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Inside the Waymo-Zeekr robotaxi, Bird spirals and layoffs come to Nuro

The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of…



The Station is a weekly newsletter dedicated to all things transportation. Sign up here — just click The Station — to receive the full edition of the newsletter every weekend in your inbox. This is a shorter version of The Station newsletter that is emailed to subscribers. Want all the deals, news roundups and commentary? Subscribe for free

Welcome back to The Station, your central hub for all past, present and future means of moving people and packages from Point A to Point B. 

It was great seeing everyone in Los Angeles, whether it was the Waymo-Zeekr event, CoMotion-related or the LA Auto Show. The LA Auto Show had more life than the previous year, but it still wasn’t the same level as those pre-COVID days.

Still, there was a bit of action on the news front — the Toyota Prius is actually good looking! — lots of execs to chat with, investors, startup founders and even design teams from other automakers (ahem, hey Rivian folks!).

On the ‘future of transportation’ front, Waymo and Geely Holding Group company Zeekr held an event in downtown Los Angeles to show its Autonomous Mobility Platform in person. 

The vehicle isn’t quite a present-day minivan nor is it a sci-fi vehicle. It’s somewhere in between with some interesting details, a wisp of Swedish-inspired design thanks to partner CEVT and features meant to make it more accessible.

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

Here are a few details. The vehicle starts with SEA-M architecture, a refined version from Zeekr’s original Sustainable Experience Architecture (SEA) meant for “future mobility products” like robotaxis and logistics vehicles. 

There are some interesting design features of the SEA-M, including the lack of a B-pillar, which might cause some to raise an eyebrow. Execs at the event assured me that the doors, when closed, provide the stiffness and security that a traditional B-pillar would. The result is a pair of doors that open at a seam and allow easy ingress and egress. 

The all-electric vehicle is equipped with the self-driving system developed by Waymo, including a primary and redundant on-board compute system and loads of sensors. There’s an electric motor in the rear and a battery “capable of a full day of operation on a single charge.” Execs didn’t provide an estimate range. The vehicle is 15.1 feet in length, 5.9 feet in height, 6.5 feet in width and has a 9.8-foot wheelbase. 

waymo zeekr robotaxi

Image Credits: Kirsten Korosec

Inside the vehicle is a flat floor and two rows of seating — two seats in the front, where there is not a steering wheel, and one row of seats in the back. Execs at the event told me that everything is configurable and a steering wheel can be added in. That’s important if Waymo wants to launch this vehicle in the U.S., which execs said was the plan. 

The seats, all of which face forward and not towards each other like the Zoox robotaxi and Cruise Origin do,  are wider and lower than you might find in a traditional vehicle. The shoulder height of the seats are also lower.  The seats can recline and tilt. Users may also notice braille buttons throughout the interior as well as phone charging, and adjustable AC vents. Touchscreen displays face passengers. 

A bit of housekeeping: There will not be a newsletter next weekend. Enjoy your Thanksgiving if you celebrate that holiday; I’ll see y’all the following week.

Got a news tip or inside information about a topic we covered? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach at to share thoughts, criticisms, opinions or tips. Or you can drop us a note at If you prefer to remain anonymous, click here to contact us, which includes SecureDrop (instructions here) and various encrypted messaging apps.


the station scooter1a

Well it’s been a pretty low week for Bird. The company told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had been overstating revenue for the past two years, which means the company went public using partially incorrect historical data.

This came just hours before the micromobility company released its third quarter earnings report, nestled in which was a going concern warning. Bird, which is already on thin ice with the New York Stock Exchange for trading too low, said that it may not have enough funds to continue operating for the next 12 months. The company closed out the quarter with just $38.5 million in cash.

You can read a deep dive from Alex Wilhelm on how Bird clipped its own wings on TC+ (subscription).

For what it’s worth, Helbiz didn’t perform much better. The company has somehow made less revenue in Q3 2022 than it did last year. Its ride revenue took the biggest hit, despite Helbiz’s constant social media presence claiming new markets. But on the bright side for the company, revenue from its sports streaming platform is up YoY. Helbiz closed the quarter with a paltry $3.3 million in cash, but it hasn’t issued its own going concern warning just yet. The company might be crossing its fingers that its Wheels acquisition will bring in some decent revenue ASAP, even though we’re coming into the winter months which means less ridership.

New York City has decided to extend and expand the Bronx e-scooter pilot, possibly to other boroughs. The city released a Request for Proposals to find the next company(ies) to go deeper into the Bronx and beyond. Sounds like good news, but I have my concerns. For one, Lyft-owned CitiBike still has a chokehold over the city as the sole micromobility vendor in most desirable operating locations. That’s the reason the e-scooter pilot was relegated to the east Bronx. CitiBike is all over Manhattan, half of the Bronx and a good chunk of Brooklyn and Queens. If the e-scooter pilot gets extended, it will have to go where CitiBike isn’t, which is way in the outskirts — or worse, Staten Island. Great for equity and accessibility, bad for profitability.

Rad Power Bikes sent me their RadRunner 2 and RadExpand 5 to try out. The company has told me in the past that one of their target customers is people over 50 who aren’t necessarily bike riders but want to find an alternative to cars. So I put my mom on one. Read about how Rad’s bikes stack up for a millennial and a boomer.

Meanwhile Paris is considering not renewing the licenses of Lime, Dott and Tier, which expire in 2023, and instead banning e-scooters entirely. Counting on Mayor Anne Hidalgo to keep the program in some shape or form.

Voi partnered with WMG and Bumblebee Power to trial wireless e-scooter charging at the University of Warwick campus for six months. Voi scooters will be retrofitted with technology that allows them to be charged when parked over Bumblebee’s wireless charging pads

LA-based e-scooter company VoroMotors has opened a distribution center in Hawaii.

Deal of the week

money the station

Just a list of deals this week! Here’s a whole bunch of them.

Better Trucks, the logistics tech startup, raised $15 million to advance its platform that delivers next-day and two-day parcel shipping.

ECARX Holdings reached a deal with SPDB International Limited and CNCB Investment Limited for $65 million of convertible senior notes due 2025. The $65 million convertible note financing adds to the company’s $45 million in capital raised, that was announced concurrently with the merger agreement entered into on May 26, 2022 between ECARX and COVA Acquisition Corp.

EV Realty raised $28 million to develop its grid-scale charging infrastructure designed for fleet customers in key commerce hubs and along last-mile routes.

Faraday Future could receive up to a $350 million lifeline to help launch its first vehicle. The company signed a deal with an affiliate of Yorkville Advisors Global for an equity line of credit up to $350 million. The financing, which entails an initial commitment of $200 million from the New Jersey-based investment firm, will be “key” to producing the company’s long-awaited first model, the FF 91 sports car.

Lilium, the eVTOL developer, agreed to issue and sell shares to existing shareholders,new investors and strategic partners to raise $119 million. Participants include Honeywell and Aciturri as well as LGT and its affiliated impact investor Lightrock, Tencent, B. Riley Securities and certain affiliates thereof. Lilium’s new CEO, Klaus Roewe, as well as three additional board members, Barry Engle, David Wallerstein and Niklas Zennström, also participated.

Parallel Domain, a startup that has built a data-generation platform for autonomy companies, raised $30 million in a Series B led by March Capital, with participation from return investors Costanoa Ventures, Foundry Group, Calibrate Ventures and Ubiquity Ventures.

Revel got an additional $50 million in debt from BlackRock that it will use to grow its network of EV fast charging hubs, with an eye towards building more in NYC.

Swoop Aero was also recently awarded $1.5 million in USAID Development Innovation Venture Funding. The funding will be used to help the drone logistics scale into new areas.

Notable reads and other tidbits

Autonomous vehicles

Cruise expanded its driverless ride-hailing service in San Francisco to daytime hours. Its just for employees right now and will open up to the public at a later date.

Motional and Lyft say their second robotaxi market will be Los Angeles. Although when that will happen is hard to say since Motional still only has a drivered testing permit with the California DMV. The AV company will need to score a driverless testing permit and then a deployment permit before it can start carrying passengers for free. Being able to charge them is a whole other kettle of fish.

Nuro, the autonomous vehicle delivery startup backed by SoftBank, Google and Tiger Global Management, is laying off about 300 people, or 20% of its workforce. Nuro co-founders Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu sent employees an email detailing their decision. Tl;dr: during the fundraising frenzy in 2021 they doubled down on hiring. With economic headwinds the company is forced to scale back.

Waabi unveiled its first generation of self-driving trucks that are purpose-built for OEM integration. The trucks are powered by the Waabi Driver, a combination of Waabi’s software, sensors and compute.

Waymo detailed in a recent blog how the company uses data collected from its vehicle sensors and high quality ground-truth data from weather visibility sensors to turn each Waymo vehicle into a “mobile weather station.”

Speaking of Waymo, the company has finally received the driverless pilot permit from the California Public Utilities Commission. That means Waymo can now bring the rider-only experience to San Francisco residents. No human safety operator required.

Zoox had a crash in Las Vegas. A 2016 Toyota Highlander outfitted with fully autonomous driving technology and operated by Zoox rear-ended a tractor-trailer owned by Las Vegas Paving, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported. It seems that the human safety driver, who was driving it manually at the time, still expected the vehicle to stop on its own.

Electric vehicles, batteries & charging

Archer Aviation unveiled its production eVTOL aircraft, Midnight. The company is working to certify Midnight with the Federal Aviation Administration in late 2024 and then use it to help launch its urban air mobility network in 2025.

General Motors’ e-delivery van subsidiary BrightDrop said it’s on track to reach $1 billion in revenue next year. The company also said at an investor conference that supply chain constraints won’t hinder its goal of reaching electric vehicle profitability by 2025.

Redwood Materials will supply Panasonic Energy of North America with cathode material for battery cells produced at a new factory currently under construction in Kansas. The new $4 billion Panasonic factory, which will be larger than the Tesla Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada, is expected to begin mass production of its “2170” cylindrical lithium-ion batteries by March 2025. The deal is worth several billion dollars.

In-car tech and ADAS

Tesla reported two new fatal crashes that are tied to advanced driver assistance systems.

Ride-hailing, car-sharing etc.

The Amazonification of Uber

Finn is bringing its car subscription platform to New York and Rhode Island.

Lyft partnered with SpotHero to help customers and drivers find and reserve a parking spot through the Lyft app.

Uber and Lyft will have to increase the minimum pay rates for drivers in New York City by the end of the year. The fare increase comes amid a driver shortage post-pandemic, in large part due to rising operational costs.

LA Auto Show recap

A few more bits of coverage are still coming, but here is some of what we saw.

► Toyota unveils all-electric SUV concept under ‘beyond zero’ badge

The new 2023 Toyota Prius plays up power, not fuel economy

Genesis teases its EV future with the Genesis X convertible

Stellantis is bringing the all-electric Fiat 500e to North American in early 2024

Fiat CEO teases car subscriptions, car-sharing for all-electric 500e launch in U.S.

Hyundai launches home charging ecosystem

Hyundai’s hydrogen fuel cell concept hints at N performance brand ‘s future

Vinfast bid to attract US buyers includes 4 electric SUVs and maybe even a sports car

Everything we know about the 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 6

And finally, Lucid had an event in Beverly Hills to hand over the first of its Air Touring model. The company also teased the all-electric SUV, called the Gravity, and said reservations are opening in early 2023. A little insider tip: the model lineup that Lucid carved out for the Air sedan will be represented in the Gravity range as well, which would include a Sapphire version, possibly multiple versions of it.


Skyryse appointed former Delta Airlines pilot Bill Warlick as head of Flight Test Operations to oversee the planning, coordinating, and monitoring of the company’s aircraft and flight test operations as the company brings its technology, FlightOS, to market.


Inside the Waymo-Zeekr robotaxi, Bird spirals and layoffs come to Nuro by Kirsten Korosec originally published on TechCrunch

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Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide…



Glimpse Of Sanity: Dartmouth Returns Standardized Testing For Admission After Failed Experiment

In response to the virus pandemic and nationwide Black Lives Matter riots in the summer of 2020, some elite colleges and universities shredded testing requirements for admission. Several years later, the test-optional admission has yet to produce the promising results for racial and class-based equity that many woke academic institutions wished.

The failure of test-optional admission policies has forced Dartmouth College to reinstate standardized test scores for admission starting next year. This should never have been eliminated, as merit will always prevail. 

"Nearly four years later, having studied the role of testing in our admissions process as well as its value as a predictor of student success at Dartmouth, we are removing the extended pause and reactivating the standardized testing requirement for undergraduate admission, effective with the Class of 2029," Dartmouth wrote in a press release Monday morning. 

"For Dartmouth, the evidence supporting our reactivation of a required testing policy is clear. Our bottom line is simple: we believe a standardized testing requirement will improve—not detract from—our ability to bring the most promising and diverse students to our campus," the elite college said. 

Who would've thought eliminating standardized tests for admission because a fringe minority said they were instruments of racism and a biased system was ever a good idea? 

Also, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out. More from Dartmouth, who commissioned the research: 

They also found that test scores represent an especially valuable tool to identify high-achieving applicants from low and middle-income backgrounds; who are first-generation college-bound; as well as students from urban and rural backgrounds.

All the colleges and universities that quickly adopted test-optional admissions in 2020 experienced a surge in applications. Perhaps the push for test-optional was under the guise of woke equality but was nothing more than protecting the bottom line for these institutions. 

A glimpse of sanity returns to woke schools: Admit qualified kids. Next up is corporate America and all tiers of the US government. 

Tyler Durden Mon, 02/05/2024 - 17:20

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Spread & Containment

From Colombia to Laos: protecting crops through nanotechnology

In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium….



In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium.

Credit: Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT / A. Galeon

In a recent breakthrough, DNA sequencing technology has uncovered the culprit behind cassava witches’ broom disease: the fungus genus Ceratobasidium.

The cutting-edge nanopore technology used for this discovery was first developed to track the COVID-19 virus in Colombia, but is equally suited to identifying and reducing the spread of plant viruses. The findings, published in Scientific Reports, will help plant pathologists in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand protect farmers’ valued cassava harvest.

“In Southeast Asia, most smallholder farmers rely on cassava: its starch-rich roots form the basis of an industry that supports millions of producers. In the past decade, however, Cassava Witches’ Broom disease has stunted plants, reducing harvests to levels that barely permit affected farmers to make a living,” said Wilmer Cuellar, Senior Scientist at the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT.

Since 2017, researchers at the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT have incorporated nanotechnology into their research, specifically through the Oxford Nanopore DNA/RNA sequencing technology. This advanced tool provides insight into the deeper mysteries of plant life, accurately identifying pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and fungi that affect crops.

“When you find out which pathogen is present in a crop, you can implement an appropriate diagnostic method, search for resistant varieties and integrate that diagnosis into variety selection processes,” said Ana Maria Leiva, Senior Researcher at the Alliance.

Nanotechnology, in essence, is the bridge between what we see and what we can barely imagine. This innovation opens a window into the microscopic world of plant life and pathogens, redefining the way we understand and combat diseases that affect crops.

For an in-depth look at the technology being used in Laos and Colombia, please explore this link.

About the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) delivers research-based solutions that harness agricultural biodiversity and sustainably transform food systems to improve people’s lives. Alliance solutions address the global crises of malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation.

With novel partnerships, the Alliance generates evidence and mainstreams innovations to transform food systems and landscapes so that they sustain the planet, drive prosperity, and nourish people in a climate crisis.

The Alliance is part of CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future.

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Public Health from the People

There are many ways to privately improve public health. Such responses make use of local knowledge, entrepreneurship, and civil society and pursue standard…



There are many ways to privately improve public health. Such responses make use of local knowledge, entrepreneurship, and civil society and pursue standard goals of public health like controlling the spread of infectious diseases. Moreover, private responses improve overall welfare by lowering the total costs of a disease and limiting externalities. If private responses can produce similar outcomes as standard, governmental public health programs—and more—perhaps we should reconsider when and where we call upon governments to improve public health.

Two Kinds of Private Responses

Following Vernon Smith and his distinction between constructivist and ecological rationality, private actors can engage in two general kinds of public health improvements. They can engage in concerted efforts to improve public health, and they can engage in emergent responses through myriad interactions.1 Three stories below—about William Walsh, Martha Claghorn, and Edwin Gould—indicate concerted efforts to improve public health.

Walsh, a Catholic priest and President of the Father Matthew Society in Memphis, Tennessee, used the society to organize a refugee camp outside of the city and helped hundreds of people avoid yellow fever during the 1878 epidemic—one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the country.2 Shortly after learning mosquitos carried diseases prior to 1901, Claghorn chaired the Civics committee of the Twentieth Century Club in the Richmond Hill area of Long Island and led a community-wide anti-mosquito campaign, which rid the area of potentially infectious mosquitos.3 After realizing that many of his employees were sick with malaria, Gould—president of the St. Louis Southwestern Railway—used his wealth and business firm to finance and develop an anti-mosquito campaign throughout Texas.4

These stories show how individuals recognize a public health problem given their circumstances and use their knowledge and available resources to resolve the problem. More recently, we might all be familiar with private, constructivist responses to Covid-19. We all made plans to avoid others and produce our desired amount of exposure. Many people made facemasks from old clothes or purchased them from facemask producers. Businesses, retailers, restaurants, and many others adapted in various ways to limit exposure for their workers and customers. My favorite example, albeit not relevant for most, is the so-called bubble that was implemented by the NBA, which housed teams, encouraged play, and limited infection. The NBA finished their season and crowned a 2020 champion only because of the privately designed and implemented bubble solution. The key is that the bubble pursued all of those objectives, not just one of them. All of these responses indicate how private interactions among people can minimize their exposure, through negotiation, discussion, and mutually beneficial means.

In addition to privately designed solutions, emergent public health responses are also important, perhaps even more so. Long-term migration and settlement patterns away from infectious diseases, consumption to improve nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, and the development of social norms to encourage preventative behavior are all different kinds of emergent public health responses. Each of these responses—developed through the actions of no one person—are substantial ways to improve public health.

First, consider how common migration operates as a means of lowering prevalence rates. As soon as people realized that living near stagnant bodies of water increased the probability of acquiring diseases like malaria, they were more likely to leave those areas and subsequently avoid them. Places with such features became known as places to avoid; people also developed myths to dissuade visitors and inhabitants.5 Such myths and associations left places like the Roman Campagna desolate for centuries. These kinds of cultural associations are also widespread; for example, many people in North and South Carolina moved to areas with higher elevation and took summer vacations to avoid diseases like malaria. East End and West End, in London, also developed because of the opportunities people had to migrate away from (and towards) several diseases.6

While these migration patterns might develop over decades, movement and migration also help in more acute public health crises. During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic throughout the southern United States, for example, thousands of people fled their cities to avoid infection. They took any means of transportation they could find. While some fled to other, more northern cities, many acquired temporary housing in suburbs, and many formed campsites and refugee camps outside of their city. The refugee camps outside of Memphis—like the one formed by William Walsh—helped hundreds and thousands of people avoid infection throughout the Fall of 1878.

Second, more mundane public health improvements—like improvements in nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation—are also emergent. These improvements arise from the actions of individuals and entrepreneurs, often closely associated with voluntary consumption and markets. According to renowned medical scientist Thomas McKeown, that is, rising incomes encouraged voluntary changes in consumption, which helped improve nutrition, sanitation, and lowered mortality rates.7 These effects were especially pertinent for women and mothers as they often selected more nutritious food and altered household sanitation practices. With advancing ideas about germs, moreover, historian Nancy Tomes argues that private interests advanced the campaign to improve house-hold sanitation and nutrition—full of advice and advertisements in newspapers, magazines, manuals, and books.8 Following Tomes, economic historians Rebecca Stein and Joel Mokyr substantiate these ideas and show that people changed their hygiene, sanitation, house-hold cleaning habits, and diets as they learned more about germs.9 Such developments helped people to provide their desired exposure to germs according to their values.

Obviously, there were concerted public health improvements during this time that also explain falling mortality rates. For example, waterworks were conscious efforts to improve public health and were provided publicly and privately, with similar, positive effects on health.10 The point is that while we might be quick to connect the health improvements associated with a public water system, we should also recognize emergent responses like gradual changes in voluntary consumption.

Finally, social norms or rules that encourage preventative behavior might also be relevant kinds of emergent public health responses. Such rules identify behavior that should or should not be allowed, they are enforced in a decentralized way, and if they follow from the values of individuals in a community.11 If such rules pertain to public health, they can raise the cost of infectious behavior or the benefits of preventative behavior. Covering one’s mouth when sneezing is not only beneficial from a public health perspective, it also helps avoid earning disapproval.

The condom code during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is another example of an emergent public health rule that reduced infectiousness by encouraging safer behavior.12 People who adopted safer sexual practices were seen to be doing the right thing—akin to taking care of a brother. People who refrained from adopting safer sexual practices were admonished. No single person or entity announced the rule; rather, it emerged from the actions and interactions of individuals within various communities to pursue their goals regarding maintaining sexual activity and limiting the spread of disease. Indeed, such norms were more effective in communities where people used their social capital resources to determine which behaviors should be changed and where they can more easily monitor and enforce infractions. This seems like a relevant factor where many gay men and men who have sex with men live in dense urban areas like New York and Los Angeles that foster LGBTQ communities.

Covid-19 provides additional examples where social norms encouraged the use of seemingly appropriate behavior, e.g., social distancing, the use of facemasks, and vaccination. Regardless of any formal rule in place, many people adapted their behavior because of social norms that encouraged social distancing, the use of facemasks, and vaccination. In communities that valued such behaviors, people that wore face masks and vaccinated were praised and were seen as doing the right thing; people that did not were viewed with scorn. Indeed, states and cities that have higher levels of social capital and higher values for public health tend to have higher Covid-19 vaccine uptakes.13

Improving Public Health and More

“Private approaches tend to lower the total costs of diseases and they limit externalities.”

While these private approaches can improve public health, can they do more than typical public health approaches cannot? Private approaches tend to lower the total costs of diseases and they limit externalities. Each aspect of private responses requires additional explanation.

Responding to infectious diseases and disease prevention is doubly challenging because not only do we have to worry about being sick, we also have to consider the costs imposed by our preventative behaviors and the rules we might impose. Thus, the total costs of an infectious disease include 1) the costs related to the disease—the pain and suffering of a disease and the opportunity costs of being sick—and 2) the costs associated with preventative and avoidance behavior. While disease costs are mostly self-explanatory, the costs of avoiding infection warrant more explanation. Self-isolation when you have a cold, for example, entails the loss of potentially valuable social activities; and wearing condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases forfeits the pleasures of unprotected sexual activity. Diseases for which vaccines and other medicines are available are less worrisome, perhaps, because these are diseases with lower prevention costs than diseases where those pharmaceutical interventions are not available. Governmental means of prevention also add relevant costs. Many readers might be familiar with the costs imposed by our private and public responses to Covid—from isolation to learning loss, and from sharp decreases in economic activity to increased rates of depression and spousal abuse.14 Long before Covid, moreover, people bemoaned wearing masks during the Great Flu,15 balked at quarantine against yellow fever,16 and protested bathhouse closings with the onset of HIV.17

Figure 1 shows the overall problem: diseases are harmful but our responses to those diseases might also be harmful.

Figure 1. The Excess Burden of Infectious Diseases

This figure follows Bhattacharya, Hyde, and Tu (2013) and Philipson (2000), who refer to the difference between total costs and disease costs as the excess burden of a disease. That is, excess burden depends on how severely we respond to a disease in private and in public. The excess burden associated with the common cold tends to be negligible as we bear the minor inconvenience of a fever, a sore throat perhaps, or a couple days off work; moreover, most people don’t go out of their way to avoid catching a cold. The excess burden of plague, however, is more complicated; not only are the symptoms much worse—and include death—people have more severe reactions. Note too that disease costs rise with prevalence and with worsening symptoms but eventually decline as more severe diseases tend to be less prevalent. Still, no one wants to be infected with a major disease, and severe precautions are likely. We might shun all social interactions, and we might use government to impose strict quarantine measures. As disease severity rises along the horizontal axis, it might be the case that the cure is worse than the disease.

The private responses indicated above all help to lower the total costs of a disease because people choose their responses and they use their local knowledge and available resources to select cheaper methods of prevention. Claghorn used her neighborhood connections and the social capital of her civics association to encourage homeowners to rid their yards of pools of water; as such she lowered the costs of producing mosquito control. Similarly, Gould used the organizational structure of his firm to hire experts in mosquito control and build a sanitation department. These are cheap methods to limit exposure to mosquitos.

Emergent responses also help to lower the total costs of a disease because such responses indicate the variety of choices people face and their ability to select cheaper options. People facing diseases like malaria might be able to move away and, for some, it is cheaper than alternative means of prevention. Many people now are able to limit their exposure to mosquitos with screens, improved dwellings, and air conditioning.18 Consider the variety of ways people can limit their exposure to sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. If some people would rather use condoms to limit HIV transmission, they are better off doing so than if they were to refrain from sexual activity altogether. Similarly, some people would be better off having relatively risky sexual activity if they were in monogamous relationships or if they knew about their partner’s sexual history. That people can choose their own preventative measures indicates lower total costs compared with blunt, one-rule-for-all, governmental public health responses.

Negative and positive externalities of spreadable diseases indicate too much infectious behavior and too little preventative behavior, respectively. Hosting a party is fun, but it also incurs the internal costs of the drinks and appetizers and, more importantly, perhaps the external costs of raising the probability that people get sick. Attending a local cafe can be relaxing, but you have to pay for a cup of coffee and you might also transmit a disease to other coffee drinkers. The same could be said for many other public and social activities that might spread diseases like attending a class or a basketball game, transporting goods and people, and sexual behaviors. Our preventative behaviors from taking a vaccine to covering your mouth and from isolation to engaging in safer sexual practices emits positive externalities. If left unchecked, negative and positive externalities lead to higher rates of infection.

Overall, we should continue to think more critically about delineating how private and public actors can improve public health and overall welfare. More importantly, we should recognize that private actors are more capable than we often realize, especially in light of conscious efforts to improve public health and those efforts that emerge from people’s actions and interactions. These private efforts might be better at advancing some public health goals than public actors do. Individuals, for example, have more access to local knowledge and can discover novel solutions that serve multiple ends—often ends they value—rather than the ends of distant officials. Such cases and possibilities indicate cheaper ways to improve public health.


[1] Smith (2009), Rationality in Economics: Constructivist and Ecological Forms, Cambridge University Press.

[2] For more on Walsh, see Carson (forthcoming), “Prevention Externalities: Private and Public Responses to the 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic,” Public Choice.

[3] For more on Claghorn, see Carson (2020), “Privately Preventing Malaria in the United States, 1900-1925,” Essays in Economics and Business History.

[4] For more on Gould, see Carson (2016), “Firm-led Malaria Prevention in the United States, 1910-1920,” American Journal of Law and Medicine.

[5] On the connection between malarial diseases, dragons, and dragon-slaying saints, see Horden (1992), “Disease, Dragons, and Saints: the management of epidemics in the dark ages,” in Epidemics and Ideas by Ranger and Slack.

[6] For more on migration and prevalence rates, see Mesnard and Seabright (2016), “Migration and the equilibrium prevalence of infectious disease,” Journal of Demographic Economics.

[7] The American Journal of Public Health published several commentaries on McKeown in 2002:

[8] Tomes (1990), “The Private Side of Public Health: Sanitary Science, Domestic Hygiene, and the Germ Theory, 1870-1990,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

[9] Mokyr and Stein (1996), “Science, Health, and Household Technology: The Effect of the Pasteur Revolution on Consumer Demand,” in The Economics of New Goods, NBER.

[10] See Werner Troesken’s work on public and private waterworks in the U.S. around the turn of the 20th century. See Galiani, Gertler, and Shargrodsky (2005), “Water for Life,” Journal of Political Economy.

[11] Brennan et al., (2013), Explaining Norms, Oxford University Press.

[12] For more on the condom code, see Carson (2017), “The Informal Norms of HIV Prevention: The emergence and erosion of the condom code,” Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

[13] Carilli, Carson, and Isaacs (2022), “Jabbing Together? The complementarity between social capital, formal public health rules, and covid-19 vaccine rates in the U.S.,” Vaccine.

[14] Leslie and Wilson, “Sheltering in Place and Domestic Violence: Evidence from Calls for Service During Covid-19.” Journal of Public Economics 189, 104241. Mulligan, “Deaths of Despair and the Incidence of Excess Mortality in 2020,” NBER, Betthauser, Bach-Mortensen, and Engzell, “A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on learning during the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Nature Human Behavior,

[15] On the great influenza epidemic, see CBS News, “During the 1918 Flu pandemic, masks were controversial for ‘many of the same reasons they are today’.” Oct. 30, 2020.

[16] On yellow fever quarantine in Mississippi, see Deanne Nuwer (2009), Plague Among the Magnolias: The 1878 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Mississippi.

[17] On these closures, see Trout (2021), “The Bathhouse Battle of 1984.”

[18] Tusting et al. (2017), “Housing Improvement and Malaria Risk in Sub-Saharan Africa: a multi-country analysis of survey data.” PLOS Medicine.

*Byron Carson is an Associate Professor of Economics and Business at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where he teaches courses on introductory economics, money and banking, health economics, and urban economics. Byron earned his Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University in 2017, and his research interests include economic epidemiology, public choice, and Austrian economics.

This article was edited by Features Editor Ed Lopez.


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