Did we lockdown some parts of America too early?

No, I am not referring to the preventive measures taken in California, Washington state, and parts of the Tri-state area.  Those made good sense to me at the time and in retrospect all the more.

I mean when the whole country started to shut down, including the South, Midwest, and other parts of the West.  And yes I know the legal lockdowns were not always the biggest factors, arguably it was when governments started scaring people.

Let’s say you have a simple model of political sustainability where Americans will tolerate [???] months of lockdown — shall we say two? — but not much more. (Maybe three months if we had Merkel as president.)  Then, if you scare/lock down in parts of the country where the virus is not yet evident, you create economic misery but not many public health gains.  Who after all thinks that Seattle should have been locked down last September?  Right?

Many parts of America now hate the lockdown, as they see the economic devastation, are not witnessing overloaded hospital systems, and just don’t quite “get it.”  And they are now taking off the lockdown, through both legal and informal means, before it is optimal to do so.  One loyal MR reader emailed me this:

The smaller town I am in was never hit hard, and therefore most people are somewhere on the spectrum between COVID is a bad flu and you should wash your hands to pick whatever conspiracy theory (plandemic).  People do not believe in the severity of the virus.  Not one family we know is social distancing. The ICU never got overrun, the only apocalypse to arrive is an economic one.  This is the fundamental point.  Most people’s only pain and sadness stems from loss of job, security, future NOT from sickness and death.  People here don’t work for big companies or the government.

Oddly, Trump’s big speech when he found “pandemic religion” may have been one of his biggest mistakes.  I fully understand that Denmark and Austria did well because they locked down early (and took other measures).  There is good evidence that NYC should have locked down earlier yet, but maybe (and I do mean maybe) other parts of the country — most of all rural America — should have locked down later, so they would have their lockdown active “when it really matters.”

In the meantime, we could have restricted or somehow taxed travel out of NYC, which seems to have been a major national spreader.

This is one reason why I am skeptical about models of epidemiology (and economics!) that do not consider political sustainability.  I am by no means sure that the claims in this post are correct, but they could be correct.  And a model that does not consider political sustainability and time consistency won’t even pick up these factors as concerns.  It will simply indicate that a lockdown should happen as quickly as possible.  But that was perhaps one of our big mistakes, namely to shut down many of the less dense parts of America before their problems were sufficiently acute, thereby rendering the whole program less sustainable.

And moralizing and blaming our current predicament on “Trump,” or “the yahoos who watch Fox News” is — even if correct — washing one’s hands of the responsibility to incorporate political sustainability into the model.

I fully admit, by the way, that I did not myself appreciate the import of this factor at the time.  This is all a sign of how backward our science is in this entire area.

By the way, here is a 55 pp. Powerpoint-like survey of lockdown models.  Many references, not much public choice or political economy to be seen.