Why American lockdown exceptionalism?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, and here is part of the explanation:

The danger lies in the potential for ratchet effects. If hardly anyone is eating out or going to bars, you might be able to endure the deprivation. But once others have started doing something, you will probably feel compelled to join them, even at greater risk to your life.

Consider that in the 1920s, the chance of catching a disease or infection from dining out was pretty high, but people still went out. Accepting that level of risk was simply considered to be part of life, because everyone saw that everyone else was doing it. In similar fashion, members of an infantry brigade are usually willing to charge an enemy position so long as they can be assured that all their comrades are, too.

So if you are wondering why the U.S. has become so tolerant of Covid-19 risk, one reason is simply that it has the most pro-consumption norms of any major Western nation. The pursuit of socially influenced high consumption levels is far more common in America than in, say, Kosovo, a country with a relatively good anti-Covid safety record.

And one implication is this:

So telling Americans that they are stupid and excessively sociable is likely only to make the problem worse.

Better in fact is everyone thinks no one else is going out very much.


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