"This isn't the last such crisis we'll have"
By Scott Sumner
Actually, it very likely is. The first and the last.
AFAIK, the world has never had a global pandemic where vast numbers of people stopped working out of fear of becoming infected. We have had pandemics where vast numbers of people stopped working because they were dead. But that’s nothing like what we have today. (The Spanish flu was associated with only a very brief and mild recession.)
As for the future, who can say? We now have a company that has a million thermometers in circulation, all linked to a central database. It picked up the oncoming disaster in America well before most other people, but its warnings were ignored by the government. Now this company says that the number of high fevers in America is falling fast. We shall see.
Does anyone doubt that this is the wave of the future—connecting IT with medicine? That we’ll be able to spot epidemics in real time? Does anyone doubt that in the future our ability to test huge numbers of people for viruses will be scaled upward dramatically? It was 102 years between the Spanish flu and this epidemic. Say it’s another 57 or 91 or 114 years until the next big one. Does anyone feel confident predicting what health care will look like that far into the future?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe we will face major medical challenges in the future. There’s a growing risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Perhaps a deadly flu will jump from animals to humans. But it’s dangerous to assume that we know what form the next emergency will take.
We’d be smarter not to be reactive, focusing all our planning on a repeat of the coronavirus. Maybe we should focus our thinking on a wider range of possible crises. We should be trying to prevent terrorists from using bioweapons, or AI run amok, or accidental nuclear war, or asteroid strikes. I don’t know what the next global crisis will look like, but I very much doubt it will be a replay of the crisis of 2020.
Look for something totally unexpected, coming out of the blue.
And remember, the US government was almost completely unprepared, despite numerous warnings from experts.