The Indicator from Planet Money - Why We Weren't Prepared For A Pandemic

We've had plenty of warnings over the years that we weren't ready for a pandemic. Today on the show: the psychology and economics of why.

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Everyone station card if this is an indicator from Planet Money as we come to the end of the year with covid-19 and rates and death rates having climb so much. It's worth remembering that there were warnings out there about the world vulnerability to a viral thread warnings from the World Health Organization and the World Bank for example in a huge Study last year and warnings from research Scholars and long magazine articles. Even from Bill Gates in a famous Ted Talk in 2015 pills over 10 million people in the next few decades is most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war numerous close calls in the last two decades of the world look like they might have become pandemic Stars merzbow, even as coronavirus started spreading people and governments throughout the world were unprepared. There was not enough protective equipment they were

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Load to produce enough test for the virus. They took a long time to implement social distancing and a big part of the problem is it when it comes to preparing for a big disaster like this one? We humans are fighting an uphill battle against a powerful force our own brains. The mind is full of psychological biases that can lead us not to take seriously enough These Warnings of impending doom Tim Harford Road about this in an article for the Financial Times magazine and earlier this year and we wanted to rerun the story because some of his observations we've been thinking about ever since we heard them. For example, Tim talked about something that is called a normalcy bias. The people have normal people are sometimes called negative Panic. It's just when things are falling apart all around you that's a total disaster people very often don't seem to realize how bad things are. Are there often surprisingly calm, even when I actually they should be taking very prompt tax.

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Independent make the number of infected people grows exponentially so fast that it can be hard to understand how it's spreading at the rate it is but normalcy bias might prevent us from seeing just how bad things are getting until we are overwhelmed by the problem. There's also something called optimism bias, which is the tendency to think that even if a disaster is happening to you know, everyone around me I myself won't be affected. So I don't need to take precautions study of what people expected as Hurricane. Sandy was coming in to hit the coast in New Jersey that people actually expected that it would be worse than the meteorologist did but they told us they themselves would be fine. They didn't mean to worry. So the herd Instinct was Tim says just reflects that we are all very social creatures. We take our cues from what other people do ya there was just this General sense of deza pandemic.

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What is Coronavirus thing? It seems pretty bad. It looks pretty bad. And it's Ali maybe I should do something. Maybe I should do something then but nobody's really do and then that's not moment way like toilet paper and cat food and get mosques. Are you so much as it's too late and ones doing the same thing at the same time. It's the hood Instinct did not start preparing itself weeks or months earlier than it did once coronavirus started spreading with in China, which is where it originated but the by Seas do not fully explain why so many countries throughout the world ignored the warnings of the past and did not have a better plan in place for the next pandemic even before coronavirus started in a big reason actually has to do with the ways. We make economic decisions more from Tim Harford after the break

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In Good Times, what are the reasons that the economy grows? Every year is that businesses and workers are always trying to become more productive more efficient. And for the most part, it's great that they do that becoming more efficient year after year makes it possible for our wages to go up and for new goods and services to be invented. It makes our lives better. It makes the world a richer place, but that consistent push to be more efficient also makes it hard for a business to justify spending money on preparing for an event that may never happen like a pandemic. That's according to Economist in Hartford Supermarket Supermarket could say hey, I'm going to have a supply chain back up. I'm going to have a load of drivers who can deliver online groceries. I'm just going to pay them to sit around with a Vons just in case just in case as a pandemic because then I'll really reap the benefits cuz something y'all have all this extra capacity to be wiped out in the

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Bucket pre pandemic can also apply to policymakers into their plans for a pandemic because policymakers answer to the public and given that there are people who struggle to feed their families right now people who need Health Care Now bridges that need rebuilding now, well, it's just hard for politician to say, hang on a minute. We're not going to spend money on those things and said we're going to spend money on making Masten ventilators that we might never need and we're also going to spend money on facilities. They can develop test in vaccines for a pandemic that may never come. It's a really hard sell. In fact one politician actually did try this back in the mid-2000s the governor of California. He spent a lot of money on this big fleets of mobile hospitals that were going to be tens of thousands of beds that we can be respirators big stock pot of mosques and the idea was to have an earthquake have wildfires or in particular. You have a pandemic

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Nicholas about three or four years later his success of Jerry Brown cut the funding for the scheme. No one complained of the time and just don't fall is nowhere to be found needed money for other things. And that is why the lack of preparation for future emergencies can be such a hard problem to solve. There are always immediate needs in the economy that we can actually see and so it's just tough to justify spending money on, you know, a theoretical pandemic that you can see and might never happen. So we have all this evidence that people and governments are bad at preparing for a pandemic. We don't listen to warnings and we don't seem to learn much from our past experiences. But Tim argues that the situation is not totally hopeless. He says you can look at how quickly and it helped forcefully central banks and governments across the world have acted to prevent a bigger economic collapse in response to the coronavirus and that seems to have happened because they learned one of the lessons of the great financial crisis, which

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Basically that you have to throw a lot of money at a problem as quickly as possible. But that's on the economic side system the people in the show the people in public health. They don't have that same direct power is also known as easy for them to look back at a recent catastrophic pandemic. You're not not sad but that fluid 1957 of the flu of 1918 recent memory and those recent lesson. Maybe the world is more likely to learn the lessons it needs to poop so that it can prepare for the next pandemic which could be much worse or maybe it's like the financial crisis. Which wheat Weevil was the big prices of my life and it led us to prepare in all kinds of ways and the next Crisis was coming totally different. It was a Health crisis. Maybe the crisis after this long. He's going to be a spatial intelligence running Riot will maybe it'll be some soup with climate the

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There's always the danger of a fighting the last war I guess what I'm saying is it's hard to be prepared for everything. I like I think things will just stay pretty normal. And even if not, I'm optimistic that I personally won't be affected because I look around and you know, I don't see the rest of the herd freaking out and so it begins again will have a link to Tim's peace and Financial Times magazine or npr.org money and a link to Tim Zone podcast cautionary tales, which is a podcast topically enough about how we make mistakes and learn from them. This episode of the indicator was produced by Darius rafie on in fact check by Britney Cronin our editors Patty Hirsch in the indicator is a production of NPR.
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