But *when* will you favor a shift in coronavirus strategy? (no Straussians in a pandemic)

I agree with the numerous sentiments, for instance as expressed here by Ezra Klein, that we are not facing a dollars vs. lives trade-off, rather the better solutions will improve both variables.  Also read this Tom Inglesby thread.  Furthermore there is a concrete path forward toward general improvement, for instance read Zeke Emanuel (NYT, I don’t agree with every detail but the overall direction yes).  And don’t forget these costs cited by Noah.

But we are economists, not mood affiliators, and so we must address the classic question of “at what margin?”  At what margin would you favor an actual shift in strategy because the virus already had reached so many people?  And yes, such a margin does exist.  At that margin we would continue some of our defensive responses, but the overall approach would have to change away from the above links.

Let’s say everyone had been exposed to the coronavirus except yours truly.  Should we shut all (non-take out) restaurants just to limit my personal risk?  Clearly not.  And likely I would end up getting exposed sooner or later in any case.  Then you should “let it rip,” and let Tyler decide when he wishes to go outside or not (but of course offer him health care).

So what is the margin of bad outcomes where, after that point, a major change in strategy should set in?  Has to set in?  That is the question we all need to answer.  And what should that strategy change be exactly?

We like to say “speed is of the essence,” but a less frequent spoken corollary of that is “at some point it is too late to stage the defense we had been hoping for.”

What if we made no further progress against Covid-19 after two more weeks?  Three more weeks?  How about a bit of progress on testing across the next month and a modest increase in mask capacity?  How much longer is the cut-off?  Given how rapidly the virus spreads, it can’t be that long from now.  It cannot honestly be “four months from now.”

(For the record, I am still optimistic, but not at p = 0.8, so this eventuality is by no means purely hypothetical.  And it is perfectly correct to note that Trump’s own incompetence is to some extent making the whole dilemma come true, and that itself is deeply unsettling.  Agree!  We should have “gone Singapore” months ago.  But the dilemma is now here nonetheless, noting that we are hardly the only country in this bucket.  You can’t just condemn Trump and stop thinking about it.)

Or what if New York and seven other regions are hopeless but the rest of the country is not?

I am fine if you agree with me, Ezra, Tom Inglesby, Zeke Emanuel, and many others, including most of the Democratic Party public health establishment.  We all favor “speed is of the essence.”

But the next part of the message never quite gets delivered.  And no one wants to talk about what the next strategic stage — if we fail — should look like.

It is imperative that you consider where your line lies — if only mentally — when you would jump ship and indeed…confess a significant degree of defeat and then formulate and push for a new strategy.

Addendum: Straussian Tyler is not entirely comfortable with this post, as he, like his brother Tyrone, prefers to tell the Noble Lie and maintain the illusion that the preexisting struggle must continue across all margins and at all times.  But perhaps, these days, there are no Straussians in foxholes.  So pick your “no return” point, write it down, and then get back to me.  The honesty of our policy response requires this, yes?  I’m not even making you say it out loud.

And don’t you find it strange that no one has been willing to raise this point before?  Could it be that we are not being told the entire truth?  Or are people not telling the entire truth to themselves?  Isn’t that the same mistake we’ve been making all along?


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