May 12, 2020

TYLER COWEN: Did We Lock Down Some Parts of America Too Early?

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. . . .

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.

I think one surprise is that things spread out of the NYC/Boston axis and the West Coast much more slowly than we expected a couple of months ago. Of course, part of that was because of all the lockdowns, and the voluntary social distancing that went on as well. It may also be, though, that American society, with lower density, more cars and less mass transit, etc., is just less friendly to the spread of coronavirus than, say, China or Western Europe.

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