Security for the People


Ethics in mitigation

Following the comparative success of South Korea and Singapore to flatten the Covid-19 curve, governments around the world have been discussing the merits and feasibility of tech-aided contact tracing systems. (Whether these comparative public health successes are actually attributable to such systems remains a point of debate.) In the US context, app-based tracing proposals have been floated by various think tanks, and Apple and Google have released protocols for their design.

Privacy concerns are paramount, as are questions of efficacy and the opportunity costs of new mitigation tools. In a white paper last month, Danielle Allen, Lucas Stanczyk, Glenn Cohen, Carmel Shachar, Rajiv Sethi, Glen Weyl, and Rosa Brooks examined the ethical and legal bases of pandemic mitigation.

From the paper:

“We are currently in the initial stage of facing the spread of an epidemic, with clear emergency needs to secure our health system while seeking to minimize lives lost and ensure that all patients, including the dying, are treated with dignity. We have to fend off a near-term catastrophe, and in that regard we are in our ‘triage’ moment. We are currently making triage decisions across all sectors of society.

Securing our health infrastructure and minimizing loss of life requires changing the trajectory of transmission through screening, testing, contact tracing, mobility restrictions, and social distancing. Whereas contact tracing and individualized quarantine and isolation suffice in non-pandemic circumstances, community quarantine and isolation become necessary under pandemic conditions in order to address the emergency. Here the challenging questions are to create the right package of temporarily adjusted norms, regulations, and laws around rights of mobility and association, and to determine whether the relevant packages of norms, regulations, and laws are best.”

The authors propose guidelines for decision procedures that promote mitigation without violating civil liberties, justice, democratic institutions, or the “material supports of society.” Link to the paper. h/t David Grant

  • An evolving list of projects using personal data for Covid-19 response. Link.
  • From a 2019 paper on the efficacy of contact tracing and epi models: “A major concern identified in future epidemics is whether public health administrators can collect all the required data for building epidemiological models in a short period of time during the early phase of an outbreak.” Link. A 2018 paper on contact tracing’s role in the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Link.
  • Previously shared in this newsletter, a technical paper for the Decentralized Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing (DP-3T) protocol. The tweet-length summary from researcher Michael Veale: “Health authorities learn nothing about users. Users learn nothing about other users. Users learn if they were too close to others who tested positive. Governments learn nothing about users. No-one is coerced: everything based on genuine, voluntary consent.” Link to the paper. (And link to a comic strip explanation of how it works.)
  • An excellent blog post from Ross Anderson at Cambridge’s Department of Computer Science and Technology on contact tracing in the real world. Link. See also “Apps Gone Rogue: Maintaining Personal Privacy in an Epidemic.” Link.


Industrial Enclosures and the American Civil War

Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Cambridge University EMMA TEITELMAN studies the history of capitalism with a focus on the antebellum United States. In a newly published paper, she uncovers the history of enclosures which paved the way for industrial production in the American South and West.

From the paper’s introduction:

“In the wake of political fracture, federal authorities and northern capitalists worked to transform regional property relations and orient them toward the capital-intensive development of natural resources. Their struggles coalesced in a broad project to reorganize property, amounting to a transregional wave of land enclosures in the era of Reconstruction.

This article examines struggles to make antebellum property regimes compatible with capital-intensive forms of extraction. To do so, it tracks the postwar expansion of Phelps, Dodge, & Co. In Georgia’s southern pine barrens, where Dodge purchased three hundred thousand acres in 1868, yeoman households had maintained common rights to the timberlands before the war, which antebellum institutions had only loosely regulated. The political economy of slavery had made this southern regime possible, but related patterns existed across western mineral lands, where federal authorities strained to keep up with miners.”

Link to the full piece.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way:

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  • “Traditional views of Westphalian sovereignty are not sufficient to explain the cleavages caused by the dollar in the ‘matrix’ of interlocking balance sheets that make up the global financialized economy.” New on the blog: Yakov Feygin and Dominik Leusder on “The Class Politics of the Dollar System.” Link.
  • “Collective Action in Private Governments.” Join us on May 15 at 3PM EST for a (virtual) JFI research session. Email to register. And link to Hertel-Fernandez’s post for Phenomenal World.
  • Benjamin Della Rocca and Nate Loewentheil analyze “The Distribution of Phase 1 of the Federal Paycheck Protection Program.” The main beneficiaries: Northeastern and Midwestern states, states with a higher density of community banks, businesses with more than 20 employees, and construction, manufacturing, and professional, scientifiic & technical companies. Link.
  • A new draft of one of our favorite papers: Eliot Ash, Daniel Chen, and Suresh Naidu on the influence of the Manne seminars on the decision making of the federal judiciary, with new evidence on antitrust decisions. Link.
  • Ilan Noy et. al on institutional capacity and COVID recovery: “The evidence shows that economic risks are especially high in Africa, Iran, South and Southeast Asia.” Link.
  • The most cited articles in the Cambridge Journal of Latin American Studies are open access. In the collection: the 1925 Panamanian tenants’ strike, cash transfers in Argentine provinces, and internationalization of Mexican banks. Link.
  • New research from the World Resources Institute estimates that the number of people impacted by floods will double to 147 million by 2030. “The amount of urban property damaged by riverine floods will increase threefold—from $157 billion to $535 b annually. Urban property damaged by coastal storm surge and sea level rise will increased tenfold—from $17 b to $177 b annually.” Link to the report.
  • “Using newly digitized archival data, we show that the 1950 and 1966 revolutions in China effectively homogenized the population economically and culturally in the short run. However, the pattern of inequality that characterized the pre-revolution generation re-emerges today.” Alberto F. Alesina et. al on persisting inequality in contemporary China. Link. And Isabella Weber analyzes Milton Friedman’s lectures in China to gain insight into the country’s changing economic ideology since 1978. Link.
  • A new EPI survey finds that “For every 10 people who successfully filed for unemployment benefits in the previous four weeks, 3-4 additional people tried to apply but were unable to get through the system, and 2 additional people did not try to apply because it was too difficult to do so. In total, we estimate that an additional 8.9–13.9 million people could have filed for benefits had the process been easier.” Link.
  • “The Struggle of the Orders was a political conflict between the plebeian and patrician classes of Rome that lasted from the 5th-3rd Centuries BC of the Republic. Most of this period is shrouded in legend, but later Roman historians provide evidence that suggests a major social and political revolution occurred during the early years of this struggle. I construct a new narrative that reveals a city crippled by divisive revolution. I begin by examining the catalysts of this social revolution, then focus in on the First Secession of 494 BC and the establishment of the plebeian movement and formation of its anti-government. Next I move to the impact of the plebeian movement and the radical oligarchy of the Decemvirate that followed. Lastly, I examine the Second Secession of 449 BC and the incorporation of the plebeian institutions into the Roman government through the Valerio-Horatian Laws and the Twelve Tables. I argue that the secessions mark a full scale political revolution carried out by less advantaged Romans that redefined the Roman government for centuries to come.” Christopher Schley Saladin on the 494 BC secessio plebis, the first ever recorded general strike. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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