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Scale and Symmetry in Covid Debates

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One curious feature of some public debate about Covid policy is when people object to a disliked policy proposal by appealing to a consideration that counts at least as much against the alternative.  Here I'll just highlight a couple of especially striking examples of this: scale and unknown risks.(1) Scale:  Back when people were debating whether society's response might end up being worse than the disease, it wasn't unusual to see health boosters emphasize the sheer scale of the health costs that would be incurred along the path to herd immunity through natural infection.  "Even a fatality rate of just 0.01% for younger adults would translate into thousands of deaths across that population."  That kind of thing.Which invites the obvious response: Yes, the scale of a pandemic makes the policy stakes really high!  For example, if you lower everyone's quality of life by an average of 1/3 for a year, that translates into more than 100 million life-years of equivalent value lost in the US alone (cf. estimated health gains of a few million life-years from covid prevention measures).Of course, that's just a made-up illustration.  Maybe average quality of life has not declined so much. But the essential point remains that any non-trivial cost imposed across an entire population results in massive total damages.  And it's not hard to see how the indirect costs of the pandemic could add up here.  There are nearly 50 million parents living with children under 12 in the US.  28 million of those have children under 6.  How many of those families suffered due to childcare and school closures, loss of park and playground access, or stress about their kids' educational and social development?  How many would rate this year as positively detrimental to their global wellbeing? Would many rate this year as even half as good as usual?  (If that was the average verdict, it would yield an. . .

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