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We Will Get to Herd Immunity in 2021…One Way or Another (Revisited) – Marginal REVOLUTION

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On January 20 I wrote:

By July it will all be over. The only question is how many people have to die between now and then?

Youyang Gu, whose projections have been among the most accurate, projects that the United States will have reached herd immunity by July, with about half of the immunity coming from vaccinations and half from infections. Long before we reach herd immunity, however, the infection and death rates will fall. Gu is projecting that by March infections will be half what they are now and by May about one-tenth the current rate. The drop will catch people by surprise just like the increase. We are not good at exponentials. The economy will boom in Q2 as infections decline.

Those US predictions look quite good. March infections were a little more than half what they were around Jan. 20. May infections at 1/10th the rate may be a bit optimistic but it’s early.

I was reminded of this by Kevin Drum’s excellent post on shortage porn and the chip shortage in particular which seems to be due to little more than a mistaken belief that the pandemic in the US would last into the summer and beyond:

Last night, for example, 60 Minutes ran a segment about the shortage of chips for cars and videogames and whatnot. And why is there a shortage of chips? Is it because we’ve outsourced everything to the wily Chinese folks on Taiwan? You’d think so after inhaling Lesley Stahl’s inane reporting, except for the fact that she inadvertently allowed the chairman of Taiwanese chipmaker TSMC a brief moment to give the game away: “In March, 2020, as COVID paralyzed the U.S., car sales tumbled, leading automakers to cancel their chip orders. So TSMC stopped making them.”

Oh. So it has nothing to do with Taiwanese fabs vs. American fabs or global supply constraints or any of that. Nor is it related to a possible invasion of Taiwan or the fact that Intel may or may not have made good decisions about its future business. It’s because American car companies cancelled their chip orders and never bothered to reinstate them. Then in December, when car sales “unexpectedly” began to rebound, they panicked and realized what they had done. You’d think these guys had never done an economic forecast or used an MRP system before in their lives.

Anyway, be prepared for hundreds of stories like this. For each one, be careful to ignore the details and instead focus on the big picture. In about 90% of them, it will be the same: they didn’t plan for the pandemic to ever end, and now they’re paying the price.