The Ferguson – or Imperial – coronavirus model is a load of Hooey. But not, or not alone, for the reasons generally given that it’s a tangled mess of code that doesn’t even produce the same answer each time. Nor because its output was so useless that even the originator wouldn’t obey the implied rules from its use when seeking a shag.
No, Ferguson failed because his model failed to include human beings in it. Which is really very weird indeed when attempting to model, erm, human beings.
Dominic Lawson has one side of the argument today:
In short, the unprecedentedly draconian policies the government launched on March 23 were following, not leading, public behaviour. The same was true in other nations, regardless of exactly how tight, or not, the so-called lockdowns were. As Jonathan Kay, the Canadian editor of the online magazine Quillette, wrote: “I find the lockdown debate so phoney. It’s been fuelled on both sides by the presumption that government decrees work as a sort of magic wand that will bring our economies . . . back to life. But the data suggest there is no such magic wand. Much of the lockdown effect was imposed not by top-down fiat, but through millions of small decisions made every day by civic groups, employers, unions, trade associations, school boards and, most importantly, ordinary people. Here in Toronto . . . I know relatively few people whose decision to work from home (or not work at all) was dictated by government order.”
This is all entirely true. Lawson using it to point out that the damage to the economy has not all been caused by the lockdown but at least in part by that change in behaviour. We are all Keynesians now, the fact changed we changed our minds.
The obvious implication of this being that the lockdown has been very much less costly than generally thought, because the effects of the lockdown are only those additional losses that stem from it, we must subtract the losses from our initial, unforced, changes in behaviour from the total to get to the additional costs of the lockdown.
But there’s a corollary to this too. We changed our behaviour without being forced to – therefore we cannot attribute the changes in behaviour to, entirely at least, the lockdown. Which is why Ferguson’s model was wrong. For it had only two states, lockdown or normal. It did not contain reality, changes in behaviour without lockdown.
Bit of a pity that, eh? We run the entire nation on models that we know are wrong?