Robin Hanson on whether governments can squash COVID-19

post by DanielFilan · 2020-03-19T18:23:57.574Z · LW · GW · 1 comments

This is a link post for

Summary: Hanson argues that Western governments are unlikely to be competent enough to both squash COVID-19 and prevent new cases from entering from neighbouring lax countries. Final two paragraphs:

Before we all jump off this cliff together, can we at least collect and publish some honest estimates of our chances of success? Such as perhaps via conditional betting markets? If you aren’t willing to exactly copy the whole China policy, or have them manage it, how serious could you really be about succeess?

Look, this is like starting a war. Its not enough to ask “would it be nice to win such a war”, we need to ask “can we actually win?” Don’t start what you can’t finish.


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comment by Kerry ( · 2020-03-20T02:14:11.179Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is pretty much how I see it, too. But I don't think we're going to meet, swap stats, and decide whether or not to go to war. I think the lock-downs will slowly dissolve as people come to terms with reality and and lose patience/get stir crazy/run out of resources. We'll switch to mobilizing the best we can with regard to medical supplies and facilities, encouraging vulnerable people to stay at home, and building better support networks to get them what they need, and also for people who have sick relatives or who lose loved ones. We'll continue to take some precautions, try to find better treatments/a vaccine, and provide flexibility for people who are dealing with illness in the family. We won't just shrug, go back to work, and mumble about the need to keep the stock market up (well, a few will), and the response will vary regionally, but we'll become more active than passive, is my best guess, if nothing changes drastically in the progression of the disease.

comment by cousin_it · 2020-03-19T23:05:29.377Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Out of the four "obvious considerations" at the start of the post, two seem questionable to me.

you have to do a lot more to squash than to flatten

Afaik to get worthwhile flattening (not much overloading of hospital beds) we need to get R0 pretty close to 1 anyway, so the extra effort to get it below 1 (squash) could be relatively small.

while flattening policies need be maintained only for a few months, squashing policies must be maintained until a strong treatment is available, probably years

Afaik flattening over a few months = almost as many deaths as no flattening at all. The hump is too big, and the number of hospital beds too small, to safely "process" half of the population in a few months.