Once More, Without Feeling

Fermi Estimate

I’ve created a spreadsheet that estimates the impact of various interventions on COVID-19.  My estimate is on the “Stuff I Sorta Think” tab.  Feel free to copy the spreadsheet and fill out the blue cells in the “Fill Me Out!” tab to create your own estimate.

Note that the numbers I put there are just estimates and many are not very well researched.  But I suspect that the conclusion is clear enough that it won’t have a huge impact.


Consider filling out the spreadsheet for yourself before looking at mine!

The conclusions of mine were roughly similar with my previous posts on COVID-19.  I found that doing nothing was massively better than various interventions, with the majority of the cost of doing nothing coming from the extent to which people don’t follow the plan and shut down things anyway.


I’ve already written a lot of what I have to say on this.  But to summarize:


  1. By far the dominant factor here comes from the economic impact of shutting down the economy.
  2. Compared to that, nothing else really matters, so the first order answer is “don’t shut anything down”.
  3. The second order corrections are mostly just mirrors of the first order fact.  Addressing it early is better than waiting and then shutting things down, primarily because it involves shutting things down for less time.  But it’s still significantly worse than doing nothing.
  4. The world’s current strategy is the really bad: wait until it spreads, and then mostly shut things down but not so completely or early enough that you actually stop the spread of the disease.
  5. IFR is really low, especially for young people–probably below 0.01%.
  6. The true mortality rate of COVID-19 might actually be comparable to the flu, though we don’t have enough precision to really know.
  7. In fact the IFR estimates aren’t substantially above background mortality rate.  I don’t actually think COVID-19 has no impact on mortality, but it is within error bars.
  8. The cost of shutting things down is MASSIVE.  All-told my estimate is a few hundred trillion dollars!  I’m guessing the last time the world made as large a mistake as freaking out about COVID-19 was WWII.
  9. By and large this is using a “generally make the world better” lens and not a particularly longtermist one.  That makes sense if you think the main flow-through effect of what we do about COVID-19 is generically how good the world is.  If instead you think it’s something specific about the impact this has on the odds of a future x-risk event, it probably makes sense to do a deep-dive on whether the “get used to dealing with pandemics” argument or “boy who cried wolf” argument is stronger from the perspective of preventing future bio-terrorism-related x-risk events.
  10. If you do think the main factor here is bio-terrorism then I think it makes sense to just focus on that and ignore all the other factors here; thinks like GDP and IFR probably don’t have huge impacts on that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s