Art Carden's post-pandemic reading list
By Alberto Mingardi
Art Carden has a quick but dense reading list of five books you should read to prepare for the next pandemic. (Well, I hope this isn’t a more-than-one-in-a-generation challenge, but read them anyway). The list is interesting and focuses on the limits of expert knowledge, which seems to be Art’s main takeaway from this year and a half of Covid-19.
I would add two other themes I consider worth of consideration, and thus exploring through books:
1) I think one thing which was often missed in the debate was the extent to which the pandemic is a _Darwinian_ event. Experts’ reasoning and models were often flawed, not only because experts were hubristic, but because they were deterministic. They reduced the pandemic situation to a certain number of parameters, some of them scrupulously monitored, and provided speculation based upon them. Certainly experts responded to incentives: for example, they were incentivized to produce very dramatic projections, as it is way better to be proven wrong on the date of the end of the world (the people will be relieved it didn’t happen and won’t mind) than to miss it. But I think an important takeaway is that lethality and the growth rate of the contagion can’t be taken as a given, as they depend on the environment it is taking place in and can adapt and adjust in different circumstances.
2) Another important takeaway was how ill equipped we are to deal with a situation of danger, like the pandemic was and is, properly considering all the options and in particular, our immense luck in living in a prosperous and scientifically advanced society. We were very eager to consider freedom as a part of a trade off with security: to be safer from contagion, we were relatively happy to do away with a bunch of personal freedoms. This has something to do with our ingrained instincts and our inability to fully cope with an extended order, or a free society, which is very counterintuitive to us at any time but perhaps even more so in a situation in which we perceive danger. And yet, what worked best in this year was one quintessential feature of a complex society based on free markets: the pharmaceutical industry, which quickly developed a wide array of vaccines.