Certainly those of us in the media who cite dire (but very much mainstream) predictions are accused of being Debbie Downers, alarmists or ghouls cheering on catastrophe. This is flatly, offensively false. We and our loved ones are among the sick and dying; we, our friends, colleagues and neighbors are also losing jobs. I will be extraordinarily relieved if the projections cited above turn out in a year to have been too pessimistic. I am wholeheartedly rooting for better outcomes.
But we won’t get better outcomes by wishing away risk, or by enabling a government that repeatedly overpromises and underdelivers.
Improperly managed expectations can lead to fewer adaptive measures and thus greater spread of illness. A new working paper based on recent surveys in Italy found that people are less likely to comply with social distancing and isolation orders if those mandates are extended longer than initially expected. That is: If the government tells people stay-at-home measures will be lifted by Easter and they’re not, compliance will be worse than if the government had given a more conservative time frame.
Better-managed expectations would also result in more proactive policy.