Reorganizing risk in the age of disaster

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we should do for the next (and current) disaster. The first thing to say is that I am absolutely positively sure that I could not have done any better than what had been done for Covid-19. I probably would have done things differently but I doubt it would have led to a better (and probably a worse) outcome. I still think in aggregate, we are doing about as well as we could have. The one thing I do think we need to do is to figure out a way to partition risk. The biggest problem of the current pandemic is that people do not realize or care that their own risky behavior puts other people at risk. I do not care if a person wants to jump off of a cliff in a bat suit because they are mostly taking the risk upon themselves (although they do take up a bed in an ER ward if they get injured). However, not wearing a mask or getting vaccinated puts other people, including strangers, at risk. If you knowingly attend a wedding with a respiratory illness then you have the potential to infect tens if not hundreds of people and killing a fraction of them.

I do think people should be allowed to take risks as long as there are limited consequences to others. Thus, in a pandemic I think we should figure out a way for people to not get vaccinated or wear masks without affecting others. Currently, the main bottleneck is the health care system. If we allow people to wantonly get infected then there is a risk that they overwhelm hospitals. This affects all people who may need healthcare. Now is not a good time to try to repair your roof because if you fall you may not be able to get a bed in an ER ward. Thus, we really do need to think about stratifying health care according to risk acceptance. People who choose to lead risky lives should get to the back of the line when it comes to treatment. These policies should be made clear. Those who refuse to be vaccinated should just sign a form that they could be delayed in receiving health care. If you want to attend a large gathering then you should sign the same waiver.

I think that people should be allowed to opt out of the Nanny State but they need to absorb the consequences. I personally like to live in a highly regulated state but I think people should have a choice to opt out. They can live in a flood zone if they wish but they should not be bailed out after the flood. If banks want to participate in risky activities then fine but we should not bail them out. We should have let every bank fail after the 2008 crisis. We could have just let them all go under and saved homeowners instead (who should have been made better aware of the risks they were taking). Bailing out banks was a choice not a necessity.

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