|Photo: Sgt. 1st Class Jerimiah Richardson
Here's an attempt at a general framework for thinking about risk and personal decisions during Covid. Not everyone will agree on the specifics or how to balance them, but hopefully this provides a way of having a coherent and civilized conversation.
- In general, people should be free to live their lives as they choose.
- Nearly all actions by individuals create risk, always for themselves, and often for others. The cost of reducing risk usually goes up as we try to eliminate it.
- The question we all consider, subconsciously if not consciously, is whether the benefit (reward) of any action we take outweighs the risks.
- Different people will make different judgements about the risks they take.
- With few exceptions, we should let people make their own judgements, while striving to give them good information to assess their risks.
- The judgements that people make will change over time based on: a) their own evaluation of past actions (was the benefit worth the risk?); b) changing life circumstances that affect both risk and reward; and c) more information about the risks.
- An important part of the information people need is how the risks they take increase risks for *others*.
- Most but not all people will constrain their own actions when they know those actions put other people at undue risk.
- The definition of “undue” will be different for everyone, because everyone makes their own judgments.
- Sometimes people put others at undue risk because they don’t have adequate information.
- Sometimes people put others at undue risk because they don’t care much about other people - they discount others’ risks and benefits.
- The less polarized a society is, the more empathy people will have for each other, and the less they will discount risks to other people.
- Part of the job of government is to decide when we need society-wide rules to protect individuals from harming others or putting others at undue risk.
- This is a tough and messy process. Since judgements differ, rarely will everyone be happy with any society-wide rules imposed.
- This is the nature of democracy. Yet, for all its flaws, the outcomes determined this way will as a general matter be better than those determined by either a) total libertarianism, or b) authoritarianism.