We're Always Fighting the Last War
By Amy Willis
Megan McArdle, Washington Post columnist and previous EconTalk guest, joined host Russ Roberts in this episode to discuss the “dazzling hindsight” with which we view recent crises. Why can’t we seem to get it right in crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Texas energy crisis? And why don’t we seem to learn from our mistakes? “When an unlikely thing hasn’t happened for a while, we think it’s never going to happen again. And, when an unlikely thing just happened, we think we need to take a lot of preparation against it,” says McArdle.
As a journalist, McArdle has had a unique opportunity to revisit her own predictions (and nasty reviews!), an opportunity she’s taken advantage of. In this conversation, she shares some of what she’s learned, and now we’d like to hear your thoughts. Answer our questions below in the comments, or use them to start an all new conversation offline. We love to hear from you, and we’ll always be here for the conversation.
1- Roberts and McArdle discuss the recent winter storm in Texas that left millions without power. How much insurance should we have for events like this? (You might want to think about insuring for prevention versus adaptability.) McArdle also argues that Americans have zero political taste for these sorts of expenditures, so how can this distaste be accommodated?
2- The conversation turns to our experience of the COVID pandemic. To what extent is the pandemic a black swan event? Why does McArdle draw a distinction between stockpiling supplies and stockpiling capacities? To what extent do you think we’ll be better prepared for another such event in the future, and why?
3- What were some of the missteps and lost opportunities of the Trump administration in response to COVID, according to McArdle? What would she have done differently to leverage “a huge benefit of soft power.” How well do you think her suggestions would have worked, and why?
4- How have the costs of the COVID pandemic been felt differentially by income- for example, the costs of school closures. Roberts asks, “who plans, who takes the risk, who builds the insurance, the capacity for adaptation?” How would you answer this question? Can such planning mitigate these income effects ?
5- McArdle is critical of the politicization of public health. What does she mean when she says we would we have been better prepared for this pandemic in 1930? Is she right??? Explain.