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Ep. 115 Understanding the Coronavirus Alarm and Practical Steps to Weather the Storm

Bob urges skeptics not to dismiss the panic over the coronavirus as merely due to anti-Trump fear-mongering. Although government coercion is not justified, the underlying health crisis is very real. Bob also explains the economics of the toilet paper shortage, and gives practical tips he is using to try to keep his own household safe.

Mentioned in the Episode and Other Links of Interest:

The audio production for this episode was provided by Podsworth Media.

About the author, Robert

Christian and economist, Chief Economist at infineo, and Senior Fellow with the Mises Institute.


  1. Bob Wooldridge on 04/06/2020 at 1:50 PM

    Here’s a video which gives an overview of the evidence that masks work:

  2. Tyler Hiester on 04/06/2020 at 2:54 PM

    One other interesting thing I read about TP was that the increase in demand also coincided with a huge shift in demand—from commercial to residential TP. Apparently a lot of the manufacturers of commercial TP are not the same ones doing residential TP, so when everyone went home, residential TP shot up and commercial fell off a cliff. Can’t find the article anymore but it did mention that getting commercial TP into regular retailers takes time due to freight hauler routes, contract negotiation and other logistical hurdles. Makes you wonder if we will start seeing big industrial rolls in stores ever or if those manufacturers don’t have enough price incentive to deal with the logistical overhead. Love the show! Particularly the more wonkish ones.

  3. Paul on 04/06/2020 at 7:06 PM

    What you didn’t cover that I haven’t researched is the efficacy of the 6′ distancing. If the virus can hang around in the air for hours, it seems like this mostly only matters for someone who coughs or sneezes, since that likely acts as a point source and exposure will drop rapidly over distance. But Americans are usually reasonably good at maintaining distance and covering their faces when sneezing or coughing (yes, many are terrible, but those same ones also will ignore the rules).

    For TP, ou can also even just go to other departments. The Walmart camping section, if it offers RV toilet paper, probably has it in stock. I also noticed the foreign supermarkets, such as Mexican or Asian, may be totally in stock. Out of the convenient stores at gas stations may be good, but I didn’t check those.

    One lesson for me is that the problem with store shelves being empty is almost purely the emotional reaction. The water, especially, was confounding to me because there wasn’t any threat of city water being unavailable. While I see this as a joyous triumph of free market over government, it’s not like drinking tap water is gong to kill you. And when I looked at the food people were purchasing, there is simply no way they were purchasing enough food to be commensurate with the amount of water and TP they were purchasing, especially the TP.

    So I wonder, were they planning on some sort of apocalypse where all services were going to be shut down?

    Also, for the first two weeks or so, maybe it was just my imagination, but it really seemed like there were a lot more cargo vans, especially the Fort Transports, in the parking lots with drivers sitting in them. I wondered it some saw this as a black market opportunity.

    I eventually went store-to-store to every store in town because eventually even single dudes neet to find TP and when at a Dollar Tree I saw a woman with EIGHT 4-packs of TP plus a bunch of other stuff in her cart. I thought this was a good sign because it meant I should be able to find some for myself, but it turned out she took the very last ones. I thought to myself: here I am, witnessing exactly what the economists predict happen, not only in this store, but in all of the stores, and I wonder: how many people are very seriously rethinking the claim that anti-price gouging laws are actually good ideas? While I’m certain it isn’t going to be some overwhelming majority, I suspect it is also not an insignificant minority.

    Trying to get any conversation anywhere, whether IRL or online, about the tyranny aspects is incredibly hard. I’m down to just asking if there is a way to handle the virus that might cost less than $20 trillion and 10 million people out of work. Some people are receptive.

  4. Mark Carroll on 04/09/2020 at 1:49 AM

    Bob –

    I appreciate that you have separated the coronavirus issue into two aspects – the health issues and the political/economic issues of overreacting/quasi-martial law, etc.

    Looking at the medical end of things (how it’s transmitted, who is infected, number of deaths, prevention and treatment, testing for antibodies vs the virus itself, etc.), apart from a few anecdotal stories, it seems everyone is relying on the CDC, the State media, Trump, that creep Fauci and the fedgov in general for their information.

    Given that these people have already been caught lying several times on this subject, how can you believe anything they say? Weren’t these the same people that told us that the income tax was temporary and would never be above a few percent? That Pearl Harbor was a surprise? That Oswald acted alone? There were WMDs in Iraq? That Jeffrey Epstein killed himself? Isn’t this another case of Lucy pulling the football out from Charlie Brown? What’s different about this one?

    Your loyal fan,

    • Robert Murphy on 04/09/2020 at 4:44 PM

      Mark asked: “Weren’t these the same people that told us that the income tax was temporary and would never be above a few percent? That Pearl Harbor was a surprise?”

      Well, no, they weren’t the same people.

      But regarding the spirit of your post, are you saying that NYC hospitals aren’t actually being inundated with cases, and having to choose who lives and dies? It wasn’t the corporate media that made me sit up and take notice of this, it was my wife’s membership in various nurse groups on Facebook etc. and the interviews she was finding with people who seemed credible.

  5. Mark on 04/09/2020 at 8:03 PM

    Bob: But regarding the spirit of your post, [that the state lies to us] are you saying that NYC hospitals aren’t actually being inundated with cases, and having to choose who lives and dies?

    I can’t see NY from Arizona. Again, since the state and the media lie to us, I have no reason to believe what they are saying about the situations in those hospitals based on the fact they have lied specifically about the number of deaths, who qualifies as a coronavirus victim (yes, it’s a real virus that people die from), faked media reports, etc.

    There is also this, from Ed Griffin’s website that Lew Rockwell also posted, showing empty ERs.

  6. Daniel in Arizona on 04/10/2020 at 8:13 PM

    I know you are busy bringing a new little human into the world, but I urge you to apply the same skepticism you apply to the Global Warming, er, Climate Change, er, End Of Life On Earth models to the two major Wuhan virus models —

    1. (from Powerline “We have now met the Imperial College London epidemiologist and professor of mathematical biology Neil Ferguson — the “gold standard” of disease modeling, according to the New York Times and Washington Post. Ferguson is of course the expert whose projections of huge death tolls from COVID-19 in the United States and the United Kingdom have supported the ongoing shutdowns. Ferguson projected as many as 2,200,000 deaths in the United States and 500,000 deaths in the United Kingdom.”

    and 2. The IHME model that has radically changed its “scientific” predictions multiple times in the last two weeks. (From Redstate )
    “Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist, took a serious look at the IHME (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation) Coronavirus model and called it “garbage.” Davis makes his case through a series of tweets (below).

    “Davis found that the actual numbers of hospitalizations on April 1 were a fraction of the numbers projected by the IHME model. The problem with the model, he discovered, is that it uses New York and New Jersey data and applies it to the rest of the states.

    “The actual numbers range from a low of 9% in Tennessee of the projection to a high of 50% in Virginia. Here are some examples:

    “The model projected that over 121,000 people would be hospitalized in the country yesterday. [April 1] The actual number was 31,142. (25.7%)
    Texas: Projection – 1,716; Actual – 196 (11.4%)
    Georgia: Projection – 2,777; Actual – 952 (34.3%)
    Virginia: Projection – 607; Actual – 305 (50%)
    Tennessee: Projection – 2,214; Actual number – 200 (9%)
    New York: Projection – 50,962; Actual number – 18,368 (36%)
    Davis writes that if we’re going to shut down the entire nation’s economy to “flatten the curve” based on the projections of a single model, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that the model approximate reality when it comes to hospitalizations.”

    These numbers were as of April 1, 2020 — the day you recorded this podcast. As I write, it’s April 10. The model has changed several times. What kind of model is that?

    The experts started with MILLIONS WILL DIE; now the estimate is 60,000 — about the same as the regular flu season. 80,000 died of flu in 2018.

    The Climate Change model and the Wuhan Virus model are admittedly completely different. Climate Change makes confident predictions of doom 100 years from now, using suspect “average” temperature readings, so nobody will be here to challenge the prediction. The Virus models — much faster payoff.

    The Wuhan Virus models have been disproved in weeks, using actual data. So they change the model and pad the deaths-by-Wuhan (every death in the vicinity of the Virus gets counted as a Virus death, even without a test) in a desperate attempt to make even their highly modified models even partially credible.

    In my Arizona county of 212,200, we have, as of April 10, 2020, 29 confirmed cases and 2 deaths. Meanwhile, my optometrist and dentist are closed — deemed nonessential. I had cataract surgery on Mar 4 and have had no doctor’s care since because we’re afraid WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! — because of faulty, disproven models.

    I’m glad the Marines charging Iwo Jima didn’t make their decisions like this. That generation would laugh at this risk-averse “if we save a single life…it’s for the children…billions for the Green New Deal, the NY Performing Arts Center, NPR and Planned Parenthood generation of grifters.

    If I hadn’t lived through this, I would not believe it.

  7. Anatol on 04/12/2020 at 3:49 PM

    Thanks, Bob, for this episode. It’s a welcome departure from the borderline COVID-19 denialism exhibited by many libertarians I used to respect, such as Tom Woods.

  8. Mark on 04/13/2020 at 4:47 PM

    What about this, Bob? “Washington Field Hospital Dismantled, Didn’t See a Single Patient”

  9. Mark on 04/13/2020 at 6:07 PM

    Here’s another, Bob. Tom Woods’ newsletter from today – his readers confirm the expected surge of corona victims is bogus:

    P.S. If the baby’s been born, congrats! (or take this as congrats in advance)

    • Robert Murphy on 04/14/2020 at 10:51 PM

      Mark, the next guest I have lined up is a (libertarian) doctor working in NYC. People really are dying there.

      Look, the people on the left are guffawing at guys like this, who in mid-March predicted US deaths would be about 5,000. (And actually, he originally wrote “500,” but in his correction he made it sound like that was a math mistake, not reflecting his actual analysis.)

      I think you might be attributing views to me that I don’t hold. If you reread our exchanges, you’ll see that I wasn’t telling you to believe CNN.

      • Daniel in Arizona on 04/16/2020 at 9:15 PM

        In 2015, 158 people really have died every single day, on average, in New York City.

        Even before Wuhan Virus, a New York City resident dies every 9.1 minutes.

        • Robert Murphy on 04/16/2020 at 9:44 PM

          Daniel, I am at a loss as to how this contradicts anything I’ve said?

          Is it your current belief that the official numbers show total deaths in NYC (during the last two months, say) are roughly the same as they’ve always been? What would the spike in mortality from all causes have to look like, to make you think I’m not a sucker here?

      • Mark on 04/23/2020 at 11:27 AM

        Bob –

        I do want to comment further on this, but I figure the fair thing to do is to listen to the podcast with Dr. Machado first, and I haven’t had the chance to do that yet. Stay tuned…

        • Robert Murphy on 04/24/2020 at 6:18 PM

          OK sure thing!

          • Mark on 06/01/2020 at 11:58 AM

            Bob –

            Here are some of the events in my life that are important/nostalgic to me:

            I watched The Beatles’ first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.
            I watched the premiere of Star Trek on television.
            I worked on Chuck Norris’ car.
            Over the years, a ton of celebrities have met me.
            I had my picture taken with Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger. He also signed a poster size photograph to me with a lot of extra stuff besides his name.
            I met Bob and Doug. Not the astronauts, the REAL Bob and Doug.
            I had my picture taken with Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul.
            I had my picture taken with William Shatner.
            The most recent? I got an “OK sure thing!” from Bob Murphy.

            I just wanted you to know where that fits in. But, the bad news is (if you or anyone else is reading this because this post is starting to age a bit), I don’t think I’m going to get to this. I think the fair thing to do was to listen before I commented further, but so much has happened since this podcast, I don’t think I’ll have the time to listen. I don’t think it makes sense in light of all the info that has come out about the efficacy of using masks, the fake/inflated numbers (almost everyone that dies dies from the coronavirus), the mortality rate (as best as it can be calculated) the bad science (lack of), etc.

            So, my apologies, and although we disagree on this issue (probably not as much as you think (BM: “I think you might be attributing views to me that I don’t hold. If you reread our exchanges, you’ll see that I wasn’t telling you to believe CNN.”)), we’re probably not that far apart, and I look forward to you getting your picture taken with me someday and signing my copy of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. 🙂

          • Robert Murphy on 06/02/2020 at 4:03 PM

            Thanks for the reasonable remarks Mark, and that’s quite an impressive list!

  10. Tate on 04/20/2020 at 9:44 PM

    Dr. Murphy,

    I wanted to ask your thoughts on what a Christian entrepreneur who correctly forecasted a large increase in the price of hand sanitizer and bought up a bunch of it should do, as I have come to the tentative conclusion that they would best serve others by making the highest profit possible and then being “philanthropic” with what they choose to do with that profit.

    • Robert Murphy on 04/22/2020 at 2:03 PM

      Right Tate, check out the final section in this article. There’s some nuance involved if, for example, the entrepreneur had to incur extra out-of-pocket expenses in order to carry the higher inventory. But certainly if it were a pure windfall, then right, I could definitely see a case for “not profiting from others’ misfortune” and donating the unexpected windfall to relief efforts or some other noble cause.

      In any event, my main point was that you don’t fix the potential problem here, by preventing prices from rising to clear the market.

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