This Will Be Hard

No One Knows

Unsurprisingly, Tyler Cowen is a voice of reason in these trying times. He recently posted a good summary of our current situation:

If we keep the economy closed at current levels, it will continue to decay, and at some point turn into irreversible, non-linear damage. No one knows when, or how to model the course of that process. That decay also will eat into our future public health capacities, and perhaps boost hunger and poverty around the world.

If we keep people locked up at current levels, fewer of them will be exposed to the virus, and in the meantime we can develop better treatments, and also improve test and trace capabilities. No one knows how quickly those improvements will come, or how to model the course of that process, or how much net good they will do.

The relative pace of those two processes should determine our best course of action. No one knows the relative pace of either of those two processes. Yet commentators pretend to be increasingly knowledgeable, moralizing based on the pretense of knowledge they do not have.

These two forces, economic decline and risk to life, are in tension, and no one knows how to balance them. No one knows. No one can know.

Anyone arguing confidentially on either side of this argument should be written-off as untrustworthy. Or maybe they are just afraid. I think most people taking sure sides either see an opportunity to advance a previous agenda, or are more viscerally afraid of one outcome over the other.

We need to be more comfortable with uncertainty, because it is so hard to know anything. In the absence of certain knowledge, maybe start with who you want to be.