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I Win All My Ebola Bets

Summary:
Back in 2014, Ebola was national - and global - news.  Even in Africa, fears ultimately turned out to be overblown.  The WHO's official tally was about 11,000 fatalities.  The true figure is almost certainly higher, but not grossly so.  This is far short of the hundreds of thousands of deaths so many predicted.  Brad DeLong, for example, opined: "Ebola will not become the biggest public health problem in West Africa unless deaths reach the high seven figures - which they may: it is highly likely that deaths in the six figures are now baked in the cake."In the U.S., the news was even better.  Total deaths came to one.  Given the effectiveness of sanitation and quarantine at preventing its spread, this was

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Back in 2014, Ebola was national - and global - news.  Even in Africa, fears ultimately turned out to be overblown.  The WHO's official tally was about 11,000 fatalities.  The true figure is almost certainly higher, but not grossly so.  This is far short of the hundreds of thousands of deaths so many predicted.  Brad DeLong, for example, opined: "Ebola will not become the biggest public health problem in West Africa unless deaths reach the high seven figures - which they may: it is highly likely that deaths in the six figures are now baked in the cake."

In the U.S., the news was even better.  Total deaths came to one.  Given the effectiveness of sanitation and quarantine at preventing its spread, this was highly predictable.  But medical science didn't inoculate us against national hysteria.  And as usual, anti-immigration activists seized on this tragedy as an excuse for the policies they favor in sickness and in health.  My frequent debate opponent Mark Krikorian even tweeted under the hashtag #LibertariansForEbola.

Rather than fruitlessly argue with a maelstrom of passion, I publicly proposed the following bet in October, 2014:

$100 says that less than 300 people will die of Ebola within the fifty United States by January 1, 2018.
Four noble souls took the other side.  Since today is January 1, 2018, I am pleased to announce that I have won the bet.  (Since all prepaid, we're already settled up).

Part of the reason deaths were mercifully low, no doubt, is that health workers took the danger seriously.  But of course, that's one of the variables wise bettors will factor into their decisions.  And despite angry Congressional calls for travel bans, Obama went with the moderate expert consensus.  Domestically speaking, little was done.  And domestically speaking, even less happened.

As always, you can insist I got lucky.  But this would carry far more weight if pessimists were lining up to take my money back in 2014.  Needless to say, they weren't.  Betting kills hyperbole; and for most people, politics without hyperbole is as dull as watching paint dry.

Still think I got lucky?  Well, if you've got another Ebola bet to propose, I'm all ears.



Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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