Corona Links, 20th March, 2020

Christopher Balding runs the numbers, and says that the virus is spreading faster than we think, but is not as deadly as we feared.



Scott Alexander analyzes (and I mean analyzes!) masks.



Via MR, an obituary for Maurice Hilleman from the Economist in 2005:


Mr Hilleman’s greatest contribution to a healthy world may have been his work on the safe mass production of vaccines that can be stored ready for use against the pandemics that since antiquity have regularly swept across continents, such as the 1918 flu outbreak that killed more than 20m people. In 1957, when flu swept through Hong Kong, Mr Hilleman identified the virus as a new form to which people had no natural immunity and passed on his findings to vaccine-makers. When the virus reached the United States a few months later 40m doses of vaccine were ready to limit its damage. Mr Hilleman established that the flu virus is constantly mutating, making it difficult to provide a reliable vaccine. Developing a vaccine can be complex. His fellow-workers saw him as an artist as much as a scientist, bringing to his discipline an instinctive feeling of what would work. Following his guidelines, many nations are making large quantities of what they believe will be useful vaccines in the hope of defeating a possible pandemic of bird flu, should the virus spread from Asia.



An Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Bill Gates about Covid19

A therapeutic could be available well before a vaccine. Ideally this would reduce the number of people who need intensive care including respirators. The Foundation has organized a Therapeutics Accelerator to look at all the most promising ideas and bring all the capabilities of industry into play. So I am hopeful something will come out of this. It could be an anti-viral or antibodies or something else.

One idea that is being explored is using the blood (plasma) from people who are recovered. This may have antibodies to protect people. If it works it would be the fastest way to protect health care workers and patients who have severe disease.

Speaking of blood and plasma, Alex Tabbarok in MR a while ago:

“A simple and medically feasible strategy is available now for treating COVID-19 patients, transfuse blood plasma from recovered patients.” New York, with other states following closely behind, is now trying the idea.

Read the link within the link above for Alex Tabarrok’s original post as well.

Rahul Gupta’s Recommendations


Rahul Gupta (a well thought-out URL, that) graduated from Gokhale Institute, and now works with EY in Gurgaon. He sent across his list of recommendations for students to go through, and it can be found below.

Keep ’em coming, everybody!


Here is a list of my recommendations –

  • For students of Economics –

    • Hubris: Why Economists Failed to Predict the Crisis and How to Avoid the Next One – Lord Meghnad Desai
    • History of Economic Thought: A Critical Perspective – Emery Kay Hunt
      Both books by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo (currently reading the second one)
    • Most books recommended by you and the faculty at GIPE. Hopefully, some of them will be read cover to cover. Please do.
    • An Economist in the Real World: The Art of Policymaking in India – Kaushik Basu
    • In service of the Republic – Vijay Kelkar & Ajay Shah (Thank you!)
  • General stuff that I would recommend –

    • Anything by Yuval Noah Harari
    • Books and lectures by Jordan Peterson (if you can digest that kind of stuff easily)
    • The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee
    • Following books in the domain of philosophy and political economy –
      • Leviathan – Thomas Hobbes
      • Art of War – Sun Tzu
      • Republic – Plato
  • Some of the books that are on my radar –

    • A Theory of Justice – John Rawls
    • Anarchy, State and Utopia – Robert Nozick
    • Road to Serfdom – Friedrich Hayek
    • How Fascism works – Jason Stanley
    • The Book of Why – Judea Pearl
    • The origins of Political Order – Francis Fukuyama
    • and some more additions to it, it will be a long list.
  • For the students who are currently figuring out what to do, some things that might interest all:

    • – It’s a free course that really explains the ideas behind AI/ML in an easier to digest and intuitive way. Randomly stumbled across this and really loved the content.
    • Introduction to Statistical Learning – Gareth James et al. Highly recommended, it digs deep into statistical learning, takes some time for the non-math-y person, but eventually it is an interesting read.
    • 3Blue1Brown YouTube channel, already posted in your recommendations. It is a delight to watch.
    • Numberphile YouTube channel – Good to know how much of maths and numbers you have no clue of, and an occasional greek letter that you never knew existed.
  • Finally, anyone who doesn’t like reading. These podcasts might be a welcome addition to daily schedule –

And he ends with a request:

Would love to know your top 5 books of all-time/2019, my reading list would keep growing this way.

All time is a dangerous thing to think about, because you end up thinking about all day long, and keep wishing you could go back and change, but for what its worth, here you go:

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig
  2. Mahabharata, pick whichever version you like to start with – Amar Chitra Katha is actually under-rated – and keep reading other versions
  3. How Asia Works, by Joe Studwell – this taught me more about international trade and development than any other single book. Not even close.
  4. Triumph of the City, by Ed Glaeser. Urbanization is increasingly my favorite topic to read about, which is also why the final book is…
  5. Order Without Design, by Alain Bertaud


I owed you a fair amount of beer in any case, let’s just end up doubling the owed amount for sending in this list, Rahul. Thank you so much!