Testing Well

An Interview with Paul Romer

Because the alternatives are really incredibly stark. If we give up and just let this virus spread throughout the population, we get to 60, 70, 80 percent. Along the way we'll kill at least a million people, and it will take a whole year to have this play out. So we'll have a year of carnage before there's even any hope of getting past it with the level of herd immunity, even if you're willing to accept the loss of life that that entails.

Now, what's the other path? The other path is that we live in a persistent state where people are afraid and therefore they refrain from doing things that used to do, and that fear, that hesitation, that withdrawal keeps us in a depression that's worse than what we went through with the 1930’s. On that path, we lose a huge amount of output and we risk, I think, really profound political turmoil. So if those are the two choices, all of a sudden, $100 billion a year on testing looks to Paul Romer of 2020 like a walk in the park.

There's an additional problem here, which is that I think the scientific community and the experts have tended to not speak with the bluntness and the clarity to get this message across. They've tended to shade their message, because they don't want to be discouraging. They don't want people to panic. They want to present an optimistic vision, and I've been guilty of that myself. I tend to be very optimistic and I do believe we can manage this crisis, but I've concluded. I need to speak more clearly with people about if we don't take the kinds of steps I'm describing, we face some really very, very dire outcomes.