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What Might We Learn from COVID-19?

What Might We Learn from COVID-19?

COVID-19 has much to teach us about compassion, caring, gratitude, cooperation and truth. We need to thank our news media for keeping us informed, especially at this particular moment when falsity and division abound. Leaders supporting “fake news” and “alternative facts” have failed to address a pandemic in time to save lives. But there are few rewards in politics to avert danger ahead of full crisis, so to attenuate risk and defuse trouble before it explodes. Remedial structures set by Obama were removed by Trump, and we are paying a deadly price for his folly. The shortsightedness shown by our leadership boggles the mind at times. This problem of myopic decisions is what I propose to address.

I am an economist who has spent many years asking why economics has failed us so badly in social systems design. The matter reveals some very hard truths about how we see the world, and the behavior reinforced by our institutional system. Questions are more important than answers. Sanders says socialism may help; Biden disagrees. These are not the right questions. We need a larger view.

Many economists sidestep uncertainty by assuming complete knowledge, at the expense of understanding how we might deal with doubt in the face of everyday issues of risk, trust, opportunism, myopia, and disease. Economists’ preoccupation with certainty blinds us to our rational limits: I propose a notion of planning horizons as an alternative frame.

We make decisions, not on known outcomes but on imagined projections standing on theories of how things work. These projections have an ethical range called the ‘planning horizon.’ The better we understand the world the broader the reach of our anticipations. Conscience serves to measure how well we encompass social effects.

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