Weekly Selection 17 April 2020

Ed Yong, Our Pandemic Summer

(The Atlantic, April 14, 2020)

The fight against the coronavirus won’t be over when countries reopen, and this article explains how they must prepare themselves (it’s about the US but can easily be applied to other countries). The key point in just one quote: “The only viable endgame is to play whack-a-mole with the coronavirus, suppressing it until a vaccine can be produced. With luck, that will take 18 to 24 months. During that time, new outbreaks will probably arise. Much about that period is unclear, but the dozens of experts agree that life as most people knew it cannot fully return”. An infectious-disease epidemiologist adds: “I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years” (reads in 9-10 min).

Aaron Carroll, Lesson From Singapore: Why We May Need to Think Bigger

(The New York Times, April 15, 2020)

Singapore offers a cautionary tale to the rest of world. The nation-state has arguably one of the best and most effective Covid-19 policies, and yet it is currently in the midst of a second outbreak. On top of their well-run and well-tested system of measures to contain the pandemic, the authorities have now decided to put the entire country into a strict lockdown (with criminal charges for those who violate confinement orders). This suggests that the global answer to the pandemic is a plan “on a scale that would previously be considered unimaginable”. Some of these (im)possible plans are reviewed at the end of the article (reads in 7-8 min).

Barry Eichengreen, The Human-Capital Costs of the Crisis

(Project Syndicate, April 10, 2020)

Unlike a hurricane or an earthquake, the pandemic has caused no harm to physical capital, but the damage to human capital will be very significant. Workers experiencing unemployment in a downturn can be permanently scarred, which in turn might negatively affect productivity, wages, and economic growth for years to come (particularly in the US). Regarding growth, the primary reason is that households hit by unemployment or losses of income will increase their precautionary savings (reads in 6-7 min).

Erik Angner, Epistemic Humility - Knowing Your Limits in a Pandemic

(Behavioural Scientist, April 13, 2020)

Overconfidence, “the mother” of all cognitive biases, is in large supply in the fight against Covid-19; yet all policy-makers have to make decisions with imperfect information. This article outlines why being a true expert involves not only knowing stuff about the world but also knowing the limits of our knowledge and expertise. Epistemic humility is therefore an intellectual virtue, grounded in the realization that our knowledge is always provisional and incomplete, and that it might require revision in light of new evidence (reads in 5-6 min).

Arie Kruglanski, 3 ways the coronavirus pandemic is changing who we are

(The Conversation, March 20, 2020)

The psychologist explains why the pandemic is affecting us profoundly and pervasively in three different ways by influencing (1) how we think, (2) how we relate to others and (3) what we value. One of the article’s key take-away is that we need above all “cognitive closure”: a desire for certainty. This has policy implications, suggesting that authoritative, confident direction is much preferred over flexible, laissez-faire guidance. “We need to be told what to do, plain and simple. This is no time for complex deliberations” (reads in 5-6 min).