I “Win” My Bet

In mid-March I made a bet with my good friend and co-author Charley Hooper about the number of U.S. deaths there would be from COVID-19. The terms of the bet are here. In my post, I said why I thought he might win. Of course I hoped he would win. Unfortunately, he lost. And over 100,000 U.S. residents lost much, much more.

I waited this long because he and I both agreed that there could be a substantial number of deaths of people with the disease but not of the disease. We both agree, though, that of the 133,844 U.S. deaths so far, at least 100,000 of them are due to COVID-19.

I actually had bought much of Charley’s reasoning, which is why I titled my March 16 post “My Bet on Covid-19 and Why I Might Lose.” I asked Charley last week, when we both were becoming convinced that he lost, what he attributed his loss to. He answered that he didn’t expect various governments to be so incompetent, and he highlighted the role of New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo and some other northeast governments in making the problem much worse by insisting that nursing homes admit people with the disease.

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Even More Valuable than Her Coffee Cake Recipe

I suppose there are people who might be surprised to find themselves getting solid economic analysis from a food blogger. I am not one of them. I’ve actually been waiting for this moment since March.

 

Deb Perelman is one of my favorite food bloggers. Her blog, Smitten Kitchen, details her adventures cooking for her growing family in an impossibly tiny kitchen in New York City. She has a great reputation for funny writing, great photos, and reliable and delicious recipes. (I am NOT kidding about the coffee cake.)

 

But last week, she did something a little different. In the business section of today’s New York Times, Perelman has a great piece titled, “In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both.” The article is a testament from a working mom with two young children and a husband who has been laid off, who is trying to hold everything together through the pandemic. And she’s just been told that the coming school year–the promise of which has been a beacon of sanity for parents everywhere–will, in her area, have her children attending physical school one week out of every three.

 

Perelman’s article, which you should read immediately, is not the kind of anguished, inchoate cry we have been led to expect by articles that focus on parental burnout, exhaustion, and stress. Certainly, that frustration is in her article as well. But the article is about the economic costs of her school district’s choice, analyzed by someone who is in the middle of experiencing them. She writes:

my family, as a social and economic unit, cannot operate forever in the framework authorities envision for the fall. There are so many ways that the situation we’ve been thrust into, in which businesses are planning to reopen without any conversation about the repercussions on families with school-age children, is even more untenable for others.

 

As I said, I’ve been waiting for this moment. I have a history of fascination with economic thinking as expressed in non economic works–and particularly with the economic thinking of people who are in the daily grit of working blue collar jobs and doing household work. I think their diaries and letters and interviews and books of advice tell us at least as much about the economic circumstances under which they were written as do articles by economists–probably more. 

 

This is why I spend a lot of time with books like Round About a Pound a Week, All Our Kin, Working, and How to Run Your Home Without Help. All of these works give us direct access to the lived experience of people managing daunting economic circumstances. They let us SEE people thinking economically, rather than leaving us to surmise from a distance.

 

I think Perelman is right about the unsustainable nature of the burdens–financial, educational, social, and psychological–that working parents are being asked to carry right now. I think she is right that New York City’s plan for schoolchildren to have one week on/two weeks off is an absolute disaster. More important than that, though, I think her voice, and the voices of countless other bloggers, diarists, and letter writers like her, are vital economic data that can help us think more clearly about policy now, and will help us have a better understanding of the tribulations of 2020 when it is a matter of economic history. 

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