What if COVID were 10 times deadlier?

Before the pandemic I once built a column around the psychiatrist-blogger Scott Alexander’s concept of “the scissor,” which describes a controversy or idea or event perfectly calibrated to divide people while making them think that the other side is bonkers. Arguably Covid’s death rate makes it a perfect scissor: It’s high enough to make the alarmed feel vindicated, but still low enough that many skeptics feel vindicated as well.

Whereas if the fatality figures were 10 times lower I suspect there would be much more internal liberal debate over the wisdom of the sweeping early response. And if they were 10 times higher I think there might have been more red-state support for public-health restrictions of all kinds.

But that doesn’t mean that the country would have been more unified in a “Covid 10-times-worse” world. Instead, there would be more regional fractures, more governors trying to close borders and restrict travel, more vicious interstate fighting over medical resources, more frenzied culture wars over which drugs to try experimentally, more total panic and meltdown around schools.

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