Trying to ask the right questions.

It’s now 17 days until the Tokyo Olympics:

“About 90,000 international athletes, support teams and journalists are expected to arrive in Japan ahead of the games… [along with] accommodation staff, drivers, media and over 110,000 volunteers who may come into contact with arriving participants.”

Just 25% of Japan’s population have had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. What are the odds that this all goes horribly, horribly wrong?

This is from a recent interview with Noah Smith:

“First, COVID is the ultimate cover for restructuring — what my friend and former CFO Peter Currie used to call “shake and bake”. It’s an opportunity for every CEO to do all the things he/she may have wanted to do in the past to increase efficiency and effectiveness — from fundamental headcount resizing and reorganization, to changing geographic footprint, to exiting stale lines of business — but couldn’t because they would cause too much disruption. The disruption is happening anyway, so you might as well do everything you’ve always wanted to do now.

Second, it’s hard to overstate the positive shock that remote work works. Remote work isn’t perfect, there are problems, but virtually every CEO I’ve talked to over the last year marvels at how well it works. And remote work worked under the extreme duress of a pandemic, with all of the human impact of lockdowns and children unable to go to school and people being unable to see their friends and extended families. It will work even better out of COVID. Companies of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions are retooling their assumptions on geographic footprint, where jobs are located, where employees are located, how offices are configured, and if there should be offices at all.

Combining these factors, it’s possible that we’ll see a huge surge in productivity growth over the next 5 years. This productivity growth is, in my view, the key to a strong “roaring 20’s” thesis, that we are going to see an amazing economic boom in the US over the next several years, even on top of the incredible boom of 2009-2020. I don’t think that’s a certainty, but I think it’s possible — even likely.”

I’m not sure how well the public sector will capitalise on the productivity growth Marc predicts above. At least in Australia, public sector CEOs act exactly as he describes earlier in the interview, where it’s difficult to “adapt an older culture designed to bend metal, shuffle paper, or answer phones”.

It will eventually adapt by necessity (it’ll be tough to attract staff, even with job security, when private companies offer more pay and remote work) but by the time it does the private sector will be miles ahead. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s a shame the opportunity to improve the public sector (15-20% of the total workforce) seems to have, at least anecdotally, dodged the COVID-productivity bullet.

The Australian government refused to release the terms of its vaccine supply agreement with AstraZeneca, because:

“I consider the particular damage to the security of the Commonwealth to be the fact that disclosure of the information could provide insight into the unique arrangements for the manufacture and supply of the COVID-19 vaccine,” the assistant secretary wrote.

“Releasing the information in [the contract] would have the effect of signalling to other countries the terms agreed between the Commonwealth and AstraZeneca.

“The integrity and efficacy of the arrangements to manufacture and supply the vaccine may be compromised and thereby pose a threat to the national security of the Commonwealth if those terms were published.”

Come on now. Everyone knows the government c**cked up. We're just talking degrees at this stage.

This post from Robert MacCulloch about what countries paid for the two mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) is interesting given that Australia hasn’t had any luck procuring either in a timely manner:

“The BMJ reports that the US offered $19.50 and the EU $14.70, so I suspect NZ offered in this price range. In other words, had we simply offered $4.00 more per dose than the US then it appears that we could have secured a hugely increased schedule of deliveries, enough to have vaccinated most of our population by now, like Israel.”

The cost of lockdown is significantly higher than the cost of vaccinating a country (the report cited above estimates that “vaccinating the entire population of Israel costs the economy only as much as two days of lockdown”). Why didn’t Australia — which shunned Pfizer’s offer back in mid-2020 — just offer a bit more per dose when it eventually got around to ordering some at the end of 2020?

The cynic in me suspects that bureaucrats and politicians were more afraid of the public finding out they overpaid AND made an ordering error, rather than just the error, even if it ultimately costs the country a much higher but unquantifiable amount via closed borders and lockdowns.

As to why the government turned down Pfizer’s offer in mid-2020, I can only speculate that they wanted to boast about how they saved us and secured “local jobs”, given the two horses they backed (AstraZeneca and the University of Queensland’s failed candidate) both had local manufacturing capacity.

Hello and welcome to Detrended, a new WriteFreely instance on the #fediverse. My name is Justin Pyvis and I’ve just sent my weekly newsletter, EconByte, into retirement. As to why, I’ll repost the relevant snippet here:

The main reason for the retirement is that I'm now publishing on a separate platform 5 days a week: Brekky Wrap. It has more of an Australian focus but there's also plenty on global markets and technology that should interest even those who couldn't care less about what's happening down under. It's digestible in just a few minutes and is also free, so if you haven't already done so feel free to sign up.

Another reason for closing this down is that I want to experiment with other mediums and spend more time working on a book (tbc). For now, I've set up a WriteFreely instance on the fediverse – called Detrended – which will have more of an ad hoc publishing schedule and no emails.

I’m not committing to anything but I will probably start using this space for some irregular, shorter-form blogging. Topics will be the usual for me, namely #economics, #patterns, #risk, #blockchain, #technology, #privacy and #security.

To follow this blog use any RSS/Atom reader (e.g. Inoreader, Feedly) or get yourself an account on the fediverse (e.g. Pleroma, Mastodon) then add @[email protected].

There’s also a sister Pleroma instance over at If you’d like an account, please let me know.