukraine gazes back into you.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Color Revolution, Happening, United States 
 

I haven’t been following them closely (or at all, really). But my throwaway guess is that Republicans lose both.

Why would lower income Trump supporters vote for the party that failed to find Trump 11,780 votes and denied them their well-deserved $2,000 worth of gibs? I certainly wouldn’t in their place.

Polling average ends in +1.8% to Ossoff and +2.1% to Warnock.

Biden was at +1.2% and won Georgia by +0.2%, so they were very accurate there.

The likely reason the polls underestimated Trump was because Trump’s support is more heavily loaded towards proles whom polls undersampled this year due to Corona (professionals worked from home and had free time to answer polls). But these proles like Trump a lot more than generic Reps, so we can expect less of an error in these elections. Plus, in any case, pollsters will have had time to further refine their methodology since the Presidential election.

 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Elections, Georgia, United States 
 

From Twitter demographer Cicerone (now @BirthGauge):

For some countries, this is the last update (November) for which realized births still reflect fertility decisions taken before the onset of Corona – which, judging from anecdotal reports, will crater them further, but we’ll see*.

Broadly, this continues a trend I have already observed of most of the “White” world clustering towards a TFR of 1.4-1.7, e.g. involving a disappearance of the traditional US superiority to Europe. The only major downwards exceptions are in the Med, which is racked by emigration of young people to more dynamic regions of Europe.

***

The East Asians are breaking new barriers, with South Korea now falling to 0.85 and – for the first time in its modern history – annual deaths now outnumber births. This is quite impressive for a country where life expectancy is 83 years and where the median age was 32 years only back in 2000. But nor is South Korea unique, Taiwan has now joined it in the under 1.0 club.

No European country ever really fell that low for a prolonged period of time. Why?

Well I think it’s basically a confluence of whammies hitting them all at once, namely:

(1) Europe underwent its demographic transition much earlier and more gradually, this means “breeders” have been selected for longer and are a larger percentage of its population. There are almost none of them in East Asia, since it has only recently shaken off traditionalism.

(2) The new cultural and technological forces that have been hitting fertility during the 2010s (rising unaffordability of housing at global level, more affordable and higher quality leisure pursuits, Tinder) are also hitting East Asia.

(3) There’s also I think a tempo effect, in which average age of childbirth goes up as women “postpone”. This effect was particularly pronounced during the 1990s in Europe.

So, all of these things happening at once producing the effect of “Best Korea” now having more total births than the South. But, funny as this meme is, I don’t think it can or will last.

***

* Corona effect on US fertility:

 

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Demographics, Fertility 
 

Why is Israel vaccinating its population so fast relative to everyone else?

I am seeing some smol brain takes on this.

Sure, Israel might be a “small” country, but so is Belgium. Or US states like Massachusetts. But in the US it is those famous dense metropolitan centers of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Alaska that are showing some of the highest Corona vaccination rates.

Also I would actually wager that getting vaccines through to the West Bank is logistically more inherently difficult than getting them to anywhere in the US.

I would imagine that physical transport problems are a very minor problem anywhere outside the most destitute Third World areas.

As for this:

It’s not like Israeli national IQ is exactly exceptional, though of course it does have a very nice smart fraction.

What’s less often mentioned is Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s friendship with Netanyahu and strong identification with his Jewish heritage; millions of doses were priority allocated for Israel. (Yes, Israel did pay more for them – but this is a choice that all but the most destitute of countries would have been both happy and rational to make).

It’s nice to have a high IQ and patriotic diaspora.

Still, that’s hardly the full or even most of the story either – the real scandal in many Western countries is that many vials of vaccines are lying about unused, while people keep getting infected and lockdowns continue. Some of them may go bad if left unused too long.

Nor can it be something uniquely American. The US is actually doing very well by the unexacting standards of the developed world, as both the statistics aggregation at OurWorldInData and perusing French/German media would suggest.

Perhaps it could be bureaucracy?

The efficiency of the Israeli bureaucracy doesn’t strike me as a likely explanation. What comparative statistics suggest (and acquaintances tell me) it’s a pretty typical Med country in that respect.

Another explanation is that all these rules and debates about whom to prioritize – front line workers or the elderly – are taking a toll and frankly much more bother than they’re worth. Bureaucrats anywhere will always prioritize their own skin. So perhaps another explanation is that in countries where there are penalties of some kind for vaccinating people outside of certain defined groups, the official response is to just taper down general vaccine availability to minimize the chances of such “mistakes”. Talk of perverse incentives.

This is just speculation and I have no idea what’s really going on.

But I will make one overarching point. Rapidly rolling out vaccines shouldn’t be hard. New York City vaccinated 6 million in a month in the late 1940s.

And I tend to agree with Richard Hanania’s take that rapidly rolling out vaccines is ultimately yet another test of state capacity, just as containing Corona was.

And it’s also one that most of the West is failing at. Once might be a fluke, twice is more likely to be a pattern.

Forget about measuring up to China. Do Western countries have lower state capacity now than in the 1940s?

 
• Category: Culture/Society, Science • Tags: Corona, Coronavirus, Israel, Vaccination 
 

The GOD DANG CHEETO ORANGE MUSSOLINI will soon be out of the White House.

As such, it’s now the Chinese taking over from the Russians paying Afghans to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan. It’s not something freedom loving Afghans would even think of doing if they weren’t getting rubles, yuan, or preferably both for it.

 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, China, Chinagate, United States 
 

I wish my readers the best of spirits and great success in 2021!

 
• Tags: Open Thread 
 

In this “summary” post on Corona 2020, I will cover some of the following.

  • Recap what we know about Corona, what we have learned in the past year, and what policies should have been undertaken;
  • The big picture of global excess mortality that is emerging for 2020;
  • Discuss the vaccines, “vaccine geopolitics”, and Corona’s impact on The Great Bifurcation between the US and China;
  • Conclude with some general political and sociological observations, such as what Corona has revealed about state capacity around the world, the phenomenon of “rightoid cope”, and the bipartisan nature of ideological self-delusion.

***

 

The Year of Corona

As readers may have noticed, I haven’t been posting much about Corona in the past few months. The main reason is that I already wrote about most of what would happen in the first half of this year, and since then it’s been a matter of seeing all my more pessimistic predictions come true, intermittently recognized by rationalists and assaulted by an emergent crop of “Coronahoax” conspiracy-mongers. (As such, it has almost become more interesting to me as a sociological, as opposed to an epidemiological or geopolitical, phenomenon; I will comment more upon that later in this post).

The second reason is that we haven’t made any particularly radical discoveries about Corona, or the best ways of suppressing it, which remain – then as now – centered around universal masking, centralized quarantine, mass testing, and travel restrictions. Otherwise, precisely the same countries that managed to implement those policies and did correspondingly well during the first wave are also avoiding the brunt of the current wave. There are ultimately deep political, cultural, and perhaps even HBD reasons for these differentiated responses, and the capacity of individual pundits to make a difference is limited. The broad course of future events was clear by the summer and my Twitter more than sufficed for minor updates.

The one true game-changer is the unprecedented rapid appearance of multiple safe, excellent (>90% efficacy) vaccines within less than a year, as opposed to the 1-2 years or more that were initially being gloomily projected. This triumph of science and technology will allow the world economy and social interactions to recover to some semblance of normalcy during the following year, at least as soon as vaccine production capacity can be ramped up. Total deaths may be capped at no more than 10 megadeaths as Corona is systemically culled throughout the world during 2021-23, as opposed to the tens of millions that would have likely happened otherwise.

It’s rare that “silver bullets” end up rescuing nations from their own stupidity, so the appropriate response should be one of relief and gratefulness for the scientists who developed the vaccines, as well as a marked humbleness on civilization’s capability to deal with future, potentially more serious crises. Perhaps the single biggest thing that Corona has revealed is that said capability is extremely scarce.

***

 

Corona: Summing Up

The successful development of multiple vaccines and their rapid rollout means Corona should not dominate the headlines beyond this year. The bodies will continue to pile on for a few more months – perhaps a year or two, in the more remote and underdeveloped places of the world – but the main story will now involve dealing with the fiscal and monetary overhang from the Corona Crisis, as well as broader trends that will once again come to the forefront, such as the rapid advancements in AI and the accelerating cold war between China and the US.

As such, this would be a good time to “wrap up” the topic.

My previous writing on which you can access via the Corona tag, or a curated list at my personal website here: https://akarlin.com/archive/#CoronavirusCOVID-19

In particular, I am “happy” (if that is indeed the appropriate term – it would have been much better to have been proved wrong) with the following posts:

Finally, I already tallied many of my predictions this May (see Corona Scorecard: Is AK Bad, Wrong, and a COVID Fascist?). I do not have cause to make any major reassessments:

  • Early alarm & prediction of global spread, while many epidemiologists waxed unconcerned as late as February.
  • Corona IFR correct to OOM (unlike Ioannidis’ 0.1%).
  • Projected global death toll was almost correct to order of magnitude (“millions”).
  • In retrospect, overly gloomy on world economy – underestimated impact of fiscal/monetary stimulus, and then vaccines came for Christmas. But it was made when betting markets weren’t even calling a recession.
  • As regards regional predictions: Broadly correct on most places (if ultimately too optimistic on Russia).
  • Broadly made the right calls on needed policies, and early on – I can only really think of Lyman Stone who was notably earlier and consistently better.

All in all, I do think I have done somewhat better than at least some of my most dedicated “fans”:

Now to be sure, I don’t make any claim to unique prescience. Many other prominent bloggers and pundits deserve recognition, such as Lyman Stone (overall “winner”?), Tomas Pueyo, Roko Mijic, Steve Sailer, Razib Khan, Ron Unz, Greg Cochran, JayMan, hbd*chick, Scott Alexander, E. Harding, Noah Carl, Mark Sleboda, and Philippe Lemoine, to name just a few – though it could really just as easily be extended to at least half of the “rationalist”-sphere and considerable numbers of my regular commenters.

***

Corona Recap

The Infection Fatality Rate of ~1% (May 2020) remains correct to the nearest order of magnitude, although it has since happily fallen by a third or even half thanks to adoption of best practices – current CDC estimate seems to be 0.65%.

The fundamental observation that it is one order of magnitude (OOM) more dangerous than “The Flu” across all age groups remains intact, as evidenced by one of the most comprehensive studies on the matter by Mark Bevand.

Demographers now estimate that the US will lose 2-3 years in life expectancy this year, plummeting from 78.8 years in 2019 to levels last seen in the late 1990s.

This is broadly congruent with my March estimate of a 2.5 year LE decline using the age-specific mortality rates derived from the Diamond Princess and assuming a 10% infection rate.

Seroprevalence in the US during July 2020, before the second wave, was at just 8% – well below the level needed for “herd immunity” (as noted), so today it should be around 20-25%. So my assumptions were too pessimistic for what a 10% infection scenario would do, since the Diamond Princess numbers were obviously from before advances in medical care significantly improved Corona outcomes.

Given the continued failure to contain Corona outside East Asia, it is only thanks to the timely development of vaccines and a stroke of good fortunate in that the critical protein spike on which many of these vaccines latch on to did not undergo significant mutations that should not expect to see comparable death rates beyond this annus horribilis.

This is not something that could have been taken for granted. Had the coronavirus mutated into multiple variegated strains that required too many separate vaccines to be feasibly suppressed, then it truly would have become “The Flu” in epidemiological terms – one that was several times as lethal – but nonetheless something that that we would have had to “learn to live with”. Infecting 10%-20% of the population every year, it would have resulted in a permanent loss of 2-3 years worth of life expectancy and diminished life quality for many survivors.

There is a widespread misconception amongst “COVID dissidents” that Corona only cuts off a year or just a few months from life expectancy, based on the average age of death. But life expectancy does not go down by one year with every year you age – the typical 80 year old Italian, for instance, has a remaining life expectancy of 10 years, not 1 year. Statistically, this implies not infrequent cases where two or three decades of potential life are lost. As for non-lethal, but QoL-impairing outcomes, there are many reports of lingering tiredness, physical underperformance, and distortions of sense of smell (“parosmia”) even amongst very young people. Long term effects on health and robustness remain unknown. This confirms my earliest judgments from January that while Corona is from the worst disease to get, it’s still something you would very much want to avoid.

The coronavirus has failed to mutate into something more lethal, which was also a distinct possibility; as Greg Cochran has repeatedly pointed out, the idea that a pathogen has to become less lethal over time is just a meme.

Knowing the basics about perennial plagues like smallpox and falciparum malaria, or short-term-visitors like the English sweat, helps clarify the mind of people that say silly things about evolution always favoring milder strains that spare the host: apparently nobody told smallpox about this, since its CFR was around 30% for thousands of years.

Fortunately, what mutations we did see – first in Italy, more recently in the Britain – have acted almost exclusively on transmissibility. Through no particular effort or achievement of our own, the worst nightmare scenarios – divergence into multiple strains beyond the reach of a single vaccine or feasible cocktail of vaccines, and/or a sharp increase in virulence – have been averted, at least barring some last minute disaster**.

***

 

Corona History

As Corona progressed, it soon became clear that there were several things that were especially effective at “flattening” or “crushing” the curve (it was soon pointed out by the more acute observers that in a globalized world, the distinction between the two was really being quite arbitrary, even if the Western world’s decision to rhetorically focus on the former could be said to have presaged defeatism).

The Big Three can be said to have been the following:

(1) Universal mask wearing, with its efficacy growing exponentially the greater a percentage of the population engaged in the practice. 95% mask wearing – covering the nose and mouth! – is vastly, cardinally better than 80% mask wearing – it reflects the general difference in the social response to Corona in the East Asian success stories and the failures in most of the rest of the world. Due to its unique degree of social solidarity and discipline, Japan has avoided large-scale outbreaks (translating into noticeable excess mortality) without severe lockdowns mainly through truly near universal mask wearing.

(2) Centralized quarantine – vital once the epidemic blows up beyond the capacity of conventional contact tracing, which often happened early on. Unfortunately, as Lyman Stone points out, nobody really did that outside East Asia. You would think that politely but firmly sequestering a few tens of thousands of people for a couple of weeks – while supporting hotels suffering from the collapse of tourism! – would be a superior outcome to 100,000’s of deaths and lockdowns and restrictions for millions, but apparently most Westerners beg to differ. The end result is that the countries that set up so-called “concentration camps”, such as China, ended up de facto far freer than those that didn’t – cue the scenes of massive crowds in Wuhan’s swimming pools this autumn.

(3) Travel restrictions are self-explanatory. On a related note, it’s probably no surprise that the Western country with the smallest, most easily controlled outbreak was the remote island of New Zealand.

In locales where the epidemic did threaten to overspill despite Big Three policies beyond the capabilities of human-run contact tracing programs, it was possible to institute localized lockdowns. This is how China, South Korea, and Vietnam stymied Corona from blowing out of control.

These policies, taken together, had the capacity to keep Corona largely contained at trivial costs to the economy and society, at least relative to letting the disease rampage out of control and getting forced into ruinously expensive general lockdowns to avoid the PR disaster of overflowing hospitals and the collapsing approval ratings that would ensue from that (recall that SARS-2 is one order of magnitude more virulent than the flu + that a typical hospital stay is several times longer than for the flu + the fact of no pre-existing herd immunity → you were looking at up to 2 orders of magnitude greater pressure on hospital capacity relative to a normal flu season). A few societies, primarily in East Asia, with a sufficient degree of social cohesion and state writ, managed this. Most of the rest of the developed world instead subjected society to a year-long “idiot’s limbo” of uncertainty and cycling lockdowns

Intermittently, various pundits and visionaries proposed bolder “technocratic” ideas, such as:

  • Truly mass testing (~10% of the population daily), such as what was implemented at the University of Illinois on a small scale.
  • “Cyber Panopticon” concepts (e.g. Singapore), essentially boiling down to offloading contact tracing work to mobile apps and AI when it escalated beyond the human capacity of national epidemiological services.
  • Moving everything outdoors and installing far-UV lights in public areas.
  • Robin Hanson’s ideas on mass variolation: paying younger people to get infected with the coronavirus in small doses in a controlled hospital setting.
  • Dogs sniffing out Corona?
  • Accelerating regulatory approval of the new vaccines, e.g. the Moderna one was ready in two days’ time. So far as 80 year olds are concerned, the “Russian roulette”-level risks of getting Corona are in any case vastly higher than those from any vaccine.

Although some of these ideas are more expensive than others, they are all far cheaper, efficacious, and ultimately ethical than hard lockdowns (repeat: “Letting it rip” was politically impossible well nigh everywhere – a false dichotomy). However, the countries with competent healthcare bureaucracies that could enforce the low-hanging Big Three had scant need for these more unconventional solutions anyway, while those without them would appear to have been doomed either way.

There was also the “brute force”, most decisively and visibly practiced during the initial outbreak in Wuhan, where life was shut down so totally that r0 was driven down to 0.32. Under such conditions, Corona is quickly extinguished to the point where other contact tracing could pick up the pace. That lockdown wasn’t vastly more restrictive of personal freedoms than that seen in many Western countries, but it was much shorter and clearly did far less economic or psychological damage. But this was only a choice had it been applied in late February/early March, when it was becoming rapidly clear to the observant (i.e., few epidemiologists) that Corona clusters were forming all across the world.

The result is some piecemeal and largely reactive adaptations of all of the above methods – lockdowns that are economically ruinous but not harsh enough or long enough to achieve full suppression, coupled with patchily enforced mask wearing, scant effort devoted to contact tracing, and travel restrictions that are introduced after the horse had already bolted. All of this accompanied by straight-out showmanship, such as breaking up beach or park outings (infections in the open air are freak occurrences), or making gloves compulsory along with masks even though infections through surface contact are also freak occurrences (a more particular idiocy that I believe might be quite specific to Russia). For bureaucrats and politicians, the appearance of appearing to be doing something is more important than whether it actually works or not.

Now in fairness, the idiot’s limbo is no longer as total as it was half a year ago. The strategy the West seems to have settled upon is to let Corona quietly rip in the background, while dialing restrictions and lockdowns up and down in such a way as to avoid scenes of overflowing hospitals before the cameras while reducing economic damage and steadily grinding towards “herd immunity”. This isn’t the optimal route, but it is the politically safest ones, and the one that appears to be within their elites’ capabilities. This is reasonable, given the lack of will to work towards total suppression.

***

 

Excess Mortality

Early on, we had to rely on official COVID-19 mortality statistics from national disease task forces and aggregator dashboards such as the ones I collated here: https://akarlin.com/corona-resources/

The official numbers were not very accurate, because in many cases, deaths from COVID-19 were not correctly registered, e.g. being ascribed instead to generic flu, or the proximate cause of death. (The case numbers were even worse, given problems with procuring test kits early on). Conversely, there were claims – mainly from the “Coronahoax” right – that COVID-19 deaths were if anything being overestimated, because doctors were supposedly labeling any which death as being caused by COVID-19. The only way to cut through these claims and counterclaims was to look at something called “excess deaths” – that is, by how much deaths increased (or decreased) relative to the same period last year in the absence of Corona, or (in more sophisticated versions) relative to preexisting mortality trendlines. These statistics would become progressively more available for increasing numbers of countries as the year wore on.

The most comprehensive such project that I know of has been carried out by the Financial Times’ stats man John Burn-Murdoch, who released his latest update just a couple of days ago:

At the global level, we have the following picture:

  • Excess mortality estimates give 1.5 million for the countries tracked, compared to 960,000 attributed to COVID-19 in the same countries during the same period in what is a heavily First World-based sample.
  • The undercount can be safely said to be far higher in the Third World (discussed below).
  • There will be ~1.8 million official deaths in 2020.
  • Multiplying that by 50% gives 2.7 million deaths.
  • But Third World undercounting means that probably something like 5-7 million is likelier (or, 10% of the world’s ~60 million annual deaths).
  • I suspect something like 10 million deaths globally before vaccines stamp it out in the next couple of years – and in the process preempt the death toll from going into the tens of millions range.

The FT numbers have recently been very closely reproduced by Russian stats professor/blogger Dmitry Kobak.

This all entirely and completely if sadly congruent with my Feb 24, 2020 prediction that “Corona Will Kill Millions & Crater the World Economy“.

Now to be sure, excess deaths are not the ultimate authority – they can have other causes. But if they happen during some notable, mortality-elevating event – for instance, a heat wave, a famine, or a pandemic – then the onus needs to be on the critics to provide an alternate explanation for why deaths would spike during that precise time interval – for instance, by demonstrating that there was a universal cause behind it (e.g. Soviet apologists for the 1932-33 collectivization famines have claimed that millions of Americans died of starvation in the same period due to global climatic effects; these claims are baseless and demographically illiterate, but points for trying, I guess).

The Corona Hoaxers’ equivalent of “drought” are the lockdowns. But as we see from the above table, Taiwan, Australia, Iceland, and South Korea – all countries that notable managed to contain their outbreaks at a low or negligible level – actually saw an overall reduction in mortality. Since many of them had lockdowns of some kind – very harsh ones, in Australia’s case – it obviously can’t be ascribed to suicides or missed operations. If anything, lockdowns have a pronounced mortality-reducing effect (reductions in traffic accidents are one obvious factor).

***

The foremost “accessible” authority on Corona in the US is demographer Lyman Stone, who provides “deaths day” updates for US excess mortality once every few weeks. Latest one as of now is from Dec 11:

There will probably be something like 450,000 excess deaths in the US during 2020, raising total deaths to 3.3 million from the usual level of 2.8-2.9 million in the past few years. Incidentally, this is pretty much the half a million that Ron Unz projected in his August podcast with Robert Stark.

The most interesting finding, perhaps, is that the US has generally done better than Europe – the part of it that regularly reports excess deaths, at any rate – with the second wave hitting the latter much harder. There has been no truly cardinal difference in Corona response – although European lockdowns were longer (and economically harder-hitting), Europeans did not wear masks at a much higher rate than Americans, nor did either region practice centralized quarantine. So I think this difference is ultimately more a function of geographic factors (US is more spread out), a younger American median age (though partially balanced out by more diabetes and obesity), and better US healthcare. What Europe has done undoubtedly better in is with PR, with virtually none of its leading politicians playing about with floomerism as Trump did – for which he was punished at the polls.

So far as concerns internal variation within Europe, the question of why Germanics and Nords enjoyed lower mortality from Corona – even after adjusting for infection rates – than the Med remains an open one. Perhaps something as banal as population physiological differences, e.g. in lung capacity, in addition to better healthcare systems in the latter.

 

Meanwhile, Eastern Europe – hitherto the least affected major European region – is surging ahead of cumulative death tolls observed even in Spain, the country hardest hit by the first wave.

Here are the estimated COVID-19 mortality numbers from stats professor/blogger Dmitry Kobak, based on the prior official Corona mortality to excess mortality ratios and projecting forwards to Dec 29, 2020.

US excess mortality for the year is estimated at 450,000 deaths, which dovetails with Lyman Stone’s. He projects Russia going up to 360,000 excess deaths by the end of the year.

The per capita numbers for Russia (254/100k) and Poland (222/100k) seem to be going along a similar trajectory, so it seems unlikely that the situation is cardinally better in any major countries within that region. For instance, official Ukrainian Corona mortality exploded from October – and the undercount there is likely to be massive as well. There is also a large undercount in Hungary. I don’t expect very major differences in outcomes within this region, which seems on track to systematically “overtake” Mediterranean Europe and approach or exceed the death tolls of some of the Latin American countries: Peru (279/100k), Ecuador (246/100k), Mexico (243/100k).

***

So which country is going to end up with the dubious “honor” of volunteering the greatest amounts of tributes to Corona-chan as a share of its population?

Croat Twitter user @volvoks99 believes it will be in the Balkans. They have a bad combination of Med social vibes, middle-income country healthcare quality, and European age profile.

The ex-USSR is not as “social” as the Balkanoids, but OTOH, they have a greater legacy of vodka abuse and their populations are much less healthy than Westerners at any particular age. Both the Balkanoids and ex-sovoks were relatively “shielded” during the first wave because they are more peripheral on global traffic/tourism flows, then summer came. But with Corona now endemic throughout the world, that’s no longer a big factor during this winter wave.

ECE/V4 do have an outside chance – perhaps Hungary especially – but I doubt it.

Although so far as available estimates of excess mortality are concerned, Peru still has an overall global lead. However, it is now “summer” there, and by mid-2020, it’ll probably have access to vaccines.

***

Here’s an astounding fact: We know more about births/deaths in mid-18th century Sweden than we do for much of Black Africa in the 2010s. It’s a demographic black box.

That said, recent results suggest that the coronavirus has raged through Africa no less than in much of the rest of the world; some 20% of people in the Republic of Congo were registered as having antibodies against SARS-2 as early as July 2020 (see right).

There would certainly have been many excess deaths amongst older Africans from such infection rates – it is interesting to note that the only world leaders to die from Corona both hailed from Black Africa: eSwatini Ambrose Dlamini, and possibly Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza. However, the relative effect on overall mortality would be strongly diluted by the very low median age of the population (most of Sub-Saharan Africa is at 20 years!) as well as relatively high pre-existing death rates.

As we can see from the FT tables, excess mortality even in lower middle-income countries places like Ecuador (+79%) and Peru (+89%), where the median age is 28 years, or in Jakarta, Indonesia (+71%), where the median age is around 30 years for the country as a whole, the increases are very substantial. We even observe large increases in the more “Third World” regions of countries like Russia (e.g. Dagestan, Chechnya). Moreover, not only is there the obvious factor that healthcare quality is much lower in the Third World, but in many cases people are themselves more “fragile” and “weaker” at any given age due to a lifetime of nutritional and epidemiological shocks. As such, the aggregate effect on global mortality from the Third World will be very substantial – even if much of it remains uncaptured in national statistics.

Nonetheless, bearing in mind that even rich Western countries were unable to contain Corona, it’s obvious now that locking down was a bad idea for any Third World country (as I suggested as such back in April). At least unless they have First World-tier human capital, like Vietnam.

***

 

Corona Economics

Latest World Bank estimates see global GDP contracting by an estimated 4.4%, which is 50% deeper than the Great Recession and the greatest economic collapse on record since post-World War II demobilization.

So, in retrospect, the Corona to “crater the world economy” was quite the accurate prediction – especially in the context of betting markets in late February giving just a 32% chance of a global recession within the next year.

Just weeks later, American GDP was crashing by a third and oil futures going into negative figures.

A depression was avoided mainly thanks to massive monetary loosening and fiscal stimulus equivalent to a sixth of US GDP (similar figures in other developed countries), the seasonal reprieve during summer, and growing confidence that vaccines would soon put the whole affair behind us.

So far as individual regions and countries go (IMF Oct 2020 figures):

  • United States growth of -4.3% is much better than the -5.8% projected for the advanced economies at large. Ironically, in the big picture, Corona could be seen as an Amerotriumph in comparison to most everyone except China. Not only will the US eventually lose fewer people than Europe in per capita terms, its economy will also be hurt to a somewhat lesser extent. In fairness, US stimulus spending was higher as a percentage of GDP than any major country except Japan (though this is partially mitigated by the fact that in Europe’s more generous welfare states, stimulus spending increases “by default” during recessions).
  • European Union will grow by -7.6%, with the hardest hit being the Med – our early 2010s friends the PIGS – all of whom will decline by 10-12%, thanks in significant part to a collapse in tourism revenue. Their debt to GDP ratios will also swell, perhaps presaging new crises in the early 2020s. The UK and France will also decline by 10%. Germany did much better, it will only decline by 6% – numbers which are also typical of the ECE and Scandinavia. Its single best performer is Poland, which will only fall by 3.6%.
  • Eastern Europe will do much better, growing at -4.6% – with Russia in particular doing much better than expected, only falling by 4.1% (discussed separately here).
  • East Asia is the only region to see positive growth at 0.3%, led by China with 1.9% – performance in the rest of the year making up for its deep Q1 2020 collapse. Japan is not bad at -5.3%, although that was only achieved through stimulus spending equivalent to 21% of its GDP – the single highest such figure of any G20 country.
  • Latin America (-8.1%) does very badly, although Brazil will do better at -5.8%. Thanks to Bolsonaro’s generous income support for poor Brazilians, it will – almost uniquely – see an absolute decline in poverty this year. South Asia (-8.4%) will both do very badly, driven above all by India’s 10.3% decline. All its meager gains relative to China in the past few years have evaporated in 2020. National performance in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa seems to have been heavily variegated.

Whither now? The unprecedented global monetary and fiscal experiments this year have led to the rather paradoxical effect that even as economic activity contracted, stock markets and many other assets (e.g. cryptocurrencies) have exploded to record heights, as all the newly created dollars had to go somewhere. Market cap to GDP in the US has never been higher, and US stock markets in turn may be the world’s most overvalued at the present time (Tesla with its 1,000+ p/e ratio can be seen as the poster child for this). We are in uncharted waters so far as economic policy is concerned, long-term consequences are unclear, and my Twitter followers are all over the place so far as the timing of the next recession is concerned.

***

 

Corona Geopolitics & State Capacity

I think part of the fascination with Corona-watching (at least for me) is that while it won’t much change the balance of power per se (e.g. overall demographic impact is close to negligible), it is perhaps the most strenuous “standardized test” of state capacity since World War II. Some countries reacted promptly and effectively, while other countries – that is, almost everyone outside East Asia – floundered and failed (despite the irony of Europeans having brought modern epidemiology into China in the first place). Many national stereotypes were confirmed, but others were rejected. Or subverted. The Swedish strategy, suboptimal or not as it may eventually turn out to be, required huge social discipline to sustain, a sort of stoicism in the face of encroaching danger that recalled how, during the Thirty Years War, aghast observers would remark upon Swedish soldiers’ unusual willingness to march unflinching into grapeshot.

Probably the single simplest measure of the effectiveness of the coronavirus response could be something like the sum of:

  • The socio-economic disruption caused by an event like Corona 2020, as proxied by the change in GDP growth from what it was otherwise expected to be.
  • The percentage increase in excess deaths relative to recent trends.

Such an index of state capacity would look something like the following:

  • East Asia ~5%, almost all of it due to slower GDP growth: China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, etc. are pretty clearly in the lead.
  • USA ~25%, having had a ~15-18% increase in excess mortality and a 4% GDP decline versus 2%-3% it would have had otherwise,
  • Europe largely at ~20-30%, with 15-20% increase in excess mortality and 5-10% GDP declines.
  • Russia currently at ~30%, with 23% increase in excess mortality as of Dec 29 and -4% projected GDP growth versus the 2% or 3% it would have had otherwise.
  • Latin American countries at 50%+ with huge increases in excess mortality and large GDP declines.

For all the weakness and simplicity of this method (doesn’t account for age structure, etc.) it seems like a remarkably accurate approximation of real state capacity in the world today relative to stereotypes (even though Western supremacists will understandably not be happy to hear that China is basically a developed East Asian state in that respect).

***

So far as the world’s prospects at large are concerned – as I wrote at the start, the global response to Corona has generally made me more skeptical about the world’s capacity to deal with future, potentially much more dangerous crises than Corona:

  • We see that European societies from the US to Eastern Europe are all relatively dysfunctional compare to East Asia so far as real world outcomes are concerned.
  • Clean, efficient, Big Data-friendly bureaucracies such as Taiwan’s are the exception, not the rule. The cynical view that they are overwhelmingly driven by the need to be seen to be doing something as opposed to doing things that are effective at minimal cost and inconvenient is unfortunately true.
  • The academic establishment and the media ecosystem that hangs on their every word tends to conservative, ossified thinking while the rightoids are too dumb and crazy and the rationalists too few and autistic to effectively challenge them.
  • Demotic regimes – this encompasses not just classical Western “democracies”, but “hybrid” regimes like Russia’s that are still dependent on popular legitimation – are too short-termist to commit to an optimal policy and see it through to the end.
  • Although an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, not just in medicine but in policy towards natural disasters, “myopic voters” overwhelmingly award politicians who invest in the latter (i.e. show themselves to be “doing something”). As such, the problem is fundamental: Demotism; mediocre average IQ; competence – you can’t have all three.

If a civilization can’t deal adequately with a relatively “simple” problem like Corona, I don’t see it “solving” Mars colonization, long-term dysgenics, or the control problem in AI. Except by lucking out, at any rate.

***

The Vaccines Race

The development of vaccines has opened up another arena of geopolitical struggle. Getting priority access to them is important not just as a means of capping mortality and enabling recovery, but also signaling elite country status. The main spheres/countries to indigenously develop their own vaccines are an elite club of transnational but Western-based pharma giants as well as primarily state-based institutions in China (Sinovac, etc.) and – surprisingly to some – Russian (Sputnik V).

Amusingly, their geographic spread reflects geopolitical alignments,

There are also concrete limits to Western virtue signaling – as one can see, Third World countries with no close geopolitical alignments and no indigenous vaccine production capacities of their own are last in line.

Incidentally, vaccination will also be the latest test of state capacity. The faster that countries ensure mass vaccination – something that is a function of state technological resources, national wealth, access to good allies, and the level of enlightenment and discipline of the general population – the sooner that the epidemic will be controlled within their borders. Israel has made a sterling start, with 20% of its over 65’s already vaccinated as of the time of writing.

***

“China Lied, People Died” as Wypipo Cope

One of the most fascinating things about the Corona Crisis was how various right-wing conspiracy theorists would simultaneously claim that China purposefully spread its “China Virus”/WuFlu on purpose, which is actually a hoax that is just the flu, but which has also killed tens of millions of Chinese because millions of phone numbers vanished from Wuhan and which the Chicoms are hiding from the world.

Meanwhile, the slightly smarter if similarly deranged neocons have been demanding gibsmedats reparations, such as the British tabloid The Sun and the German tabloid Bild, the Henry Jackson Society, the Claremont Institute, Bannon, and now Nigel Farage.

But perhaps the most “powerful” take of all belonged to Tyler Cowen, who has argued that letting Corona ran rampant… is actually a way to “own” the Chicoms:

There is one other factor that people are loathe to discuss (with one exception). Yes, the U.S. has botched its response to Covid-19. At the same time, its experience shows that America as a nation can in fact tolerate casualties, too many in fact. It had long been standard Chinese doctrine that Americans are “soft” and unwilling to take on much risk. If you were a Chinese war game planner, might you now reconsider that assumption?

Fred Reed has been next to no-one in lampooning this rightoid schizophrenia, while on a more serious note, Philippe Lemoine has written the definitive case arguing that China neither substantially hid the scale of its epidemic nor that it could be blamed for Western incompetence at containing Corona in a magisterial 4-part series at Quillette .

The Western rage at China is all the more hilarious considering their own denouncements of China’s “authoritarian” Corona response in January and Schadenfreude at the difficulties it was going to face (e.g. Wilbur Ross’ comments).

As noted and subsequently lampooned by the Chinese themselves:

In reality, at least so far as epidemic control is control, China has merely demonstrated that it has surpassed the West – as in many other areas. As pointed out by E. Harding, its response outside Wuhan was South Korea-tier.

Meanwhile, much of the West was revealed to have a catastrophic deficit of state capacity, its leaders unable to even replicate what Vietnam was capable of.

Nonetheless, credit where credit’s due – contra my own expectations, the US has managed to deflect most of the blame for its own failures onto China not just so far as its domestic audience is concerned, but even amongst many Europeans, whose opinions of China have sharply worsened this year. Although I predicted that Corona would accelerate the Great Bifurcation between the US and China, I was not quite correct to believe that it would rebound to China’s benefit. Propaganda is certainly one sphere in which the Western supremacists retain an overwhelming advantage, with most Americans believing that the Chinese coronavirus was worse than theirs.

***

 

Corona Politics & Rightoid Cope

Despite the prevalence of “floomerism” in online rhetoric, it is something that has been avoided by the smarter politicians, although there were a few prominent exceptions:

  • Donald Trump has been sort of 50/50, but thanks to very bad PR he ended up being associated himself with the floomer camp and failed to capitalize on what he did get right (e.g. early travel bans). I personally told Trumperino what he needed to do to win – he failed to follow my advice and paid for it at the polls.
  • Alexander Lukashenko – crushing the protests over electoral fraud would have certainly been easier to justify had he not been a dedicated floomer.
  • Jair Bolsonaro was perhaps the most “powerful” floomer, up to the point that he faced something of a mini-revolt from Brazilian governors. In the end, his approval ratings were rescued by direct payments to the Brazilian poor, which – almost uniquely – have resulted in a reduction of poverty in 2020 and a fall in the Gini index from 0.55 to 0.49. Unlike Trump, Bolsonaro was a real populist, and his people thanked him for it.

Most of the other country leaders didn’t insist on scoring own goals and, where they did not suppress Corona, at least compensated with adequate PR, gravitas, making sure the cameras didn’t capture overflowing hospitals.

Hilariously, this includes politicians that rightoids tend to worship, e.g. Putin, whose Corona response may have been substandard but who has made his disdain for “COVID dissidents” quite clear. Ergo for Netanyahu, Orban, etc. Floomerism wasn’t part of their rhetoric.

Hence my observation, back in May, that “coronaskepticism” was actually rather ideologically heterogenous so far as political alignments went.

And certainly at the beginning the idiocy and incompetence seemed to be quite bipartisan.

There was widespread signaling on the part of the centrist elites against travel restrictions (somewhat linked to Trump Derangement Syndrome) and even outright dismissal of the threat of Corona back in March. The rationalist Roko Mijic and @PurpleBaptist have both produced good Twitter threads collecting failed expert advice and predictions from the period. The single most pronounced failure , of course, the pronounced warning against wearing masks in March – something that I and many other bloggers and commenters repeatedly pointed out at the time. Incidentally, this was a “white lie” to save up masks for healthcare workers, as was subsequently claimed; Scott Alexander demonstrated early (see #7) on that it reflected the medical profession’s ossified conversatism and (in this case, tragically misplaced) risk averseness.

Even so, at least so far as the Corona question goes, the “experts” and the MSM did at least adapt quite quickly and correct course. Even as “the libs” scurried to “clean up” the public record of their predictive failures – Vox recently proudly announced it had deleted two tweets from March about mask-wearing – this “Anti-Masks Cause” was subsequently monopolized by American rightoids, and since stupidity is contagious, by their ideological brethren across the world. It’s one thing to be wrong out of excess caution and professional groupthink, it’s quite another to seize the mantle of stupidity and proudly don it one’s head. Like making geocentrism a lynchpin of your political identity after Galileo.

This is not to imply that there aren’t many people with an accurate view of Corona who are right-wing or conservative. Nor is it to say that the liberals and/or the Left have suddenly become much fundamentally rational. Leftoids believed that the #BLM rallies did not spread coronavirus, just as rightoids thought the same about MAGA rallies. Even so, in both incidence and sheer magnitude of idiotic rhetoric, there’s no doubt the rightoids have ascended head and shoulders above any other political faction, adopting patently losing and incorrect positions that there were under absolutely no obligation to adopt, and which were often outright schizophrenic and self-contradictory to boot – notably, barking at China for spreading a “flu” that they simultaneously claimed wasn’t killing anybody. Unsurprisingly, this kind of unhinged idiocy doesn’t appeal much to normie voters, who punished Trump at the polls, while politicians such as Jacinda Ardern who successfully protected their people were instead praised and lavishly rewarded by the adoring masses.

So why did rightoids insist on scoring own goals? One can speculate endlessly, but ultimately I think it comes down to them having something like 10 fewer IQ points than liberals on average, and 5 fewer IQ points than leftoids. Stupider people tend to make bad decisions and adopt losing positions. Stupider people tend to make bad decisions while putting themselves in a position where they can easily and not even all that unfairly be portrayed as psychopaths by people who dislike them and who also happen to control 90% of the media and tech.

Now again, to be clear, it’s not as if the neolibs are the “party of science” or whatever. They have been censoring suggestions to more rapidly roll out vaccines by limiting injections to a single dose – even though that is something that has been suggested by the developers of the Sputnik V vaccine, and by David Salisbury, the one time British head of immunizations at the Department of Health. At least in the US, they are also making clearly politicized decisions about which demographic groups are got the vaccines first.

But this has no comparison to aggressive signaling against vaccination, which so far as mainstream politics goes seems to be near exclusively monopolized by rightoids. Flea-infested hippies and Nation of Islam nutjobs are not mainstream, but Bolsonaro is ranting about how the vaccines are going to turn you into an alligator is. I suppose that’s at least more creative than the Bill Gates microchip theory.

So far as the “COVID dissidence” movement goes, it has long become an almost exclusively rightoid phenomenon, and I say that as someone that had the “privilege” of getting to observe it first hand over the past few months, becoming something of an object of hatred for these rightoids both on Twitter (see right for one creative example) and amongst certain commenters at this webzine, despite my own positions on the optimal Corona response being consistently based on costs/benefits-type analysis devoid of puritanical zeal, and which are not for that matter notably more “hardline” than normie positions and in many cases, even the contrary.

That is because rightoids tend to live in a world of their own imagining, whereas in the real one, 72% of Britons support Boris Johnson’s recent decision to return to a lockdown. (My own position on this matter is agnostic these days – on the one hand, what’s the point, if white countries have already generally demonstrated they’re not serious about suppression? Though admittedly, a case can be made for it if there is a credible UK commitment to use the lockdown to run through a crash vaccination program, like Israel is doing. In other words, I am – on this particular point – more “COVID skeptic” than a solid majority of the British population).

But what matters more is that following my recommendations and those of many others would have largely annulled the need for hard lockdowns in principle. Now certainly it would have been very good if we had indeed been listened to, even if it would have had the ironic effect of making our gloomy prognostications wrong:

Like, OK – I expected to be attacked if I was wrong and prompt action had averted our bad Corona outcome (even if my gloomy prognostications had played some minor role in doing so).

Nor did I expect to be lauded and praised if I was in fact right. Those who forecast ill winds are never popular.

Certainly I didn’t expect anything of the sort from liberals or the left, whose sacred cows I had consistently opposed on the Corona question (pro-masks in March, anti-BLM in June).

But I admittedly did not expect to be correct on almost all of the key issues – including on issues that intersected against the grain of left/liberal theology – and to nonetheless have the overwhelming of subsequent attacks and accusations of chicanery come from rightoids for my sheer affronterty and chutzpah of… being correct? Certainly there was not a lot of that from leftoids, and not at all liberals.

***

 
 

This post sums up the coronavirus epidemic in Russia in 2020. There will subsequently be a larger post surveying the world at large and prospects for its containment before the New Year.

 

The observation that Russia is massive understating its COVID-19 mortality rate was first noticed by bloggers around May, when they noticed that a disproportionately high share of doctors seemed to be dying and that preliminary deaths registrations in the ZAGS system were far higher than official Corona deaths*.

By June, these observations had made their way into writeups on Novaya Gazeta and it has subsequently been confirmed that this artifact is both systematic and intentional.

[EDIT: Kobak posted graphs for November hours after I did this post, so I updated.] According to stats professor/blogger Dmitry Kobak, excess mortality during April-October November 2020 amounted to 184,000 deaths (+18% overall) 264,000 deaths (+23% overall)**:

Here is a map of its evolution, month by month, from April to October November:

And here it is by regions**:

That is because, unlike Western Europe, Russia is being struck much harder by the second wave. It is going to get worse before it gets better, with excess deaths probably rising to close to 300,000 by the end of the year (the US will have ~450,000). In net terms, it’s now clear that Russia has done worse than the US, as well as most or quite possibly all EU countries. At the end of the day, that’s probably not that surprising. While Russia’s population is not exceptionally old by European standards, it’s certainly less healthy at any given age (strong lingering legacy of binge drinking, with a pre-Corona life expectancy of 73 years), living spaces are crowded and automobile ownership is low by Western standards, winters are long, and healthcare quality is “Second World”, not EU or US level. Moreover, despite its reputation as a “police state”, Putin hasn’t seen fit to do anything useful with those powers: Mask ordinance enforcement is much less stringent than in most European countries, as in the West there is no centralized quarantines, and it upholds a “mainstream” attitude to travel bans**.

EDIT 2012/12/29: Literally as I posted it, preliminary Rosstat data came in for Nov 2020, showing +78,000 deaths increase y/y this month & bringing excess mortality total to 245,592 for the period of the Corona epidemic. Confirms that end year figures should be around 300k, or 50% higher than the US in per capita terms.

 

However, where Russia did shine is in PR, with most Russians genuinely convinced that the Corona situation is much worse in the US – despite its per capita death rate now approaching to 50% above the latter’s. Though I suppose the American media’s achievement in meming that the US did a better job with Corona than China is the more impressive accomplishment – after all, at least US and Russian excess mortality is at least on the same order of magnitude, whereas China’s is two orders of magnitude lower.

If there’s a region of the world that I got more “wrong” than right in terms of Corona impact it is, ironically, Russia and the ex-USSR. I was too optimistic on Russia, and now on the V4 as well, which has also been ravaged by the second wave. Ironically, my initial pessimism on the Ukraine may be proved correct after all – especially considering that it will be the last major country in this region to get access to vaccines (they will only be able to start vaccinating no earlier than in February).

This also doesn’t mean that Western journalists who covered the pandemic in Russia were accurate or useful in the slightest. To the contrary, they were actively spreading fake news that Russia was already undergoing a coronavirus epidemic as early as February and publishing tabloid-style headlines implying Putler was pushing medics out of hospital windows. Conversely, with scant exceptions, they almost entirely failed to cover the hard statistical evidence that Russia was purposefully downplaying the Corona death toll, with the topic being picked up near exclusively by Russian data bloggers and liberal journals. The Western journalists have since moved on to the greener pastures of creating black PR against the Sputnik V vaccine. This demonstrates the long-running truism that Western journalism on Russia is negative value added – even on topics where it is both perfectly possible and ethically necessary to highlight Russian failure and deception, they prefer to make things up.

 

However, there are two brighter notes. Despite the oil price collapse, the Russian economy has also managed 2020 relatively well. Its GDP will decline less than the US or almost any EU country. I assume this is a result of lax Corona restrictions after the first wave in May, the redirection of tourism to domestic destinations, and probably a greater general resilience of the economy to oil price shocks six years after the end of the commodity super cycle. As such, it is quite the irony that whereas my otherwise very good Corona predictions were overly optimistic with respect to Russia (I thought it’d have fewer deaths per capita than the US or the UK, which was true in the first wave but turned very wrong by the second wave), they were to the contrary unduly pessimistic so far as the Russian economy was concerned (I predicted its GDP would fall by 10% back in March, in reality, it should fall by just ~4% this year, which is better than in almost all Western countries and all the BRICS except China).

The other minor Russotriumph is the successful development of the Sputnik V vaccine by the Gamaleya Institute, and its creeping international acceptance – regardless of the blitz directed against it by Western propagandists and their domestic Russian allies***. Sputnik V has had 700 million orders, putting it in the “Big Five” along with AstraZeneca (3 billion), Novavax (1.3 billion), and Pfizer and Sanofi (700 million each). Some interest has even been expressed by countries at the edge of the Western sphere, such as Israel and Hungary. A few days ago, the Gameleya signed a memorandum of cooperation with AstraZeneca.

The Sputnik V vaccine may soon be joined by another vaccine, the EpiVacCorona developed by the Vector Institute.

 

***

Ukraine almost entirely avoided the first wave due to low travel intensity, and a strict and early lockdown more drastic than in either Russia or floomer Belarus; as of Jan-Sept 2020, it still had 2% lower deaths y/y (436,500 then vs. 426,700 now). However, as in the rest of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, September is when the second wave began to really pick up pace – see map below – so this state of affairs will almost certainly sharply reverse now. As in the rest of East Europe, it has no appetite for a second, longer period of lockdowns.

According to a report by the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, excess mortality for September was already 14% higher than a year before (see map right), and October is going to become very sharply worse still.

As noted above, the Ukraine is notable in that – along with most of Sub-Saharan Africa – it has only managed to secure access to vaccines for just 5% of its population. Meanwhile, non-EU but Russia-aligned countries like Belarus should get the Sputnik V vaccine soon after Russian domestic requirements are satisfied. Consequently, even though Ukraine has had less excess mortality to date than Russia or Belarus, it may ultimately converge to or exceed their level due to the extra few months they’ll have to make do with no vaccines. This is what happens when you’re not independent rich, and have no indigenous vaccine production capacities, nor any close relationships with those countries that do.

***

Belarus doesn’t release preliminary demographics data these days, can’t say much about it apart from the fact that circumstantial data (leaks; Google searches for “loss of sense of smell”; etc) suggests it’s following the general Russian/East European trajectories. There is a good chance we will only get a good picture of developments there after a year or two.

***

Kazakhstan has curiously seen a much sharper mortality spike in its southern, more Muslim, and much younger regions (map right shows excess mortality increase in Jan-Sep 2020 y/y).

 

This is confirmed by the ethnic data: Excess mortality rose by ~12% for Europeans (Russians, Germans, Tatars); ~37% for Kazakhs; ~46% for Uzbeks. Curiously, though, Koreans saw excess mortality of ~35%, despite having the demographic profiles of Europeans.


* Map of the undercount, via @popdemography Twitter account:

** Russia blocked flights from China soon after word spread of coronavirus, but waited until March 18 to block EU flights and blocked flights from the UK over its new strain about a day after the Netherlands and Germany.This is telling where kremlins’ actual reference points lie.

*** Many of these liberal hypocrites have nonetheless rushed to get themselves vaccinated with Sputnik V as soon as it became available to the general public.

 

Other Russia-related Corona reading:

 
• Category: Science • Tags: Corona, Coronavirus, Fraud, Mortality, Russia, Ukraine, Vaccines 
 

This the news from the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), covering the years 2019-20. (h/t Cicerone, now Tweeting as @BirthGauge):

Previous NFHS surveys at Wikipedia stretching to 1981.

India overall is now at TFR = 2.1 children per woman. Kerala, long one of the lowest TFR states (as well as one of the most socially developed), is now middling.

But most interestingly, a number of states are approaching near East Asian lows. These are mainly the islands states (Sikkim at 1.1), and – most curiously – majority Muslim Jammu and Kashmir (1.4).

Bihar, the worst Indian state, has the highest TFR.

I expect most of India to hit current East Asian (Taiwan/S. Korea/etc) “lowest low” fertility by the 2030s.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Demographics, Fertility, India 
Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.