When I interviewed the late, great Milton Friedman, that legendary economist used a phrase that still sticks with me more than 15 years later. We were talking about the then relatively new Euro and whether it was a good idea or not and he said:
So we’ll have a really nice, natural experiment just as before the Soviet Union dissolved, we had a natural experiment comparing socialism and capitalism.
In other words, we can talk theoretically about this all day long, but we’re really going to learn more from what happens in the real world.
We’re seeing this unfold in real-time with the Coronavirus. Infectious disease experts that have forgotten more about viruses than people like us will ever know have frequently gotten things wrong. Every last model built by experts that predicts what will happen with the Coronavirus has either been so broad as to be meaningless or so far off that it’s obviously worthless.
So, how do we navigate a situation like this?
Simple. We watch people try all sorts of things and see what works and what doesn’t.
For example, I strongly suspect that the Coronavirus doesn’t spread very well outside. As you can see, other people don’t agree with that assessment:
My god. https://t.co/AiVRJvWDTI
— S.E. Cupp (@secupp) May 24, 2020
A reminder that it took only ONE infected person who went bar hopping in Seoul to infect more than 50 other people and caused the city government to shut all bars and clubs. https://t.co/t8mSapTN8j
— Sanho Tree (@SanhoTree) May 24, 2020
So, who’s right? Well, we’re going to find out, aren’t we? If in say 3 weeks, you are reading lots of stories about a huge infection spike in that area, then we know that was a bad idea. If we don’t, then we probably don’t have to worry about the Coronavirus outside all that much. Granted, it’s a good idea to have more than 1 data point for something like this, but I think back to Spring break in Florida and Myrtle Beach. Did either of those events lead to infection spikes in NC, SC, or Florida? As far as we can tell, no.
Does opening up a state cause a huge spike in infections? Many people certainly thought it would, but that’s not what we’re seeing. As Governor Ron Desantis from Florida noted, people have been predicting a massive Coronavirus surge in Florida for two months and it hasn’t happened:
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) May 20, 2020
Some people are down on masks, perhaps understandably so, since the official word on them has changed so many times. At first, they told people not to wear them, then they said they protected you and other people and now we’re back to masks supposedly just keeping you from infecting other people. Guess what? The official word might be different next week. So, which is right? The truth is that we don’t know definitively, but I can’t help but notice that the best-performing countries in the world in dealing with the Coronavirus are Eastern nations where the people are all wearing masks. Are there other factors playing into that in places like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong? Absolutely, but the fact that they’re wearing masks also may play a part in it. In any case, given how good their numbers are, it’s pretty clear it can’t hurt.
Point being, if even geniuses who have spent their wholes lives studying this can’t explain exactly what’s going on and what’s going to happen, there are no definitive answers. You can (and should) pay attention to the experts, but we’re going to have to feel our way through this. We’re going to have to watch what states and people do, figure out what works and what doesn’t, and adjust. There’s risk in whatever we do, so the best thing we can do is watching other people take those risks, see how it works out, and adapt our behavior to the situation.