Covid 19…I’m So Over You
by Zach Marsh on May 1, 2020
I can’t imagine that I’m alone in voicing my exhaustion with the virus that has completely disrupted our lives over the past 45 days or so. I don’t want to sound crass or insensitive, I know that the disruption to my daily routine pales in comparison to the disruption felt by many around the world who now face tremendous insecurity due to job loss or food shortages. Not to mention the ultimate disruption that death from this disease has dealt hundreds of thousands so far. That being said, I’m tired of it. I want my life back.
So we understand each other I’m not one of these people about to storm the Bastille, or the Michigan state Capitol, for that matter. I consider myself more of the sit and pout variety protester. I’m a protester who doesn’t believe in shouting down anyone, and a protester who believes that more good than bad comes from listening to and exploring different solutions to solve complex problems. So, when it came out this week that some states are considering easing restrictions I applauded. Likewise, when some states affirmed their current stance in favor of continued restrictions, I applauded as well. When facing extreme uncertainty, much good can come from exploring different avenues on smaller scales.
The one-size fits all approach is what our Founding Fathers wanted to protect us from; and what they, perhaps unintentionally, stumbled upon was the opportunity for a beneficial risk/reward relationship. We’ve employed this to our benefit many times in the past. Laws which were created at the state level—laws which may have been novel or controversial at first—that proved effective have gone on to become widely employed. Likewise ineffective laws or laws with bad unintended consequences have been stopped from widespread adoption by witnessing the poor effects at the smaller level. This approach has a convexity of returns—we can risk small to win big.
This approach, in the era of social media, seems to be more and more out of style. Currently it feels as if the first widely accepted opinion or belief on a subject goes on to becomes the gospel—a belief that is beyond dispute. But this is ultimately dangerous. It stunts our ability to solve problems. It prevents opportunity for the advancement of ideas. The novel Coronavirus-19 is by definition new and much still is to be learned about the disease. We are not dealing with all of the information and data on its spread and its effects; we are still in the knowledge accumulation stage. To that end it can be dangerous to be too certain too soon. I believe that by opening up states with lower population densities and with less reliance on public transportation we can learn more about the virus’s spread.
Here in Iowa the governor eased restrictions across 77 of our 99 counties. She took some grief for swimming counter to the commonly accepted practice of lockdowns at all cost, but she did it anyway. While the public will judge the efficacy of her decision by the outcome of the spread of the virus, I believe that she made the right decision regardless. Results don’t always make a decision right or wrong. Decisions should be, but rarely are, judged in light of the information available at the time the decision was made and what the risks and rewards looked like at the time. A decision with the opportunity for high upside and low downside should be judged on that account, not whether the results turned out the way we wanted them to. These are tough decisions to make, a lot is riding on them, we need to encourage our leaders to make these tough decisions rather than just take the politically expedient path.
I have sympathy for our elected leaders. They face choices which will be immediately evaluated by short term metrics. Managing investments is similar. Politically expedient decisions are easy to make and following a more novel approach can subject one to second guessing. One analogy I recently heard and have come to appreciate is the analogy of taking a trip across town with your significant other. Let’s say that you recently looked up directions on Google Maps or Waze on how to get to your favorite restaurant across town. This optimized route is different from your normal route and you tell your significant other about the change of driving plans, and that this route looks faster. He or she complains to you that you should just go the normal route. You argue that this route is faster, and it seems only logical that you should follow the quickest directions. Unfortunately, halfway there you encounter a wreck which costs you an additional fifteen minute delay. While the decision you made was the best choice before leaving your house, your significant other only judges your decision by the fact that you were late for your reservation. Now you can be sure you’ll never hear the end of it every time you suggest a new, researched alternative.
We can benefit from being open to new ideas and approaches but if those decisions and choices are to be met with scorn and ridicule it is likely we will simply resort to following the easier road, even if we know it is longer and harder.
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