To understand the effects that more testing could have on the course of the pandemic, I constructed a simple model that I could use to simulate and visualize the effects of different policies. This post, the first in a series, introduces the model. In a follow up post, I’ll use the model to compare the effects of a policy of nonspecific or uniform social distancing with those from a targeted policy that uses tests to make sure that someone who is infectious is more likely to be quarantined.
This is not the type of model one can use to capture the actual course of the disease. For that purpose, only a fully fledged model of the type developed by epidemiologists will suffice. Instead, it is a toy model that allows a visualization that helps explain how the more complicated models work. That said, it also has enough structure to offer some insight into two relevant questions that we should be asking:
How much difference does it make to the outcome if the test used to decide who gets isolated has a higher false negative rate. Answer? Very little.
If we contrast a nonspecific policy of social distance with a targeted policy guided by frequent testing that is equally effective at containing the virus, how much more disruptive is the nonspecific policy? Answer? Way more disruptive.
Nicolas Lemann starts his book, Transaction Man, with a reminder:
There are moments in history when everything seems calm, when there isn’t obvious, bitter contention about big questions. It takes some effort now to remember that the dawn of the new millennium was like that, at least to the minds of fortunate people in the United States.
There were disagreements about the relative importance of the different factors that contributed to a century of remarkable progress in the United States, but everyone agreed that progress would continue.
No one then would have predicted that by 2020, life expectancy in the US would be falling.
When I agreed to write a review for Foreign Affairs of Lemann’s book and a complementary book by Binyamin Appelbaum – The Economists’ Hour – I knew that both would ask “what went wrong?” I expected both authors to criticize economists for failing to anticipate the possibility that the US might stop making progress. I anticipated that both would charge that even after the fact, economists have failed to diagnose the cause of the slide from progress to regress.
What I did not anticipate was the claim that economists were the cause.
Answers to questions about by my proposal for a tax on targeted digital ads. (New FAQs added 9 am EDT on May 7.)
Today the FT published an Op-Ed featuring my recommendations for the new President of the World Bank. It’s reposted here with their permission. The original can be found here (paywall).
“As the World Bank’s board considers nominations for the institution’s next president (Donald Trump is expected to nominate David Malpass, the US Treasury department’s top official on international affairs), there are two critical ways he or she can make the bank more effective.
Many people ask why I received the Nobel Prize* in Economics. Here’s the best answer I’ve come up with so far:
The human condition emerges from a never-ending contest between the dismal Malthusian economics of objects and the unrealized possibilities of the economics of ideas. For centuries, economists took sides and followed Thomas Malthus. A paper I published finally turned it into a fair fight. Economists no longer have to assume that Malthus wins before exploring the question posed by title I chose for my Nobel lecture: “On the possibility of progress.”