The Plural of Anecdote is Data.

The line above comes from a story that, according to Gregg Jarrell, one of my former colleagues at the University of Rochester, George Stigler told him in the 1970s.

If you have a lot of anecdotes, then beyond some point they become data.

I thought of that based on a story I heard a few days ago about a death attributed to Covid. I’m going to hide a few details because I don’t have permission to tell the story with the name and place.

Here’s the story:

A friend who’s a very careful empirical economist told me that a relative’s wife died recently. The cause was clearly a heart attack. But when they tested her, they found Covid. The widower was told that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, pays for funerals if the person died of Covid. So did he want the cause of death to be written down as Covid.

What do you think he answered?

I wonder how many other cases there are like this.

Here’s a quote from a June 6, 2022 press release from FEMA:

WASHINGTON — FEMA has provided more than $2.5 billion to over 389,000 individuals and families to assist with COVID-19-related funeral costs for deaths occurring on or after Jan. 20, 2020. This assistance helped pay for the funerals of more than 398,000 people who died from COVID-19.

398,000 people by June 6 is close to 40% of the total number of Covid deaths in the United States. What fraction of those deaths were really due to Covid? I don’t know. We may never know. But the answer is crucial.

Oh and, by the way, why the hell should we taxpayers we forced to pay for those funerals?

Note: The pic above is of George Stigler.

UPDATE: This isn’t about the United States but the story of Britain is also interesting. I’m not saying the incentives are the same but the data are quite shocking. HT2 Tyler Cowen.