Life & Opinion

Posts about my life and the occasional commentary.

Un plan de reactivación y reestructuración sencillo y sensible

Un plan de reactivación y reestructuración sencillo y sensible

Este post expone los puntos claves de un plan que busca tanto la reactivación post-COVID y una reforma estructural y es lo suficientemente sencillo para ser realizable en el corto y mejorable al largo plazo.

Premisa

El plan parte de una premisa clara e incontrovertible:

  • Las reformas sociales que funcionan tienden a ser sencillas. Si bien las partes pueden requerir de más discusión, el plan básico debe ser simple.

Plan

Los cuatro pilares del plan son los siguientes.

COVID-19

La necesidad inmediata es controlar la emergencia del COVID-19 canalizando esfuerzos a, ambos, una (pronta) vacunación y un (rápido) escalamiento de la producción de suero equino.

Tramitología

No se pueden eliminar todos los trámites, pero los trámites excesivos impiden a los ciudadanos experimenten con ideas/iniciativas empresariales—lo cual es clave para una reactivación pronta. Para esto, las instituciones pueden designar trámites secundarios como responsabilidades a futuro a requerir solamente de las ideas/iniciativas que fructifiquen.

Gasto

Una comisión multisectorial de recorte del gasto público puede enfocarse en reducir las pensiones de lujo, evitar las redundancias en altos mandos, y reunificar instituciones. Para evitar maltratar a funcionarios públicos con rangos bajos y medios, la comisión debe evitar eliminar las plazas de funcionarios que ganen menos de dos veces el salario mínimo profesional para su cargo (los cuales pueden ser reubicados en lugar de despedidos). Pero para garantizar resultados, es prudente que las recomendaciones sean inapelables.

Es ideal que de manera separada (para no poner todos los huevos en la misma canasta) se lleven a cabo esfuerzos para renegociar la deuda y reducir la evasión fiscal.

Impuestos

La manera más directa de incentivar una economía es no cobrar impuestos. La manera más directa de redistribuir la riqueza es cobrar impuestos. Por las razones que sean, Costa Rica no ha podido definir una carga tributaria óptima. Es hora de pensar en alternativas innovadoras.

Por tanto, en lugar de tratar de encontrar un punto único óptimo, lo que este plan propone es una tasa IVA variable ajustada al nivel de desempleo. Una tasa baja (a negociarse) aplicaría en tiempos de desempleo alto—para reactivar la economía. Una tasa más alta (a negociarse) entraría en vigencia cuando el desempleo baje del 7%—para redistribuir riqueza.

Posted by J in Life & Opinion, 4 comments
Análisis completo del plan FMI

Análisis completo del plan FMI

Da igual si es feo ó guapo, el plan FMI no es un plan de reactivación. Lo que se puede negociar en base a ese plan tampoco lo va a ser.

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Listo, eso es todo lo que se puede/debe decir de ese plan. Decir cualquier cosa más es legitimar una negociación en base a un plan que no contempla lo que sí importa.

El plan debe mandarse al basurero y el siguiente debe empezar por poner la reactivación como el único objetivo.

Photo by Halacious on Unsplash.

Posted by J in Life & Opinion, 2 comments
Bad versus worse

Bad versus worse

Due to the severe dissatisfaction with the Costa Rica government’s over-reliance on taxes, Costa Rican social media is full of personal recriminations against those who voted for the now-President, Carlos Alvarado. These exploded recently as a result of Alvarado’s intention to raise taxes beyond what the country considers reasonable (as a response to COVID-19, oddly).

Alvarado’s tax plan is atrocious and needs to be defeated. I’ll write something on that topic soon enough.

That said, I wanted to begin by defending those who, reluctantly, voted for Alvarado.

Alvarado won the second round despite being a very-imperfect candidate because the country was unwilling to vote for his opponent: a religious candidate with a declared intention to disregard not one but several human rights.

Additionally, Congress ended up split as a result of Alvarado not managing to win the trust of Costa Ricans.

Clearly, a choice between two evils leads to having to choose one of the evils. However, many of the abuses the non-elected religious candidate had vowed to undertake were achievable by action from the Executive. Instead, Alvarado needs Congress to approve his tax plan.

The elections worked. Costa Rica told the world that it would not stand for the abuse of human rights. The message was loud and clear. It cannot be forgotten.

It’s now the Congress’ turn.

Image credits. Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash.

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All extremes are extremes

All extremes are extremes

The ‘stay at home’ idea is a general recommendation based on AVAILABLE scientific evidence. It has absolutely nothing to do with ideology, to the point that there are even liberal and libertarian thinkers who agree that, at this time, we must social distance responsibly.

A different thing is how a government implements the idea. A responsible government communicates and helps its citizens to stay at home, but remembers that all actions have trade-offs and therefore avoids abusing the idea. An irresponsible government forgets that policies have consequences, forcing citizens to stay at home regardless of the damage to their lives, livelihoods, and well-being.

The Costa Rican government did the latter, and that calls for serious criticism. However, trashing the “stay home” plea at a general level is irresponsible (and silly).

Image credits. Hang In There. Image created by Ayşegül Altınel. Submitted for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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El “lockdown” tico, la libertad, y el reto de reactivar el país

El “lockdown” tico, la libertad, y el reto de reactivar el país

El gobierno tico empezó la lucha contra el COVID-19 con la ventaja de un sistema de salud relativamente bueno y una población inteligente. Y bueno, nos ganamos la lotería con esto de la tasa de mortalidad. ¡Que está bien bajita!

El “lockdown” era necesario para comprar el par de meses que se necesitaban para levantar capacidad. Por ende, fue acertado solicitar un “pa’ la casita” TEMPORAL como respuesta inicial.

Pero el objetivo era levantar capacidad, no usar el lockdown como excusa para vapulear ciudadanos. Sin embargo, el gobierno hizo poco de lo primero y mucho de lo segundo.

Se desperdicio la ventaja.

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Al rato y el suero equino nos pega la salvada del siglo.

Pero ojo, el suero equino fue financiado de gran manera por el CONICIT, una institución que si bien es estatal, ha estado ahí por años de años. Es parecido que con la Caja. Los funcionarios públicos cumplieron.

Era de esperarse que el Poder Ejecutivo hiciera algo más. En efecto, que contribuyera. Sin embargo, el Poder Ejecutivo sencillamente le “arrugó” a los problemas difíciles.

Ejemplo fue el manejo de fronteras. En los aeropuertos, dónde es fácil controlar que nadie entre, el gobierno feliz “haciendo que hace”. En las fronteras terrestres, que sí son menudo reto, pues “ni modo que hacer”.

Otro ejemplo fue el asunto de los datos sobre el número de casos recuperados. El “dashboard” estadístico tico es de lujo. Ahí sí hay que quitarse el sombrero. Pero el Ejecutivo o escondió la información de manera corrupta o le tuvo miedo a la información.

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Este, sin embargo, no es un post sobre el lockdown. La respuesta a una emergencia tiene que ser rápida y eso conlleva errores.

Lo que preocupa es lo que viene. Cerrar un país conlleva su logística, pero reactivar una economía que ya de por sí iba mal es un reto de proporciones épicas.

Si por la víspera se saca el día, el gobierno continuará teniéndole miedo a los problemas difíciles, buscará soluciones fáciles, que obviamente no funcionarán. Y luego… Ahí es dónde viene la vapuleada. Cuando las soluciones fáciles no funcionan, se culpa a los mansos, no a los mensos.

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Insto al gobierno a continuar comunicando los beneficios del distanciamiento social. Se equivocaron con la vapuleada que le han metido al país entero, pero es importante que los ciudadanos tengan información para tomar buenas decisiones.

Y bueno, para que nadie me malinterprete: el “pa’ la casita” aún aplica. Dentro de lo posible.

Sin embargo, también espero que todos hayamos (re)aprendido una de las lecciones más viejas de la política tica:

Sólo es hombre el que tiene derechos
no el que vive en la torpe abyección,
y baluarte serán nuestros pechos
contra el yugo de inicua opresión.

La reactivación hay que enfrentarla de manera valiente, sin vapuleadas. Esto requiere la valentía de aceptar que las soluciones fáciles crean más problemas de los que arreglan.

Imágen de cover por Zdeněk Macháček en Unsplash.

Posted by J in Life & Opinion, 0 comments
Where do I bet on the anti-COVID horses?

Where do I bet on the anti-COVID horses?

Teams in Argentina and Costa Rica are starting or about to start clinical trials for equine serum-based COVID-19 treatment. The treatment is similar to convalescent plasma serum: patients are injected with antibodies to stimulate their immune system. Except, in this case, the antibodies are generated by horses instead of humans (not to worry, the horses are injected with a version of the virus that does not put them in harm’s way).

Horses are long-known to be very good at producing serum with antibodies. For example, horses produce the serum used to treat snake bites. This motivated teams in both countries to try to produce equine serum to treat COVID-19.

As communicated here and here, the horses in both countries produced antibodies that have been tested effective in the laboratory. Now the big question is whether it works in humans.

We will find out soon.

Unfortunately, even if it works, both efforts are on a tiny scale. They would need to be scaled up for this solution to be viable at the global level (or even at a national one – unless Costa Ricans and Argentinians magically stop contracting COVID-19).

The process is scalable in the sense that, if it works, then more horses are injected, then more serum is extracted. However, it is a relatively slow process because there is no way to rush the horses to generate antibodies.

In total, it takes some three months for the horses to do their thing and a month or two for the subsequent laboratory process. So, even if trials are successful, it will take months to redo the entire process on a significant scale.

Meanwhile, many will die.

The situation is unsurprising. Most of the global attention went into large-scale solutions like the famous lockdowns or to speed up mass-scale vaccine development. There was little bandwidth left to encourage pockets of ingenuity like these horses’ idea. I am not particularly happy about this, but that’s a topic for another post.

For now, all I want to know is where to send money to bet on the anti-COVID horses so that scaling up happens efficiently if trials are successful?

Cover photo by Fabian Burghardt on Unsplash.

Posted by J in Life & Opinion, 0 comments
Emerging hopes in the fight against coronavirus

Emerging hopes in the fight against coronavirus

I recently posted a note about the benefit of being an optimist in times of uncertainty. Here’s the link to the original post.

In a nutshell, it said that whenever solutions become reachable, optimists can find them faster than pessimists.

I included links to a number of emerging solutions. To live to that spirit, this is an ‘updatable’ post to follow up on these efforts and additional alternatives that may emerge.

To be clear. The point is not that any link in the original or this article is THE solution to COVID-19. Nobody knows that. There are many alternatives currently in development, and it may well be that the real solution does not yet exist. However, as the original post argued, optimism is key to identifying solutions amidst severe uncertainty and, therefore, pre-requisite to public policy that solves problems sooner rather than later. It is not true that if a country/company/actors runs with three or four options, that country will surely find a solution. However, if many do, one is bound to choose the right path and then everyone would benefit.

Plasma treatment

  • Initial results (link).
  • More early results (link).
  • More early results (link).
  • Possibility of multiple types of plasma-based treatment including serum generated by animals (horses in particular) after being injected with non-infected SARS-CoV-2 (& Costa Rican contribution) (link).
  • Large scale testing kicks-off in the US (link).
  • Review summarising findings by May 2020 suggesting promise (link).
  • Convalescent plasma trials underway in a number of countries (link, link, link).
  • The serum generated from horses (some bullet points above) is many times more potent than plasma generated by humans, and both Argentina and Costa Rica are close to entering clinical trials (link, link).

Pluristem

  • Impressive success ratio in an initial small sample (link).
  • Success in a separate case (link).
  • 28-day follow up of eight cases show an 87.5% survival rate and a 62.5% discharge rate (link).
  • FDA approves testing at a larger scale (link, link).

Remdesivir

  • Results of compassionate treatment not conclusive but show hope (link).
  • Remdesivir gets COVID-19 patients off ventilators in a day (link).
  • Trials with monkeys show promise, more trials underway (link).
  • Tests show remdesivir linked to faster recovery and, maybe (although inconclusively), a marginal improvement in mortality rates (link, link).
  • Gilead donates entire stockpile of remdesivir to US government (link).

Other

  • GS-441524: Remdesivir’s older brother, which showed higher effectiveness in animals (link).
  • VHH antibodies: while there are no trials yet, various efforts around the world have been able to synthesise antibodies that neutralise the virus in a lab environment (link, link).

Additional notes

Above, I am keeping an eye on some of the many emerging hopes rather than, per se, giving a comprehensive list of all efforts that may lead to a solution. The point of this post, after all, is to illustrate what it means to look forward with optimism rather than, per se, list all potential alternatives.

For a more comprehensive listing of vaccines and treatment efforts across the world visit the COVID-19 Vaccine & Therapeutics Tracker or BioWorld’s listing of COVID-19 biopharma products in development.

Cover photo by Vek Labs on Unsplash.

Posted by J in Life & Opinion, 0 comments
Favourite songs and their cultural ‘alter-egos’

Favourite songs and their cultural ‘alter-egos’

Academic work can be a tad monotone, so, to stay sane, I consume enormous amounts of music.

I am finding increasingly fascinating that songs in different languages can say very similar things in fantastically different ways.

Below some of my favourite songs and their cultural ‘alter-egos’ (let’s see if you can figure out why the last pair is on the list).

Reckon you can figure out which of each pair is my favourite and which the alter-ego?


Toxico, Mon Laferte.

Dance with me Tonight, Olly Murs.

Nunca me acuerdo de olvidarte, Shakira.

La última noche, Dani J.

Cuatro Babys, Maluma.


Toxic girl, Kings of Convenience.

Bailame, Nacho.

Can’t stop thinking about you, Oceana.

Forget you, Elijah Blake.

Can’t Be Tamed, Miley Cyrus.

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Social distancing, lockdowns, and the large costs of enforcing large policies (UK version)

Social distancing, lockdowns, and the large costs of enforcing large policies (UK version)

I am social distancing at home and would like to invite anyone who’s not doing so to get a grip on reality! Right now, social distancing is primordial!

I worry, though, that without the accompanying expertise in public policy, some friends of mine are using expert epidemiological advice to support extreme social distancing policies that ignore broader social, political, or economic considerations.

When you implement China-like policies in a context that is diametrically different to China, the reasonable expectation is to get a significantly different (indeed, worse) outcome.

In the UK, social distancing is likely to achieve a partial but not a total reduction of the number of people in the street. It also is likely to be adopted gradually, rather than all at once. So, its effect is unlikely to be as marked and rapid as is desired.

And that’s terrible!

I, therefore, completely understand why many of my friends are tempted to think that China-like implementation of social distancing (i.e. a proper lockdown) is the solution. However, this type of extreme implementation would probably not go as in China.

To begin, in the UK, extreme implementation of social distancing would not have the buy-in that it had in China. This would, therefore, significantly raise the costs of implementing such a policy.

Additionally, enforcing a lockdown is a massive undertaking. China relied on pre-existing infrastructure that it has been developing for decades. Even if the UK public desired such type of infrastructure (spoiler alert, it does not), there are exactly zero chances that it can be developed in a matter of weeks.

So, I applaud the current efforts to implement social distancing. I also agree with efforts to continue communicating and promoting existing social distancing efforts.

However, it also seems like the UK is more or less at the maximum level of forceful enforcement feasible without incurring in ridiculously large costs. Moreover, even if the costs of a ‘proper lockdown’ are incurred, the result would still be sub-optimal.

A share of the UK’s population is already social distancing, significantly.

It may, therefore, be good to consider if the resources needed for an imperfect lockdown would save more lives if focused on areas where the room for improvement seems larger, such as:

  • Sourcing protective gear for medical personnel (like, seriously!)
  • Assisting the NHS (for example, building emergency hospitals to increase carrying capacity);
  • Increasing testing (inside the UK and at borders, to re-open the economy);
  • Develop clear quarantine protocols and have resources to follow-up on patients (reducing the impact that stress usually has on sick people);
  • Launching prize-based competitions for care and treatment (to rapidly lower hospitalisation and mortality rates).

Just saying.

[Please note that the Costa Rican version of this post is extremely different (different countries, different contexts). To read it, just click on the language tab in the menu and switch to Spanish.]

Posted by J in Life & Opinion
A brief personal background

A brief personal background

I promised myself I would never blog about my life, but coronavirus’ stay-at-home situation is somewhat boring. So, here we go. Maybe I’ll stop after coronavirus is over. Maybe I won’t.

I figured why not start with a small insight into who I am. Tinder-style, i.e., only the good stuff.

This is me drinking glühwein

X-mas is the BEST!

I cook like G-d!

Pictures speak louder than words – here’s the proof:

Expert cooking skills!

I believe in political correctness, but freedom of speech is more important

Therefore, I do not care if comparing my cooking skill’s to G-d’s offends you. You’re going to heaven anyway, so might as well chill up a bit!

I dance, sometimes awesomely, often terribly

Got no pictures to show, sorry!

I’m sometimes inventive

Here’s a picture of a Wi-Fi antenna I may or may not have used during my undergrad.

It’s not about the looks!

I’m originally from Costa Rica but have not been there much lately

I left Costa Rica almost 15 years ago when I went to do my bachelors. Been to Costa Rica here and there, but have mostly lived in the UK since.

Why the UK?

I’ll give you three guesses but you’re only going to need one… Yup! I found someone to love, marry, and be [very] mischievous. 😉

She’s the coolest person ever.

Say what? Picture!?

Go Finland!

I still don’t understand what marriage is all about. Then again, does anyone?

Posted by J in Life & Opinion