What are the long-term outcomes of a catastrophic pandemic?

post by Matthew Barnett (matthew-barnett) · 2020-03-01T19:39:17.457Z · score: 26 (9 votes) · LW · GW · 3 comments

This is a question post.


    2 Dr_Manhattan
    2 Stuart Anderson
    1 jmh

Wei Dai now writes [LW(p) · GW(p)],

The world is probably going to lose 5 2.5-10% of its population (380 190-760 million, see here [LW(p) · GW(p)] for the reason for my edit), worse than the Spanish flu even on a percentage basis.

I have some questions about this conclusion and I'm still unsure whether to treat this sort of argument very seriously. But suppose it does come out that between 2.5% to 10% of the world population will die. What are likely results?

I have speculated some of the following. Let me know whether anyone here would agree with my tentative reactions. If the death rate is towards the upper end of 10%, my reactions are probably conservative as I see worse things also happening. Individually I expect each to happen with >50% probability conditional on the above death rate:

Can you come up with anything else?


answer by Dr_Manhattan · 2020-03-03T12:37:19.890Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Significant political regime disruption in some places, Iran specifically (probably for the better there)
  • Depending on how much Chinese government fudges with the current numbers they will appear to a) have bungled at first b) actually efficiently handled the problem at an enormous scale and US will appear to do things in the opposite order. Which leads me to...
  • Trump is weakened and Bloomberg's position is going to look very strong: some actual history of crisis management, strong-man people feel comfortable with in times of uncertainty, plus he "owns" one of coutry's top med schools
  • Massive disruption in service sector as people cut down on non-necessities...
answer by Stuart Anderson · 2020-03-02T06:54:54.105Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Nationalism and a return to domestic production.
  • Increase in the speed of the rise in conservatism.
  • A bump in the birth rate. Not enough to matter, given the birth rate crisis.
  • Civil, military, and financial discord are all possible. Everyone's freaking out and there are an increasing number of power differentials and other options opening up. There'll be a mix of circling the wagons and people taking big risks to capitalise on discord.
  • Prepping suddenly won't seem so stupid after this. Want to make some money starting a business? Now you know where.
  • China is facing multiple internal and external threats, and a shaky economy. Expect Trump to turn the thumbscrews and make the most of that.
  • If the EU doesn't control its borders (something it doesn't want to do) then it is going to take a massive hit. It will be interesting to see what the NGO people smugglers will be directed to do by their owners when the shit hits the fan.
  • By the same token, it will be interesting to see what the UK will do at the Irish border.
answer by jmh · 2020-03-01T21:13:21.109Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given who dies from COVID-19, if the scenario suggested plays out, societies will old populations will be hit harder than those with younger populations.

In developed countries this will produce a wealth transfer to the younger via the inheritance they receive (larger than otherwise because less has been spent?)

Not sure that life expectancy really declines even if the numbers for the year blip down.

Probably some themes we could trace out based on both the change in average population age and per capita wealth based on assuming about impact to global trade dynamics.

comment by Matthew Barnett (matthew-barnett) · 2020-03-01T21:21:08.293Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
In developed countries this will produce a wealth transfer to the younger via the inheritance they receive (larger than otherwise because less has been spent?)

It has come to my attention that although the immediate healthcare costs would be dire and extreme, the long-term economic costs might be lower in future years. This is because if something kills a bunch of old people within a short period under tight triage, this may cost the country less money than having to treat the chronic diseases of old age. Furthermore, very old people generally contribute nothing to the world economy (besides consumption). If a higher proportion of the population is suddenly young does this imply that long-term growth actually higher?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2020-03-01T20:13:48.895Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You still haven't said why a few days ago you updated [LW(p) · GW(p)] to only 5% chance of >50 million global deaths within 1 year. I'm really curious about that.

comment by Matthew Barnett (matthew-barnett) · 2020-03-01T20:40:52.995Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure how much sense this will make, but my meta-credences still say that anything from 2% to 75% chance of disaster are reasonable. I am very uncertain on some very fundamental questions about this virus.

comment by Matthew Barnett (matthew-barnett) · 2020-03-01T20:31:15.846Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My thoughts are best described as a bunch of scattered intuitions that I have picked up by reading Metaculus comments and analyzing the history of previous pandemics. My estimates are also fluctuating rapidly, and I am worried that if I am constantly spewing out new estimates people will confuse this proper Bayesian updating with ill-judgement. I will keep you updated if or when I write a full inquiry.